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.