Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kaala (KH6/OH-001) SOTA Activation


I have dreamed about hiking Kaala for the past year while participating in Summits On The Air (SOTA) here on O'ahu. Most hiking enthusiasts think about summiting the top hill in their neighborhood. Being the highest peak on the island, Kaala (4060' / 1237m) is the summit to reach on this island. On July 27, 2014, four hiking club partners and I decided to attempt this great mountain. We arrived at the trailhead at 8 A.M. taking the last couple parking spots. The summit was shrouded in clouds and the partly cloudy sky kept us cool during the entire trip. The ascent took us about 3.5 hours. I was thankful for the KX-3 radio my friend Richard (KH7HNL) loaned me for this trip to lighten my typical load. This was the lightest radio pack I have hiked with in the past year; about 20#. I just wish I would have brought an additional liter of water, three would have been just right.

Getting There

The most popular route to reach Kaala is to start from the Waianae side. From Honolulu, head west on H-1. Once in Waianae, turn right on Waianae Valley Road and continue until you cannot drive any further. The last stretch of the road is a single lane and ends at a gate with a small parking area at around 650' elevation. 

The Hike

Pass the gate on foot, up the paved road, and past the three water towers; which is about a mile long. Passing the picnic table you will quickly find yourself in a grove of Macadamia trees from an old plantation. Not far past the picnic table, follow the purple markers down and to the left, through a dry creek bed. Remember: purple up, orange down for the trail markers. Up, up, up, relentlessly until you reach the ridge where there are three electrical towers. This is a great spot to rehydrate while taking in the spectacular views of the Waianae Range and out to the ocean.
Then the real work begins. The next stage of the hike is a series of steep segments. Some of the rock sections are somewhat technical. Past hikers have patched together a variety of ropes, cables, and even wire to help pull yourself up. Mud is a continual challenge to keep from slipping. As always, test the ropes before using them and don't put all your faith in them. Above all, take your time and use caution. Do not hike up what you will not be able to get down.
And then you reach the Kaala Natural Area Reserve. Prepare to step back into time. This plateau is simply amazing. Giant ferns, mosses, dragonflies. You can just feel that this area has been all but untouched for thousands of years. It is about a half mile across this area; stay on the wood planks, to the radar site. Although the FAA site is off limits you can circumnavigate the perimeter to view almost all of the island from this high point (weather dependent).

Kaala radar site in view.

View of the North Shore 
View towards Honolulu from the Kaala summit.

Bob on the decent.
View of Kamaile'unu Ridge (KH6/OH-002) from Kaala trail.
The antenna setup for the HF contacts on the KX-3, I used an EARC EFHW matchbox, 33' of Radio Shack speaker wire, and a Jackite 28' collapsible mast.

Special thanks to the following SOTA chasers for making this activation worth so much more:

Call             Time    Band
KH6KV      2137      2m
WH6DZF    2143       "
NS7P           2159      21m
W7RV         2159       "
W6JP           2201      "
N4EX          2206       "
W5ODS      2208        "
KH6XL       2214        "
WH6DZP    2234      2m   S2S on Kaua'i!
WH6DZQ    2235       "             "

73 and safe hiking,
Allen / KH7AL


Monday, July 7, 2014

Olomana Trail (KH6/OH-020) SOTA Activation

Olomana Trail...

From the top of Olomana looking SW
...is likely one of the most popular hikes on O'ahu. Popular partly because it is centrally located and easy to get to and partly because of the breathtaking views from the summit. I finally had the opportunity to hike this summit (twice) this past week. There is a lot of information about this hike on the internet so I am going to keep my post about this to the most important tips for you. Free free to watch my (1min 16 sec) video of the hike on YouTube.

**Disclaimer--This is a great, strenuous hike which involves sections of steep cliffs with ropes to assist your climb. Always test the ropes before using and never put all your weight and trust in them.

#1) As recommended in Stuart Ball Jr.'s The Hiker's Guide to O'ahu, I recommend not parking by the bridge on Loop Rd where most people park. Rather, park up Manuwili Rd at either the Maunawili Park or just past on the street in the neighbor hood. It does add a little to the roundtrip distance of your hike but may give you peace of mind after you see all the broken glass on the ground by the crowd of cars before the bridge.
#2) Check in with the guard at the entrance to the golf course to state your intentions. They are courteous and will be quick to ask if you have hiked the trail before and give you the canned safety brief. From the guard shack its about a 1/2 mile walk up the road to the actual trail head.
#3) Be patient if you have to wait for your turn along one of the several sections with ropes. As stated above, this is a busy trail, be a courteous hiker.
#4) Final safety tip, don't climb up what you won't be able to climb down. The last and largest obstacle to climb up is not for the faint of heart.

