Are your Laurels in The Bloody Mountains

SOTA summit: Bloody Mountain  W6/SS-122 and Laurel Mountain W6/SS-186

Activation Date: August 19, 2020

Unique: Yes, 215th and 216th

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

Operating highlights:

  • Great views of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains
  • 2 first time activations

Pack weight: Approximately 15 lbs

Drive: Leave Highway 395 opposite Mammoth airport and drive up Laurel lakes Road to trailhead at 9,800ft. Definitely 4×4 trail.

Hike:  6.5 miles R/T with 3,500 ft ascent to 12,500 ft peak.

Hike and AZ profile:

  • Bloody is all trail and Laurel simply steep over lots of scree making it “slippery” underfoot.
  • AZ is larger enough for easy EndFed deployment
  • GaiaPro track here –> Laurel and Bloody

Recommend: Yes if you want a work out

Solo operation: With Rico M

Cell Coverage: Good ATT coverage 

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2020

Strenuous but straightforward ascent in good weather and conditions.
Laurel Peak from Convict Lake (snapped 4 months after activation on Thanksgiving 2020)

The shape was oddly familiar but it’s non standard color stood out on the edge of the tarn, a mountain lake.

Panning around, I was surprised to see so many other vehicles, campers and presumably fisherman. Looking for an early start and not wishing to navigate the steep road back up we camp in a rock field off the side of the road.

Flagging him down, I asked if it was a Jeep derivative and learnt a little more about Jeep’s history as I admired his restored V6 Jeepster Commando from the late 60s. It seemed too beautiful to bring up this rocky 4×4 road but he has done that and shares he was fishing.

Late 60s Jeepster Commando (V6) beautifully restored. Never found out if the color is original.

It wasn’t particularly heavy nor unexpected but wet enough to have us scramble into the Jeep.

Cell coverage abounds and with off road history top of mind, we watched videos of a Ford classic reborn. Twenty plus years on from end of production, the Bronco is causing excitement and looking at the videos we think it will be a boon to the off road world. However, once a Jeeper, always a Jeeper.

Camping can be rote which can be good, as routine minimizes the chance of leaving something behind.

Our food and specifically our freeze dried package of spicy Indian curry has been failing us and required a lift. Tapatio MIA we’ve nabbed a promising looking Trade Joe’s alternative. Maybe we over doused our meal, maybe the beers had us momentarily districted but is was foul.

Too late, our evening meal was fire eater hot, not chilly hot but vinegar hot. Even another beer doesn’t cure it.

Foul addition to our boring camp food that even extra beer couldn’t remedy

One of the upsides to sleeping in the Jeep is easily seeing a starry night.

One day, I’ll figure out how to disable the interior light when opening the door and retain my night vision. Even so, it’s a thousand times better than seeing a starry night at home and it never ceases to excite me. Maybe my university fantasy to be an astrophysicist wouldn’t have been so bad at all if I could get beyond being broke most days of life.

Drive up to 10,000 ft, put camp site and trail head

Like so many mountain western trails this one climbs, turns and behaves impeccably and I can almost imagine my Volvo making the journey. Maybe its a couple of feet or hundreds of yards but the illusion is dispelled by rocks and more rocks and my Volvo trail instantly becomes a 4×4 Jeep or Tacoma or Bronco trail. Wheel placement is essential and once again I curse for not airing down my tires, its simply optimism and laziness.

There’s an excitement in traveling these trails as you never really know what you will encounter. Winter storms wash out trails that earlier had been rated easy and over night transform them into places you wish you hadn’t taken your precious vehicle. It’s not so much about the cost of damage but more about a guaranteed ride home that I care about. However, today its pretty straight forward.

