Some exciting news wandered into my inbox this past week concerning a handheld radio driven by the Android operating system. The RFinder H1 is an FM plus DMR radio to be released at the end of this month. Click to enlarge the photo to the left to get a better view. I had proposed a similar concept back in 2012: The Android HT, so this radio immediately grabbed my attention.
Details are still a bit thin on the RFinder H1 (pronounced “Ar Finder H 1”) but this video gives you a glimpse of its operation. The 70cm band radio apparently also supports GSM and 4G/LTE mobile phone formats.
There are a few other YouTube videos available, one of which emphasizes the easy programming of the radio using the RFinder online repeater directory. This makes perfect sense and is a great example of the power of a connected device. This feature would be very handy for programming up FM repeaters on the fly and outstanding for dealing with the complexity of DMR settings.
The RFinder H1 includes DMR capability, something I wasn’t thinking of back in 2012. That also makes perfect sense…embracing the growing amateur radio format that is based on industry standards.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, the ARRL is sponsoring National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) during 2016. Joyce KØJJW and I happened to have a trip planned to visit several of the National Parks, so it was great opportunity to take along some radio gear and operate portable from the parks.
First stop was the Grand Teton National Park (NP23) in Wyoming. I operated from Signal Mountain, which is also a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak. See my previous blog posting: SOTA plus NPOTA on Signal Mountain.
We continued on to Yellowstone NP (NP57), where we saw lots of wildlife: buffalo, elk, deer, bear and antelope. (Click on any of the photos to get a larger image.)
As described in the Signal Mountain post, my portable station was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed halfwave antenna on 20m. I used a SOTABEAMS pole to support the antenna, lashing the pole to whatever posts I found available. It was not too difficult to find a suitable parking spot close to mounting post. I was prepared to operate on other bands but 20m seemed to be the best choice based on current band conditions. I made 48 contacts on 20m ssb in about 30 minutes.
As we headed back home to Colorado, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park (NP48). We entered the park from the west side and crossed over to the east entrance via Trail Ridge Road. Love that drive! But first we stopped on the west side to do another NPOTA activation. Again, 20m phone was the operating mode and I made 33 contacts with stations across the US and Canada.
We took our time leaving the park around dusk so that we could spot some elk. The strategy paid off as we saw more than 20 elk in various locations.
Our top priority was enjoying the parks and viewing wildlife so we did not spend a huge amount of time doing NPOTA activations. Still, we activated three of our favorite National Parks, making 121 QSOs. We also worked in two SOTA activations on the trip as a bonus. All in all, it was a great trip with some fun ham radio activity included.
The SOTA and NPOTA logs have all been submitted (SOTA database and Logbook of The World, respectively.)
Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161) is now my favorite spot in the Grand Teton National Park. The summit is well-marked on the Grand Teton NP map, on the east side of Jackson Lake. It has a paved road to the top and it provides excellent views of Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountains. Oh, and it’s a great location for ham radio.
On this summit, I did a combination Summits On The Air (SOTA) and National Parks On the Air (NPOTA) activation. Well, sort of. It turns out that when I packed for the trip, I included my usual SOTA gear, which is all VHF. For NPOTA, I loaded up my HF DXpedition gear that needs a pretty hefty power source. These means that the HF stuff uses my car battery, so it is not SOTA-compliant. Oh well.
For the SOTA activation, I used the Yaesu FT-1DR and my 3-element Arrow yagi antenna to work a handful of stations on 146.52 MHz. I was a little concerned about finding enough stations listening on 52, but once again a little bit of patience payed off and I made my four QSOs.
Then I set up the NPOTA station to activate Grand Teton National Park (NP23). My equipment was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed half-wave for 20m from LNR Precision. I’ve tried a number of different portable antennas over the years but have found that a half-wave radiator up in the air is a pretty effective antenna. This could be a center-fed dipole antenna but that can be a challenge to support, depending on the physical location.
The end-fed half-waves (EFHW) from LNR Precision are easily supported using a non-conductive pole such as the 10m SOTABEAMS pole. The top two sections of the pole are too thin to support much of antenna, so I have removed them. This makes my pole about 9 meters in length which is still long enough to support a 20m halfwave. (The antenna angles out a bit as shown in the photo but its pretty much vertical.) I attached the pole to a fence post using some hook/loop straps. I don’t fiddle with the length of the antenna, I just let the antenna tuner in the FT-991 trim up the match. This is the same configuration I used in Antigua (V29RW), where it worked great.
