11 November 2016

Amateur Radio in the Great Southwest - QSO's, Cactus, and Shotguns

I miss the days when I had a nice beam and a home station that was always available to operate.  My current home QTH does not have that luxury, so I'm forced to seek opportunities to engage in my ham hobby in alternate ways, one of which has been the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.  As my interest in SOTA grows, I am learning that there are a great many peaks in Arizona just waiting for an intrepid ham.

My work schedule occasionally requires me to visit clients, and on Friday November 11th I had arranged a meeting in Casa Grande.  It seemed like a lot of driving for only an hour's meeting, so I checked the SOTA Mapping site to see if any peaks were nearby that I could activate afterwards.  I was excited to discover that there was a 2-pointer peak very close to where I would be!  Further investigation took me to the Casa Grande Mountain Trails Project website, which seemed to indicate that there were plenty of trails meandering through a pleasant desert landscape.

So with great anticipation I decided to activate Casa Grande Mountain HP, SOTA W7A/ PN-125.  I packed my gear and threw it in the car along with some hiking clothes.

  I was done with the meeting before noon and headed over to the parking area off Arica Road.

It didn't look too bad!  I set off on the trail and even had a simple map that I printed from the website.  It all seemed quite simple - make my way on to the Ridge Trail, head a bit North, then take a short off-trail scramble to reach the summit.  My planned route appeared to be less than a mile to the top.  At the beginning, the trails were nice and easy.  I even found a sign after winding around a bit, which let me know I had made it onto the Ridge Trail.

It was a rather warm day, as I expected at mid-day in low desert elevation.  The desert has a stark beauty to it, and often shows signs of life under harsh conditions.  Cactus are thorny, rocks are jagged, critters are dry and scaly, and sometimes death lies exposed as if to remind one of the challenging environment.

Oddly, the Ridge Trail does not actually go along the ridge, but rather it goes below it.  I had gone a little too far South at the beginning, and after about 1.7 miles I decided it was time to forge up the mountainside to reach the summit.  I knew this was not going to be an easy scramble as soon as I began.

If you zoom way in, you can see a tiny flagpole near the top of this photo - that is the peak.  So I set my sights on that as a goal and headed on up.  The rocks were crazy hard and cactus were everywhere!  In fact, I managed to lodge a nasty piece of jumping cholla deep into my calf muscle.  This is one of the hazards of desert life, and those of us who live in Southern Arizona know all too well what it feels like.  You can't simply remove a cholla by scraping it away either :-(

The climb became quite steep nearer the top.

I did finally reach the top (and also found a small trail leading in from the sides that I didn't know about!)  There was a flag that someone had left up there, along with about 6 dirty old tins that people had left full of summit registers and miscellaneous trash.

The hike up had taken much longer than I had expected so my operating time was not nearly as long as I had hoped for.  I worked mostly cw.  I made a couple of contacts with Tom, NQ7R, who lives right near the base of the mountain - we even had my first 2m SOTA QSO using FM simplex from my HT.  There is a shooting range to the West and during the entire activation, loud gunshots were blasting and I was nervous about ricocheting bullets!

I made 29 QSO's on 40m and 20m before packing it up.  On the way out, I decided to attempt a different route back, which took me along the true ridge.  This turned out to be a mistake, as it took a very long time before I was able to descend.

The route rolled up and down along various sub-peaks.  At the top of one, I found some rocks arranged in a tri-pattern, all pointing inward towards this marker which apparently was placed there in 1966.

Finally, late in the afternoon, I reached a point where the only way to go was down - and it wasn't too easy.

I did make it out alive, with a swollen calf and legs that were far more exhausted than the original plan had called for.  Maybe that's why this particular summit had never been activated before?  Anyway, I was happy to add another summit activation to my log and a couple more points to my activator total.

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