I realize it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. No, ham’n on mountaintops has NOT come to a halt, but unfortunately my writing did. I’ve tried to focus more on my VLOG because that’s where all the cool kids hang. So today, I’ll zip through my activations so far in 2021 and maybe add a little color to some of the new summits I’ve checked off during my adventures. You’ll also see the embedded YouTube link to some of them as well.
One piece of SOTA related news is that we had to put the trail dog Sulu down in 2020. She was almost 16 years old and we couldn’t watch her suffer any longer. RIP Sulu. On an up note, we adopted Rey, a very cute mix that has an equally cute personality. She’s a pup right now but as you’ll see as I progress below, she’ll join me on the trail in a month or so. It’s unbelievable how fast she’s been growing.
On January 3, 2021, I did Guatay Mountain with my sister, Mary Sue. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed having her along. We ran into a lady that was doing a 100 peak challenge and Guatay was on the list, so while I was making contacts Mary Sue looked into what that was all about. After bagging 30 contacts on the radio, mostly CW, we headed back. There weren’t many people on this hike today. It’s not super well known and it was nice to be out in nature.
January 6, 2021 I did a quick activation of Black Mtn by my house. I’ve been up there a bunch of times but on this one I hiked up with Ted, W6TED. It was late in the afternoon and I was starting to wonder if I was going to be able to activate it for points. It took quite a while calling CQ on CW but I did squeak out 9 contacts before we packed up. Ted was using his HT and got zilch, which is surprising for this area. I guess everyone was done playing for the day. Neither one of us were too worried about not activating. This summit is so close to our home base, and we are up here all the time.
January 10th outing was to Eagle Peak. I’ve been up there a few times before and I always enjoy the hike. On the way up, I ran into the same lady that my sister and I ran into on Guatay. Evidently, Eagle Peak is on her 100 peak challenge list. I hauled in 40 contacts on this trip and it was a relaxing day on the mountain.
A couple of my contacts for the day were Chris, N3XUL, and Brian, KB8UIP on Cuyamaca. I could see Cuyamaca from where I was sitting. On the way down, we decided to meet up at Veronica’s Kitchen, a Descanso Mexican restaurant that has the best carnitas in the area. We rendezvoused for a bite to eat and a beer, which also included a bunch of storytelling. I’d had several contacts with Chris and Brian over the past year, who hike a lot together, but had never met them in person. It was fun to finally get an “eyeball QSO” with them. Great couple of hams, and when I say “ham”, I’m not talking amateur radio. :)
From Left, N1CLC, N3XUL, KB8UIP
On January 16th, I went to Windy Peak. This trip, unlike the last, didn’t include wind and snow, just a light breeze. It’s a short hike from the trailhead and enjoyable one this weekend to kick back and work a load of stations.
On January 17th, I went up to Charriot Mountain. This was another unique mountain to add to my list and super enjoyable, sort of. A fellow ham had been up there which alerted me to it since I’d never considered activating that one. I got a late start on a Sunday. The trailhead is located right by Lake Cuyamacha. It’s a picturesque spot with the trail going over a large meadow at the start. I immediately wished I had brought my mountain bike because it was relatively flat with a nice MTB track on it.
Further on in the hike, you join a road that winds around a mountain and then down into a valley so that you can then hike back up to the summit. Again, perfect for a MTB since you could ride that whole thing and lock your bike in the bush. It was a pretty steep incline to the summit but not horrible. It was a beautiful day, probably 70+F. I made 25 contacts in pretty short order but I was a bit bummed because the chance of getting a summit-to-summit (S2S) is pretty slim that late in the day on a Sunday. I got lucky though, Amy, AG7GP was on a summit. I didn’t want to hike back to the car in the dark but prepared for it. I definitely enjoyed this hike and have a video for it below. For the trip back, I really wished I had the ebike to make short work of the long uphill road.
