This happened the other day on Twitter.
73, Bob K0NR
Amateur (ham) radio, VHF/UHF, QRP, mountaintop operating and technical stuff
This happened the other day on Twitter.
73, Bob K0NR
Here’s the SOTA activator scores for Colorado (W0C). I have to admit that I like checking this to see how everyone is doing. Some of it is friendly competition but mostly its enjoying the accomplishments of my fellow SOTA enthusiasts.
We’ve got 10 “Mountain Goats” in Colorado now, with 1000 or more points. Carey, KX0R just never stops activating. It seems like he is out there on a summit every day. My friend Brad WA6MM just made “Mountain Goat,” by activating only Colorado summits, never repeating any, with many difficult climbs. Note that his average points per expedition is 8.65, higher than any of the other MGs. (W0CCA comes close at 8.21) Congratulations, Brad!
It looks like K7PX and KD0YOB are next in line for Mountain Goat, while I am still a ways back. My hiking partner Joyce/K0JJW is coming on strong, having accumulated 200 points. I just cleared “half a Mountain Goat” at 500 points, so I requested a certificate for that accomplishment. At my current rate of progress, I am about 2 years away from Mountain Goat. I keep telling myself to be patient, keep at it and (most of all) enjoy the journey.
73, Bob K0NR
For years now, I’ve been doing Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations using VHF and higher frequencies. The GO TO band/mode for VHF SOTA is 2-meter FM because of its overall popularity. Just about everyone has a 2m FM radio (well, almost everyone). Still, if you are on a remote peak you may not find anyone within range to work. Because of this, it really helps to optimize the performance of your portable VHF station.
I’ve already written that the first step is to upgrade the rubber duck antenna to something that actually radiates. My measurements indicate that a half-wave antenna performs 8 to 10 dB better than your typical rubber duck. That’s a big difference. I tend to favor the collapsible half-wave antennas because they are compact and don’t require any support. Another option is the J-pole or Slim Jim antennas, typically build out of twin lead or ladder line.
The next step up is to use a small yagi antenna, such as the 3-element Arrow antenna. Although Arrow does not specific the gain of this antenna, it has been measured at the Central States VHF Society conference as having ~6 dBd of gain. I’ve been on the lookout for a higher gain antenna but I have not found one that has significantly more gain while still being backpack portable.
Frequency Modulation performs very badly when signals are weak. The well-known threshold effect means as the signal level decreases at the receiver it simply crashes into the noise. Linear modes such as CW and SSB work much better when signals are weak, which is why they are popular with the serious VHF crowd. I’ve used my Yaesu FT-817 to make SOTA contacts on both 2m and 70cm SSB and CW. My all time best distance on 2m during a SOTA activation was 229 miles, a QSO with N7KA from Capulin Mountain using CW. However, the problem with SSB/CW is that there are much fewer radio amateurs that operate that mode. I estimate that on a typical day, there are 10 to 100 times more hams on 2m FM than are on 2m SSB/CW.
I’ve noticed that I sometimes hear stations on 2m FM but they cannot hear me. Further investigation revealed that they were typically running more power than me. I had my little HT putting out 5W and they were running a 50W mobile. That got me thinking about whether I could increase my power while still having a backpack-compatible station. SOTA operation is typically QRP, around 5 or 10 W of power. However, SOTA does not specifically state a required power level…it’s really driven by the need to operate backpack portable. Hence, there are very few 1 KW amplifiers in use on SOTA summits.
Some of the Chinese manufacturers now offer compact dualband (and even quadband) VHF/UHF transceivers that output 10 to 30 watts of RF power. I purchased the Tytera TH-8600 based on my experience with other Tytera products. The radio’s specified output power is 25 watts on 2 meters. The DC power current is rated as 0.2 A on receiver and 4A on transmit, not too bad for battery operation. I paired it with a 13.2V LiFe battery rated at 4300 mAH. In theory, that would provide over an hour of transmit time or 21 hours of receive. That should be plenty for the typical SOTA activation. The size is a slightly larger than 4″ W x 1.5″ H x 5″ D and it weighs about 2 pounds. All in all, this setup is very compatible with the typical backpack portable operation.
Let’s do a little math to understand the difference in transmit signal. The TH-8600 puts out 25W compared to the 5W from FT-60. The difference in dB is 10 log (25/5) = 7 dB. Someone said to me “hey, that’s only a little more than one S unit, which is normally defined as 6 dB. Is that really enough to make a difference?” To which I responded, “yes, 7 dB can make the difference between making the radio contact or not…when signals are near the noise floor of the receiver.” For strong signals, it just doesn’t matter.
I’ve used this configuration on three SOTA activations and I like the results. On two of the activations, I compared the TH-8600 (25W) to the Yaesu FT-60 (5W) that my hiking partner (Joyce/K0JJW) was using. Both radios were connected to 1/2-wave vertical antennas, operating on 2m FM. The radios performed the same on receive, as expected. But the weaker stations we were working had trouble hearing the FT-60. Again, if signals were strong, it didn’t matter but the extra power made the difference when near the noise floor.
I checked out the basic performance of the radio on my test bench and found it to be adequate. The transmit frequency was spot on, the harmonics and spurious on 2m were about 60 dB below the carrier. The receiver sensitivity was about 0.2 microvolts. The RF output power was low, 22.4 W on 2m and 17.7W on 70cm (compared to the specs at 25W and 20W).
I was hoping the receiver performance would be better with regards to rejecting adjacent channel signals and intermodulation. I don’t have a good test bench for that but I can tell you that I noticed some unwanted interference from transmitters that were not close to my location.
