Hitting the Wall, a Death Valley High

NPOTA Entity: Death Valley NP NS20

SOTA summit: Telescope Peak, W6/CD-003

Activation Date: Dec 11, 2017

Portable operation: Yes

Radio: Elecraft KX2 operating at 10 watts SSB

Antenna: LNR End Fed

Bands used: 20m and 40m

Furthest QSO: ?????

Hike:  ~13 miles and ~3,100ft ascent.  (<–click left for GaiaPro track etc)

Solo operation: No, with Rico M

Recommend: Yes

ATT Coverage: None

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2018

The fire has died out, the night air is still and temperatures hover in the mid thirties.  Sitting in a chair, counting stars and marveling at asterisms is I discover a journey to many places including cold. Cold has crept further into my gloves, into my boots, around my face, my eyes, my nose and I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with each moment. After what I consider a valiant attempt to truly enjoy one of the worlds best dark sky areas the frigid state of my body drives into my tent, into my sleeping bag and eventually into slumber. No sheep needed tonight.

My abode and my wheels

Far to few hours later and long before dawn my alarm rudely awakens me from what seems like all too little sleep. The temperates are still as uninviting as earlier but I’m determined to see what 30 watts of FT8 yields at 8,000 ft into my Buddipole. It’s a struggle and the answer seems to be not much. Maybe its the dime a dozen California call sign (W6 in W6PNG is the California clue) or the less than exciting grid square (I’m about 2 weeks early to take advantage of the ARRL’s 2018 Great Grid Square Chase) but I haven’t exactly become a frenzied target for the ham world at large.

Buddipole strapped to a tree up at 8,000ft at Mahogany Flats Campground

Dawn breaks, coffee is brewing and after consumed I feel half way human. The Buddipole is deconstructed and stowed in the Jeep. Rico never wants to exit his bivvy before the sun has made serious progress from its apparent slumber and today is no different. Today there is no real value to starting on the trail before dawn and I wait politely before offering coffee to my fellow adventurer.

Camp food, especially the freeze dried varieties that we are eating is made markedly better by the liberal application of chilli sauce and washed down with copious amounts of beer. The previous night hadn’t been any different except maybe one too many beers. Umm, bad idea as it turns out.

Great beer….just don’t drink too many when camping

Staying at Mahogany Flats camp ground means you are pretty much at the trail head for Telescope Peak. It’s a long 12.8 mile round trip hike up about 3,000 ft to 11,000 ft. It’s the highest peak in Death Valley National Park and definitely a destination for the more serious park hiker. That’s us!! Its been on my list for a long time and this is our third attempt to get to it. Prior attempts didn’t even get to the trail head or even the park. A prior summer one was abandoned as the temperatures in Furnace Creek hovered around 130F and just too hot up here despite the 8,000 ft elevation. Another attempt traded for a trip somewhere else which I’m sure had to do with expedience of activating peaks. So its with a certain amount of excitement we set of on this frigid Monday morning.

Telescope is peak top left and Wildrose (day before) middle top

After a couple of miles and about fifteen hundred feet of ascent we reach a ridge and walk two or so miles without much elevation gain. The trail begins to steepen and somewhere not to far forward are a series of switch backs. Rico has disappeared up the trail. I hit a wall. All my energy has disappeared or maybe more accurately burning the candle at both ends the night before plus one to many beers has left my reserves uncharged. I start thinking about the unthinkable in that I am done and heading back down. If only I could let Rico know my sorry decision. I sit and stare down into the Devils Gold course and Badwater. I eat a Lara bar and drink some water. I guess somewhere in that tepid tonic was the realization that up it was and I restart my forward journey. I seem to stop at every switch back and have become obsessed with the elevation gain left. A few hundred feet, two hundred feet, a hundred feet. Each of these small milestones  helps propel me forward until I’m almost at 11,000ft. The last quarter mile was a slight surprise but it essentially flat and I arrive at the peak. Success and to think I thought naught thoughts about wimping out!

The views are really spectacular as you can see almost 360 degrees far off into the distance. East into endless Nevada mountain ranges, west toward the ever present Sierra Nevada mountains and south back toward Mojave.

View from Telescope (11,000ft) looking east over Badwater

There is no cell coverage here and I’m eternally grateful to my inReach whisking my spotting text to the SOTA world. I qualify the peak on 20m. My first foray on 40m has me being shooed off with words such as “didn’t you know this is a frequency that some of us use all day…”. Apparently I didn’t and re-qualify it elsewhere on 40m. Hitting the wall earlier on the way up has me wanting to wrap up the activation, eat my rather scanty lunch and start on the 6.4 mile return journey.

10 watts and a bit of wire…operating position at top of picture in a wind shelter
Descending the trail, looking east over Badwater (again)
Rico, my co-adventurer

Half way down the New Zealand “kid” we had chatted with at the peak passes me in a flurry of broad running steps. I think he had been sleeping in his rental car and looked rather wild. Nevertheless I was impressed and wondered if he had had a beer too many the night before, probably not.




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