SOTA: GM/SS-280, North Berwick Law

Entering North BerwickLast month, I spent about two weeks in the UK with my daughter Lara looking at universities. We put about 1800 miles on the rental car and visited schools in England, Scotland, and Wales. Originally, Scotland wasn’t on the itinerary due to time constraints, but we ended up not only visiting the University of Edinburgh, but activating a summit just north of Edinburgh in North Berwick.

Easter weekend was right in the middle of the trip, and I had picked that downtime to visit the Isle of Man. By that part of the itinerary, we had already gone north to U. Nottingham and then west to Bangor. Along the way, we routed through Macclesfield to visit SOTAbeams and picked up a ten meter fiberglass travel mast and some other kit.

From Bangor, it wasn’t too far to Liverpool to catch the ferry over the Isle of Man. Unfortunately, the ferry hit the pier in Douglas the night before our departure. When we got to the ferry terminal on Friday morning we were told that the ferry was temporarily out of commission. I spent the next half hour tapping away at my phone in the ferry terminal car park, calculating what other interest places we could reach and then booking a hotel in North Berwick. In the back of mind, I was hoping to get on the air as MM/AI4SV, but I didn’t have any SOTA peaks in mind.

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SOTA W7A/WA-010: Mingus Mountain

Sorry, Amateur TV folks, you are out of luck in this park.
Sorry, Amateur TV folks, you are out of luck in this park.

You would think that with a name like “Mingus”, it wouldn’t really be necessary to specify the SOTA designator — but you would be wrong, as there is also a Mount Mingus (W4T/SU-008) in the database. I’d assert that my Mingus is the One True Mingus. I don’t know if there is any technical difference whether something is named Mountain versus Mount, but I would like to think there is, and that the one I climbed was the real deal: my first ten-point summit. We just don’t have mountains like this in the Mid-Atlantic region.

I had initially missed Mount Mingus because of a peculiarity of the Arizona association’s database. Initially, the state was divided into two regions, east and west. Mingus is in the west part. Later, they when more states were added, additional regions with tighter geographic scope were created like North and South Maricopa around Phoenix. I had wondered why some mountains appeared to be missing in the regional databases. Now I know.

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SOTA: W7A/MS-065 Goat Hill

goatViewTowardsSuappoaGetting to the top of Mount Suappoa wasn’t too bad, since it’s mostly a matter of following a paved road. For the same two activator points, Goat Hill was much more of a climb. As mentioned, both peaks are in South Mountain Park to the South of Phoenix. In fact, in the picture at right, you can see antennas on Suappoa.

The aptly named Summit Road winds through the park and cuts across Ranger Trail which leads up to Goat Hill. It looks like Ranger Trail is used by both hikers and those on horses, and that some begin lower down on the trail.

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SOTA W7A/MS-048 Mount Suappoa

suappoaTowersSince I was only in Arizona for a short time on this trip, I didn’t attempt to acclimate to the local time zone, I just let me biological clock freewheel. The night before this outing, I had gone to bed at 6:30 in the evening, which seemed just fine to me. The flip side of this was then waking up around 3 am. Instead of forcing myself back to sleep, I just started my day. I got some work email out of the way and then began looking through peak information. I found two peaks that had been previously activated, seemed like reasonable climbs, and which were near each other, both in South Mountain Park.

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SOTA W7A/MS-050: The road not taken

lookoutMt-sideI have a few more SOTA adventures to report, the most recent from a brief trip to Arizona. During that trip I visited three peaks, but I wanted first to write about Lookout Mountain, W7A/MS-050. I had reviewed summits on the SOTA database before the trip and thought that this peak was a good candidate, particularly since it has never been activated.

When I flew into Phoneix it was early in the day — too early to check in, so I pointed the rental car towards the mountain. I took 16th Street south of East Greenway up to a parking lot at the base of the mountain; this is the start of Trailhead #308. There is a sign there with some topographic maps and information about environmental hazards.

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SOTA W6/NC-423 (Mount Davidson)

After a week of meetings in Washington, I arrived in San Francisco for a meeting on gastrointestinal cancer that is held every year about this time.  In the previous week, I had thought about where I might operate if weather were good and decided on Mount Davidson, the highest elevation within the City of San Francisco, and a SOTA peak (W6/NC-423). I got into town the day before meetings and the forecast was good, so took a bus to the park entrance. For reference, the bus stop is at the intersections of Dalewood Way and Lansdale Avenue. I have to admit that the bus did a lot of the work, as the park entrance itself it at considerable elevation. From that entrance, there is a clear trail right up to the summit. The trail was in good shape, but a bit slippery since it had rained the day before.

