Monday, May 25, 2020

N1CLC AZ SOTAFest 2020

20 summits in 9 days, yeee haaaa!  I’m just finishing a 10 day vacation (+2 on the road) at my summer home in northern Arizona.  During this time, 9 days  were spent hiking and playing with a radio on a summit.  I wanted to see if I could average 2 activations per day and work in one day off to do some maintenance on the house.  Well, I exceeded that goal and managed 20 activations over 9 days of hiking.  Many of the summits, especially the triple summit days, the peaks are clustered together and if I’m going to drive to one, I might as well do all three.  This is the perfect time of year to hike this area if you want to maximize your hiking experience too.  The monsoons don’t arrive for another month so you can hike all day and the weather is perfect.  Once the monsoons arrive, hiking with an antenna in the air is normally not recommended when the thunderstorms move in, which is around noon.  So if you want to double-summit,  you need to be up at the crack of dawn, run and gun. 
(click on pictures for larger)

I’m still working on the individual blog entries and have a lot of video to process.  For now, this will have to tide you over because at the end of each day, I was just too exhausted to pull together the stories and videos.  Here’s the rundown of the trip.

Day 1 was the hardest hike.  I had just arrived from sea level the night before and hiked up to almost 11,000 feet (3,352 meters) to the highest point of Escudilla Mountain.  The hike was over 7 miles and involved climbing over a LOT of fallen trees due to the fire in 2004.  I spent 7 hours on the mountain and was pretty torched by the time I got back to the car.  I’ve done this hike before and never thought it that difficult but getting over to the highest point meant traversing over move fallen trees, which was a massive task.  As a consolation for all the hard work, I worked a station in Belgium.  The same operator worked my friend on a summit in California so his massive antenna and good solar conditions were a payday for us.  The second summit for this day was a drive up to South Mountain.  The activation meant unloading the car, setting up the antenna and my chair and rolling through some stations on CW.  I definitely needed a glass of wine when I got home.  

Day 2 - I activated three more summits, Middle Mountain, Mogollon Rim, and Timbertop.  All three of these were enjoyable hikes.  I think Mogollon was the best given the lush vegetation.  It had a small fire in the area in 2004 but was still a lovely area to hike.  While I was on Mogollon, I worked a station in Spain and New Zealand.

Day 3 was a double, Escudilla Butte, and Coyote Hills.  I always enjoy the hike through the forest up at Escudilla Butte.  The forest is strong and healthy and there is lots of new growth.  When I arrived at Coyote Hills,  it was blowing pretty hard, probably about 40 mph, and it’s not a lot of fun climbing through the rocks there.  The landscape is high volcanic desert so I wouldn’t say it’s a joy to hike, even less so when the wind is blowing.  While navigating the rock pile that is the summit, I twisted my ankle.  I struggled with the bum leg for the next 4 days.  It was bad, I just had to ensure I babied it.

Day 4 was a double summit day.  The first was Wahl Knoll, where the wind was gusting up to 60 mpg and there’s still snow on the north side.  That was an interesting setup given the wind.  This summit is normally one of my favorite hikes with a view but not this day.  Once setup, I sheltered just off the summit and worked quite a few stations.  I used a linked VHF repeter system to contact a friend in the Phoenix area, NJ7V, who spotted me on sotawatch. 

After a very windy descent, I drove over to Antelope Mountain.  The road was closed to vehicles about part way to where I normally hike from, so my hike was longer than planned.  By the time I summited, it was blowing over 60 mpg on the summit.  I lashed my push-up pole to a stake at the peak and sheltered off the summit with the radio.  I also tied my little chair to my backpack to keep it from flying away.  I had a feeling that I would see the antenna flying over my head at any moment!  The one bonus was that I was able to work New Zealand via CW, so it took some of the sting out of the wind.

Day 5 was a triple summit day, St. Peter’s Dome, Whiting Knoll, and drive up to Green’s peak.  The winds had died down this day and the two hikes were a lot of fun.  St. Peter’s Dome is a lush deep forest with spongy ground.  After I activated I headed down and took a short drive over to Whiting Knoll

After I setup, I sat down and enjoyed my lunch.  Unfortunately, my paddles got enough dust and dirt in them to start malfunctioning badly on Whiting.  I was quite frustrated as my CW skill isn’t the best to start with.  I broke out my favorite set of paddles, the K6ARK wine cork paddles, custom made for me.  They got me through the activation and I set out to Green’s peak.

Green’s peak elevation is 10,133 feet, the highest summit you can drive up to in Arizona.  It was pretty windy up there but I was able to tie off the push-up pole to a fallen branch and activate using SSB and CW.  When I got home that evening, I took the paddles apart and cleaned them with some  borrowed sandpaper.  Once clean, they worked about as good as I am an operator, good enough. 

Day 6 was another double summit day.  We had a cold snap here, with a low of 27F at the cabin so it was pretty cold when I got up.  It took me  a while to warm up by the fire before I headed out.  There were two summits that I decided to check off the list.  Flat Top, which has two possible hikes, one of which I hadn’t done.  I decided on the unknown shorter one, which is a dirt road of volcanic rock and desert landscape. 

