02 December 2016

An Easy Activation in Northern California - Pine Hill

As I've gained experience with portable operations, I'm finding myself including amateur radio gear as a standard item in my luggage during out-of-town travels.  My YL and I had planned a trip to Sacramento, CA to run the California International Marathon, and as the trip approached I decided I should search the SOTA Mapping Project site to see if there were any nearby summits that could be added to the trip itinerary.

The main purpose of the trip was the marathon, and my YL does not share my amateur radio passion, so any "plans" I made had to be very flexible, achievable in a very short amount of time (no long hikes), and subject to change.  I located 3 candidates for SOTA activations, all of which were reasonably close to the Folsom Lake area.  These were all low hills - the classic high peaks of the Northern Sierras would have to wait for some future visit.  Of the 3, Pine Hill (W6/NS-357) and Pilot Hill (W6/NS-426) seemed to be the best options.  

We arrived in Sacramento on Thursday and for a variety of reasons, it looked like my best bet was going to be Friday morning.  So with trepidation I suggested to my YL that I rise early on Friday and go spend a couple of hours with radio stuff.  I had printed off directions using both Google Maps and Mapquest.  I actually thought that if things went very well, I might do a brief activation on Pine Hill, then head over and activate Pilot Hill as well.  The maps estimated a total drive time for this plan at around 2 hours, but since there was not a lot of hiking I thought it would be possible if things went well.  Unfortunately, they did not.  My first leg of the journey brought me to a location that seemed correct, yet did not match the descriptions I had seen of the Pine Hill Preserve.  I saw numerous Deer and other wildlife, but not a single sign, and the roads did not lead me to anything resembling a pathway to the top.

Look close, there is a deer!
I pulled out my maps, and realized that one of them had different directions.  So I backtracked and drove to where they said I would find the Pine Hill Preserve.  Instead, I found myself in front of a BLM office in a valley...clearly not where I wanted to be!

This is NOT where the Summit is.
Frustrated but not willing to give up, I drove all the way back to the other location to see if I had missed something.  By the time I reached it, I had been driving for about 1.5 hours instead of the half hour I had expected.  But, I did realize that I had in fact been in the correct location the first time.  There is a gated "Private Road", but apparently it is OK to park outside the gate and hike up the road to the summit.  What I had missed the first time was the small pedestrian gate next to the road gate.

I measured a 0.8 mile hike up the steep road on my Garmin 64cs GPS unit.  I like to obtain the data, partly because I'm just a data junkie, but also I like to upload it to the "Tracks" section of the SOTA Mapping page, in hopes that perhaps it will help others to plan their own summit adventures.  At this time of year, the road was lined with plenty of pretty red berries and mistletoe hanging in the trees, adding a Christmas sort of feeling to the scenery.

When I arrived at the summit, I quickly set up, knowing that this was going to be a short one.  The views were spectacular in every direction, with Lake Folsom to the West and snow-capped peaks of the Sierras to the East.

My first QSO was with my friend Quinton, NU7Y, back in Tucson, at 1737 UTC, on 40 meters.  His signal was surprisingly strong and I later learned he was running QRP power.  I stayed on 40 and operated for only 28 minutes, logging 22 QSO's.

I wanted so badly to stay longer, and work other bands, but after the mapping fiasco I was already running late.  So I packed up and practically jogged down the road to my waiting car.  I made it back to our hotel around lunch time.  Pilot Hill was out of the question for this trip, but maybe I'll be back.  The rest of the weekend went well, and my YL and I ran the marathon together, finishing in 3:24.  This was my second SOTA activation from W6 - both were brief, simple, low-point activations, but I'm glad to have done both and I'm looking forward to many more!

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