SOTA Activation W7U/GR-046 Klondike Bluffs

First off, I activated a summit on Moab Rim last year but I lost my phone on the hike and never made a post about it.  That was my first activation with my KX2.  Now on to current news.

I turned 35 years old!  That makes me think, my metabolism isn't going to keep up with a semi-sedentary lifestyle forever; I need to get out more.  Yesterday, Sunday February 18, 2024, the weather was beautiful, most of the mud from rain and snowfall was gone, and I had an afternoon I could do whatever I wanted so I chose to run off and do a moderate SOTA activation.  There is a "summit" near work that I had been eyeballing for some time so I gave it a go. 

The destination was the north end of Arches National Park near Tower Arch and Marching Men.  The SOTA summit is labeled Klondike Bluffs.  A satellite view shows it as a white rock atop the ridgeline overlooking the west side of Salt Valley.  The easiest approach is from inside Arches at the Tower Arch trailhead but I was looking for a decent walk so I took a 4x4 trail to the lower (west) side of Klondike Bluffs and hiked across the BLM to get into Arches.  I had been this way before but it had been a few years since I'd made the trek.

I came semi-prepared with my Elecraft KX2 (partially charged), a Kenwood VHF/UHF handheld TH-D72A (partially charged), a 2L water bladder (fully charged), and some decent cool weather gear.  After some scraping and bumping down the 4x4 trail in my stock 2020 Tacoma, I parked on the white slickrock of Klodike Bluffs.  A quick eyeballing of the satellite imagery showed I was about as close as I could get for a direct hike to the summit.  I took off with my jacket stuffed in my backpack since the sun was out and I was decently warm. 

Aiming straight at my destination turned out to be a lost cause.  As I hiked higher into the bluffs, the canyons got deeper and wider which caused me to detour many times trying to find a place I could get across.  I kept getting pushed further and further south where the cliffs mostly ran out and the sand had collected in the bottoms of the canyons.  There were other foot tracks here so clearly this route was traveled occasionally.  I saw two other hikers headed back out of Arches at one point but we were separated by several hundred feet.  When I got to the edge of Arches National Park, I realized this hike may end without an activation.  As with many summits in Grand and San Juan counties, this summit appeared to be perched atop a butte with no real access apart from 5th class free climbing. 

I reassessed my route and potential access to the peak and decided to follow a wash all the way up the the cliffs below the summit and look for a scree field breaking the cliffs.  There will often be piles of rubble a person can ascend that are washed down an otherwise too-steep canyon.  After scrambling up and down lots of rocks and ledges, peaking into small canyons, I ended up on the south end of the fins below the summit and found what looked to be a decent slope I could scramble up that would take me right below the summit.  There were only a couple spots that made me really think about how to get up and one 10' crack that I soloed up.  In no-time I was on top of the red rocks, meandering around the white hoodoos on top.  After consulting my position relative to the summit one last time, I found the rock I needed to get on top of and found a precarious way up.  The only reasonable side was north-facing and had quite a bit of lichen clinging to the bumpy surface.  I inched my way up, scraping lichen off with the toe of my shoe before gingerly placing my toes on tine 1/4" ledges; there were practically no hand-holds available.  After the highball V1 bouldering ascent, I made it atop to rock and took in the view.  It was a nice spot but... it wasn't the highest point.  There was a higher rock to the south of me a short ways.  I checked my phone's GPS and the SOTA waypoint overlayed on a satellite map and it showed I was on the right rock.  I called it a success and set down to getting ready; maybe I'll email the region manager and let them know.  The time was already after 5pm so I needed to get this thing done.  Sunset was 6:30.

With my new-to-me TH-D72A APRS handheld, I wanted to try self-spotting using APRS2SOTA.  This is a service that uses a data packet sent to the staion, "SOTA", and updloads the data to  It allows my to be visible to people who are watching for SOTA activators even from remote locations since it uses a VHF network to get the information on the internet.  So, I set up my KX2 with a American Morse straight key and AX1 whip antenna.  There was still a CW contest going on so I cruised way up the 20m band until I found a quiet spot.  I called "QRL?" to see if anyone was around.  I didn't get a response so I sent my APRS message indicating my summit, frequency, and mode.  The message was as follows:


Message: W7U/GR-046 14.085 CW

Pretty simple.  I called CQ once, maybe twice, and started getting responses.  Success!  I worked a total of 16 stations, 18 total contacts as two of them called me twice.  It took a half-hour from my first CQ until I was QRT.  The location of my key was a little awkward since I was sitting cross-legged on a rock with the radio and key on bumpy, slanted surfaces but overall my sending didn't suffer too much.  I snapped a couple photos of my setup before I packed back up and headed down the rock.


The way down the rock I was perched upon was harder than up.  I tried going down a few times before giving up and choosing to jump.  Jumping is a big no-no in the canyoneering world since a twisted ankle or broken bone could be catastrophic but I decided a backward tumble 20' down would be worse.  I hopped down about 6 feet from the rock I was on to an adjacent rock without incident.  A quick scramble down got me to dirt then a longer scramble down about 400 vertical feet got me off the big ridge. 

I decided to take a more southern route home since I fought with canyons so many times over Klondike bluffs.  I took the same wash out of Arches then kept south until I got nearly to the bottom of the white bluffs.  I turned north to get back to my truck and was back to the truck before I had to break out a headlamp.  I think it took me two hours to get to the summit and one hour to get back. That just goes to show, the most direct route is not always the fastest. 




I called Kelli from the truck radio to let her know I was back and had about an hour and a half until I was home.  The drive out was in the dark and there were some ledges I had to drive back over but I managed to keep both my bumpers on and didn't rip out my driveshaft so I guess it went pretty well. 

I'm glad I got out yesterday.  My feet were tired when I got back home and I have some more scrapes and bruises from the scrambling but the sweat and exercise feels good.  I need to make sure I keep a good pair of socks in my SOTA pack though, I had on some fancy winter socks that seem to be more decorative than practical and I was close to getting blisters on my heels from the chafing. 

The next summit may be an easy one, La Sal Benchmark W7U/SJ-032 or if I'm feeling really froggy and can convice Kelli, maybe we'll climb Merrimac Butte W7U/GR-042 and do a first activation there.  Choices, choices.


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