The FT-991 is a great little radio for this kind of operation. The SUV we were driving is not set up for HF operation so I just located the radio in the back of the vehicle and plopped down on a folding camp chair. For power, I clipped directly onto the vehicle battery with fused 10 gauge wires.
I started by making a few calls on 20m ssb. As soon as I was “spotted” on the usual web sites, I had a good pileup going. I worked 40 stations in about 40 minutes, so averaged one QSO per minute overall. Thanks to everyone that worked me; all contacts have been uploaded to Logbook of The World.
The Grand Teton National Park has plenty of mountains for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, so I wanted to activate a few of them as we enjoyed the park. I am still recovering from a fractured ankle, so I was definitely looking for an easy-peasy summit to activate on our trip. It turns out there is a summit right at the top of the Jackson Hole Arial Tram that operates during the summer months (W7Y/TT-061). (This tram serves the ski area during the winter.)
The SOTA database shows this summit as unnamed and refers to it by elevation, 10450. The locals may refer to this as Rendezvous Mountain, not to be confused with Rendezvous Peak (W7Y/TT-035). For SOTA purposes its just “10450”.
The bottom of the Arial Tram is accessed in Teton Village and is easy to find. However, don’t confuse the it with Bridger Gondola, which goes to another peak.
Well, this sounds pretty awesome…ride the tram to the top and play ham radio. Now the bad news: the ticket for the tram is $42. It’s an all day pass that gives you access to other lifts and plenty of hiking trails but still it is expensive. OK, slightly better news: if you purchase online you can get the pass for $32. There are senior and other pricing options, so check out the web site for the latest info.
The September weather was overcast and cold at the summit. I opted for a simple VHF activation using my Yaesu FT-1DR and a half-wave vertical antenna. I had my 3-element 2m yagi with me but I didn’t deploy it. I figured that my ability to contact folks on 2m fm would be limited more by who happens to be monitoring…signal strength would not be a major factor.
It was cold at the top and I was glad that I packed my gloves, hat and a decent jacket. I made five contacts by calling on 146.52 MHz. Corbet’s Cabin at the top of the tram offers basic food and drinks and warm place to sit.
The tram ride was quite enjoyable with good views of the Jackson Hole area. However, this may go down in history as my most expensive SOTA activation.
If you want to spark a conversation at your next social event, ask everyone the proper name for this symbol: #. Most North Americans will probably say pound sign or perhaps number sign. It helps to have an international audience, since a person from the UK will likely call it the hash symbol. Lately, the world of Twitter (and other social media) has made extensive use of # to tag keywords, referring to it as the hash mark used to create hashtags. A musician might claim that it is the sharp symbol from musical notation but closer examination reveals that the sharp symbol is quite different.
The AT&T engineers working on the original DTMF system adopted the name Octothorpe for this symbol. There are various explanations and anecdotes that have developed over the years concerning how this happened. Various forms of spelling show up in the literature (octatherp, octothorp, etc.). Doug Kerr’s story is particularly interesting and available on the internet (see below). There are US Patents that use the word “octothorp” to refer to the # symbol. Patent number 3920926 uses “octothorp” for # and “sextile or asterisk” for the * symbol. The term sextile never caught on at all.
For amateur radio usage (North America bias), I hear mostly pound for # and star for *. I suspect that will not change any time soon.
For the 2016 Colorado 14er Event, I chose really easy SOTA summits to activate because I had fractured my ankle earlier in the summer. At this point, I was able to hobble around with a protective boot but walking more than a few hundred feet was difficult. On Saturday, our radio crew (Bob K0NR, Joyce K0JJW, Denny KB9DPF and Kathy KB9GVC) drove up Pikes Peak and took a short stroll away from the vehicle to operate. On Sunday, we decided to activate Monarch Ridge South (W0C/SP-058), using the sight-seeing tram that goes to the top.
