Cowtrack Mountain near Mono Lake, CA

SOTA summit: Cowtrack Mountain  W6/ND-019

Activation Date: May 18, 2020

Unique: Yes, 191st and 234th activation and 1st time activation

Call sign used: W6PNG

Portable operation: Yes

Radios: KX2

Antennas: LNR 40/20/10 Trail friends end fed

Band/Modes used: 20m/40m, 10w SSB (voice)

Operating highlights:

  • Complete escape from Corvid-19 news etc
  • Great to hear so many familiar operators after a short US operating hiatus
  • Fred (KT5X, aka WS0TA) broke out his mic for me for second time in a day!

Pack weight: Approximately 12 lbs

Drive: Leave Highway 120 at 37.900, -118.845 and drive ~7 miles on sandy dirt track. High clearance 4×4 recommended to get traction on “slippery” uphill sandy sections. Easy drive, not technical.

Hike:  Drive up with short 5 minute hike to peak

Hike and AZ profile:

  • Peak is surprisingly a flat sandy “beach”
  • Unique views of Mono Lake
  • Broad flat AZ with short gnarly trees offering small mast support points

Recommend: Yes and easy drive up with a 4×4 and high clearance

Solo operation: No with Rico M

Cell Coverage: ATT excellent

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2020

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 6.07.07 AM
Cowtrack Mountain (red dot) east of Mono Lake near Yosemite NP

Mono Lake has near biblical status in California.

Despite being over 200 miles east of the Pacific, it is a breading area for seagulls which are an odd sight to see flying above the desert. It has strange limestone towers emerging from its waterline that has drawn photographers over and over again and if you can get beyond the stench of the beach bobbing around in a kayak is made all the easier given the lakes high and unusual saline content.

However, its near biblical status comes from none of these but rather as a symbol of Los Angeles’s destructive policy to capture, drain and remove water from huge swaths of eastern California often hundreds of miles from LA. Water politics date back decades and to some William Mulholland is a prescient hero and to others a man who stole water and gave us Los Angeles. For you movie buffs or simply ancients, think “Chinatown” with Jack Nicholson.

Like many I’ve returned to this area as a photography student, a nascent kayaker, a hiker and now once again as a SOTA activator.

January 2011, a frigid morning caught as a photo student


May 2014, me after a paddle around Mono Lake

Cow track has been on my bucket list for ages.

I had really intended to activate this during the summer and garner 3 extra summer bonus points (its in the Northern Desert and can be adversely hot in the summer) but those plans never came to pass.

I’ve looked at maps and driven past the general area enough times to feel I have a sense of this difficult Jeep trail that most likely will run out at points. Maybe these mind games have tempered by willingness to really do this drive.

We are heading south from Mineral County, Nevada where I had operated in the 7QP contest as K7E. Its rather cool that we can “borrow” call signs for special events or contests.

Having camped for two nights, we are ravenous for something other than freeze dried food and stop at Lee Vining also to check it 120 east is open (its closed typically in the winter due to snow).

Camp dinner for previous two nights

After downing a monstrously large and tasty breakfast burrito and a really bad cup of coffee, we on highway 120 driving through forests, round tight corners and up and down ravines playing that old game of “spot the peak” which we both fail at until we are literally upon it.


Mono Lake with Sierra Nevada mountains in distance


Drive, park, walk, activate!


Cowtrack Mountain looking at White Mountains (Cal/Nevada border)
Glass Mountain W6/ND-003 (my second SOTA activation) covered in snow from Cowtrack Mountain


Jan 2011, hot springs near Mono Lake

We are so lucky in the western USA to have so many accessible and beautiful places to hike, camp and enjoy. I’m still in awe each and every time I wander slightly away from civilization at how larger and open the USA is.

Rico and I have known each other for decades, having grown up in London we’ve travelled far and near (including months wandering India in the late 1970s). Thanks old friend for helping me out with the 7QP adventure and striking Cowtrack from the bucket list.






  1. Excellent recap. Do you bring a camera with you Paul or run a cell phone? I’ve been relying on my iPhone plus which does a good job and I have to bring it anyway but I leave the Fujifilm XT-3 in the car. I wish I had brought it with me when I did Mt. Baldy in AZ. I have a pancake lens and their wide-tele kit (can’t remember the exact spec). It’s a nice light camera. I’ve been into photography for 40 years and dabbled in some moonlighting (


    1. Hi Christian, Pretty much everything I snap is with the iPhone. Like you, I have enjoyed photography for years and have an excellent collection of Canon DSLRs and L lenses that seem to collect dust!!


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