SOTA: Cerro del Castillo (EA4/MD-052)

Recently, I attended a conference in Madrid and had another one scheduled a week later in Vienna. Instead of flying back to Madagascar between them (insane), I decided to take a few days leave in Spain (sane and fun).

There are plenty of mountains within an hour’s drive of Madrid, and many of these peaks are found in national parks. Just to the other side of that central range is the historic city of Segovia, so I booked a hotel a few kilometers outside Segovia.

Between Madrid and the hotel, I identified Cerro del Castillo (EA4/MD-052) as a target of convenience. It is a four-point summit in a region full of ten point summits, but I thought that I could do it in what remained of the afternoon after checking out of the hotel in Madrid and picking up a rental car at the airport.

This peak is near the town of Berrill de la Sierra and looking at online maps, it seemed likely that I would be able to locate the trail by finding the radio tower at 40.709093N x 4.013113W. Roads seen on GoogleMaps did not correspond exactly, perhaps due to recent construction and because it does not distinguish well between conventional roads and dirt trails. Keeping an eye on the radio tower and driving around, though, led me to a cul de sac, Calle de Sierra del Castillo, where I parked. Just to the side of this dead end is a broad dirt trail which wraps around to the right, towards the tower. Here’s a Google Streetview from the end of the street, with the entrance to the trail at left.

This trail is clearly seen on OpenStreetMaps using the cycle trail overlay.

Long range view, with cul-de-sac marked with a yellow arrow.
A bit closer up.
Same shot, but in open street maps.

Take the trail towards the “S” curve shown on that map. Just before that, there is a gate across the trail and a “authorized vehicles only” sign. The trail bifurcates here, and the higher trail leads to the summit.

Go up and to the right…

At the time of year I went, the ground was very dry and and the trail upward had lots of loose sand and small pebbles, so good shoes and perhaps a climbing pole are recommended. I managed it in my Rockport shoes, but went carefully (I packed quickly for this trip — my hiking boots are sitting at home on a shelf).

At the top of the S-curve is a pole, which identifies the trail, and from here to the summit the trail is better marked with a red and white stripe blaze. There is not too much slope beyond this point, the trail essentially runs along a ridge towards the summit.

At the summit, there is a large triangle-shaped rock with an embedded plaque, which describes the Sierra del Castillo and several moderate-size peaks found in the area, as well as the larger mountains to the North.

To the left of the rock is a metal platform, which looks precariously cantilevered off the side of the mountain, but which is, in fact, reasonably supported underneath. One attractive feature is the metal railing, which made a easy anchoring point for my Sotabeam mast. I attached the Par 40/20/10 end-fed antenna to the top, extended it, and was on the air in a couple minutes.

To the right of the rock is a tree that provides a little shade at the summit. That shaded area became my operating position. I would recommend not attaching any antennas to the tree since it is relatively low and also for the sake of the tree — it is the only shade up there. There are some other small trees around the peak, but none would make good antenna supports, so I recommend bringing up a pole of some sort.

The operating position.

At first, I had a difficult time getting replies. I was worried because the K-index had hit five the previous evening as result of an unusual burst of solar activity despite the declining solar cycle.

At some point, the flood gates opened. I don’t think it was a matter of RBN picking me up — I think that propagation must have shifted in some way. In addition to working stations throughout western and central Europe, I was pleased to hear replies from VE2JCW and A65SP. I must have been particularly thready in Canada, so I give VE2JVW a lot of credit for pulling out my 119 signal. As for A65SP, I am sure this is the first time I have worked the UAE from a summit.

I also had two S2S contacts with HB9CBR/P, who was operating from HB/TI-119. With all the solar activity, solar flux had climbed in the previous week, so I was curious if 10m might be open. I worked HB9CBR/P first on 20m and then on 10m; I had two additional 10m contacts.

What started as a slow day worked out well, with a total of 46 HF CW contacts. I did not get to call on SSB or FM, as my battery was sagging at that point, so I called it a day, walked down the mountain, and continued on my way towards Segovia.

Panorama of the summit, click to see full size.

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