Lassen volcanic is one of my favorite US national parks. Five hour drive from San Francisco in north-easterly direction is not something lot of out of state tourists do. Yosemite and Sequoia national parks usually receive more traffic and are a bit too crowded during the peak season to my taste. The crowds are so significant that during certain stages of 2020 Coronavirus epidemic Yosemite park was closed for all but winners of Half Dome / overnight permits to avoid virus spread.
My initial plan for Independence day weekend was indeed to try winning a day use Half Dome permit. I’ve been there couple of years ago and want to repeat the feat, with a radio rig in my backpack this time. I suspect I wasn’t the only person who had a similar plan though and the lottery didn’t work out for me.
Well, as an old fart Moltke once said - “No battle plan survives a contact with the main hostile force”. I needed to come up with a plan B for a weekend on the first of July and the trip to Lassen is what I decided upon. Ideally I’d rent a campsite and stay in a tent but I wasn’t sure if campsites are even open and if there is any space for me. Fell back to hotels - found nothing reasonably priced in Chester and decided to stay in Red Bluff.
Red Bluff is a small-ish town on 5th highway with a decent number of fast and not-so-fast dining options and Walmart supercenter - useful in case one forgot something packing up in a haste. South western Lassen volcanic park entrance is an hour drive from Red Bluff. This allows an early bird skipping a breakfast to beat competitors in a race for a parking spot at a trail head.
First day plan
The plan was simple:
- drive to the Park
- hike to the top of Brokeoff mountain
- activate it if possible
- hike back to the car
- drive back to Red Bluff
What you need to know about the trail is that the trailhead is actually located about 300ft before Park entrance booth. So in order to make everything by the book you pass the trailhead parking, drive to Park entrance, pay fee, make U-turn and park at the trailhead. If you manage to get there early the booth may be unmanned. Fret not, park near the visitor center, walk back to the booth, put your payment into an available envelope and don’t forget to tear the pay slip part - you need to present it on the dashboard as a proof of payment. If you have “America the Beautiful” pass you can just park at the trailhead. Saves you a few minutes.
The trail starts on the side of the road opposite to the parking. It is quite hard to spot, look for the crosswalk.
Lower part of the trail is nicely shaded and quite moist at times - you need to cross couple of streams / mud pools.
Trail is located at a significant elevation and it definitely feels. On a clear summer day the temperature in Red Bluff may be 110 F, 80 F at the trailhead and 60-50 F on the summit. It looks like the summit is windy almost always. You need layers, windbreaker, sunscreen and headwear to enjoy the trail. Don’t be deceived by the clear sky - I wished I had some thin gloves - hands got pretty chilly.
As you gain elevation the forest gets thinner and you get the first glimpse of the eroding stratovolcano remains. Brokeoff mountain is second highest point in the Park after Lassen peak.
Trail hugs the mountain from south and reaches the ridge leading to the summit. There is usually some snow in summer but not much.
Voila! The top! Many people think Brokeoff mountain trail is the best trail in the park because you get an epic view of Lassen peak. You can see Shasta as well but photos taken with a phone were pretty lame so you got to believe me it’s nice.
There is a shallow pit made of concrete on the trail right below the summit. Provides an ok protection from wind. I’ve made some tea and rehydrated early lunch there before unpacking the radio. Also I’ve noticed my only 100g gas fuel can is almost empty. Three is two, two is one, one is none. No tea tomorrow. Baw!
The summit platform itself is not very big, another reason to get there early if you plan a SOTA activation - it can get crowded and you’ll have hard time deploying an antenna. I was able to deploy my dipole before most people got there.
And this is pretty much where my luck ran off. I didn’t self spot on SOTAwatch hoping for people getting on the air preparing for Independence day. Also I managed to forget how to activate antenna tuner in my KX-2. There are two buttons “ATU” and “XMIT/TUNE”. By pressing “ATU” you send about 1W carrier and make autotuner to re-tune. “TUNE” just sends carrier and shows SWR - handy if you use an external tuner. I press “TUNE”, see SWR ~3 but don’t hear usual relay clicks and SWR does not decrease. After a couple of tries I concluded something is wrong with the tuner and I should probably not exceed 5W output power to avoid frying finals. Only when I was back to hotel and preparing for the next day I understood my error. Wah-wah-wah…
I’ve got on the air, started calling CQs and, well, I was not successful enough to get points for Brokeoff mountain. Only worked three stations of the mandatory four. Lot of thunderstorm static on 40 meter band and almost nothing on 20 meters. I’ve spent 3 hours CQing from 1130 to 1430, my cut-off time. Packed the rig and headed back.
The other planning error I’ve made is not getting charger for radio batteries. I only planned to activate on the Independence day when packing and didn’t see why I would need to recharge anything. Going to bring a charger with me no matter what - it’s not that heavy or bulky.
So - it is how it is - SOTA is sometimes about embracing the suck. Even if I didn’t get points I got the trail, the summit, the views and whole experience. No regrets.
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Way back was quite uneventful - drove back to hotel had some sushi and prepared my gear for 4th of July on Lassen peak.