28 December 2016

Earning the Winter Bonus - Radio Fun on Chiricahua Peak in the Snow

SOTA has a "Bonus" point feature which rewards operators with a few extra points for activating peaks under less-than-favorable weather conditions.  Usually this is in the form of a Winter Bonus (although in Arizona, we also have many summits that qualify for a Summer Bonus instead).

Chiricahua Peak, W7A/AE-012, is one of the summits that earns the winter bonus.  My friend Paul, K9PM, and I decided to have a go for Chiricahua Peak as a joint activation.  Paul has a 4WD vehicle and we certainly needed it to drive in to the starting point of the hike at Rustler Park!  The road was getting very difficult by the time we parked, due to both snow and mud.

We had two options, either get on the Crest Trail, or walk further up the FS42D "road" for another mile and a half or so.  We chose to walk up the road, but that doesn't mean it was easy hiking!

It was very beautiful with pine trees and animal tracks in the snow everywhere we looked.

Some parts, like in the photo above, were not bad but other parts of the road were quite steep.  After a while we reached the trailhead and left the road.

Paul and I are about equal in hiking ability and this was an area where having a buddy along really improved safety.  (As an aside, I did a backpacking trip here in my college days and we got lost in a blizzard, and ended up being in the mountains for a full week, wandering around.  So it was nice to return under safer conditions!)  The trail is a good one but with nearly 6 miles each way, it's a fairly serious hike for a single day.

There have been some major fires in the Chiracahuas, and some parts of the hike went through some fire-ravaged areas.  One place in particular that made me sad was a place called "Round Park".  When I did the college backpacking trip, Round Park was a lovely forest-surrounded meadow; now it is a barren spot of earth surrounded by dead timber.

There are some amazing vistas further up, with views for many, many miles.

As we approached the summit, I noticed this interesting looking tree.  Mountain conditions are harsh - I suspect that this tree was the victim of a lightning strike.

The summit was snowy and there were lots of trees around.  Although we had read forecasts that predicted high winds, we were fortunate that they did not materialize.  But it was very cold and even the light breeze was enough to give it an extra chill.

There was plenty of room for us both to string out our dipoles.  Paul found a dry tree to use as a seat and got to work pretty quickly on 40m.

We set our antennas up in approximately the same plane (i.e. end-to-end, with plenty of space between) to mimimize interference.  I never did have any interference from his station.  I also found a log to sit on and started my operating on 20m.

I had to put on some warmer gear and it still was very cold.  But, I was loving every minute of it!  Being up high on a summit (Chiricahua Peak tops out at 9,760 ft), operating a radio, free from the daily grind, makes me so happy.  I have to credit SOTA for completely re-invigorating my amateur radio activities and providing an extra incentive to head for the hills.

With such a long hike, we only had about an hour of actual operating time up top.  I made 31 QSO's, about 2/3 on 20m, a few on 30m, and a few more on 40m.  Band conditions seemed a little worse than normal but my log still contains contacts across the continental US.

On the hike down, we noticed that the snow was a bit "slushier" - the daytime sun had warmed it up just a bit.  We had a nice hike down.  Although we saw animal tracks at every point of our hike, we only saw an actual animal once - a curious mule deer doing a bit of grazing.

I'm already looking forward to more snow hikes!

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