Cowpatty Mountain W6/SD-247

updated 2021-01-02

Activated: 2017-11-14

Getting to the top of a peak and putting it on the air is always satisfying. Something that makes it even more so is when the peak has never been on-air before. The most accessible and popular peaks get activated over and over again, accounting for a lot of points on the scoreboard. But there are also a great many gems out there – peaks which are more difficult, more remote, or just more out of the way than the more popular routes. Finding and activating these peaks is my favorite part of SOTA.

Mojave National Monument is a sprawling desert playground criscrossed by old mining roads, 4WD trails, and goat paths. In the western part of the park is this unnamed peak. When my ex and I hiked it to put it on-air we came up with the name, Cowpatty Peak, but as I write this I don’t remember where the name came from.

Desert road viewed through windshield
Out in the desert half of the battle is getting to the base of the peak.

To get to the base of the mountain we had to travel some of the back roads and approach the mountain from the west side. At the time I activated the peak the roads were in pretty good shape, but travel carefully out there. One good flash flood can reshape the landscape (and the roads) in an evening.

View of a desert peak from below
This peak was as formidable as it appeared

I had scouted a few possible routes ahead of time using maps. None looked better than any other, so we headed straight up the canyon where we parked. The canyon led to an old mining service road that went farther up the hill, past some abandoned shafts, and eventually stopped about halfway to the main ridge line.

SOTA amateur radio operator in the desert
Nearly to the top.

From there the route went off-trail through the canyon. The canyon was full of shattered boulders and so some boulder hopping was required to get through the pile. The trouble was worth it though when we made it out of the canyon.

Desert ridgeline with a peak in the background
Final ridge line to the summit.

Every once in a while you run into some interesting wildlife. On this trip, as we were hiking along the ridge we spotted something moving in the distance. It turned out to be some bighorn sheep, bouncing along the sheer rocks below the peak. As I was getting ready to get a photo or two, my dog Sledge spotted them as well and began barking up a storm. So much for the good photo.

Desert bighorn sheep in Mojave National Monument
Desert bighorn sheep camouflaged nearly perfectly in the upper center of the image

HF was a necessity for this activation. Interstate 10 is within line of sight, so if you were inclined to wait you might be able to contact a few mobiles on the highway. I didn’t want to depend on that though, so I went straight to HF.

Ham radio operator setting up portable antenna for SOTA
Getting set up on HF for the activation

This was one of the best operating sites I have ever been to. There was absolutely zero noise on the bands or in the area. A few of my QSO partners were so faint that they didn’t even register on the S-meter, but their audio was perfectly readable.

View down into a desert canyon
Looking back down into the canyon we came up. Vehicle just visible in the wash below.
Ham radio operator portable for SOTA in the desert
Looking out over the valleys and salt flats while operating

The weather was perfect and temperatures were mild. After operating for as long as my hiking partner would tolerate, it was time to pack up and head home.

SOTA flag on a linked dipole antenna
SOTA flag flying in the breeze. Old Dad Mountain in the background