Today’s summit was supposed to be on Chiquito Peak but after failing to find a public accessible route, I went to my alternate, Poser Mountain. The mountain is aptly named as I felt like a poser once I got to the peak.
I tried two different ways to get close to a trail that went up to Chiquito Peak but both times I got to a closed road that went onto private property. As I drove south it was clear that an attempt up the west side would be very difficult and the south side would require ropes as well as real skills that I don’t have. I had to be home in time to pick up my daughter, so I had to stop goofing around if I didn’t want this trip to be a total loss. The mountain is located near Descanso, CA. The terrain is rugged, dry, and mountainous desert with the same retched chaparral that is all over the place here. I couldn’t find any trail where another hiker had recorded their track on alltrails.com but it looked passable between chunks of shrub, natural runoff, game trails, and dead chaparral so I decided to bushwhack... What could go wrong?
The terrain was fairly steep and I tried breaking off dead branches to use as hiking poles but the wood was so dry, they didn’t hold up well. My wife has hiking poles but they are noisy and I never really felt I needed them. This trip I wish I had them. This is the firsts big trip with the new backpack and it’s working well. I’d taken it up Black Mountain to shake it down but this trip will put it to the next level of testing. I had to angle to the east to stay within passable terrain and what I thought would be a good approach to the summit. After making it up to a small saddle I spotted a deer that really blended in well with the terrain. Mountain peaks always look closer than they really are and this peak was no exception. It was hard going, and by the time I got to the top I was a bit tapped out.
Someone had jammed a metal fence post into the rocks at the top as a sort of marker so I tied my mast onto that and started rigging the 20m dipole. The copper clad wire is always a pain in the ass to work with and today it was even less fun. Just as I secured the mast to the bar of steal, the wind went from 5 kts to 60, (no exaggeration) with gusts even higher. I quickly donned my fleece and a beanie to keep from chilling and figured I might as well attempt setting up. I really didn’t want to come back here and it would be a good test of my skills and equipment if I could setup in high winds.
I had a miserable time setting up. Because I’m on the west coast, I like positioning the dipole to talk to the east, so the wire runs north south which worked out well given I always tie the mast off 90 degrees to that for wind. The support line that I used to fight the wind from the east had to be quite a bit lower than the mast. Because the telescoping mast stays in place via friction, the low angle of the line and wind kept causing it to collapse. Many choice words were said as I fought the mast, trying not to be knocked to the ground by the wind, chasing my equipment, and scrambling over the rocks up there. As I looked to the east into the wind and I figured that if a fire started within a few miles east of me, I’d be dead before I could get to shelter. Now I know how firefighters must feel when they become exposed in a difficult place.
Once I was able to keep the mast up, I took my radio pack down the hill a tad to shelter from the wind and start making some contacts. Although I had done a practice run with my new Yaesu FT-891 100 watt radio, this was its maiden voyage, but I felt sure I could get some quick QSOs and get off the mountain. It took me a little longer than I wanted to complete my contacts and I quit when I got to three. I forgot that in order to get the points, I would need four contacts. I’m not really into the points, I’m not going back. The last contact said that he could hear the wind in the background. As I started to pack up, the wind died down to zero. This was super spooky but I thought that it was a gift, my misery would abate. I was about to find out the hardest part was still ahead.
Given that I had the high ground, I figured I could save a little time and spot a more direct route back to the car. That idea was a huge mistake... It was steep, I had no poles or even a stick, and I then ended up in heavy chaparral bushwhacking. I only fell on my ass a couple of times but I was attacked by heavy growth as I tried to use a natural wash, another mistake. Some routes were impassible and I had to backtrack. This was no doubt the most difficult decent in all my years of hiking.
I did eventually make it back to the road but I was exhausted and sore. HERE is a link to my descent so that you know what NOT to do. When I got home, I researched my route a bit more and tried google terrain which is a lot better at describing the terrain for planning. Although Motion X has a Google Terrain map overlay, it won’t download them for off-line use although there are other way to do it. Finally, I found that I was the first to “activate” this hill on the SOTA site... Gee, I wonder why??
All in all, I was able to check off another SOTA peak, battle test my new radio and backpack, as well as prove I could still get it done in sub-optimal conditions.
● MFJ 20M Dipole
● DDT Ops Anti-Venom field pack with food
● 3 L of water
● SOTA Dog
● iPhone with and MotionX GPS
● For more info on SOTA, rules, etc, go to the homepage HERE.
-- Chris Claborne, N1CLC