So let’s summarize the dB situation by comparing all of the potential improvements to the standard handheld transceiver (HT) with a rubber duck antenna. Note that the yagi gain is specified as dB relative to a 1/2-wave dipole, which has roughly the same performance as a 1/2-wave vertical.
5W HT with standard rubber duck antenna 0 dB 5W HT with 1/2-wave antenna +8 dB 3-element Yagi antenna (Arrow or similar) +6 dB 25W transceiver (vs 5W output) +7 dB Total improvement (25W with yagi vs HT/duck) +21 dB
Wow, I can improve my signal strength by over 20 dB by making these improvements! I should point out that the antenna improvements help on both transmit and receive, while the increased transmit power only improves your stations transmitted signal.
My conclusion is that this type of mini-transceiver can be a good way to go for 2m FM SOTA without adding too much of a load in my pack. I expect that I’ll still do some HT-only activations but the higher power option is very useful on remote peaks.
73, Bob K0NR
Added 2 Nov 2017: Some folks have found my table of dB calculations to be confusing, so here’s some more info. I arbitrarily started with the 5W HT and rubber duck at 0 dB. My measurements in the past showed that a 1/2-wave vertical is 8 to 10 dB better than a rubber duck. I decided to use the 8 dB number…it is not a precise measurement anyway and will vary with the specific duck antenna. So that means that the 1/2-wave vertical is +8 dB relative to the rubber duck. The yagi gain is about 6 dB relative to a dipole (6 dBd). The standard dipole is a 1/2-wave radiator and performs roughly the same as the 1/2-wave vertical, so we’ll consider them equivalent. That is, the yagi is 6 dB better than the 1/2-wave vertical. Finally, the 25W power vs 5W power adds in 7 dB. Add them all together and you get 0 + 8 + 6 + 7 = 21 dB.
I’ve written before about how operating goals can be a good motivator for getting on the air and making ham radio contacts. It is fun to have a goal to work towards and keep checking items off on the list. A few years ago, I decided to apply this approach to Summits On The Air (SOTA). SOTA is ripe for this kind of thing, given its extensive database and tracking of QSOs.
Our family has a cabin in the mountains that we use to hike, jeep, ski, snowshore, explore, escape … So I decided to make a list of the SOTA summits in the general vicinity of the cabin. I did not use a precise criteria, just listing the summits that seemed close by. I used the Lists Of John web site as a tracking tool. That site is used by hikers/climbers to track their ascents, often working on their own list of summits based on whatever criteria that interests them.
This list turned out to have 26 summits on it and I completed the last one a few months back, which was an unnamed peak (W0C/SP-055). Fifteen of these were the first activations of those summits. Some of these have still not been activated by anyone else (except for Joyce K0JJW, who usually hikes with me).
Now that I have completed that list, I obviously need to create a new one. With all of the SOTA summits available in Colorado, I won’t run out of options any time soon.
73, Bob K0NR
The Tytera MD-380 is a low cost radio for analog FM and DMR on the 70cm band (see video here). One of the limitations with the radio is that it only holds 1000 contacts…which seems like a lot of contacts but it fills up quickly. With DMR, each radio or user has a unique 7-digit radio ID number. For ham radio use, the DMR-MARC organization maintains a database that maps radio ID number to user name and callsign. If a user is in your contact list, the user’s name and callsign pops up in your radio’s display. Otherwise, you just see the radio ID which is not very helpful. There are over 63,000 users in the database with more being added on a daily basis.
There are a number of firmware updates to the MD380 and I have not checked them all out. I heard some guys talking about the TyMD380Toolz on one of the DMR talkgroups, so I decided to give it a try. This software was developed by KG5RKI (go here) and is easily installed from Windows without a lot of messing around. This firmware upgrade loads the entire DMR-MARC database into the radio.
Now that I have the worldwide database of DMR users loaded onto the radio, its like having caller ID on my HT (see photo below). Actually, its better than that, it pulls up the other ham’s full name, callsign and location information.
This may not seem like a big deal but I’ve found it to be surprisingly useful. I am often scanning a few channels or talkgroups with my radio and just listening casually. I may not be tracking who’s talking but I can just look at the radio to see who’s on the air. It’s one of those convenience features that makes me think “why don’t all of my radios do this?”
The TyMD380Toolz implements a bunch of other features but increasing the number of contacts has been the most important one for me. This is a great example of radio amateurs adapting (“hacking”) commercial gear with improvements for ham radio use. KK4VCZ, DL4YHF and others contributed to this code. Check out the software…seems to work great.
73, Bob K0NR
Editor note: I’ve seen this software referred to as both TyMD380Tools and TyMD380Toolz. My HT says TyMD380Toolz, so I’ve used that spelling in this post.
From the Why Do They Do That Department, Jeff/VA2SS shared this article on the origin of the radio term “Roger That.” See The story of why pilots say “Roger that”
This reminds me of the classic scene from the movie Airplane, with the flight crew named Roger, Victor and Clarence.
I recently came across the Wikipedia web page on Etymology of Ham Radio, which explains the origin of the term “ham radio.” Etymology: the origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning. About the same time, Dan/KB6NU wrote about the use of the term “ham radio”: HAM? HAM radio? ham radio? Amateur Radio? amateur radio! I have to admit that I do get annoyed by people that write “HAM” in all caps. What the heck is that?
The ARRL recently published a series of six posters promoting the value of amateur radio. I’m not quite sure where to deploy these but I do like them.
I was checking on electrical voltages and plugs in various countries and came across this site: Power Plugs and Sockets of the World Very handy and easy to use.
