After Action Report W5N/SE-016 9931 Cerro Seco, Valle Caldera National Preserve
This attempt was actually intended as a reconnaissance of Cerro Seco and San Antonio Peaks. Just a lookie see. However when I got there it was easy hiking all the way to the top. I was the only person on the entire mountain and maybe the only person to the Summit in years.
Cerro Seco is a volcanic dome, it forms part of the Ring Fracture of the Caldera which itself is a Super Volcano. There are active steam vents, hot springs and sulfur deposits. This is little disconcerting as this peak and its sister’s form the “plug in the jug”. A blown cork would put a end to SOTA on a global level.
Like South Mountain Cerro Seco (Dry Hill in Spanish) sits in the middle of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. This preserve is soon to be a National Park, on par with Yellowstone. There are some legal considerations when operating in the Valle Caldera. You have to make reservations which are easy. It is a bit more expensive. It cost me 10 dollars for the hike and shuttle. The shuttle ride knocked off about 15 miles. You would not be allowed to hike cross country in any circumstance nor camp. I have had two successful SOTA operations in the VCNP so far. The key is “LOW PROFILE”. Especially no Crappie Poles or anything that even looks like it is used for fishing. See the web site for reasons why. I carried my HT openly and no questions were asked. The personnel at VCNP were very polite and professional. They are a wealth of information. This particular hike is seasonal and reservations have to be made. The money is well spent; even the vaulted toilets are clean. The preserve is self-supporting, it is a active cattle ranch, and logging operation are ongoing. It is also a scientific laboratory.
Getting there: If you are coming from Albuquerque, take I-25 to Bernalillo. Then take US 550 to San Yesedro. Go north to Jemez Pueblo on State road 4 and continue up the Jemez canyon to the VCNP. This particular hike departs the Alamo Canyon facility. There is a very small gift shop, and shuttle check in. If you go ad hoc, you may be able to get on a shuttle without reservations if the bus is not full. The first bus departs at 0930. Check the VCNP website for current details. Give yourself three or four hours to drive from Albuquerque. The drive is scenic and winding.
The driver put me down at the trail head; he also provided me a map and shuttle schedule. Took my name and promised not to forget me. Actually that was easy I was the only person he took up the entire day. The hike itself was up an old logging road, the surface was easy. Mostly packed cinders with a occasional lava bomb to trip on. The grade was gentle, which is a good thing as I gained near 2000 feet going to 9933 feet at the summit. The “Official trail” is well marked by posts and arrows and is intended as a loop around the summit about 2/3 of the way up. It is not marked to the summit. See the VCNP map to visualize it. However an analysis of Google Earth shows a maze of logging road. These roads circle the mountain like a barber pole. You can also see the faint impression of Drag line operations which look like scalloped roads. I believe all the roads eventually empty at the trail head. Don’t bet your life on this. If you venture off the trail and lose the post markers you could be in deep Kimchi This is a deep forest (hard to spot landmarks) and the logging roads change directions in a circular fashion. This is very reminiscent of the logging areas in AK or the Pacific NW. All of the mountains look the same except Redondo peak. I became turned around 180 degrees quite quickly. With overcast or bad weather you could get lost quite quickly following the maze of logging road. The main direction is up and down. I was using a GPS and still missed my own breadcrumbs by 500 yards when I followed a road down from the summit. It perfectly paralleled my own track and I eventually followed it to the “Offical trail”. I also had a sharp encounter with a heard of Elk. I spotted a cow elk browsing on the road. I muttered something about elk sausage and suddenly the forest erupted with a stampeding herd of 30 cows, calves followed by the Shepparding bull with a full rack of antlers, passing only 30 feet or so away. Elk are generally harmless, however rutting season is not too far off and the bulls have attacked humans who smelled a bit funny. No one is sure if the Bulls were amorous or hostile. I missed a photograph the camera was in my hand the whole time.
Operations on the summit were easy. This is a new growth forest about 70 years old. The summit is a patch work of old logging roads meadows and stands of Fir, and Aspen trees. Most are in the 70 foot range. This is a wrist rocket operation. I put up a simple endfed long wire tuned to a T-1 from a HB1b on 20 meters. I had become turned around so to speak and slopped the antenna to the south. (I had intend to slope to the north to work the usual suspects in the Northwest. Signals were very strong but reports were not so hot. 339s and that sort of thing. There was no VHF at all. I did get a spot out on the Megalink and APRS could be heard rattling away. Cell phone spots and coverage were nonexistent. I also struggled with my new Paddle. I am a straight key guy and my fist was atrocious. I think I drove away some of the chasers with my random characters. I worked 8 totals on 20 CW. VHF will not work, as the summit is still below the caldera rim.
This is an easy peak, a good one for visiting DX or perhaps a first time activator. However bring your compass and GPS. Be prepared for alpine weather. It snowed two days before I was there and this was in August. Let me know if you need a guide. I will gladly do it for a cup of tea, or a green chili cheese burger.