Back to Tahoe for the summer

The last eight months were filled with a lot of travel, a few continents, 1 new state for me, and some time South of the equator. That said it is now time to head back to work for the summer! Earlier in the year I had planned to make this year a collection of a lot of new unique peaks as well as picking up some completes from chases and S2S over the years. Although the huge winter and me ditching most of my snow/winter worthy gear is keeping me to lower levels and easier more familiar peaks like NS-248, TR-027 etc. That said I do have some backpacking and road trips planned both North of Hwy 80, and up into the Whites. For thsoe that have never looked at the W6 map, definitely check out White Mountain road. With a few days and some full batteries for your kit there are approximately ten summits within an hour walk of White Mountain Road (most are shorter than that).

So most of my summer will be spent on Donner Summit which has my second favorite view (the view from Rainbow Bridge over Donner Lake), and the good news is I have a lot of untapped peaks up there to go after that well I just avoided for years of living in South Lake Tahoe.

TTFN, next up is me just babbling about some mindfulness practices I have used for years, but are at least worth writing about 😀

73 de N6JFD

S2S Party, NZ edition

A quick blurb about playing radio in the evening in New Zealand, and making contacts to Europe.

Mt Pleasant Trig

I love it when a plan comes together, however it is much more satisfying getting lucky and being in the right place at the right time. One of those days I just happened to check the reflector I noticed a posting about the JA/VK/NZ/EU S2S party scheduled for 1, April, and we just happened to be in New Zealand to boot. So far this trip, SOTA had been somewhat frustrating, there are only about 10 CW chasers total between AU and NZ, and the sun was acting like a prima donna being all kinds of super active. To the point I should have been able to see the Aurora Australis when we were in Queenstown, NZ except that it decided to cloud over and rain that night. Also to boot, for some silly reason that escapes me I decided to leave my QCX Mini (18mhz edition) at home, so all I had with me was the MTR3. 3 bands, CW only and NONE of those bands were having it during daylight hours. That said while we had been traveling, I had taken it upon myself to do a couple of night activations, and those were where I made the bulk of my DX and had some fun activations. One on Mt Kaputar (VK2/NW-001), and Mt John (ZL3/CB-625).

I also just happened to be staying at a friends house in Christchurch who lived a 30 minute walk from the AZ of Mt Pleasant (ZL3/CB-822), so the idea of another fun evening/sunset activation that also happened to overlook the ocean and parts of Christchurch was quite appealing. This activation ended up being my most productive activation of the 2 months down under, and I managed to work 9 different countries, all on 20M. Five contacts were actual S2S contacts, and the breakdown of DX was Germany, France, Hungary, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, Czech Republic, Greece, and Italy. I operated for about 2 hours, and enjoyed the views to be had, but once QSOs dried up it was time to walk down. Oddly enough, no JA stations on this activation, despite the couple of times I managed JA in VK land.

Some parting shots.

New Zealand North Island High Point

Taking a break from a long road trip to highlight one specific activation. For those not in the know we have been on the road in Au/Nz for 6 weeks now and the trip is winding down with a couple of weeks on the South Island starting later this week. However today I rolled the dice with the weather and decided to head up the North Island High Point. Mt Ruapehu is the proper name for the entire volcano, but the summit block that claims the HP is named Tahurangi. ZL1/MW-001.

nothing to worry about eh? just a pile o rock 😉

This peak has only been activated once, and given some of the other issues I have been having getting contacts (that will be explained in a full write up ar a later date), I was a bit worried about getting this successfully activated on a Monday. Geoff/ZL3GA helped hook me up though with getting the word out to some of the other local cw chasers!

It was also hard finding good approach data for this peak, so well lets just roll the dice and see how we fare!

Most write ups did talk about walking up under the ski lifts and that works well, but is not the highlight of the hike. Once at the top of the High Noon chair head to the right/Easterly. There is a creek/ice field that does need to be crossed. Today there was a decent crossing however in my mind tbis was the crux and a bit unnerving. The runout would not have been good, I did find a place further downstream to cross without ice. The next goal is to make the shoulder that runs SW to NE. Take the time to notice the amazing slab that goes from about 2500M to a cliff band around 2650M. The slab is very sticky, and I found it easy for going both up and down in a straight line. Most of the tracks I found avoid the slab, but if you are comfortable on rock its safe and fun. The next bit oh fun is a lot of switchbacks, or some mild class IV climbing, but this is the steepest part of the approach.

Top out on the false summit and the last 100M is pretty mellow, do note though there is about 20-25M of a spine before the shoulder gets really mild. The drop off on both sides is a bot precipitous 🙂

The view from up here is amazing, there is a huge lake down in the crater, a cone on the other side of the lake, and a few more summits as well. The mountain did burp a couple of times while I was up there and that was a touch unnerving, but I did not see anything spewing.

This was my best activation so far of the trip, I managed to get 9 contacts total across VHF 20/30/40M (not used to getting so few, but as noted above another story for a much bigger post).

West Highland Way (SOTA Edition)

So WAY back in 2019 I had planned to hike the West Highland Way in spring of 2020 and sprinkle in some Summits on the Air as well. I think we know what happened to that though. Since I was working a pretty good job at the time I had booked a a combination of some wild camping and pretty posh stays, and at the beginning of pandemic all but one of those places had agreed to refund the bookings. The Bridge of Orchy hotel was the one place that would not do a full refund and 2022 was the last year they were willing to push the stay back (kind of a “use it or lose it” thing). So with that in mind I put a date kind of in the middle of the end of September and took my original plan to build forward and backwards.

For those that do not know the WHW is about 100 miles long starts in the suburbs of Glasgow, walks north along Loch Lomond and then heads up into the Scottish Highlands, most people take 5-7 days to do, and if I were just doing the trail that would have been a fair assessment for me too, but I was also bagging munros to play radio. So my plan called for about 11-12 days (12 days if I had opted for a side trip up into the Mamores range to circle around and come across the CMD Arete to finish on Ben Nevis before descending into Fort William.

Day 1: Milngavie to Drymen (Camping): 17 – Sept

Woke up at the Hostel in Glasgow and hit the train early. I needed to be at the train station in Milngavie (pronounced “Mull-Guy”) to leave my extra clothes/luggage with AMS. They were going to hold and deliver to Fort William on the 28th. Once that was all sorted, I worked my way to the marker that is the start of the WHW. There were already a few groups of people amassing the area as they were getting their pictures in front of the obelisk. I grabbed some breakfast, and a last coffee at the nearby Costa, and hit the trail.

some lone lost forgotten hiker

Walking the first bit is sort of urban, but is not unlike some walking I had recently done in Wales. It is quiet, it is a nice urban path, but in the trees and quiet none-the-less. Keep in mind, this was the suburbs of Glasgow and not in the city centre, so that did help with the quiet factor. You experience what you might normally see at a local town park, the trail runners, the dog walkers (lots of fun dogs to say hello to this morning) and the occasional mountain biker. This is definitely the beginning of the hike though, everyone is clean, everyone is fresh and ready to hit the trail. Within an hour though you are finally getting out of town, and starting to get into some of the more rural areas. Once you get out of town, you really start to experience some strange and interesting stuff, here was a lost hiker that never seemed to get past this one location.

About an hour before Glengoyne (more on that later) I came across a familar name, the “John Muir Way”. Wow so I have now walked the entire John Muir in California, parts of it in Tennessee and now parts of it in Scotland. Even cooler that the West Highland way is considered part of the “International Appalachian Trail”.

A few hours out of town I made it to a distillery that is just off the Way called “Glengoyne”. Keep in mind I knew this distillery was there, and I have been there before, so I headed on up because it was time to refill the water bottle with some of their natural spring water and I wanted to pick up a little nippy bottle for the end of the trail. I scored this 7.5cl of 18yo scotch, found a good place to carry it so it would not break and headed on. A bit further I started to find some of the honesty boxes, this is the one part of the trail where cash is still required. So far tap and pay (thank you Covid?) has done well, but those honesty boxes do need some cash. Good news is I did bring some along because an Ice Cream was definitely sounding good at this time of the day. The last couple of miles of day one was along a roadway. It was kind of funny as I was swallowed up by a large guided group of folks who were doing the full luggage transfer, carry a light day pack of snacks and water method. Nothing wrong with that, but this groups’ guides had definitely let the group get VERY spread out. As I was walking into the driveway for Drymen Camping one of those hikers thought I was her guide and asked me “how much further till we stop for lunch, I’m tired and hungry”. Well funny enough I had been listening to their guides a while back saying they were going to do lunch up in Drymen. “Oh well I am stopping here but it sounds like ya’ll are eating lunch about a miile further up the road”. It sounds like that group was doing a full 20 miler all the way to Balmaha for day one. Ouch, I was perfectly happy doing my 12-13 miles and just strolling into a relaxing evening camping.

Drymen camping was a nice place, the gentleman (family?) that runs the place had expanded to support larger tents as a result of Covid so on top of the small spots (which was a bunch of us in 1 and 2p tents) up above were some of the big 6-8 people tents as well as some campervans and overland rigs. I do respect the love of campervanning (#vanlife in the US) that the UK folks do. Something I would experience a lot over the days to come.

