Monday, November 12, 2018

Smokey SOTA Day

All my plans for great weekend hikes were thrown out once the smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County started blowing in Thursday night. By Saturday the air was very unhealthy. So instead of being cooped up all day, I picked some near drive-up summits to activate.
San Bruno Mountain was just visible.
The first I did was Mt Davidson, the San Francisco high point. Its about a quarter mile walk up to the bench from the entrance. Extremely smokey.
Looking over towards Mt Diablo and the East Bay.
Despite the smoke there were a fair number of people out. Most just ignored me, but one or two asked what I was up to. Once I had worked all the bands I headed across the Bay Bridge to the Ham Radio Outlet in Oakland. I picked up a MFJ 1820t antenna to try out. With my new antenna I drove up to the redwood railroad in Tilden Park to get Vollmer Peak.
The views were no better here.
This hike is about half a mile to the top. I sat on the north-east facing slope. I tossed my counterpoise wire down the slope, and attached the whip. I started calling on 20, and got many more responses than I was expecting with such a small antenna. Even better, the internal KX3 tuner was able to match it on 30 and 17
The cp wire reached to the post past my feet.
After working everyone, I set up the 2m extended double zepp. I had brought the amplifier, but one of the cables on the dc-dc converter had fallen out, so I only ran barefoot with the HT. I got quite a few contacts, up to Grass Valley, out to Valley Springs, and down to south San Jose. Not bad for 5W.
So much smoke.
Once I starting getting cold, I packed up and headed back to the car.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

W6/NC-305 Bennett Mountain

Bennett Mountain is a short distance north of the Sonoma Mountains High Point, and I came here right after activating the other peak. The consensus on seems to be that the best starting point is the trailhead on Carissa Ave, so that's where I went.
The trailhead.
It appears that parking is only allowed in the pullouts, and luckily for me, there was space for one car in the one at the trailhead. The trail climbs a small hill, then drops into a canyon in Trione-Annadel State Park. The park appears to be very popular with mountain bikers, and they passed me all day.
Hiking up the shady canyon.
The trail up was wide and well graded. There are some switchbacks on the steeper sections. At the first major trail junction, I turned right onto the narrower Marsh Trail. Continue up this trail to the picnic table at the bend. Just past the table is an unmarked, and probably unmaintained trail that takes you to the summit.
Lots of deer in the park.
This trail climbs, somewhat steeply, through the forest. It then breaks into an open area with a few junctions. It was obvious which direction was the right one to take. The trail becomes a road for the final climb, and re-enters the woods.
The only views were in the open section below the summit.
About 300 feet below the summit there is a fence and gate. The road continues up, outside the park, to the top. Here you can either use the road for an easy hike or follow the fence up inside the park. There was a fair bit of poison oak at the top, and it was hard to find somewhere to set up that wasn't in it.
Fence and road below the summit.
I setup in the stone ring near the fence. I'm sure I'll have poison oak in a few days, but I got the antenna up and was on the air. There was cell service from the peak. I didn't get as many contacts as earlier, but had no trouble activating the peak.
The tree covered summit.
I retraced my steps back to the car, except for the very end in the canyon. I took a use trail that followed the park boundary. It goes past a bunch of backyards, and is probably used by residents to get into the park.

Trailhead: Carissa Ave.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the trail over and drop into the canyon. Follow the road up to the Marsh Trail. Just past the picnic table, turn off and follow the narrow use trails up to the summit.
Red Tape: None.

W6/NC-204 Sonoma Mountains High Point

This peak is one of the nicest I've done in Sonoma County. There are two routes to the summit, from Jack London Park or from North Sonoma Mountains Park to the north. The North Sonoma Mountains park seemed like the preferred route, so I started there.
Heading up the trail.
The parking lot is at the top of a one-lane, partially dirt road. I parked and bought the pass, then hit the trail. The first bit is a wide fire road, but after crossing a creek it becomes a single track trail. In the lower sections the trail winds past vineyards and other open areas before entering the forest.
First view up to Mt St Helena.
There are periodic views through the trees, which make the hike more enjoyable. After 4 miles, the trail crosses into Jack London State Park. The section in the regional park is excessively well graded. In my opinion there are too many switchbacks.
Use trail up to the summit.
At the second intersection in the state park, take the well-worn herd path up to the summit. This section goes straight up the hill, and is much steeper than the rest. At the park boundary is a fence with a bench. The bench is inside the activation zone, which makes for a comfortable activation.
Mt Diablo dominated the view to the south.
I strapped my pole to the fence and got on the air. There was good cell service, so I could easily spot. I got a long pileup on thirty, including two summit-to-summits. Once people stopped calling me there I got everyone else on 20 and 40.
Operating position. All the good views are behind me.
There is a fair bit of RF on the summit from all the towers, but I was still able to make a few contacts on 2 meters.
Looking north-east. St Helena on the left edge, Mt Hood, Bald Mountain, Mt St John in the center. Berryessa Peak was visible too.
I had a long walk back to the car, and wanted to get another peak in, so I didn't linger as long as I could have. The hike down was quick. There were a lot more people coming up now that it wasn't so early. One woman who passed me was out for a run, and looked like she was having a miserable time. I was a terrible person, and cut a few of the more tedious switchbacks near the bottom.
Path close to the parking lot.
Back at the car I had a snack and rehydrated some before heading over to Bennett Mountain.