January 31st hike up to Jamul Mtn. was my next activation. It was another beautiful day for a hike. There were quite a few mountain bikers out having fun and I met a few hikers on the summit as well. I've been up here before and I enjoy this one. I bagged 27 contacts from the summit as I kicked back in my chair, had something to eat, and worked the radio.
On February 6th, I joined Jacob, W6RWS, and his friend Doug on a hike up Viegas Maountain. I rather enjoyed this one given the nice weather and company. I wish I had gone to the actual summit and got some video of the guys working their stations. I stopped before the summit to put some distance between us and work CW. I bagged 35 contacts and it was a pleasant outing.
On February 15th, I was finally able to get out again to a hill next to Monserate. I think it had rained the previous weekend. On this trip, I took Rey, the new trail dog, on her first full SOTA mission. I’d taken her on a hike or two up Black Mtn but this was a bit farther. She loved it ofcourse. As I worked stations with the radio, she took a nap. I wear ear buds so the noise doesn’t seem to bug her like it did for Sulu. The weather was perfect and this is a very little known hike so I didn’t see a sole. After 35 contacts in the bag, we headed down.
On February 21st, Rey and I hiked Monserate. This is a pretty well known hike so it was busy. We both enjoyed the hike, being outdoors and getting some fresh air. This was a fun one since and Rey and I got a picture together at the top together (aawwwww). Rey took a snooze while I worked a few stations and then we headed back to to the car. I am still bummed that I had left a hiking pole near where we got a picture. When I went back there to fetch it... it was gone.
On March 7th, I headed up to Cuyamaca Peak. I hiked by myself and it was pleasant as usual. I took a little different route to the peak and was glad I did. The extra .5 miles was definitely worth being in the forest just a bit longer before taking the road to the summit. The front side which has a service road where I hiked down is a popular hike but I did the loop from the east side where I only saw a few other hikers. There was still snow in some areas and it was cool conditions, something that I love for a hike. I worked 46 stations on this expedition. Although I took video, I haven’t run it through post-production yet. You’ll have to check hamninja.com/videos at some point and look for it.
On Sunday, March 21st, Rey and I went up Denk Mountain. Rey is definitely trail ready now. This is also the first expedition that included a camera mounted to a drone. I’ve always enjoyed the perspective that drone video can bring, especially to sailing travel videos, so I decided to get myself one to take the videos to the next level. It was a bit of a handful trying to keep Rey on a leash, hike and screw around with the drone. The nice thing is that the DJI Mini is super easy to fly. If you aren’t commanding it to do something, it just sits there hovering and can withstand pretty heavy winds while doing that. I’d been doing a bit of research on the DJI mini to simulate some tracking shots. The mini doesn’t have actual tracking like it’s big brother, but you can simulate tracking with some automated moves where the gimbal mounted camera will track you as best it can. I think those shots (in the video below) came out pretty good.
On March 28th, I headed up to Elsinore High Point. I didn’t take Rey because the area is known to have mountain lions and she’s a bit small still. I’ve done this one before but on this trip, I was looking forward to working the drone some more. Getting the drone shots does add at-least 5 minutes for each shot because of the unpack, prep, launch, fly, and repack of the drone. On one automated drone shot, where it pulls away from me and climbs, it didn’t climb fast enough and crashed into the canyon wall. Fortunately the area wasn’t too sketchy and I was able to get up to it. No damage and lesson learned. I bagged 43 contacts on this expedition and had a good time. One fun contact was to my friend Josh, who was out on Catalina Island. We connected via our small hand held radios.
On Tuesday, March 30th, I met my friend Josh at Circle Mountain. He was down here from Seattle in the LA area visiting family and since we couldn’t get together on the weekend, I took a day off to hike. If you remember, he and Darryl took me along on an epic hike in the Washington mountains. I have a video of that experience here. I mistakenly told Josh the wrong rendezvous time so rather than waiting for me at the trailhead, he did a quick up and back to Table Mountain, bagging an easy 8 points. I met him at Table mountain and then we did a quick transfer to Circle Mountain. The mountain was new for both of us and a pretty simple hike. We setup one station and switched off for the band changes. If we got a summit-to-summit, we’d just pass the paddles back and forth. He does this with Darryl all the time. After we got back to the car, we had plenty of time to hit one more peak. There was a “drive up” over by Big Bear, CA called Strawberry Peak. It was loaded with RF equipment but had some great views. Check out the video below.
