Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mount Yale (W0C/SR-007) SOTA Activation

Participating in Summits On The Air has brought me so many firsts.  July 23rd marked my first time hiking a legitimate 14-er when I activated Mount Yale (14,196', 4,327m) in the Collegiate Mountains west of Buena Vista, Colorado.

Getting There

For a great trail review, check out KT5X's post, but here is my summary.  From Buena Vista take Hwy 306 west for 12 miles.  The Mount Yale TH parking lot is clearly marked on the right.  Plan to get there early as both days I was there on the weekend the lot was close to full.  Additionally, getting there early will lessen the chances of hiking into an afternoon thunderstorm (assuming you're attempting this in the summer months).

At the TH there is a sign posted by the US Forest Service laying out the trail statistics.  It states the route is 4.59 miles to the summit.  4,422 feet of total climb to the summit.  See the pictures below for more details

The Hike

My family and I arrived at Collegiate campground the evening of Friday the 21st.  The TH was about a mile west of the campground.  I have to admit, I was fraught with pessimism when my alarm went off at 4:40 a.m.  I quickly and quietly changed and got out of our RV, hoping to not wake my family up.  I hopped on my mountain bike and rode off into the darkness with my headlamp blazing my path.  I made it to the parking lot, locked my bike to a guardrail and was on the trail by 5:10 a.m.  The trail begins in a steady incline with many small, loose rocks.  After about 15 minutes the trail levels off, then steps up again as you get close to your first of a few creek crossings.  I believe I made it to the Mount Yale turn-off at just over an hour.

Before I knew it, I was above the treeline.  There were many hikers on the trail I could see ahead of me on the switchbacks heading up to the saddle.  I think seeing their progress spurred me to keep up my pace.  Overall the trail was in really great shape and easily distinguishable the entire route.  There were all types of hikers on the trail, from runners, to folks you would think didn't know how they found themselves on the side of a mountain.  Once on the ridgeline it is only another 150' to the summit.  I felt like I was being pulled upward at this point knowing I had my first 14-er within reach.


To my surprise I got to the summit and was set up in 3 hours 52 minutes.  I had planned to be at the summit by 11 a.m. but I was there two hours early.  I setup my ham radio and antenna and made a quick call on CW.  Before I knew it I had 15 contacts between Morse code and voice in just over half-an-hour.  Being nervous about the weather I decided to call it quits early as a cloud base was beginning to sprout just to the east of the summit.  I felt accomplished as I made my way off the peak and began to pass those still on their way up.  I couldn't help but pass some words of encouragement to them as they trudged their way into thinner air.  I made it back to our campsite just after 12 p.m.  I was beat but after taking off my boots and stepping in the cool creek nearby I felt reinvigorated.  Bring on the next 14-er!

Lesson Learned

One's pack cannot be too lite... I have to find a replacement for my sealed lead-acid battery.

View from the shack.
Ham Shack and antenna at 14K'
From the kiosk at the TH. Copyright US Forest Service.

From the kiosk at the TH. Copyright US Forest Service.

From the kiosk at the TH. Copyright US Forest Service.
The last and most treacherous foot bridge

Saturday, April 8, 2017

"10654" (W0C/FR-139) SOTA Activation

When the wife and kids said they had plans to meet some friends this Saturday for a movie, my mind quickly thought about a summit I've been stalking for a couple months. Now that things have warmed up with Spring's arrival I set plans to activate this peak for its first time under the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.

Looking west from the summit of "10654"
Rex and I left the house just after 6am and were on the trail just before 8am. On the last portion of the drive to the TH we passed the South Platte River.  It was already packed with anglers decked out in their fly fishing gear. As I drove by I thought to myself, "who would want to stand in a river with all these great mountains around just waiting to be climbed?" To each their own I suppose. My estimated time to reach the summit was 10:30 am. We did not make that goal. It was closer to 11:15 by the time we made the summit.

This was just a tough, bushwhack of a hike. The first half mile was a nice gradual slope through a pasture following an old ATV trail, now used primarily for horseback riders. As we passed through a small grove of pines and into another clearing the summit came into view again. From here the path looked pretty straight forward. Due to the extensive fire damage, the terrain was easily discernable. While assessing the hillside we found a path of least resistance and made our way up to a ridgeline to begin our assault to the summit.

