san francisco skyline

Learning from the best – a perfect SOTA morning with K6EL

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 2

by Leo (DL2COM)

I can’t remember if I have ever walked through a eucalyptus forest before but I am pretty sure I have not as I would have instantly remembered the intense and pleasant smell.

eucalyptus trees
High eucalyptus trees on the north side of Mount Davidson (W6/NC-423)

The morning sunlight and a few scattered low clouds created a rather mystical atmosphere as I was hiking up a narrow and slippery trail on the north-east side of Mt. Davidson in Central San Francisco (W6/NC-423).

sun, fog and trees
This here? Yes please.

My research regarding the trail system of this compact urban mountain was barely existent so I did not end up using the south entrance (Landsdale Ave. & Dalewood Way) which would have taken me to the summit in only a few minutes on a dry and tidy path – but then sans the nice forest panorama. Not worth the tradeoff I’d say.

Mount Davidson Cross
Mount Davidson Cross – memorial to the Armenian genocide in 1915

Due to its proximity to the city center, Mt. Davidson is as easily accessible as pretty much anything in SF for visitors who don’t want to travel further than say a 30 min bus/Uber ride or so. Activators will be rewarded with stunning views of the bay area and the city’s skyline as well as a majestic cross, apparently a well-known SF landmark.

plateau on the summit of mount davidson
The big plateau on the summit of Mount Davidson

I had contacted Elliott (K6EL) prior to my trip to the U.S. who according to the SOTA database has been on Mt. Davidson many times (and on many other summits as I only learned later). This morning I got up early, texted him and was very happy that he agreed to join me spontaneously for my first U.S. activation. Elliott arrived only a few minutes after me as I was struggling to tie a rope to a stone slightly squinting from jetlag. Neither did I bring a throw weight nor a mast due to cabin luggage restrictions. I now know why I cherish these things so much but Elliott assured me that we’d get that wire up eventually and we started to chat.

It turned out that Elliott has done a lot of work for the SOTA and ham radio community. For example, as part of the SOTA management team and being a super active activator (only scratching the surface here): e.g. no.4 Honor Roll Summit-2-Summit (S2S) world-wide pushing almost 10k S2S QSOs. Wait what? That’s a hell of a lot of mountain-top radio experience, so his reassuring words instilled a high degree of confidence for my improvised antenna setup. Not only did we manage to get the 31’ random wire up in a high tree but he also brought a 2m HT which I had (I admit) forgotten in Germany.

While I was still busy setting up the station he had already bagged a handful of FM S2S QSOs. That’s how it’s done.

wire antenna in high trees
31′ random wire to 1:9 unun & 17′ counterpoise in a sorta inv. v-to-l’ish-shape

Suddenly two police officers showed up on motorcycles and I started gathering a number of arguments in my head as to why our activation is a completely legitimate thing (strange reflex or comprehensible?). They approached us in a very kind way and after we greeted each other Elliott pointed to our wire antenna and let them know that “We are ham radio operators and this will be our antenna for the next hour.” Full stop. Ha.

In fact the two officers didn’t need any arguments from us, instead they showed genuine technical interest and at some point we were all joking around together. I believe they were just happy to find everything in good order and maybe also catch a few warming sun rays. Still I loved the way Elliott presented our activity as the most natural and non-optional thing. I guess I just didn’t know how local police would react at first. A good reminder that mutual respect goes a long way.

By now the fog had cleared and blue skies showed all around. I was itching to get on the air! To break the ice I logged a quick S2S contact with WD4CFN on Max Patch, a mountain on the NC/Tennessee border. Off to a great start! Elliott suggested starting on 10m so that’s what I did.

ham radio operation from mountain top
Random rock – the best shack

CQ SOTA DE W6/DL2COM K…uff I needed a few attempts to get that W6/ prefix into a somewhat natural CW flow but then first contacts started rolling in.

F4WBN, Chris, with a strong signal from France. So cool to hear him on the other side of the planet as well. He was shortly followed by LW2DO from Argentina and then a bunch of US operators including four more S2S QSOs before S57S (Slovenia) and JG0AWE (Japan) topped off the log with a warm DX rain. WOW!

Today’s QSO Map

I could have called CQ forever but decided to call it a day after 27 QSOs and rather enjoy the sun, view and good company. After all, I also needed to get back to the city in time.

ham radio operators on a summit
Good times atop la montagna

Elliott kindly offered to give me a ride so we had some time to discuss – how could we not – the KH1, current DXpeditions, and various topics around SOTA, U.S. ham radio and the city of San Francisco.

san francisco park rules sign

I am thankful for this perfect SOTA morning.

Gear used:

vy 73 de Leo W6/DL2COM

12 thoughts on “Learning from the best – a perfect SOTA morning with K6EL”

  1. The City of San Francisco may need to take up a proposal to rename that peak to “Mt. Elliot” 😉

    All kidding aside, that’s a great activation report Leo and very cool that you had OM K6EL as a guide. Urban activations, such as this, bring their own set of challenges.

    Although they thrive in the marine influenced microclimates of the SF Bay Area, the eucalyptus trees are not native to this region. In fact, several years ago, the Park Service made effort to completely remove them from Angel Island ( K-1123 and W6/CC-075 ). However, there are still plenty of stands of these towering and fragrant trees, including here on Mt. Davidson and also along the Sunrise Trail approach to Richardson East Benchmark, W6/NC-407.

    73 de W6CSN

  2. I was able to activate this location during a business trip. It’s easy to get to via BART transit. It’s an easy hike to the top rewarded with views of Alcatraz.

    Lots of action on 146.52 as well in SFO so start there then move to HF
    This may be the only SOTA via public transit

    John ve3ips

  3. Welcome to W-land, Leo! Thanks for the report and all of the pictures from an interesting location that I knew nothing about!

    I am still trying to remember while operating HF to occasionally do a few CQs on 2m and 70cm simplex; so many times I carry an HT that remains unused.

  4. This came on tv a few weeks ago and had it on in the background while I was cooking dinner, (which is probably why I’m thinking about it) but that cross looks familiar, and seeing this is in SF, did they film part of Dirty Harry there?

  5. Great field report Leo! It’s always great to meet such an experienced Ham… And on such an amazing Summit. What views!

    A small cloth bag, one to place your random wire in, makes a great makeshift throw weight, just add rocks. I’ve had to improvise before!

    Thanks again and hope you enjoyed your visit.

    de W7UDT

  6. As I assume, your a native German speaker. Your command of the written English language is quite impressive. Great SOTA report, thanks!

  7. Yes, Scorpio and DH fought at the 103 foot tall cross 54 minutes into the film, at night. Scorpio was standing at the spot where FDR gave a speech in the 1930’s. The cross was later purchased by an Armenian group.

    Elliott, K6EL

  8. Thanks for writing this up and for the gorgeous photos! It’s really cool to read about Elliott, K6EL, as well! I’ve had QSOs at just about every summit I’ve attempted to activate in CA, NV, and NM.

    The Bay Area rocks for public transit peaks! There are five peaks on the west/northwest side of the Bay that can be reached by public transit, I’ve hit the first two. The summits are Mt. Davidson; San Bruno Mountain, (either by the 43 from the East, or by BART, then the Blue Circulator from the West); Richardson East Benchmark via the GGT 150, (found out about this one after the kids missed their bus stop and hopped off at the stop that would lead to the summit to hike down the hill into Sausalito); Mount Tamalpais via the Marin 61 StageCoach; Angel Island via Ferry; and the final one that I’m aware of, Tiburon Peninsula via the Marin Transit 219.

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