SOTA: W6/CC-075 Angel Island

Once again, I find myself in San Francisco for some meetings and have a down day to tackle a SOTA peak. In planning this trip, I noted that no matter how many SOTA peaks I activate near San Francisco, I can always find another one, and one hint is to look at the multiple sub-regions that overlap in this area. Today, I took one from the Coastal Ranges list — Mount Caroline Livermore on Angel Island, just off the coast of Tiburon, California. It’s a one-pointer, but definitely not a “drive up” site — you need to take a boat to get to the island, and there’s no way to the top except legs.

From San Francisco, Angel Island can be seen from the Fisherman’s Wharf area at the northern end of the city, and the island lies just distant to Alcatraz. As usual, I am staying at a hotel in the Union Square neighborhood, so I had to figure out how to get to the site on public transportation. Working backwards from getting to the island, at this time of year there is only one ferry service, Blue and Gold, which departs from Pier 41 several times daily, the first outbound ferry at 09:45. Since Fisherman’s Wharf is a big tourist area (less so in winter), there are plenty of ways to get there: I took the 8BX Muni bus which has a stop a few blocks away (two bucks fifty each way).

Also near the bus stop is the San Francisco Maritime Park, which is a national park that is part of the NPOTA scheme, with reference HP40. That was my back up plan in case the ferry for some reason were not running.

Just around the corner from Pier 41 are a couple floating museums — I didn’t have time to look at them on the day of the activation, but they might be worth a look on a future visit: the USS Pampanito, a WWII era sub and the Jeremiah O’Brien, a Liberty ship that participated in the D-Day invasion fleet. The Pampanito has an operational radio room (NJ6VT) which is staffed by hams usually one or two Saturdays a month; unfortunately, I had only friday free, so perhaps next year…

The Pampanito, with San Francisco in the background.
The Jeremiah OBrien, with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the background.

I didn’t linger at Pier 41 because I wanted to be on the first ferry out. The last ferry back leaves Angel Island at 3:50 pm. If you’re stuck on the island after that, you’ll end up paying for a $250 water taxi ride back. It is about a half hour ride to the island, so the earliest arrival time is about 10:10 am. That leaves about 5 and a half hours to get up to the summit, operate and return to the ferry. I was able to complete the activation and get back to the ferry area in time for the 1:50 pm ferry, but hung around to explore a bit more and caught the 3:50 pm ferry back.

It was sunny and pleasant all the way out to the island, with great views of Alcatraz. In the distance, however, I could see storms rolling around the hills on all sides.

Alcatraz off to the starboard.

As we pulled alongside the island, I finally got a good look at the summit. There are trees on the sides of the hill and along the ridge line, but the summit itself has only bushes.

The dock area is not visible until the ferry rounds the island to the north and pulls into a protected area with some moorings, slips, and a bit of beach. There are a number of historical and functional parks department buildings here as well. Being drizzly and early, there was only one other person on the ferry that morning, and we were greeted in person by the park ranger, who oriented us as to what was open or not (being off season, not much was open, but most of the year, there is a café, a tram ride around the island, bicycle rental, etc.). Having reviewed the trail map available online, I made straight for the northern ridge trail, which is the most direct path towards the summit.

View of the harbor from the top of the stairs.

The first part of that trail are stairs that lead up to the perimeter road. At that junction, there are some picnic tables. The trail continues upward on the other side of the road, and winds back and forth quite a bit, so the rise over run is not steep. It rained on and off as I ascended, which allowed me to appreciate that the trail is also at times a small stream that provides drainage for the mountain. Despite that, for the most part, it was not slippery.

The trail crosses the fire road and continues to spiral around on its way up towards the peak. After a wooded and grassy flat portion, the trail ascends again towards a secondary peak. From there, it is not too much further to the real peak, which gives a 360 degree view around the island. Just short of the peak, there is a picnic table, probably within the 25m vertical activation zone. At the very peak itself, is a metal mast topped by a light and picnic table. On far size of the mast, i.e., walking down the hill towards the Golden Gate Bridge, there is another flat cement area with two picnic tables.

Approaching the summit.

I started my activation at the top most picnic table, standing on the table with the bottom of the FT817 resting on my head. I had posted an alert message prior to the activation about trying 40m and 20m CW and 2m and 70cm FM. I had mentioned that I would try the calling frequencies for FM, and when I tuned to 146.520, I heard talking — in fact, one station mentioned that he was on frequency awaiting a SOTA activation. Unfortunately, between him and the other station, I couldn’t get a word in. I did try spitting my call out quickly between their overs, but a weak signal didn’t have much chance. After trying this for a few minutes, I posted that I was going to 146.415 and made a contact with another station. I continued to call, but with no response. I then tried 70cm, also with no replies.

The summit itself.

My arms (and head) were getting sore, so I stopped trying to work FM and walked down towards the two picnic tables and laid out my HF station. I did not bring a mast on this activation, so I was a little at a loss for antenna supports. The mast at the top of the hill looked tempting, but there were no obvious projections on it that I could pass a rope over to haul up the end-fed antenna. The bottom ten feet or so of the mast are covered with metal paneling, no doubt to prevent climbing. I looked around and found a stick, though, and standing on the picnic table, stuck it through the metal cross members of the mast just above the metal sheeting. I was then able to toss a rope over one end of the stick, wrap it around, toss it over the other end of the stick, and tie it down using the stick as a pulley. I tossed the rope down to the picnic table and was able to set up my end-fed antenna from the table to the mast, just above the level of the bushes — low, but I hoped, effective at least for NVIS.

View towards the City of San Francisco.

I set up for 40m and worked a few station in California and Arizona. Not long into my operation, though, the skies opened up. The weather had snuck up on me, and I mid-call I one-handedly fished out a trashbag and covered the rig. I got into a rain jacket and did my best to secure the plastic, but the wind had also whipped up such that rain was coming more sideways than down.

The Golden Gate Bridge

I was getting soaked, and the gear was also not as protected as I would have liked so I sent something along the lines of “QRT QRT rain rain” and got a call from K6EL that puzzled me for a moment: NW 446FM? At first, I wondered if he was on another peak, like W6/NW-446, but then the obvious occurred to me — he was asking me to try 70cm. In my initial alert, I had posted that I was particularly interested to try 70cm as no SOTA contact had been made from Angel Island on that band. I stuffed the battery and key in my bag, attached my Comet dual-band HT antenna and gave it a try — he replied immediately with a strong signal and said I was 80% quieting. On his end, he was indoors with a rubber duck antenna, so the quality of the contact was surprising. It made my day to work a new mode, so I packed up and walked back towards the ferry.

View towards Tiburon.

If I had been more sure of timing and weather, I would have taken the Sunset trail back to the ferry, but I thought it was more prudent, albeit less scenic, to go back down the way I had come up. Midway down, the sun came out, and I was pretty dry by the time I reached the harbor.

Deer grazing near the harbor.

The return ferry route stopped at Sausalito and then Pier 41.


Previous SOTA peaks in the area:

Mount Davidson

Richardson East Benchmark

Chabot 2 Benchmark

and some non-SOTA QRP activations:

Buena Vista Park

Twin Peaks

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