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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
Richland Balsam and Waterrock Knob
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
Summits On The Air
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.
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.)
Most of the buildings were in good shape [insert disparaging comment about Hara].
Most of the buildings are not air conditioned but it seemed to be comfortable enough.
The usual vendors were there…I couldn’t think of any didn’t show.
The food selection was very good…basically “county fair style” vendors. For example, I had Louisiana style chicken, red beans and rice for lunch on Saturday.
The forum rooms were pretty decent, as in large and convenient [insert disparaging comment about Hara]
I attended a few forums (all good): contesting, AMSAT, NPOTA
Parking was convenient and no charge.
The flea market was a muddy mess, so we skipped that completely. Those that went out there came back with shoes covered with mud. (I saw one guy that came prepared with 18-inch high rubber boots. Smart move.) I’ve seen lots of comments on the web about “well, you can’t control the weather so you just have to deal with the mud.” Yes, you can’t control the weather but even Hara had a paved parking lot for the flea market. Read: no mud.
All of the food vendors were outside and there was little to no sheltered seating. If the rain had hit around lunch time, I am not sure where people would have eaten.
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.
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.
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. Well, last year we celebrated the 25th annual event so this year it must be the 26th. We are continuing the all weekend approach on August 5 and 6. However, many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early in the morning 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 now 1805 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, VHF and UHF. 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. We try to stay off 146.52 MHz, the National Simplex Calling Frequency to avoid overload, but if you need to make a call there, go for it…and be brief.
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
23 cm FM calling 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.
There was a fun interaction on twitter the other day about how we represent amateur radio to the general public. It started with this tweet from @FaradayRF:
This refers to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper where the author decided to use the theme of “ham radio is retro” to tell the story of a ham radio gathering at NAB. I really hate it when ham radio gets positioned as “old technology” in the world of awesome wireless stuff. Clearly, some of our technology is dated, but the amateur service includes lots of new technology and experimentation. (Actually, the tone of the article was very positive, so we shouldn’t complain too loudly.)
So I replied, along with a few other folks:
So KB6NU and KC4YLV took the discussion back to good old Part 97 of the FCC rules. (You ever notice how often radio hams like to quote Part 97? It’s right up there with the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.) I tried to recall from memory the five things listed in 97.1 as the Basis and Purpose of the Amateur Radio Service, but failed.
I had to look them up, so I’ll save you the trouble and list them here. Actually, I am going to provide the KØNR Abbreviated Version (go here to see the full text):
Part 97.1 Basis and Purpose of Amateur Radio
a) Voluntary public service, including emergency communications
b) Advancement of the radio art
c) Advancement of communication and technical skills
d) Expansion of trained radio/electronics enthusiasts
e) Enhancement of international good will
These five things are still relevant and are being pursued today. Not all radio amateurs contribute to every one of these but as a group we are doing these things. The good news is that many non-hams do understand the When All Else Fails aspect of ham radio…most have had their cellphone become a useless brick during major incidents. Items b, c and d are all about learning new things, building skills and expanding the number of radio hams. We should talk more about that. Enhancing international good will may seem a bit quaint but this crazy world can always use another dose of that.
Part 97 does leave out one thing that is the ultimate attraction and, in fact, the universal purpose of ham radio:
Joyce (K0JJW) and I were driving back to Colorado from Texas on Highway 87 that goes right past Capulin Mountain in the Capulin Volcano National Monument. Capulin is a dormant volcano with a large crater on top, a great place to visit if you ever in the area. Oh, and it’s a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak, too (W5N/SG-009). Obviously, I thought it was a great opportunity to activate it for SOTA. There’s only one problem: this summit is out in the middle of nowhere so making some contacts on 2 meters was not going to be easy. (Yeah, I have been doing SOTA activations only on VHF.) In many locations, I just put out a call (or many calls) on 146.52 MHz and I eventually get my 4 QSOs to qualify for SOTA activation points. This works near populated areas and places where there is significant tourist traffic.
Capulin Mountain is in NE New Mexico, about 150 miles from Colorado Springs, 200 miles from Denver and about 190 miles to Albuquerque. These distances are all workable with a decent weak-signal station on 2 meters. But I was going to be operating at QRP power levels and a small 3-element yagi antenna. I concluded that this activation was still possible but it depended on getting some of the weak-signal VHF guys on the air so I had someone to work. So I put the word out to some of the VHF enthusiasts in the Rocky Mountain area asking for help. I received a good response which was encouraging so I published a schedule for Tuesday afternoon, starting at 19:30 UTC, 1:30 pm local.
The national monument is easy to access, just a few miles from the highway. I have an annual national parks pass, so we did not have to pay an entrance fee. This satellite photo of the monument, shows the crater and the access road that winds around it. The parking area is visible on the west side of the crater (zoom in).
The parking lot is not within the SOTA activation zone, but an easy hike up the ridge got us to the summit. For VHF, I wanted to be as high as possible anyway with a 360-degree view. There is a trail that goes completely around the crater rim, also crossing the summit. It is a short hike on a paved trail, a bit steep in spots but nothing difficult. We did encounter some extremely annoying gnats that swarmed around us the entire time.