Look closely for the winding road up in the center of the snap

Dawn broke quickly and our trail is easy to follow. We venture up along a series of switch backs, through copses of trees and slowly ascend toward the saddle. Laurel to the left looks rather daunting and it somewhat makes the decision to pursue Bloody Mountain all the easier. Bloody is further, higher and maybe a better accolade and we head off piste as Rico loves to say. Choice of footing is all about progress versus human damage. We want to gain height and eliminate miles to our peak but in a way that is efficient and safe. Every fifty or hundred yards has us reassessing the terrain ahead and making micro corrections. We have a sense of a trail, unmarked and undisclosed on Gaia maps, find it, lose it and eventually settle into a rhythm along it. Its a team effort as sometimes I’m running parallel to our unmarked trail while Rico finds and follows it only to be replaced moments later as I shout to Rico to follow me.

The trail ascends onto a ridge that defines the terrain for the next mile or so. Its easy going summer time but I imagine in the winter, with sharp drop offs either side this could be quite intimidating.

Bloody, center right. Long hike up central ridge to peak

Our views are generous.

Coming to the Sierra Nevada’s isn’t about coming to another mountain range. At almost four hundred miles long, sporting fourteeners and the great interloper Whitney, that should be second to Rainier, the Sierras are a breathtaking landscape of lunar style granite rock.

If you are respectful it’s an exhilarating experience. I’ve never regretted coming and never left without a unique and lasting memory from my first multi day backpacking trip to the Minnerets through to today.

I love this place.

Cloudy and partially fire polluted vistas are still world class and breath taking…we are almost at Bloody

I’m getting closer to my three hundredth SOTA activation.

I do this over and over because the feeling standing on the peak and looking around the compass rose is for me one of the joys of life. Maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment, maybe the vista, the solitude or the sense of domain. Maybe its deep rooted in my DNA that my ancestors were mountain people. All I know at this point is euphoria.

Lakes, vistas…its all gorgeous and worth it

Grounding myself it’s time for antennas and radios. The little KX2 is unpacked, the antenna deployed and a momentary pray to the sunspot Gods has me calling CQ.

Logging old school. I love the contradiction for a guy that is a dyed in the wool tech head.

Descending might seem easy but truth is my knees and muscles made me an adept climbing goat. Time lingers, feet turn into yards, yard to quarter miles and eventually the saddle. I fret about retracing our steps and not happening upon a ledge and steep drop off.

Laurel begins to dominate the view and we speculate how the ascent. It looks remarkably steep and that in of itself isn’t an issue except when coupled with scree, almost as mad as ploughing the ocean.

Laurel, peak number two. Steep and scree…!!
Laurel again…it’s a monster and we ascend slightly left of the vertical ridge, then across the top left to the peak. Fun?

It’s slow going and many a time I curse under my breath. I swear that five more minutes of this and I’m turning around. I look up and see I have made some progress and repeat this pattern of discouragement and jubilation. We keep pushing, feet stepping up, sliding down a foot and trying again to gain altitude. Tenacity is a life winning attribute and we refuse to be defeated, having our laurel simply be Bloody Mountain.

Far distance are the Whites, upper left is Glass Mountain, Crawley Lake right and below Convict Lake….my Thanksgiving 2020 walk

Mountains are magical and what multiples that is the connectedness of standing on one and recognizing that I have done the same on others out across the horizon. Coming back to the Northern Desert is paying huge dividends.

Life is good despite the the never ending specter of Covid.

Friendship, vistas, sore muscles, memories to share around a fire and a glass of whiskey…..what more is there to life?

Lots but that is another blog.


  1. Loved the photos and blog. If you’re not already, maybe you should be a photo journalist. HI HI Great write up. I always enjoy seeing pixes of SOTA trips and reading about the adventures in the mountains.
    My log says we haven’t worked. I’m surprised. Will look for you.
    Thanks for the blog.
    73 de n4mj//glenn


  2. I’ve been wanting to go fish Laurel lakes for years, I was planning my trip and noticed the SOTA peaks. Anxious to give them a try, although might just do 1/day that is a lot of elevation! -W6DFM


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