The nearly impenetrable forest.
From our earlier vantage point from far below we could see the best likely route. What we could not foresee was the myriad of hurdles we would have to navigate due to all the downed trees. Rex gets a little apprehensive jumping over logs higher than his head. Additionally, many of these fallen timbers had the majority of their limbs still attached so going under was usually not an option for him. Because of this, we did a lot of zigzagging and occasionally had to reverse course to find an easier route for my four-legged hiking companion. The other obstacle I did not expect was the thick stands of developing Aspen.  It was great to see the forest in rejuvenation, but those wispy branches at face level were perfect for whipping us, continually. I was glad I had my sunglasses to protect my eyes.

Overall, this was a tough hike. Four miles round trip (as the crow flies) and about 2,800 feet of gain from where we parked. The majority was steep. Dealing with the fallen trees was one thing, but due to erosion, loose boulders were also a continual threat. The descent took us 1 hour 45 minutes. I might do this hike again, however, I'll do Rex a favor and leave him at home next time.

73 and safe hiking,
APRS.fi route data.
Parking along Goose Creek Rd., "10654" in the background

Looking South from about halfway up the summit.

Rex enjoying a snow cone treat on ascent

From summit, looking SW

On summit, looking South to Pikes Peak

Rex wondering why I'm jumping around the summit with wires

KH7AL and SOTA-dog Rex. Not sure who is more tired in this photo...
SOTA Log of the day's contacts

Not how a trekking pole should look, on descent

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ormes Peak (W0C/FR-052) SOTA Activation

To ring in 2017, I decided to attempt Ormes Peak for the Zulu New Year's roll-over.  I chose Ormes Peak for this occasion specifically because it is close to my home (line of sight).  Not having a dedicated off road vehicle limits my access to many summits here in Colorado, but it does not limit my ambition to reach those peaks.  The easy route to Ormes Peak is by the Forest Service Roads accessed through Woodland Park (Directions on Summit Post).  Given the recent snowfall and uncertain road conditions I set my mind to reaching the summit on foot from Blodgett Peak Open Space.

Getting There

Blodgett Peak
I arrived at the Blodgett Peak Open Space parking lot (approximately 7100' elevation) off of Woodman Rd around 13:30 and set off on the Blodgett Peak trail.  The first portion of this trail simply follows the gravel road up to a city water supply tank.  From the water tank I followed a trail to the left along a fence line up through some scrub Oaks and into a wash leading steeply uphill.  There was a mix of snow, ice and loose gravel on the ascent.  My goal was to reach Ormes Pk by 16:00 but my progress was not looking good.  Around the 8200' mark I made the decision to go off trail to attempt to reach the ridgeline to the south of the Blodgett trail and ultimately save some time.  This decision was a rough go, facing steep segments and occasional fields of loose boulders.  I finally reached the highest ridge line around 15:30 (9250').  From the ridge I could finally see my destination to the west as the sun was fast approaching the horizon.

APRS.FI track of my route

Overland I Go

View of Pikes Peak from Ormes Peak
This part of the hike was relatively easy.  I tried to travel along contour as much as possible, making my way west.  There was only a little snow on the ground in places the sun did not regularly shine on this time of year.  The deepest drifts in the hillside troughs were only knee deep.  This area of the Rampart Range was heavily damaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012.  The stands of burnt trees made the trek fairly easy to see the path of least resistance. Along the way were signs of a significant deer and elk population.  I used their trails through the snow to ease my way.  Finally, I reached FS Road 303 by 16:00 and made haste to it and up the SE ridge line towards the summit.  Along the way I stumbled across a well worn trail and used it for the final push, reaching the top at 16:25 as the sun was beginning to set.  The weather was clear and brisk with a little breeze.  I knew the cold would set upon me quickly so I wasted little time setting up my Ham radio antenna to activate for Summits On The Air.  Below are my logs for 31 Dec and 1 Jan activations.

