18 November 2016

Window Rock Peak - A Tough Hike and a Fun Activation

November in Arizona is an excellent time of year for hiking.  I've been craving a serious hike and decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and slightly less stressful work schedule and take a hike up to Window Rock.  I've hiked there before, but it was over 20 years ago.  My main memory was that it was a rather steep, challenging hike.  This time around, I wanted to take my portable amateur radio setup for a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation.  My target destination would be Window Rock Peak, W7A/AW-018.  An added bonus for me was that this would be a "First Activation" of this summit, meaning I would be the first amateur operator to activate this 8-pointer peak.

I set out on the Ventana Canyon Trail around 8 am, which was a bit later than ideal.  The hike up took about 5 hours, with plenty of stops for photos.  This trail is very scenic with a good variety of desert landscape and some amazing views.

As I began the hike, the "Super Moon" was setting (actually it was a couple of days prior but still almost full).

The trail in the early stages of the hike was easy to follow.  At one point it went directly beneath an old Saguaro cactus.  A few miles later, I passed the Maiden Pools, and noticed an interesting rock.  Supposedly this rock was a Matate used by native Americans for grinding grains.

As I climbed higher, the expansive views down Ventana Canyon were quite spectacular.

After around 5 miles, the trail had become much less clear, and it connected to the Esperero Trail ,which in some places was almost invisible.  But my confidence that I would reach the summit began to grow, as I saw the jagged peaks off in the distance.  On the other hand, I began to wonder how I would ever be able to reach the top!

Along the ridge is the geological feature that gives this range its name.  Window Rock is a natural "window", and apparently there are places in the city of Tucson where you can actually see the Window if you look carefully.  For purposes of SOTA, Window Rock was not my destination as it lies too far below the summit.  But since the trail passes so close to the Window, I felt compelled to stop to enjoy a few minutes exploring the Window and it's incredible views.

Pushing onward, I found the trail was significantly less obvious, and significantly more challenging, once I had passed the Window.  I suppose most people probably don't hike past this point, which is already a fairly solid day's hike.  But I was determined to reach the summit and get on the air!

Unfortunately, I reached a point where it seemed that it would be impossible to go any higher.  SOTA rules allow you to set up within 25 meters of the peak's highest elevation, and I was just at the edge of this limit, but I was also was surrounded by pillars of rock...setting up an antenna in this area was not an option.  I tried calling my buddy Quinton, NU7Y, on a repeater, and the rocks made that virtually impossible too.

I was discouraged, but then I realized...I had just hiked for almost 5 hours, climbed over 4,500 feet, and I came here to operate my radio!  I was not going to give up.  There were some trees, and I realized that with some creative scrambling/tree climbing, I might be able to get higher.

It worked!  I found my way to the top, and was rewarded with a nice rock summit!

The views were absolutely amazing up there.  I quickly set up and got on the air.  It was already past 1:30pm and I knew time was going to be short if I was to make it back down before sunset.

I would have loved to just sit up there and run the rig, but sadly I only made 17 QSO's before I decided it was time to pack up.  I'm learning that while operating from summits is supremely fun, my time up there always seems to be quite limited.

Here's a 360 degree video view from the summit.  I had my HT on a local repeater and there were a few locals planning the next day's public service ops for El Tour de Tucson, a big bike race.

I really had to hurry on the hike down.  The views of the mountains were quite stunning as the sun set, with hills taking on a golden hue and shadows growing longer.

I finally made it back to the car just about 10 minutes after sunset, tired but happy.  The total hike distance was 13.2 miles, according to my GPS, with 4,779 feet of elevation gain.  This was a beautiful hike and a successful SOTA activation, and I'm looking forward to doing it again!