Briones Hills, W6/NC-371

Activation Date: 11 March 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 4.8 miles
Elev. gain: 1600 feet Hiking Time: 2.5 hours
Rig(s): Yaesu FT-817ND, Radioddity GD-77 Band(s): 2m (fm), 30m (cw), 40/20m (ssb)
Antenna(s): QRPGuys Tri-Band Vertical
Cell Service: Acceptable (T-Mobile)
Parking: Reliez Valley Trail Head
Trailhead: Blue Oak Trail
Fees/Permits: None at this lot
Route: Blue Oak Trail, Blue Oak Shortcut, Spengler, Table Top
Dogs: Yes Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Some trees, short fence RF Noise: Low (HF & VHF)

It took me a while to write this one up! It’s been over a month since we did it. But here we go. I wanted a fun hike with my sons and the dogs, and Briones Hills seemed like just the ticket. Not too long, not too short, and with a nice bench at the top! The elevation was a little bit difficult for the boys, but everyone had a great time.

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Santa Rosalia Mountain, W6/CC-062 – 2018

Activation Date: 17 February 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 3.7 miles
Elev. gain: 650 feet Hiking Time: 1.2 hours
Rig(s): Yaesu FT-817ND Band(s): 30m (cw)
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave (40/30/20m)
Cell Service: None (T-Mobile)
Parking: Side of the road (be sure plenty of room)
Trailhead: Buzzard Lagoon Road
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Buzzard Lagoon Road to Aptos Creek Fire Road
Dogs: Probably  Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Lots of high trees RF Noise: Low (HF)

I did this summit last year, in August. It was hot but a fun trip anyway. This year, doing it in February, the weather was quite agreeable.   Last year, I brought my sons along for the trip but they would not be joining me this time around.  Things I was looking to improve this time included getting my antenna up even higher, and sloping east if possible.  The ARRL DX CW contest was going on, so I primarily planned to operate on 30 meters for SOTA, then see if I could pick up any new DX on the other bands.

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New Equipment – QRPGuys Portable Tri-Band Vertical Antenna

Even though I’m in the middle of figuring out the build of a shortened end-fed half-wave antenna, an improvement on my current EFHW setup, I’d had my eyes on various vertical antenna solutions for a while, even though they’re not as efficient as a full-size antenna. Recently, QRPGuys released a new vertical antenna kit for portable ops, and I couldn’t resist trying it out.

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Black Mountain, W6/NC-150 with New Antenna!

Activation Date: 11 February 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 5 miles
Elev. gain: 900 feet Hiking Time: 1.75 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3B, GD-77 Band(s): 30m, 20m, 40m (cw), 2m (fm)
Antenna(s): QRPGuys Portable Vertical
Cell Service: Fair (T-Mobile)
Parking: Monte Bello Open Space Parking Lot
Trailhead: South end of parking lot
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Canyon Trail, Bella Vista Trail, Monte Bello Road
Dogs: No  Toilet: Yes, TH and near summit
Antenna Support: Rocks, low trees RF Noise: Medium-low (HF), Very High (VHF/UHF)

I recently put together a new antenna, the QRPGuys Portable Tri-band Vertical.  I’ll be writing another post about this antenna specifically, but it’s a new product based on Joe Everhart N2CX’s design, published in a recent QRP Quarterly.  It’s a quarter-wave vertical on 20 meters, and uses switched inductors to work 30 and 40 meters.  It’s pretty lightweight and compact, and seemed like it might work well on summits without space for a full-size antenna.

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Coyote Peak, W6/NC-399 and Winter Field Day 2018

Activation Date: 28 January 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 2.4 miles
Elev. gain: 600 feet Hiking Time: 50 minutes
Rig(s): Yaesu FT-817ND Band(s): 40m, 20m
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave (HF)
Cell Service: Good (T-Mobile)
Parking: Pueblo Day Use Area
Trailhead: Mine Trail / Hidden Springs Trail
Fees/Permits: $6 parking – Santa Teresa County Park
Route: Hidden Springs Trail to Coyote Peak Trail
Dogs: Yes  Toilet: Yes
Antenna Support: Shrubs, rocks. No trees. RF Noise: Low-medium (HF), High (VHF)

I wanted to get out to an easy summit to operate Winter Field Day for a couple of hours. I ended up only getting about an hour, but it was a good hour! I’ve done this summit a few times, but this is the first time it’s in my blog. It’s a short, fairly easy hike, and not too far of a drive from my house.