Access is right off Monarch Pass (Hwy 50), where there is a large parking lot. There is a trail that goes to the top and we’ll be back to hike that some other time. (Actually, Joyce K0JJW and I already tried to snowshoe to the top in blizzard conditions but that is another story for another day.) The trail is a popular mountain bike route, part of the Continental Divide Trail (CTD). Monarch Pass is oriented north/south and the trail heads off to the east (behind the tram building). At some point, you need to turn left off the main trail to ascend the summit.
But we opted for the tram, boarding it inside this building near the parking lot. We purchased tickets in the nearby gift shop, which is worth a look if you need a map, book, ice cream cone or trinkets. See their website for latest schedule and pricing.
Here’s a photo of the tram going up the side of the mountain. Of course, the views are great and the ride takes about 10 minutes. The tram car holds four people and a reasonable amount of SOTA gear.
At the top, Denny KB9DPF made contacts on 2m FM, aided by expert logger Kathy KB9GVC. The actual summit is about a tenth of a mile to the south but we operated from a concrete pad on the north side. The ridge is flat and we judged the activation area to be very large.
We made a total of 13 contacts on 2m and 70cm, including 5 other SOTA summits (S2S).
I used my Yaesu FT-817 to call on 432.100 MHz SSB, hoping to find someone in the UHF contest that was happening concurrently with the 14er event. I didn’t work anyone on 70cm SSB but I did work K3ILC in Colorado Springs on FM at a distance of ~90 miles. Not too bad. The Arrow antenna is attached to my hiking stick via the camera mount thread.
There is a substantial radio site on Monarch Ridge that did provide some RF interference to us on 2 meters. The 70 cm band seemed to be unaffected but I can’t be sure. The “bad boy” transmitter is the KMYP automated weather station (AWOS) transmitting continuously on 124.175 MHz. Well, at least we could receive current weather information. We did relocate to put some distance between us and the transmitters but my lack of mobility kept us from going very far.
If you are looking for an easy access SOTA summit near Monarch Pass with excellent views, this is it. The hike up should not be very difficult but the tram makes it even easier. If you plan to operate 2 meters, expect some interference. Next time, I’ll try locating even further away from the transmitter site. I might even bring along some bandpass filters. Other SOTA enthusiasts have reported no problems on the HF bands.
At the time of this post, there are plans to put a 2m amateur repeater at this site on 145.325 MHz.
Anyone with a VHF or UHF handheld transceiver (HT) probably uses the standard “rubber duck” antenna for casual use. I often refer to the rubber duck as The World’s Most Convenient Crappy Antenna. To be fair, all antennas are a compromise…the rubber duck optimizes small size and convenience at the expense of performance. The Wikipedia entry describes the rubber duck antenna as “an electrically short monopole antenna…[that] consists of a springy wire in the shape of a narrow helix, sealed in a rubber or plastic jacket to protect the antenna.“
Being curious about what really is hiding inside the typical rubber duck antenna, I decided to take a few of them apart. I did not try to assess the performance of the antennas but just examine their construction.
Baofeng UV-5R Stock Antenna
I started by dissecting a Baofeng UV-5R antenna, which took some aggressive action with a diagonal wire cutters to split the rubberized jacket near the bottom. After that, the jacket slid off to reveal the classic spiral antenna element inside. You can see some white adhesive near the top of the spiral element (upper right in the photo).
The Baofeng antenna had a female SMA connector.
Note: You can access high resolution versions of the photos in this article by clicking on them, allowing you to see lots of detail.
Yaesu FT-1DR Stock Antenna
The Yaesu antenna was easy to disassemble. In fact, I chose this antenna because I noticed that the outside jacket had come loose and was starting to slide off the antenna. A steady pull on the cover exposed the antenna elements without any further antenna abuse. (I plan to reinstall the cover with a few dabs of glue and expect that it will continue to work fine.)
The construction of this antenna is quite different from the Baofeng. The main element is a very tightly-wound spring…so tight that I expect that it acts like a solid wire electrically. In other words, it doesn’t have the spiral configuration that makes the antenna act longer electrically. At the bottom of the antenna, there is a coil inserted in series with the radiating element (connects radiating element with the center pin of the SMA connector).
The photo to the right shows a closeup view of the male SMA connector and the coil.
Laird VHF Antenna
Next, I wondered if antennas for commercial radios used different design or construction techniques. Laird makes high-quality antennas for the mobile radio and other commercial markets, so I purchased one of their VHF rubber duck antennas to dissect. This model is intended for use with Motorola radios requiring a threaded antenna stud.
