Activating a “Cinder Cone”, April 17, 2016

NPOTA Entity: MN50

SOTA summit: W6/NE-194

Activation Date: April 17th, 2016

Portable operation: Yes using A123 batteries

Radio: Elecraft KX3 operating at 12-15 watts

Antenna: AlexLoop magnetic loop 20m and LNR End Fed on 40m

Bands used: 40m and 20m

Furthest QSO: ~2,700 miles with K1Ro, New Hampshire  using SSB at 15 watts

Hike in: Yes

Solo operation: No, with Ron Adams (W6PZA)

ATT Coverage: Spotty on Schonchin, great at Tule Lake

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2016


Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 10.55.18 PM.jpg

The caves were a surprise. Formed eons ago from lava tunnels, I almost expected to see a Spice Worm from planet Dune awaiting me at the end of the tunnel. The surface of the cave is damp and in places water drips down onto me. The tunnel narrows and my stoop has almost become a crawl and I witness first hand what is almost the work of an artist and spatular to shape the tunnel sides.

Walls of Mushpot Cave aka a lava tunnel
Mushpot Cave

I’m glad to be above ground again and further convinced I have no troll or elf DNA in me as daylight is quite welcome and very reassuring.

Schonchin Butte, a cinder cone

The immediate horizon is dotted and punctuated with what look like very uniform conical hills. The term “cinder cone” is an odd one but that is what these are. A symmetrical pile of volcanic mater (Scoria) one of which is our destination. The paved road gives way to a well maintained dirt road and we head to the trail head at the back  of our cinder cone; Schonchin Butte named after a long deceased Modoc Indian chief. The mile of walking over 500 feet of ascent delivers us to a beautiful fire lookout tower that becomes home to Ron’s portable station.

Built in 1930s by FDR’s CCC, Schochin Butte. Horizon is Oregon


With almost 10,000 ft of prominence, Mount Shasta, one of California’s few 14’ers, dominates the western view and it captures my eye every time I look up from my log book. There is so much snow on it and it seems to cover every inch of it.  The ground around me is very reddish in color. A few small shrubs and trees sparsely line the edges of the narrow ridge that I’ve setup my magloop station on. The wind has picked up and somehow persuaded my tripod ball head to yield and have the magloop almost lasso me only to be arrested by my left hand. Despite its empty donut shape the magloop is doing a good job pretending to be a sail and it and my wrist compete for authority. It seems the wind has the edge as I’m growing impatient of this unexpected intrusion into my activation as after many activations I’ve settled on efficiency that requires two hands dedicated 100% to operating and logging.

Scoria, light and very red rock that makes up the Schonchin
Always happy to see the NPS welcome sign


Looking north across Tule Lake in Lava Beds National Monument

Leaving Schonchin and Captain Jacks 1872 Modoc War battlefields behind we stop and setup shop. To my happy surprise 15 watts on 40m is netting me crystal clear QSOs up into Washington and down to San Diego. Its Rookie contest weekend which adds to the available chasers. I’m always thankful of fellow hams willingness to spot on my behalf and help maintain a call flow or drum up more.

LNR End Fed and 28ft Jackite pole ….40m operation was excellent!

We drive north in search of dinner and it seems the only real options this Sunday evening are in Oregon. Pulling into the gas station in Merrill, OR, Ron asks if I know that you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. I laugh convinced he’s pulling my leg but he seems adamant of this. Still not sure of this I linger around the rear of my car and moments later its all proven true, you can’t pump you own gas in Oregon. Wow, this is not California, the gas is cheaper and on a hot or rainy day you get to sit in the comfort of my car. I’m coming back to Oregon!



  1. Hi Paul the tunnel looks to be uniform in shape. Are they in the original state or have the tunnels been excavated at some point in time. Awesome photos of the landscape, thanks for sharing.
    Andrew VK1AD


    1. All natural and I think the correct term is a “Lava tube” versus my description of tunnel.

      I think 65,000 years ago when the area was highly volcanic that some underground land fractured and became a conduit for lava and eventually turned into what I walked in.

      The area had quite a few curious underground structures including one called Skull cave whose floor is permanently frozen.



  2. I am learning all sorts of stuff following your adventures Paul. Most enjoyable to see all the different National Parks through your eyes. Love your posts please keep them coming.
    Terry K6MA


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