Rather delayed but better late than never!
I had the pleasure of a two week trip to San Diego to provide on-site support for one of my employer's clients who are soon to tapeout a new chip. This came just as the W6 association manager Stuart KI6J (ex-KI6MWN) announced the W6 association was now active. The chance to activate something in California was too good to pass up so I extended my stay a few days. The best part was the only cost would be my hotel and car hire for the extra days, the flight costs being already covered.
I exchanged several emails with Stuart as we honed the fine details of the activation. There were several possible summits but in the end I favoured CT-037 which is known as Mt. Hollywood or Cahuenga Peak and is situated towards the north of Los Angeles. The reasons being several fold. For a start my flights were to and from Los Angeles so I had to get back there eventually from San Diego. Another was this was a business trip and the amount of space I had for hiking gear was limited to say the least. I had my Merrell "Technotrainers" with me, my VX-170 and a flag. Got to plant a flag to reclaim what we gave away in 1776! Finally, whilst there are many mountains famous outside America, if you say to people "you know, the one with Hollywood in big white letters on it" they know exactly where and what you are talking about. So CT-037 it was. Stuart's suggestion that we needed to start early so that we could get places in the car park made sense as did his suggestion that early in the morning wouldn't be too hot also seemed sound. The final reason that when it's cool the snakes wouldn't be too active did strike a note of caution in me. Los Angeles has a bad enough reputation for crime, gangs, murders, rape and pillaging thanks to Hollywood and US TV Cop shows without the thought that should I survive a drive by shooting by Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and the crew I would succomb to a fatal rattlesnake bite whilst out playing silly beggars with a radio!
Skip 13 days of working all day on-site and then a few hours more in the hotel room each evening. Skip playing out on the beaches at La Jolla and Solano, visiting Mt. Palomar Observatory and the US Marines Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum on my free wekend and we get to Sunday morning in Los Angeles the day before I flew back. First a word about the weather. If you ask people what they think the weather in Southern California is like in July they'll say hot and sunny. They're right too, but there's some fine detail needed. San Diego and where I was in LA (Inglewood, a little seedy TBH) are both close to the coast. So between 10.00am and 7.00pm the sky is blue and it's hot. But when you get up in the morning the sky is as grey as it is back here near Edinburgh most days! I was a little annoyed that when I woke the first morning someone had stolen the sun and blue sky but the marine layer soon burnt off. Of course if you go inland a few miles the temperature shoots right up and there are few clouds. The day I went inland to Palomar it was 26C(78F) at the hotel, inland at 5500ft it was 28C(83F) but down in the desert valley a whopping 39C(102F). That's hot!
So I wasn't suprised when I got up early to find it very grey. In fact it was positively cool and by the time I had driven about 17miles across LA to the car park at the Griffith Observatory and got one of the last car park spaces it was a bit like a typical Scottish hill, shrouded in cloud and mist! A quick shout on 146.520 and there was Stuart. A few moments later we weere standing together shaking hands and I was giving Raplh, Stuart's slighty daft dog a good scratch. Stuart made sure that I had essentials for the hike: suncreme, water, water, more water, a hat and water. Oh and a radio! He had brought along some requisites for an activation too: sushi and premium Asahi beer. This was starting to be a wonderful day and we hadn't started walking yet.
As we set off Stuart started explaining how the park was getting more and more regulated. It was very busy, at least 50 cars in the car park with many arriving all the time, runners and joggers out in the cool mist and lots and lots of people out walking. With the number of people it was understandable that rules where needed especially as the dry weather and all the tinder dry brush and trees made serious forest fires a very real danger. So with rules in mind, Raplh was on a long leash and we made sure we kept to the signposted routes. Well until we were 20-30mins away from the vast mass of people!
As we started to climb we stopped and Stuart pointed out where the Hollywood sign should be. Of course it was lost in the mist but I was able to get a few good mugshots taken with it in the background on the descent. We made a good pace along a tarmaced road to start with then onto a wide dirt track. The only hazard were the many cyclists on both racing and mountain bikes making their ascents ready for the breathtaking rush down from the top. Ralph strained nicely and we set a fairly smart pace up. I didn't have a proper backpack with me but I did have a laptop backpack. These are popular at work in that they don't look like you have a lot of computer with you, we have fairly highend laptops because of the work we do, and because they hold so much stuff unlike a normal shoulder laptop bag. Anyway, mine held water, a towel from the hotel, the rig, J-pole antenna and my flag. And a banana from the breakfast table. The bag was nicely padded but not really designed for hiking up mountains but it was quite good at breathing. Not in the same league as my new Deuter rucksack but good anyway. I had another towel and clean T-shirt in the car.