This antenna was a challenge to cut open. I used a sharp knife and diagonal pliers to cut the rubberized jacket and peeled it back using a needle-nose pliers. The rubberized coating was embedded into the spiral antenna element, so it did not come apart easily. It took over an hour fighting with the antenna and I gave up before getting the entire spiral element exposed.
The Laird antenna is clearly the sturdiest of the three antennas. The spiral element is much thicker than the Baofeng and the rubberized coating is tougher and molded tightly into the spiral element.
The Baofeng and Laird antennas use the same design concept…just take a spiral antenna element and apply a protective cover. However, the Laird construction was far superior, but not a surprise given that Baofeng is a low-cost provider in the ham radio (consumer) market.
My disappointment is with the Yaesu antenna. The antenna came apart after one year of not very heavy use. I expect I can put it back together with some adhesive, improving on the design in the process.
Anyway, I found this interesting and wanted to share it with you. What’s in your rubber duck?
On June 21st, I worked Steve K7PX on Mount Garfield (W0C/FR-040) using 2m fm to push me over 1000 points to quality for the SOTA Shack Sloth Award using only VHF. This is my first significant SOTA award, which I have been working towards for several years now. I decided to pursue Shack Sloth using only the VHF bands, which is much more difficult than using HF. Why did I choose that? Something about mountains, Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) and VHF radio has always intrigued me.
Here’s the line up of my top chased summits, with Mt Herman and Pikes Peak taking the clear lead. Mt Herman is The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado and it is in my backyard. Most of those contacts were with Steve WGØAT and Frank KØJQZ. Thanks, guys! Pikes Peak is also a clear VHF shot from my house and many SOTA activators and tourists like to activate that summit. No surprise, the rest of the summits are various peaks in Colorado, worked from my house or from our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. Quite a few of these are Summit-to-Summit contacts made when activating peaks, often during the Colorado 14er Event.
Most of my thousand points were contacts made using plain old 2m fm, The Utility Mode. A few contacts were made on 2m ssb along with some 70 cm fm and ssb contacts. I have been encouraging folks to try 2m ssb for huge improvements in weak-signal performance but the universal nature of 2m fm seems to be winning out.
My next goal is Mountain Goat with VHF only. I’ll need to activate a lot of summits to get that done, so it will take me a while. It’s always good to have something to work towards.
There were rumors circulating that Yaesu would introduce a replacement for the FT-817ND, but that turned out to not be true. It is a good rumor because the original FT-817 was introduced way back in 2001 (according to Wikipedia). Also, Chris Wilson NØCSW was actively soliciting inputs for an 817 replacement at the Central States VHF Conference last summer.
A while back, I did a comparison of the FT-817 and the KX3 (big brother to the KX2). I evaluated the two radios from a VHF/UHF point of view. The FT-817 is the only portable single-radio solution for 50 MHz, 144 MHz and 432 MHz. The KX3 includes 50 MHz standard and 144 MHz is an option. The KX2 leaves out the VHF bands completely to achieve a smaller size.
What’s Next for the FT-817?
Its always fun to speculate on what might be coming in new gear. I expect Yaesu will maintain its position as the QRP transceiver that covers HF/VHF/UHF. It has a long history of delivering cost-effective “do everything” radios. We can look to recent product introductions from Yaesu to get a hint of what might be coming.
The FT-2DR, FT-400DR and FT-991 have all adopted larger touch-screen displays so we can probably expect that for the 817 replacement. However, this will challenge the existing form factor…you can’t just drop a larger display into the existing 817 design. The three newer radios include the System Fusion C4FM digital mode…at this point, I don’t think Yaesu would introduce a VHF/UHF radio without it.
Which raises another question: will the new radio also include a GPS receiver? This capability is a good complement to the C4FM mode in a portable radio. The FT-991 requires you to enter your location manually, which the FT-2DR and FT-400DR use a built-in GPS. But it adds circuitry and complexity so I am going to guess they will leave that out.
I am expecting (hoping?) Yaesu will improve the battery life of the transceiver. (Receive standby current is spec’d at 450 mA.) Even if they don’t improve the current drain, newer battery technology could be used to improve operating time. Also, depending on the form factor changes, it may be wise to dedicate more space for a physically larger battery.