Next up was Cerro Montoso, most likely an extinct volcano.  It’s home to two massive repeater towers.  You can drive a good part of the way but my vehicle can’t make it to the top.  I have all-wheel-drive but the final ascent would require a 4x4 jeep with gnarly tires and lockers.  It’s the steepest climb of any mountain that I’ve summited.  The road through the chaparral had deep loose gravel, making traction a bit difficult as well.  These two mountains , along with Coyote Hills, are my three least favorite hikes in the area but they are 10 point summits so I couldn’t pass them up :)...
<<Possible Video Coming Soon >>

Day 7 I hit the peaks again and pulled off another triple summit day.  The first two were magnificent hikes through the forest to Wolf Mountain, and Wishbone Mountain.  This was by far the best hikes of the trip.  Both summits had lush healthy forests with oak, pine and Pondarosa pines, and aspen.  The forest floor is a joy to walk on. 

The last summit, Lake Mountain was a simple 1 mile road hike up to the summit where there is a fire lookout.  Allen, the person manning the lookout tower, came down to greet me and showed me that he still had my card that I gave him from last year.  He got a real kick out of it.  The wind started to pick up and I was pretty chilled by the time I packed up.  I made a quick stop to see a relative on the way home so I didn’t get home until very late. 

Day 8 was my quasi rest day dedicated to a few chores around the cabin, one of which was cleaning out the gutters and getting the pine needles off the two story roof.  I’ve decided that I’m not going to use that 40 year old extension ladder again!  It’s starting to buckle at what I think is a weak spot in the aluminum half way up.  Not something you want to have fail when you are 20+ feet off the ground.  I also spent a little time chasing other summits using a temporary station that I setup.  It consisted of a Yaesu FT-891 hooked to a MFJ 20/40 off center fed dipole attached to trees.  My house butts up against a mountain but it still worked pretty well.

Day 9 was Sunday and I had planned to just activate one mountain and spend the morning chasing other activators for a load of summit-to-summit points, but it turned it into a double day.   I had noticed a summit that wasn’t far from the house that I hadn’t done before so I put that on the list. 

The first summit was located in New Mexico and the activation was a bit rough.  I didn’t have internet access, my inreach was taking forever to post the spot via satellite, but another ham spotted me on sotawatch on the wrong summit.  Also a friend put a spot up for me when he saw me on 20 meters, and used the same summit reference.  It was a strange slow rolling activation on SSB and CW.  It was a Sunday morning so maybe the chasers were taking the morning off.  It was a reminder to always post an alert so that RBN can spot you. 

The second summit was a workout.  It was a nice drive up to the base of the mountain and had a steep curvy road going to the top making it a good workout. The activation came in spurts.  Nobody answered back on a 20m SSB spot, but the CW activation slowly ramped up to a sizable pleup.  The bands were a bit strange, with signals rolling from S9 down to S1 in seconds.
<<Possible Video Coming Soon >>

Day 10 was the final hiking day.  I reserved Pole Knoll for Monday when people would be headed home after the holiday and it’s my favorite hike of the trip.  It has a fantastic trail with a short bushwhack to the actual summit.  I went on the hike with my uncle and we took a route that winds around another small hill on a single-track trail through tall ponderosa pine and aspen trees.  The scenery is just magnificent.  The last time I was here I came across a herd of elk and was hoping to see a few today.  With the busy weekend, I think they were pushed back farther into the forest.
<<Possible Video Coming Soon >>

The multi-summit days were too much for my approach to logging on my iPhone using Ham Log.  I switched to Outd Log on my phone, something I wish I had done a while ago!!!  I wrote a review of the app and why I changed HERE.

The N1CLC SOTAFest was pretty epic.  I had a fantastic time hiking and working contacts.  Because of the weather and nothing else pressing, I could hike to the extent my body could take.  My CW definitely improved after working 20 pileups on CW.  I’m still a beginner but it’s nice to get out of the rut. 

I made 400 SOTA contacts in the US, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, and Belgium while on a summit.  Hiked almost 40 miles, and climbed 10,368 ft.  I did a little chasing from the house but only around 6 or so from my temporary shack at the house. 

On this trip I also enjoyed some beautiful country.  I saw several herds of ekl, deer, antelope, and turkey.  (Those pictures to be added later)

      GoPro Hero8
      First aid kit.  Make sure it’s a good one... like ability to patch up an impalement wound. 
      Elecraft KX2 10 watt HF Radio
   30’ of coax feed line (not needed
      3 L of water (8 lb)
      iPhone with All Trails, MotionX GPS and sota goat
      Trekking poles (not today)
     LNR End Fed multi-band antenna
   AnyTone AT-868UV DMR radio for testing.
   Custom wine bottle cork paddles for CW (crafted by K6ARK)
   Delorme Inreach satellite tracker and communicator.
      Jetboil MicroMo cooking system (left at the car this trip)
      Yaesu FT-2DR HT (backup left in the car)
     Packtenna. (did not take)
      Yaesu FT-891D HF Radio at 100 watts  (left this in the car :) )
    Extra LiFePO Battery (not needed)

Christian Claborne
(aka chris claborne)

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