Day 2: Drymen over Conic Hill to Rowardennan 18-Sept

I wanted an early start because today was going to be a SOTA day with my first taste of combining some decent miles, a hill climb AND an activation. I was also looking forward to finally breaking in my new SotaBeams carbon 6. After having some almost not-activations in Wales I reached out to SotaBeams when in Keswick to get a Carbon 6 ordered and delivered to Glasgow before hitting the walk. I pounded some breakfast (while there are very few bag/dehydrated meals I like in the US, I really became a fan of Adventure Food’s breakfast and veggie meals. Their Knusper Meusli is probably my favorite breakfast and you can have it warm or hot. Anyway I was on the trail I think before most people were even up, but I wanted to be on top of Conic Hill by 10am for my activation to ensure I had time to get down to Balmaha for lunch and make the Rowardennan Youth Hostel with plenty of time to chill that evening.

Conic Hill off in the distance

Once I got past Drymen and was getting further into the Trossachs, the environment around me was really starting to change and turn more green. Plus I was staring to get into some easy climbing. That said I was also encountering more sheep/cow/range lands. Plenty of forest lands were encountered too. The final push up Conic Hill was not as hard as I was thinking, but the walking in Wales and the Lakes did have me ready for almost anything :D. At first I was thinking I could just run this activation on 2m, but I really wanted to break in my new mast, so I broke out the MTR2 (Thank you N6IZ, another story for another time, but I normally use an MTR3b_LCD) and setup in a way to not interfere with the ever grown crowds on the summit. I even drew the interest of some drone pilots who were not sure what was going on with my wire and tall mast.

After an hour I managed 13 contacts between 2m, 20m and 40m, but was ready to head down into Balmaha as it was getting crowded on top.

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

The walk to Rowardennan was pretty uneventful, still playing with both an (sub)urban interface, and getting into the hills while also walking along the Southern end of Loch Lomond. I swear though that it smelled very sea like at this end of the Loch.

So once at the Rowardennan area I do want to make a comment about “The Clansmen”. As a walker you want to get there no later than 6pm. They only want to cater to the clients in the hotel they are attached to. I was able to get in and get some food there, and there was a nice view for sunset, but yah get their early, call ahead or just know that the Youth Hostel (if that is where you are staying ) does serve dinner, or just be ready to have your own food. I was not ready to break into my other camp meals yet so I opted for an early dinner at the Clansmen. The views from the Youth Hostel are quite nice as well!

Day 3: Ben Lomond (SOTA day) 19-Sept

So, this could technically be considered a “zero day” since I was not moving forward, however I was doing a day dedicated to just SOTA. Today my goal was Ben Lomond. Another early start was the plan, had a decent breakfast at the YHA and then headed back the 1/2 mile to the trailhead for Ben Lomond. Walking up was a bit of a dreary morning, not that crazy “Scotland rain” I had heard so much about, but dreary none-the-less. Not that I could see them the crowds ahead of me, but once I made it above treeline, the fog was making the visibility “shite”, and I could tell there was a decent amount of folks ont he trail ahead of me. This was my first (second actually) taste of Scottish munro walking; lots of stone steps, straight up, no meandering, just pitter patter, lets get at ‘er. I went ahead and setup just off the summit area, but still at the top block (something that would be a mistake as the day went on). This was another very successful activation though netting 29 contacts on 20/40 on the MTR2 and I even broke out the QCX mini (17m) for a few contacts including one VE (North American) QSO. It was worth it do the extra band for sure. As I went past noon, I noticed the crowd on the summit was actually quite big AND the winds were threatening to knock my makeshift mast supports down, so after 90 minutes of activation time I decommissioned the setup and walked back down the hill. Oh btw, did I mention today was the day of the Queen’s funeral? It was a bank holiday for everyone in the UK, so as a result all the non-royalists(?) from the area decided okay, lets go walk a hill. I was definitely swimming downstream as a million of my not-so-closest friends were heading up to the summit. All in all a great “zero-day” to do some Summits on the Air and get some hill walking in as the day did turn out to be quite sunny and enjoyable.

That evening at dinner I ended up eating with a couple of gentlemen who were also staying in my bunk room at the YH, Roy and his brother Tom from the Bay Area (California). They were both retired and were off on one of their annual adventures together. It was an fun/odd mix because while I was having some big days here and there my zero days would allow the three of us to keep bumping into each other as time went on.

Day 4: Rowardennan to Crianlarich: 20-Sept

Day four was going to be my biggest day of the trip and I was a little nervous. To be fair I did have a strange 18 mile day in Wales but today was going to be a 20+ mile day overall.

Hit up one last breakfast at the YH and then hit the trail. There is a side trail that takes you directly up from the hostel to the WHW, so no real backtracking. The walk here up until the Inversnaid Hotel is along Loch Lomond, and is quite pretty. I was unable to get a good picture of the Inversnaid falls, but it is pretty impressive. that I can say. It is worth it to grab a snack (second breakfast) and top off your water because from here the fun really begins. Note that shortly after the Inversnaid hotel you have an option; a high route and a low route. The high route is pretty much a doubletrack forest road. The low route (so I have read and was told by folks) is this crazy almost rock climbing up and down affair that runs along Loch Lomond. As noted I had read how rough it was so I, and this other couple I bumped into decided to take the high route. The high route reminded me a lot of walking through some of the coastal areas of Oregon, very rainforest like. The trail does drop to lake level the last few miles of Loch Lomond and it in some ways reminded me of the West Coast Trail up in British Columbia. Off camber ladders, crazy bridges, and some rock scrambling. I made it to Beinglas farm around 2pm and was not really wanting to wait for them to open up at 3pm, so I opted to head on. I had read earlier in the day while walking that Beinglas’ lease was not being renewed next year so what seems to have been a staple for campers and hikers wanting a mid day treat was probably going to be no more (or at least a new/different form) in the years to come. Beware the Willy Wonky Hobbit tunnel that goes under the ScotRail line. It starts out okay for average height folks, but starts to get shorter in the middle and by the end you are bear/crab/crouch/duck walking to get to the end :D. From here on out the trail runs through a farm land with plenty of sheep, but looks East over the valley that is past Crianlarich. I had booked the YHA in Crianlarich (I really do like the YH’s) but this one I can tell was not going to meet the standards that Rowardennan had set.. The room was nice enough but there was mold on the ceiling, and they were starting to run short on things. The Rod and Reel restaurant is really good, I ate there both nights and enjoyed both meals, even had the Steak Pie on the second night (I’m normally a vegetarian but lets just say that the food in EU is so much better than the US that meat made it’s way back into my diet :D).

Day 5: Ben More and Stob Binnein

So, I am just going to set this out now and say this is maybe the 3rd hardest day of hiking ever and my second hardest SOTA day ever. Mt Dubois (W6/WH-001) will probably always be my hardest SOTA day but this day was a very close second. My round trip mileage from Crianlarich was just shy of 13 miles. Four miles was the walk to/from the Ben More Trailhead and Crianlarich.

Once you actually get to the Trailhead, that is when the real fun starts. (see below) The first 2000 feet of elevation gain is pretty much stone steps that are on a steep grade, steep enough that looking down the steps gave me a bit of vertigo. It was a typical weather day this day. The last 500 feet of elevation was in the clouds, and there was no visibility. Given the wonky weather (pretty windy and misty) I decided to go for a VHF only approach. I was also still far enough South that Glasgow was in reach. Both summits did qualify on VHF. The hike down the backside and then back up to Stob Binnein was more of the same, steep down and steep up. The REAL fun of this hike was for the downroute back to the road. No I did not go back over Ben More but followed the goat/sheep trail that is on the Western slope all the way down. The stairs would have been easier :D. The total down route from the col in the middle took me about as long as both up routes. Given the moldy ceilings on the YHA, once I did get back to town I marched straight to the Best Western and booked a nicer room for the night. However I did take advantage of the laundry at the YHA before pulling all my stuff out and relocating. Again another night at the Rod and Reel for some good beers and the Steak Pie I spoke about above.

Day 6: Crianlarich to Tyndrum

Today was supposed to be a walk to Tyndrum with a SOTA peak, but I was still pretty beat from the 20 mile day plus the 4600 feet 13 mile double SOTA day. Today was just a good 7 mile jaunt with a history lesson and some cool valleys along the way as we just start getting further into the Highlands. Once you make it Tyndrum the Green Welly is a great place to restock. I will note that Tyndrum is at some sort of crossroads as it is a pretty busy town. The walk in is pleasant enough as you walk along the stream (Crom Allt). Not that Tyndrum is anything more than a small town, but it is a slight contrast to the villages of the past few nights, as it was quite a busy town. There are a couple of big hotels, quite a few campgrounds and there is still the iconic/idyllic old world style inns too. There are a couple of wild camping spots between “By the Way” and crossing the A road that goes through Tyndrum. I took todays extra free time to snag a massage (she is reachable on WhatsApp), do a little restocking and just relax before pushing on the next leg of the trip.

