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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LNR Precision MTR-3B Power Test

I’ve had the Mountain Topper for a couple of weeks now, after having wanted it for a long time. I’ve been really happy with it, and I’ve even already done three SOTA activations with it and lots of SOTA chasing from my back yard. One thing I noticed when doing my pre-purchase research is that not many people report on the power output (probably because it doesn’t matter that much). Well, I got curious! Here’s my extremely inaccurate and non-scientific report.

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San Benito Mountain, W6/CC-021

Activation Date: 18 November 2017 (local time)
Transport: Drive-Up, Short Walk Distance: 0.8 miles
Elev. gain: 200ft Time: 15 minutes
Rig(s): LNR Precision MTR-3B Band(s): 20,40m CW
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave, Linked dipole
Cell Service: Marginal LTE (T-Mobile)
ParkingSide of road R10
Trailhead: Side of road R10
Fees/Permits: Multiple permits—see post on Peak 4850
Route: Park near summit, short walk to top
Dogs: Yes  Toilet: No

Out of the three summits we did on this trip, this one was the easiest. Parking a short distance from the summit, it’s an easy walk up a gentle grade. There are abundant places to set up antennas and the summit area is fairly large. There’s even a little bit of cell service! After the (mis)adventures of the earlier summits (4850 and Santa Rita Peak), it was nice to have a little break.

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Santa Rita Peak, W6/CC-022

Activation Date: 18 November 2017 (local time)
Transport: Drive-Up, short hike Distance: 1 mile
Elev. gain: 250ft Time: 20 minutes
Rig(s): LNR Precision MTR-3B, Yaesu VX-2R Band(s): 20m CW, 2m/70cm FM
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave, 12-inch whip
Cell Service: None (T-Mobile)
ParkingSide of road R11
Trailhead: Side of road R11
Fees/Permits: Multiple permits—see post on Peak 4850
Route: Dirt road to summit col, small trail to activation zone
Dogs: Yes  Toilet: No

This (almost) drive-up summit was one of the most difficult “easy” summits I’ve activated. After having completed the intense bushwhacking on Peak 4850, I was looking forward to an easy summit. This one would turn out to be deceptively hard, thanks to a crazy guy on a dirt bike.

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Peak 4850 – W6/SC-047

Activation Date: 18 November 2017
Transport: Hike Distance: 5.5 miles
Elev. gain: 1700ft Time: 3+ hours
Rig(s): MTR-3B Band(s): 30m CW
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave
Cell Service: None (T-Mobile)
ParkingSide of road R11
Trailhead: Side of road R11
Fees/Permits: Multiple permits—see “Preparation and Permits”
Route: Jeep trail, use trail along ridge, turns into thick bushwhacking
Dogs: Yes (not recommended though)  Toilet: No

Having activated this peak once, I may not go back, unless I’m equipped with a machete or good pruning shears. This was the first of three summits in a day of activations with Jeff, AA6XA.  It’s a pretty straightforward hike followed by a nearly impassable chaparral-covered ridge.

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New Equipment! LNR Precision Mountain Topper MTR-3B

I’ve been wanting to get a good CW-only lightweight rig since I started really getting into SOTA. Especially trying to do HF summit activations while trail running! I saw a good deal for this used Mountain Topper QRP transceiver, and I went out of my way to get it! I actually even sold my LDG Z-817 tuner to help provide the funds, making my home station temporarily non-functional.

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Mount Burdell, W6/NC-353 and Olompali State Historic Park, KFF-3527

Activation Date: 11 November 2017
Transport: Hike Distance: 4.8 miles
Elev. gain: 1225ft Time: 2.2 hours
Rig(s): Yaesu FT-817 Band(s): 40/30/20m CW, 40/20m SSB
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave
Cell Service: Good (T-Mobile)
Parking: San Andreas Drive
Trailhead: San Andreas Drive
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Middle Burdell, Cobblestone fire roads
Dogs: Yes – off-leash on fire roads  Toilet: No

My first CW activation!  Having completed CW Academy, I wanted to put my new skills to use. With my wife out of town for the weekend, my plans would have to include my two boys and our dog. I wanted to do a peak I hadn’t yet activated, and ideally also do a POTA/WWFF activation. Mount Burdell (called Burdell Mountain in the SOTA database) fit the bill.

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CW Academy Level 1 – Complete!

Well, I did it! I finished CW Ops’ CW Academy, Level 1.  I even got a certificate.  I’ve made a few QSO’s and although I struggle to copy full sentences, the world of morse code / CW operation is now a whole lot less scary.  This was a really enjoyable course, and I strongly recommend it to anyone starting out with morse code / CW operation.

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