By: Mark Abrams
On Thursday, March 31, 2022 we headed up to Sunrise Mountain. I met with Rebel Communications about 9:45AM at the bottom of the mountain. The plan was to head up the mountain, get the radio system ready for the race and then head down the mountain so that we could each go on to our other tasks for the day.
Rebel unlocked the bottom gate and we both attempted to open it to access the road. The huge metallic barrier was having a problem with opening due to the hinge post having moved to the point where the gate was resting on the ground. This gate was considerably larger and heavier than most of the ones that I have experienced which made it difficult to pick it up to get it open. We were not the first to have trouble opening the behemoth as a groove was made in the dirt from others before us who had attempted to move the beast. The difficulty was that there were cars parked on both sides of the gate which made it difficult to get our Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) through the small open space that was created by the amount of movement we were able to obtain through our considerable efforts.
It was obvious that we were not going to be able to get the gate open sufficiently to take our street vehicles through the gate. Both of us parked our vehicles and Rebel proceeded to unload the Honda OHV onto the dirt so that we could load up the vehicle with all of the tools, test equipment, computers, parts and supplies that we could possibly need on the mountain. It is a 20 minute drive up the mountain, so if we needed something that we left in the street vehicles, it would be a 40 minute round trip plus the time finding the item in order to get something that we forgot to bring with us to the mountain. After loading the OHV with our stuff, Rebel drove the Honda OHV through the gate while maneuvering around the parked vehicles to get through the gate that was only partially open. This posed some minor difficulty which meant that we had to be careful not to hit the parked vehicles that were parked too close to the gate which would not have been an issue if we could have fully opened the gate like we normally are able to do. After the OHV was through the gate, we closed and locked the gate, made certain that our vehicles were locked as we proceeded to head up the mountain.
The road heading up the mountain would start off being a typical dirt road heading to most mountaintop radio sites. It was sufficiently wide, fairly well graded and reasonably smooth for a dirt road. This would lull someone into a false sense of security when driving up the road for the first time. The road started heading up one of the foothills and quickly transitioned to a narrower dirt road. We passed a family of 3 hiking on the road with the parents walking and intermittently carrying their little boy. After a couple of minutes, we would find sections of the road that were covered with rocks between 1” to 8” diameter without any dirt filling in between the rocks. As we proceeded up the hill, the road continued to get narrower to the point where it was barely wider then the vehicle in many places. The steepness increased to the point where it was intimidating in some sections of the road. There was a handle attached to the passenger side of the frame that supports the windshield which I grabbed and held onto for most of the trip up the hill that gave me some feeling of security as we bounced up the road which challenges any vehicle including our Honda OHV.
The road is not a straight line from the bottom to the top either in azimuth or in elevation. The road would make twists and turns around the landscape and then reach a switchback where the area to turn around was barely sufficient to be able to turn an ordinary vehicle. We passed additional hikers who would have to move to the side of the road to allow us to pass them. Our Honda OHV was able to negotiate these turns with relative ease, due to its small wheelbase, but an ordinary pickup truck would have considerable difficulty making the same turns. The road would also level out for some segments and then get very steep in other segments that were very close to each other. Multiple back to back switchbacks were handled by our Honda, but a traditional vehicle would have to backup some segments of the road due to insufficient space to turn at the switchbacks.
As we proceeded up the road, we reached the first switchback which demonstrated the difficulty of this road. It was followed about 80 feet later by a 2nd switchback which now had sealed the conviction that this road was very challenging. Each of these switchbacks are very narrow which would have provided a significant challenge to a 4WD pickup truck necessitating a 3 or 5 point turn to maneuver the switchback. After another 80 feet, the road made a 30 degree turn to the right to exit the switchback are and proceeded another 160 feet to the next switchback which was only about 50 feet long before we had to switchback again. These switchbacks were mostly all rock with little to no dirt making the trek across these switchbacks very treacherous. The roadbed between two of the switchbacks was solid rock with 12” deep ruts which can eat the axle of most vehicles. Our Honda OHV handled these treacherous obstacles with relative ease compared to a 4WD pickup truck. The next switchback was about 120 feet away and one more another 70 feet beyond. Then we got a break because the next switchback was about 180 feet away, but that was short lived when we hit another switchback that was only another 70 feet away. This was one of the tightest switchbacks on the entire road and the loose rocks on the roadbed made this switchback more intimidating than the others. After another 140 feet, we reached another switchback which was wearing thin on us, but that was just the warm up for the last switchback in this section of the road that was only another 70 feet ahead. Most of the switchbacks were nothing but rock with very little dirt which made the vehicle slip and slide as the rocks moved underneath the vehicle. Now we were on the last segment of the road heading to the top of the hill which was only another 280 feet ahead of us where we reached the summit of the road. The local mountain peak was approximately 265 feet above our current location. Unfortunately, we were not at the peak of the entire mountain range where the radio sites are located. We now had to descend into a valley that was almost 300 feet below our current location in a short distance on a relatively steep grade.