From my truck this hike took me 1.5 hours up and about 45 minutes to get down. For my Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation, I was only able to find four contacts on HF (three more than the week prior). 
Thanks to the following SOTA chasers for letting me properly activate this summit for the first time and allowing me to share some aloha with this two-point summit:
Time Call
18:36z AB7YL
18:38z WA9ST
18:39z NS7P
18:39z N6KZ

73 and safe hiking!
Allen / KH7AL

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Kamaile'unu Ridge (KH6/OH-002) SOTA Activation

Hawaiian Goat Berries.

Kamaile'unu Ridge, in Waianae, is a great, goat-filled hike. I chose this hike (KH6/OH-002) for my Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation primarily because I did not want to get soaking wet as often happens when hiking the Ko'olau Range trails. The Waianae area is generally drier being on the leeward side of the island and it has some great views of the valleys and ocean thanks to the ridges that start near the beach and head all the way up to Kaala (KH6/OH-001). However, I still ended up soaking wet from the rainfall the night before and the heavily dew laden grass and trees along the route. I had a great time and saw all sorts of wildlife. The most abundant were the many herds of feral goats who mocked me by the ease at which they moved along the steep slopes.

The Hike

I was on the road this morning by 4:30 a.m., westbound on H-1, to Waianae. I parked my truck at a strip mall at the corner of Farrington Highway and Makaha Valley Road. I then walked east, then left on Mauui Road towards the base of the ridge. It was pitch black as I walked down the road. Luckily the sound of the waking chickens kept the dogs from hearing my approach and none barked at my passing. Even though I was up, I did not want to wake the locals. At the trail head I turned on my headlamp to start my ascent. The first part of this hike will get your pulse going as it is pretty steep. The half-mile walk from my truck was a good warm-up. The trail plateaus after a few hundred feet elevation gain, then stair-steps up but not as severe as the first part. Then comes the next challenge.
The summit in sight

At about 1,400 feet the trail gets steep again for another 1,000 feet or so. Nearing the upper ridge line the clouds started to enshroud the summit (at 3,220 feet). The moisture from the clouds caused water droplets to cover one particularly packed stand of trees and the slightest touch made the droplets fall (on me). I was soaked after that even though it did not rain during the duration of my hike. After four hours with a few breaks I made it to the top.
KH6/OH-002 Summit

On The Summit

Once on the summit I had to verify which of the peaks along the ridge was truly the highest point. There are several false peaks along the way. I had neglected to load the summit data into my radio's GPS, so I had to rely on the Lat/Long data displayed to the summit information in the Association Reference Manual that I had luckily brought along. Trying to identify the higher of two points in the fog is an act of futility. Once I found the actual summit I quickly set up my Buddistick and tuned it for 12 meters. Band conditions were not the best today but the following Chasers helped me activate this summit for it's first time:

Time Call              
19:52z NS7P      
19:53z N4EX      
19:53z W7USA      
19:53z WA2USA
19:54z W0MNA      
19:57z W0ERI      
19:58z W7RV    


I had no idea we had such a feral goat population on O'ahu until I researched this hike and then saw and heard the tribes for myself. I was surprised by the first bleat as I snuck up on a family of five goats. They quickly scampered of, but the presence of goats was with me for the rest of the hike. Fresh goat berries were abundant all along the trail. I also came across several pheasants (exact species I am not sure of) who tried to startle me each time they took flight and made a loud warning call. On the way down I spooked what looked like an owl nesting along the hillside in the grass. As I came closer down the hillside to where it flew off I could see three eggs nestled in the grass. On a break further down the slope, I was resting with my back against a rock and a flock of pigeons flew past my head and around the slope at what seemed about mach 1; good thing I was not standing up.