Twitter was abuzz with news about a new VHF/UHF transceiver from ICOM: the IC-9700. This is the first new radio in a long while aimed at VHF-and-up enthusiasts. I try not to get excited about these early product teasers and wait until the product is shipping in quantity but I have to admit that this radio has my attention. I don’t have a lot of Icom gear in the shack but this radio may change that.
The DX Engineering web site shows these key features for this unreleased product:
Direct-Sampling SDR design
Three bands: 144 and 432 MHz (50 Watts), 1.2 GHz (10 Watts)
High definition Real-Time TFT display
Main and Sub RX
Dual Real-Time Spectrum and Waterfall displays
Dual Watch (with Spectrum/Waterfall displays)
Touchscreen interface (LCD touch-screen control)
That’s some good stuff spewing from the internet. What did I miss?
73, Bob K0NR
Kaufman Ridge is a ridge line that runs along the border of Park and Chaffee Counties in Colorado, near Trout Creek Pass. There are two Summits On The Air (SOTA) summits on this ridge: Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-081), formerly Kaufman Ridge HP, and North Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-085), formerly Kaufman Ridge North. I have activated these summits before including a winter activation of North Kaufman Ridge. These summits have turned out to be popular SOTA activations because they are easy to access, easy to hike and have outstanding views of the surrounding area.
Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to do a SOTA activation on a pleasant September day. On previous trips, we approached the summit from the east without much thought to the route. This time we approached from the north, based on a tip from other SOTA activators. This route is a little bit longer than coming from the east but it turned out to have fewer steep spots and less downed timber to navigate.
To get to the start of the hike, we went south on Windmill Drive to FS 318, entering the San Isabel National Forest. There is a gate at the entrance to the forest that is closed from December to April. We turned right onto FS329, which may not be marked but is an obvious 4WD road heading to the north. We drove to the end of the road and parked near the National Forest boundary. These are really easy 4WD roads such that a high-clearance 2WD vehicle should have no problem.
At this point, we aimed straight at the summit and started hiking. We found only bits and pieces of a trail here and there. Someone has attempted to mark the trail in places but it was difficult to follow. No worries though as the route was relatively smooth without many obstacles such as rock formations and difficult downed timber. We had to do some minor route finding but just looking ahead for obstacles was sufficient. The one-way distance was 1.1 miles with a vertical gain of 800 feet.
On top, we both snagged plenty of radio contacts on VHF/UHF and enjoyed the excellent views in all directions. This made for a nice SOTA activation on a sunny fall day!
73, Bob K0NR
Mount White (W0C/SR-021) is 13,667 feet in elevation, just south of its big brother Mount Antero (W0C/SR-003) at 14,269 feet. Joyce/K0JJW and I activated this summit on SOTA using VHF/UHF. There had only been 4 activations of Mount White, which is a bit surprising. It is not that difficult to get to…if you have a decent 4WD vehicle. We have a stock Jeep Wrangler that handled the road just fine, but I would suspect that a AWD crossover (e.g., Subaru) or similar would not be adequate. We saw a number of hikers on the road (probably headed to Antero), so that is always another option.
The Mount White / Mount Antero area is covered with mining claims and old mining roads. This may degrade the hiking experience but does provide some decent 4WD roads to access the area. The Summitpost.org posting on Mount White has some interesting geological information about Mount White and Mount Antero. There are two summits on Mount White and Summitpost says the actual summit of Mount White is the eastern one. However, the SOTA database indicates the western one. Some other maps also indicate Mount White as the summit to the east but I believe the SOTA information is correct. I guess for SOTA purposes, it is correct, by definition.
A San Isabel National Forest map is very helpful for figuring out access to this summit. Basically, you head west on County Road 162 towards Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Eventually, you’ll get to FS 277 which is a moderate 4WD road marked as the road to Mount Antero. Take a left turn onto FS 278 and follow that uphill to eventually take a left turn onto FS 278A. Stay on 278A for a very short time, then take a right onto FS 278B which takes you to the saddle below Mount White. (See map below.) This route does require good vehicle ground clearance. There are two stream crossings and many tight switchbacks. All in all, it was an easy-peasy fun trip with our stock Jeep Wrangler.
The hiking route is not difficult: 0.35 Miles one way and 450 feet vertical. But you are above 13k feet, so expect the oxygen to be thin. We started out by following a road along the north side of the peak, then scrambled up the talus to the summit. There are bits of pieces of “trail” but we did not find an established hiking route. The day we were there in September it was extremely windy so we did not stay long.
Mount Antero is close by so you could do both summits on the same trip, assuming the weather cooperates.
73, Bob K0NR
Joyce/K0JJW and I were getting prepared for a trip to Gatlinburg, TN in August with some of her family. Gatlinburg is the gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding area. I had hiked and camped in the Smokies years ago and this was a great opportunity to visit that area again. Of course, we needed to get in a little Summits On The Air (SOTA) action during this trip.
We decided to pick out some easy-to-access summits in the area so we could weave them into the trip without too much disruption. My first step was to consult the SOTA database for potential summits in Tennessee and North Carolina, looking at the summits with the most activations. This is usually a good indication of easy access and not too difficult of a climb. I did pick out two iconic summits to activate: Clingmans Dome (this highest summit in the national park) and Mount Mitchell (the highest summit east of the Mississippi river in the US). After checking the various trip reports logged on the SOTA web site, I created a list of potential target summits. Clingmans Dome and Mount Mitchell were Must Do but any other summits would be more opportunistic based on available time and location.
