NPOTA Entity: Death Valley NP NS20
SOTA summit: Pt 6140, W6/ND-114
Activation Date: Dec 09, 2017
Portable operation: Yes
Radio: Elecraft KX2 operating at 10 watts SSB
Antenna: LNR End Fed
Bands used: 20m and 40m
Furthest QSO: N1GB (love that call sign!!) in New England
Hike in: 1/3 mile and ~160ft ascent.
Solo operation: No, with Rico M
ATT Coverage: None
Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2017
For us, it’s the definition of an American luxury ride. Fast, comfy, air conditioned, massive engine, automatic transmission and of course cruise control. Sure it’s a gas guzzler but who cares as gas is only eighty cents a gallon.
It’s December 1979 and our Cutlass Supreme leaves the road and heads along a dirt trail. The open expanse of sage left and right transitions into a steep mountain on one side and an equally steep drop off to the other. Washboarding is replaced by heaving and hoeing over ruts and whatever apprehension I have on the merit of this journey has to wait. With no obvious place to turn around, we are committed whether we like this or not to the end.
Cresting the summit that is our destination, we realize we are sharing it with twenty or so bikers. Harley’s everywhere and knowing little to nothing of American biker culture are convinced we have arrived in the midst of a Hell’s Angel chapter.
Imagining that image is everything, we attempt to look cool and nonchalant about all of this and gaze determinedly at the distant remnants of Skidoo’s mining past. Mission accomplished and looking ever so nonchalant we saunter into our luxury ride.
Nothing, nada, zippo; the engine doesn’t start. Panic grips us, oh crap, we are in the middle of nowhere, vehicle down. As clueless mechanics, opening the hood did feel good but yielded nothing to address our current calamity.
The bottle of Jack Daniels lead the way, extended ahead of him as he asked “what’s up guys”. Long hair, jeans, t-shirt and a leather vest, he looks every bit of a Harley rider. Glancing around and unexpectedly into our luxury ride, he announces “You’re in neutral and it’ll never start”. An enormous sigh of relief and equal amounts of embarrassment has us profusely thanking him.
Detecting English ascents, he asks “Do you know Joe Cocker?” Well, we didn’t actually know him but felt the politic thing to do was proclaim our love of his music, which we did. “Want some whiskey?” “No thanks, I’m the driver”, I respond, “but he might”. Rico swigs down our friendly bikers Jack Daniels and eventually we bid our farewells claiming many miles ahead of us.
Spying a vehicle coming up our lonely single track dirt trail we pull over at a passing point. Being good citizens we fell compelled to share the fact that the summit is currently inhabited by a group of possibly desperate Hell’s Angels. The ranger winds down his window and says something to the effect that either we are very stupid or very brave souls to drive that up this mountain road. Maybe we agreed, we smiled and drove on, eventually rejoicing as we rejoined the paved highway saying that was an adventure and a lucky one!
So here we are almost 38 years later to the day driving off that same road and onto the same dirt trail. Time has played a trick and it’s hard to tell what looks the same. We find an unmarked road and continue driving to our SOTA destination. Clearly this is Jeep territory than Cutlass and we are neither brave nor stupid today. Driving has to end, we park at a cross roads, hike about a third of a mile and up 160 feet to the peak of W6/ND-114. Station up and I nab 17 or so chasers on 40m and 20m.
Mission accomplished and it’s time to find the Skidoo mining remnants and where some of us swigged Jack Daniels. There isn’t much left. Maybe nothing has changed over almost four decades but it seemed more complete forty years ago. Its mainly holes in the ground that the park service has covered in attempt to save us from ourselves. Most prominent are the wooden entrances to some of the many mines.
We’re camped at 8,200 ft, further south than Skidoo in the Panamint Mountains and its the best of the three camp sites in this area. We literally look directly down into Badwater and the lowest point in the US, all 283 ft below sea level. Mahoney Flats proved to be an excellent choice and my small tent seems to fit in with the pint sized Pinyon Pine trees that are typical of this elevation in the west. Its quite a contrast to the vast majority of Death Valley which is the essence of an American Desert. Barren and hostile if you let it be and wonderfully interesting and inviting it you go prepared.
After some charming freeze dried food and a beer too many, I settle into 20 watts of FT8 from my Yaesu 857 and the ultra practical laptop I have used on early SOTA activations. California call signs are a dim a dozen and people seem interested elsewhere. Its all a bust really and after nabbing 5 or so contacts I determine its time for bed.
My new Exped air mattress replaces the Cultas Supreme as the definition of luxury. I slip into slumber dreaming of stars, adventure, the West, friendship and oh what a lucky man that I am…..