NPOTA Entity: Great Basin National Park NP24

SOTA summit: Wheeler Peak, W7N/WP-001

Activation Date: Oct 14, 2017

Portable operation: Yes

Radio: Elecraft KX2 operating at 10 watts

Antenna: LNR End Fed

Bands used: 20m 

Furthest QSO: None, complete failure!!

Hike in: 8.4 miles r/t and ~2,800ft ascent 

Solo operation: No, with Rico M

Recommend: Yes, in summer

ATT Coverage: Atrocious

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2017

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Middle of nowhere and only a 600 mile drive from home!

The smoke seemed a tireless dance partner to the erratic flames driven by a wind funneled up the canyon and occasionally diverted by seemingly endless aspens and pines. Disappointingly, this rendered our camp fire useless on this frigid night where temperatures struggled to climb out of the high teens. It’s cold, very cold. The wind toyed with my tent throughout most of the night and I awake less than rested.

My abode below an aspen
The fire that wasn’t!
A surprisingly nice freeze dried meal – split two ways

The drive up to the trail head was easy and we set off through a forrest of aspens that had only recently shed their trade mark yellow leaves. Maybe it was the recent snow fall, maybe the cold but they are gone.

Nevada wants this to be their highest but in reality its second to Boundary Peak. We are excited to be heading up Wheeler Peak, all 13,000 ft of it and its very respectable 7,500 ft prominence.

Our destination, the flat top center top of picture via the ridge on right…easy peasy!!

We double back on ourselves passing the very frozen Stella Lake. It seemed odd to be hiking away from our destination but the sun, views and blue skies made for an idilic setting despite the temperature being around 20F.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 5.25.55 PM
all very pleasant until the ridge just left of Stella Lake….wind, did I say wind!

It was a very noticeable change as we transitioned onto the ridge two and half miles out from the trail head. The howling wind was back and blew at some constant and uncomfortable speed. Cold was getting colder. Suddenly I’m knocked sideways and I’m surprised the wind is so forceful. Not content with this behavior the wind ups the ante and I now assume the position of a motorcyclist, head pointed into the wind and chest parallel to the trail. I began to question the wisdom of our outing as the wind resumes its random and unprovoked shoving. The only saving grace is I’m being pushed to the higher side of the trail and not the side that drops down a thousand feet or so. The recent snowfall shows up as snow and ice on my rather thin trail to the top. My altimeter reassures me that I really don’t have far to go and miraculously I arrive. I setup my station and search around for the jet that is flying near by. No jet, just the noise of the wind through my fishing rod and wire antenna but very convincing even to the point that Rico was searching for the jet. The wind, the wind, the wind….

From Wheeler Peak, 13,000ft up looking east toward Utah

Cold and batteries don’t pair well. My iPhone declares 50% charged then magically drop to 18% in a mater of minutes. I’ve tried to spot myself via phone and my inReach. I call and I call, maybe a contest is on but I’m getting no where and my resilience, determination and patiences have all wafted off with the rather cold wind. With some reluctance I realize this is my first failed activation in over a 130. Wow, this rather obscure peak in Nevada is my nemesis and for once I’m not sure I’m coming back any time soon as this is a very very remote part of a seemingly empty state that was proceeded by a 600 mile drive from home to here.

The station that wasn’t!

For some reason I seem to be attracted to the most unstable rocks or the iciest part of the trail. Upward bound its not so much of an issue but downward I fall once, twice, three times and rack up seven falls. I break my carbon fibre Black Diamond poles that took me from summit one to Mountain Goat status. That sucks! I slam my ankle into a rock, slam my wrist into a rock and universally fall on my butt and generally aren’t having a swimmingly great time.

Despite all of this it was an adventure worth having. Looking back I realize how close the icy trail up the last 500 vertical feet is to a presumably terminal fall of thousands of feet. Maybe this hike might have been better during the summer but it was an adventure I survived. What’s that saying, “the good Lord watches over the innocent….”

Thoroughly traumatized by Saturday’s experience we opted for a pleasant hike the next day around the Bristlecone Pines. These aren’t just any old pine species but rather the oldest living things on the planet. In the Great Basin they date back 5,000+ years while in California’s White Mountains some date back 11,000 years, one the oldest living thing on earth. This alone is worth a visit but an oddity is Nevada’s only glacier. Here we are in desert country and home to Las Vegas all of which scream heat but nestled just below Saturday’s peak is a glacier. You have to take it on faith as its covered in a pile of rumble and dirt but I tend to trust the good people at the National Parks and so I stare in awe at a pile of rubble knowing its really a glacier in the desert.

And here’s another reason to come. Dark skies replete with Dark Sky Rangers. We settle into our camp chairs surrounded by others seemingly better prepared than us as we are slowly freezing from the extremities in. I swear my freezer is warmer but we are enthralled by the lecture and then a peek through a humungous Schmidt Cassegrain telescope and a view of celestial delights. This is all good and inspires me to brave the cold the following night and attempt another run at capturing the Galactic Core. I’m still learning how to clean up the image and coax out the myriad of stars.

My second ever attempt at capturing the Milky Way. Near Baker, NV

Last but not least was a visit to Lehman Caves.

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Lehman Caves
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Lehman Caves…part of a 90 minute tour. Well worth it

All in all a fun and worthwhile trip the Great Basin National Park.

As a by note. Mike KX6A had given me a heads up a couple of months back that Andy (MM0FMF) suggested he use the UK inReach number to spot to. I had completely forgotten this until Andy subsequently reminded me. So if I had only tried spotting to the US and then UK numbers I would have been off to the races and garnered another 10 points.


  1. What an amazing account Paul. I am sure 99.99% of SOTA activators would not have reached the summit. Such a shame about the lack of contacts. You must be gutted to have had a non-qualification. That’s something I have not yet experienced, but we don’t have such high and remote summits here in the UK. It would probably take equipment failure to manifest itself to make a no QSO activation.

    73, Gerald G4OIG


  2. Now that’s ‘Getting Your Goat On’, dude! … says Peanut
    It’s always the most arduous adventures that seem to stick in our memories and become more and more embellished with time and their telling. Like the time us goats in our ’03 Tacoma slid off icy Mt Herman road tumbling 100′ or so …fortunately no one was injured …only my pride. I dug in the glove box looking for a scrap of paper to leave a note “no injuries gone for help with tow” not wanting to leave our goat-wagon discarded and teetering on the hillside in the National Forest.

    Finding no paper I rip a page from the owner’s manual and scribbled my message attaching it to rear window which was pointed up hill …while gathering my gear from inside the cab Rooster goat eats my one and only note off the back window. As we hiked up slope back to road I was thinking how hilarious funny goats are alway eating stuff …but had we been stranded miles from nowhere and had that message been are only chance for survival how ironic it’d been that my goat eats our only SOS message! Doh! …Yep, Rooster was a knucklehead!


  3. Awesome Paul! I too have experienced the challenge of no cell service in remote backcountry. Your narrative made me chuckle! Of all the hardships that you endured, the best part is the “campfire story” of this misadventure that you brought back to tell and retell. Believe me, I have some backcountry misadventures of my own to share! Thank you for the trip directions for W7N/WP-001;. by all accounts, GBNP is dramatic place and on my bucket list, so this will help.

    72, Woody K1LB


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