Day 7: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy and Beinn Dorain (Hike and SOTA day)

The Bridge of Orchy

All rested up and ready to move on, I grab an early breakfast and hit the trail. Technically there are two options (depending on where you stay), walk right through town, or just head out towards the “By the Way” campsite and pickup the trail. Here the trail starts getting more remote and into the Highlands. The valleys are surrounded by larger hills. I was only going about 7 miles to Bridge of Orchy Hotel (the one that prompted me to run this trip this fall). So, you follow the A82 road a bit but then head out into farm country, and the scenery is beautiful at this rate. I cannot remember the name of the lodging along the way but right before the Kinglass River is a neat little camp site way out in the country. They have a store and depending on the time of day you walk through there second breakfast or lunch is an option. So I made the Hotel around 11am and took this opportunity to offload about half my weight to scale down to just what I needed for heading up and doing some SOTA. This was another one of those straight up trails, although I use the phrase “trail” loosely. Depending on how early you head up, or how late you want to stay up it is possible to get two activations. I went after Beinn Dorain but as noted given enough time (or the desire to come down later) then CS-025 would add about an hour of walking overall (plus the activaiton time). If I had stayed an extra day in Bridge of Orchy the two-fer would have been worth it.

The activation was going well, I qualified the with the MTR2 and some VHF action, but something was itching me to break out the QCX mini today. I netted 12 contacts just on the QCX mini over a 40 minute window including TM2SOTA. Most of the contacts were to the southern end of the EU continent including Spain, Italy and even Ukraine. I took my sweet time with the QCX since I was not going after the second summit. Overall a fun activation.

Bridge of Orchy Hotel

Day 8: Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Mountain Resort 24-Sept

Another short day, only 11 miles and no SOTA. The point of today was to just get to Glencoe Mountain Resort which is across from Kingshouse Inn. Today was the first real autumal day of the year. The air was crisp, the temperature was pleasant, the sun was shining and there were some clouds in the area. A joyous breeze. Inveroran is just over the hill from Bridge of Orchy and offers a quick refreshment, a short ways along the country road and the Way heads over a bridge and heads up the old Drovers road. Not sure how I missed this peak when I was doing my planning but a few miles from GMR is yet another peak I cannot pronounce Stob a’Choire Odhair. This 6 pointer is accessible directly from the West Highland Way. I almost went after this peak, but for some reason just kept enjoying the saunter along the beautiful day. GMR was a two day stop over with the goal of two Summits. A few shots of just how inspiring this area was (at least for me). No roads, mountains, and walking an old Drover’s road.

Day 9: Meall a’Bhuiridh (SOTA Day) 25-Sept

SOTA day with the goal of two peaks Meall a’Bhuiridh and Criese. The goal was to head up the lift to get a little head start on the walk head over the col and scale up what (on a topo map) looked like a probably a hard class 3 or maybe an easy class 4 to the next ridge line. Mother Nature had something else in mind. A storm system was moving in and the winds were already starting to rip. Rain was also coming down sideways :D. The winds were such that one side of my body was completely wet while the other side was dry. With that in mind and the wx turning quickly I opted to go ahead and just work Meall a’Bhuiridh instead. That was a smart move as I only mustered one VHF QSO, so I did find a place where the winds were not going to rip up my mast and worked this peak with 17m. I managed 7 QSOs in 15 minutes, tore the setup down quickly and started my way down the peak the way I came up with the winds now howling. On the way down the winds were ripping hard enough to blow me off my feet on one occasion. Strong enough to actually throw me a couple of feet through the air. After some crab walking and lots of bracing I managed to get all the way off the hill in one piece, but yet another epic day on this fun little adventure! By the time I was back down to GMR the winds were ripping and the rain was sheeting hard so I opted to move into one of the little hobbit huts and dry everything out.

Day 10: GMR to wild camping 26-Sept

So, after having finished a few good sota peaks and realizing it had been a few years since I finished a named long trail (as opposed to multi-day segments of long trails) I shifted my focus now on the rest of the walk to Fort William (okay it is only two days away), so with a new day and the weather being pleasant again, no crazy Scottish weather the goal was to make Kinlochleven for lunch and then head up into the wild country to have one last night of wild camping. The Way follows the road for the first few miles and then turns up into the high country on a trail feature aptly named “the Devil’s Staircase”. I lifted this from the Internet as a history of the naming.

Between the 18th and 20th century, many  people in Glen Coe have been believed to have been ‘claimed by the Devil.’ This is because many workers at the reservoir, after failing to return home after a winter’s night at the local pub, would have struggled the steep path of the route. This is why the nickname ‘Devil’s Staircase’ came about.

This part of the trail is very scenic, and does give you that Highland scenery that one hopes to see. For what it is worth this many days in heading up the Staircase was pretty easy, and for anyone else even on a weeklong itinerary this number of days in the jaunt up the stairs is not going to be that tough, so do not let the name scare you.

From here you descend down the valley into Kinlochleven over a couple of miles. The trail is nice walking so it should not take very long. You do need to get in before 1500 hours as that is when most shops do shut their kitchen for mid day break. I found a nice sandwich shop, and even enjoyed a milkshake with my lunch. Kinlochleven also hosts the local Ice Climbing centre. It might be worth a visit if you are staying in town or have the time.

My last campsite of the Way, a very pleasant night

After lunch in Kinlochleven I moved back to the trail and kept moving along into the backcountry with a specific location in mind. Here the trail does climb some out of town, and then chills to a gradual ascent. I found a flat creek amd trailside setup in a great location that was somewhat wind protected, however IF I had kept going another mile I would have been able to pitch behind a rock wall from an abandoned shepherd’s hill home.

Dinner was pleasant, however I finally came to the realization that it is time to finally retire my snowpeak gigapower (it took 30 minutes to boil 1.5L of water, and no I am not getting a Jetboil. Time for an MSR Pocket Rocket). The sunset and surrounding views for the evening were amazing. Being though in livestock grazing land I found it humourous all night cows on both sides of the hill were constantly mooing back and forth to each other. Not enough to keep one awake, but those couple of times I did wake up for a bathroom break I could still hear them wailing away and their bells clanging.

Day 11: Wild Camping to Fort William (~14 miles) 27 – Sept

Last day of the walk, another great day in the Highlands. I had no real schedule and did not need to be anywhere, so I was not in too much of a hurry to get moving, however by 9am plenty of walkers were already moving past me. I am curious when these folks left whereever they started from. If they left Kinlochleven it must have been around 7am as I was two hours past the village. Anyway, with a fresh batch of individuals to walk with I proceeded along the last bit of the Way, but not in too much of a hurry. I wanted to soak up these last few miles of Highlands. So as I noted “yesterday” a mile or so past my camp I found what would have been a perfect place to hide from the winds (had their been any, fortunately last night only brought mild breezes).

The foundation of a pen would have made another good wind break stay out of the house though.

For the first bit of the morning we walked in the wide open valley with views West towards Glencoe and a reservoir or two. However the trail does eventually turn North and you start that last little climb past the Mamore range for the final few miles push into Glen Nevis. Right befote the final drop there is an old Iron Age fort that is worth the 20 minute side trip. If you read the information board, what you see, and what you read do make sense. Also from this high spot you can see Ben Nevis (on a clear day) to your North across the valley. Plus the view up the Valley as your nestled between the Mamores and Nevis range does help give you that small feeling that comes with being in the mountains. Once back on the trail it is all downhill to Glen Nevis and then pavement into Fort William! What a walk

The happy hiker sitting with the statue at the end in Fort William

Epilogue:

Tbis trip was well worth the wait, and is one of the few hikes I would love to do again, or at least consider going on past to also add the Great Glen Way. It is possible even without a luggage transfer service to put a posh trip together, but doing the combination of tent nights (4 total) a couple nights in the Hobbit Huts, the Youth Hostels and the two hotels was a new experience for me. However knowing what I know now, and skipping the SOTA factor a completely wild camping experience would be the plan. Trekking through the UK the past few weeks and specifically the WHW in the relaxed manner in which I did it was quite the enjoyable experience. The food here was tasty. The added two years also helped to improve the solar comditions to get those further daytime QSOs. I also have a new found fondness for the QCX mini. I had plenty of fun with it in Tahoe, but hearing all those Balkan and Southern European stations blasting in was a nice new change, the couple of times I did get a NA QSO also made that particular activation more fun.

See you next time!

And now for something completely different

Time for a new chapter in life, so saying goodbye to Tahoe and seeing what the world has to offer us as I venture down a new career that will keep me walking in the mountains and allow us to travel!

Looking South from Tamarack Peak (W7N/WC-003)

Okay so this post is a bit of a one off that long term may not be a one off, although if you follow me on Instagram and saw how I rebranded there some of this will make sense. Note that I may eventualy rebrand this blog as well. Also this write up is being finished six months after I had intended to post/publish so this is a 6 month old draft that has both reflections and steady state of my where we were mentally in April 2022, as well as “wow that did not go as planned but OMG we had so much fun and the path is constantly fluid”.

What started this life altering event?

The story goes like so: It was Presidents day weekend (Feb) in 2022 and after seeing the house behind us sell for a ton, as well as the house across the street sell for more than it should have plus having a hunch that some big global things were about to hit (this was a couple of weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine) and an overall nagging feeling that the housing market was not sustainable for another year the wife and I decided to pay our financial guy a visit and to gauge how much we really needed to sell the house for to just walk away from the tech industry and take a little time to just figure things out as well as do some travelling. Thanks to the pandemic and folks looking to leave the cities and head to the rural areas we had watched our home value just sky rocket a lot over the past 18 months.

