Monday, March 11, 2019

SOTA Station

Its been a while since I posted my setup, so here's an update on what I bring. I basically have two setups, one built around a KX3, the other with a MTR.
On Cedar Mountain W6/NC-065. Battery in white box. Red bag is for antenna.
Heavy Setup:
  • KX3, with internal tuner
  • 5000mAh 4S LiPo battery. I built a voltage reducer from 2 diodes so I could use it with the KX3.
MTR and T1 on Mt Saint Helena W6/NC-030
Light Setup:
  • MTR 3B
  • T1 tuner
  • 500 or 1500 mAh LiPo, both 3S
  • The case is for an external hard drive. I can fit the MTR, small battery, and the power and rf cables in it.
Common to both:
  • 34' EFHW & feedline
  • eBay 7.2m pole. This is closer to 17' tall.
  • Palm Pico Single
  • Headphones (earbud style)
  • Notebook and pen for logging. I have a small write in the rain notepad for wet days.
  • TH-F6A, 12' whip or telescoping whip
  • MFJ 1820t whip & CP, for a backup antenna
January VHF contest on Loma Alta, W6/NC-350
VHF Contests:
  • Mirage 2m amp. Includes a DC-DC buck/boost converter. Its too noisy for HF, but fine on VHF.
  • EDZ for 2m
  • "Ukrainian" transverters for 222 and 432
  • Arrow Yagis for 144, 222, 432
  • EDZ for 6m
  • Lots of jumpers, power distribution boxes, feedlines, etc.
  • Baofeng UV-5r. If I take it, I'll have it on the outside of my pack monitoring. Its so cheap I don't mind if something happens to it.
Antenna strung out on Bally Peak, W6/NC-232
In the works:
  • Digital station based on an FT-817 and Raspberry Pi. My hope is that I'll be able to get some more contacts and multipliers in the VHF contests.
  • Transverters for 902 and 1296. Higher microwave bands too at some point.
  • Vertical antennas for 222 and 432
  • Linked EFHW for 20-30-40 (so I can leave the tuner at home)
  • QRPGuys Tri-band vertical (again, no tuner)
  • Directional HF antenna - phased verticals, half square. This is only a vague idea right now.
VHF antenna farm. The left pole has Yagis for 144, 222, and 432. The right pole has a vertical EDZ for 2m and a 6m EDZ in an inverted-V configuration.

Monday, February 25, 2019

W6/NC-065 Cedar Mountain

While I was perusing SOTAMaps one day I noticed there was a peak deep in the Diablo Range that had been activated. I had looked at the peak previously, and thought that it would never be done, since it was deep into some private ranch land.
This is as far as the truck would go.
Paul, K6FRC had activated it twice, which made me think that he either had legal access to the summit, or really liked trespassing. I decided the former was more likely, and decided to get in touch. As luck would have it, I worked him a few weeks later while I was on a different summit, and was able to get his contact info. Paul offered to let me come along next time he went up.
Tower with FM broadcast antenna. He said it was for K-Love Radio.
Paul emailed me saying he was going up. I was free that afternoon, so I drove over to Livermore where we met up. In his truck we drove down Mines Road to the turn-off for the tower. It turns out the access road is someone's driveway for a good portion. We went through the first gate, past a house, then crossed the creek at the bottom. This is where the pavement ended.
Mt Hamilton.
The road was muddy, but the truck didn't seem to have any trouble getting up. At the second house we had to honk twice so the rancher wouldn't come chasing after us with all his guns. There were a few more gates, and since I was the passenger, I got to jump out and open and shut them all. After the last gate the road got very narrow, and snowy. We made it about halfway up this section before it got too slippery. Paul parked, and we walked the last quarter mile up to the summit.
On the air.
While got busy fixing the transmitter, I set up and started operating. I got a good pileup on 30 meters. Forty seemed dead, but I got the locals on 60. I tried sideband on 40 and 20, but only got one contact. Twenty CW got some more of the usual chasers. With a broadcast tower on top, you know its a good spot for VHF, and I got a bunch on 2m.
More of the Diablo Range.
Everything was fixed, so I packed up and we walked back to the truck. There was no place to turn around, so Paul drove about a mile down the hill in reverse before finding somewhere safe to turn. While in reverse he told me about all the times he's gotten stuck on roads like this, and the crazy things he had to do to get unstuck. Thankfully we made it back to Mines Road without any trouble.
Lots of snow on the top. Some high voltage lines too.
Trailhead: Somewhere along Mines Road :)
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Ranch Roads.
Red Tape: Completely on private land. Don't attempt without getting permission.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