A note of caution 

The first plateau
For this hike I would like to warn about the many dangers along the way. There are several locations with perilous drop-offs. As always, take your time hiking. Be especially careful of your hand holds and foot placements. Many of the rocks along the way are pretty loose so do not put all your weight on anything before testing it first. I nearly had a 150 pound boulder come down on me. It rocketed down the hillside and was followed by the sound of crushing vegetation as it plummeted into a steep ravine. Several sections of the trail had slippery rocks too. Lastly, pack enough water. I brought three liters of water and think that was just about right; but I was under cloud cover for the majority of the hike.

73 and safe hiking!
Fresh Hawaiian Goat Berries

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Makapu'u Head (KH6/OH-028) SOTA Activation

View from Makapu'u with Koko Head and Crater in the distance. Looking SSW.
Makapu'u Head is an easy, paved hike on O'ahu's eastern most shore. Many locals and tourist alike hike this trail to view the Makapu'u lighthouse and the vistas offered on this side of the island. During the winter months this is a great place to observe the whales and their calves playing in the Hawaiian warm waters. This summit offers great views of the beaches north towards Waimanalo and south to Koko Head. You can even see the neighboring island of Molokai on a good day.

Great view with a rainbow.
The hike from the parking lot to the summit is about one mile with an elevation gain of approximately 500 feet. Winds on the day I hiked were gusting close to 50 knots at the summit. This made setting up my antenna very precarious. I had to place two large rocks in my backpack and have it tied to my tripod to keep the whole thing from flying off the summit.

I wished I lived closer to this summit as it would be a great site to hunt for summit-to-summit points back on the mainland. I had not been to this summit since the KH6 Summits On The Air (SOTA) kickoff weekend with K6EL back in September of 2013. This time I tuned my Buddistick for 12 meters despite the wind trying to blow me off the roof of the abandoned and dilapidated observation lookout. Inside the old lookout offered some protection from the wind and occasional rain shower. I spent some time worrying that my tripod would either buckle under the wind load or just snap in half but everything stayed put and I began to listen for any stations on the air. Before long I found V31MA calling CQ from Belize and made my first contact.

Here is the list of contacts for this blustery activation. Thanks to all the chasers!

Time Call
17:23z V31MA
17:42z N1EU
17:44z PU3TOT
17:50z WH6LE/4
17:57z W7USA
17:58z K6TUY
17:59z AE9F
18:00z N7AMA
18:03z N4EX
18:04z W7RV
18:06z KC9TTR
18:06z W5ODS
18:08z W0MNA
18:12z WA7JTM
18:27z W7JET   /  Summit-to-Summit

73 and safe hiking!
NNW View

Sunrise through the approaching clouds

Leaning into the wind just to be cautious.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Buddistick Antenna Mount Idea for SOTA

Antenna Quest

    Like many Ham radio enthusiasts, I have been on a quest to find the best antenna to meet all my needs. This search is not unlike attempting to buy a unicorn for your pet bigfoot with the gold you found in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No one-size-fits-all antenna exists but the legend lives on. Therefore we must then make a decision; a sacrifice, between what we want and what we can live with (price, performance, size, bands, etc). My priorities in what I want in my antenna changed eight months ago when I was introduced to Summits On The Air (SOTA). Now everything is about being lightweight, compact and easy to setup and take down; along with being an efficient radiator.

An Idea

    Up to now, I have been content to home brew most of my antenna ideas but the pursuit of my mythical ideal antenna led me to recently take the leap and purchase a Buddistick to test out. For an antenna just over $200 USD (after shipping) it appears to be a good deal. Like many of the reviews I have read, the quality of the antenna parts from the Buddipole company are well crafted and rugged. However, I did have one regret from my purchase and that was choosing the mini-tripod instead of the adjustable clamp. The mini-tripod does hold the antenna upright, but if you breath too hard the antenna will tip over without guys. Fumbling with guys and twisted wire is one of my biggest annoyances whether in the backyard or on a summit. That gave me an idea to recycle a rarely-used camera tripod in my hallway closet. After a quick YouTube search, I found a few ideas to model my plan after.

The Build

    I quickly found my drill, Dremel tool, spare quarter-twenty nuts and bolds and went to work. As you can see from the pictures of my creation below, although I was only able to put three bolts in it is still quite sturdy. I use the center hook of the tripod to tie my backpack to it and with a little weight from my existing gear or an on-summit rock provides plenty of support in a steady wind.