Yaesu will probably improve the overall receiver performance, including advanced DSP features. Many 817 users have complained about the lack of coverage of 162 MHz weather radio in the US. On the transmit side, a little more output power would be nice…maybe match the KX3’s 10 watts on HF. Yaesu could really make the VHF crowd happy (in the US) if they included the 222 MHz band.
Take One Tablet
The radio will surely have a computer I/O port with USB being the most flexible choice. There is an opportunity to innovate a bit here by coupling the radio with Android and iOS tablets. I could see a really nice app that handles logging, CW, PSK31, RTTY, bandscope, and other advanced features. This could take the pressure off having a larger display and loading tons of features into the radio. The most convenient I/O would be wireless, most likely Bluetooth or maybe WiFi. Many of the SOTA and QRP operators already take along a smartphone or tablet for logging and other tasks, so it would be a good fit to that market. The key to this idea is careful human factors design and tight integration with the radio. Do I expect this from Yaesu? Not really. So surprise me and knock my socks off.
It has been a while since I’ve done one of these Internet Spewing posts, so I’ve got some catching up to do.
Twitter is heating up with rumors and reports of new ham gear to be introduced at the Dayton Hamvention. Elecraft is introducing the KX2 QRP HF transceiver. I know this one is real because Steve WGØAT got a chance to try out a unit, shown here in this video. Also, see the short review by Frank KØJQZ.
VA3XPR broke the news about a VHF/UHF radio that does DMR, D-STAR and C4FM digital modes. This was followed by the announcement of another radio, the DV4mobile, that will handle DMR, D-STAR, C4FM, P25 and some other modes. This is exciting stuff but we’ve been here before and nothing materialized. It is definitely achievable…the technology exists. Someone just has to do the work of creating a product. I hope they do it.
The FCC is thinking about making amateur radio licenses last for a lifetime. See the KB6NU blog and comments on the topic.
The ARRL announced that the August UHF Contest is cancelled, thereby ticking off the hams that like to work that contest. It seems they also ticked off the many hams that have been contemplating participating in the contest for the last decade but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
Not cancelled but expanded is the Colorado 14er Event, which will go the whole weekend (August 6-7). Check out the ham14er web site for the latest info. Its our 25th year and its going to be fun!
Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun during the 25th annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. This year the event is expanded to include the entire weekend, August 6 & 7. However, many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.
The 14er event includes Summits On the Air (SOTA) peaks, which add over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide range of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org
Frequencies used during the event Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz.
Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps
40m CW Frequency
Alternate 2m FM frequency
40m SSB Frequency
Alternate 2m FM frequency
30m CW Frequency
Alternate 2m FM frequency
20m CW Frequency
Primary 70 cm FM frequency
20m SSB Frequency
Alternate 70 cm FM frequency
17m CW Frequency
2m SSB calling frequency
17m SSB Frequency
6m SSB calling frequency
15m CW Frequency
15m SSB Frequency
Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply.
10m CW Frequency
10m SSB Frequency
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
Economists see scarcity, supply and demand as fundamental forces in a market. Items that are scarce demand a higher price while items that are easy to obtain tend to have a lower price. A diamond is an example of something that is relatively scarce (and in demand) so it commands a high price. In contrast, wood is generally available and is much less expensive than diamonds.
Then there’s the concept of artificial scarcity. If some items can be made scarce (or even just appear scarce), the price will tend to increase. For example, if I own all of the banana trees on an isolated island, I could reduce the available supply of bananas and command a higher price from all of the banana eaters there. Or maybe I start screening bananas for quality and I put a special sticker on them to brand them as special.
We have a case of artificial scarcity in ham radio, called the DXCC list. This list defines what is considered a separate country when chasing DX. (Actually, the correct term is entity, not country.) For example, Hawaii (KH6) and Alaska (KL7) are considered separate entities even though they are part of the United States. (See Is Alaska a Country?) For someone chasing DXCC entities, because Alaska is on The List, a radio contact with Alaska becomes more desirable. It’s kind of like putting a “premium sticker” on a banana to indicate that it is special.