W6/NC-136 Three Peaks

The weather forecast was for a so-so day, but I didn't want to sit around all day so I headed out for an activation. My goal this time was Three Peaks, a remote peak at the north end of Napa Valley. The peak had never been activated before, and with a long hike I can understand why.
I started at the Oat Hill Mine Trail. The trailhead is at a busy 4-way intersection in Calistoga. There is a small dirt lot, but it appears that parking is not allowed in it. Most people appear to park along the side of Lake Street, which I did to. Be careful crossing the busy highway! Thankfully there is a 4-way stop here.
Very green trail in the overcast morning.
The trail wastes no time starting to climb. In about four miles it climbs 2000' up to the ridge. The trail seems popular with hikers and runners, especially the lower sections. It was fairly wide and easy to follow. With all the rain there has been recently it was quite wet too.
Small waterfall on the side of the trail.
When the trail came around Bald Hill I was greeted with a great view of Mt St Helena, which was covered in snow to my surprise. I enjoyed the view and sun for a few minutes before continuing on. As I climbed it got colder and windier, and I stopped to put on a jacket.
Looking over the brush. Three Peaks is hidden behind other peaks for most of the hike.
After leaving the Oat Hill Mine Trail the new trail crosses into the Duff Ranch, which is owned by the Land Trust of Napa County. Helpfully they put up a sign with a number to call to get permission. There was an identical sign at the other end of the ranch property.
The phone number is (707) 252-3270
The section across the Duff Ranch and the last bit are fairly flat, hiking along the top of the rolling ridge. There were a few junctions, but for the most part there was only one trail that didn't enter private property. The trail winds around a few lesser summits. In the col between Potato Hill and High Point there is a junction with a map and more signs, these ones with distances.
Potato Hill. It started raining and snowing shortly after I took this picture.
 As I continued the last mile or so, it got much darker. As I was making the final climb up to the summit it started to rain, then snow. All three of the peaks appear to be inside the activation zone. I found a small clearing on top and got set up as quickly as I could. I had cell service, so I sent out a spot.
On the air.
I was getting wet in the rain/snow, so I made it a quick activation. I got 10 contacts on 30 meters in about as many minutes, then stopped. After packing up I started back down the trail at a brisk pace to warm back up.
Calistoga at the right.
There were scattered showers as I walked back along the ridge, mostly rain. By the time I got back to the Oat Hill Mine Trail, the clouds had cleared and it was bright and sunny. The trail was extra wet on the way down, but I made good time.
Standing in the middle of the trail.
I passed quite a few people making their way up, including two bikers. I was surprised the trail wasn't closed to bikes after so much rain, but it did seem like a well-constructed tread.
Blue skies again!
Back at the car I turned on the GPS and was able to avoid most of the wine traffic in the valley. Overall, this was a great hike in a beautiful area.
Mt St Helena poking out of the clouds.
Trailhead: Oat Hill Mine Trail, intersection of CA 29, Silverado Trail, and Lake Street. Park on Lake St., pullout at TH appears to be private parking.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the Oat Hill Mine Trail up to the intersection with the Palisades Trail. Turn right and follow the trail across Duff Ranch to the summit.
Red Tape: Call the Land Trust of Napa County [(707) 252-3270] to get permission to cross their properties.
View from a bench near the trailhead.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