IMG_20160120_142632There is a sign near the base of the trail that specifies that the very top of the mountain is not owned by the city, but owned privately (but nonetheless is accessible by the public). I worked from a park bench in that area, throwing my end-fedz antenna over a eucalyptus tree just to the west of the bench.

I went in the afternoon, which I thought would give me the best chance of reaching the US East Coast on 20m and perhaps working regionally on 40m. It was a week day and propagation was a little down, and I ended up with about fifteen contacts, which ranged from K6EL’s booming signal from a neighboring hill out to New York. Again, contacts spread evenly between 40m and 20m, with only K6EL hearing my call on 10m. I had meant to try 2m, but left the antenna in the hotel room.

I came down the mountain when it got dark, and while it was a fun adventure to take the bus to the mountain, I dialed up an Uber car when I got to the trail head and was back in the city 20 minutes later. The QSOs have been logged into the SOTA database, but upload to LOTW will again have to await my return to Antananarivo next week.

Here’s a picture from the peak facing North. I like this picture, because I can see my operating positions from previous visits to San Francisco: Buena Vista Park and Twin Peaks.

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SOTA W6/NC-432 (Chabot 2 Benchmark)

radioSelfieI thought I would be lucky if I had time to activate one summit on my visit to San Francisco, but morning meetings left my afternoons free, so I activated Mt Davidson (NC-423) as planned but also worked in Richardson East Benchmark (NC-407). Yesterday, thanks to a monstrous amount of snow that shut down airports on the US east coast, I found myself with an extra day in San Francisco. After reviewing maps, reports from other activators and a quick look at weather, I chose to visit NC-432, Chabot 2 Benchmark (what does that mean, benchmark? Why are all these peaks called Benchmark? Is that a west coast thing?).

One of my main criteria for choosing this peak, like the others I visited on this trip, was that it would be accessible by public transportation: I took the BART underground from near my hotel (Powell Station), green line towards Daly City, stopping at Bay Fair. From the bus terminal at that station, I caught the 89 “counter-clockwise”. The bus runs only hourly on the weekends, so I had a bit of a wait. I took the bus to the Juvenile Justice Center, about ten minutes away. I suppose you could walk, but the route crosses a major interstate (580) and there’s more walking to come, so I thought it was worth the $2.10 fare.

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SOTA W6/NC-407 (and NPOTA RC 11)

richardsonHaving worked Mount Davidson, the highest point in San Francisco (283m), the only way to get more altitude (“excelsior!”) was to leave the city. I set my sights on Richardson East Benchmark (339m) in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just north across the Golden Gate bridge from the city.

After spending the morning in meetings, I again checked the weather forecast. Although it had been drizzling all morning, the lowest probability of precipitation occurred in the afternoon, so I packed my bags and took the 70 bus north from 5th and Mission. The timing worked out just right, by the time the bus got to the destination, rain had stopped.

IMG_20160122_132933The most convenient entrance to the park is at the park and ride station, “Spencer Avenue Bus Pad”.  Google Maps suggested taking one of the North bound buses, e.g, the 70 or the 4, northward past the stop and then coming back southward on another bus since the trail head is on the southbound side of the bus pad. This is not necessary, as you can walk from one side of the bus pad to the other through an underpass. This shaves off a lot of time and some extra bus fare.

There is a sign near the entrance, the morning sun trail. Stairs lead upward from that point, and the morning sun trail joins with other trails that circle the peak. The stairs wind back and forth a bit, but are not too steep. I did find the upper portion of the stairs slippery since it had rained earlier in the day and the stairs were covered with organic detritus (i.e., dead leaves).

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A more detailed view of the trail map from the parking lot sign.

At the top of the stairs, there is a scenic lookout, which includes a bench. The peak itself is visible from there, topped with commercial radio antennas. I ended up climbing most of the way up, but wanted to keep some distance to those antennas. Again, my antenna plan consisted of throwing the 10/20/40 end-feds into a tree.