In my imagination, the DXCC list resulted from a bunch of hams sitting around drinking beer and bragging about how many countries they had worked. One guy, Larry says he just worked Hawaii, bringing his total to 125 countries. His buddy Leroy says, “You can’t count Hawaii because it’s part of the US of A.” To which Larry says, “You bet I can count Hawaii…and Texas too. It’s a whole ‘nuther country.” Clearly, we are going to need an official list to keep track of what counts as a country. A more credible version of how the list got established is captured in this article from the October 1935 QST.
Of course, the two main factors that drive scarcity of DXCC entities is the ham radio population and ease of access. Radio contacts are easy to make with entities that have an active ham population. If an entity doesn’t have many active hams but is easy to get to, someone will probably put that location on the air once in a while. On the other hand, some locations are unpopulated and really difficult to get to. These are not only on The List, they are on The Most Wanted List.
Kingman Reef (KH5) was just deleted from The List, instantly changing it from one of the most desired contacts in amateur radio to a big giant Why Bother. You see, there used to be 340 countries on the list but now there’s only 339. Kingman Reef will now be considered part of Palmyra/Jarvis, so it still has value for DXCC, just a lot less.
As I write this article, there is a major DXpedition (VKØEK) operating from Heard Island, an unpopulated island near Antartica. The only reason those guys are there is that Heard Island is on The List. Take a look at their web site and you’ll see how much time and energy has gone into activating this lonely island. Drop it from the list and suddenly a radio contact with this location is a lot less in demand.
So try to keep this all in perspective. There are lots of radio contacts out there to be made, some more interesting and desirable than others. It is appropriate and necessary that we have the DXCC list, to provide consistency in how we count countries, I mean entities. But really, it all traces back to Larry and Leroy arguing about who worked the most countries.
Thanks to the dedicated DXpeditioners that put these rare locations on the air.
A common topic in the QRP community is the Trail Friendly Radio (TFR) concept for backpack-style operating on the high-frequency bands. I’ve adapted the concept for the VHF/UHF bands, calling it the VHF Trail Friendly Radio (VTFR).
Strong candidates for the best VTFR include the Elecraft KX3 (with 2m option) and the Yaesu FT-817. Heck, both of these radios deliver all of the HF bands, 6m and 2m in one portable package. (The FT-817 also has 70cm.) See my blog post that compares the two rigs.
But the other set of strong contenders for the best VTFR is one of the many dualband HTs available on the market. It is hard to beat the compact, portable attributes of these great little radios for casual use on the trail. I’m not going to review them all but instead talk about my current favorite: the Yaesu FT-1DR. (Yaesu has recently replaced the FT-1DR with the newer model FT1XDR, which is the same design but withan improved GPS receiver and larger battery pack.)
My main usage of the radio is when hiking and doing Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations. This radio has a lot to offer in terms of capability and features, but the main things that stand out are 2m/70cm band coverage, two independent receivers and built-in GPS/APRS capability. Most SOTA VHF operating is on 2m fm so that band is critical, but I also make contacts on 70cm. More important is that together 2m and 70cm covers that vast majority of fm repeaters in my state, providing the best backcountry repeater coverage. The built-in APRS features allow the HT to be an effective tracking device as I move down the trail. SOTA chasers can see my position in real-time and anticipate when I’ll be on the summit. The radio has two separate receivers which turns out to be very useful when on the trail. With two receivers, I can monitor 146.52 MHz (2m fm calling frequency, often used for SOTA) while also keeping an ear on a local 2m or 70cm repeater. Another configuration is using one side of the radio to ping my location via APRS while the other side monitors 146.52 MHz.
The extended receive capability of the radio opens up lots of listening options: AM broadcast, FM broadcast, airband, shortwave and NOAA weather radio. I don’t use these very often but there are times that I want to tune to weather or news.
I am not a huge fan of Yaesu’s C4FM digital mode but do use it on occasion. The DN (digital narrow) mode supports voice and position information simultaneously, so Joyce KØJJW and have been using it to keep track of each other on the trail. The radio provides a basic indication of distance and direction to another C4FM radio.
Today, Joyce KØJJW and I activated Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). We’ve been on the summit before, including the first ever SOTA activation back in September of 2012. This summit is close to our cabin, so it made for a convenient hike. The mountain is not that difficult of a climb but we encountered quite a bit of snow in March, up to three feet in places, which we tromped across with snowshoes.
My blog posting about the next mountain to the south, Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), outlines a good way to access both summits during the summer. However, a seasonal gate closure (December to April) means we needed to find a different route. We approached the mountain from the north, parking our vehicle on Castle Court (a short side road off of Kaufman Road). We quickly crossed what appears to be private property (empty lot, no signs) to get to the US Forest Service boundary. Once we hopped the fence we were on public lands. We intentionally routed to the east to avoid some houses.
I don’t claim that this route is optimal. We had to break a lot of trail, pushing through the snow. We found a section of trail that had recent snowshoe traffic on it but it wasn’t of much use to us heading to the summit. We followed numerous game trails which appeared and disappeared on the side of the mountain. Mostly, we busted through the snow on our own. Surprisingly, the last quarter mile to the summit had little snow, so we removed our snowshoes at that point and just hiked in boots.
My Yaesu FT-1DR has become my favorite rig for SOTA activations. It covers both 2m and 70cm with dual-receiver capability. it has a built-in GPS receiver and APRS capability that facilitates easy APRS tracking. Joyce and I have a pair of these which we’ve been using to track each other’s positions on the few occasions we get separated on the trail.
After we made the summit, I made a few contacts on 146.52 MHz. Thanks to Jim KDØMRC, Dave KØHTX, Carl K5UK and Candy KEØDMT for giving me my four required SOTA contacts.
The weather turned out to be better than predicted…partly cloudy and temps around 50 degrees F. On the way back down, we retraced our ascent path so we had more of a snowshoe trail to follow. I have to admit that this trip was a good lesson in how off-trail snowshoeing can really be a challenge. This was many times more difficult than a summer trail hike of equal length and elevation gain. Trip stats: 2.6 total miles, 1300 vertical feet.
Recently, I had another opportunity to take ham radio along on vacation to a Caribbean island, this time to Antigua. This was not a super-gonzo turbo-charged DXpedition. I just worked in some radio action in between snorkeling and beach walking. This is referred to as a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.
The radio gear needed to fit easily into my luggage. After all, we’ve got snorkel gear to take along. I wanted to put out a healthy signal from the island, so I rejected the idea of running QRP, opting instead for a 100W transmitter. Ultimately, I chose to take a Yaesu FT-991 which is full-power and full-featured but still relatively compact. It easily fit into my carry-on bag along with some other items. Having a built-in antenna tuner was a real plus and it was also good to have the 2m and 70 cm bands.
Choosing an antenna was a critical item. My first thought was to take my Buddistick antenna which covers the HF bands I was interested in working: 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m. I used that antenna from the Virgin Islands and it was really handy for taking to the beach. This time I wanted something bigger under the theory that size does matter. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to take full size yagis for each of the bands. I finally settled in on using End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antennas for the 4 bands (from LNR Precision). This gave me a simple half-wave antenna on each band with no coils, no traps, nothing funny going on. These antennas radiate well and have decent bandwidth…any SWR degradation can be tweaked up quickly using the FT-991 antenna tuner.
Steve WGØAT suggested I use the SOTABEAMS 30-foot mast to support the EFHW antennas. It is an incredible mast that collapses to 26.5 inches, small enough to fit into my bag. This antenna set up is common with the SOTA activators: EFHW supported by some kind of lightweight pole. I also tossed in a 19-inch magmount antenna for 2m and 70cm. (I did find a good repeater on on 147.0 MHz but did not spend much time on it.)
Rounding out the kit was an Astron switching power supply, a 25-foot length of RG-8X coaxial cable, a Heil Traveler headset and a few patch cords. I found it tempting to keep throwing more stuff in the bag so I adopted the backpacker mentality of taking just what I needed and not much more. For computer logging, I chose N1MM Plus software, with the log type set to “DX”.
I have to confess that I did manage to break the 30-foot mast early in the trip. The house was on a hill and we always had a strong breeze coming through. One day it flexed the mast enough to break it. This was quickly repaired with duct tape. After that, I did not use the 3 top sections of the mast which reduced the amount of sway in the wind (and stress on the mast).
On The Air
My operating time was a bit sporadic and my operating strategy was simple: work the highest band (of 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m) that had some decent propagation to somewhere. Antigua is not extremely rare but it seemed to attract attention. Typically, I called CQ, worked a few stations and then a big pileup would develop. I made lots of QSOs with stations in North America, South America and Europe. I also made a few contacts into Africa but none with Asia. Signal reports were generally good (S9 +), so the antennas were doing the job.
