Although a nasty blizzard was forecast to hit New York City Saturday night, Friday night Dave, W2VV and I decided to go ahead with our planned activation of High Point Mtn, http://sotawatch.org/summits.php?summit=W2/GC-015 . After all, High Point was significantly inland and all of the forecasts predicted that the storm’s impact would be minimal in the area of the summit.
Dave and I had been discussing a possible activation of High Point for weeks, and we were excited to attempt our most physically demanding activation to date, with a round trip horizontal distance of what we thought would be 7.5 miles (turned out to be 9 miles+) and an elevation gain of more then 2,000 feet.
Unfortunately, Saturday morning we were running about 2 hours late and it became clear to us that this would be a nighttime activation. Dave drove from New York City north about an hour to my place, and then we drove 2 hours farther north to High Point Mtn.
We were fully equipped with snowshoes, spikes, poles, paper maps, compass, 2 GPS units and 3 flashlights not to mention rescue blankets, extra food and clothing and goggles.
We also had plenty of radio equipment. Between the two of us we had an FT-857, K3, VX-7r and TH-D7ag along with end fed wires and a vertical. We also had cold resistant lithium technology to power the HF rigs, one of the flashlights, one of the HTs, one of our GPS units and the camera.
With all that weight and the difficult hike, I found myself sweating profusely despite the 20F temps at the base and the fact that I stripped down to an undershirt and no hat.
The hike was beautiful and the surrounding forest was quiet and pristine. A roaring brook that followed along to the right of the trail kept us company and the snow laden tree branches of the surrounding pines were truly beautiful…so were the wonderful ice formations on the trail. The hiking poles were a great addition to our kit, and helped keep us stable even on icy surfaces. Neither one of us had to don our spikes on this gently upwardly sloping part of the trail on account of our poles.
After about 2 miles the trail took on a 20% grade, and the going became much tougher. By now the sun had set and the wind picked up a bit. The combination of a lack of cell phone service, our dark, silent, and unfamiliar surroundings along with almost non existent APRS coverage gave me a somewhat disturbing sense of isolation. Our voices echoed off of the surrounding hillsides.
The trail became steeper, narrower and rocky, with some large snow covered rocks rolling a bit under my feet. We soon discovered that the NYNJTC trail club maps which had described the trail to the summit as being 3.75 miles long were inaccurate, and the true distance was something over 4.6 miles.
I was truly exhausted by this point and was holding back Dave’s progress, so told him to continue to the summit and I would meet him there in my own time while he worked HF. We kept in touch on 146.52 FM with our HTs.
While Dave raced ahead, I trudged along as best as I could through tough and steep terrain. It was particularly disturbing to me when Dave radioed back to me asking if I had hit the “steep” section yet. I replied that the whole upward sloping part of the hike was steep, to which Dave replied, “No Tom, you will know when you hit this…it might as well be a steep stairwell”
Soon enough I hit a patch of trail with a 45%+ slope, with loose snow covered rock that was not fun at all.
When the snow depth became great enough to require snowshoes, right at the start of the activation zone, I decided to stay put and try to make some contacts from that point. I just could not continue any farther. While Dave was still in 2m radio range, I could not see his light and could barely hear his whistle. Dave was at the summit in even harsher conditions, but was elated.
We were both extremely tired at this point and the wind had picked up as the temperature fell. While we did not have a thermometer, I knew that it was well below the 20F we experienced at the base and the wind and cold were beginning to make Dave and me a bit concerned. It occurred to me that the Blizzard could have changed directions and could be heading our way.
As I developed a nasty chill while changing into dry clothes and adding layers, Dave and I considered leaving the summit as quickly as possible and forgetting about making any contacts at all. Certainly neither one of us had the energy to setup and takedown our HF gear at this point.
We decided that we should attempt to make our 4 contacts each with our 2m hts, on the off chance that we could make our contacts within 10 min or so. We knew that spending much more time at the summit might be dangerous. It was at this point that we found that the alkaline powered GPS unit failed in the frigid conditions, although the lithium powered GPS unit was operating flawlessly. While we did have additional lithium AA cells in reserve, we decided to make due with one GPS unit for now.
Dave quickly made 3 contacts on 2m and although I worried I would not have as much luck from my location, I eventually made 2 contacts. Dave then headed back down to my location on the edge of the activation zone and made a fourth contact. I made my third contact and then the action stopped. I called around a bit hearing nothing. As I was preparing my backpack for our decent, a voice called out CQ on 146.52, the calling frequency. Hooray! I had my fourth contact and we quickly packed up and tore off down the mountain, despite my last contact insisting on having a ragchew. My last contact found our operation extremely interesting. Later we heard my last contact bragging to his friends about working the guys on the mountain…it was pretty neat.
As we trudged down the mountain, it occurred to me that Dave could have counted me as one of his contacts when he was in the zone and I was not, which would have saved us some time and concern that he would not get his fourth contact…but nevertheless Dave did manage 4 contacts with other hams and that’s what was important. I have yet to decide if I will claim chaser points for working Dave while he was in the zone and I was not…a thought that only occurred to us after the fact.
As we descended I was struck by the fact that I was wearing almost all of my extra clothing, was moving, and was just warm enough…had it been much colder it is possible I could have suffered a bit although I still did have even more layers and covers in reserve in my backpack. Dave, with his new high tech Gortex clothing seemed to fare better in the cold. With our decreasing altitude the wind gusts became less frequent and it became apparent that the blizzard had not decided to swerve to hit us. Temperatures were much greater at lower elevations, perhaps as high as 20F although what remained of my water supply froze solid and Dave’s supply was partially frozen. I had great difficulty trying to keep pace with Dave, who picked up the pace a bit in light of the fact that on account of our late start, he now had to drive through the heart of the storm to return home.
From behind, Dave looked and sounded a bit like a giant Christmas gnome. Dave was wearing a red jacket and kept his snowshoes on for the entire decent, which gave him a bit of a hop in his gait. This in addition to the “jingle bell” like noise coming from the spikes hanging from his backpack really set a jolly mood for our decent. I tried to capture the effect on film.
Dave drove me home first, which started out easily enough. About 40 miles south of the summit the New York State Thruway was slick with new snow that had yet to feel the first plows of the night. The best speed we could make on this slick surface was about 40 miles per hour.
My neighborhood streets were slick, but Dave did manage to get our car to the side of my house to unload. My heart was in my mouth however as Dave’s car began to slide sideways down the street as he attempted to pull away.
Dave did not get home until 3am on account of the fearsome road conditions in New York City, and my hat is off to him for his superior effort.
In the end, we both had a great adventure, made our contacts and lived to tell the tale.