We branched off the path onto a narrow track and Stuart handed me a walking pole with the instructions to make sure to beat any brush that was overhanging the path. Basically to scare away anything we didn't want to step on and frighten into biting us. As we started climbing I thrashed at the bush with vigour and energy of a lunatic looking somewhat like a single bladed helicopter trying to fly… nothing was biting me without getting a good thwacking first! The ground was so different to Scotland. Sandy dust a few cms deep covered the well worn track. No peat, no heather, no moss. NO BOGS! My Merrell trainers with the Vibram soles felt very sure footed but it was strange to walk in quite rugged terrain without ankle support. It didn't feel right and reminded me of a conversation with Iain M3WJZ about the lack of ankle support. Iain gave up walking boots for GoreTex technotrainers a while back. Well at least the GoreTex wasn't needed today!
The mist was clearing as we reached the first summit, the home of the towers and microwave dishes. There was the big white H of the sign. Except from the back it's grey. The sign is sacred and you can't get close to the letters as there are cameras and fences and remote monitoring and you have to walk down through dense brush down the steep hillside. Getting caught there gets you a big fine and big trouble and I didn't want to have to ring up home and ask to be bailed out. So we took some photos and headed off for the true summit which was about 15 minutes away across the only tricky terrain. The path climbed and dropped quite a bit, not really tricky just the dusty version of a muddy bank, bone dry but still a bit slippy!
Then we were there. The mist had burnt off as we stepped out to the official summit marker after about 1hr30 or so of walking. And it was really hot in the sun. I applied a good dose of suncreme and deployed the flag. Ralph, who had run about like a a complete loony, just as all good dogs do, found some shade under a bush and lay down. Then Stuart force fed him a goodly amount of water. After that Raplh went further into the bush out reach. A quick call to Stuart's mate KI6NN (John?) on the Catalina repeater announced that we were at the summit and he QSY'd to a simplex frequency and we were off.
I worked a bunch of guys as a leisurely pace explaining a little about SOTA to those who knew nothing about it and working a few of those guys Stuart has already got interested in the programme. I had to explain just what kind of callsign W6/MM0FMF was. I suppose there's not too much CEPT operation in this part of the world unlike Europe. Stuart opened the beer and sushi and the activation was celebrated in a most excellent way. Pickled ginger, crab roll with Wasabi and a mouthful of Asahi beer. Is there a better way to celebrate climbing a mountain? You tell me. Stuart pointed out a number of landmarks, it's amazing just how big LA is as it sprawls away in all directions. I think best DX was about 65miles.
With the sushi all gone, more than enough contacts to satisfy me and the sun now burning down, well it was about midday, we packed up and started heading down. We didn't rush and stopped a few times to take photos. We were back to the car park by 13.30 and it was now madness. Cars everywhere and traffic cops trying keep order as visitors streamed to the recently refurbished observatory. We decided to head off for something to eat and also to drop Ralph off at home it being far too hot to leave a dog in a car.
Having eaten yet another sandwich big enough to feed all of Africa we said our goodbyes and I headed off back across the nightmare traffic of I-405 on a hot LA Sunday afternoon. I owe Stuart a huge amount of thanks for all he did. He could have had the honour of being the first ever W6 activator but he left that to me, Stuart checked out the route in advance, bought in the sushi and beer, paid for lunch afterwoods (he wouldn't let me pay anything except for the tip) and made sure that I knew how to get to and from summit car park. He didn't even work me for outside the AZ for a chaser point. Absolutely fabulous support from one ham to another especially as we had never met till the morning of the activation. Thank you Stuart, such generosity and support was most welcome for someone still jetlagged and a long, long way out of my normal comfort zone.
It really was wonderful to activate an association for the 1st time, a region for the 1st time never mind a famous peak. Not a technical challenge nor terribly arduous though the heat makes a real difference to how you feel. Not a problem we have in GM! So a lovely way to round off a long business trip and a change to get some real exercise rather than trying to burn off the excess calories of hotel living sat on an exercise bike watching the TV.
Distance walked: 9km, distance climbed: 200m, distance travelled: 11000miles.
(The above are approximate but give a rough idea.)
Raw pictures at http://www.moosedata.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=6899 and I'll put a few more onto the Flickr group when I get a chance.
Finally, many, many thanks to Stuart KI6J for making this possible.