SOTA trip to the Pacific Northwest

[[cross-posting from North America Summits on the Air (]]

by Paul HB9DST / AA1MI

Everybody in SOTA seems to have their own personal goals, and mine is “collecting” associations (and after this trip I have 79). Thus, nine months ago I started planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest that I thought would lead to me having activated every association in the Lower 48. To my shock, last summer the Management Team added the mountainous association of W0I Iowa with its two summits, so I’ve not yet quite reached my goal. Even so, it was a fantastic trip. To start off, I want to extend my appreciation to all those people who provided invaluable information and suggestions about summits, and in particular thank those hams who found the time to join me for a joint activation: Ivan NL5I (KLS Association), Rob AE7AP and Barb AE7AQ (W7M Association) and Malen VE6VID (VE6 Association). Further, the website is a wealth of information about summits in the Pacific Northwest.

I must also admit up front that I did not necessarily choose the most exciting or interesting summits in any given association. There just wasn’t time! The idea was to get in and out pretty fast so I could check off each association – after all the trip was already more than 3 weeks long and covered several thousands of miles on the road. Further, I promised my partner Marge that we would do far more than just SOTAs while we were visiting this corner of the country, and that also took time in the schedule.

We started in mid August by flying to Seattle and driving to a small farm in Banks OR to visit some friends whom I haven’t seen in 20 years. On the way we spent an overnight in Camas WA, which made it very easy to drive to a city park where I could activate W7W/LC-164 (Prune Hill). We then drove along the Columbia River Gorge, hiked to the top of the Multnomah Falls, and then continued on our way to Banks by stopping at another small park for the activation of W7O/NC-051 (Bald Peak). Two associations checked off in one day!

After two days with my friends, we returned to Seattle and hopped on the Ruby Princess for a 7-day cruise to Alaska. I’m not really a cruise person, but this was on Marge’s bucket list, so off we went. One saving grace: I saw that we would be stopping in Juneau for 11 hours shore leave, and doing some research revealed that the KLS Southern Alaska association was virgin – not a single summit had been activated! Wouldn’t it be great to be the first? Big problem: the port authorities scan your bags just like in an airport and have a blanket ban of any and all ham radio equipment. Can’t even hand it off to the communications officer on board. No ham equipment, period. Well, I got in touch with the Juneau ARC for help. One member Sam KL0KZ offered to loan me his KX3, and Ivan NL5I provided local support. He met me as I stepped off the boat and got special permission from a buddy of his to drive us as far as possible along a ski-lift maintenance road and within a 40-minute hike of KLS/JU-369 (Point 2985). Even with his bum knees we hiked in the rain to the summit and got the activation in. I was exhilarated to think I was the first in this association – but the next day my bubble was burst when I found out that Doug W1DMH had been up there two weeks earlier but had not yet entered his log!

After the ship returned to Seattle we picked up our rental Jeep and headed off, first for a place I would not have picked myself: Pendelton, OR. But this was another request from my partner – a visit to the Pendelton factory store, which is famous for its virgin woolen blankets and also the Westerley cardigan (better known to the rest of us as The Dude’s cardigan or The Big Lebowski sweater). We then continued to Boise ID, and here we benefitted from some excellent info from Jim K7MK and Scott K7ZO. They pointed us to a windy dirt road leading to a parking lot located between two easy to reach summits, W7I/BC-064 (Shafer Butte) and W7I/BC-070 (Mores Mountain). Scott mentioned the drive was on “good quality dirt roads”. Well, the standards out west must be different than mine because I was darned glad to have a Jeep with high clearance (didn’t need the 4-wheel drive,though). Besides these two SOTAs, the stop in Boise also involved taking a 2-hour raft ride down some gentle rapids on the Payette River. I thought it was pretty tame, but it was just right for Marge.

