SoCal SOTA winter desert edition

I ran into Bill @N6OQ who suggested SOTAing Whale Peak W6/SD-046. Whale Peak is smack dab in the middle of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Its location and generous height, 1 1/2 kilometers or so, means spectacular views of the coastal mountain range to the west, desert all around including fun bits like the AB badlands, and more desert and the Salton Sea to the east. I said that I was definitely in for Whale Pk, because it’s my secret shame that I’ve never hiked this San Diego marvel. (And, no, there won’t be photos of the view. Photos don’t do it justice.)

By the end of the week, our group had expanded to include Adam @K6ARK and Bill @N6MTB. Last minute carpooling had the 4 of us in Bill’s nice new truck. Clearance is recommended as the road to the trailhead is not quite so nice as some of the other ABDSP dirt roads.

Best thing about San Diego is that you can pick your temperature by moving east or west a few miles. The desert is often warm and sunny past the coastal range when coastal is cold and wet in the winter. :slight_smile: And we were just getting the last bit of awesome SD November weather before the start of the winter rains. This hike was perfect. No wind and forecast high of 61 F that felt like 68 F. Trail itself is about 2 miles and 1500 ft one way. A good amount of staircase in boulder littered streambeds and boulder littered hillsides made for a stairmaster workout, but this and the trail in general weren’t too technical and was just the right amount of workout to start the winter holiday.

On the way up, there was plenty of color from all of the plants. This is desert (less than 10 inches of rainfall per year), but not hard desert. Flowers dried and not offered interesting color.

dried flower arrangement

flower, unidentified

another flower, unidentified

buckwheat, specific variety unidentified

Along the way, plenty of pointy things to watch out for. This yucca and agave are obvious with their giant spears. That yucca may look tall, but your narrator is on the tall side, plus there were shorter examples along the trail. A careful lookout is needed to avoid serious injury!

yucca (above) and agave (below)

a better view of the agave from a rock above. ouch!

Hemostats were added to my hiking first aid kit after one of my first AB hikes. Saw one hiker pull an agave spear tip out of the hip of another with a pair of 'stats. Luckily only a minor injury.

And here’s a pretty, though pokey, looking plant, a cholla cactus. I’m sure we saw at least a couple of varieties.

cholla, specific variety unidentified

Sure, I can see that coming, you say. Just walk around. No problem. So, check out these cottonballs littering the ground:

looks like cotton balls, but cholla cactus needle devils!

Those fall off of the plant. The needles have hooks and will stick to the toughest boot sole. If one’s pre-cholla natural stride has the heel of one foot pass close to the calf of the other leg, then the cottonball transfers to the calf through bluejeans or anything. I now carry a fine point set of surface mount tweezers in my hiking first aid kit. I have heard from wizened old desert rats that a pocket comb is handy for quickly removing the devilish cottonballs. Fine point tweezers are just the tool for individual needle removal.

At last, one arrives at the summit. Fortunately, we still have traffic signs out here to avoid getting lost. Or to let you know you didn’t end up where you were intended.

summit sign

The summit itself looks like this:

Whale Peak summit, staged photo

Except that was a staged photo. With 1/2 dozen SOTA vloggers in the county, it really looks like this:

summit with vlogger without squinting

summit with vlogger with squinting

Joking? No, 50% of our party are SOTA vloggers afterall. :slight_smile:

Everyone setup and started making contacts. N6MTB self spotted via inreach with the option to get recent SOTAWatch spots. The returned list consisted entirely of our own party. :slight_smile: We worked neighbour @WB6EDK /AM as he did a flyby. :slight_smile:

But oh, no, tragedy struck. I hauled out a full kit less one critical missing link! Fortunately with the large party, there was no worry. I borrowed a nicely modified Mountain Topper rig and antenna from K6ARK. The antenna is a work of art with optimized winder and super attention to details including the very slick very lightweight 3D printed link jumper. The rig had internal SWR meter and touch paddles. We passed at least one scrub oak with acorns along the trail, and I’ve sent with all sorts of paddles and keys, but I’ve never sent with acorn nuts.

this kind of acorn nuts

The touch paddle worked very well and was super easy to use. (See rainfall note above.)

Thanks K6ARK and N6MTB for rig time.

One lesson learned is never hike with SAR (search and rescue) folks. Do I really want to hear all the stories about things gone poorly? :slight_smile:

At home, sitting next to the 2nd HT that I chose not to take was the missing link.

missing link
missing link, the amp-hours

It was a nice day out with SOTA friends near and far.



Thanks for the S2S (I think between me and DJ we got all 3 of ya). Looks like a fun day. :beers: