NPOTA Entity: Death Valley National Park NP15
SOTA summit: W6/ND-053
Activation Date: Jan 15, 2016
Portable operation: Yes
Hike in: Yes
ATT Coverage: Great
Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2016
Access: Drive 35+ miles on dirt roads along Racetrack and east at Teakettle Junction. Hike 2.6 mile roundtrip and 1,000′ of ascent up to 7,607′, walk on exposed trail to exposed summit.
Sleet brushed by the Jeep as it headed up the old miners’ road and into the Cottonwood mountains. The lack of washboarding was a welcome change as the road wound through zee turns in tall slot canyons that like so much of Death Valley was a geological delight. No trees, no soil, just rock laid bare for the eye to see all the colors, strata and shapes. The early morning light highlights all the contours near and far. This is beautiful.
We aren’t entirely sure which cluster of peaks holds White Top Mountain. We pick the most inviting only to have it sail on by as we climb the road further and further. It traverses a plateau and unsurprisingly we begin to descend while we stare at a distinct snow covered peak, wondering and hoping this isn’t our driving destination. The road twists more as it climbs into a snow field and once again we sail past the peak that held our conversation and on into the mountains.
Just beyond the trailhead is a house seemingly hit at some time by a tornado. The fridge stands doorless and sags sadly to the right. Bedsteads are rusted and suggest this was home to a few people and judging from the brightness of the wood probably not so long ago.
The sleet has turned to grey cloud and soon our ambition is rewarded with blue skies. We hike the last mile or so along a dirt trail to some kind of tailings presumably related to the wind struck house. The last half mile we bushwhack through more snow that crunches and glistens in the sunlight.
The peak holds views of Death Valley, the Amargorsa and Panamint mountains on one side and the deeply snow covered Sierra Nevada on the other shrouded and capped with clouds. Maybe that is Whitney, the highest in the lower 48.
My first antenna orientation seems to be a bust as I’m really getting no takers on 40m despite attempts to optimize its orientation for LA and SF. It’s a pain but I move the operating location and the end fed to more of a north south orientation to reach into the US on 20 and 10m. The mast sags and I regret not guying it off. My hiking buddy straightens it and piles rocks around it telling me later that I should be ashamed of myself for such a shoddy footing!
Part way through operating the hiking poles holding the other end of the end fed blew over in the wind. Its windy and cold up on the peak and I’m desperately trying to ignore my eyes watering from the wind; I can’t read anything in my log book let alone write a call sign down. This is really quite distracting and equally annoying. Everyone hold on but of course they don’t. I grasp a few letters from the pile up and ask for the operators full call sign while blinking rapidly. He’s in the log and so this process repeats. Apparently pile ups evaporate if you aren’t considered part way competent and sometimes mine seem to do exactly that!! 45 contacts later my hiking buddy is politely gesticulating that we should consider getting off this windswept piece of paradise as he has counted each and every peak, admired each and every vista and would like to move on. Numbness is setting in and it seems very sensible to move on which is exactly what we did. It always feels good to complete an activation and this was no different.
The day before we had driven in to check out a curious and for sometime mysterious phenomina of rocks moving across a dry sandy playa called the Racetrack. This is something out of another world and a sight to behold. Its believed that on an icy nights the wind pushes the rocks along leaving a small trail behind them.
I camped for the first time in 12 years and as is my occasional want I found my self up at 3:30am and in this instance witnessed a starry sky that was amazing. Many of the South Western NP units promote themselves as Dark Sky locations and this is something I want to enjoy as our NPOTA year unfolds. Bryce NP seems to currently have the lead in this area and for many of us city dwellers seeing the Milky Way for the first time is quite staggering and best enjoyed summer time.
Activating is fun but enjoying the park and what it offers equally important. Sadly, I leant yesterday about the untimely demise of Eric June KU6J who was very active in the SOTA world. He appeared younger than me and this untimely event is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of our time on this planet and a need to live life to its fullest.