We are using VHF/UHF for SOTA activations and opted for a basic FM station for this trip: a pair of Yaesu FT-1D handhelds, a couple of vertical antennas and a 3-element Arrow yagi antenna for 2 meters. I debated about whether to bring along the yagi but the split-boom design fits into my luggage without any problem. In the end, I am glad we had the yagi as several of the contacts would have been missed without it.
Greentop (W4T/SU-076) was our first summit…basically a driveup mountain with radio towers and a lookout tower on top. I noticed quite a bit of interference on the 2 meter band, something I’ve encountered in previous activations near transmitter sites. It turns out that putting a more effective antenna on an HT (such as a half-wave vertical) couples more of the interference into the receiver and degrades its performance. On the other hand, the standard rubber duck antenna picks up less of the interference and performs better then the “good” antenna. After I realized this was happening, I tried using two HTs with reasonable results: one radio with a rubber duck was used for receive on 146.52 MHz while another radio with a half-wave antenna was used for transmitting. The net result was reasonable performance that allowed us to make contacts on 2m fm.
Clingmans Dome (W4C/WM-001) is a popular tourist spot in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Parking is a challenge and there are quite a few people on the short trail to the summit.
Although it sits right on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, it is in the W4C (Carolinas) Association for SOTA purposes. As I approached the summit, I saw a fishing pole sticking up in the air. I thought “huh, I wonder what the rangers are demonstrating today.” Followed by “Hey, wait a minute, that looks like a SOTA activation.” Sure enough, I met W2SE and WI2W setting up on 20m CW. Joyce and I headed to the observation tower and worked 2m from up there. There were quite a few people on the observation tower so I considered just operating from down below. I decided to leave the yagi in the backpack and just use the half-wave vertical. We fit right in with the chaos of tourists on the tower.
At 6684 feet in elevation, Mount Mitchell (W4C/CM-001) is the highest point in the USA east of Mississippi River. (Interesting perspective: our house in Colorado is 800 feet higher than this summit.) We started with just the 2m vertical but switched to using the yagi when we had trouble copying a few stations. It definitely made a difference…probably 6 dB or so. When signals are near the FM threshold, this can pull them out of the noise.
One of the highlights on Mitchell was working Kevin/K4KPK on Walnut Mountain, summit to summit. Kevin is very active in SOTA and has contributed many SOTA summit guides in the area. I made good use of these reports when planning our trip. He is also the top activator in the W4G association, a Mountain Goat approaching 2000 points.
We discovered a number of summits right along the Blue Ridge Parkway and we ended up working these two: Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003) and Waterrock Knob (W4C/WM-004). Another flashback for us was driving sections of the parkway, which is a lovely drive (typically 45 MPH speed limit) that winds through the mountains. It has been years since we’ve been on that road. This route is something I’d like to explore further on a future trip as you could spend a week wandering along the parkway and knocking out summits.
We worked Pat/KI4SVM on 2m fm from Watterock. I recognized his callsign from the trip reports he has submitted to the SOTA web site. Later, I looked up his SOTA score and found that he is a double Mountain Goat (> 2000 activation points) and the highest scoring activator in the W4C association.
The Mountain Explorer Award is a SOTA award for activating in different SOTA Associations (regions). Activating in Tennessee (W4T association) and North Carolina (W4C association) got my total to 6. Joyce pointed out that we might be able to also hit Georgia on the trip, so we added Brasstown Bald (W4G/NG-001) to the list. This is the highest summit in Georgia, so it rounded out our collection of state high spots for TN, NC and GA.
Brasstown Bald is an easy hike up summit with a significant observation tower on top, including a visitors center. This is another location where we experienced interference from radio gear on the summit, so we chose our position carefully and used the 2m yagi to point away from the interference sources.
This trip worked out really well. We managed to activate 6 summits for a total of 58 points, operate from three new SOTA associations (W4T, W4C and W4G), enjoy some really nice hikes and see some great scenery. I was a little concerned whether we would find enough random activity on 2m fm for our SOTA activations but it all worked out. Actually, there were a few times that 146.52 MHz was busy and we had to standby to make a call. Some of our contacts were less than 25 miles but many covered 100 miles or more. Yes, the 3-element yagi made a difference.
If you are in the Gatlinburg area, it certainly makes sense to try a few SOTA activations. I am also thinking about a return trip to enjoy the area more fully including some longer hikes. We really liked hiking the trails and summits there. The elevation is lower than Colorado (read: you have oxygen to breath), the forests have lots of deciduous trees (not just evergreens) and the trails are less rocky. I am sure we will be back.
73, Bob K0NR
Mount Peck (W0C/SP-053) is a 12,208 foot summit near Monarch Pass, accessible via a 2.5 mile hike with ~900 feet of elevation gain. This is one of the most pleasant Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks along the Continental Divide. For most of the route, you are hiking on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), with outstanding views in all directions. It is always a treat to hike on the CDT, which is like walking on top of the world.
The hike starts at the parking lot at Monarch Pass. (I’ve adapted these directions from Walt W0CP’s notes on the SOTA website.) Take the marked trail that goes behind the building of the Monarch Crest Scenic Tram. Proceed on this trail (really a road at this point) until the CDT exits off to the right (follow it). This section of the CDT is a popular mountain bike trail, so you may encounter bikers on the route. In fact, dirt bikes are also allowed…we encountered a few of them, too.
Stay on the CDT until you see an old 4WD road heading off to the left. Leave the CDT at this point and follow the road uphill. When the road crests and before it starts to go back downhill, leave the road and hike off-trail towards the summit. This is the steepest section of the hike where you gain the most elevation. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view. (My spouse started singing songs from The Sound of Music at this point.)
