Tag Archives: Golden Gate National Recreation Area (US-0647)

Change Is Good

by Matt (W6CSN)

Recently, OM Witherspoon (K4SWL) wrote a blog here and shared a POTA activation video in which he described the benefit of changing up your operating location within a large park to keep things fresh or simply to be able to activate within a given schedule.

Activation zone looking over the Pacific

That got me to thinking about my own “home” park, Presidio of San Francisco US-7889, a large park which is also part of an even larger reference, Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) US-0647. Recently my XYL, who is very patient, has been subjected to my complaining about being bored by doing the same activation over and over.

Classic vistas from the Presidio of SF

My typical POTA outing is after work, I drive ten minutes down to the East Beach parking area, set up a base-loaded vertical on the roof of my car and plug in the trusty FT-818. Mind you, this is not a bad setup. The location combined with repeatable antenna installation reliably produces contacts and I usually have a complete activation in about 30 minutes.

GRA-7350T antenna deployed

The XYL’s suggestion was, “hey, why not play radio somewhere else?” and K4SWL’s blog and video were an inspiration as well. So I left the FT-818 in the shack, packed up a QMX kit, and headed for the high bluffs in the Presidio that overlook the Pacific Ocean to the west. I setup on an out of the way granite bench that was part of a World War II memorial to servicemen who perished in the coastal waters of the Pacific.

World War Two commemorative wall

My plan was to get on 15 meters in the hope of catching some early JA’s or other Pacific rim DX. The vertical antenna deployed easily and though the location was substantially protected from the strong wind gusts, I did stake the tripod down with a pair of tent pegs.

Tent pegs keep the tripod secure

With an SWR of below 2:1 on 21 MHz I set to calling CQ and posted a spot on pota.app advertising that I was in US-0647 GGNRA, even though I was also still in US-7889. Turns out 15 meters was dead, for me at least. Not a single nibble after 15 minutes of calling.

Good SWR on 15 meters

After a QSY to 20 meters, another half hour brought in only four QSOs! This location and radio combo was certainly a nice break from the usual and even though the QSO pace was glacial, it was quite satisfying and refreshing to do something different.

The QMX station ready for action

Since the clock read just after 00 UTC there was plenty of opportunity to gather the needed contacts for a complete activation. If necessary I could even come out the next day before 23:59 UTC. But since I had no particular time constraint for the evening, I decamped for East Beach where I was pretty sure I could wrap up the activation in short order.

Sunset over SF Bay

Even though I was back at my “usual” spot, starting the activation somewhere else was the change I needed to break the routine. Six more QSOs validated the activation in a matter of minutes. I swear being down close to the waters of San Francisco Bay adds at least 3db to my signal. There is a reason I frequent this particular spot.

Sun going down behind the Golden Gate

I feel fortunate to have so many locations within US-0647 and US-7889 that are quite close to home. I plan to take advantage of this diversity of operating spots, knowing that the “East Beach Amplifier” is always available if my QRP is not cutting it.

72 de W6CSN Matt

P.S. I did, in fact, log this activation as a two’fer.

Lightweight SPOTA Hat Trick on Angel Island

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 3

by Leo (DL2COM)

Do you remember the last time you arrived at a new vantage point on a hiking trail and all of a sudden you were stunned by a view that you didn’t expect at all? 

“No kidding.” I said when I approached the summit of Mount Caroline Livermoore on Angel Island and “bang” there it was: San Francisco Bay showing itself from its best side all around and in beautiful sunlight. Wow what a moment to remember.

The stunning view from Angel Island
Is this CGI?

If you’re passing through San Francisco and you’re looking for the perfect ham radio-infused hiking day trip and a very hard-to-beat city panorama, Angel Island is your ticket to a heavenly experience. If you’re the fast type you could get an activation done in half a day even including the summit. My two cents though: Bring a little time and let it soak all the way in. It’s worth it and not just because you can log three references in one go:

Angel Island State Park is covered by the very large Golden Gate National Recreation Area. If you are eager to read about the history of Angel Island you can do so here or here (former immigration station).

A few hours earlier: 

KX2 radio kit, sandwich, granola bars, water. The contents of my backpack on November 8th 2023. This was going to be a good day. I just knew it when I approached the dock at San Francisco Ferry Terminal (Gate B).

San Francisco Ferry Terminal
See ‘ya city life

I had a couple of minutes left so I enjoyed walking through the ferry building with all its nice shops, bakeries and cafes. Many options for advanced coffee-heads to get their fix before going aboard.

coffee and backpack
Yes please

The ferry takes you across the bay in just about 30 minutes, past Alcatraz Island and without noticing you’ll have left big city life behind and swapped it for a remarkable landscape. You can check out their service times here and make sure to keep an eye on the last departure from the island. Otherwise you’ll have to stay for the night. Also the only restaurant on the island was closed (for renovation?) and I am not sure what their plans are to open again. 