So with a number that kind of surprised us (lower than expected) and the desire to dip our toe in by asking for something that split the two houses I had mentioned above we ended up selling our house in 3 days for well over asking. Truth be told we were the last house in the area that was going up for sale that had a boat dock, and the guy that bought it had missed out on the house across the street; he did everything he could to not miss out on our house. This all happened so fast we had not had much of a chance to really start a plan other then establish new state residency in Nevada for tax purposes and start thinking about about some of the places we would like to visit. So what allowed us to be able to go from living the typical American lifestyle of humble but respectable house, good job, involved in the community blah blah blah? Well the main thing was both our children were now adults and were starting thier own lives and while our house was big enough (about 2000sq feet) for the 4 of us it was just to big for empty nesting. I had been constant in my mantra that i did want to be out of tech and working towards a job in the outdoor industry by the time I had reached 50, so now made the perfect time to take advantage of the situation and well “move on”. Things were just lining up perfectly, so what if we did not have a plan?

Okay so pretty quickly we decided that downsizing was in order and we did our best to give away, sell or just throw away as much as possible and we did pretty good with that. I donated all my Search and Rescue stuff (that was still usable) to the local SAR team I had been a volunteer for over the past 9 years. The end result of our efforts was we were able to put the last remains of what we deemed neccesary (clothes, and some stuff for the kitchen) into a 10×10 with enough room left over our Son and my mother-in-law could also move some stuff in (honestly we maybe take up like 15-20% of the storage facility) and could probably downsize to a 5×5.

Saying goodbye to one of the best homes we’ve lived in.

We were gone from Tahoe by the end of March <sniff> <sniff>

Other than what I noted about “get a job doing something where I could be outside all the time”, the plan was come up with a 3-4 month travel plan and regroup later this year. So on April 30th I was “retired” from the technology industry. I deleted my LinkedIn account the very next day.

New Beginnings (a short stay in Reno): (these next few paragraphs are definitely mixing old and new). I have spent many years volunteering, and some side hustling involving Search and Rescue, or other wilderness education and leadership endeavors. It has always been my goal to find a way to do that as a profession, or even semi-profession; so anywhere we end up will have to offer some kind of guiding, teaching beginning backcountry travel or even some outdoor therapy. We are hibernating for the spring in the Reno area so maybe I’ll finally get a few of those North Lake peaks I’ve been ignoring, but after that we are hitting the road. We plan to spend some time down under with some friends, so hopefully I’ll be picking up one of the ZL associations, and spend a couple of weeks in Australia so I’ll get some more VK action too. Later in the year we will be headed to the UK and EU, I’ll be doing the West Highland Way (SOTA edition) in September and the wife has agreed (or well she decided for us) to do a little jaunt in the Lakes District called the Peaks to Pubs in August (if that’s what it takes to get her to do some walking with me so be it :D).

I do kind of want to reflect though on my time in Tahoe. I would like to throw out that reality is I lived my best life in Tahoe. I learned how to take care of my broken body in ways that living in an area that was not a mountain athlete focussed area would not have been possible (so I say to myself). I’ve always been a hiker and backpacker, and thanks to SOTA I did more hiking then anywhere else we ever lived; because of a trip in 2014 to Kilimanjaro and the back injury in 2013 I also learned the value of very regular working out and using someone to help me achieve very specific goals to keep me moving mostly pain free. Also just the amount of giving back I was able to do as a 9 year volunteer for the local SAR team. I spent the last 5 years in a leadership position within SAR, the teaching/volunteering for the local college teaching backpacking etc. I was definitely enjoying that whole aspect of my life. So yah, “best life we could live, why leave?” For starters we just no longer really enjoy (or our bodies do not) the snow any more. Despite that the winter of 21/22 was pretty mild, my body hurt a bit more than in years past, including those heavier snow years. Not that I am a weather wimp, but I do love hiking in green landscapes and sunshine :D. Tahoe had become routine, and I hate routine. My exploring was requiring further and further drives into NV/OR/UT just to get to new launching points, so it was time for a new base station. Those are just a few of the drivers to why it is time for us to leave this mountain town and try and find a new one. I am hoping we can find something that is less touristy, a bit cheaper but still offers access to water and mountains and exploration!

I will still be doing plenty of SOTA, but I will probably be operating with different variations of my callsign over the years to come.

(Jump ahead to May)

June had already been planned out. We were going to do a little travelling back east, and then I had some volunteering the last two weeks with a youth outdoor therapy group in the Truckee area (Gateway Mountain Center/GMC). A couple of weeks after my last day in the tech industry I get a phone call from GMC to confirm my volunteering, but the person on the phone was all apologetic about not getting back to me sooner because they had been franticaly trying to hire their full time guides for the summer months. “Oh really, you dont say? Well what are you looking for ?” The individual went through the list and so I replied with “Well my situation has changed some and I could actually take on a larger role with GMC”. (meanwhile in the other room I could hear an exasperated WTF sigh). After a couple of phone calls over the next couple of days what would have been a two week volunteering session turned into a five week stint as a guide.

Okay so lets touch on the “exasperated sigh”. Michele did not speak to me for a couple of days and I obviously knew why. Two weeks into retirement and I am already changing the rules. (two good rules for a successful marraige, communicate and never goto bed mad. I broke both; time for damage control). To be fair I was worried that waiting 1-2 years would have an impact on getting that first job in a new industry, and I was adamant about never working behind a computer ever again so to me it was more about getting a foot in for the sake of the long game and not risking losing the contacts I had developed at the college over the past few years. During the next couple of night wanders/dog walks I racked my brain to come up with the right things to say and a possible solution. After the second night and about a 3 hour walk I had it. In 2020 Michele was supposed to take her mom to Paris for a week, do the Disney thing and some fun touristy stuff, blah blah, but yah 2020 we do not need to revisit that :P. What I came up with was after our June East Coast trips were done, head to San Diego and Michele would reconfigure for a few months of time in Europe, take her mom for however long she can stay (I also planted the seed with my mo-in-law to kinda help things along) and I would catch up <somewhere> when the summer guiding was done. Within a few days the new plan was put into motion, plane tickets were bought and we were starting about to head off into our June travels. Note that during our time in Reno we also consumed a TON of videos on “how to behave like someone who was not quite “F.I.R.E”, but living that way. We also watched a bunch of expat videos, best countries to retire in videos, just whatever as we were not sure if we were going to Expatriate, stay in the US, or just travel. We also came across this very interesting service called Trusted Housesitters which we were planning to use as a way of finding stays in out of the way places and to help cut some costs on lodging. I had this wild hair about living out of our Audi AllRoad for the duration as I saw it as a fun experiment in further minimalisation. So my “reconfigure” was taking just what I needed for guiding and living in a medium sized wagon. It was a lot of fun at the end of the day!

My first night back to the area I drove up Monitor pass and camped at the gate on the dirt road to Leviathan peak (near Topaz on hwy 89). It had been a couple of months since i had experienced quiet and this area was QUIET! It was soo nice to be back to one of my favorite zones to go hide! So not a lot for me to hit on with my job other then to say I had a ton of fun, and finally felt some real emotion again. This was in fact the work I want to do and I do jive with a lot of the mindset of the organization. I did a pretty good job endearing myself to the founder and ended up taking on a lot of responsibility other than just guiding. Given that we were based out of Donner Summit I spent a combination of nights between sleeping at Rainbow Bridge as well as playing “Jack Torrance” at the lodge GMC bases their operations out of. It was nice being in this position and it allowed me to help in ways beyond just being a guide, but yah I guided a lot and had some very interesting experiences with the youth and chaperones I was working with, but well this is not the point of this post other than to say going down this road was a very worthy left hand turn to the road we had originally pulled on to a couple of months earlier.

On the road and a new path started: Fast forward to August; after guiding was done for the summer I spent a little time with Jeremiah down in San Diego and reconfigured for Summer and Fall travel abroad in Europe with the inclusion of some backpacking gear as I was doing a few jaunts while Michele would fly back for a softball tournament in late September. Michele was working the trusted housesitters thing well having done Bruges and Amsterdam on top of her travels and sits in Northern France. I caught up to her in Brixton England. Remember how I noted the house sitting thing *should* allow us to visit some places that might turn out interesting, but also be out of the way? Brixton is both the birthplace of David Bowie and was the cite of a riot in 1981 that was commemorated in the Eddie Grant song “Electric Avenue”. Brixton’s history and cultural influence was very Caribbean in nature, however the past couple of decades of gentrification was starting to have it’s impact. So the point of this next bit is not to highlight every little house area we hit, but to illustrate the need for flexibility and fluidity especially in view of our desire to just “travel” with no real plan overall. Okay I lie, we did have a couple of specific locations planned out. We knew we were going to do a house sit near Cognac France the first 3 weeks of October, and I was doing the West Highland Way the last two weeks of September, but for the most part it was a “lets hit the last few places in England on our list and just wing it”. We did rent a car for about 10 days but we mostly slow travelled via the trains. In the first six weeks we were together we visited James May’s pub in Swallowcliffe, Diddly Squat farm shop (we actually went here twice), went back to Wells yet again, visited Port Isaac for the whole Doc Martin thing, and did other house sits in Looe (Cornwall), Lindfield and Monmouthshire. We did have to sprinkle in a couple of AirBnBs here and there as well. One in Pembrokeshire Wales that allowed us to head to the coast daily for some fun coastal walking!