Trailhead: North Sonoma Mountains Regional Park, off of Sonoma Mountain Road.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the trail towards Jack London State Park. In the SP, continue up to the second intersection. Take the use trail up to the bench.
Red Tape: None.
There are a few benches on the way up for the weary hiker.

Monday, October 29, 2018

W6/SC-416 Blue Rock Ridge

This peak had been on my radar for a few weeks, and I finally got a chance to go down and activate it. I left home early to avoid the Friday morning traffic, and got to the Los Padres Dam around 8:30. There was no one else there, and I didn't see anyone until I got back to the dam that afternoon.
There is a scary looking fence at the end of the parking lot, but hikers are allowed through.
I had a bit of trouble finding the right path to take to get across the spillway and dam, but once I found the bridge I was all set. The first part of the hike is on dirt fire roads, which make for easy and fast hiking. The lower areas here weren't burned in the Soberanes Fire a few years ago.
End of the road.
At the first intersection I turned off the Carmel River Trail and onto the Big Pines Trail. There were plenty of warnings about overgrown trails and burned areas, but I was prepared for both. The Big Pines Trail climbs up onto the ridge. It is well graded with enough switchbacks. The trail was easily passable, with only some grass growing into the tread.
Starting to get some views through the trees.
As I climbed, the trees began to thin out some, revealing some nice views. When I reached the ridge, the views got much better. I had assumed that there would be excellent 360 views, but I hadn't looked closely at a topo map. There were higher mountains in most directions, limiting the views.
Looking into the Ventana Wilderness, up the Carmel River valley.
On the ridge the trail follows a fire break. The trail goes around most of the small bumps on the ridge. There was plenty of poison oak in the shady areas, and it looks like the area is recovering well after the big fire. There is one junction, and the sign had been replaced by a metal one.
Pinyon Peak was clearly visible to the north west.
Walking along the ridge, it looked like the summit was far away, but it is much closer and less impressive that you'd think. I got to the top much earlier than I expected, after about 2 hours of hiking. I thought the trails would be overgrown and difficult, but they were in very good shape.
The high point is the unimpressive, forested peak in the foreground.
I tagged the high point, then backtracked to the sub-peak to the east. I setup near a small fire ring someone had built. This location probably gave me better takeoff angle to the east and north. I had decent service on top, so sent out a spot. I quickly got plenty of contacts on 30, 20, and 40 meters. I wasn't hopeful for VHF, but I called anyway. Someone answered on 70, which was the only VHF of the day.
On my way back.
It was getting hot sitting in the sun, so I started my hike back. The trail was easy to follow in this direction, and I made good time back to the car. I was back early enough that I avoided the worst of the rush hour traffic on my way home.
Last panorama before dropping off the ridge.
Trailhead: Los Padres Dam, end of Nason Road.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map. For the latest trail conditions, check and Be a good person and submit your report afterwards too.
Route: Hike up across the dam. Take the Carmel River Trail to the Big Pines Trail. Big Pines goes over the summit.
Red Tape: None, but there are some extra rules around the dam.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


This unnamed peak is in the Los Vaqueros Reservoir watershed. I came up after spending the morning at Pacificon and hanging out with the other SOTA activators. The shortest access is from the dam. Enter the park, and pay the entry fee. Then drive to the end of the road, where there is a parking lot on the right. From here I walked up the paved road to the top of the dam where got on the trail.
Looking back at the parking lot.
I took the Los Vaqueros Trail up the hill from the top of the dam. This climbs steeply, but it is a short climb.
Almost at the top of the climb!
On the ridge the trail becomes the Vista Grande Trail and levels out some while it continues up to the summit. There are three benches and a toilet on top. There are some trees too. I strapped my pole to one of the benches and strung out my HF antenna.
The trails are well marked.
Thirty and 20 meters were disappointing, but I got plenty of contacts or 40. After taking down the end-fed, I put up my EDZ for 2m and got setup there.
Extended Double Zepp for 2m.
There was plenty of action here, with a great location looking out over the central valley. My best DX was to a station NE of Chico, about 150 miles. I could have stayed a lot longer, but I had to get back to the car before they closed the gates at 6.
Enjoying the early evening light.
I took the Crest Trail back to the parking lot, to make it a loop hike. I made it back with a few minutes to spare before the gate closing, and headed home.

Trailhead: Parking lot at the bottom of the dam.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Los Vaqueros Trail to Vista Grande Trail. Or take the Crest Trail up.
Red Tape: None.
Power lines usually aren't this scenic.