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Ryan Mountain, W6/CD-016

Activation Date: 20 January 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 3 miles
Elev. gain: 1,050 feet Time: 1.5 hours
Rig(s): LNR Precision MTR-3B Band(s): 30, 40m CW
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave (HF)
Cell Service: None (T-Mobile)
Parking: Ryan Mountain
Trailhead: Ryan Mountain
Fees/Permits: Joshua Tree National Park – $25
Route: Ryan Mountain Trail
Dogs: No  Toilet: Yes

My wife and I were visiting Joshua Tree National Park for our tenth anniversary. Originally, I wasn’t planning on doing SOTA while spending time with my wife but then a friend recommended this hike.  My wife gave her blessing for a short SOTA activation, and so it came to be!  It ended up being a cold and windy, but very beautiful hike.

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W6/NC-367, 1502 (2nd time)

Activation Date: 7 January 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 7.5 miles
Elev. gain: 1,225 feet Time: 2.5 hours
Rig(s): LNR Precision MTR-3B, Radioddity GD-77 Band(s): 30, 20, 40m CW, 2m FM
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave (HF), 12-inch whip (VHF/UHF)
Cell Service: Good (T-Mobile)
Parking: Bear Ranch Parking Lot
Trailhead: Bear Ranch Parking Lot
Fees/Permits: None for this entrance
Route: Willow Springs, Harvey Bear, and Ed Willson trails
Dogs: Yes  Toilet: Yes

My first hike and summit activation of the year! It’s just a little one-point summit, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s easy to get to, and it’s a beautiful hike up to a pretty secluded spot.

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Mount Isabel, W6/NC-035

Activation Date: 31 December 2017
Transport: Hike Distance: 7.8 miles
Elev. gain: 2350 feet Time: 3-3.5 hours
Rig(s): LNR Precision MTR-3B, Radioddity GD-77 Band(s): 20, 40m CW, 2m FM
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave (HF), 12-inch whip (VHF/UHF)
Cell Service: Marginal/None (T-Mobile)
Parking: Side of the road, near CalFire Smith Creek Fire Station
Trailhead: Joseph D. Grant County Park entrance, to left, behind Fire Station
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Along creek, then old ranch roads
Dogs: Yes (on leash)  Toilet: No

I wanted to get in one final SOTA activation for the year, and planned on doing it the week between Christmas and New Year’s eve, but had come down with a nasty cold. Even though I still had a cold, I decided I’d do it on the very last day of the year.  Having seen that Jeff, AA6XA discovered this hike could be done on public land, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get this one done.  It’s an exceedingly beautiful hike into an isolated part of the Diablo range.

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Copernicus Peak, W6/NC-029

Activation Date: 9 December 2017
Transport: Drive-Up, Short Walk Distance: .4 miles
Elev. gain: 180 feet Time: 15 minutes
Rig(s): LNR Precision MTR-3B, Yaesu VX-2R Band(s): 30, 20, 40m CW, 2m FM
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave, 12-inch whip
Cell Service: Marginal (T-Mobile)
Parking: Side of the road, CA-130
Trailhead: N/A
Fees/Permits: Permission needed
Route: Up road, trail past lookout
Dogs: No  Toilet: Yes, near observatory

I’d been wanting to do this activation before the end of the year, but kept putting it off because it’s easy, but also kind of a long drive for something that looks so close. It’s easily visible from my house on most days, being the only summit around with several big telescopes.  But it’s an hour or more to drive there.  This one had several firsts for me! First European DX—Spain. First aeronautical mobile contact. First time getting more than 50 QSOs in a single activation. My timing turned out to be quite good!

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Ben Lomond Mountain, W6/NC-178

Activation Date: 29 November 2017
Transport: Drive-Up Distance: N/A
Elev. gain: N/A Time: 5 minutes
Rig(s): LNR Precision MTR-3B Band(s): 30m CW
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave
Cell Service: None
Parking: Side of Empire Grade
Trailhead: N/A
Fees/Permits: None
Route: N/A
Dogs: N/A  Toilet: No

I was over in Santa Cruz for work, so decided to make a “quick” detour on the way back over the hill so I could activate this summit. I’ve had my eye on it for a while, so I posted an alert on SOTAWatch and squeezed in some time to do it. The detour isn’t actually very “quick,” but it’s within reason.

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