You can go read the write up on the West Highland way later on, and I should do a write up on the week between sending Michele back to the states and me doing some hiking in the Lake District and in Wales but for the sake of time on to France.

France was a lot of fun, we explored Fontveraud Abbey, Cognac and a lot of the area around the house we were at. The Tawny owls were amazing as I had owls every night when I would go and wander. It was very nice being out that far in the country. I was really enjoying being on the road and just seeing what the various locations would open up for us. I managed to sneak in some SOTA in the Pyrenees. I did have to cut my part of this sit a week short however. Back in late August I secured a spot at a week long interview/field training with a Youth program in North Georgia. This program was quite a bit different than GMC and ultimately at the end of the week I opted not to take the job. I was just not ready to “come in” off the road, however it was totally worth it to end the travels after 3 months (for me) to at least find that out. We are finishing up a house sit in the Washington DC area, and are headed back to the West Coast for Nov/Dec. I did pick up a couple of weeks at GMC in Nov/Dec but we also want to sit down and review a few things and build a plan around Australia/New Zealand in March/April/May (their Autumn).

Key Takeaways and things learned: Fluidity matters. Oddly enough after bouncing from a couple of house sits in France, Belgium and Amsterdam in July while I was working Michele really took to this notion of “do we really even need a home base?”. To the point that during her Sept visit to the states she ended up buying us a used Ford Transit Van for travelling and living in. It does look like I will keep working for GMC over the next couple of summers. We have tossed a few ideas around maybe doing a tour of all the National Parks, and sprinkle in some campground host volunteer/work here and there. The Van does open up a lot of options for when we want to be in the States. The problem with this kind of freedom is for everything you want to do you really do need to pace yourself which leads me to my next thought.

While I love the notion of just winging it, it does help to have some type of plan, or at least a few destinations in mind. It is very easy to get around in Europe and just walk. I love to walk and I love to explore and well the radio thing helps too :D, there are pathways everywhere, and just so much history. For every location we stayed in there was no shortages of nearby hikes that had a story. I even added the GR10 to my wish list of long walks I would like to do. I also committed to a friend of mine who really wants to do the Portugeuse Compestella next fall.

It seems impossible to find small houses for a couple, it seems society has deemed it that if you are an empty nester you need to be moving into one of those over 55 condominium villages. Most of the neighborhoods we looked at on realtor.com seem to mostly have 3000+ sq foot super mansions, no thanks, not our lifestyle..too much to clean, and too much to heat/cool.

So for now as noted, we are going to play in the van and build a plan for our Spring travels to the Southern Hemisphere as well as the fall travel back to Europe. Central/South America and Africa are also down the road too. We are thoroughly enjoying this minimalist mindset and this whole “home is just whereever you happen to be at that moment in time”.

Teaching and mentoring is my bag, facilitating is okay however when it does come to executing the therapy program that is being written by a therapist/psychiatrist for a specific individual I tend to lose interest. I love the idea of teaching backpacking skills so I will try and dip my toe in that world as well. It might be fun to find someone who can hire me to do that internationally. Guiding the JMT, WHW or TRT could be pretty fun!

We always seem to end up in England so we agreed to take a 3-4 year break from winding up there. 😀 I love the Lake district for sure, but after my little jaunt in the Pyrenees and the time I have spent in the Alps and other trips I do have planned, it’s just time to stop going back to the old familiar and see what all these other mountains in the world do have to offer. I want to see if those mountains talke to me the same way the Sierra Nevada does.

For now I am going to say 73 and there will be more coming later on down the road.

de N6JFD

Double Goat in the books (dual activation with W6PNG)

So, here we are, in August and the one big goal I had set out to do did happen. I made double goat on Aug 21, 2021. Like all blog posts though we’re going to start with a little backstory on how double goat also because a double goat, double activation double double extravaganza!

View of W4V/RA-012 (McAfee Knob)

With Covid-19 still causing persnicketyness (yes made up word) with travel, but I really jonesing for some terrain some color other then brown and white I had intended to go and hike the N GA, NC section of the AT up to the Fontana Dam at the Southern end of the Smokies. Queue the W4C campout, something I had been wanting to go to for a few years after activating with KI4SVM back in 2017. So in a matter of a few days about a week before I was supposed to take off I shifted my plans from flying into ATL and taking a shuttle to Springer to flying into Roanoke and hanging with a whole new group of SOTA activators. I ended up activating directly with Ron (NR3E) and Liz (K1LIZ), both of whom I had chased before. For those that do not know her Liz/K1LIZ is completely blind, and has been activator for quite a while now. As of this writing she herself is a double Goat and Ron is a triple goat. I also activated a couple of peaks with Dean (K2jB) and Pat (KI4SVM). Always good to get out with Pat. I finally got to meet Paula (K9IR) whom I had chased and been chased by a few times before as well as met up with quite a few other East Coast activators, including one brit who is a bit cheekier than Paul 😉 (N2GBR). All in all, I spent my first few days in VA with those guys, but I did need to start hiking South as I was trying to validate my thoughts on hiking the entire AT as a SOTA project. I am considering taking 2023 to do a full thru hike and activate the 170 or so peaks that fall on the trail itself. You may remember in 2017 and 2018 I retraced the Tahoe Rim Trail but activated all the peaks that fell within 1 mile of the trail corridor. This turned a 170 mile trip into a 230 mile trip with a lot of zero days that had 10+ miles and a ton of elevation gain. The nice thing about the AT being a true ridge run is the trail itself goes directly over a bunch of peaks. I was however surprised at the density and distribution of where those peaks are on the trail (ie..the bulk of the points are on the Southern end before Harpers Ferry. So off I strode heading South on the AT with a goal of reaching Pearisburg and activating everything I could. Along the way and why this part of the story has bearing on this post is that Paul, W6PNG texts me and asks “hey why don’t we do Double Goat TOGETHER!”. We kept talking during that trip, and I think we had both realized that no two activators had double activated for double GOAT yet, so we set a tentative goal of July knowing that for various reasons the date would most likely slip. All summer long we both kept in active touch with other, kept activating, and started the planning process. We both knew we wanted something in the 395 corridor (Eastern Sierra) but had not decided N or S yet. Also that time of year can be kinda dicey when it comes to fires and smoke and such, so it was safe to say that we each had numerous plans.

With the date set, it was time to pick the peak. We had considered all kinds of FAs in W6/SS and NS, and had narrowed it down to a few, and built plans around them, but ultimately we settled on this cluster of peaks near Bridgeport CA. Little did we know the Dixie, Tamarack and Caldor fires would all try and foil our venture in one way or another. Once we met up in the area we found a wonderful dispersed camp site at the trail head for Emma Mount (W6/ND-395). It was kind of fitting that we were doing a peak whose number was “395” given that we were right off the 395. So remember what i was saying about those fires? Just after dinner the smoke started to pour in, and 20 miles away in Bridgeport the AQI was reading in the 300s, to the point that I slept with a mask and my buff on to try and keep the lungs from filling up with crap.

Paul on the other side of the summit

Fortunately though by morning it had pulled back some, and after a 530am wake up we were on the trail by 0630. The approach to Emma was mostly off trail and straight up; about 1900 feet of elevation over a 1.5 mile approach, some of it super steep, and the top 600 or so feet is mostly talus, none-the-less we made it up in 1 hour and 50 minutes. On the summit it was very windy, and cold. I think at one point I made reference in one of video clips that it was warmer the previous December when I was on Mt Whitney (W6/SN-001). We decided to just run with Paul’s KX2 (Paul is not yet a cw operator) so that we could do a pass the mic style operation on SSB, and Paul was cool with giving me some time to run some CW while he listened in. We ended up with 9 SSB contacts overall and then I ran another 15 total CW contacts between 20 and 40m. Because of the winds, we both decided it was time to head down after knowing we’d cleared the main glut of chasers. We would like to have stayed longer, but the winds were wreaking havoc on us, so with that we packed up and headed down. The walk down was uneventful, but because of the incoming glut of smoke, the fact that the Caldor fire was bearing down on Tahoe we both agreed that it was time to cut our weekend plans short. So with that, we had some lunch in Bridgeport and parted ways.

So, now that double goat is done, what is next for me? Well Paul and I agreed we’d both keep on activating, and I even tossed out it’d be fun to do another activation in the UK together, so maybe we should work towards doing our 3x MG in the UK. Either way, we are not yet done with SOTA, and really enjoy feeding off of and motivating each other!