We got to the summit earlier than planned, around 17:30 UTC, started calling on 146.52 fm and 144.200 ssb without much luck. Finally, I caught WE7L in Elizabeth, CO (DM79) on 2m cw at 19:05 utc. He was weak but very readable. I think I was pointing the antenna a little too far east…later he came in stronger when I directed the antenna further west. After that I worked Arne N7KA (DM65) near Albuquerque and K9VSW (DM76) near Taos. Once I got my antenna zero’d in on K9VSW, I was able to work him on ssb. Some time later, I heard Lou K0RI calling from the Colorado Springs area. He was loud enough that I heard him off the side of the antenna, still pointed at Albuquerque. Lou was running 160w to a 17-element 2M5WL yagi at 75 feet.
I heard some other stations but was not able to work them. The challenge was quite clear: most VHF enthusiasts are running 150W or more of RF power, while I had the FT-817 max’d out at 5W. This is quite an imbalance, easier for me to hear them than they could hear me. Clearly, cw saved the day, punching through with minimal signal levels.
My best DX for the day was N7KA at 229 miles. Actually, this is an all time best distance for me on 2m while doing a SOTA activation. I recently worked W9RM from Mount Herman at 170 miles and was pretty happy with that. We had signal to spare that day, so I figured I could do better. Also, I had previously worked 160 miles using FM between two Colorado 14ers. See Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels – 160 Miles.
I really, really, really appreciate the hams that got on the air to try and work me on Capulin. I could not have activated the summit without those skilled radio operators and their capable VHF stations.
Things had been pretty quiet on the ham front lately but then I ran into a string of “That’s Not Real Ham Radio” discussions. This happens from time to time…I usually ignore it…but this time I got sucked into the topic.
It started with some HF enthusiasts I know talking about how “digital modes” are just not very satisfying. Their point is that with CW and SSB, there is an audio connection to your ear that makes you an integral part of the radio communication. The extreme-DSP modes such as JT65 insert serious signal processing that essentially removes the human connection. This can quickly lead to the generalization that these digital modes “aren’t real ham radio.”
I think its fair to say that most hams think of the HF bands as the center of the hobby…getting on the air, bouncing signals off the ionosphere to talk to someone over the horizon. Some hams will go even further and say that CW is the only way to go. Anything less is just phone. FM and repeaters? Forget that stuff…not enough skill required. And certainly, don’t get stuck on 2 meters.
In a previous post, I argued we should not confuse religion with modulation. I do occasionally make snarky comments about the continued use of AM (AKA Ancient Modulation), but I’ve tried to tone that down in recent years.
What About DMR?
Just last week, I was playing around with a DMR hotspot on the Brandmeister network. It really struck me that people on the system were having a blast talking to each other across North America and around the world. But then that nagging little voice in the back of my head said “hey, wait a minute…this is not real DX…the RF signal might only be traveling 20 feet or so from an HT to a hotspot.”
This caused me to put out a plea for insight on twitter:
I received a lot of good replies with the answers tending to clump into these three categories:
I don’t know (“That’s Not Real Ham Radio”)
It’s fun, new technology
It’s a digital network that brings ham radio operators together
My interest seems to fall into the second category: this is fun, new technology. Which does make me wonder how long this new technology will remain interesting to me. Well, that is difficult to predict but I’ll invoke the principle of try not to overthink it. The idea that DMR is a digital network that brings ham radio operators together makes some sense. In the past, I have argued that amateur radio is not for talking. In other words, if you just want to talk someone, there are much more convenient ways of doing that. Still, there is something attractive about this ham-radio-only digital network.
It really is important to not overthink this kind of stuff. Ham radio is supposed to be fun, so if you are having fun, you are probably doing it right. If you are not having fun, then you might want to examine what you are doing. See my post on the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio.
Sometimes hams can get a little spun up about those other guys that don’t appreciate our way of doing ham radio. What the heck is wrong with them anyway? I’ve always been inspired by the Noise Blankers Mission Statement:
Do radio stuff.
Have fun doing it.
Show people just how fun it is.
If your preferred form of ham radio is so superior, it ought to be easy to show other hams how cool it is. If not, then maybe you aren’t doing it right. Conversely, as long as other hams are having fun and operating legally, don’t knock what they are doing. In fact, encourage them. We need more people having fun with ham radio, even if it’s not your favorite kind of fun.
At our radio club meeting on Monday night, I talked about DMR radio, the fastest growing digital format on VHF/UHF. Wow, did I get a positive response! There is a lot of interest in this topic and many of our members are out buying DMR radios and getting on the air. My presentation is available here: DMR W0TLM Meeting Presentation.
You’ll need to use the MD-380 software to load/edit this codeplug. See the VA3XPR web site if you need the software. Under General Setting, you must change these entries:
Radio Name – enter your callsign
Radio ID – enter your DMR-MARC radio ID number
Intro Screen – recommend putting your name and callsign there (or whatever you want)
In the codeplug, I created the W0TLM zone for use in the Monument area which should cover most of your needs. After you get used to the programming software, you can add/modify channels and zones. But be careful as there are many parameters that need to be entered correctly.
I will be updating this codeplug from time to time. Let me know how it works for you.