I drove out from around the Washington, DC area to see friends in Valpariso, Indiana this summer and plotted an optimal (and optimistic) course to take me by SOTA summits on the way. There are plenty between Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA, but a lot fewer west of Pittsburgh. For optimal coverage, I chose slightly different outbound (Interstate 70) and return (Interstate 76) routes and looked principally at summits within 20 and ideally 10 km of my route, favoring those that would afford quick access.
The path to the summit is less complicated than it looks. Drive along Mountain Road until you can’t drive any more, then follow the power lines. Mountain Road starts paved, but transitions to gravel and potholes after a while. I stopped driving when I saw some fairly large boulders in the road, and wasn’t sure of axle clearance. I backed off a bit, pulled the car off to the side, and walked the rest of the way.
This summit is surrounded by private homes, and I had to circle around it a couple times before I found what I was looking for: a small service road that leads between houses up to a blue water tower and neighboring outbuilding. The road and tower are obvious on aerial photos, but the road could be mistaken for a driveway from along Triple Crown Drive, as even the tower is not visible from that road.
This summit is about an hour north of the Washington, DC area (outside rush hour periods). As mentioned by other reviewers on the SOTA site and clearly visible on GoogleMaps, it is about one mountain away from Camp David, but I can’t say that this had any bearing on the activation.
Every year, I spend a lot of time driving through New Jersey, but this year I thought I would stop there (being originally from New York, this takes some willpower).
As usual, I spent a while mapping out the sites before the trip. For the sake of efficiency, I divided them into three categories based on my expectation of easy access.
Best laid plans
My plan was to string as many SOTA sites as I could together in each pass on the way back and forth between Washington, DC and New York. As often happens, I had to modify the plan substantially as the weekend unwound — due to changes in travel plans, I had to abort one day of activation. In the end, I activated two peaks: W2/NJ-001, New Jersey Highpoint, and W2/NJ-003, Kittatinny Mountain. In this post, I’ll talk about these peaks, as well as the others that remain on my to-do list.
I was in the Washington, DC area for a day, and couldn’t resist activating Sugarloaf Mountain — it is just too convenient a SOTA peak to ignore. Everytime I’m in the area, I think about going up it, but often summer weather has foiled those plans. Not this time, though. It was a sunny day for my 45 minute drive out from Bethesda, MD to the trailhead.
From aerial photos, I could see that there are at least two paths that wind up to the peak, and I marked the base of those paths as potential way points in my GPS. However, following the default Google Maps driving directions, I got to a point where my phone told me to take a left up a road that was clearly too rough for my car.
However, it did seem like a straightforward no-fuss way to get to the top, so I pulled the car over and parked in a gravel clearing, “Le Reculon”, near some stacked logs across the street from the rough road.
To find this peak, I went with the summit coordinates provided on the SOTA site and looked on GoogleMaps for the nearest road. The road I found runs to the east of the peak and is unnamed.
It was a relatively short ride from Les Cornes d’Urfé, but I should mention that the access road is mostly dirt and narrow in some places. It winds through a logging area, through a dense pine forest. Every now and then, there are large piles of pine trunks. As I drove down the road kicking up dust, I got to the point due east of the summit and then went a bit more without seeing any trails towards the summit. However, when I backtacked about 200m from the position to the east of the summit, I saw where the road branched upward.
As mentioned, I had a day and a half to explore the area around Lyon, beginning Saturday afternoon with Le Grand Felletin.
On Sunday morning, I got up early and pointed the rental car west towards a cluster of unactivated sites, two within the Livradois-Forez Regional Park (Pierre Beille and Le Pic Pelé), and one just a bit closer, Les Cornes d’Urfé. I started with that latter site, which is easily found by searching for the medieval castle of the same name. If I had a more little more lead time for this trip, I would have obtained in advance a topographic map of the area (IGN carte topographique, série bleue 2731, Noirétable), which is sold online.
I was in Lyon, France for a conference and had late Saturday and all of Sunday to devote to SOTA activity. During a 24-hour period, I activated four previously unactivated peaks in the Massif Central region.
By the time I got the rental car on Saturday afternoon, I figured that best case scenario, I might be able to activate two peaks during the remaining daylight. The two I had in mind were Le Grand Felletin (F/MC-033) and Le Pet du Loup (F/MC-256). Some online hiking posts detail the approach to Grand Felletin, a two-point peak with some interesting geology. Both are to the southwest of Lyon, and I plotted a route that could take me back past Pet du Loup, which looked like a roadside peak.