Last June I activated Pistol Butte for my first CW only activation using my newly built Penntek TR-35. During my walk down I thought it would be a great winter activation because the view is phenomenal and the roads getting in are pretty easy to follow. As we approach the end of winter bonus season here in W7 land, Tim N7KOM and I have been trying to get out as much as we can. Most of the winter I am swamped with ice hockey during the week and I try to get out on the ski hills at least one day on the weekends, leaving little time for SOTA. With the End of Daylight Savings Time, close of the hockey season and encroaching spring, the days are long enough that I can get my work day in and still have plenty of daylight to get out and play radio.
Pistol Butte is located 8 Miles West of HWY 97 off of South Century Dr aka FS 42 in the Deschutes National Forest. Heading west, turn right on to FS 4320 and if the snow conditions allow, you can drive in a mile and find a wide spot to park, otherwise put on the the snowshoes here and you get some more hiking in. The winter route we took to approach followed an old logging road, then we decided to go off “trail” and straight up the butte to intersect the access road that ascends the east side of the butte. The climb was a steady slog for 0.4 miles and 550 ft of elevation gain. It was relatively easy going but did eventually get steep enough that I had to start cutting small switchbacks to prevent myself from sliding backwards. I’ve not donned a set of snowshoes in over 20 years and my technique was developing as we climbed.
Pistol Butte Track
After intersecting the access road, the climb continues at a pretty steep rate for another 0.25 miles to the summit, where the cement remains of the old fire lookout pylons make an excellent place to play radio.
Tim N7KOM breaking trail on the last pitch to the summit.
There is ample room on the rocky summit for several operators to work simultaneously. We, however, opted to setup Tim’s Elecraft KX2 paired to the AX1 due to some ominous looking clouds to the north and the occasional graupel squall in preparation for a quick bug out. Tim called CQ on 20M while I listened and copied calls to get my brain acclimated. After about 10 minutes he handed the key to me and I had a go at 20M while Tim worked 2M FM. We traded again and Tim worked 40M while I worked 2M. We got a ping on slack that another operator wanted to try a 15M summit to summit and since the sun had come back out, we setup the random wire. We couldn’t hear the S2S but were able to pull out 3 Japan stations before the graupel storm got too thick to ignore and we packed and started back down.
We followed the access road down to the bottom and veered left at the base of the butte onto what I suspect is a closed logging track but saved about a mile of distance back to the truck.
I really enjoy this summit. The hike is not terribly long or difficult, but it is not nothing. With a total of about 3 miles and 850 ft elevation, its worth the workout, especially in the snow. In the summer, one can park at the base of the access road and make quick the 1 mile walk to the summit. When I did it last summer, my climb time was around 40 minutes while the descent took 15. This would make a great first activation for any new HF operator, but I was skunked on 2M so I wouldn’t rely on an HT for success.