On Memorial Day Weekend 2015, we packed Der Funkwagen for a family trip to the highest mountain in Texas…Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet, inside the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The weather was perfect in the West Texas desert, in contrast to the disastrous weather that pummeled Austin that weekend.
It was a weekend of hiking, glamping in Kourt’s Westfalia, and a little Summits on the Air (SOTA) work. We brought a couple of radios with us to the top: a Yaesu FT-817 with a Par End-Fedz antenna for HF work, and a Yaesu FT-60R and a dual-band Elk Antenna for VHF FM work. On the way we worked HF mobile to kill time on the long drive through West Texas and made some contacts to both U.S. coasts using a Yaesu FT-857D with a 102″ whip on 15 meters. Here is a recording of our signal received from a station in North Carolina as we called CQ:
While Guadalupe Peak isn’t very high compared to other mountains in the U.S., the ascent is 3,000 feet over 8.5 miles round trip, and you should be in pretty good shape to attempt it. It is not technically difficult, but it will require exertion and endurance. Give yourself 8 hours to complete it. Having done it before with snow on the ground, I was relieved when the forecast called for perfect temps and no precipitation.
Once at the top, we reveled in the views before setting up our stations. The HF station did not work so well for us. We think the antenna was not far enough above the ground. At that elevation, there is insufficient vegetation to hang wire well, and we didn’t want to lug heavy masts. The wire was strung about 5 to 8 feet off the ground at best. The VHF station worked well. We were able to make contacts using 5 watts to the Big Bend area and the Permian Basin area, over 150 miles away. I enjoyed a few QSOs before we packed up and headed to base camp. We made note of opportunities for improvement in the HF station for the future.
The next day we hiked into McKittrick Canyon and visited the Pratt House. The view from the back porch is fantastic. This is a much easier hike along the desert floor. Later that day we departed for Balmorhea State Park. In a part of the world where water is scarce, this park boasts the largest spring-fed pool in the world. Nothing is so refreshing as to plunge off the high dive into cool water after hiking in the desert. The campsite was spacious and we enjoyed our last night of the trip there before heading back to Austin.
By the time we got to Fredericksburg, the weather turned ominous. From that point onward, we were driving in the middle of what we later would learn was an historic storm. Verily they were white knuckle conditions while Kourt was driving. As a passenger, I stared down over passing bridges into rivers swollen beyond their banks and roiling with muddy torrents. The NOAA weather broadcast blared flash flood and tornado warnings continually as we pressed forth. We had the good fortune to follow an ambulance down Mopac, using its lights as a beacon through the blinding downpour. We got on the Austin ham weather net and called in flooded road conditions as we encountered them. Shoal Creek was flooding over Anderson Lane as we carefully crossed through it. We safely arrived at the QTH to find homes with rivers of water pouring down driveways from backyards. My son and I had to make a siphon to drain a small lake from under our house.
The next day, people wondered how I got a sun tan.
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