Mount Starr, A Sierra Nevada Gem

SOTA summit: Mount Star  W6/SS-093

Activation Date: July 18, 2020

Unique: Yes, 213th and 263th activation

Call sign used: W6PNG

Portable operation: Yes

Radios: Elecraft KX2 and Yaesu VX-8r

Antennas: “Broken” LNR 40/20/10 Trail friendly end fed and 2m Slim Jim

Band/Modes used: 10m/17m/20m/40m, 10w SSB (voice) and 2m FM 5w (voice)

Operating highlights:

  • Spectacular views of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains
  • 2m FM contact with operator on Mt Diablo 175 miles away

Pack weight: Approximately 15 lbs

Drive: Leave Highway 395 at Tom’s place and park at end of Upper Rock Creek

Hike:  8.7 miles R/T with 2700 ft ascent to 12,800 ft peak. All trail except last 700 ft class 3.

Hike and AZ profile:

  • Boulders with minimal space
  • Unique views of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains
  • Last 700 ft ascent is class 3 (need hands in addition to feet) over scree and boulders
  • GaiaPro track here –> Mt Star

Recommend: Yes if you want a work out

Solo operation: With Rico M

Cell Coverage: Intermittent ATT coverage

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2020

After hours of solitude it’s almost as if a tour bus has arrived and disgorged hordes of tourists. Some have fishing rods, some have back packs, some have babies and most all are young. Masks seem an oddity and few and far between. The protocol is for us, as the down hill traffic to give way to those heading up the trail. Almost noon seems an odd time to start as the temperatures are markedly higher than at our 5:30 am departure. The sun beats down and its dry and hot.

Parking is one step removed from pandemonium. Signs ignored where not to park. An enterprising Jeep, not mine, has backed itself up a steep verge. Campers block the side of the road and a narrow single track is now hard to drive down. Judging from the license plate holders much of Los Angeles and some of the Bay Area has emptied and descended on Upper Rock Creek. We are heading home and happy that our morning was quite different to this and quite blissful.

Darkness is everywhere and at 10,000 ft the air is cold and a stark contrast to recent days were the ambient temperate hovers around 100F. Southern reaches have quick dawns and the trail becomes easier to follow. We follow a generally straight trail that gradually climbs through the trees. The lakes take form to our left growing in size and number. Trees are healthy neither burnt irreparably nor devoured by some unwanted predator beetle. There’s no smell of pine, just cold morning air. The trail is easy underfoot having been trodden, stamped and kicked by countless other adventurer seeking a glimpse of California bliss. Switch backs provide elevation gain and the sun begins to feel stronger especially on the northerly track of a switch back.

Doubling back on ourselves we walk thorough what is lunar type escarpment, Huge borders, dry arid areas and not a single piece of organic life beyond ourselves. We see a snow patch that slowly loses its daily fight with the sun but here in mid July is putting up a commendable battle.

We are back in shadow being screened by Mt Starr. I now realize that the final 700 ft of ascent entails. Boulders and scree leaving us to pick and choose the least unstable foot hold. Maybe scree with chance of sliding back, maybe a rock that isn’t as stable as it looked or simply a boulder that stretches a thigh muscle while a hand grabs rock.

We’re gaining elevation to fast which Rico assure’s me its a mistake as traversing the ridge line could be much harder than the current ascent. We correct and eventually crest the peak feeling quite accomplished.

Not a soul, views in every direction that are stunning. Granite spires, blue sky, dark green lakes and more mountains that refuse to be colored grey and stand like sentries to some dark Mordor world that will take days to reach and confirm otherwise.

8.7 miles R/T from Mosquito Flats and up 2,700 ft to 12,800 ft
Below the tree line and just as the sun rises
Looking north deep into the Sierras (its class 3 from the lake bottom right)
Looking south over some of the Upper Rock Creek lakes
Almost lunar landscape in stark contrast to lower on trail where we were flanked by pine trees
Flowers flourish well above 12,000 fte
My “ad” for the ever amazing Elecraft KX2 radio, a wonder of modern technology
175 mile FM contact; Mt Starr to Mt Diablo near San Francisco

There’s aways a sense of anticipation. Activations fail for many reasons and beyond disappointment you are getting zero points. Saturdays can be good as more chasers are home. I log away using a very old school piece of paper and pencil. The call signs begin to fill up a page. Some of my regulars; Doc K7SO in NM, Daryl WW7D in Seattle, Kenny K6HPX in Arizona and more recently Jon K6LDQ in LA. That all feels great, familiar voices and quite quickly my four minimum contacts to line my activator coffer with another 10 points. That moment of anticipation has been dispatched.

Of particular value and always a priory are summit to summit contacts. Twenty five hundred miles away on a peak somewhere in New Hampshire, Robert AC1Z is calling. Quite possibly the same small radio I have we manage to exchange required information in what is quite a clear albeit low volume channel. Remarkable what a very limited amount of radio energy can achieve.

Height has many advantages not least of which is helping a VHF FM signal potentially go farther than expected. Perched somewhere up Mt Diablo in the Bay Area, Derrick K6DJV is loud and despite my rather anemic signal he has me in the log (and on his YouTube channel) clocked in as 175 miles away. Pretty impressive and about 40 miles firuther than my SoCal longest distance.

We slide down the mountain, Rico like a stick man with poles planted somewhere safe and me like a reverse grass hopper, stomach facing toward the sky and all fours planted somewhere in the scree or rocks. My muscles still ache from the descent two days later but all in all a very rewarding morning.

Good bye Northern Desert, hello Sierras, this is too good to make a one off.


  1. “The trail is easy underfoot having been trodden, stamped and kicked by countless other adventurer seeking a glimpse of California bliss.” Don’t forget the hooved locusts!


  2. Wow! Thank you for a fantastic account of your trip. That is exactly what I would like to do. Just joined several backpacking meetup groups in the San Francisco area after many years away from backpacking. Now that backpacking gear is much lighter, there is room for radio gear! I haven’t tried POTA or SOTA yet but I am amazed at how much lower the electrical noise is when I operate portable and get 100 yards away from houses. Your post is inspirational.

    Have fun on your adventures.


  3. Beautiful pictures. Worthy of National Geographic’s. Wish I was there. Will definitely add this to my list! !
    Wanted to operate from the highest point in every state when I retired, however, have spent the last five years babysitting my new granddaughter.


  4. I’ve been there. Actually I hiked up there twice in two days because I left my camera up on top. I’ve also done Mt. Dade, Mt. Abbot, Mt. Mills and Bear Creek Spire. Used to ski tour to the Long Lake hut from Rock Creek Winter Lodge back when it was running. Love that area. Thanks for the photos for a vicarious vacation.

    73 de Eric KG6MZS K3/100 sn3045


  5. Thanks for the share Paul… I’m in Colorado now but will be back to CA in the next couple of weeks to clear out the packed boxes from the shop. will have to get together if you are back in town too. 73


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