Now that we have reached the bottom of the gap between the two mountain peaks, it was time to ascend again. The road started heading up the hill at a considerably steep grade in mostly a straight line with two exceptions. There was a curve to the right in the road after 300 feet then another curve to the left after another 330 feet with a follow up curve to the right after another 120 feet and finally a curve to the left to “straighten out” the road until the two S curves are reached after about 600 feet. After another 600 feet, the next set of six switchbacks created the next set of obstacles to be navigated. These switchbacks were reached just below the top of the mountain which contained rocky roadbeds which acted like rollers underneath the vehicle. Each one of the switchbacks brought us a little closer to the top of the mountain and a little bit closer to meeting our maker which I hoped would be a considerable amount of time until that happened. After passing the last switchback, we were in the final stretch getting to the top of the mountain. We traveled another 350 feet to the point where the road would bear left conforming to the contour of the mountain and finally after another 670 feet, we reached the fork in the road that we had to take to reach the building that housed our equipment. We made a sharp left turn to head to our building and traveled another 500 feet to a concrete pad where we came to a complete stop just a few feet before we went over the edge to fall hundreds of feet to our death. We did this so that we could back up the last section of the road and park with the Honda facing downhill so that all of our equipment and supplies were facing uphill which makes it easier to move into the building. There is insufficient room to turn around so if something bad happens and we have to leave quickly, we are facing the correct direction. This is a standard safety procedure whenever we are working at most tower sites. For those of you who remember the old Disneyland park tickets for individual rides, this ride would qualify for at least 10 E tickets. Now that it was 10:30AM and we were on top of the mountain, it was time to change our underwear.
We started by grabbing a load of equipment and walking up the hill to the building which was another 10 feet above us. We made several trips carrying equipment and placing it on the concrete pad outside the building. We then jumped up the 3 feet onto the concrete pad to get into the building, unlocked the door and carried the equipment inside. Once inside, we set up a work table and placed the laptop computer on the table. After searching for the proper cables, I was able to boot up the computer and plug into the repeater system starting with repeater #11 and working our way down towards repeater #1. One repeater at a time we updated the programming and went through the testing procedure. We had to change the power amplifiers in 3 separate repeaters due to low power output from those amplifiers. After running through all of the repeaters for proper operation, we were satisfied that we would be in good shape for the race.
It was shortly before 12:45PM when we started to pack up the equipment and move it outside to the concrete pad. Rebel started taking the equipment down to the Honda and grabbed my camera so that I could get some pictures. After shooting a round of photos, I put the camera away and finished cleaning out the building and we carried the last of the equipment back to the vehicle and proceeded to load the equipment like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Once we were done, we felt strongly that the load would survive the trip down the mountain. We made one last pass through the building looking for anything we left behind and then closed and locked the door. We hiked down to the vehicle, locked the gate around the building, got into the Honda and proceeded to head down the mountain. I still had my camera with me so I could take pictures while heading down the mountain to document the difficulty of the road.
We started down by heading towards the concrete pad where we had stopped and backed up the final section of the road. This time we did not stop or change directions as we made a hard left turn and proceeded down to the Y intersection to meet up with the main road to head down the mountain. We made a hard right turn and proceeded down the road following the same path that we followed while heading up the hill, but in reverse. We proceeded about 670 feet when we reached the curve to the right as the road bent around the changing face of the mountain contour. After another 350 feet, we reached the first switchback where we made a hard left turn to continue down the hill. Within another 50 feet, we encountered another switchback to the right. Each of these switchbacks and the ones that immediately were to follow were loaded with small rocks that made the turns unstable and intimidating. We continued to navigate the switchbacks until we passed through all 6 of them, thus proceeding down the road towards the bottom of the gap between the two mountain peaks.
