SOTA Summit: W6/SC-405, Sugarloaf
Trail: Traditional single track with short use trail.
Hike: Moderate – 10.4 miles round trip.
Elevation gain: 3150 feet
Self Spot: Yes via AT&T
2-meter FM: Yes
If it looks easy, you’re looking at the wrong Sugarloaf.
W6/SC-405 Sugarloaf is one of the recently added peaks in the W6 region. Being local I decided to give it go for its inaugural activation.
Sugarloaf is a 10.4 mile out and back hike. It follows traditional single track hiking except for the last ~1/2 mile which is a steep uphill scramble. Given the terrain and elevation I’d suggest going on a cool day. The final scramble would be a bear in the heat. Also, while there is no traditional huge elevation gain there is considerable up and down that cumulatively will have you climbing over 3100′ during the hike.
The trailhead is located at the turnout on the left side of the road just as you approach Blue Jay campground off Ortega Highway. See the GPX file for details. You’ll need an adventure pass to park.
I did the hike on an overcast day in May trying to get it in between two rain storms. Since rain was not predicted again until late afternoon I decided to go for it. I hit the trail at 11:30 am. It was a nice cool day with no one else on the trail. You usually see mountain bikers or hikers out here, but they probably stayed home given the rain prediction.
If you are not familiar with the San Juan Trail make sure you have a trail map or follow a gpx file. There are multiple “four corners,” shortcuts and trail splits. It is not difficult to get turned around so please pay attention.
The big trick with W6/SC-405 “Sugarloaf” is that there are actually two Sugarloaf peaks in the area with various maps labeling the peaks differently. The SOTA database labels the peak for activation as “Sugarloaf” (this matches some map sources and not others.) However, the summit is most commonly referred to as Old Sugarloaf (3326’) with the neighboring shorter summit being Sugarloaf (3227’). The SOTA database has the correct information for coordinates and elevation, key in on those – not the map name(s). I’ve included a picture to help you distinguish the summits. The basic rule is that if upon approaching Sugarloaf you think it looks easy, it is the wrong one.
At roughly 4.0 miles you’ll pass the shorter non-SOTA Sugarloaf and descend down another half mile to the base of the SOTA summit. The entrance to the use trail to the top is a bit overgrown so keep an eye out it is easy to miss. I’ve put a waypoint marker in the GPX file. The path to the summit is similar to the terrain I encountered activating Iron Mountain, albeit much shorter. Here you have a little over 550 feet of elevation gain packed into roughly one half mile. It is a steep use trail that heads pretty much straight up to the summit.
I reached the summit just after 1:15 pm and busied myself signing the register and taking in the views – which by this point was mainly fast approaching rain clouds. I set up for 2-meters and quickly logged 2 contacts. Then it slowed. The Thursday-mid-afternoon-low-elevation-summit was working against me on 2-meters. Given the approaching weather I was hoping to get at least four contacts on 2-meters before deciding what to do about HF. I jumped on the Catalina repeater and successfully enticed a station to QSY over to 146.52 for the simplex contact and then picked up a friend of his who had heard our QSO. I had my four, all was good. The pressure was off.
I started getting out my HF gear when I heard Bob KB6CIO calling to let me know that Charles KM6CEM was trying to reach me on 2-meters. It didn’t help that I had broken my main 2-meter HT antenna at the trailhead when packing my bag. The antenna I use while hiking was not letting me reach quite as far as my 1/2 wave collapsable that I had broken earlier. I decide to go to my back up Ed Fong rollup j-pole. Setting that up quickly I was able to log Charles was well as Jerry N6GR.
During all this commotion I had finally turned around towards the west and noticed that those dark clouds had now opened up with large swathes of rain coming towards the summit. Just as I finished up on 2-meters the rain finally hit. I had hiked with all my HF gear and if the weather had been nicer I had a great place to set up. But here it was May in Southern California and I was wearing all my layers including a down jacket under my rain gear standing on a cold, windy, rainy summit. I decided to pull the plug on the HF portion and pack up and go.
The hike down from the summit on the steep use trail was bit trickier in the rain but not terribly difficult. Even though it was raining I made sure to bag the “other” Sugarloaf (3227’) on the way out. It is an easy 10 minute side trip with some some interesting rock formations at the top. (Pictured below, you can see Sugarloaf 3227′ does not really compare to the SOTA summit.)
After that it was back on the trail and I was back to the car at 4:50 pm. Thank you to all the chasers who helped to make this a successful activation.
2-meter activation note: The location is a bit tricky for the normal 2-meter chasers as surrounding peaks narrow your line of site options. For example I could hear our QTH in Newport Beach but they could not hear me. However, I was able to hit Huntington Beach at 59. Given the proximity to Santiago and the great line of site for Catalina you should have no problem making a successful 2-meter activation by enticing folks on the repeaters over to simplex in the central and southern OC and coastal LA areas if needed.