A while back I created a SOTA map based upon the AT, and then hit up the reflector to ask for some opinions on trail corridors and what not. Well one of the responses was “since you’ve done the Rim Trail, why not considering doing the West Highland Way?”. After a couple of trips to Scotland and having already climbed Ben Nevis and just having a crazy overall desire to see more of the Highlands I decided to bump the WHW up to the head of the list and SOTA-ify it. Plane tickets are booked I am headed there the first two weeks of May (my annual get away from everyone for my birthday birthday trip).
For those not aware, the West Highland way is 94 miles long, starts in a suburb of Glasgow, skirts along Loch Lomond, heads into the Highlands and goes by the base of Ben Nevis the high point of the UK, then wanders a couple of more miles down into Fort William which is at the Southern end of Loch Ness. It is also a part of the International Appalachian Trail. This is a hike that takes most people 7-9 days to do, but I have added some days dedicated to peak bagging some SOTA peaks. I am also splitting from the Way at Kinlochleven to head up into the mountains to the South of Ben Nevis as well cutting over to the peaks to the West of Nevis (It is some circuit that has it’s own “Challenge” name that escapes me). Overall I am looking to do about 140 miles in 12-13 days. I am also thinking (hoping) I will be able to do most of the activations via 2M. I will be bringing my ultra lightweight MTR3b kit for HF as a fallback. Doing 2m for the bulk of the activations will cut down the amount of time I am on peak and speed my movement along. (I promise to work as many chasers as possible, I will not cheat anyone).
For now the plan is as follows…
Land at GLA and take a taxi/shuttle/train over to Milngavie and start walking after snagging a pint and a steak pie and picking up whatever last minute needs I might have. I am planning to stop off at Glengoyne to pick up some scotch to accompany me along the two weeks. I will be doing a mix of wild camping, maybe try the glamping pods I have read about and BnB for those days where I’m looking for a little extra rest to handle the peak bagging days. For those interested, I have also heard that there are baggage shuttle/carrier services, but I will not be taking advantage of those.
Day 1 the goal will be to make it to Glengoyne before they close, and then camp or BnB in Drymen, no SOTA just getting the plane muck off me and getting out into some open country. Oddly enough the wife and I had lunch in Drymen this past October, neat little town as are all the smaller UK towns. I could see myself retiring to one of these peaceful and quiet hamlets in my older days.
Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan and the first SOTA summit. Conic Hill. This is the lowest peak on the trail, and close enough to Glasgow this should be 2m only. I have booked the youth hostel in Rowardennan and will spend an extra day in order to activate Ben Lomond.
Day 4: This will be my longest walking day, intending to walk 20 miles to get to Crianlarich because you guessed it, the next day I am going after two SOTA peaks: Ben More and Stob Binnein. Both of them are a little off the Way, but they are 10 pointers, and 001, 002 for the GM/SS region.
Day 6: Back at it with both walking and peak bagging, headed up to Tyndrum and picking up Beinn Odhar during the day.
Day 7: is off to Bridge of Orchy, staying at one of the nicer hotels there (I think there is only one anyway) and going after at least Beinn Dorain and maybe Beinn an Dothaid
Day 8 is another move along day as I head up to Glencoe Mountain Resort. I have not decided if I am going to try out those cool looking glamping pods, or if I will just wild camp in the campground.
Day 10: So I have no clue how much snow is going to be up in the high country, but if it is clear I am going to leave the Way at Kinlochleven and go after the seven SOTA peaks up in that area. Sorry, not going to list them all out, but Ben Nevis is one of them :D. Grab SotAtlas, or Sotamaps to see what the others are.
After spending 3 days up in the high country wandering around and bagging summits I’ll finally end up in Fort William on day 12 or 13.
I have given myself till May 16 to be back in Glasgow so I will have some leeway with the schedule above if necessary. If I bag every peak intended it will be 16 peaks in 12-14 days for a total of 127 points. So you can expect some sort of write up towards the end of May as I digest the trip and get settled back in.