From the arrival dock at Ayala Cove I decided to start the hike towards the north-east side of the island via the North Ridge Trail. It takes the better part of an hour to get to the summit if you walk at a constant pace but of course depending on your level of fitness and also how much time you take to enjoy the views. The trails are in very good shape and there is nothing keeping you from finding your personal and comfortable rhythm up the mountain.

Yes I admit it – I am getting excited before an activation.  Most likely it’s because I am looking forward to having fun on the airwaves but then it’s also about not knowing what to expect at the operating site and how to tackle potential challenges. So I usually try to get there fast.

At the summit:

I was still catching my breath from the not-so-difficult ascent and then I saw a demounted truss mast lying on the ground. Should I try to somehow get this up pointing towards the sky and use it as an antenna support? Tempting, but given the fact that I was alone and lacking proper guying material it seemed a bit mad. This brings me to an important fact: There are pretty much no usable trees inside the activation zone when it comes to hoisting a wire. So I do recommend bringing some form of a mast. A luxury I didn’t have due to luggage restrictions on my flight to the U.S.. So the trusty Elecraft AX1 needed to make do.

Truss mast on the ground
Should I or should I not?

There is however a very nice picnic area just below the summit and well inside the AZ. It doesn’t have a roof and it might get a bit windy but it sports a fabulous view and plenty of options to attach masts. Luckily, I was completely alone for the most part of the activation so I didn’t need to worry as much about someone tripping over the counterpoise wire. I used a second round of 50+ sunscreen on my central-European mozzarella body and got the antenna tuned up. 

Downtown San Fransico and Alcatraz Island
Downtown San Francisco and Alcatraz Island

A few seconds into calling CQ on 20m K6EL came in 599+ from a summit nearby and I was super happy to log him given the fact that we had completed an activation together only one day before. He was followed by many US operators almost all the way over to the east coast and then, of course, Chris (F4WBN) from France. Wait – which antenna was I using again in W6?

Ham radio QRP station in San Francisco
Dream operating location

I have “whipped out” this compromised whip so many times to complete an activation that it has become one of my favorite antennas in the arsenal. What fun to reach France from the West Coast with it.

40 QSOs on 20&17m later (yes including some S2S SSB via the KX2’s internal mic and even a contact on 15m thanks to the capable tuner) I had to go QRT because the sun was strong and I wanted to make sure I had a relaxed hike back down. 

ham radio QSO map
Testing the transmit and receive capabilities of a QRP dummy load

Because you get a couple of loop trail options you will also get a completely new perspective of the island and landscape while walking back to the dock which is nice. It is worth mentioning that poison oak is pretty common there and branches of these plants hang down across the paths. I actually touched a leaf accidentally with my arm but was lucky not to get a full load of the poison. The itching was already gone in about an hour.

At the dock I had a nice chat with some of the rangers and then hopped on the ferry back to SF. Thanks to all chasers and hunters for making this a truly special day.

Gear used:

ham radio gear and energy bars
Recharging for the next adventure

California, what have you done? I need to come back. I’ll be back.

vy 73 de Leo W6/DL2COM

W6CSN Activates Fort Baker in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Many thanks to Matt (W6CSN) who shares the following post  from his blog at W6CSN.Blog:


Fort Baker On The Air

by Matt (W6CSN)

Fort Baker is a former U.S. Army post situated at the north of side of the Golden Gate, opposite Fort Point and adjacent the town of Sausalito, California. The post is now part of the sprawling Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) which is also known as K-0647 for POTA.

Many of the good POTA spots in the GGNRA are heavily used for recreation and sightseeing on weekend days such as this, but Cavallo Point is out of the way enough that there was still ample, free parking today. This location offers spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of San Francisco, and Alcatraz and Angel Islands at anchor in San Francisco Bay.

Today the “pull of POTA” was strong as I wanted to get another activation done before the arrival of an anticipated solar storm as well as rains predicted for the coming week.

During the week leading up to this activation the Bay Area has experienced fine weather with mild daytime temperatures and light winds, but driving in, the sound of rigging slapping loudly against the aluminum masts of the sailboats docked in the Presidio Yacht Club marina told me that it was windy down here.

A short series of wooden staircases lead up from the parking area to Battery Yates, named for Captain George Yates of the U.S. Cavalry who fell in the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.

The gun battery is a reinforced concrete structure which once sported six rifles that fired a three inch caliber cartridge to provide for naval defense inside of San Francisco Bay. The guns were manned through the middle of World War Two when, by 1943, they had been moved to more strategic locations.

Today I had hoped to use the same steel pipe which supported a fiberglass mast and EFHW in an earlier activation from this spot, but unfortunately the pipe was too thick to get the jaw mount securely attached.

