I visited one of the tallest mountains in Virginia yesterday with Mike, KA4CDN. Our goal was to scope out potential sites to activate as an expedition during the upcoming Virginia QSO Party, and while up there, to work some SOTA contacts. The ridge line near the peak runs between Rockbridge and Amherst counties, and a dirt road continues northward to the three way county intersection that also involves Nelson County. Weather was clear when we left Northern Virginia, but halfway down we hit frozen rain and as we climbed in altitude, it just got colder and colder.
I am only back in the Washington DC area for a few months, so I am triaging sites based on range from the house and ease of activation. I had thought that this site was more or less drive up, but that’s not the case. It’s not a difficult activation, but it does require a bit of hiking, some of it off-trail.
This weekend was the January edition of the ARRL VHF contest and I thought I had an unbeatable plan: to find a summit in a less-worked grid square and make both SOTA and VHF contest contacts. I set my sites on W8V/EP-004, Round Top Mountain in West Virginia (grid FM09), which was activated just once in the past.
Weather was not fully cooperative. While storm weather passed to the North dumping snow on New England, temperatures dropped below freezing. Even as I was tossing things in the trunk of the car for the trip, I noticed that wind was tossing around garbage cans in my drive way, and I wondered how that would play out on a mountain top.
Well, I never found out. The brief version of the story is that Round Top is not accessible by the route that I had planned. It looked like an almost drive-on peak, with Allegheny Way road terminating in a large, round pad of asphalt and from there, a dirt path running towards a peak sporting a few commercial antennas. However…
My LNR precision trail-friendly end-fed halfwave antenna has been my go to antenna for SOTA and other field operations for several years. It is compact, easy to deploy in a tree or on a telescoping mast, and it gets good signal reports. Unfortunately, after many years of use and substantial abuse, the antenna broke on my last trip. When I got back, I put it back together, almost good as new.
I had pushed for five peaks in one day, trying to break my previous record of three that I had managed last year in France. While I got into position on El Sereno and made a contact, I did not manage to get four, so this peak does not count as a SOTA activation.
The fourth mountain on my tour of easily accessible peaks just south of San Francisco took me to a vineyard parking lot in Saratoga. The trail towards the peak departs from the topmost parking lot at 37.259823,-122.066786. This activation was a little rushed because the winery gate closes at 5 pm and not 7 pm, as had been previously reported. Perhaps during summer they remain open later. I followed directions from Google to the parking lot and had to turn around at one point where the directions took me up a private driveway.
This was the third peak of the day for me. It lies along a road that runs atop a ridge. I found a cutout along the side of the road and walked past a gate to a clearing next to a commercial antenna installation and pitched my end-fed 40/20/10m antenna into a tree.
I did not have any significant interference from the antennas or solar charging station, and worked some stations on 20m and 40m. The site is not far from a firefighter training area and juvenile detention center, but none of the neighbors came by to visit.\
Continuing my road trip around the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area, I headed along CA route 236 to 37.196014, -122.194314, where China Grade Road cuts across on both sides. As mentioned in another post, you don’t want to follow the green “China Grade Road” sign that points downhill, but rather take road in the other direction, upwards. When I was there, there as a sign for a scout camp on that side.
The activation zone is broad because the road runs along a ridge. There are plenty of places to pull over and set up. No need for a pole here, because there are plenty of tall trees. I set up with both the end-fed dipole and a loop antenna. The end-fed worked head and shoulders above the loop in terms of hearing and being heard, but the loop did give me a chance to work a handful of stations on other bands, including the first contacts from this peak on 15m.
Having bagged my contacts within a half hour of pulling over, I was soon back in the car and headed for Ben Lommond (W6/NC-178).
As in previous years, after attending a medical conference that runs Thursday to Saturday, I had Sunday mostly free for SOTA. In previous years, I have focused on working sites within the range of public transportation (Mount Davidson, Richardson East Benchmark, Chabot 2 Benchmark, and, taking ferries into account, Angel Island). This year, I thought it would be fun to rent a car and try to activate multiple peaks: W6/NC-209, W6/NC-221, W6/NC-178, W6/NC-265, and W6/NC-191. I figured this route would involve about 5-6 hours of driving and arranged it so that the longest drive would be on the way back to San Francisco, anticipating that this would be in the dark since it’s winter. The car rental office opened at 08:00 and sunset was around 17:30, so that gave me what I thought was a reasonable window to accomplish these activation. First stop: Sierra Morena.