Decided to do an overnight for two peaks in the Sierra
Disclaimer: The two peaks I am going to talk about here do require some offtrail/overland navigation skills, and have some high consequence results if something goes wrong. This is a trip report of my experience, and is in no way beta for you to go and tackle these peaks. If you take this data and get hurt, or your loved ones get hurt that is on you period..FWIW I did cut up my hand pretty good on a fall I had while descending Lightning Mountain. In both cases these peaks are thin spine rock piles; one being a large pile of talus and boulders, the other is decomposing volcanic material. Also note these approaches are steep, think avalanche terrain steep. The approach to Disaster Peak was in the Donnell Fire zone from 2018, there is a lot of fire damage along the way including sink holes forming from burnt out tree root systems. Sink holes that could give out and definitely put a damper on your day if you fell in. I had NO cell service from either peak at all, and I was not getting any APRS beacons until I was up high enough to hit something to my west. That said, enjoy the read!
So I have this map of SOTA summits between Carson Pass (HWY 88) and technically the Northern border of Yosemite, but HWY 108/Sonora Pass for all intent and purpose that I have been working off of primarily the past two years. The area I have primarily focussed on this year is along the PCT corridor South of HWY 4. So far this year I had hit up Bloods Ridge, Antelope Peak, Mineral Mountain, Deadwood and a couple of numbered peaks in the area. I also missed 5-6 weeks of hiking in Sept/Oct because of a knee injury sustained doing Tinkers Knob/Mt Lincoln. Funny too, that was probably the easiest hike I had done to that point this summer. Here we are in mid Nov though and my knee was feeling good again five weeks after a meniscectomy, the weather is still plenty warm, there is plenty of sunshine, and the last remnants of any early season storms from back in September were long gone. The only signs of snow were left over patches from the previous long Winter season. So LETS HIT THE TRAIL and get a nice fall overnight in!
I have had my eye on three particular peaks that are all in close proximity, and oddly enough two of them are accessed on the same trail (but from a different direction) as my approach to Arnot peak, specifically the Disaster Creek Trail. The two in question for this trip are Lightning Mountain, and Disaster Peak. The third peak I will have to go after some other time. Compared to some of the other peaks I had done around this area these two peaks were right off a trail, and the on vs off trail ratio would be about 50/50 for once. For context, Antelope Peak was a 15 mile day for me, only 2 miles were on trail, rest of the time I was picking my way across open fields, manzanita and willow thickets and whatever else the mountain could throw my way. This area is the Carson Iceberg Wilderness area and overnights do require a permit. As a day trip (and this is totally doable as a long single day two-fer) no permit needed. The Trailhead is off of Stanislaus FS Road 7N83.
I started heading up the Disaster Creek trail at 8am, and the walking was pretty easy. In 2018 the Donnell fire ravaged some of this area pretty bad, there are plenty of large trees that have fallen as a result and even more on the verge of falling. I stopped at what I think was a Jeffery Pine to count the rings, and made it to 100 but was only 2/3 of the way across, and was easily a 10 foot diameter tree. I’d noticed some recent tracks along the trail, some that looked real recent, but the cattle grazers had already pulled out for the year, and I could tell I was going to be totally alone in the wilderness this weekend =).
Once I had my basecamp setup I started looking for a way up, and wouldn’t you know there was an animal use trail right behind my camp, so up I went along a shoulder that I had planned as my approach for Lightning Mountain. The approach was approximately 1500 feet and was 3 miles each way. I was in the trees until 8500 feet. Oddly enough along the way I found a fire ring in the strangest place ever at 8300 feet. No real trail, not very flat but someone had spent some time here. After this weekend I actually wondered if the owners stay with the cattle most of the summer.
The last few hundred feet is where the pucker factor starts, but not for the full duration. Depending on which shoulder you ascend, you come to a crumbly rocky knob that has bad consequences on one side and devastating consequences on the other. Choose your route, be choosy with your footing and proceed. For the next little bit you just kinda traverse over to the saddle at the base of the rock structure that makes up the summit. The summit is long and spiny, and a little bit of class 2/3 that is crumbly and slidy so again, be careful, and be choosy and test before you weight your foot placement.