73 de N6JFD

Ugh, what happened to 2020? (and looking forward)

Activation of Mt Whitney (W6/SN-001) on Dec 5, 2020

Well shoot, I did not do very much blogging last year. So, I think for most of us 2020 started with high hopes, and then the ‘Rona happened. The big highlights of last year were I still kept marching forward on a few of my classes for the Wilderness Ed program, was certified as an LNT trainer and spent some time backpacking. Yes I still did plenty of SOTA too, quite a few Uniques and FAs. Picked up 3 new Associations (W5T, W7Y and W7W), I activated the tallest peak in the lower 48 in December, which in and of itself was a pretty fun feat, but very last minute (W6/SN-001); it was also my 200th activation. That was a happy accident to say the least and was not the least bit planned. I wound up just shy of 300 points, a very middle of the road year for me. Even with CV-19 I still managed at least one activation in every Month, but reality is we were pretty busy with Search and Rescue with lots of new people trying out the backcountry for the very first time in March and April. At the end of May I left the job I was at and decided to take a sabbatical for the summer. I could no longer deal with the toxicity of the company I was working for at the time, and Covid was only making those people that much crazier, so I felt it was time to take a break and reassess the direction I wanted to go in.. One thing was for sure is that I was done with large company corporate America. That said while I was off for those 4 months I spent some time doing out of county Search and Rescue support (mutual aid), and spent a lot of time camping and out and about.

The country pretty much went on lockdown after the wife and I did a trip down to El Paso to take our son his truck, and visit him. I still swear he brought ‘Rona home with him on his December block leave in 2019. While there I did an activation of South Franklin Mountain. It was kinda humorous at the time, but I watched all kinds of folks slipping and falling on the switchback cuts, while folks were actively asking me “why you taking the long route?” I do not like to fall, and I hate slippage :P.

Camp setup for the night on a week long overlanding trip in Nevada

I had also been planning since October of 2019 to go and hike/SOTA activate the West Highland Way in Scotland. I had a really solid plan/map/spreadsheet and was really looking forward to that. For those not aware, the WHW starts in the suburbs of Glasgow and heads north up thru the Highlands to Fort William up by Ben Nevis (GM/WS-001) Once we got into April though it was obvious that was not going to happen. I am still going to do the West Highland Way, just not sure if it is going to be 2022, or 2023. I have plans to do a much longer long trail in the very near future but I will need to save a bookoo dinero to pull that one off. Around April time and realizing the world was going to be on hella lockdown, I decided to give glamping a try and used some of the refunds on our planned travel to pickup an RTT for the Tacoma. All in all I did spend more than a months worth of nights in the thing, but only a few of those it actually made a difference. After looking back at the number of nights I spent in the tent, only about 3-4 of those nights the tent made a positive impact on my sleeping, and those were mostly SAR related.. That said the RTT is already up for sale.

Left to Right: Myself (N6JFD), Mark (M0NOM), Paul (HB9DST), and another Paul (W6PNG/M0SNA)

Wow, I just realized i never actually finished the write up I did for the Lake District Weekend in May of 2019 (two years later :D). I only bring it up because one of the coolest things I had experience to date occurred. I had the highest number of S2S ever on a single summit, and all of them were 2M, and on one summit, 4 of us ended up on top of the same summit at the same time. This picture was later included in the UKs version of QST. Much like Ham14er in Colorado, the Lake District Weekend is a lot of fun, and can be done mostly 2m only and there is a lot of S2S to be had. I managed to finish the trifecta of UK high points on this trip. I’d already done Ben Nevis (2018), and on this trip I managed Scaffel Pike and Snowdonia over in Wales. Maybe one of these years I should try for the Three Peaks Challenge with SOTA as part of the mission (because just doing those three peaks is not hard enough :P).

So, back to 2020 I took a week in May and overlanded from an area near Tonopah back towards the Ghost Town of Bodie, and activated quite a few first activations along the way. In the process almost stepped on a rattlesnake. This is the first time I’ve encountered snakes in this part of California, and my first time dealing with them in SOTA too. I finally finished off “the Sisters” which is nearby as well. The mountain range is called the Sweetwaters and it contains Mt Patterson (W6/ND-001) as well as East (W7N/TR-001), South (W6/ND-002) and Middle Sister (W6/ND-003). This is one of those interesting areas that a line of peaks that split regions/associations have differing bonus seasons. The W6/ND peaks all have a summer bonus, and W7N/TR has a winter bonus yet there is a mix of both on this same mountain range. Needless to say, it was not Bonus season when I finished this mini project off. Also nice to see that after I did the FA on South Sister in 2017 that Paul (W6PNG seen in the UK picture above) came and activated it this summer. Unfortunately that peak is in a bad location for me to chase short of getting in the car and heading to a nearby pass, so no complete as of yet. Also of note was an FA on Mt Dubois (W6/WH-001). This was an all off trail, LONG day extravaganza, and was my blown activation of the year. I managed 3 QSOs on 2m but because I was not able to get a spot out at all and I’d missed the RBN SOTAWATCH window for my alert no one knew to chase me up there, so no HF love. I’d started that walk in the dark and finished in the dark. Not the first time I’d be doing that this year :D. In October I activated W6/NS-099 Boulder peak off the PCT in between Sonora and Ebbett’s pass, but I accessed it from Highland Lakes. Still a lot of unique and FA peaks for me to go after in this zone in 2021 as well. It also would not be an exciting year if I did not get almost struck by lightning too. Well this has only happened on one occasion to date, on Dunderberg peak, but in this case it’s hard to tell if I was going to get struck or not. I was on Mt Gibbs (W6/SS-101) in Yosemite and it started snowing. I deployed into my Bothy Bag and was feeling a big static charge build up. There was thunder though and even after tearing down I was still “buzzing” while I was hiking off. That was fun b/c it was a summer time snow encounter. This was one peak that did not want to give up the activation easily. Adam (K6ARK) and I had tried to do this peak in 2018 as part of a two-fer with Dana Peak to the North. After we started hiking from Dana to Gibbs a huge storm built up so we had to bail.

So those are the big highlights worth calling out of 2020, so now to 2021. International travel is still a bust, so the West Highland way is still out but I need a backpacking trip in May. If you’ve been following me a while on here you know I love building maps and spreadsheets and doing SOTA projects. Well this years is going to be a dry run for a much larger project that I have planned in the next couple of years. I’m going to depart from Springer Mountain (after I activate it) in North Georgia and walk to the Southern end of the Smokies/Fontana Dam. There are a little more than 20 peaks on this stretch of the AT good for 202 points. Speaking of points I am also marching full speed towards Double Goat. In fact IF I have planned my points well and if I get everything I intend to get on my AT jaunt then I’ll be setup for Double Goat on W4C/EM-003 Hump Mountain a few days later. I’d originally intended for that peak to be my first MG, but time of year was wrong, so I opted for something local.

Also of note, I am going to try the video thing out this year too. That channel name is N6JFD Treks. A fun little play on words there. Not sure I’ll be any more active doing video because well, lets face it, editing videos takes longer than a SOTA activation, but if I want to find a way to increase interest in my AT project then I’ll need all the revenue income streams possible ;-). I am also playing with LoTW finally. I started playing with FLE (Fast Log Editor) as a way to prep log files for importing into SotaDB, and realized i could also fast upload into LoTW. I’d not uploaded anything since 2016, and it was pretty interesting that spot checking a few of my past activations I ended up with more then 100 confirmed QSLs . So going forward I will do all my SOTA logs into LoTW as well.


So I’ll leave you with a few other parting shots from the past couple of years and say 73s for now, feel free to just follow the video channel, although I’m sure if i have something more to say in text format, or have some fun pictures to show those will end up here.

—N6JFD

A bit of Fall in the Sierra (or summer?)

Decided to do an overnight for two peaks in the Sierra

Disclaimer:   The two peaks I am going to talk about here do require some offtrail/overland navigation skills, and have some high consequence results if something goes wrong.  This is a trip report of my experience, and is in no way beta for you to go and tackle these peaks.  If you take this data and get hurt, or your loved ones get hurt that is on you period..FWIW I did cut up my hand pretty good on a fall I had while descending Lightning Mountain.   In both cases these peaks are thin spine rock piles; one being a large pile of talus and boulders, the other is decomposing volcanic material.  Also note these approaches are steep, think avalanche terrain steep.   The approach to Disaster Peak was in the Donnell Fire zone from 2018, there is a lot of fire damage along the way including sink holes forming from burnt out tree root systems.  Sink holes that could give out and definitely put a damper on your day if you fell in.  I had NO cell service from either peak at all, and I was not getting any APRS beacons until I was up high enough to hit something to my west.  That said, enjoy the read!

So I have this map of SOTA summits between Carson Pass (HWY 88) and technically the Northern border of Yosemite, but HWY 108/Sonora Pass for all intent and purpose that I have been working off of primarily the past two years.  The area I have primarily focussed on this year is along the PCT corridor South of HWY 4.  So far this year I had hit up Bloods Ridge, Antelope Peak, Mineral Mountain, Deadwood and a couple of numbered peaks in the area.  I also missed 5-6 weeks of hiking in Sept/Oct because of a knee injury sustained doing Tinkers Knob/Mt Lincoln.  Funny too, that was probably the easiest hike I had done to that point this summer.  Here we are in mid Nov though and my knee was feeling good again five weeks after a meniscectomy, the weather is still plenty warm, there is plenty of sunshine, and the last remnants of any early season storms from back in September were long gone.  The only signs of snow were left over patches from the previous long Winter season.  So LETS HIT THE TRAIL and get a nice fall overnight in!