I went with plan B which was to use the pipe railing at the back edge of the gun pit. Being unsure whether or not the galvanized steel railing made any electrical connection to what surely must be rebar embedded in the concrete, I deployed the 17 foot vertical whip with three radials just in case.

Whatever was serving as a counterpoise, it was doing a great job, providing an SWR reading of 1.0 to 1 on the Mountaintopper MTR-4B. This was probably the third activation on this Lithium-Ion battery pack, so the power was down to 3.7 watts, still plenty for a CW activation with a resonant antenna.

The activation was scheduled ahead of time on the POTA web application so all I had to do was just start calling CQ POTA and let the RBN do the spotting. I soon heard from KG6HM from right across the Bay, followed by stations from Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.

I was starting to think it would be only western states calling in, but the band opened up a bit, bringing N3RT from Delaware. Now we had a proper coast-to-coast activation, and, I bagged a hard-to-get state needed for an informal CW “Worked-All-States” achievement.

By this time, the wind really started to pick up and with the sun so low in the western sky, it was becoming chilly. Satisfied with the 14 QSOs in the log, we packed up, made our way back down the pathway to the car, and then to a fancy coffee house in Sausalito for a nice warm cup.

Equipment Used

73 de W6CSN

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

by Leo (DL2COM)

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 1

“No way!” I said to myself when I saw that Alcatraz Island is an official Parks-on-the-air (POTA) reference which has only been activated four times by two operators.

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island / POTA reference K-7888 & 2fer K-0647

It surprised me that such a historically relevant site hasn’t seen more ham radio activity in the past – or maybe it has, just not for POTA. I then got super excited as I was packing my bags for San Francisco.

I have missed this foggy beauty so much and it has been many years since I visited the city. I won’t bore you with the ordeal of our travel but it included canceled flights, multiple delays and rescheduling via Berlin and London the next day due to a hostage situation at Hamburg airport. So our already super short trip of 4.5 days shrunk into a good 3 days in SF. So which things to cross off the schedule now? It was clear that this unfortunate situation was certainly not going to eat into my activation budget. Hell no!

I admit since watching “The Rock” (1996) Alcatraz has always been a place of mystery and fascination to me. Those who are interested in reading more about the former fort, military prison and federal penitentiary can do so here.

After I learned that it was also a CW ATNO I instantly said: “Done deal. The ink is dry. I will activate with morse code in the shadows of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris”. Of course I would do it plain vanilla style throwing good ol’ wires in trees and staking pointy things in the ground. Yeah right. Sometimes passion does tend to carry you away a wee bit so a little later I gathered myself and started doing some research.

K-7888 log so far

Apparently the first POTA pioneer on Alcatraz was KC1MIJ who managed to get 5 QSOs in with an FM HT in July 2021. I’d say that’s pretty awesome for a location almost as low as sea level. The first successful activation was done on December 3rd 2021 by Elizabeth “Liz” N6LY and her husband Kevin K6YD. Since then both of them had only been back one time in December 2022 for another day to achieve a whopping cumulative 761 phone QSOs in only two days of total operation. Wow! What an achievement. No other hams have tried to activate Alcatraz since.

National Park Service Badge
The entire island is under management of the National Park Service (NPS)

I didn’t hesitate to write Liz an email and ask about her experience operating from the island as I knew it would probably require some preparation. The POTA website also stated that a permit from the National Park Service (NPS) is required. Luckily Liz replied swiftly with a lot of helpful information and I am very thankful for the email exchange. She specifically pointed out that it is in fact necessary to get a permit (even for simple HT activity) and that she had already applied in July for another day activity this coming December. They are still waiting to hear back from NPS’s office so it does seem quite hard to get approval for a “proper” activation. It is understandable that folks there want to have control over an organized operation where antennas, 100w radios, chairs etc. might need to be set up. With so many tourists visiting each day they also want to make sure that any activity doesn’t interfere with their core business especially on weekends.

Since I really didn’t want to spoil any of the hard preparatory work with NPS that Liz and Kevin had done for the ham radio community as well as respect local processes I wrote an email to the Alcatraz Rangers Office asking for a permit only a few days before my arrival. I knew it was a long shot and highly unlikely that they’d get back to me in time. So I called them every morning and afternoon the days after to follow up but was unsuccessful reaching them on any channel. By that point I had almost given up. However there were plenty of other options for activations so I had a blast in/on several SOTA/POTA references in SF which I will report on later.

Alcatraz Island Ferry
Alcatraz Island Ferry @ Pier 33

On our last day I woke up and thought “Man, I can’t just leave the Bay Area and not activate Alcatraz.” Since one of my appointments got canceled short-term I didn’t think long, jumped on an Uber to Pier 33 and off I was (yeeeees, online tickets were still available).  Continue reading DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz