Some things in life are very special and others, very ordinary. The difference, I suppose, is dependent on the individual. I recently had an experience that, to me, was very special and, of course, it is the subject of this post. As I write this April of 2018, I have summited more than 265 mountains, hills and mesas as I enjoy the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. For the uninitiated, SOTA is an award program for amateur radio operators who get points for making radio contacts from qualifying summits. Some summits are tougher than others, some higher than others but a few are very special. One such special summit for me is the narrow mesa in northern New Mexico called Cerro Pedernal. In English, the words mean "hill of flint".
The Pedernal, as it is commonly known, was made famous by the American artist Georgia O'Keefe, O'Keefe is quoted as saying, "It's my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it." O'Keefe not only painted the mountain itself but incorporated its image in many other paintings. Moving to New Mexico permanently in 1949, O'Keefe painted the surrounding area in a prolific way, capturing the area in art as no-one has before or since. Upon her death, at the age of 98, O'Keefe's ashes were spread on the summit of the Pedernal.
Painted by Georgia O'Keefe 1942
In SOTA speak, the reference for Pedernal is W5N/SE-018. A nondescript reference to a magnificent natural monument that doesn't do justice to the mountain it refers to. The Pedernal is much more than a number or a name. I had pondered climbing the Pedernal for a couple of years. One of my SOTA climbing buddies, Fred, KT5X, a full time resident of New Mexico, had climbed it a couple of times and had volunteered to show me the way. However, it seemed to never become a priority as we opted for easier climbs. Then an award was created by New Mexico SOTA aficionados called the Iconic Peaks of New Mexico award (check out WS0TA on QRZ.com for the list and rules). The requirement for a non-resident is to climb 5 of the 10 Iconic Peaks. I had done 4, The Pedernal would be the 5th and qualify me for Award #1 for the non-resident Iconic Peaks award. Not that I'm competitive but, with an award at stake, climbing the Pedernal became a priority.
Ascending the Pedernal is no cake walk. The summit tops out at 9,866 feet above sea level and dominates the horizon. Protected by cliffs, the summit is very narrow ranging from 10 ft - 20 ft wide and the slopes leading to the final, rocky ascent, are very steep. There is, however, a weakness on the back side of the mesa that allows those, willing to do a little rock climbing, access to the summit. Negotiating the rock face is the key to a successful climb.
|The Near Vertical Climb
The actual route is up the left side
As we stood in front of the rock face standing between us and the summit, there was a bit of trepidation. I'd climbed faces more difficult than this in the past, albeit more than 30 years ago. After a few minutes of analyzing the route and some coaching on the best hand holds from Fred, I ascended the face successfully. The difficult part was over, but a steep climb up a narrow trail remained and close attention must be paid to ensure a totally safe ascent.
After some arduous climbing into the thinning air, we were on top. Summiting the Pedernal was an awe inspiring, almost spiritual experience. I've climbed dozens of mountains that are taller, much taller, but none of those climbs could match the experience of climbing this peak. I've stared at this iconic landmark for years, imagining what it must be like to be on top and now, here I was. For the first time in my SOTA activation history, I put the pack down and instead of grabbing the radio to set up, I picked up the camera to capture the moment. Fred and I spent 10 - 15 minutes just soaking it in.
|AD5A and KT5X on the summit of the Pedernal
We did finally put the cameras down and pick up our radios to set up on the summit. Too bad those calling us couldn't see what we saw as we made the QSO's, 31 of them with AD5A and 40 for WS0TA ( aka, KT5X), which is a good day on any summit, but especially gratifying from the top of this iconic narrow mesa.
|AD5A on top of the Pedernal
|View from the top
The trip down was uneventful, although I was a bit concerned about descending the rock face, getting down it was relatively easy. The hike back to the truck was very satisfying and I caught myself numerous times turning around to catch a glimpse of the summit from which I had just descended. Awesome.