After activating Mt St Helena, I decided to try and get this unnamed peak. One of the maps I saw online showed a trail running along the ridge connecting the two, but no official map did. I figured I try, and if it got too hard I'd turn around and find a better way for a future trip.
3431 is the high point above the cliffs.
The ridge leaves the access road where the turn off for East Peak is. I started this direction, and quickly found that there was indeed an unmaintained trail like I had seen on the map. It was reasonable easy to follow. It is quite overgrown in places, requiring ducking to get through some of the brush. Most of the time the plants  were rubbing against my shoulders as I walked.
Looking back at the St Helena.
The trail goes over a few bumps on the ridge, dropping slowly, then drops very steeply. I slipped a few places in the loose dirt, but made it to the col without any incidents. In a few of the clearings it was hard to tell where the trail re-entered the woods, but I managed not to get lost. In the col it crosses a few streams, then joins an abandoned jeep trail to begin climbing.
Col between 3431 and Goat Roost Rock.
The jeep trail was a pleasant walk, despite all the blow downs. When I reached the col between 3431 and Goat Roost Rock I turned off and started bushwhacking. There were two parts to the bushwhack, a steep climb through open forest, and a fight on the flat section through dense brush. I discovered on the way down that the left side of the ridge (North/West) was a bit more open and much easier going.
Almost at the top!
I found a small clearing near the summit and set up there. There was sort of enough room to string out the antenna, but I made contacts with it anyway. I had good cell service. After working everyone, I packed up for the slog back to St Helena. I cut down the side of the ridge back to the jeep trail, then followed it back. The steep climb back up was tiring.
View down the valley to the west.
Back on the main road, I took a break, then headed down. There were some climbers on some of the cliffs lower down, and I watched them for a few minutes. Back at the car I headed down the hill and joined the traffic heading home from Napa Valley.

Trailhead: Robert Louis Stevenson SP.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Hike up to the turn off for Mt St Helena East Peak. Turn right and follow the faint trail along the ridge, down, across, then up the abandoned jeep trail to the col. Bushwhack up to the summit. Might be easier to come in from the west if there's parking on Ida Clayton Road.
Red Tape: None.

W6/NC-030 Mt St Helena

This peak had been on my radar for a long time, and I finally picked a weekend to come up and do it. I left home early and beat the traffic in Napa Valley. The road up to the pass had quite a few switchbacks, and I was surprised how many cars there were on it. At the top there is a small parking lot, where I parked. I was there at 8, and it was already getting tight. I'm glad I got there when I did.
Up the trail in the forest.
The first mile or so is on single track through the woods. At a small flat area there is a marker where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon. The cabin is long gone. A short distance above that the trail ends and joins the access road for the towers on top. It also comes out of the forest and enters an area that was burned in the 2017 North Bay fires.
Looking down at Calistoga. Mt Diablo in the distance.
Coming out of the trees, the wind picked up quit a bit. Hiking up hill I had no problem staying warm, but I did have to tighten the straps to keep my had from blowing away. The access road was used as a fire break during the fires, and it is interesting to see one side burnt and the other untouched.
Mt Tam in the distance, from the summit.
Eventually the road switchbacks up to the summit plateau. There are turn-offs for each of the sub-peaks that have towers. I went up to the East Peak because it is the highest point in Napa County. Another high point checked off! After a quick final climb, I was then on the summit. I took some photos, then quickly retreated down a little ways on the lee side of the hill.
RADAR installation on the top of East Peak. Lake Berryessa in the valley behind.
Here, out of the worst of the wind, I set up. I had good cell service, and had no trouble spotting. I worked people on all three bands I had, including a few summit to summits. I tried VHF, but only got a few people in Santa Rosa. I had been eyeing a nearby peak, 3431, and decided to try and hike over before heading down.
Not blown away yet.
Trailhead: Robert Louis Stevenson SP.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the trail up the switchbacks to the road, then follow road to summit.
Red Tape: None.