Snap, it broke; the story of Donner Ridge (W6/NS-181) October 21, 2015

Summit: W6/NS-181

Activation Date: October 21, 2015

ATT Data Coverage: Excellent

ATT Voice coverage: Not sure but presumed to be excellent

APRS Coverage: Not sure

Access: Park/trail head at  N39 20.628 W120 16.083

Hike stats:  2.3 miles roundtrip and 600′ of ascent up to 7,825′, walk on exposed dirt trail and an exposed summit.

Flush from my hat trick the day before I rewarded myself and slept in. Once up and by the time I had consumed far too much coffee dawn had broken and pulling back the hotel room curtains I was stunned by the view. Donner Lake was shrouded in a foggy mist in such contrast to the blue skies and sun drenched vista the day before. I stepped into the frigid air and snapped away with my iPhone.

View looking east over Donner Lake
View looking east over Donner Lake

It wasn’t long before my artistic euphoria was dampened by the realization that Donner Ridge might well be blanketed in a freezing mist hovering in the 30s. Easy to get lost in and cold to boot, simply charming! But I had a schedule to keep and the explorer in me mustered enough motivation to pack up and head for the first of two planned activations.

This immediate area is seeped in California history. The story of the transcontinental railroad is epic and integrally associated with opening up the West in late 1860s. The train track skirts high above the south shore of Donner lake and is typical of the engineering success of crossing the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Somewhere above the shore line is the train continental rail line
South shore of Donner Lake – Somewhere above the shore line is the trans continental rail line

But the sadder story and the name sake for this area were the Donner party. Early pioneers heading west before trains in 1847 they became stranded in this immediate area by an early season snow fall that blocked progress forward and a retreat back toward modern day Reno. I’ll let the curious read up on the details but half the 87 person party died under very tough and not to be repeated unique circumstances.

Fortune favors the brave and as I drove out of the Donner Lake area and toward the Ridge the first signs of sunshine and blue sky successfully wrestling with the fog become apparent. I drive further west through neighborhoods of ever larger pine homes higher and higher within Truckee all seemingly vying for the best view  of the mountains. Eventually I park at a very well maintained trail head car park and start down a beautifully manicured and pristine trail. Oddly the network of trails left and right have numbers like 18A, 22 and 21A, if only I had the decoder ringer I might know what all this meant but I ignore them and follow my Garmin trail. The sky is blue and the ambient temperature is somewhere in the 30s. The trail becomes steeper and its clear I’m heading toward a summit. Fortunately it’s the summit I want and its a really beautiful spot. 360 degrees of mountain views worth every bit of the modest exertion I made to get here as this is the easiest and prettiest hike of the five I undertook.

Looking west
Looking west

IMG_3376 2

Looking east toward Lake Tahoe
Looking east toward Lake Tahoe

Its cold and the wind has picked up which spurs me into action. All my activations have a certain repetitive pattern which I suspect is common amongst activators and in my case starts with setting up my antenna. As I pull out the first two and thinnest shafts of my carbon fibre mast I hear a snap. I look down in disbelief muttering that my mast didn’t really just snap. I look longer thinking that this can’t be right but it is. In a moment of panic I think its game over. Hike out, drive home, failure! I’ve just witnessed first hand the brittleness of carbon fibre at low temperatures. I really don’t want this to be it and in a flash of inspiration I decide to wrap a couple of 12″ orange gummy cords around the now separate shafts. There is a frictionless and sticky quality to them which gives me some confidence this may work but my expectation are low. I string up the end fed antenna and pull it toward the radio. I’m on the air; one QSO and it holds, two QSOs and it holds, three and so on all the way through to eleven. Success!!

Improvised antenna repair
Improvised antenna repair
Holding tight despite my low expectations
Holding tight despite my low expectations

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.26.48 PM

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.26.17 PM

Time Call Band Mode Notes
15:57z NG6R 7MHz SSB 57 TX and 53 RX
15:59z K6EL 7MHz SSB 47 TX and 33 RX
15:59z W7RV 7MHz SSB 56 TX an 33 RX
16:01z K6HPX 7MHz SSB 57 TX and 51 RX
16:02z AA7DKK 7MHz SSB 58 TX and 45 RX
16:03z NA6MG 7MHz SSB 47 TX and 44 RX
16:07z VE6AO 14MHz SSB 58 TX and 58 RX
16:08z W0MNA 14MHz SSB 36 TX and 33 RX
16:08z W0ERI 14MHz SSB 46 TX and 33 RX
16:09z KA5PVB 14MHz SSB 46 TX and 33 RX
16:13z W7CNL 7MHz SSB 46 TX and 55 RX


  1. Paul, received your email the other day, just haven’t had a chance to chase you on your activations up here in our neck of the woods 😉 I’ve been busy running back and forth to Sparks/Elko, NV. I once trashed a fiber pool in 22 degree WX and have since used an avalanche pool that is about 12 feet in length. So far so good! Pleasure meeting up with you at the annual Pacificon SOTA lunch hosted by K6EL – awesome to be able to meet up with those we’ve been chasing and being chased by 😉 Not sure iffen I mentioned it to you at Pacificon, but the Truckee guys meet up every Friday morning at Truckee Bagels 8am (way to early for me – 50 mile drive) but I do surprise them by dropping in on occasion. If you’re still in the area, drop me a note. We’re doing a BIG antenna project up at W7RN this weekend. Worth a visit – one of the bigger super stations on the west coast! And a couple of SOTA peaks nearby. 😉

    73, Todd KH2TJ

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Paul,

    Gummy cords are new to me. Interesting things. I carry duct tape as well as ordinary adhesive electrical tape. I had one fibre glass telescopic pole snap near the base in a wind gust but no failures like yours.



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