Often hiking on old 4WD roads can seem just like that: hiking on a road and not very enjoyable. This route is not that way…it is actually quite pleasant as the “road” is not rocky or rutted and just seems like an extra-wide trail.
We had great weather on the summit and managed to work a number of stations on 2m fm (Yaesu FT-1D driving a 3-element Arrow yagi antenna). This is a hike that we want to repeat in the future.
Another SOTA summit, South Monarch Ridge (W0C/SP-058) is nearby and it is possible to do both of these summits in the same day.
73, Bob K0NR
There are (at least) 20 different summits named “Black Mountain” just in the state of Colorado. I’m sure there are many more nationwide. It seems to be a popular, if unimaginative, name. This is why we have a numbering system for Summits On The Air, else we would forever be talking about “which Black Mountain was that anyway?” Or Deer Peak or Sheep Mountain or …
On Thursday, Joyce K0JJW and I activated another Black Mountain, this one with Summits On The Air (SOTA) designator: W0C/FR-031. I’m not sure why it has an FR or Front Range designation, as the summit is actually in the South Park region of the state. I can tell you that it is an awesome summit with great views.
To get to Black Mountain, take Highway 9 south out of Hartsel, CO (or come north on Highway 9 from the south). The Pike National Forest map is very helpful with getting into the vicinity of the mountain. Turn west on FS 108. (This is the same road that leads to Dicks Peak W0C/FR-041.) This road has a sign that indicated “Dicks Peak” and “Black Mountain”. Follow FS 108 S/SW and then take FS 107 to the south (right turn). Follow FS 107 to FS 268, then follow FS 268. About this time, you should have an excellent view of Black Mountain to the south. The roads were muddy and rutted, definitely 4WD. Our Jeep Wrangler had no problem but a AWD crossover/Subaru may be challenged to get through.
Black Mountain has a steep vertical rock face to the north, which is visible as we approached from the north (see photo). At this point, we wondered if we signed up for a difficult climb…but not so. FS 268 turns west, kind of parallel to Black Mountain, then heads away from it. At this point, we wondered if we were on the wrong road. Not so. At this point, the Pike National Forest map failed us…it is incomplete in this area. Instead we used the gaiagps.com app on my smartphone which had a representation of the terrain and roads. As we headed west on FS 268 we saw a road heading off to the south. (I don’t recall if it is marked, but see map below.) Take this road south for about one and a half miles…looking for an unmarked road heading off to the east. The intersection with this road is easy to miss as it is not that distinct. But the road is very visible heading off to the east, so you’ll probably spot it later if you miss the turn and can circle back.
We took the unmarked road east until it deadended at a camping spot. We parked there and started the climb up to the summit. There are only random bits of a trail here and there, so we mostly just followed the GPS towards the summit. The route is forested with some downed timber but not difficult to navigate. The steep north side of Black Mountain provided some nice views. The hike is about 1.5 miles and 1000 feet vertical.
On top, we worked stations on 2m and 70cm fm without much trouble. It is an excellent VHF/UHF site and we found a number of locals hanging out on 146.52 MHz. We reversed our route on the way down and drove the Jeep out.
Steve WG0AT suggested that we could do an nearby unnamed peak (W0C/FR-222) on the same day. This is an excellent idea and we did just that. We headed back north and took FS 269 west, parking just south of FR-222. FR-222 is not shown on the Pike National Forest map but the Gaiagps.com app and other maps show it. The summit is easily seen from the road and a short hike gets you to the top (about 1/3 mile and 500 vertical feet).
73, Bob K0NR
For several years, I’ve had my eye on an unnamed summit (12132) in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area (W0C/SP-055). No one had activated it for Summits On The Air (SOTA) probably because the summit is somewhat remote. I originally thought I would have to do many miles of bushwhacking from the north to get to get to the top. After studying a few maps and trail descriptions, I eventually found a route from the east that is not too difficult.
My hiking partner Joyce/K0JJW and I started at Lynch Creek Trailhead, which is about 9 miles west of Highway 285 on FS 431, also known as Buffalo Peaks Road. The USFS Pike National Forest map is a good reference for finding the trailhead. We followed Salt Creek Trail #618 for about 1 mile to connect to the Tumble Creek Trail #617. These are well-used and well-maintained trails and a joy to walk on. We had been doing too much off-trail hiking lately, so this was a very nice change. The trails are marked by signs at the junction and are easy to follow.
We considered ascending the east side of the mountain but concluded that we’d end up hiking through some dense forest, which usually means downed timber and slow progress. Instead, we approached the summit from the south, leaving Trail 617 about three miles in from the trailhead, and heading uphill through a grassy meadow. There is a large beaver pond to the south at the point where we left the trail, so that makes for a good landmark. You can’t completely avoid the trees on this path but they are sparse enough to easily walk through. Near the summit, the easiest path hooks around to approach the summit from the west, avoiding some steep rocks on the south side of the summit. (Actually, we went straight up the rocks on the ascent and decided to avoid them on the descent.)
The summit is above treeline and relatively flat, offering excellent views in all directions.
Joyce and I both got on the air and made calls on 146.52 and 446.00 MHz using handheld VHF/UHF radios. We just used vertical antennas and didn’t bother to assemble the yagi antennas. Thanks to these stations that we worked that day: W0BV, W0DLE, N0VXE, K0RCW, K9LNH and KD0VHD.
The GPS app on my smartphone indicated the one-way distance at just under 4 miles, with an elevation gain of 2000 feet. The actual elevation gain may be slightly more than that due to some ups and downs on the trail. This is one of those hikes that we’ll probably do again in the future. It has an enjoyable mix of good trails, rolling streams, green meadows, great views and a pleasant summit.