This Little Light of Mine

With fresh batteries in my headlamp I headed confidently off the summit into the eerily quiet darkness.  It did not take too long for me to lose the trail off the summit so I navigated on my own downhill in search of the service road.  I found my way back to the point I first found the road and the point where a trail heads east towards Colorado Springs.  I used this primitive trail for about a mile until the snow pack faded to the point I could no long follow the motorcycle and foot tracks.  Fortunately I did have decent cell coverage and used Google Maps to head towards the ridge line, this time to the south of where I had crossed over before.  The city lights in the background helped outline the ridges for me to make sense of where I was headed.  Back at the main ridge I came upon a precipice with a good 70' dropoff.  My headlamp just barely cast enough light to the bottom to make me realize I did not want fall off...  Not wanting to have search and rescue meet me this evening, I found a safe path down by walking south along the ridge for a hundred meters or so.  Then it was down, up and over a lesser ridge and into the headwaters of a wash leading back to the Open Space.  Here I came across another primitive trail leading steeply downhill.  The temperature dropped significantly here as the cold air of the night settled down into the low parts of the mountains.  I finally came across an actual trail and marker pointing me in the direction of the parking lot.  By 20:15 I was back at my car, safe and sound.  My best estimate for this route was at least 7 miles roundtrip.  Happy New Year!
Colorado Springs, CO

73 and safe hiking!
31 Dec 2016 log
1 Jan 2017 log

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mt Garfield & Tuckaway Mt SOTA Activations

Every hike traveled I have learned something. Yesterday I learned a valuable lesson about land navigation. Specifically, I learned the importance of having an up to date map in the pack...  

I took Monday off from work with the goal of hiking two summits; Mt Garfield (W0C/FR-040) and Tuckaway Mt (W0C/FR-134). I estimated it would be about a 10 mile hike roundtrip, but it ended up to be about 11.5 miles. I arrived at the 7 Bridges parking lot around 8:20 a.m. and hit the trail (Gold Camp Road) for about 3/4 mile until the creek and a sign for Trail 622 on the right, which begins the 7 Bridges trail. After you pass the 7th bridge the trail tracks up along the north side of the creek and through a narrow, loose gravel traverse until it bends to the right into another creek watershed. This is where my hike took a wrong turn.  

The trail raises up into an aspen grove along this smaller creek. Trail 622A (unmarked) is the route I should have taken to get to Mt Garfield first but I ended up on a newly re-routed trail (668), and connected with Trail 701 which took me closer to Tuckaway Mt. This new trail was not on my map I recently purchased unfortunately. With no clear trail up Tuckaway from Trail 667 I navigated an approach straight up the south side (see red route in second picture below). Its steep but doable. Towards the top I came across a large stretch of boulders which made the final push a little easier, although I was careful to ensure the footing was secure.

I will let the route maps speak for themselves.  I would like to warn anyone of taking the red route up Mt Garfield.  The spine of this approach is hazardous with significant drops on either side.  If I were to do this overland route again I would stay to the north of the mountain and approached from the NE to the summit.

All together it was a great adventure.  I made it back to my car at 6:15 p.m. tired and dehydrated.  I think I lost about seven pounds, but the next day I was itching to get back to the mountains again...  

Safe hiking everyone!
Approximately 4 miles to Mt Garfield from 7 Bridges parking lot

Approximately 5 miles to Tuckaway Mt from 7 Bridges parking lot (blue route) 

My office location on Tuckaway Mt, looking west

Pikes Peak from Mt Garfield ascent.

My setup, KX3, random wire in Coleman laundry line reel.

From Mt Garfield looking east to Colorado Springs, Cheyenne Mt on right in distance.
As always, many thanks to all the chasers who helped me activate these two summits!

24 Oct 2016 Log: Tuckaway Mt., 7.033 MHz
19:20zKX0R7MHzCWS35N, R56N
19:24zKT5X7MHzCWS55N, R53N
19:34zWG0AT7MHzCWS53N, R33N
19:38zWB0KIU7MHzCWS55N, R55N
19:41zNA4SO7MHzCWS55N, R55N
19:43zWA9PWP7MHzCWS55N, R45N
19:44zW8HAP7MHzCWS57N, R55N
19:46zNA6MG7MHzCWS55N, R55N
19:47zW6LEN7MHzCWS57N, 5NN
19:48zNK6A7MHzCWS55N, 5NN
19:49zN4EX7MHzCWS55N, R54N
19:50zNS7P7MHzCWS53N, R56N
19:51zK7PX7MHzCWS57N, R55N
19:52zNG6R7MHzCWS55N, R55N
19:53zNA6O7MHzCWS55N, R54N
19:55zK8LJG7MHzCWS53N, R33N

24 Oct 2016 Log:  Mt Garfield, 14.342 MHz

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Cameron Cone hike (W0C/FR-138) SOTA Activation


On the 1st of October my brother-in-law, Aarin, and I headed out to tackle a summit.  Aarin was in town visiting from Las Vegas and he asked for a strenuous hike and something to showcase what Colorado has to offer.  Cameron Cone met both those criteria.  This peak is overshadowed by Pikes Peak just to the west but it does not disappoint in either stunning beauty or challenging ascent. Cameron Cone is often overlooked by hikers and we only saw one hiker on our trek (not counting our time spent on Barr Trail).  The sole hiker was a local who lives up in the mountains taking her dog for a walk so I am not sure if that counts.  At 10,707 feet (3,264 meters) Cameron cone is average amongst the Front Range, but the approximate 4,000 feet elevation gain we traveled meant we had to earn this summit.
Pikes Peak view from Cameron Cone.  Photo by Aarin Murphy.

Getting There.

We relied heavily on a post made on Summit Post(dot)org to plan our route.  I highly recommend this page if you plan on hiking this trail.  We hit the road at 05:30 and parked at the Barr Trail parking lot and paid our $10/day fee.  We did not get on our way until almost 06:30 due to a mis-informed Manitou Springs employee who told us on the phone the day before we could ride the free shuttle from town to the TH.  They neglected to inform us however the shuttle ended on 30 September.  So after waiting in an empty parking lot for fifteen minutes we drove to the Barr lot and grabbed one of the last few parking spots.

You only need to hike the Barr Trail for about a half mile then take the social trail at the switch back that proceeds down to the creek.  When you hit the fence, follow it upstream for about eighty meters until there is a rockfall providing a crossing.  Then head up the hill perpendicular to the tracks until you come across the trail running along contour.  There are two routes here.  One trail is more established (better option) and the other is less traveled but easy enough to follow.  The lesser trail merges with the main trail so both options get you to the top.

Then it is up, up, up.  There are several sets of switchbacks as you head up the slope to reach the first milestone of Magog Rock.  Things flatten out between here and Gog Rock...somewhat.  Then we followed the 4x4 trail south then east for about half a mile.  There is a USGS marker on the right of the trail that marks your spot to turn and head up the slope towards the summit.  After you clear the steep slope of loose gravel there are really three options to get on top.  Two routes are covered in the Summits Post information and a third, well, it's not clearly marked but we used it to come straight down off the east side of the summit in an expeditious manner.  We made it back to the parking lot at 14:45.  Not bad considering we took a decent break on the way back at Magog Rock.

Our route from the Barr Trail to Cameron Cone.
The trail to take off of the 4x4 trail.


We made it to the summit by 10:30 and I did not waste any time setting up my ham gear to activate the summit.  There are plenty of trees on top to throw up a wire and get on the air.  The weather this day was just about perfect.  We had just a little cloud cover but absolutely no wind, which made the 60 degree temperature just about right.  Aarin is not a ham so I tried to be considerate he was not as enthused to sit on a mountain and listen to dots and dashes as I was.  We headed down around 12:00 as the coolness was setting upon us and we were ready to warm back up.  Here is the list of contacts I made on Cameron Cone's first SOTA activation. 

73 and safe hiking!

16:42zKI4SVM18MHzSSBS33, R44 S2S
17:05zAE9Q18MHzSSBS53, R53
17:06zK4QS18MHzSSBS53, R53
17:08zNE4TN18MHzSSBS55, R53
17:14zK7JFD10MHzCWS55N, R55N S2S
17:33zW7RV7MHzCWS55N, R53N**
17:36zWA7JTM7MHzCWS55N, R55N S2S
17:38zKX0R7MHzCWS57N, R56N
17:39zN6PKT7MHzCWS55N, R53N
17:42zNS7P7MHzCWS33N, R22N
17:43zWA6MM7MHzCWS55N, 55N

Taking a break along the ridge between Magog and Gog Rocks.
Aarin on a perch overlooking Colorado Springs.

Working CW, Colorado Springs in the background.

