Black Hills SOTA trip of 19 summits

 I just returned from a month-long road trip west that included 17 summits in Black Hills and Wyoming.  That brings me to 1,154 points, 168 activations of 95 unique summits activated,  When you do that many summits in a short time, they start to run together.  So I'll run through my log and photo album with some notes on each summit. 

I'm going to start with my second-to-the last summit, Red Mountain W7Y/SW-022.  This was the high point of my trip, hiking up to the summit at 10,500 feet.  That's the highest altitude I had hiked to, and cam almost three weeks into the trip. 

Living at 500 feet, it's safe to say I'm not used to high altitude.  A few years ago the wife and I spent a day hiking in the Medicine Bow Mountains at 9,000 feet just a few days after leaving home.  That got me a mild case of altitude sickness, and reminder that you can't just to to high altitude and hike. 

So this year I started by spending 10 days in the Black Hills of South Dakota, camped at 6,000 feet and hiking to 7,000 to 8,000 feet. Those first few days were tough  with some huffing and puffing, but by the second week I was doing fine.  So when I arrived in Wyoming a few days later and camped at 8,500 feet, I could feel it, but it wasn't bad.  The hike up Red Mountain wasn't bad and I had a tremendous feeling of accomplishment making that high-altitude climb. 

My shack on Red Mountain  W7Y/SW-022



Happy hiker at summit

As for the activation, I ran the KX2 and my 40/20 trap dipole supported at 15 feet by my collapsible fishing rod. It and my 24-foot end-fed half wave wound up being the go-to antennas on this trip.  When I had the room I put up the dipole, but on tight summits or with approaching thunderstorms the little EFHW worked great.  On Red Mountain I took my time and made 27 contacts, mostly on 20 meters with a few on 40 meters.  

Ok, now that I've started at nearly the end, I'll go back to the beginning. 

My goal was to be in Rapid City, SD on the evening of July 16 for a picnic kicking off the Black Hills SOTA weekend. Little Rock to Rapid City can be done in 2 days, but it is two long days,  I decided to do it in three days and stop at a couple summits on the way. 

Summit 1 -- Iowa

The first stop was on my second day on the road --  one of the two Iowa summits,  W0I/IA-001 Carrol County High Point.   This was a little detour off of I-29 in the hills of west Iowa.  The summit itself is a corn field, but a corn field you can see a long ways from.  I didn't dally here, made 11 contact on 20, 30 and 15 meters with the EFHW antenna and the KX2. Iowa was one of the two new associations for me this trip. 

Not an exciting view, but a pleasant experience nonetheless. 

Summit 2 -- The Badlands

My second summit was in the Badlands National Park, W0D/BB-028  The Pinnacles.  As you approach the park south of Wall there is a turnout as you start down into the badlands.  A trail is visible up the hill, which takes you to the summit in a 5-minute walk.  With no trees in sight I set up my Ventenna vertical, which I hadn't used in a couple years.  I was happy with its performance on 20 meters, so decided it would use it more often on this trip, which turned out to be a bad decision. More on that later. 

I mistakenly set up the vertical for  30 meters instead of 20, so started on 30 and that's where I made majority of contacts, with a few on 20 meters. It was a quick 20 contacts, as I wanted to spend a little time sightseeing, and still had a couple hours to go to make Rapid City.  


Operating position at the Badlands with the Ventenna vertical. 

Welcome to South Dakota
I made it to my small hotel in Keystone, SD about 4 p.m.  I looked at the weather radar when I heard some thunder.  It wasn't pretty.  I spent the next hour in my hotel room hearing golf-ball sized hail hitting my car.  I've never had hail damage before, so it was a new experience.  



