I recently became interested in hiking, specifically so I could participate in Summits on the Air, or SOTA as it’s known by hams.
A few months back a friend and I did an 8-mile hike up at Caesars Head State Park, specifically to the Raven Cliff Falls scenic area. We wanted to try and get another hike in before the weather started turning really cold, so we planned a slog up the 1,044-meter Pinnacle Mountain — the highest mountain completely within South Carolina. It’s located within the popular Table Rock State Park.
We hit the road around 7 a.m. Saturday and made the two-hour drive from Columbia up to the park, where a grim ranger at the main park office told us that the hike to Pinnacle takes 6 hours and “we needed to get moving” if we wanted to get done before dusk. Trail guides on-site indicated the hike was “very strenuous” and to expect some steep ascents.
The trailhead was located near the Nature Center a short drive away from the main office. Once inside we had to register before we hit the trail, presumably so if in the event we didn’t come back, someone would know to come look for us. As we were filling out paperwork, I noticed a small Kenwood handheld radio on the table next to the ranger. I asked if he was a ham, and he grinned and said he was, W4MBC, James. I spun around to show off my backpack, which is embroidered with my callsign.
We were anxious to get going, so I didn’t make any small-talk. An hour later, we were deep in the woods, going mostly uphill via the Pinnacle Mountain Trail. Our first goal was the unfortunately named “Bald Knob,” which is a massive, smooth circular rock formation that juts out of the mountains and offers a dizzying view south. Since getting to the Knob involves a hike of more than 3 miles over rough terrain, it’s not as tourist-heavy as Table Rock itself. Once we arrived, I decided this would be a perfect future location for some ham radio, since there is ample space to setup and plenty of trees to toss an antenna into.
Our goal, the summit of Pinnacle was still almost a half-mile away. The trail became very narrow and very steep. During the last .2 mile I was using my hands as much as my feet to maintain balance over the roots and slippery leaf-covered rocks. The summit itself is enveloped by trees, so there was no view to speak of. Just a flat portion of ground that slopes off in all directions.
A SOTA activation of Pinnacle Mountain is worth 4 points. Only one ham has activated Pinnacle, logging 5 2-meter contacts back in August of this year. I’d really like to return with my FT-817 and a lightweight dipole and try to make an HF activation of this peak.
We returned to the Nature Center via the less-painful Ridge Trail, then hooked up with the Table Rock Trail for a long, curvy and jarring descent over rocks and roots. Total mileage for the day ended up being more than 8 miles, and we were on the trails about 4 hours, 15 minutes total.
W4MBC was still working in the Nature Center when we returned, so we talked about ham radio for about 15 minutes and vowed to try and catch each other on a local 80-meter net in the near future.
So, I didn’t actually key up a radio this weekend, but it certainly wasn’t far from my mind. I really want to make one of these SOTA activations happen soon! BTW, the Pinnacle Trail hike is highly recommended. The scenery is wonderful from beginning to end; I felt like I was wandering through Middle Earth!