A Santa Ana Hat Trick

NPOTA Entity: N/A

SOTA summits:

Activation Date: March 24th, 2016

Portable operation: Yes

Hike in: Yes

Solo hike: No, with Scott (AK6Q)

ATT Coverage: Generally good

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2016

The Jeep lurched to the left as it sunk further into the rut only to ride out again and continue its forward journey. The road is in rough shape; rain, lack of maintenance, rocks, stones, over use, underuse all seem to contribute to create what is typical of so many dirt roads in the west. Airing down the tires has helped cushion the impact across this terrain but in this instant I turn and ask Scott if I should have disengaged my sway bars. An emphatic “yes” is heard and we glide to a halt, press a button and they are disengaged.

This long journey over miles and miles and up thousands upon thousands of feet has become an impromptu training and discussion session as I’m benefiting from Scott’s broad off-roading experience. Someone once said that JEEP stands for “Just Empty Every Pocket” which  can be so true and so the conversation turns to what makes sense to purchase, what delivers utility and what is simply decoration. I even learn two new terms; “Pavement Princess” and “Trailer Queen” meaning respectively a “tricked out” Jeep that never leaves the safety of a street to see dirt and a Jeep that is towed behind an RV on a trailer despite Jeep’s singular ability to disengage its drivetrain while being towed. And so we head further and further along Indian Truck Trail up toward Main Divide within the distinctive Santa Ana mountains that lie smack in the middle of millions of Orange and Riverside County residents just south of Los Angeles.

Hiking into the Santiago Peak activation zone is a welcome change from driving which has required a lot of concentration and has hence left me stiff.  Orange county is looking rather splendid today and distinctly green from the recent rain. Slightly south are more mountains within the Cleveland National Forrest and directly infront of us is a lazy blue Pacific ocean that holds Catalina Island as a trophy on the horizon.

Orange County below, Pacific on horizon; all from Santiago Peak

Activation one of three or possibly four has the AlexLoop up for HF and a small Yagi for 2m. Its particularly important to offer 2m activations in So Cal as we have a sizable number of chasers that prefer 2m or simply find it the only way to communicate to the near in mountains. We swap use of each station, feel good about the first activation and wrap up.

IMG_1170 2 (1).jpg
Scott (AK6Q) operating HF from Santiago Peak and enjoying the view…Yagi on right was our 2m antenna on this peak

Modjeska Peak is only a couple of hundred feet lower than Santiago but the road between them drops down hundreds of feet, contorts itself as it zigzags along the face of each mountain and fizzles out looking more like a hiking trail than a road as we ascend Modjeska.


Santiago Peak aka RF City from Modjeska Peak

Parking below the activation zone the view east is crystal clear. The snow all but seems to have gone from Baldy, the San Gabriel high point, panning south the San Bernardino and then San Jacinto mountains fall into place and I’m probably staring at a hundred or so SOTA peaks!

100 SOTA peaks in San Gabriel (left), San Bernardino (centre) and San Jacinto (right) mountains just below Modjeska AZ

I’m calling on 2m but no-one seems to respond. I self spot again, call again and again no-one seems to want to chat with me. I’m perplexed, its hot and a large number of flies seem to think I’m their new best friend, so my patience is wearing a little thin. Fortunately hope arrives in the form of a voice shouting that a 40m local contact thinks my hand held is being overwhelmed by RF city that sits atop Santiago. I’m 10 over S9 to them and they correctly assume they are 10 below S zero to me. “Attenuate your receiver” Scott shouts……”sure” I say but the Yaesu menus and button sequences have me completed stumped. Hope is transformed to success as Scott wanders over and as a Yaesu owner who’s managed to master the inner secrets of Yaesu he twiddles a few buttons and finally I’m off to the races.


J Pole on Modjeska Peak looking out to Pacific and Catalina Island centre right

We swap stations and despite a recent and too long rough period of propagation, I manage to nab an Alaska, a Maine and a few other stations 2,500 miles out using a meagre 10 or so watts.

Coming up Trabuco…just above my cap is the Jeep to give to a sense of the steepness

Trabuco Peak looks small and inviting until we stand at the base of what claims to be a trail to the peak. Whomever created this trail didn’t believe in switch backs and this is literally a vertical ascent…definitely class one in mountaineering parlance! The pantry was bare at home and all I could rustle up for lunch were Wasa crackers and a can of sardines. Tasty, actually very tasty but tackling the class one ascent after tackling the sardines wasn’t good timing and I struggle to the top of Trabuco only to discover the top is really a forrest of dense manzanita trees. Retreating a little ways back I find a tiny open spot to setup my 2m stations in what feels like an oven and has my new best friends from Modjeska in attendance.

Looking south toward Lake Elsinore atop Trabuco Peak

During my recent So Cal activations I’ve been focusing a lot more on 2m usage partly because we have so many chasers that prefer it for license reasons, being mobile or what ever but I want to get good first hand experience as it is possibly the best vehicle to get new activators and chasers into the realm of SOTA and as W6-land’s newest Association Manager, one of the Regional Managers and my goals is to see how to expand interest in SOTA through 2m.

Part way along Main Divide heading for Los Pinos we realized that the drive time, hike time and activation time most likely would put us into darkness and hence we congratulated ourselves on a hat trick and then turn the Jeep toward Indian Truck Trail and home.









  1. As I was looking at your photographs and saw all the antennas on Santiago Peak I was wondering if they would interfere with your signal. Reading through your adventure I eventually came to the part where you discussed this very topic. Interesting that the technique required turning down your receiver gain. I have several Yaesu radios and the menus can really be a problem as every one of them is different. You would think that they would be able to standardize more so that they would be easier to operate. Great pictures again, including the one with the big grin on conquering the vertical trail.
    Terry K6MA

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul, this was truly and adventure and I really appreciate being a part of it. I have to say the views were SPECTACULAR it was so clear we could see well into 100 miles in any direction. Thanks for the kudos and stories. smoked oysters are on the next trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul, thanks for sharing the story of your rough and tough journey. Great read! The photos are just amazing, it’s terrific to see and have an idea of the terrain and landscapes you venture out to. I am curious to know if 2m SSB is popular with US SOTA activators and chasers? Please keep the posts coming. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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