While looking for our next SOTA adventure, I noticed a never-been-activated, unnamed 13er (W0C/SP-020) to the west of Mount Princeton. I checked various maps and it looked like there was a 4WD forest service road that went up to the adjacent saddle. So Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to give it a try.
We took County Road 306 west out of Buena Vista, towards Cottonwood Pass. Then we turned left onto County Road 344 which goes to Cottonwood Lake. We continued past Cottonwood Lake until we found FS 348, also known as Hope Gulch Road. We followed this road for 5 miles to the saddle.
The road was easy-peasy 4WD, no problem at all with our stock Jeep Wrangler. A Suburu-class SUV can probably make it but there are a few rocky spots on the road that will require special care. There were two water crossings, one of them with about a foot of water (across Cottonwood Creek). Now this was mid-October, so the streams are not running real strong. Earlier in the year, this could be a major hazard.
Warning: water crossing at Cottonwood Creek.
FS 348 is single lane, with long stretches without an easy passing or turnaround spot. We were happy that we only saw two other vehicles on the road.
We drove a bit past the saddle (where there is a small hut/cabin) and parked where a closed side road heads off toward the summit. We hiked up this closed and then vectored off towards the summit. The hike was only 0.6 miles and 800 vertical feet. However, there was quite a bit of talus to climb over which really slowed us down. The hiking route does not seem critical but following the top of the ridge seemed to be good.
Yeah, about the talus. It isn’t any worse than other rocky summits in Colorado but it seemed to catch our attention, usually in the form of “ok, I’ve just about had it with this talus.” A contributing factor was that both Joyce and I had foot/ankle injuries in recent years. So our unofficial name for this summit became Talus.
Joyce/K0JJW took the honors of completing the first SOTA activation of this summit by contacting Bob/W0BV on 2m FM. We also both logged these stations: KD0MRC, W0RW, W6JM, W0LSD and N0AJN.
We sat there quite a while just taking in the view. Mt Princeton is due east; Mt Antero and Mt White are to the south.
You never know what your gonna get on the first activation of a summit. On this one, it turned out to be a fantastic day. The weather was sunny, temperature about 40 degrees, a little too windy at times. Late in the season, we didn’t have to worry about thunderstorms moving in and blowing us off the mountain. I liked the combination of a good 4WD road, heart-pumping but not-too-difficult hike, a first-time SOTA activation and doing it all with my favorite hiking partner (and wife).
73 Bob K0NR
Mt Herman is the Most Radio Active (SOTA) Mountain in Colorado. I noticed there wasn’t a good writeup with how to hike and activate it, so I wrote this one up: Hiking Mt Herman for SOTA.
I keep an alert on my smartphone for whenever I get spotted on the ham bands. Mostly, this is a way to confirm that I get spotted when activating a SOTA summit. The other day, I was spotted on 20m CW, when I haven’t worked that band/mode in over a decade.
These spots came from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), so I pulled the spot data from RBN for that day (483,362 spots). A little bit of searching revealed there were spots for K0NF on almost the same frequency a few minutes off in time going 37 to 40 wpm. Miss one dit and you get K0NR. Mystery solved.
Last week, I visited the site of the Marconi station on Cape Cod that made the first transatlantic two-way wireless contact. There is not much there…just a stone marker. Yes, I understand Marconi was not real active on VHF.
Legos and Ham Radio
I came across this video of a clever Lego project with a ham radio theme:
ICQ Podcast Interviews the ARRL CEO
This ICQ podcast includes Frank Howell (K4FMH) interveiwing the ARRL CEO and Secretary Howard Michel (WB2ITX), who provides an update from the recent ARRL committee meeting. I like Howard’s style and appreciate his willingness to engage with radio hams.
Regulation By Bandwidth
Dan/KB6NU writes that the ARRL renewed its request to the FCC to replace the symbol rate rule on digital transmissions and move to regulating by bandwidth. On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer thing to do: regulating by symbol rate is archaic and limits the use of new, more efficient modulation techniques. But drill in deeper and you’ll find there are legitimate concerns about protecting narrowband emissions (e.g., CW) and not allowing automated stations to dominate the ham bands. Still, it seems like a reasonable approach can be found. Stay tuned on this one.
73 Bob K0NR
Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) is a popular Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak near Monument, CO. It is The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado and recently popped onto the worldwide 50 Most Popular Summits. The summit elevation is 9063 feet (2762m) and the grid locator is DM79mb.
Access to the summit is not difficult and most of the locals know how to find it without a problem. However, there are a few things that can trip up a first-time activator.
Most people will get to Monument via I-25, taking the main Monument exit (Exit 161). Go west on 2nd street through the old downtown area, over the railroad tracks to a stop sign at Mitchell Road. Go left (south) on Mitchell Road and then right (west) onto Mount Herman Road (FS 320). Shortly after entering the national forest, you will probably see a sign that says Mt Herman Trailhead. THIS IS NOT THE TRAILHEAD YOU WANT. Keep going on Mt Herman Road.
Mt Herman Road angles left (going south) at the intersection with Red Rocks Drive. At this point, reset or check your odometer as it will help you find the actual Mt Herman Trailhead (see map below). Continue on Mt Herman Road for 2.6 miles, where the trailhead is off to the right as the road curves left.
The condition of Mt Herman Road varies considerably from year to year. Most of the time the road is OK for high-clearance 2WD vehicles. Sometimes it deteriates to easy 4WD. The road and trail are often usable in the winter months but it depends greatly on recent temperatures and snowfall. The road is not maintained in the winter so definitely 4WD required.
The actual trailhead is not that well marked, hence the need to watch the odometer. However, on most summer days, there will be cars parked at the trailhead. Parking is informal, just a gravel area off on the right side of the road.
The trail to the summit is 1.2 miles one-way and 800 feet vertical. Make sure you make the first turn, about 500 feet from the trailhead, that takes you up the mountain. There is another trail that continues straight at this point, which may throw you off. There are a few steep sections where the loose granite marbles can make the trail slippery. Hiking boots with some tread on them are recommended and trekking poles can be helpful, too.
At the summit, there is a fire ring where people sometimes camp out overnight. The hike is popular, so you’ll probably have other people stopping by. There is plenty of room in the activation area, so I set up my radio gear some distance from the actual summit.
Mt Herman is a wonderful hike with great views (even if you don’t want to do a SOTA activation). With a superb radio horizon, it is also first-rate place to make radio contacts.
73 Bob K0NR
As noted in that trip report, we never did find much of a trail so we had to do some serious offtrail bushwacking. Being on the summit was great but bushwacking up was not. Later Walt/W0CP found a much better route using the Davis Meadow Trail. We definitely wanted to try this route and get back on top of that summit.
We approached the Davis Meadow Trailhead from the east via Highways 285 / 24. We took FS 311 from Trout Creek Pass to FS 373, then FS 373A. FS 311 starts out in good condition, passable by high clearance 2WD vehicles. Later it turns into “easy 4WD” but it gets very steep in spots which may be a problem during wet weather. You can also approach from the west side coming up from Buena Vista. Check the San Isabel National Forest map for the complete picture.
Just to the east of the unnamed summit is a natural arch, marked on some maps as Aspen Arch. We’ve hiked up the arch on numerous occasions, often with visitors from out of state. So we’ve started referring to this unnamed SOTA as Aspen Arch, to differentiate it from the other unnamed summits in the area.
The Davis Meadow Trailhead is marked by a sign. Trail 1413 heads north and loops around the north side of SP-089. The trail is well laid out with plenty of switchbacks, much more than indicated on the Trails Illustrated map.
We followed the trail until it looped around the north side of SP-089. Marmot Peak, another SOTA summit (W0C/SP-063), sticks out prominently to the north and is a good landmark to use for navigating. As shown on the map above, we left the trail and bushwacked south up to the summit. I don’t claim that our route was optimal. It was classic offtrail hiking with some areas quite open and others clogged with plenty of downed trees and rocks. (Next time, I think we’ll try to stay a little further east of our recorded track. It looked a little better over there.)
The GPS app on my phone recorded the one-way hike as 2.7 miles and 1100 vertical feet.
We arrrived at the summit around noon and thunderstorms were moving into the area. We both made four quick radio contacts on 2m FM to get the activation points, then headed back down the trail. The summit is exposed and very rocky but once we got off the top, we were hiking in trees with limited lightning danger. Thanks to Bob/W0BV, Jim/KD0MRC, Larry/KL7GLK and Kevin/KD0VHD for working us.
After our first bushwack adventure on this summit, we were not motived to activate this one again. However, using the Davis Meadow Trail has changed our opinion. (Thanks Walt/W0CP!) This route still has some offtrail bushwacking but it is not bad. We will be back!
When planning for the next Summits On The Air (SOTA) hike, I want to understand the difficulty of the climb. The main things to evaluate are the length of the hike (horizontal distance), the vertical (elevation) gain and other contributing factors.
Most of the SOTA summits in Colorado have a simple profile: pretty much uphill on the way to the summit and then mostly downhill on the way back to the trailhead. Yes, there may be flat sections and sometimes there will be a downhill section or two on the ascent, which means you give back some elevation gain only to regain it later. Usually, we think of going downhill as “easy” but if you have sensitive knees or other joints, you may disagree.