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A new sign put up after the Donnell Fire in 2018

I have had my eye on three particular peaks that are all in close proximity, and oddly enough two of them are accessed on the same trail (but from a different direction) as my approach to Arnot peak, specifically the Disaster Creek Trail.  The two in question for this trip are Lightning Mountain, and Disaster Peak.  The third peak I will have to go after some other time.   Compared to some of the other peaks I had done around this area these two peaks were right off a trail, and the on vs off trail ratio would be about 50/50 for once.   For context, Antelope Peak was a 15 mile day for me, only 2 miles were on trail, rest of the time I was picking my way across open fields, manzanita and willow thickets and whatever else the mountain could throw my way.   This area is the Carson Iceberg Wilderness area and overnights do require a permit.   As a day trip (and this is totally doable as a long single day two-fer) no permit needed.  The Trailhead is off of Stanislaus FS Road 7N83.

 

I started heading up the Disaster Creek trail at 8am, and the walking was pretty easy.  In 2018 the Donnell fire ravaged some of this area pretty bad, there are plenty of large trees that have fallen as a result and even more on the verge of falling.  I stopped at what I think was a Jeffery Pine to count the rings, and made it to 100 but was only 2/3 of the way across, and was easily a 10 foot diameter tree.  I’d noticed some recent tracks along the trail, some that looked real recent, but the cattle grazers had already pulled out for the year, and I could tell I was going to be totally alone in the wilderness this weekend =).

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Strange location for a fire ring. Not near any trail

Once I had my basecamp setup I started looking for a way up, and wouldn’t you know there was an animal use trail right behind my camp, so up I went along a shoulder that I had planned as my approach for Lightning Mountain.   The approach was approximately 1500 feet and was 3 miles each way.  I was in the trees until 8500 feet. Oddly enough along the way I found a fire ring in the strangest place ever at 8300 feet.  No real trail, not very flat but someone had spent some time here.  After this weekend I actually wondered if the owners stay with the cattle most of the summer.

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Top of Lightning, looking south from whence i came.  Yosemite is down there somewhere

The last few hundred feet is where the pucker factor starts, but not for the full duration.  Depending on which shoulder you ascend, you come to a crumbly rocky knob that has bad consequences on one side and devastating consequences on the other. Choose your route, be choosy with your footing and proceed.  For the next little bit you just kinda traverse over to the saddle at the base of the rock structure that makes up the summit.  The summit is long and spiny, and a little bit of class 2/3 that is crumbly and slidy so again, be careful, and be choosy and test before you weight your foot placement.

There is no cell service (or AT&T) on this peak, so I was relying on APRS to handle my spotting.  Back in the summer ON6ZQ did some fun hackery to put all SOTA activators on aprs.fi, and low and behold because I was hitting the summit, a welcome message appeared on APRS.  :D.   I could hear some guy squawking away on another summit up in North Lake Tahoe area, so I waited 20 minutes to get a QSO with him.  Kind of a mistake since he was not actually doing SOTA, but it was at least my first QSO for the first activation on this peak.   Overall today I ended up with 1 2m contact 7 on 40m with an S2S, and 4 on 20m. After about 2 hours on the summit, decided it was time to head down mostly retracing my steps.  Back at that dicey knob, I did end up losing my footing in one spot, but not on the steeper section, but because the rock was all crumbly and such I did manage to tear up my hand some.

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Sunset where I camped.  I picked a high perch to have some views.

Camp was camp, nothing to speak of here, but I did have a nice sunset glow (I am looking East in the photo I posted above).

Next morning my plan was simple, get up, break down camp and go find the trail to Disaster Peak; todays peak would be ~2350 feet of gain and another 3 miles each way.  I would leave my pack at the bottom, and normally I would say this is probably not a good idea, and I’ll admit there were a few times I was like “damn, hope there are no bears today down in the valley”, but it is what I did.   I wonder if the scent of used TP in a ziplock would ward animals away from my pack 😉 (pack it in, pack it out).  Reality is I did not bother bringing any extra food on this trip, so I’d eaten my allotment already.   Once I found the use trail to Disaster peak (more on that in a minute), found a somewhat hidden place under a tree to park my pack, grabbed my Z-lite sit pad and the case I use to carry my MTR clipped it to my belt, killed a liter of water and went on.  (yes, I set off for a 6 mile hike on a hot summer, I mean fall day with no water).

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Current SOTA kit

The nice thing about the setup I have, is it weighs < 2lbs.  Super easy to just carabiner to a belt loop.  I have a trapped EFHW made with 30awg silicon wrapped wire that a buddy built.  This thing is LIGHT, the MTR3b, and my 1400mah battery which I am running an experiment on to see just how many operating hours I can get out of it.   The battery may be the heaviest part of the kit

 

 

So, I mentioned “use trail” before, what i had read was a hard to follow use trail was only partially true, and this was a trip report from well before last years fire.  The trail once I did find it was actually a well used pathway that was easy to follow, plus had its fair share of cairns along the way.     That was until I got about half way and walked into one of the areas that was damaged pretty bad by the fire.   I had never seen the results of a fire that burned so hot it burned out the root system of a tree, but here you go:img_5848.jpg

You definitely had to be careful because those roots ended up being sink holes, and if you were not aware of where you were stepping it would be easy to cause a sink hole to happen and you would be done hiking for the day.   Once past the burn area, you just round a shoulder/corner, and it does get a bit exposed for a minute or two, but you round a corner and your destination is there in full view.   At this rate, just work your way up the hill as best you can.  In some cases there are some cattle trail, and it does look like if you attain the Southern shoulder the jaunt along that shoulder to the peak is a much easier ascent then straight up the gut.  I also saw plenty of camps/fire rings in some more strange places, nothing like what I saw the day before, but strange enough..

 

On the summit, it was your typical activation, since I was further East on this summit no one could hear me in the central valley, I did pick up someone out in Yerington NV though.  Also managed another 11 HF contacts on CW, more 20m today then 40m, so another successful activation of a virgin peak.

 

 

Takeaways: Always enamored by the fact that I have studied this area extensively on the maps, and you think it is all spread out, but it is not.  I drove some 200+ miles to ultimately access two peaks that were 35 miles crowfly from my home.

Do the cattle grazers stay in the field all season, and where can I sign up for that gig without going out and buying a bunch of cows?  😀  (and does it pay as well as my current job?)

See you on the next one, 73 de N6JFD/p

 

More QCX modifications (and other musings)

So as I called out in my last blog that the 30m QCX test was a success.  In 25 minutes I had 10QSO before my battery died.  You may recall me commenting that during the hike  out, I was wondering if I could somehow reduce the weight and some of the additional hardware by using just the inductor and capacitor and direct wiring into the PCB on the QCX.   QRPGuys makes a mini version of their single band half wave EHFW:  Enter the QRP Guys Mini NOTune Half wave EFHW.   Finally having a night I can work on it I set out to get as much as the matchbox part of the build done.  First up, time to remove the BNC adapter on the QCX:

img_3894For the sake of giving myself some options down the road I just snipped the leads off the BNC adapter, and then carefully worked the anchor studs out.

Next up it was time to work on the plastic enclosure for the antenna and get that prepped.  I actually like that the matchbox they supply with the kit is not pre-drilled.  This gives you some options, or more over, does not mean you have holes to plug if your intentions end up similar to mine..  I did not drill the big hole for the BNC connector obviously.

The instructions are pretty straight forward on this and I had the solder work done within an hour.   One thing I’ll call out now is that the QRPGuys mini is the same height as the QCX enclosure, so it wont look too awkward.

Midpoint check-in: img_3891

Thinking that I was not going to be using the BNC adapter hole I thought put the main antenna out one side, and the counterpoise on the other.  That later ended up being a mistake because the screw stub was now covering the 3.5mm jack for the key.  Whoops, one more hole I now have to fill. Maybe this is why I should not work late ;).

After jamming some John Denver most of the night, I got to the point that my next step was drilling into the enclosure and given it was past 11pm I opted to wait till morning, and took advantage of a mid morning break between meetings.

<The Next Day> 😀  Marked the holes on the enclosure, pre-drilled with a bit that was about the same size as the supplied self tapping screws, then hit the enclosure with a step bit to go just a touch wider.

Checking for fit
Checking for fit

Sweet, the mounting holes were lined up perfect, and the wires come thru with plenty of length.  After this I put some electricians tape around the inside of the opening to keep wire/metal from touching the enclosure.    I unfortunately did not have any clear silicon caulk, and was too lazy to head to the hardware store, so I opted to use some white latex/tile caulk that I had around.  It is just a temporary thing, but the goal was to have some sort of seal between the enclosures.  Oh and to also seal up that extra hole I put into the antenna matchbox.  It’s ugly and you will see that down below., but for now it will get the job done.

At this point I went ahead and re-added the QCX into the enclosure, secured it on two of the mounts for testing, and then soldered the new connections to my antenna nubs.   I then plugged in the battery to make sure it still powered up, and was still getting the same power out, and voltage in readings it was before.  No smoke and the numbers looked good :D.  Might as well go ahead and see if this setup actually works, so borrowing the radiator off the PCB version of this antenna I ran out to the meadow behind the house where I do my testing from.    W00T:  Success:  After a couple of run thrus of the pre-recorded test cq message I setup a while back I was picked up by VE6WZ which is about 900 miles away on the RBN.   Not bad given this QCX with its current setup/battery puts out 1.85W of power.   For those that do not know, apparently the build specs on the 30m QCX are a little off for inductors L1 and L3, most folks who have offered feedback suggest changing those inductors to 16 turns and not the 19 it calls for in the instructions.  I have not yet done L1 but I did do L3 which did boost power a little.  Inductor L1 is in a weird spot, and I am not sure I want to deal w/ the headache of re-attaching it once I get one side off.  Besides from a summit, 2W is plenty of power, and given the RBN did pick me up from the Tahoe Basin I call it a success as is.

