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.
Google Maps took us right to the summit, shown above with a red marker. The roads are paved most of the way, then gravel, and finally dirt. On the final leg up to the summit, the road is more uneven and ruts are deeper, so a vehicle with some clearance is needed (most consumer SUVs would be fine), and I found 4-wheel drive to be reassuring with rain and ice making it more slippery than usual.
The main road leads right to the top, where there are a number of fence-enclosed commercial and government antenna installations. When we went, it was so foggy that we could not see the top of most of them. It looks like there is at least one cell phone site, several VHF towers, and a microwave relay. Power lines run up a right of way that is visible on the map, and all of these towers have their own pillbox control rooms and natural-gas powered backup generators, although none of them were active.
If you continue past that antenna farm, the road continues on, intersects with a trail, and then bifurcates, both branches continuing more or less northward. We decided to stop here and pitch the SOTA antennas. Mike threw up a 40m dipole and worked contacts on his HB1B YouKits radio using its internal power supply. I wandered off slightly and tossed my end-fed antenna into the a tree and worked 20m.
Despite proximity of the antenna installation, the RF background was quiet. Mike did note a birdy on 7.039 Mhz, but we thought that might be someone face-down on their key.
I worked ten stations on 20m, including one S2S contact with K7VK in Arizona.
One bit of information to pass on to potential activators: the two fields seen in the aerial photo above are private property. We had suspected as much because there is some sort of white structure visible in the larger field. Along the main road at the top of the hairpin turn below those fields are a couple gates that are plastered with “private property” and “no trespassing” signs.