There is no cell service (or AT&T) on this peak, so I was relying on APRS to handle my spotting. Back in the summer ON6ZQ did some fun hackery to put all SOTA activators on aprs.fi, and low and behold because I was hitting the summit, a welcome message appeared on APRS. :D. I could hear some guy squawking away on another summit up in North Lake Tahoe area, so I waited 20 minutes to get a QSO with him. Kind of a mistake since he was not actually doing SOTA, but it was at least my first QSO for the first activation on this peak. Overall today I ended up with 1 2m contact 7 on 40m with an S2S, and 4 on 20m. After about 2 hours on the summit, decided it was time to head down mostly retracing my steps. Back at that dicey knob, I did end up losing my footing in one spot, but not on the steeper section, but because the rock was all crumbly and such I did manage to tear up my hand some.
Camp was camp, nothing to speak of here, but I did have a nice sunset glow (I am looking East in the photo I posted above).
Next morning my plan was simple, get up, break down camp and go find the trail to Disaster Peak; todays peak would be ~2350 feet of gain and another 3 miles each way. I would leave my pack at the bottom, and normally I would say this is probably not a good idea, and I’ll admit there were a few times I was like “damn, hope there are no bears today down in the valley”, but it is what I did. I wonder if the scent of used TP in a ziplock would ward animals away from my pack 😉 (pack it in, pack it out). Reality is I did not bother bringing any extra food on this trip, so I’d eaten my allotment already. Once I found the use trail to Disaster peak (more on that in a minute), found a somewhat hidden place under a tree to park my pack, grabbed my Z-lite sit pad and the case I use to carry my MTR clipped it to my belt, killed a liter of water and went on. (yes, I set off for a 6 mile hike on a hot summer, I mean fall day with no water).
The nice thing about the setup I have, is it weighs < 2lbs. Super easy to just carabiner to a belt loop. I have a trapped EFHW made with 30awg silicon wrapped wire that a buddy built. This thing is LIGHT, the MTR3b, and my 1400mah battery which I am running an experiment on to see just how many operating hours I can get out of it. The battery may be the heaviest part of the kit
So, I mentioned “use trail” before, what i had read was a hard to follow use trail was only partially true, and this was a trip report from well before last years fire. The trail once I did find it was actually a well used pathway that was easy to follow, plus had its fair share of cairns along the way. That was until I got about half way and walked into one of the areas that was damaged pretty bad by the fire. I had never seen the results of a fire that burned so hot it burned out the root system of a tree, but here you go:
You definitely had to be careful because those roots ended up being sink holes, and if you were not aware of where you were stepping it would be easy to cause a sink hole to happen and you would be done hiking for the day. Once past the burn area, you just round a shoulder/corner, and it does get a bit exposed for a minute or two, but you round a corner and your destination is there in full view. At this rate, just work your way up the hill as best you can. In some cases there are some cattle trail, and it does look like if you attain the Southern shoulder the jaunt along that shoulder to the peak is a much easier ascent then straight up the gut. I also saw plenty of camps/fire rings in some more strange places, nothing like what I saw the day before, but strange enough..
On the summit, it was your typical activation, since I was further East on this summit no one could hear me in the central valley, I did pick up someone out in Yerington NV though. Also managed another 11 HF contacts on CW, more 20m today then 40m, so another successful activation of a virgin peak.
Takeaways: Always enamored by the fact that I have studied this area extensively on the maps, and you think it is all spread out, but it is not. I drove some 200+ miles to ultimately access two peaks that were 35 miles crowfly from my home.
Do the cattle grazers stay in the field all season, and where can I sign up for that gig without going out and buying a bunch of cows? 😀 (and does it pay as well as my current job?)
So for those that do a lot of peak bagging in the Tahoe area you may have heard or read about the Tahoe OGUL list. “Ogul” is the Washoe word for Bighorn Sheep. That is kind of fitting since Cali/W6 has an award called the California Bighorn Ram
“The Bighorn Ram Award is available to those activators who have accumulated 500 points activating W6 summits.” –W6 ARM.