73, Bob K0NR
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Second Edition, effective 2014 – 2018, $21.95
Advance registration is required (No later than one week before the first session, earlier is better, first-come sign up basis until class is full.)
To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: email@example.com or Phone: 719/659-3727
One of the cool things about the Summits On The Air program is that it has many different awards available. The SOTA database records the QSOs of everyone involved in the program and is used to qualify for the awards. QSL cards are not required. The most coveted awards are Shack Sloth (reaching 1000 points as a “chaser”) and Mountain Goat (reaching 1000 points as an “activator”). There are so many SOTA activators on the air these days, reaching Shack Sloth is not too difficult. Just get on the air and make the contacts. (Last year, I completed Shack Sloth using VHF and higher frequencies only.) Mountain Goat is much more of a challenge because you have to physically go out and activate each summit, one at a time. Currently, there are 9 radio hams that achieved Mountain Goat status in Colorado. I have a long way to go for Mountain Goat.
Most of my SOTA contacts have been on the 2 meter band (144 MHz) using FM, SSB and CW. Recently, I put additional emphasis on making QSOs on two of the UHF bands: 70 cm (433 MHz) and 23 cm (1.2 GHz). With the SOTA scoring system, there are no extra points or credit for working the same station on additional bands. Still, I’ll often check with the other station on 2m to see if they want to make a QSO on one of the other bands…just because. The SOTA database does keep track of these QSOs separately so you can go in and look at your results on, say, just the 70 cm band.
For some unexplained reason, 1.2 GHz has my interest right now and I’ve been trying out my capabilities on that band. The 23 cm amateur band is one huge hunk of spectrum: 1240 to 1300 MHz (US allocation). To put this in perspective, this 60 MHz swath of spectrum is 171 times the size of the 20m amateur band. (Yeah, I grant you, the propagation on 20m is usually a lot more interesting.) So the first thing I ran into on this band is the lack of commercially available equipment. I think the number of radios that will do 1.2 GHz has actually declined in the last decade. I ended up buying a pair of Alinco DJ-G7T handheld tranceivers that put out 1W of RF power on 1.2 GHz.The second thing I ran into is the lack of other hams that have 1.2 GHz gear. But when you do find them, they usually are interested in making a contact! (I suppose it gets lonely on that band.)
Initially, Joyce K0JJW and I made some short-range SOTA contacts on 1.2 GHz using the two handheld radios, on the 1294.5 MHz FM calling frequency. Then I started looking for DX contacts from local stations that have 23 cm gear. To provide some additional antenna gain, I used a 4-foot yagi antenna (Comet CYA-1216E), specified as 16.6 dBi. One of the cool things about UHF and higher is that compact antennas can provide some serious gain. My best DX so far is 54 km (33.5 miles) but I expect to be able to do distances 3 to 4 times that. The SOTA awards system considers the 23 cm band to be “microwave” so my 54 km QSO just barely qualifies me for the 50 km award. (The microwave awards are based on distance worked, unlike the other SOTA awards.)
Just another fun thing to do on the ham bands, pursuing the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio.
73, Bob K0NR
Joyce K0JJW and I were preparing to drive back home from the mountains and began to consider what Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks might be on the way and easy to access. I consulted with Steve WG0AT, who had a number of good suggestions but we ultimately decided on Blue Mountain (W0C/SP-123). This is an easy summit to get to and an easy summit to hike.
I found Carey’s (KX0R) trip report to be helpful, so I suggest reading that information. A Pike National Forest map is very helpful. To get to Blue Mountain, just get on Blue Mountain Road (CR 61) heading south out of Lake George (see map above). You’ll see that CR 61 passes by Blue Mountain on the east side and then turns west. Take forest service road FS 244 to the right (north), which takes you up to the west side of Blue Mountain. This road turns into easy 4WD (challenging 2WD with high clearance). We just kept going on FS 244 (ignoring the side roads) and parked at the very last turn, as shown on the map below (38.93108N, 105.35597W). Going any further on the road just takes you to a spot that is a bit tight to turnaround in.
At this point, you can just take aim at the summit (40.33530N, 105.28100W) and hike your way up. Approaching the slope at an angle makes it not quite so steep. Actually, precision isn’t required for any of this, just keep heading for the summit and you’ll likely get there.
For this activation, we took along gear for 2m, 70cm and 23cm, FM only. Basically, this amounts to a pile of HTs and a few compact antennas. All of our contacts were on 2m FM except I did work Paul W0RW on Wilkerson Pass using 1.2 GHz (23 cm). At an elevation of 9230 feet, this location does pretty well on VHF and higher, so we easily worked stations in Buena Vista (W0BV), Woodland Park (WA6TTY) and Como (KD0VHD). We also worked a hiker (Jim, KD0MRC) on the side of Mount Yale, about 50 miles away.
The photo on the left shows my portable 2m FM station: Yaesu FT-1DR handheld transceiver, 1/2-wave Flex antenna (Smiley Antenna), and the dismantled 3-element Yagi (Arrow Antenna). I recently started using the Smiley halfwave antenna because it flexes on the connector end, making it more resilient to on trail use.
In the photo to the left, I’ve got the yagi antenna assembled and I’m using it to make contacts. With a little practice, the Arrow antenna screws together quickly and provides some useful gain over the halfwave vertical (about 6 dB).
We had excellent weather today so that helped make for a fun day. If you are in the Lake George, CO area consider Blue Mountain for an easy and fun activation.