QCX ready for testing..
When I operate tests I goto the meadow behind my house, the neighbor there has a picnic table that is perfect for staging.

Yes that white caulk is ugly, I’m thinking I’ll scrape that off and redo with a clear silicon.  I also ordered some new 22awg wire for the new radiator in a different color. The yellow one is a little bit short, but I know that radiator on the PCB version of this antenna is resonant at 10.118 and I will still use that antenna with my KX2.

So now that everything is back together, I took and weighed the entire kit as I will carry it to a summit.   It is coming in at a whopping 1lb 2.2 oz.   The kit contains: palm pico paddle, small ear buds, 1400mah battery, MSR mini-hog tent stake to secure the far end and of course that QCX.  A pretty simple rig for those days where I want to go far with minimal weight, and get there quickly.    Next modification maybe to go with a touch sensitive keyer.  Find a way to build a battery into the enclosure and the only *extra* stuff I’ll be carrying are the headphones.

 

I’ll be testing this out on a live activation this coming Saturday.  Anyone want to buy a KX2? (seems like 30m and a 2m HT will get the job done for the most part, at least in the areas I like to activate from.  Not sure I’m ready to sell the KX2 yet, just kidding, I do chase from home with the KX2.

Speaking of QSOs, I finally got around to designing and then ordering some new QSL cards.  I intend to start shipping out QSL cards as response to ones received over the past couple of years next week.  Better late then never :D.  What prompted that decision was in a matter of a couple of weeks I received ~10 QSL cards because I had been making some new contacts, including some with IOTA folks.  I like getting them, only fair I should respond in kind.    I went with qslpostcards.com because a few of the QSL cards I’d received over the years had their URL somewhere on the card.   The quality of the ones I’d received seemed pretty good, and they were a good price. (250 cards for $69.00).  I like supporting small businesses too and these guys are HAMS.   Those finally came today.

That is all for now, hope to QSO you from a summit in the future!

72 de N6JFD.

The kit gets lighter and W7N/TR-025

Here it is towards the end of April, spring is in full swing in some areas, however the Sierras are still coated with feet of snow, but the mountains in NV are calling and open with easy access.   So for the past two years I have been operating with a KX2 and that is an amazing rig, full of features, and I am sure i am only scratching that surface, and my kit weight has varied over that two years as I have added/subtracted batteries changed up antenna configurations etc, but it does come in around 5lb.

All that said last year I went thru level 1 of CWops and started doing some CW on my activations.  I immediately went from hoping to get 10 contacts, to always getting more then 10 contacts when I started doing CW as the bulk of my activation.  I’ll still hit some 40m SSB because some of my friends still are SSB.   Why I brought up old news, is that going to cw opened up 30m for me, and on those weekends when 20/40 are in use for some contest, that can make an activation a bit more challenging.  What I have found with 30m is I still get the same chasers I do on 40/20, but the signal reports are not as strong, with the exception for W5N, and W7A which are stronger.  W7O is down in the 3s and W7W is in the 4s for me and I can consistently hit W0C.   While I am not saying 30m will always get me the most number of contacts all the time, it will at least get the job done, and the regular chasers will do their best to work you, especially if they know you are mono-banding.

About this same time the NASOTA slack channel really started to grow.  A few of those fellow SOTA folks are kit builders, and love tinkering with their rigs etc.  K6ARK has added a touch sensitive keyer directly into his MTR3b as an example, since then he even built a micro-pixie with built in matching unit and direct attach end fed for a SOTA capable rig that he has used on an activation that weighs in the 3oz range.  KT5X out in NM is always looking to make a lighter kit as well, and often writes the NASOTA groups.io forum with his updates.  KE6MT has also been a fountain of information on the builder front and has helped me immensely (he better, I’m his associate association manager ;P  ).  That said, I took it upon my self to order a 30m QCX (from qrp-labs.com) with the intention of using that as a light-weight SOTA rig on those days where I want to do a lot of miles, and I may be shooting for a lighter pack to focus on miles while still carrying the 10essentials, or I am time limited.  The Black Diamond Distance 15l fills the bill well, and I used it on a recent co-activation with Rex on Waterhouse Peak.  Maybe I will be one of the first SOTA guys to do an UltraThon AND an activation on the same event.  (doubtful, but one can dream).

My current kit:

  • KX2
  • 4.5mah BioEnno battery (I get ~11 hours of operation on a single charge with the KX2 at 10w)
  • LNR Trail Friendly, or QRPGuys 20/30/40 Vertical antenna
  • 15 foot feedline (for the vertical)
  • Mic, Keyer, headphones etc..
  • Fishing pole for antenna mast.
  • fit into an REI “medium” bathroom travel bag.

That five pound mark is not too bad overall, and I know folks who carry more, and even with that list, there are some changes I could make to get it lighter yet.    End Feds are great just draping off the side of the  mountain as a “sloper” and in some cases, some peaks already have things you can use to help go inverted vee (like tree limbs or no longer used antenna towers).  So I can drop the fishing rod all together in the future.

I have set my goal to be less then 2lb overall because I have a few hikes I want to try as a “HaRunk” (ham radio trail run).   So I have set out on how to accomplish this mission, enter the QCX and a new kit

57756889132__6c08cef7-cd06-4c2b-b9ac-c72258477e8aI have chased a few folks with the QCX from the QTH, but now it was finally time to use the QCX as my activation rig.  It was on Easter Sunday and on a day that 30m propagation was not great and I was not on summit till noon.  SotaWatch showed that I was the first spot in over two hours.  I managed seven QSO over 25 minutes and then my battery decided it was time to shut off for recharge (oops..been testing a lot, forgot to check levels).  Either way it was a successful activation on a unique summit.  Full disclosure it was also the first time I have done an activation without using the decoder, and I managed to get a good copy on all those who called me whom I could hear, so I am getting better there too.  Contacts included: AG6VA, K0RS, KR7RK, W7USA, WA9STI, W7GA and K7RJ.  According to RBN I was reaching the VE6WZ beacon up in Calgary, approximately 700 miles.  Last time I checked, I was putting out 2watts of power, but that was before I really tuned my EFHW.  On the approach drive in *4×4 road* I managed to make it to within a mile of the summit, but overall this is a drive up summit.  Either way, b/c I am in run training, the 1 mile 400 foot elevation just helps with the training, and I do my best thinking when I’m walking (more on that below).     Those structures you see on the summit proper are from past deployments I think, all the radio towers, cell towers, and TV towers have been moved to other nearby peaks, overall (at least on 30m) this was an RF quiet peak.

Now on to the kit you see pictured above: (Phase one of weight reduction)

When I started tinkering with the idea of a single band antenna I went and snagged a qrpguys NoTune end fed HW antenna.    I was still lugging that big 4.5mah battery, so I am thinking next up there will be to go snag an 1800-2200mah LiFE/LiPo battery;  that should give me 3-5 hours of operation overall.  Weight difference there is almost a pound.   I love having that mono band EFHW antenna, but I was concerned that banging  the PCB around on rocks, or letting it hit snow, or snag on a limb could be detrimental.   While I was hiking out, it dawned on me, that all I really needed from that PCB is the transformer and capacitor, and some way to shove it inside the QCX enclosure or protect it another way.  I actually went back to the QRP guys page b/c I’d heard rumors they were making a self contained matchbox version of the same antenna, and sure enough they have a mini version.  Purchase complete, hopefully here by the end of the week.  That actually helps me solve a couple of issues as I can use the matchbox to cover the opening that removing the BNC from the QCX will create.  I will also be able to use that to wire the components direct to the QCX PCB.  (I am just a rookie at the tinkerer thing, so things will probably look/be clunky at first).  I will have to plug the hole on the matchbox for the BNC, so a new problem to solve, but not major.  Honestly the best outcome is to somehow figure out if I can get the full setup inside the QCX enclosure, and then tap two screws for counterpoise and antenna thru the enclosure.   I will also be able to roll the wire (42’6″) around the QCX case as a winder.  Moving to this will also eliminate the need for a feedline, or a BNC/BNC coupler and with lighter battery will help achieve that 2lb goal I am shooting for.   I am hoping to have that all setup for the Lake District SOTA weekend in the UK, as I am looking to do some mileage on my first day over in Wales to snag Snowdon and YLlwedd before heading up to Ambleside.    I may actually break it on Mt Shasta the weekend prior to heading out.

Once i get the new changes put in, I’ll start doing some power drain measurements and add those to a followup post.  This is the part of SOTA that makes Ham Radio fun, the tinkering and playing and seeing what can be accomplished with small gear.

So let me re-iterate: I do not condone leaving the 10-essentials at home, but we always have room for improvement in reducing pack weight.   Given enough time and creativity really coming up with ways to build a walkabout kit with SOTA gear that borders on featherweight on the back is in and of itself a fun exercise.

Get out there and enjoy the hills!

72  de N6JFD