Luckily the rain/hail ended before the picnic in Rapid City put on by the Rapid City club.  It was designed to introduce some of the local hams to SOTA and get them out in the hills for a couple days.  It also attracted a few hams from around the country,  WC0Y and NM5S had come from Minnesota and New Mexico.  I also met Gary KT0A who lives in Hot Springs, SD and is the most active SOTA operator in SD.  We made arrangements to meet in Hill City Saturday Morning to do a couple of summits together,


Summit 3 -- Lowden Mountain


Saturday was an adventure. Gary knew his way around the back roads and had a big 4WD pickup so we got back in the woods a ways on the way to a couple summits he had done a few years earlier. We wound our way on rough roads to the base of  W0D/BB-047  Lowden Mountain, a few miles west of Hill City.  We parked on the where the road became impassable and hiked back to a clearing. A few years ago this clearing had been surrounded by small trees 3 or 4 feet in height. This summer it was a dense forest of 20 to 30 foot pine trees to try to find a way through.  This turned a moderate bushwhack into a tough bushwhack.

I had stuck the Ventenna Vertical bag in the the outer pocket of my pack right before I left, thinking it might be a bare summit.  On the way up, I kept feeling the vertical bag catch on branches as I was weaving my way through the trees.  I was going to stop and check it, but didn't want to slow us down.  Finally, I heard the bag hit the ground behind me.  When I recovered the bag, it contained the antenna base, but no parts of the vertical -- I had scattered those along the mountainside.  Well, I'd gotten a lot of years of use out of that antenna, so no crying over spilled milk, or antenna parts. 

Operating position on Lowden Mountain

When we got to the top it was a very nice summit. Plenty of room for antennas, shade and a level place to sit.   I made 26 contacts which is about normal, but 8 summit-to-summit contacts.  Six of those were with other operators in the Black Hills I had met the night before at the picnic.  Four were on 2 meters simplex, which is something I almost never do. 

After hiking down the hill with no sign of my missing antenna parts we set out for the second summit W0D/BB-045  Union Hill, which was just across a valley from Lowden Mountain.  After much searching and a couple wrong turns, we found the old road that would have let us to the base of the mountain, but the clouds were building for an afternoon shower, so we abandoned the quest.  It wasn't the only time that afternoon rains cut short my day. 

Summit 4 -- Saint Elmo


On Sunday I followed Gary's advice and hiked up W0D/BB-005  St. Elmo's Peak.  This mountain is just south of Hill City and borders Highway 385 so it's very visible.  I had found a description on AllTrails  that described it as short but hard.  Gary said it wasn't that hard, as it had a trail all the way to the top. It's only a mile to the top, but its a steady climb  of 1,200 feet.  It's kind of like walking up stairs for a mile.

I see why AllTrails calls it hard.  It is a climb, but the reward at the top is great with beautiful views of the surrounding hills, including Black Elk Peak to the east.  I set up the short EFHW off my fishing pole.  I made 26 contacts with 7 summit to summit contacts primarily with other folks participating in the Black Hills weekend, including Gary, who I'd activated with the day before.  

While heading down the mountain, I ran into a young couple about a third of the way up who were debating on whether or not to keep going.  I told them it was hard, but the view was worth it.  As I hiked down the hill I hear the man say, "If that old guy can make it up, we can."

Looking east from St. Elmo Peak you get a good view of Black Elk Peak. This view was worth the hike. 






Summit 5 -- Castle Rock

Monday I was ready for an easier summit than Saint Elmo.  Starting on Sunday I was camped on Deerfield Reservoir aobut 15 miles west of Hill City.  There are great little National Forest Campgrounds around the lake and it is a nice central location in the Black Hills.  You can head in any direction from there and hit summits and there are several nice summits within a few miles.  One of these is Castle Rock,  which is officially known as 6850 WOD/BB-033.  This is just northwest of Deerfield Reservoir and is a fairly simple bushwhack.  I put up the EFHW and made 23 contacts.  I was the fifth activation of this summit.  The Black Hills are packed with summits, and not many activators.  This is a good example of an easy summit that few people have done.  

The view from 6850.  Black Elk Peak is visible on the horizon and the lake at the right side of the picture is Deerfield Reservoir where I was camped.  