73, Bob K0NR
Last weekend, I was able to participate in the ARRL June VHF Contest, my favorite ham radio operating event. I thought conditions were pretty good…mostly I am satisfied if we have some decent sporadic-e propagation on 50 MHz, which we did. (The DX spotting map indicated that the eastern half of the US had better conditions.) Once again, I entered in the Single Operator – 3 Band category with a claimed score of 34,969.
This is the first contest where I used WSJT modes and was successful but certainly not highly skilled. I know I blew a couple of MS144 contacts due to operator error on my part. As I prepared for the contest, I was really focused on getting the computer/radio connections sorted out in advance, which I did accomplish. I made some JT65 and MSK144 contacts a few days ahead of the contest, so I was good to go. The issue that I totally missed was thinking through the operating position so that I could switch modes/bands easily. Instead, I had lots of cable plugging and unplugging as I moved things around. More to learn and improve on next time.
K0NR Single Op - 3 Band Band QSOs Mults ------------------- 6: 254 110 2: 29 10 222: 432: 3 1 ------------------- Total: 286 121 Total Score = 34,969
I made a dozen JT65 QSOs, all on the 6 meter band. These contacts were with very weak signals so I probably would have missed them on SSB. I have concluded that the main purpose of JT65 is to give bored operators something to fiddle with when band conditions are poor. It always seemed like there was just enough signal present for me to keep trying, sometimes with success, sometimes not.
I was very pleased to work K5QE for my first 2m meteor scatter QSO (MSK144). My intent is to spend more time with this mode in the coming year and focus on chasing grids on 2 meters. Thanks to the rovers that I worked: AB0YM, W0ETT, AL1VE, K6LMN, VE3WJ, N0LD, N6GP, AG4V, W5VY and WD9HBF. My best DX was XE2X, XE2JS and XE2NBW.
I looked back at my previous scores in the 3-band category. My best score (48,117) was back in 2013, the first year there was a 3-band category. Looking at my blog posting from that year, at the time I didn’t think the band conditions were very good. But I also came across this article by W0VG which indicates that stations from Colorado scored pretty well that year compared to other parts of the country. The results article in QST for that contest provides more detail. I have to conclude that this year’s conditions were not the best I’ve seen. But I’ll go back to my earlier statement that any June VHF contest with some decent sporadic-e openings on 50 MHz is a win.
Thanks to everyone that came out and played radio on the VHF bands.
73, Bob K0NR
Operating goals or awards are a fun way to keep focused on accomplishing something via ham radio. Really, it’s a specific reason to get on the air and make radio contacts. I am not big on idle chit chat via the radio (“the weather here is 65 deg and raining”) so having a reason to make contacts helps me get on the air. I’ve tended to pursue awards in a serial manner…once I hit some level of accomplishment, I usually declare victory and move on to something else.
Way back in the wayback machine, the first award I pursued was Worked All States (WAS). It does take some effort but I was pretty active on the HF bands at the time, so many of the states just showed up in my log. But to really drive it home, I kept track of which states I still needed and actively looked for opportunities to work them.
Next up was Worked All Continents (WAC), which obviously requires working some DX. But then I decided that if I was going to have any DX cred at all, I needed to get DX Century Club (DXCC). This turned out to be a bit of a challenge with my modest station (100 watts and a dipole) but I found that working DX contests to be very helpful. The big hassle was collecting the QSL cards and getting them checked by the ARRL (back before the Logbook of the World was a thing). Once I checked the box on DXCC at just over 100 countries, I was satisfied and went on to other things. Serious DXers chase all available countries/entities to get Honor Roll and other bragging rights.
The VHF and higher bands have always been a passion for me, so I pursued the VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) awards. First, it was 6 meter VUCC, the easiest one to get. A really good run during the ARRL June VHF contest can produce the 100 grids you need for the award in one weekend. For me, it took a few more contests than that after factoring in the fallout that occurs when trying to get confirmation QSLs. The 10 GHz VUCC only requires 5 grids which turned out to be not too difficult. My VHF collaborator at the time, Doug W0AH (now W4LY) and I took turns operating from Pikes Peak while the other guy went out and activated the required 5 grids. It helps to have a big honkin’ mountain nearby to use for 10 GHz operating. About this time, I got into working the LEO satellites and worked the required 100 grids for satellite VUCC. I still don’t have very many grids confirmed on 2 meters, so that one is still calling to me.
Recently, I spent some effort going for the CQ WPX Award (worked prefixes award). This is an intriguing award structure because every new callsign prefix counts as a new one. For the basic mixed-mode award, you need to work at least 400 different callsign prefixes. I found this format to be a lot of fun because “everyone is DX” so to speak, but DX prefixes are also very valuable. This scoring approach is used for the WPX contests, which naturally brings out stations with less common callsign prefixes. A big motivator for me was when the ARRL announced Logbook of the World (LoTW) support for the CQ WPX awards. I mean, there was no way I was going to collect 400 QSL cards to submit for this award, but using LoTW made this very efficient. More on that story here: CQ WPX, LoTW and the End of QSL Cards.
Lately, I’ve been active in the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program, both activating and chasing summits. This is a natural fit for me as I’ve enjoyed mountaintop operating in various forms, mostly on VHF and UHF. (See my SOTA blog postings.) The SOTA program has a wide variety of awards, supported by a very powerful database used to record SOTA radio contacts and keep track of the scores. It is not really a competition but there is friendly rivalry between SOTA enthusiasts as they monitor each other’s posted scores.
I’ve been using VHF (and UHF) exclusively for SOTA and managed to qualify for the Shack Sloth Award using just those bands. (Shack Sloth is achieved with 1000 chaser points.) Shack Sloth is a bit of a misnomer for me as many of my SOTA chasing contacts were done while hiking, mobile or portable (not sitting at home in a shack). The Mountain Goat Award is taking a bit longer because I have to drag myself up enough summits to reach 1000 points as a summit activator.