The Tahoe OGUL list is 63 peaks in the area of Lake Tahoe, Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass, the Sweetwater range and a few others dotted here and there. Please note that not every peak on the OGUL list qualifies as a Summits on the Air summit. SOTA adheres to the P125 meter standard for prominence, and some of the peaks on the OGUL lack the prominence compared to other nearby peaks. Case in point Basin Peak and it’s proximity to Castle Crags, the prominence is only 337 feet and on the same ridge as Castle Crags. I will include those peaks as well just for the sake of keeping the list correct as it exists at the OGUL pages but the SOTA Ref will just say “Not in Sota”.
Every year I like to do at least one solo week long backpack trip (but this may have been the last one, more on that below) and decided to make this years a SOTA trip to knock off some of the Rim Trail summits I need for my personal goal. I had locked out the week of August 20th a while back namely because it was a new moon, then there was that solar eclipse thing too. Backpacking in the Sierra under a full moon makes it VERY HARD to sleep, the eclipse was kind of a happy accident. So the plan was as follows when I went in… we’ll see how that turned out 😀
8/19: W6/NS-154 (Lost corner Mountain) && W6/NS-390 (7860) 0900-1300 will be activation time range.
8/20: W6/NS-107 “9269” (mid morning, 4 mile dayhike from basecamp)
8/20: W6/NS-105 “9310” (probably mid afternoon)
8/21 Moving day, but I may try and do something with SEQP before I head out.
8/21 or 8/22 will be time dependent, but W6/NS-095 “9420” if 8/21 late evening (8/22 UTC) or morning of 8/22 PST
8/23: W6/NS-377 Mount Price and W6/NS-094 Little Pyramid sometime between 1030-1400 PST
8/24 or 8/25 W6/NS-068 Dick’s peak and W6/SN-036 Mt Tallac will do both in the same day. (I kept changing my mind on this one)
This was also going to be the longest trip I’d taken Lola (my 3.5 yr old Chocolate Lab) out for a hike, and she was going to carry her own food.
So I got Michele to drop me off at the Rubicon Trail staging grounds and we started walking in from there to the General Creek trail to enter the Wilderness. While the mosquitos are mostly gone from the basin, they were anything but gone on this hot August afternoon. We were making good time, and I noticed that we were within 3/4 a mile of the first peak on my list (W6/NS-390) and decided to drop pack and run up w/ my gear and get this trip started off right. (except that my GPS died 10 minutes after I walked away from my pack). I did not see the point continuing on down the trail to setup for Lost Corner Mountain to have to backtrack back to the peak (and to be fair this was an extra, but 8 points is 8 points). Anyway, The summit was pretty obvious, went to the high spot that matched my location on the map (those paper things) and snagged the first of what should be nine activations for the week. Managed to get three S2S (or which 2 were W0MNA and W0ERI) to boot. So nice to talk to them summit to summit..(They were in North Georgia). Those two are so awesome, they are always chasing, so nice to help them get an activation in there! I did not want to stay too long as I still had some miles to go so Lola and I headed back to our gear..hoping some bear had not made off with her dog food. All was good, and southbound we went on one of the lesser travelled trails in Desolation. We stopped that evening at a spot with some water, and in good proximity to snag Lost Corner Mountain (W6/NS-154) the next morning.
