Dan Koellen AI6XG
Tinker Knob W6/NS-121 Activation
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Summit Trip Summary
Distance: 7.2 mi one way
Elevation Gain: 1870 feet
Time: ~3.5 hours one way
Route: Via Pacific Crest Trail
Access: PCT Trailhead at Old Donner Pass Road 39.31466, -120.32725
Parking: ~10 cars at Trailhead, more room at Old Donner Pass Road
Rig: KX2, TH-D72A, MTR3b LCD
Bands/Modes: 20 mtr - CW, 40 mtr - CW, 2 mtr - FM
Antenna: zip cord 20 mtr dipole, 2 mtr duckie, Trapped 20/30/40 EFHW
Antenna Support: Mast in Rock Crevices
Cell Service: Good (Verizon)
RF Noise: Quiet
Tinker Knob is a rocky summit with plenty of room for activation, plenty of visitors and plenty of views of Lake Tahoe, Granite Chief Wilderness and Castle Peak. Getting to Tinker Knob along the Pacific Crest Trail provides a mild but steady grade since the PCT is primarily a backpacking trail. Like most summits the final approach is steep and involves a moderate amount of boulder scrambling. The difficult part of the activation is the length of the approach, a bit over 7 miles each way. So be sure to plan your timing so that you will have daylight for your entire journey back to the trailhead.
There is plenty of parking off of Old Donner Pass Road where the PCT crosses the road. There are also about 10 spaces available near the trailhead. There are porta-potties available near the trailhead, complements of local trail angels. The PCT is straight ahead into the wooded area, there is a trail that veers to the left that goes to the old rail easement. You will ascend the trail and after about a mile start going through Sugar Bowl ski runs and past the Mt. Judah Loop turnoff. Continuing on the PCT, you will pass by Mt. Judah and eventually be walking along a saddle facing Mt. Lincoln after about 2.5 miles of hiking. Just ahead is the East Face which is often full of snow through the middle of July. If there is too much snow you can take a detour up Mt. Lincoln and back down the back side back to PCT. But I would recommend to wait until late July or August when the snow clears. The PCT continues for another 2+ miles along ridges, eventually you pass the turn off to Benson Hut and continue towards Anderson Peak. Along the way you will likely encounter through hikers. Take a minute to say hello and ask where they are from. You will find many are looking for a bit of conversation and are from all over the globe; an interesting group to chat with.
Tinker Knob as seen from the PCT near Anderson Peak, the PCT runs along the ridge
You will not see Tinker Knob until you nearly complete your circumvention of Anderson Peak. Continue on the PCT towards Tinker Knob and you will find yourself on a saddle looking east towards Cold Springs and west towards Soda Springs. After about 7 total miles of hiking you will be at the turnoff (39.24622, -120.28438) that leads up to Tinker Knob while the PCT turns east. Proceed up the trail towards the summit, after a bit you will be winding your way through large rocks and shale staying along the east face of the summit. Go as far as the trail takes before you scramble to the summit. Be sure to take the trail as far as you can, if you turn towards the summit too soon you won't be able to get to the top.
Once you are on the summit you will see a few flat areas that people have built chairs, campfire pits and cairns out of the abundant shale like rock. Don't be surprised if there are some hikers on the summit or if you have visitors later in your activation. It is not crowded by any means but is a popular stop for through and day hikers.
During my activations I set up my HF antenna along the ridge running along the east side of the summit. There are some crevices that support my mast pretty well. Verizon cell coverage is good enough to spot and to keep an eye on any other activators on SOTA spotter. With my 2 meter HT I was able to work simplex into the Sacramento area pretty easily. You may also pick up a few QSOs with drivers on Interstate 80. Be sure to take time to look around when you are on the summit, you can see Lake Tahoe, Mt. Lincoln W6/NS-149 , Castle Peak W6/SN-038, Granite Chief W6/SN-115, Mt. Pluto W6/NS-138 and much more beautiful scenery.
Simply return the way you came back to the trail head.
Be sure to bring a pad, the rock is not too comfortable