A cautionary and embarassing tale

Yesterday I set out for a two summit day. I left early because the drive to the first trail head would take 2.5 hours, followed by a modest hike, an activation and then another 1 hour drive followed by another modest hike and another activation - culminated by a 3 hour return drive to home. Altogether I planned for a 10-12 hour day with my arrival home just in time for a meal followed by a scheduled net.

I carried an atlas and folding map for the entire area, and prints of the appropriate summit information from the Sota Watch web pages. I had checked and double checked my gear and charged batteries including “just in case” extras.

The first summit was perfect, one of my favorite activations; it is great being the center of a pile up!

The road to the second summit looked a little iffy so I ate a lunch and waited and after a conversation with passing deer hunters decided to turn back. The deer hunters were driving a 4WD pickup and told me that the road to the trailhead had deteriorated and they had to use the 4WD low position. I was driving a small high clearance vehicle with only 2WD so I prudently decided to turn back for another opportunity.

Heading home I stopped when internet service was available and checked for nearby summits with the thought that since I was ending early I might be able to activate another; and I found that along my route home was a summit that looked very promising. It had been activated 8 times; the road to the trailhead was a good road and the hike from the gate to the summit was about a mile, with the bonus of a picnic table at the summit as an operating position. Perfect!

The road to the trailhead for this summit was well marked and a pretty good surface. I would take this road on any dry day and expect no problems. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire, but I had a wide spot in the road with shade to work in and taking my time, reading the instructions and following the precautions I got the tire changed. Having used my spare tire I decided not to risk getting a second flat and decided to return home. I looked at my atlas to fine an alternate route back to the main road (after all I did not want to travel the same road that gave me the puncture) and then I made my first mistake. Although others may see mistakes from earlier in my day!

I turned on my GPS. Maps and GPS, like belt and suspenders; what could go wrong!

My route out was passable, not great but passable and the distance to the turn onto a main road shortened over time. Unfortunately, the route turned out to be a dead end with enough room to turn around and I decided to retrace my original route and hope I would not get that dreaded second puncture.

Returning uphill toward the place I changed my tire I found that a vehicle goes downhill easier than up hill and I drove into a rut in the road that did not allow me to go forward or backward. I was stuck!

As I analyzed my situation I thought that perhaps one of the deer hunters would come by with a winch and help me move forward. I was in a location with no phone, no internet, no SMS. So I called CQ asking for assistance, for about 1.5 hours I called CQ on 2M when finally a ham over 100 miles away responded and agreed to call a tow truck to get me out and call my wife to let her know that I would be late but that I was not in any danger.

My wife is a ham and although she does not SOTA she follows me on APRS and when possible contacts me on the summits. I had spoken with her on my first summit this day. She follows my APRS track and would be concerned to see my car stopped for an expended time in an unexpected location.

I second ham joined the conversation which was good because he understood APRS and he could see me on the map and between to two hams the tow truck was requested and my wife was called.

Then the bad news. The driver of the 4WSD tow truck was not available until after 5 PM local (a 4 hour delay) and his route would take 2-3 hours to reach me. And they would only tow me if I agreed to the cost $$$$ in advance. Since I wanted to go home, I agreed to the $$$$ and waited.

Propagation changed and my two ham helpers were no longer in contact so now I waited. Beginning at 7 PM local I started hoping for the seift arrival of the tow; then realizing it would soon me sunset I wished even more and with 20 minutes of daylight remaining the tow arrived with winch and got me out of my rut! I followed him in darkness back to the main road. A great tow driver and I will remain thankful, but I do not drive that fast during daylight and I needed to stay close to his lights so I kept up. At the main road we stopped and I paid $$$$ and expressed my appreciation. I called my wife and let her know that I was on my way but that it would be another two hours to get home.

There is more to the story, including using APRS to message a friend with the request that he also call my wife and let her know that the tow truck had arrived.

