17 December 2016

Wasson Peak SOTA Activation, Short and Sweet

I live in an area surrounded by mountain peaks, but most of them require a full day's workout to climb.  The fact that the optimal season for hiking is during the time of year when days are short makes it even more challenging.  There are not a lot of "drive-up" options nearby, so a "Short" hike for SOTA usually means one that can be completed in 6 hours or so.

I decided to activate Wasson Peak, W7A/PE-052, because I've hiked it (and run it) before and know that it's got an established trail, and can be completed in a fairly short amount of time.  It's a popular trail for Tucson hikers and runners, and you can climb it from either the East or the West side; I chose to hike the East side which meant the trailhead was less than half an hour's drive from my house.

The sign said El Camino Del Cerro Trailhead, because that's the name of the road that ends there.  But the trail itself was called "Sweetwater Trail".  It began at about 2,800ft and climbed to the peak at a little over 4,600ft, over about 4.6 miles.  It was an easy trail to follow, through rocky desert terrain.

At about 3.3 miles up, Sweetwater intersected with Kings Canyon Trail, which leads up from the West side of the peak and is a bit more popular.  As I pushed on towards the summit, there were sections that became steeper and more rocky, and I also passed numerous other hikers, some of whom were taking rest breaks and moving slowly due to the tougher climbing.  It was a great workout and I was feeling excited because I knew the summit was drawing closer.

Just below the peak was a summit register.  The valley below would normally give some nice views of the City of Tucson and the Santa Catalina Mountains, but there were some clouds.  The weather prediction for this day included forecasts for rain and winds, but other than a moderate breeze it wasn't bad at all, and the clouds kept things cool.

On reaching the summit, I set up my station as quickly as I could.  There was a large group directly at the peak, so I set up about 10 years to the East.  I had expected to see other hikers on this peak, especially since this was a Saturday activation and close to the Christmas holiday.  I was up there for about 1.5 hours and probably saw at least 30 other people there.  A few did come up and ask what I was doing, including one who asked me, "Do you know what all this stuff is?"  (Huh?  I was using it!), and then proceeded to tell me he "used to do that stuff a long time ago".  I try to be friendly and I love to share my ham radio hobby, but to be honest I prefer doing SOTA activations on the more remote peaks.  It can be frustrating to try to complete a QSO while someone is standing behind you asking questions!

I did have fun though and some of the conversations I had weren't so odd.  I made 38 QSO's total, on 20m, 30m, and 40m.  One thing I noticed was how noisy the bands were - perhaps I've become spoiled by the quiet noise floor that I often experience when I'm up on the higher peaks?

The wind eventually picked up a bit, and a few minutes before 2pm local time it was starting to gust.  I had stuffed my antenna mast into a creosote bush for support, which was fine when the breeze wasn't too strong, but one gust came along and blew it over!  That was my sign to pack up, and I had planned to complete my hike by around 4pm so that I could get home to my YL anyway.

Fortunately nothing was damaged and I actually did squeeze out a few more contacts, including one into Canada, despite the fact that part of the antenna wire was laying on the ground!  I packed up and started down the hill.  My hike up took just over 1.5 hours, and the hike down took just over an hour - I was pushing the pace on this one.  It was another fun day, not a crazy hard activation but certainly worth it.