Tiburon Double-Header: Mount Caroline Livermore (W6/CC-075) and Tiburon Peninsula (W6/NC-435)

On December 16, we (KK6STE and I) drove down to Tiburon to take the ferry to Angel Island for a SOTA activation on Mount Caroline Livermore (W6-CC-076) tackling the nearby Tiburon Peninsula high point afterwards (W6/NC-435). We found $5/day parking near Tiburon’s main street across from a Woodlands Market, about a five minute walk from the ferry station. Paying for parking is a bit old-school: you have to stuff a fiver into an envelope and drop it into a box, so be prepared with cash! The ferry costs $15 per adult (cash only, again!!) and is the only way onto the island (unless you decide to kayak). It’s a short ride, about 15 minutes to cross the short Raccoon Straight. We took the 10:00 am ferry and decided to be sure to make it back for the 1:20 pm return trip (the last trip leaves the island at 3:20 in December).

We took the North Ridge Trail to the summit and meandered down the Sunset Trail for our return path, which seems to be the most commonly suggested route. There were a good number of hikers on the path since it was a beautiful, clear day. The trail resembled more of a staircase than a hike for the first bit. One half of a couple in front of us groaned as he turned to face us, complaining “she wants to run” as his partner was jogging up the staircase. I recommended that he go catch up while we went with the rational decision of walking up the staircase. After 100 steps or so, we reached the perimeter road, across which the actual trail starts a gentle ascent to the summit at 788 feet. The round trip was roughly 4.5 miles and there were spectacular views of the bay all along.

At the very top are a couple of picnic benches. If you continue past the summit down the trail, you will reach a dead-end with some more benches. I decided to keep things low-key today given the number of other hikers, so I kept with the 5W HT with a simple whip antenna and had a large number of contacts from all around the bay. It was interesting to see the bay from the center looking out, as opposed to looking in at it from its perimeter. From this perspective, you can see all the bridges that cross the bay circling around you, as well as the mountains that surround the area (including Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Saint Helena, et al.).

Here, I got to make contact with a number of hams that are active in Bay Area SOTA, including Rex KE6MT, Alex KK6ZLY, and El K6EL. All told, I was able to get nine contacts in twenty-five minutes on 2m simplex, thanks to Rex’s spot: AA1FD, KE6MT, W5GCL, K6EL, KK6ZXH, KK6ZLY, KM6KGI, K6ZTF, and WU1Q. Having saltwater 360 degrees around me seemed to help a lot!

We got back down to the visitor center with time to spare, so we took a look and learned a bit more about the history of Angel Island. There are buildings around from when it served as a port of entry for immigrants to the western US, and people were kept in quarantine for as long as six weeks to make sure they weren’t harboring disease. Once modern medicine introduced better screening techniques, the island was used primarily for military purposes, including a Nike missile defense site. By the 1960s, the entire island was a state park led by efforts by the Marin County conservationist Caroline Livermore (the island mount’s namesake).

Our path took us around to see a good chunk of the island.

After getting back to Tiburon, we took the 6-minute drive up to the highest point on Tiburon, another SOTA destination. The actual peak is in somebody’s yard in a quiet neighborhood, but there’s a small bench within the activation zone that other hams have operated on in past activations. I sat on this bench and enjoyed the view of SF from here and decided to keep my activation low-key (HT only, no big wire antennas or multi-element monstrosities) out of respect to the residents. At times, a number of people walked by, but they didn’t seem bothered by me operating at the bench at all. In any case, my self-imposed limitations led to a frustrating 50 minutes during which I only made 3 QSOs: AA1FD in the South Bay, AG6QR crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and KD6GGJ in El Cerrito. I tried in vain with KK6VQK for quite a while to make a simplex contact after he came back to my call on the N6NFI repeater, despite his patient attempts to catch me and AA1FD’s help as a relay. After trying fifteen more minutes for the last contact, we decided to leave. Alas, I won’t get that single SOTA point the summit offered, but it was still nice to get a few contacts from up there.

View from the neighborhood bench.

After the day’s activations, I have earned 50 SOTA points as an activator. As always, thanks to all the chasers!

This map shows the scope of the day, with both peaks marked by a green circle. As you can see, it’s pretty easy to combine the two into one trip.

W6/NC-035 Mount Isabel

On December 3, I drove down to San Jose to check out Mount Isabel, which lies on formerly private ranch land recently acquired by Santa Clara County. I was hoping to be first up this peak for a SOTA activation, but AA6XA beat me to the punch. His notes helped me find the route up the peak, but I still managed to get a bit lost on the hike.

I parked in Joseph D. Grant State Park at the Twin Gates parking lot, on SR-130 about a mile west of the CalFire Smith Creek Fire Station and started on the Bonhoff Trail. In hindsight, it would have been best to park in the pullover just across the bridge from the fire station, since this short segment within the state park was a little hillier than expected and added about 2.4 miles to the round trip.

Once I made it to the fire station, I crossed Smith Creek and followed it east along the fence once I made it to the fire station, but I believe I might have missed when the trail to Mount Isabel got started. About a mile along the fence, I decided to just climb up the hill to the north and get a better view of what was coming. I was a bit surprised to see a large wild pig about 300 feet up the hill, who thankfully decided to cede the high ground and run away from me. Once at the top, I was able to catch the main trail ahead of me. I followed it and it eventually took me back down to the creek (d’oh!) and then to the climb up Mount Isabel. Along the way up, I saw another wild pig, a number of deer, and many groups of California quails.

Part of the way up, the trail starts to follow a barbed wire fence with the summit in view down the line. At some point, the barbed wire is stretched apart to make it easy to pass to the other side to make the final approach along the ridge to the peak.

The summit had plenty of trees and bushes to hang wires up on, and there are some good views of the University of California’s Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton to the north. I chatted a bit with W6KF on 2m on my FT60 with a whip antenna (he was about 50 miles away) and then tossed a wire up into a dead tree for 20m CW on the KX2. AB9CA caught me early on and spotted me, so I soon had plenty of contacts.

On the way back, I followed the trail all the way to SR-130, where it met a bit down the road from the fire station, so I had to amble down a steep hillside to make it back. This would be another good starting point for the trail. All my detours ate up so much time that I didn’t have quite enough daylight to make it out to the nearby Copernicus Peak at the Lick Observatory (another SOTA peak and the tallest point in Santa Clara county), but I will return!

The one-way path took 5.14 miles and nearly 2500 feet of elevation to get to the 4230 foot peak. I’ve attached a GPS map of my course, along with a dotted blue line to denote the recommended path that sticks to the creek until the path crosses it. I’ve also used a blue X to mark the point where the trail meets SR-130 and would be a good place to park and follow a trail the entire way rather than following the creek.

My GPS track on the way up. You can see where I left the creek to try to find the trail, and how I followed the trail back to the creek. The dotted blue line is a suggested alternate route. The blue X shows where I finished the hike, having followed the path all the way back to the road rather than follow the creek back to my starting point.
On my way back, I followed the trail past the creek along this path that is clearly visible from a satellite image. The blue line traces over this path and would be a reasonable way to tackle this summit.

Thanks to all the chasers for making this a successful outing (and to AA6XA for blazing the SOTA trail)!