Today I will be getting the car washed, and the puncture repaired and considering how the decisions I thought were good turned out wrong. But a couple of lessons come to mind. 1 - Never, never rely on map reading in poor light and GPS to plot an alternate route, never! 2 - Cars travel more easily downhill than up hill (duh) and gravity really exists and makes a difference. 3 - always carry a 50 W 2M mobile and 5/6 wave rather than rely on a 5 W HT into a 1/4 wave. 4 - Always appreciate my fellow hams because without their help I would have spent a night on a bad road and my wife would have been worried.

I am a humbled and embarrassed ham and I will try to think of more lessons learned. Perhaps the big lesson is that a 2 WD vehicle on mountain roads is never a good idea.


Wow! Thanks for the write up, since like you I just have high clearance 2wd 73 Hal n6jzt

Wow - crazy story! Which summits were on your plan? I’ll try to avoid them with my low-clearance car…

Hal - I think a high clearance 2WD is just fine for many SOTA activations. I was fortunate to have help from my fellow hams. But it was an expensive lesson so I will be remembering this for a long time. Good luck with your next 35 points - I look forward to seeing you achieve your GOAT!


Thought I would list my recovery gear for my 2WD 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Tow recovery strap.

Tow recovery points front and rear - trailer hitch for rear recovery, recently added a recovery eye to front left chassis

Standard bottle jack and the small spare tire (obviously not the greatest!)
FIx-a-flat compressed goop-gas can (never used this method)
Tire repair kit - not fool proof I found, last time I could not get the poker thingamajig and plug through the steel belt!
Electric air pump, maybe I should carry a manual one too.

Hand tools

Spare AGM starting battery, but I do not always carry this.

Jumper cables

Shovel, traction mats, kitty litter. I think the shovel is the most useful thing I carry. I needed it once to shovel aside some inch-diameter rocks the rear tire was slipping on. This was in the usual parking area for Mt Baldy where maybe 50 other cars were parked! I could go forwards down but not backwards up, and forwards would take me into a car that had parked too close.

Sometimes I carry a mountain bike. This is a useful ‘1 wheel drive’ vehicle to get me to a major road in an emergency.

I have a hi-lift jack but don’t carry it, though I may take it on a trip in a few weeks. It provides a modest winching capability, if I can find a tree to attach the recovery strap to. Would love never to have to use it!

Extra drinking water is always good to have.

I recently got a SPOT beacon. I have not got the tow recovery service plan for it, though. Paul W6PNG and Maike KX6A have the Garmins, they provide much better commo using Iridium

The suggestion to carry a 50W radio is a good one! Usually just have the HT and roll up j-pole.

73 Hal

What a great adventure… and no doubt you are a better man for it.
I have found that adjusting a simple plan can turn bad if not well thought out. I tend to agree about 5 watts and a 1/4 wave antenna
Even something as simple as a measuring tape yagi is better.



N6KI always says if you want to get lost, just listen to your GPS! :wink:

Glad you made it out safely. I’m always shocked at the $$ charged these days for a tow. Up here in the Truckee area, the tow companies rake in the mula during the snow season pulling out or rescuing the stuck flatlanders.

I’d throw in a come-along or two in addition to a nice tow strap. Saved my bacon more than once…

Thanks for sharing your story. Great reminder on how easy it is to get lost and/or stuck…

73, Todd KH2TJ

My daft mistake many years ago was to put the map down when erm … relieving myself… It took me about 30 mins to realise there was a problem as I continued on the track ( Up the side of Glyder Fawr (GW/NW-003) ) at which point the mist came down. The hill has some serious drops, managed to retrace my steps, but not having a map was very unnerving. I now always carry 2 maps ( even if one is on the phone ). Lesson learned!

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Come along looks much more practical for winching than my Hi-Lift. Think I will get one!

Thanks for the story. I reckon we learn more from the “why it didnt work” stories than from the " how I managed the pile up on perfect activation with a beer at the end" stories.


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Would you please tell us not english native speakers what “come-along” means besides a song by Greek singer Despina Vandi?
73 Ruda OK2QA


I hope this picture explains better than my description.


So now I know what I have carried around in my car for the past 5 years. :slight_smile:

Hi Joe,

That was an exciting read - a bit like a thriller towards the end but it wasn’t like that for you. This happened to me in a 4WD LWB Land Rover in 1976. Since then I have carried the winch shown in the photo above in every vehicle I’ve owned - just like Jim’s.

I also carry a steel bar and a big hammer in case there are no trees. I got stuck again in 1985 near Blakey Topping in a second Land Rover, this time in a peat bog and I’m afraid it failed to get me out. I used a relayed message on CB to alert my family and then walked to a farm for a tractor.

However, I have had a few successes with this winch and twice I have used it to get back onto the road from soft verges at the G/NP-009 and G/NP-007 SOTA start points.

I do not think that particular winch would pull a fully grounded vehicle along a dirt road with chassis members digging in but it it’s a big help when the car is just about on it’s tyres. It’s a useful item of insurance for the small cost involved.

The way I solved the first Land Rover problem was with a jack and putting rocks into the rut under the wheels until the underbody came clear. Even so, we were 3 hours late for lunch!

By the way, judging by what happened with the first one of these I’ve had, the failure mode for the winch seems to be the pulley which is made in two halves welded together. The force of the cable beaks the spot welds and forces the pulley apart. The steel cable then sinks towards the shaft and jams solid. This is probably a good thing. Steel cables breaking is a bad occurrence but if you use it on half-power (straight pull) the pulley is not used.

Great account but take care. That said, similar could happen to any of us. We have remote areas too but on that score the USA has a size-for-size multiplication factor on the UK.

73, John G4YSS

Here’s what I use:

Todd KH2TJ

Hi Joe,
Thanks for posting your experience. This is nothing to be embarrassed about … stuff happens and stories like this help to educate and reinforce being prepared for when things do go wrong. Some people will say you shouldn’t go solo on these adventures…well, I go solo on most of my activations so I’m obviously not part of that group! Things will eventually go wrong if you’re active and always venturing out. Yours is another great story about ham radio being used to summon help when there are no other viable options. I’ve used ham radio (2m) several times to get me out of trouble over the past years.

Ham radio operators are a great group of people that are always willing to come to the aid of someone needing help!! I’m proud to part of this group.

73, Brad

And a snatch block too…a bit of extra line…and a tree strap works wonders!
(unless you’re in a treeless area) :wink:

I also have a couple of those less expensive Chicom ones as well. They’re O.K. for small pulls, IE getting a car up onto a trailer etc etc, but not really made for heavy trail use…

Todd KH2TJ

Great re-cap Joe - glad you got home safe! We all tend to push the envelope a bit - many of us activating solo. Your 2 meter gear and hams doing what hams do best saved your bacon, so you did have a contingency plan! SOTA sometimes means Stupid Option Try Anyway :wink: I agree with all the recommendations regarding “standard” equipment to take but I also rely on my own SOTA GOAT 4wd to get me out when I don’t make the best decision! 4wd with good clearance and 10 ply tires reduces my anxiety in the back country. As you know back country roads can change quickly and weather erosion can change a trail from easy to impassable ! I do lots of homework regarding access using google maps, google earth and topo maps to check routes before attempting - always have a plan to get out. I also retrace steps on my return to retain some familiarity in unfamiliar territory - landmarks passed on the way in let me know I’m heading the right way on the way out. On some hikes the best view is finding my truck right where I parked it when I return :wink:

73 Rick WB0USI

I didn’t realize SOTA would tread into offroad driving territory. I’m just starting out and driving a little 2wd Mitsubishi that is definitely not capable for bad terrain, but I have thought about getting a small dual-sport motorcycle for fun, and it would be a lot more economical than getting a more capable car/SUV.
What do you guys think of a small motorcycle for transport to and from trailheads?

I think the idea of a trail moto is a good one.