As we descended on the road, I could see off in the distance that a person was standing next to the road. As we approached the bottom of the gap, it seemed like he wanted us to help him. We continued to approach him and it became even more apparent that he wanted our help so we continued to approach him until we finally reached his position. His name was Jason and he had hiked up the mountain to the summit and was about 2/3 of the way down the hill towards the gap between the two mountain peaks. He indicated that he needed a ride down the hill as he was very tired and he was out of water. So we squeezed together and moved the last backpack into the back of the Honda to make room for a passenger. It was a bit of a squeeze for all 3 of us to be in the vehicle, but one that we had done before on previous trips to the mountain. After Jason got into the cab, we gave him a bottle of water that he managed to consume within 30 seconds. He exhaled with a giant “Ahhha” as his body was bathed internally with the liquid of life. A simple drink of water is never appreciated so much as when one is significantly dehydrated. Jason told us that he had what he thought was plenty of water when he departed from the bottom of the mountain, but the heat of the day had caused him to consume water at an accelerated rate compared to what he had anticipated. He was a bit out of shape and the difficulty of this mountain had challenged his hiking ability and his stamina.
Now we were ascending the hill with the extra load of all three of us in the vehicle which seemed to handle the steep terrain with relative ease in spite of the fact that we could tell that the vehicle was being more heavily challenged than before. The vehicle is designed to carry 3 people with cargo, so we were not particularly worried that we would not make it up the hill. We continued to climb up the hill which was an almost perfect straight line as we ascended to the summit of the other peak. From this point, it was all down hill, but not without its challenges. We had 8 more switchbacks to traverse with each one being somewhat treacherous with varying combinations loose rocks, sharp turns, rocks protruding out of the roadbed, ruts and dirt. The downhill momentum of the vehicle added to danger of negotiating these switchbacks but fortunately, Rebel had considerable experience driving the road which gave us the confidence that we would survive the trip down the hill.
We finished with the 10 switchbacks and continued down the canyon for at least 1400 feet when we encountered some bends in the road that conformed to the contour of the mountain. We passed through them with relative ease in spite of the road conditions. Once we passed this area, we were on the final two segments of the road which were the two easiest segments to handle. We continued down the road which got smoother and smoother as we descended towards the bottom of the road and the gate. Finally, we were in view of the gate and all three of us were pleased that the rough drive was over. We still had some work to do to get the gate open, drive through the gate dodging the parked cars again, unload the equipment from the Honda OHV and put the equipment back into our vehicles and then load up the Honda onto the trailer while securing the Honda onto the trailer with the appropriate tie downs. Jason returned to his car where he grabbed another water bottle and downed half of it quickly. He thanked us profusely for our help as he was not certain that he would have gotten off the mountain without some severe dehydration, exhaustion and possibly death.
The three of us took off to head our separate ways. Rebel had some family obligations so he headed north. Jason was heading home to contemplate the fact that he could have died at worst and could have easily ended up in the hospital over his ordeal. I headed south to return to Los Angeles to continue getting ready for the Baker to Vegas race which was only one week away. I felt good that we had achieved the goal of getting the sites ready for the race. I also had a good feeling about saving another person from the inevitable difficulty that awaited Jason and possibly saving his life. It is events like this that makes me understand the desire of the police, fire, EMTs, ER doctors and rescue people to do what they do for a living. The satisfaction that I felt from potentially saving Jason’s life gives one a marvelous feeling, one that cannot be replicated through other professions. It is clear to me why they do what they do and I have the highest level of admiration for their bravery. I am thankful for my opportunity to share in the joy that they often experience on a daily basis. This is the fourth time that I have rescued someone from an ill fate in the mountains that I travel for my profession that I have loved for the past 50 years. Thank you God for the opportunity to show you that I strive to do your work even though I do not attend religious services on a regular basis and thank you for giving me the strength to serve! Amen.