So the next morning after breakfast Lola and I off trailed over to Lost Corner Mountain. GPS said I was 2 miles crow fly, no big deal and 90 minutes later we were on the summit. I only gave myself an hour for setup, and contacts, but managed 3 S2S and 1 FM contact to get the activation. Today was a larger mileage day, so I did not want to dawdle to much. We headed back to our base camp, packed up, watered up and then decided that the best option to get to our next camp site was to stick to the TRT/PCT and avoid the Tahoe-Yosemite/Meeks creek trail. I can see now why permits are so hard to get in Desolation. I passed some twenty people between the General creek cut off and Phipps pass cut off which is an 8 mile stretch. That is a LOT of people for a single day of backpacking. We hiked up to Phipps pass, and then made the cut off trail for Phipps Lake where we were going to do a 2 day stay/base camp while I ticked off the next two peaks on the list. So while Lola’s pads/feet were never messed up she definitely was tired after today’s carry, so I decided that tomorrow I was going to leave her at the camp (on a long lead) and I would go tackle peak 9260 (W6/NS-107). That night for dinner I had my chicken tortilla soup (Bear Creek soups from the grocery store), and had a wild hair to add some mashed potatoes into the soup. OMG…. that will not be the last time I take that on a backpacking trip!! So… I think I might have stumbled upon one of the prettiest and most remote sites in Desolation, but I probably should not put that in print. That is why there are so few quiet places to sneak off to. I’ll even share a picture:
So day three, the plan was just stay posted up here for a base camp, and go after W6/NS-107 (9260) and IF there was time, go after W6/NS-105 (9310). One of the reasons why I said this was a remote site is because I was camped across the lake from the base of 9310 and had an 500 or so foot climb to the summit, 9310 to date is unactivated.. Save the best for last. I left Lola on a lead at the camp while I was gone for the day. I left her plenty of water, and food, and she had cover and such. So I headed back to the trail and started down the canyon towards Rubicon Lake. The destination today is an unnamed peak on a ridge that contains Rubicon pk, and Jakes peak, W6/NS-107. One of these days I will reteach myself how to stick to a contour. I have a problem with climbing too fast, and not getting hitting ridge lines where I want when I am off trailing. So I hit the ridge sooner then I expected, and then dropped a little over the backside, and kept moving on. So today I opted to pound a liter of water and not bring water along thinking it would be a 2-3 hour ordeal overall, and I do actually train like that with some day hiking trips. It took me about three hours from the time I left camp till I was setup and activating. Again, if you chase, THANK YOU! There are always 4-5 activators I can always count on that are fun to talk to, and always willing to work hard to work you if it’s needed!
Once done with the activation, I started down heading towards Stony Ridge Lake. I could see that my best bet was to cross over where I crossed this morning, so “lets contour, and not go down too fast”. I wound up in a HUGE boulder field that was the equivalent to a class 4, and possible class 5 down climb in a few spots but I found some clean water sources to drink from while in the boulder fields. Had to fight a few willow stands, those slowed me down, and made me tired. All told the 8 mile round trip took about 7 hours “tent flap to tent flap”. Lesson learned, but Lola was happy to see me when I got back. I should also note that it’s peak wildfire season despite the water and the super wet winter, Tahoe had quite a few fires burning around the area, including one down by Yosemite. Needless to say, that combined with a low in the area was making for some fun evening weather in the area. To date I had not had rain on this trip, but I managed to get back to camp just as a storm was hitting us. Into the tent I dove, and I had Lola in my vestibule area. (1 man REI Quarterdome). Within 5 minutes we were sitting in the middle of a hail storm, and the hail was bouncing up under the fly and pelting Lola, so into the tent I brought her. She was out cold within five minutes, and snoring. Typical summer storm, it was over in about an hour, it dumped a good amount of quarter sized hail and my tent survived it really well. The cool thing about granite is even after a storm it is still very warm. While nothing inside the tent got wet, we had a river running underneath us. I put everything on granite, while I had dinner, and threw it all back together before dark, everything was dry! Sunset was amazing tonight with the clouds, and the fog coming off the lake and cleared air etc.
Day 4: Solar Eclipse! So today’s activation was going to be super easy from a hiking perspective, but possibly a challenge depending on how the bands were being affected by the Eclipse. I was some 400-500 miles south of the totality, and I could definitely tell that something was going on. Even though the sun was bright, it was cold where I was. After breakfast, I broke everything down, and packed up and moved our gear over to the pass that leads out of Phipps lake, grabbed the radio gear and then headed to the summit. 20 minutes later we were on top and I was setting up. I managed to get 7 QSO’s this morning (I was not in too much of a hurry, but I was not going to hang out).
Lola was moving pretty good, but I could se she was a bit sore and it was time to run her out, plus I wanted to reconfigure some things with my pack. Specifically the radio gear. I let Michele know when I was on top that I would be at the Bayview Trailhead by 5pm and could she either get my truck up there waiting for me, or just come pick me up. Lola and I were moving along well, not as many people on the trail today (it was a Monday, and I was pretty far in). So for the past two years I have been using a LowePro Nova 2 camera bag for carrying my radio gear. It all fits in there (I have a pretty light weight setup). But it was hard to carry water, and it dawned on me I have a 10L hydration pack that I was thinking would work for water, a bit of food, AND the radio gear.