I did remember this time to bring the VHF antenna and I tried putting out a call on the 2m calling frequency at the start and end of operation, but heard nothing. My business band was 20 meters, with 35 contacts. I was working two a minute for a while. I only had two contacts on 40m, which seemed alive with activity, but mostly QRO, so I might have been buried in the noise.

Some of the activity might be attributable to a comment that NF1R added on sota spotting network, that the peak was not only a SOTA peak, but also NPOTA RC11. I hadn’t realized that when I chose the location, but when I enter the contacts into LOTW, I’ll be sure to use the NPOTA unit number so chasers get NPOTA credit as well. The SOTA contacts have already been entered, but I’ll need to get home to update LOTW.

Best DX to the east was NY (preparing for a blizzard), FL and TX to the south, a good showing for Canadian stations (ON, QC, and BC), and westward, HI.

Return to Lamb’s Knoll

Three years ago, I paid a visit to Lamb’s Knoll Summit in Maryland (as detailed on this very blog). At that time, I went up the Appalachian Trail to the summit with a handheld to test my VX8GR handheld and a 70cm hand-held yagi. I verified that I could hit the VWS 2 meter and 70 cm repeaters in Virginia even with the Comet SRH320A antenna, a short whip. I also checked out possible operating positions and access paths with the intent of returning at some point for a SOTA activation. I also verified that from the summit I had good cellular connectivity and could hit a bunch of APRS digipeaters. Today I returned with my FT817 and activated the peak, W3/WE-007.

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Scoping Out Lambs Knoll Summit

a topographic map showing APRS pings from Lambs KnollThere are a limited number of SOTA peaks within a short drive of Washington, DC, and most of them, particularly the ones with zero activations,  are on private property. After spending a little time with the SOTA database, I found one promising peak less than an hour’s drive away: Lambs Knoll,  W3/WE-007. The most attractive feature is that it is located on the Appalachian Trail, and as a plus, it is line of sight to the VWS repeater.

A Google Map view shows that the trail winds back and forth, with a road running up the middle of it towards a facility on the peak. Even in the aerial photo, it is clear that there are two large log periodic antennas on that site, which turns out to be an FAA facility. By some accounts, this facility started as a Cold War continuity of government site (designated Corkscrew), but presumably, it no longer performs that function.

I drove to Fox’s Gap, along Reno Monument Road. Just off the side of the road, there is a dirt parking lot. The monument to General Reno and some historic markers are also there. The road leading to the FAA site is marked “road may close without notice”, but the metal gate somewhat up the road does not look like it has moved in recent times. The Appalachian Trail crosses Reno Monument Road and runs through the parking lot and into the woods.

The white-blaze trail winds through the woods and eventually rises towards a clearing, where large high tension lines run down the hill. The trail then continues for some distance and forks, with a blue trail running level, and the white trail continuing upward. The path becomes increasingly steep and rocky. On the day that I went, I ran into a good number of hikers on this part of the trail. At one point, the trail crosses the road to the FAA facility and then continues upward. From here, the ascent is not so steep, though, and the trail wraps around the facility.

An aerial shot fo two log periodic antennas within the compound
Log Periodic Antennas from Google Maps

At the point that I thought I’d have line of sight to Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I was successful in hitting the 70cm VWS repeater with my handheld at 5W using my Comet antenna. From that same position (the red dot on the above topopgraphic map), I was able to get acknowledgement to APRS squirts from three digipeaters.

After climbing back down, I drove the access road up to the facility. It is a nicely paved road and winds up the hill. At the point where the power lines cross the road, a fence runs along each side of the road, blocking access to the cleared strip of land under the lines. There are gates in the fences, but they are closed. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road higher up, with some minor signage to indicate the intersection.

At the top of the hill, the road splits with the main facility to the right and an emergency vehicle entrance straight ahead. I did not approach the main entrance, but it looks to be  a remotely-controlled electronic fence, probably with a card reader and some cameras. From the front of the facility, I could not see the log periodic or other recognizable antennas.

To reduce the climb time, one could probably drive up the road, drop operators off, and park the car back near the Reno Monument. Park the car along the side of the road is not a good option. The weakness of this plan is that whomever drove the car either has to wait in the parking lot for a “pick us up” call, or has to hike the whole trail — but it would allow the operators to get into position more quickly and have a longer operating day.

There is no indicate of hours of operation along the trail — it is not a park that closes at night, but it is probably best to tackle it in the day time. There may be some sort of camping along the blue trail, although I’d just drive out for the day.