From Boise we headed further east, going through Jackson Hole to another of Marge’s request stops: Granite Hot Springs. Here the 10-mile dirt road was flat and very passable for anyone. As pleasant as these hot springs are, they are not so well known, in fact we had the entire pool to ourselves for more than an hour. Then off to Old Faithful and the rest of Yellowstone Park for the next few days. That was followed by a day trip to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which was very informative and interesting for someone who grew up on the East Coast and whose detailed knowledge of American history basically stops at the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

From Idaho we headed out into Montana and, based on a great suggestion from Rob AE7AP, met up with him and his wife Barb AE7AQ at the summit of W7M/HB-128 (Strawberry Butte). This was another dirt road, very rutted and steep in spots, where I was very happy to have the Jeep! But on the summit there is an abandoned fire tower along with a picnic table I used for my operating position – and Barb set up this fantastic picnic lunch. We feasted on burgers, brats and all the fixins. Thanks again, Barb! We wrapped up the day by driving to Great Falls MT and visiting the Lewis and Clark Expedition Center, another real eye-opener for someone who grew up east of the Mississippi.

Next phase: off to Canada. We spent our first night in Canmore, just outside Banff. The scenery is supposed to be spectacular, but we saw nothing but rain and low-lying fog. The next morning I met with Malen VE6VID, who had suggested that VE6/HC-034 (Stoney Squaw Mountain) would be a good candidate for my program. He drove two hours through rush hour gridlock traffic in Calgary to meet me at the summit. Good thing, too – there are plenty of well maintained trails, but they are not always well marked so it would have been difficult for me to find the right one without detailed maps and a GPS, none of which I had. Malen to the rescue! Another “fun” aspect of this hike – at the summit we dealt with some wet snow flurries, my first of the season. Glad I brought my rain pants along.

From there Marge and I crossed the border to British Columbia and spent two nights just outside Golden. Although it has nothing to do with SOTA, our stay there is worth mentioning. We slept at the Rocky Mountain Buffalo Ranch. Our cabin, actually an old wagon on wheels, was off the grid – we had a private outhouse just outside the cabin, no electricity, and our water was supplied in a canister in the cabin. Given the weather, the solar shower wasn’t going to be much help! But the owner Leo maintains a herd of maybe 2 dozen buffalo, and every morning he gives a lecture and then you head into the pastures to “meet” the buffalo in person. You can’t touch them, but you can get within a couple of feet. Hearing about how they are bred and what that involves year-round was fascinating. Leo did scare the daylights out of Marge when he commented, “This stream next to your cabin? Any day now the salmon will start running. And right after them come the hungry grizzly bears. They’re always around, but we’ve never had any trouble with them…” Fortunately the salmon weren’t running yet when we left.

From Golden we drove west to our next overnight, Harrison Hot Springs. On the way we stopped in Kamloops where we put our Jeep in a lot with many other people visiting this park just outside the city, and it’s also VE7/TN-022 (Dufferin Hill). An easy half hour walk brought us to the top where we did get some nice views for a change. This was my last summit on this trip (and my grand total now stands at 79 associations). The next morning back to Seattle, fighting the traffic on I5 and the flights to Boston and then Zurich.

Some final notes: my equipment consisted of my trusty KX2 with a LNR (now Vibroplex) end-fed antenna supported at one end by a 6m pole and a Palm Mini Paddle. I operated 90% CW, but also brought along my VHF/UHF handy for QSOs with the locals. Again, my deep appreciation to all those SOTA comrads who helped me in whatever way during the preparation and execution of this trip. I hope to see them again soon and repay their kindness by offering them my guest room just outside Zurich if they ever get the itch to do some activations in HB9.


A great story, Paul – saves me a trip to these regions, hi!

Vy 73 de Markus, HB9DIZ

I have relatives in BC, so this definitely wet my appetite for a trip west.
73 de OE6FEG

The Pacific Northwest and the Canadian Southwest (never thought I’d say that) are both fantastic places to cover. The door is always open, and bring your radios.

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Come on out and visit our playground. There will always be someone from the VE6 group to help out.


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Great reading Paul,
I’ve been there in 2009 … making a tour in WA, OR, ID, MT WY,SD,MN,IA,NE, KS and MO. And we visited Banff and Jasper in Canada too … a 6 weeks trip !
But too bad, that was 5 years before I started with SOTA, so I should go back one day … hi.

So many hills and things still to do…

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