Results Matter

    On 28 March, 2014, I took my new creation up Koko Crater (KH6/OH-021) for an activation. I brought my antenna analyzer but decided to use the recommended tune-by-ear method with my radio hooked up. I had pre-tested my antenna in my yard the day before to mark the accompanying ground radial for 20, 17, & 15 meters. The setup was quick and easy on the summit and I was able to get a SWR under 1.5:1 on the two bands I tried that day. Using just 25 Watts of power I was able to successfully activate the summit with contacts up and down the west coast of the U.S., Arizona, out to Kansas, and up to Alberta, Canada. While monitoring the bands during a contest weekend, I also heard stations in Europe quite clearly from the summit. The antenna works as advertised and I am looking forward to my next activation with my Buddistick.

73 and safe hiking!

 Side view of my somewhat sloppy Dremel modification to my tri-pod mount.

Successful deployment atop KH6/OH-021

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"3150" (KH6/OH-003), SOTA Activation

20 January, 2014. Do not attempt this summit if you are not an experienced hiker. Disclaimer aside, this was meant to be a "quick" hike to do a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation with some non-HAM friends (aka civilians). I do not think I accurately conveyed, nor realized myself, the challenge of this venture with the three guys I talked into going along. The route we took was 7.2 miles round trip and took us almost exactly 7 hours including an hour for setup, activating, and tear down. If you plan on attempting this hike I advise you wear proper hiking boots and pants, bring gloves, hiking crampons, and plenty of water in addition to the normal emergency gear.
Descending KH6/OH-003 and across the saddle to the lesser summit of 3105'.

We began our drive at 0630 and arrived at the Pu'u Ohia trail head promptly at 0700. The TH is at the top of Tantalus Drive, approximately 1600' elevation. Tantalus drive is a curvy escalation along a steep ridge line (you can also access via Round Top Drive). This is a great area of interconnected, well maintained trails.

Sunrise was at 0711 this day. As we progressed up the initial part of the trail we passed through the large stand of bamboo trees. The sun was just showing over the horizon and cast an interesting pattern of orange light through the trees and onto the ground along the trail. We followed the Pu'u Ohia trail approximately .5 mile and reached the telephone access road which we followed up to the microwave facility, another .25 mile. The trail continues around the site and back down toward Pauoa Flats. There are a couple gates to pass through, used to restore native vegetation and keep invasive pigs out. Continue on the Pauoa Flats trail until it terminates at the lookout over the Pali Highway. On the right there is a slight hint of a trail through a thicket of bushes. Push through those and you will find an actual trail on the other side; even though the sign at the lookout says "end of trail." This is where the work really begins. 

A view of the destination from the microwave site.
From here up you are faced with sections of 45+ degree trail in all kinds of condition. Some of the tougher sections have ropes left by previous hikers; use at your own risk. Take your time and make sure your footing is right. Parts of the trail have low underbrush which can hide tripping hazards. This is not a good combination as again, sections of the trail offer deadly or severely painful drop offs. We reached the first summit (3105') after about 2.5 hours. From here continue NW down and up the saddle and approximately .2 mile to the higher, actual summit. This section is extremely muddy with more steep sections to navigate with slippery footing, tired legs, and perilous drop offs on the north face of the ridge. Caution cannot be over emphasized for traversing this section. The ridge is often socked in with clouds making travel even more dangerous.

Heading up the saddle to KH6/OH-003.
We did make the summit, ahead of my planned activation time. My friends assisted setting up my antenna and before long I was on the air calling CQ after a SOTA goat self spot. 20 meters had considerable noise that day. After struggling to get two contacts, and fearing hiking all this way and not making enough contacts, I moved to 15 meters and quickly filled the required 4 contacts and then some. For 17 minutes I put this Summit On The Air for the first time, and logged nine QSO's. I would have liked to stay longer but I sensed my hiking party was ready to face the challenging descent.

Thanks to my hiking party and to all those who returned my call. Below are a few more photos of the trip and the GPS route (.kml) of our trip.

Post activation photo of KH7AL on KH6/OH-003.

My expedition team members, Mel, Luke, and Bob, atop KH6/OH-003.

A great view of KH6/OH-012 "Pu'u Lanihuli" to the west of /OH-003.
Kaala, /OH-001 is in the far distance. 

A nice stand of Ohi'a trees along the ridge, looking over Diamond Head and Honolulu in the distance.

Lehua flowers and KH6/OH-012 in the distance.

Another highlight along the trail.