The first question is how far do I need to hike? Clearly, hiking 10 miles is a lot harder than hiking 1 mile, all other things being equal. However, I usually find the vertical gain to be more important. (Typically, the horizontal distance of a SOTA hike is within my capabilities and the vertical gain is my real concern.) I also do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on slope. My benchmark for slope is 1000 vertical feet in one mile, which is an uphill slope that will get my heart pumping but is not too difficult (corresponds to ~20% slope). Anything steeper than that starts to feel more challenging. A slope less than that is easier. Be careful with average calculations. You might find that a particular trail is flat for 3 miles and then gains all of the vertical in the last mile. Having a good topographical map is a must for understanding the route. I generally use GAIA GPS, an online mapping website and smartphone app.
Certainly the condition of the trail and its inherent terrain are an important factor to consider. The SOTA hikes I do are typically Class 1, 2 or 3. I don’t do summits that require ropes or technical climbing.
Difficulty ratings from 14ers.com
Class 1. Easy hiking – usually on a good trail.
Let’s take a look at some specific summits as examples.
Note: there are often multiple routes to the same summit, so don’t use this information for trip planning. Do your homework.
Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063): a bit steep in spots but typical of many SOTA hikes: 1000 feet vertical gain in about one mile, right at my benchmark of 1000 feet vertical per mile. I consider that an easy hike.
Genesee Mountain (W0C/FR-194): is one of the easiest and enjoyable SOTA summits in Colorado, only 0.7 miles and 300 vertical feet. The average slope is 430 feet per mile, so not very steep at all.
Mt Sherman (W0C/SR-061): is considered to be one of the easiest fourteeners, but it is still a fourteener: 2100 feet vertical gain in 2.6 miles (807 feet per mile).
Mount Elbert (W0C/SR-001): A more challenging (middle of the road?) fourteener with 4700 feet vertical gain over 4.75 miles). The average slope is 1000 feet per mile so it’s not that steep but 4700 vertical feet will definitely wear me out.
Not to be overlooked, the condition of the route can make a big difference. Often, there is no established trail to a SOTA summit, which means you’ll need to hike offtrail or “bushwack”. If the ground is uncluttered and the trees well-spaced, bushwacking can be easy. On the other hand, if there is a lot of downed timber, you have to climb over and around obstacles to get to the summit. Some summits have willows or other scrub brush that gets in the way. Intense bushwacking can make a huge difference, making the hike more difficult by a factor of two (or more). Many times, I’ve looked at the route to a summit on a topographical map, judged it to be not so bad and later discovered that it requires serious bushwacking. Hikes like that really help me to appreciate a well-designed and maintained trail.
High altitude and the resulting lack of oxygen contribute to the difficulty of the climb. This is going to vary considerably between individuals. Almost everyone feels the effects at 14,000 feet but at lower elevations individual performance will vary dramatically. Normally, I don’t have an issue at 10,000 feet, notice some effect at 12,000 feet and I’m definitely huffing and puffing above 13k.
Finally, weather can play a big role in increasing the difficulty of a hike. In the winter, it is common to use snowshoes when deep snow is present on the route. The snowshoes tend to sink into the snow with each step, causing more effort to be expended hiking the route. Ice can also be present requiring microspikes or other traction devices.
So that’s a quick look at how I judge the difficulty of a SOTA hike. The SOTA database often has trip reports from other SOTA activators, which can be extremely helpful. It is always great to learn from the experiences of other folks.
73 Bob K0NR
The General License provides access to regional and worldwide communications on the HF bands, greatly expanding your ham radio fun!
• Upgrade from Technician to General Class radio privileges
• Pass your FCC General Class amateur license exam Oct 12*
• See live equipment demonstrations and activities
• Learn to operate on the HF bands, 10 Meters to 160 Meters
• Gain a deeper understanding of radio electronics and theory
• Take the next step with antennas, amplifiers, digital modes
Registration fee: $30 ($20 for under 18 years of age)
Prerequisite: Students must already have their Technician License
HamRadioSchool.com General License Course
Third Edition, effective 2019 – 2023, $24.95
* Free FCC exam session on Oct 12 at Black Forest Fire Station 9:30 am.
To register for the class, contact Bob KØNR, [email protected]
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association
August 3 & 4, 2019
Saturday and Sunday
Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun during the 28th annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. The covers the entire weekend but many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.
The event includes all Summits On the Air (SOTA) summits, which adds over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from with a wide range of difficulty. See the Colorado SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org
Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er group via the ham14er groups.io website. Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org
Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz.
For a complete list of suggested HF, VHF and UHF frequencies see this web page.
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
There is a lot more information available here: www.ham14er.org
Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force