Here's my view of the lake and the line of hills that include Castle Rock at sunset that same evening.  This had to be one of the best views in the camp site.  I spent my afternoons enjoying the view. 


Summit 6  -- Crooks Tower

On Tuesday I decided to do a second drive-up I had always wanted to do, Crooks Tower W0D/NW-001.  This was about an hour or so North of the campground following a series of National Forest Roads.  The last half mile is a jeep road which I was able to traverse in my Subaru Crosstrek.  The summit is a short hike to the old fire tower site and is a nice shaded, broad area to set up in with plenty of trees and room for antennas.  I set up my dipole and took my time, making 33 contacts.


View facing north from Crooks Tower. 

Summit 7 -- Green Mountain

One of my goals was to activate some summits that only Gary, KT0A, has activated. Gary keeps careful notes and posts great descriptions for others to follow, but on may summits, he's the only one that has activated.  So I set out for Green Mountain W0D/BB-081.  I followed Gary's excellent instructions and wound up on some ATV/Jeep roads which the Subaru handled well.  I came to point where I could see the ridge starting up the mountain across the clearing, so I knew that was the spot to stop at and hike.  I found a game trail/faint hiking trail heading up the ridge and it was a very pleasant and nice hike to the top.  

For this summit I decided to change things up a little and use the LNR  MTR4 radio with a Elecraft T1 tuner I had recently purchased used.  I loaded this rig and the small EFHW in my daypack and it made for a lighter pack for this hike than my usual larger pack.  It was a tight summit, but I was able to set up the short EFHW easily and get 20 contacts. 




Looking west from the summit of Green Mountain.  



Summit 8 -- Little Devils Tower

I was ready for a hike again so the next day I did Little Devils Tower.  It is a popular hike and trail in Custer State Park, so I started early.  I decided to use the MTR4 and tuner again, so moved it into the big backpack. For some reason I put the case with the T1 tuner in the outer pocket of my backpack, despite the fact that I had lost an antenna out of that pocket a few days earlier.  After about a 2 mile hike I was at an area right below the final climb to the small summit, but in the activation zone so decided to set up.  

When I reached into the pocket for the tuner, it wasn't there.  I had stopped at one point on the trail for a drink of water and taken the backpack off, and it evidently had slipped out.  I had not brought the KX2 with built-in tuner with me, so I had to use the MTR4 with is very touchy on SWR.  I knew the EFHW had low swr on 20, so I put it up the EFHW and stuck to 20 meters.  I made 22 contacts, including a summit to summit with Gary KT0A who was about 20 miles north of me.  I looked for the case with the tuner on the way down, but was starting to question my sanity at this point.  New rule -- only bungee cords go and maybe snack bars in the outside pocket.  About the time I think I'm getting good at this I made an expensive mistake.  I reported the lost case to the state park, but so far no word from them.  I should be looking on e-Bay to see if someone is selling a T1 tuner and doesn't know what it is.  

View from Little Devils Tower

Summit 9   Smith Mountain

This is another summit that had only been activated by KT0A.  I realized I was driving near it each time went from Hill City to my campground.  It was just south of the Deerfield Road, and a National Forest road leads to the bottom of the hill.  It was a moderate hike up the hill and a nice small summit for after lunch.  Unfortunately, thunderstorms started rolling in and I had to head for the car in a hurry, so not photo or additional notes. 

Summit 10 -- 6361


On Friday the lease on my camp site ended and I had planned to move into Custer for the night to take a shower, do laundry and have dinner with another SOTA ham K2JB who was travelling through the Black Hills and was in a campground outside of Custer.  So I broke camp and did an activation at this nameless summit west of Custer.  It was a nice hike up an old Jeep road with a broad summit with plenty of trees for antenna hanging and made 34 contacts, which was a high for this trip.  Having the dipole up made a difference.  I did manage to not find the right trail back down, and had to bushwhack down hill for a ways to get back to the Jeep road.  Another mistake.  