Also part of the reconfigure was breakfast. Growing up I always loved the quaker oats instant oatmeal packs when I was camping/backpacking but as a grown up trying to “eat healthy” I tend to opt for different solutions now. I really should have tested my breakfast before I left b/c I just ended up having PB and Trail Bars for breakfast after realizing on day 1, instant steel cut oats are NOT the same as slow cooked, and well. I got home and threw away what I had packed for my breakfasts (pack it in, pack it out). I hate wasting food, but the McCanns instant steel cuts just do not seem to cook well in the backcountry (in boiling water, yes). I ended up getting a couple of Mountain House breakfasts for when I go back in on Wed (Biscuits and Sausage gravy && Southwest Scramble). I still had at least 2 more peaks I could go for (Tallacs, Dicks), and I was taking off this week, and well I was not ready to plug back in yet! So sure as I thought, my mountain biking pack did the trick. Everything fit, and I was all repacked and ready to go back in and get at least two more peaks.
So I decided to drop the three peaks that run along the Crystal Range part of Desolation (Little Pyramid, Price, W6/NS-095) as part of my get Lola out trip, and focus on Dicks’ (W6/NS-068) and Tallac (W6/SN-036). I’ve been on Tallac a few times just as a hiker, but never with radio gear. The goal for Wednesday was make Lake Gilmore at the base of the climb to Dicks pass, and a 45 minute hike to the summit of Tallac. Dick’s peak has also not been activated yet, and is located in the almost geographic center of Desolation. My legs w
ere still in strong shape, so after a lunch at one of my favorite South Lake Bars, I headed to the Glen Alpine trailhead. It took me just under two hours of hard moving to make Gilmore.
Gilmore is one popular camp site, this was the first night on my trip where I had people around me. I just wish folks would heed the rules on the permit.. NOTHING within 100 feet of water. You do not pitch your feet 10 feet away from the big lake. Anyway I digress. So the next morning I cracked into that Sausage and Biscuits from Mountain House. I’d not eaten dehydrated meals since the 80’s (which IIRC were Mountain House, they had Woodsy the Owl on them. I still have one, here is a picture: <find that MH and take a pic>
So, those biscuits and gravy actually tasted pretty good, but it was a lot of food for one person, and the whole dehydrated thing did leave my stomach in knots. Anyway, today we were going to go after Dick’s peak, that was my only focus…I could still do Tallac tomorrow if I had to really work Dicks. Dick’s peak as noted is not a day hike, unless you plan on starting or finishing in the dark. The climb up the trail to the pass is not that bad, but then at
the last switchback before hitting Dick’s Pass, you turn off trail and start heading along the saddle there to climb the last 1600 feet. Oh btw, there is no trail. I made the summit in a couple of hours, even with the fun climb and started setting up. While looking for the logbook/ammo can on the summit, I found a note that was buried under some rocks. Someone had written a touching letter to someone in their life that had passed away. Out of respect I left it up there, and did not take a picture of it. I forgot to bring my crappie pole mast, so decided to just run my antenna about 2-3 feet off the deck between some rocks, and running off at an angle to get a south and east/west reflection. Oddly enough I managed to get an S2S with a guy up in Washington so something was reflecting me that way too. I scored 6 QSO’s and was starting to think I could manage Tallac too if I got a move on now. The down climb took me about the same amount of time, and it is a pretty well established goat trail, but it is exposed in some spots, so if you are not comfortable in a free scramble situation, I would advise you to take caution.
I made Tallac, got my QSO’s but really had to work it hard. I ended up getting more 2M contacts then HF contacts for Tallac, but I was satisfied. I set off to get 9 peaks this week and finish everything in Desolation, I snagged six of them, and managed to do some scouting to see that I will need to come up from the backside of those other peaks to snag them, so best I would have done would’ve been 7 peaks total.
I have 20 peaks left to finish the rim trail, and pretty sure I’ll be down to less then 10 by the end of October. I may be able to get the rest of these this calendar year!