On April 10th I decided to do a Hike and Bike trip and activate two summits, Stonewall Peak and Middle Peak. Stonewall was the hike part of this expedition. It’s very simple trail hike of two miles to the summit. One bonus is that the high point is on top of a massive load of granite, making for an epic circle of the summit with the drone.
Band conditions on 20m were excellent. I made a couple of contacts into Washington where I had to turn down the gain. I also made several VHF S2S contacts, one with K6ARK, Adam, who was on a desert summit during his overnight adventure. After logging 37 contacts, I boogied down the mountain to start trek #2, biking up to Middle Peak.
I was looking forward to trying mountain biking up this one since it’s kinda a boring hike up a 3 mile road. That worked out perfectly. When I got to the point where I had to head up the mountain through the bush, I hid and locked the bike and went up about a quarter mile. The bushwhacking is a pain in the ass in places so I didn’t bother to go to the highest point, but was in the activation zone. I bagged 30 contacts and headed back down. The ride back to the car turned a normally 30 to 45 minute walk into a less than 15 minute ride down. It’s pretty rocky so you can’t fly down the mountain but it was a hell of a lot faster than walking.
On the next day, April 11th, I linked up with Ted, W6TED, for a hike up to Cahuilla Mountain. The hike would have been perfect for Rey but we left the dogs behind. Ted is a good guy to go with as he has the perfect off-road rig. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time making contacts and flying the drone.
There was a second summit, Red Mountain that wasn’t too far from there that looked like a drive up. We had the time so why not. It turned out to be a perfect move. It is a drive up and there is a fire lookout up there. It was a great way to end the day. I bagged some fun dolly shots with the drone and plenty of contacts. The video should be posted here soon.
On April 17th, I was looking forward to getting out of the house and exploring the trail to Apache Peak. Chris and Brian had done this summit a couple weeks ago and I wanted to give it a try. It’s close to10 miles round trip hike, much of it following the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I ran into quite a few hikers doing the PCT from Mexico to Canada. One of them, Cameron, was interested in what I was doing, so he followed me up to Apache Peak and had his lunch while he watched the whole ham radio show that I was doing. I also got a cool drone shot of us up there that will be on a future video on my channel. The hike, radio, and more hiking and driving made for a long but type 1 fun day.
Last weekend, April 18th, I hooked up with Chris, N3XUL to head up to Mount Baden-Powell and Table Mountain. I’ve been wanting to do that hike for a while. It’s up on the Angels crest trail and is a very nice hike. We were prepared for cool temperatures, and that turned out to be a good thing. There was still enough snow and ice to cover some of the trail. We did OK without micro-spikes but it was cold. Not super cold unless you counted the wind, which was whipping in some parts. We had a lot of fun on that hike, since it was new to both of us. It’s a fairly tall one too. I’m guessing this is a bit tough to get to when the entire thing is covered in snow which would explain why Chris and I were the first activators of 2021.
We setup two stations and got quite a few contacts. We had a major pileup on our handheld radios with chasers in the LA area all the way to San Diego. It helped that we were up at 9,400+ feet next to LA. I even had a contact to Jacob, W6RWS, in Escondido, and a 123mile summit-to-summit with Brian, KB8UIP.
On the way back to San Diego, we stopped at Table Mountain, which is almost a drive-up. That was an enjoyable experience. For expediency, we decided to just use our hand-held radios and found it quite difficult to to get to 4 contacts to get the points on this one. I guess this was due to the late afternoon Sunday slumber.
So a total of 19 peaks so far this year, putting over 100 miles on the boots and climbing 22,000 feet. Not bad for a guy that just turned 60. :) Stay tuned here and on my YouTube channel for more exciting adventures.
(aka chris claborne)