Riding with the Chews Ridge Gang (K6MI)


The Chews Ridge Gang celebrated 50 years of operation in Los Padres National Forest atop Chews Ridge for Field Day 2013. You could subtitle this article “50 Years and a Newbie,” which describes my adventure as a first time operator with the gang on Chews Ridge.

This all started about two months ago with Jim Brown (K9YC) asking if I would want to help out a first time effort as 2A QRP (5 watt) operation. He said that the CW ops were top notch, they had been running 1A for a number of years, and I could help (where needed) with Phone operation on HF, UHF/VHF, and Satellite for the weekend (I looked to see if someone was standing behind me to make sure he was asking me!). I said, “Yes!”, as I knew it would be an honor to learn from a group who hold many operational records from that location. Little did I know what learning awaited me.

The Friday before field day, I loaded up my truck and met the group for breakfast with Jim (K9YC), Glen (W6GJB), and John (KT6E) to go over the final plans and to make the drive up to the Fire Lookout at Chews Ridge. I suspected, but didn’t know at the time, that the last 11 miles of the trip was dirt road. Glad I took the truck!


Arriving at noon on Friday, I was immediately awed with the 5000-ft location, where you had a 360 degree view of Salinas Valley and the Ventana Wilderness to the coast. The closest neighbor (MIRA Chews Ridge Observatory) was a mile away and a little lower than our forest lookout perch. Meeting up with most of the other members of the gang, John K6MI, Tom (WB6HYD), Bruce (N6NM), Marc (WB6DCE) and Austin (AB6VU) there began a flurrey of set up activity which blurred the next few hours. Coax, solar power, generators, and even microwave internet were thought of by this group! Preplanning by Glen saved time and made easy set up with his creative tools for antenna assembly and testing, which he field tested prior.


On the air, by about 7:00 p.m. Friday night, were a total of three tents for 24-hour operation, a community food and watering area, various camp areas for the weekend, and the assembly of most of the seven antennas to be used on Field Day: a trailered 6-element 40-ft yagi tri-bander, a 40-m horizontal half wave wire diapole supported by a fiberglass telescoping pole, a 2-element vertical 40-m phased array, an 80-m inverted V, a 6-m yagi, and a 2-m/440 yagi for Satellite and UHF/VHF operation. And if that wasn’t enough, an AB-577/GRC Mast Miltary (Rocket) Launcher mast for an additional 50-ft tower. Bottom line, WOW! That’s impressive. These guys had it down like a well oiled machine. I took direction well and felt by the end that I was a valued additional cog in the gears helping to get set up.

3The radios on site included two Elecraft K3’s with Panadaptors, a KX3 for 6-m operation, and the Icom 741 and 271a used by Austin (AB6VU) for UHF/VHF and Satelite operation.

An army moves on its stomach. After a great breakfast (and all meals) put togther by Veronica, Tom’s daughter, by 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning all of the operating stations were being powered up and manned as the final countdown approached.

As with the night before, these few hours prior to Field Day gave time for me to talk with all of the operators on the team. What a wealth of experince and information. Have you ever known a Ham who couldn’t tell a good story?!?

This is where I learned from John (K6MI) that Field Day 2013 was his 50th year atop Chews Ridge! He started out first operating the location as a Boy Scout with his long time friend Tom (WB9HYD), and continued thoughout the years adding trailered rigs, antenna deigns, radio configurations, and Field Day planning improvements, but most of all he added friends and operators wishing to spend time together at a great location for the weekend. Said with his always approchable style and warm smile, “I like setting things up, watching folks have a good time, and operating just a little. It is great up here, isn’t it?” I have to agree. It is an amzaing place at the top of the world! And John is an amazing “Energizer Bunny” kinda guy.

6As I talked with other operators on site, stories poped out about years past atop Chews Ridge; like the 1S (One Snake, a rattler!) operation, where an unwanted slithering guest crashed the party, aircraft formation low pass flyovers saluting the folks on the ground for the Field Day event, parachute drops onto the ridge top, wildland fires forcing evacauation, years when there were aggressive humming birds, and this year’s fire ants (in the pants!). It was a seemingly endless chorus of recollections followed by “you should have been here that year!”. Surprising me the most was the number of folks saying “I remember being up here as a kid and let me tell you…” My takeaway from all the talks was, once you have been there, the draw seems quite substatial to return.

Field Day began operation at 11:00 a.m., and the CW code was flying. I found myself helping with the 6-m and UHF/VHF stations for the first few hours. For me, and a few others, it was a great learning experience while being fun and supportive for those who just jumped in and started operating. Isn’t that what Field Day is all about? Teaching, learning and FUN!

I settled down with Austin (AB6VU) and got ready to send message traffic to earn the additional Field Day points that radiograms earn as part of the Field Day operation. I was glad for the ARES message passing training session, it sure came in handy! By the way, Austin has great knowledge and practical experience on solar, wind power, as well as design engineering. Some may remember he was a guest speaker last year at the SCCARC meeting. It was great to have time between contacts to learn even more about power, satellite communications, passing message traffic, and 2-m side-band operation.

2With sundown on Saturday night came a change in the weather, and winds atop the ridge. Throughout the night we were buffeted by wind gusts sometimes reaching over 50 mph, but mostly maintaining at around 30–40 mph. After turning over my shift to CW operations, I was able to enjoy the wind-chilled full-moon night with coat and hood, windbreaker, and gloves! From the top of the mountain, looking down on the cloud cover, with an occasional cloud rushing by and obscuring everything within 20 feet except the glow from the moon, was a splendidly amazing sight at night! Getting in few hours of shut-eye between operating times was often interrupted by an abrupt wind gust shaking the truck and camper shell that I called home. I can’t imagine how it would have been in a tent!! About 4:30 a.m. Sunday Morning I got ready to operate on 80-m phone and see what Q’s I could add to the mounting total for the team. By 7:00 a.m. I handed over the phone ops to CW again.

Because of the winds, we started tear down much earlier than expected. When the winds tumbled a pop-up tent for satellite operations in one big gust, discretion and safety became the operative words as we knew a change in weather (to rain) was on its way. In rapid succession between 8:00 a.m and 10:00 a.m., and still with gusting winds, we dismantled most of the site operation. This left only the two tri-band towers still in use for the last hours of Field Day.

With one last chance to operate and an end goal in site (Jim on CW and I on Phone), we worked the bands available and crossed the finish line with a Chews Ridge Team total of 1002 Q’s for HF operations! This did not include the 6-m or UHF/VHF numbers. The last hour was a lot of fun for me on 15-m phone QRP operation; it included contacts with the Virgin Islands, Rhode Island, DC, Vermont, and B.C. in Canada.

7In leaving Chews Ridge, I think I understand why John (K6MI), after 50 years, really enjoys the Field Day event and this site. It is a chance to not only participate in Field Day with battery power, testing one’s ability to deploy and operate in truly unexpected conditions at a beautiful remote location, but to do it safely and well alongside a supportive team of friends and operators looking for an opportunity to share stories, try something new, and include newbies into the Chews Ridge Gang. My congratulations and thanks go to John for 50 years on the ridge, Jim for his support of 2A and phone operation this year, and to the rest of the Gang for allowing me to saddle up and ride with them on Field Day 2013.

(Photos by permission from Glen W6GJB and John Lee KT6E) Published June 28, 2013