Pikes Peak Cog trudging uphill

Gog Rock and Cameron Cone

Gog Rock

Following the 4x4 trail SE and E to Cameron Cone

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cheyenne Mountain hike (W0C/FR-053)

25 June, 2016.  After an attempt to hike Cheyenne Mountain with a tired 8-year-old, I came back to make it to the summit a week later.  I woke early this Saturday in an attempt to beat the rush of Field Day followers taking up the airways later in the day.  I made it to the trail by 6:30 am and reached the summit around 7:45 am.  It was a nice hike but as K0JQZ referenced in his blog about this hike, its steep.  There really is no warm-up for the legs up besides the 50 yard walk to the trailhead (TH) from the parking area.

To get there from Colorado Springs just follow the Old Stage Road.  Watch out for the blind corners along the gravel road.  Once you see the Broadmoor Horse Stables sign on the left, there is a parking area on the right.  The TH is behind the sign you passed.  The trail you want goes straight up the hill. There is another trail at the TH immediately to the left which travels mostly on contour along the western slope of Cheyenne Mountain.  The trail to the summit is easy to follow for the first third of the hike.  After an initial rise you come to a scattering of a few fire pits along a ridge where people have camped out.

From there the trail is less discernable.  Basically, after the third fire pit, follow the terrain down and to the east along a shallow saddle, then go up, up, up.  There was not a clear trail so I followed the path of least resistance, and occasionally I came across signs of a path from previous trekkers. The final ascent brings you into a shallower grade, and on the day I climbed, into aspens and grasses interspersed amongst the larger trees.  The change in pitch and vegetation was a welcoming sight and gave me an extra boost to get to the summit.  The view from the top was awesome of the surrounding mountains but had limited views to the east.

Map from ListsofJohn(.com)

A view from the trail to the summit.

My ham shack under the pines. 

A view west from Cheyenne Mountain summit (Pikes Peak in the distance).

By the way, after working at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station for nine months, I think I'd prefer to be on the mountain than in it.

73 and safe hiking,

Monday, January 18, 2016

An Update from KH7AL

In case there is anyone out there following this page I thought I should provide an update as it has been too long. But if I'm just here typing to myself I want to affirm the reasons why SOTA is appealing to me, and maybe to you... if anyone actually takes the time to read this.

After a great year in Korea, I returned to my family in August 2015. We quickly packed up and moved once again to Colorado Springs, Colorado, a prime SOTA location.

Top 5:
And now for my top five reasons why I thoroughly enjoy Summits On The Air:
1) The supportive SOTA community of both activators and chasers.
2) It gets me on great trails and to different parts of the world I would not otherwise visit.
3) It encourages me to think smart about working portable operations. Less is more...
4) SOTA makes it easy to learn Morse code. The short exchanges coupled with encouraging members creates a positive environment to learn and improve.
5) I am continually amazed and intrigued at what 5 Watts and a wire strewn in a tree can provide.

Activation update:
With those top five reasons in mind this weekend I hit the road with aspirations of hitting five summits, in January...but I ended up with three.

I am in Alabama for training and instead of sitting in my hotel room all weekend I decided to head to the Smoky Mountains (see point 2 above). The first stop was Cheaha Mt (W4A/PT-001) an easy drive up 8-pointer in northern Alabama that offers great views from the state's highest point. On the summit I had the honor of meeting Dennis - WA2USA, and Wes - N4QYI (see point 1 above). They stopped by while I had a pile-up, encouraging my shaky CW ability. We had a quick chat and then I headed for Tennessee to activate one summit before staying the night in Knoxville.

Awaking Sunday morning I discovered winter threw a monkey wrench in my plans and caused the closure of Hwy 441 over the Smoky's. So after breakfast at the Pancake Parlor in Gatlinburg, TN, I made the journey up and around via I-40 for Cherokee, NC in hopes the sun would do it's thing and open the road by lunch. No such luck.

While on my around I stopped to activate Bunches Bald (W4C/WM-013). This is normally a near drive up summit but the Blue Ridge Parkway was also closed. After only a quick hesitation to decide, I put on my backpack and walked up the 3.5 mile, snow-covered road to Bunches. The solitary hike was made easier by the fresh snow on the Smoky's and was sparkling with the late morning sunshine. I had a great trip to this part of the country and look forward to my next opportunity to come back.