Hilton Peak…Not quite Park Lane, NY

SOTA summit: Hilton Peak  W6/SS-125

Activation Date: June 22, 2021

Unique: Yes, 235th

Call sign used: W6PNG

Portable operation: Yes

Radios: Elecraft KX2

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

Band/Modes used: 20m SSB (voice)

Operating highlights:

  • Great views of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains
  • First time activations
  • Hardwork

Pack weight: Approximately 22 lbs

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

Hike:  ~16 miles R/T with 3,600 ft ascent to ~12,500 ft peak. 

Hike and AZ profile:

  • Trail for first 4 miles and then a scramble to second 4 miles. 1 mile ridge route at end with lots of exposure (class 3 or 4) and high risk of severe bodily damage/death if you misstep or are simply SOL.
  • AZ is small and very rocky
  • GaiaPro track here –> Hilton Peak

Recommend: Not really

Solo operation: With Rico M

Cell Coverage: Good ATT coverage 

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2020

Looking east and over one of the Hilton Lakes toward Glass Mountain
Blue track is the in/out route

The stats remaim somewhat fixed. It was almost 16 miles round trip, 3,600ft ascent and up to 12,500 ft half on trail and the other half scrambling off trail.

What made it all the more memorable and far more difficult was the two bad decisions we made that turned this into a somewhat scary and sketchy journey to one of many “unclaimed” Sierra SOTA peaks.

First in comes at a price.

We’re late and dawn has broken as the Jeep glides up the mountain road to one of the highest entry points into the California Sierra Nevada mountains. In contrast to twelve months early were everyone and their dog had “discovered” the great out doors during the period of seemingly perpetual lockdowns, no-one is around. Over the entire day we saw no one and our journey was punctuated by periods of long silence quite possibly because we’ve talked ourselves out or maybe the more insidious, that retirement can render you more boring than a working stiff.

We skirt around Patricia Mountain that we had also been first onto two years earlier. That was hard work too but in hindsight a bit of cake walk. Miles in and having gained very little elevation, we start descending which is always a bane as we will need to regain the lost elevation to ultimately get to our destination.

The lakes are pretty, bursting out of the dense wall of pines or furs. Stopping is always risky as darting objects accumulate around you, followed by the inevitable sawing into flesh as the mosquito does its bit. Hands waving I’m not convinced I’ve been successful and we hastily move on from still and partially stagnant water.

Not our peak!! This is Mount Humphreys (SS-134) passed along the way to the Hilton

The trail becomes fainter as we skirt the third and fourth lakes, serving as a cue to determine our off trail route to the start of the ridge possibly two or so miles hence.

Some of the terrain looked decidedly similar to Patrica (and why not as it wasn’t more than a mile or two away) consisting of boulders acting as anchors for young aspens. All very pretty but taxing to traverse and here started our first mistake.

Thinking that staying higher and ridge side of this organic barbed wire, had us traversing large and unstable boulders. Somewhere between a tight rope artist and politician preaching to diverse constituents, we find a groove between forward motion and loosing our balance as random large and small boulders rock and shift below our boots.

Straight up and through this…looks easy!! Well not really. Mistake 1, we stayed too much to the right.

Half a mile, a mile and on, we are progressively slowing our pace with a comesurate increase in tiredness. Realizing possibly too late that we should have dropped down and out of this terrain we are within striking distance of the turn for the ridge.

Hilton is the high point. We headed for the left notch/saddle before ascending the ridge. Seemed like a great idea!!

Collapsing on the ground, socks off and a fifteen minute break are firsts for me on any recent hike. We’re behind schedule, I’m tired but determined to complete this and hold onto the belief that the ridge will be easy peasy. We just need to get to it.

Euphoria turns to a lump in the throat as we turn onto the ridge. The hidden side of our peak is one perpetual rock and boulder field reaching to the ultimate high point. The ridge is notched with low points and here lay our second mistake. Not wishing to needlessly expend energy traversing the ridge and up and down the notches, we stay 10-20 ft below the ridge essentially on its shoulder.

Hilton at last. We ascended ~800 ft slightly below the right ridge (mistake!!) and on the ridge coming down

Stepping forward onto rocks, transforms them into skate boards propelled by gravity downwards and away from our peak. Rocks act as levers shifting others above that seem to want to head downwards after the newly made skate boards.

Bottom of image shows the nature of the ridge …pointy and unstable!

The crunching was unmistakable and seconds later Rico’s foot hold had disappeared revealing a 20 foot chute of voidness below him as he grabbed onto something solid. And so the Battle of the Shoulder continued foot after foot after foot. Sometimes I retreated to climb higher and over a dodgy collection of boulders. Looking peak ward less often than not revealed progress until ultimately we arrive at a tiny perch that is Hilton Peak.

Despite my huffing, puffing and complaints this is a big reason I do this. The view from Hilton at 12,500ft

Truth is I really don’t want to be here but I am. The journey to this point hasn’t been quite what I imagined. Waking up the day before at 100ft above sea level, driving umpteen miles up the Eastern Sierras, activating Reversed before getting a bad night sleep hasn’t exactly positioned me/us for the jaunt in the park we had hoped for.

Food helps and I drink some of my new mountain elixir; Gatorade. Tastes great and almost instant energy.

My antenna is expeditious. No cell signal seems quite expected given the torture to this point but I’m not deterred, fiddling with settings, I find one.

We agree to descend along the ridge. In many respects this is the right decision and the drop off is best “ignored” by focusing directly ahead and below. Rico has jumped the short distance over a crevasse. Full of energy I’d do the same but I’m not and I stop and ponder.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

Shouldn’t is the answer and I mutter under my breath as I back track and descent part of the shoulder only to re-appear on the ridge a few minutes later.

A better route down via a stream and lakes, dry and wet. Rico on the left.

It’s a myth that hiking up is harder than down. Sure, up has muscles being exerted sometimes to painful points but down has the specter of a twisted ankle or knee. We resolve to not repeat the ascent route once past the ridge and follow a more natural stream and dried lake course.

More of the route down via the stream and lakes. Humphreys is on the right.

Almost 12 hours and on my brain isn’t performing mental math so well. We should be long back to the car by now but clearly not and no we begin to marvel at how far we went. Almost 16 miles and almost 4,000 ft of ascent.

In of itself that’s nothing particularly spectacular but our two bad decisions made it into a tiring journey.

All fun and I nabbed a first time activation.

I’ll skip the Hilton next time and try the Marriott.


  1. That is quite the activation! Great write up and pictures. I’ve been searching all over the full size picture that has Rico on the right, and I must be blind? I’m guessing Rico is your dog but I don’t see a dog anywhere.


      1. Okay he’s holding the camera, I wasn’t sure by the way you folded him into your story so abstractly 🙂


  2. Wow! Love the pix/story. So much unknown about the formation of our earth. Thanks for sharing. And yes, that last line made me laugh, too.
    73 de n4mj//glenn


  3. Great write up on a great adventure. Glad you were able to be successful after all of that and congrats on the Pioneer. It seems your description may not inspire others to be the second activation of Hilton but there may be some masochist out there! I know it would be beyond my capability.


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