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…
As I turned onto the Allegheny Way, I immediately encountered this not very welcoming sign:
Every few yards up the road, there were more of these, which was a little confusing since the road was marked like a public road and had other roads off it, as if it were a common access way. I knew from the approach that ridge along this hill was topped with some spectacular houses, far above scale for the surrounding area, and realized that access might be blocked by private land ownership.
Looking at real estate listings for the area, I think these signs correspond to the development known as Round Top Estates, and I presume that the signs refer to individual lots rather than the road itself. It appears that not all of the lots have been sold, so some land that looks undeveloped could still be privately owned. It looks like some of the house prices here exceed $1M, which is not that high by Washington, DC prices, but is way out of league for the surrounding area, so perhaps these folks have some well-founded security concerns considering the wealth inequity in their location.
So, I turned around and explored the area for a bit, figuring that there might be another road coming in from the north to access the towers. I did find some dirt trails that looked like the headed off in the right direction from Needmore Road, but it was hard to tell if these were roads or trails, and in any event they were covered in snow. With the wind howling, no obvious place to park, and no assurance that these maybe-trail went anywhere, I pulled the plug on activating this peak.
Now that I am back in my warm house and looking at the aerial picture, I see that the dirt road up from Alleghany Way looks like a continuation of a power line right of way. Given that, I suppose one other way of approaching this would be to hike up from the base of that right of way; whatever private land issues may prevail along Alleghany Way, I believe the power line right of way would be public land.
The back-up plan:
It was still early enough that I figured I could fall back on the mountain in my backyard, Sugarloaf, W3/CR-003. I’ve activated it a couple times before on HF, but it would be fun to set up my 2m/70m beam and 6m dipole to see who I could reach on VHF.
However, this was also not to be. The chain at the bottom of the mountain was locked, and while I could have hiked up from there, having arrived at almost three in the afternoon, I did not consider it a good idea. Aside from having to lug all my HF and VHF up the whole mountain, I would have been coming down in the dark. Note to self for future activations: check to see if the road up the mountain is open that day or plan to begin activation earlier in the day to allow time to get up/down the mountain.
I went home and worked the South Cook Islands, so all is well that ends well. I’m posting this, though, so folks considering working W8V/EP-004 will know that it’s not a quickie, and that there may be private property issues in reaching that peak.