Dinner with Jimmy Dean and his wife was very nice.  I'd met them at the W4 SOTA camp out in April in Virginia and we had a great time talking about SOTA and life in general.  One of the parts of SOTA I have really enjoyed is meeting the other SOTA activators.  If you have these things in common -- ham radio operator, CW operator and like to hike up hills to operate your little radios -- you probably have a lot of other things in common as well.  At least that's been my experience so far. 
Looking toward Wyoming from 6361






Summits 11 and 12 -- Bear Mountain and Odakota Mountain



On Saturday armed with a good night's sleep and clean clothes I headed up the Ditch Creek Road to do two easy summits in a day.  Up to now my second summit of the day had been stopped everyday by the afternoon thundershowers.  Bear Mountain is a popular drive up with a working fire tower and seems to be popular with the folks touring the back roads on ATVs.  It was easy to set up in the shade and I took my time and made 43 contacts -- lots of chasers (people who sit at home and try to work folks activating mountains) on Saturday afternoon.  

From there I headed north to Odakota Mountain, which although not technically a drive up a road takes you to a half mile and 100 foot elevation of the summit.  It's not a pretty summit, with lots of downed trees and not much of a view compared to the other summits I had visited.  But I made 21 contacts and headed back to the campground to set up in my new spot. It appears I took no photos on that day.
View from Bear Mountain

Summit 13 -- Bear Lodge Mountain


I had pretty carefully planned and mapped by first week of summits from home, and had a list of possible summits for the second week. My plan had been to make a good list for the second week when I was in Custer, but between doing laundry, visiting friends, getting groceries, etc, I never made that list.  So I started playing it by ear the second week.  On Sunday I decided to visit the Bear Lodge Mountains which are an extension of the Black Hills in Wyoming near Devils Tower.  There is one summit in the area, Bear Lodge Mountain W7Y/EW-069 which has a working fire tower.  It's a good road to the top with an easy area to set up in next to the parking lot.  It was another productive activation with 47 contacts -- all on 20 meters.  

From there I took back roads north across the mountains to try to find the ranch I worked on in 1973.  I found it, but today it's a "Guest Ranch."  I talked to the proprietors and told them I had worked on the ranch some 48 years ago and they let me look around, but wouldn't give me a break on the $240/night rate. So I said farewell and headed for Devils Tower. There was a huge traffic jam (Sunday afternoon) waiting to get into the monument, so I stayed on the highway and viewed it from a distance.  It is still a magical place to visit for me.

From there I headed back to the Black Hills via Deadwood and spent a couple hours Sunday afternoon trading stories and lies with the other patrons at Deadwood Cigars.  I had been camping by myself for a week and it was nice to talk to other people. That's the great thing about a cigar lounge, you can talk to anybody about anything. 

The smoke-obscured Black Hills from Bear Lodge Mountain, Wyoming




Summit 14 -- 5900


On Monday I started out trying to activate one summit, but bad roads and my confusion over directions caused me to give up so I found a second, an unnamed mountain on the east edge of Custer State Park. This is another one that had only been activated by Gary KT0A.

It had a couple surprises.  The small trees described in the description are now bigger and hard to maneuver through and although he mentioned a fence, he didn't mention in was a 6-foot fence with barbed wire at the top.  It didn't take me long to realize I didn't want to climb that fence, so I saw a trail along it and followed it until there was a place where you could slide under it.  It had been a lot of years since I slid under a fence.  Once past the fence it was a nice climb to a pretty summit with plenty of room to operate.  I made 24 contacts.  From there I went to the State Park office to report my lost tuner from a few days ago. No tuner had been turned in. 