Here’s the current scores for the Colorado (W0C) SOTA activators:
At the top of the list, we find Carey KX0R totally killing it with 2808 points. These folks have all reached the coveted Mountain Goat status: KX0R, K0MOS, K0JQZ, W0CCA, KC0YQF, W0CP, KC5CW. I am further down the list, tied with AD0KE at 302 points. Now, remember this is not a competition 🙂 Honestly, I wish I were further along the path to Mountain Goat but I’ve decided to not fret too much, keep working at it and enjoy the journey. Walt W0CP recently gave me some excellent advice: just keep making progress.
You may not find the awards and goals I’ve mentioned to be very interesting, but there are many other options. In 2016, the ARRL sponsored the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, which created a lot of interest and activity. I did just three activations for NPOTA but many people really got into it.
You might also set your own personal goal, not associated with any award. I know one ham that decided his goal was to make a ham radio contact every day of the entire year. This sounds simple but if you have a full-time job and other responsibilities, it takes some persistence to make this happen. Perhaps you are public service oriented; you might set a goal for the number of ARES events you support this year. I challenge you to think about what it is you are trying to do with ham radio and set a goal that is consistent with that.
Those are my thoughts, what do you think?
73, Bob K0NR
After missing it for several years, I managed to attend the Dayton Hamvention this year. This is the largest amateur radio event in the world, so definitely an event to attend if you are into ham radio. I had some concern about going the first year in the new Xenia location, but frankly I was never a fan of Hara Arena so I figured I’d give it a try. I met up with best budd Denny (KB9DPF) in Fort Wayne and we drove down Friday night, attending the event on Saturday and Sunday.
The short story is that we had a blast and the new location is an improvement over Hara (which is, of course, an easy compare).
We went early on Saturday morning, arriving at the fairgrounds around 8 AM (for a 9 AM start time). No traffic issues, easy access to parking. On Sunday we left a little later, arrived at 8:30 AM, again no traffic issues. (I suspect the traffic problems we’ve heard about were associated with arriving from the west, coming from Dayton. Also, that problem seemed to be mostly on Friday morning.)
All in all, not too bad.
I’m sure they’ll be getting lots of feedback and will be working on the problem areas. I think you have to accept the fact that on a weekend in May in Ohio, you will get some rain. So something has to be done about the flea market, else its mud city most years.
Seriously, I think the Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA) pulled off a minor miracle getting Hamvention moved to a new location without a major problem. They had a well-oiled machine that knew how to make it happen at Hara but everything had to be reworked this year.
People often ask “well, why do they even hold such a major event in Dayton?”
The answer: because that’s where DARA is.
73, Bob K0NR
The FCC slams police radio jammer with a $400k fine. Yay, FCC.
Gary KN4AQ (HamRadioNow.tv) explains that YOU SHOULD NOT CALL CQ ON A REPEATER. Or something like that.
Remember, if Summits On The Air is taking over your life, SOTANA May Be Right For You. Ask your doctor before taking any medication.
Here’s a fun video from Keysight Technologies that explains electrical current. What is Electric Current?
If you are using DMR, take a look at this list of DMR talkgroups on the Utah DMR web site.
The Dayton/Xenia Hamvention is coming up next weekend. There’s some good info available on the Hamvention web site.
Field Day is coming up June 24-25, see the full information here. Get your Field Day supplies from the ARRL here. Check out the professional Field Day promotional video from the ARRL. Nice job, ARRL HQ!
With the most recent release of the W0C ARM, there were 61 summits added to the Colorado SOTA list. I noticed that one of the new summits, H-44 Benchmark (W0C/SP-130) was easy to access, easy to climb and was in the vicinity of our mountain cabin. Surely, we needed to check it out and perhaps be the first ones to activate it.
To get there, take Highway 285 south out of Buena Vista (or north from Salida), exiting at County Road 194 clearly marked as Hecla Junction. As you travel east, the road climbs then tops out. Soon after the road started to descend, Joyce K0JJW and I stopped and parked at lat/lon: N38.64998 deg, W106.06747. I don’t think where you park is critical but be aware that this road can get busy during the summer with the many rafting outfitters taking out at Hecla Junction (on the Arkansas River). There are two driveways heading south near where the road crests…we opted to stay to the east of these. One of them appears to be a campsite and the other leads to a house/cabin.
We proceeded south towards the visible summit, looking ahead to find a route that did not have too many ups and downs. There are many options and there was not much downed timber to deal with. We found a nice route that hit the main ridge about 0.2 miles west of the actual summit. We did cross a old logging road which had some recent dirt bike tracks on it, so that may be another option.
Joyce K0JJW had the honor of activating this SOTA summit for the very first time. As usual, we were working VHF//UHF, mostly 2m FM, but we also made some contacts on 440 MHz and 1.2 GHz. I managed to work Jay W9RM near Olathe, CO on the west side of the state using 2m CW. (We couldn’t quite make the contact on SSB, so we switched to CW to get the job done.)
I’ve noticed a few other SOTA peaks are named “something benchmark.” I think that’s essentially an unnamed peak that happens to have a survey benchmark on it. So I looked around for the benchmark and found this marker at the summit:
Of course, like many of the lower summits in the Arkansas Valley, this one has a great view of the Collegiate Peaks to the west.
I expect this summit to be a popular SOTA activation because its easy to get to and has a great view. I estimate our total distance traveled as 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of 500 to 600 feet. Sorry, it’s only 2 points.
73, Bob K0NR