All in all, I was pleased with the contacts I made, given the slacker effort. I especially enjoyed working 17m, a band I have not spent that much time on. The propagation is similar to 20m but noticeably less jammed with signals.
Band QSOs DXCC
14 309 36
18 162 13
21 21 10
28 91 6
Total 583 65
QSLs for V29RW should be sent to my home callsign: KØNR (direct or via the bureau). Logbook of the World contacts have already been confirmed. Instant gratification, baby!
73, Bob KØNR, V29RW
Licensing info: It was relatively easy to get a ham radio license in Antigua, based on my US license (fees were $30 US). See this web page.
16 Mar 2016: V29RW QSLs have been sent out via US mail based on cards received
It’s been a while since I’ve done a January VHF contest from a mountaintop so I decided to give it a try from Mount Herman this year. The ARRL recently changed the contest rules to allow the use of the national 2m fm calling frequency for contests. See Coming Soon: 146.52 MHz in ARRL VHF Contests. I wanted to see how this change would play out in practice when doing a combination VHF Contest plus SOTA activation. In previous attempts, I had to vector the SOTA activity to another 2m fm frequency for it to be a legal contact for the contest. The SOTA + Contest operation is attractive because it has all the elements of a fun SOTA hike coupled with the increased activity of a VHF contest. The contest brings out the weak-signal folks with very capable stations, increasing the probability of making some good DX contacts.
Joyce KØJJW and I hit the trail at 10:30 AM local with the goal of being at the summit around noon (1900 UTC) for the start of the ARRL contest. The trail was icy, but manageable with the gripping devices on our boots. The weather was chilly but not bad for January. At the summit, I configured my FT-60 handheld radio for 146.52 MHz using a 2m half-wave vertical. My first call netted a QSO with Tim, KAØMWA in Castle Rock. I worked a few other stations on 2m fm and then set up the 2m ssb station (FT-817 plus Arrow II antenna). On 144.200 MHz SSB, I contacted two Wyoming stations in grid DN71, about 140 miles away. I also gave a call on 446.0 MHz fm and worked W3DHJ and KE0HBW mobile.
Freq Mode UTC Call Grid
146.52 FM 1900 KA0MWA DM79
146.52 FM 1902 N0AXK DM79
146.52 FM 1905 N0LP DM79
146.52 FM 1905 K0GPA DM79
146.52 FM 1905 WG0AT DM79
146.52 FM 1920 N0ISB DM78
146.52 FM 1923 N0LEA DN70
144.2 SSB 1932 WY7KY DN71
144.2 SSB 1935 K0ALE DM79
144.2 SSB 1938 AB0YM/R DM79
144.2 SSB 1939 KG0RP DN70
144.2 SSB 1940 WA7KYM DN71
144.2 SSB 1942 KC4YLV DM79
446.0 FM 1948 W3DHJ DM78
144.2 SSB 1949 WE7L DM79
144.2 SSB 1951 N0SP DM79
446.0 FM 2000 KE0HBW DM79
The wind was strong at the summit and kept blowing everything around, making it difficult to operate the radio and manage the antennas. After an hour of operating, I decided to QRT and head on down. I know I missed a bunch of potential contacts, especially having not gotten on 70 cm and 6m ssb.
Except for the short operating time, the operation played out as expected. I was able to work the SOTA folks and 2m fm enthusiasts on 146.52 MHz. I made it a point to not hog the calling frequency, as there are quite a few folks that monitor there. Switching over to 2m ssb, I worked the contest crowd, typically with more capable vhf stations. My score is a whopping 114 points, in the single-op portable category.
Thanks to everyone that got on the air to play radio that day!
Summits On The Air (SOTA) operating events are a great way to promote activity and create opportunities for summit-to-summit radio contacts. Here’s the 2016 calendar, an update of the 2015 list suggested by Guy N7UN. Many of these dates are aligned with VHF events but there will be HF activity as well.
Of course, any day is a good day for SOTA activity. The August 6-7 weekend looks to be the alignment of the planets with four events happening around that weekend. Early August usually offers excellent conditions for hiking the highest peaks in Colorado, so come on out and play.