Trees obscured the view from 5900

Summit 15 -- Hat Mountain

It was coming time to leave the Black Hills.  I had agreed to be in Boulder, CO on Wednesday night for a surprise 50th birthday party for a brother in law and to meet up with my patient wife who had let me leave on this long expedition.  I didn't want to make the drive in one day, so I broke camp but decided to do one more summit near the campground.  Hat Mountain W0D/BB-034 was the first summit I had bushwhacked to the top of two years ago.  With the exception of Odakota Mountain all the summits on this trip had been new ones, but I decided to do Hat Mountain just for old times sake.  It's a nice hike up, with a barren crest above a bluff (hence the hat.)  I only had room/trees for the small EFHW, but still managed to do 42 contacts on 20 and 30 meters with the KX2.  

On the hike down the mountain I was thinking this would be a good mountain to ride a horse up.  A few seconds later three people on horseback from a nearby guest ranch appeared.  The guide said he takes people up it about once a month but had never seen anyone else hiking it.  He was impressed I would do that.  

From there I headed south towards Nebraska to get on the road to Boulder.  At one point I considered stopping to do a summit, but as I went south to a lower altitude the temperature kept climbing.  I had been experiencing days in the high 80s at 6,000 feet, but as I descended it got hotter and hotter.  When I stopped for lunch in Hot Springs it was above 100, so I decided to skip the second summit. 

Operating position on Hat Mountain.  I discovered these small trees make good supports for my fishing pole/antenna mast. 


Summit 16 -- Scotts Bluff

I was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska so it had been my goal to activate Scotts Bluff W0N/PH-005 for several years.  It's only a 2 point summit, but at this point I don't really care about the points.  It was over 100 degrees when I went through there on Wednesday, but I drove up the summit and found a tree that gave me both shade and an antenna support and made 15 quick contacts. 

Scotts Bluff National Monument


Summit 17 -- Mount McConnell


I spent several days in Colorado and West Nebraska visiting friends and family but one day in Ft. Collins I headed up the Poudre River Canyon to do Mount McConnel  W0C/FR-088.  I remember hiking this trail with my older brother when I was 10 years old, so there were some sentimental reasons to pick this summit to activate.  It was a nice hike up to 8,000 feet, so I thought it was a good test to see if I was ready for the high altitude of Wyoming.  I made 20 contacts with the EFHW and the KX2,  with another summit-to-summit with Gary KT0A in the Black Hills.  This area had a major fire a few years ago so I was in and out of burn areas on the way up and the summit was burned off.  Still a nice hike and the fourth state I'd activated in during this trip.

View from Mount McConnel


Summit 18 -- Red Mountain


I described this activation at the start of the blog, so I won't go into it again.  I was camped at Hog Park Campground at around 8,500 feet.  It got cool at night and the days were in the 70s.  It's at the end of 20 miles of Forest Service road and had no running water, hence few campers.  It was wonderful.  I will include a photo of the sunset from my camping spot. 


The combination of the Subaru Crosstrek and the REI Kingdom4 tent served me very well this trip. 


Summit 19 -- Kennaday Peak


Red Mountain was in what's known as the Sierra Madre mountains and just east of there across the Platte River valley are the Medicine Bow Mountains.  Kennaday Peak W7Y/SW-010 is a drive-up on a Jeep Road at 10,810 feet with a closed fire tower.  The last mile or so of the road was very rough, and probably near the limit of what I should be doing in the Crosstrek. The only vehicles I saw on the road were ATVs, and they were surprised to see me.  It was windy -- the first really windy summit of this trip -- so I didn't stay long and had my down coat on while making 27 contacts.  One of the contacts was with WC0Y in Minnesota who had been in the Black Hills for the SOTA weekend and I had met at the picnic. I told him this was my last summit of the trip.  The next contact, AC7P who had chased me multiple times on the trip, commented "great trip."  He was right, it was a great trip. 

At this point in the trip I really didn't have a solid number in my head as to how many summits I'd done.  If I'd known it was 19, I probably would have done one more summit to make an even 20.  Maybe that's my goal for next year.   73
The Crosstrek on Kennaday Peak. Medicine Bow Mountain in the smoky distance. 

Better view of Medicine Bow Mountain.  Maybe next year I'll make it up there. 


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