2017 Mt Herman Winter Activation

On Saturday, we returned to the Most Radio Active Mountain in Colorado, Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063), for a combination VHF contest, SOTA activation and winter hike. Our radio crew consisted of Steve/WGØAT, Caleb/W4XEN, Joyce/KØJJW and me. I’ve worked Steve forty times on various summits and often when he was activating Mount Herman, but this is the first time we did an activation together. What a treat be on the same summit as the Goathiker! Not only that, Peanut goat came along to supervise the entire operation.

Bob K0NR installs the SOTA flag under the supervision of Peanut (photo: wg0at)

My objective for the day was to chalk up another VHF SOTA activation, while also making some Qs in the VHF contest. For most SOTA activations, I just focus on 2 meters. During a VHF contest, I bring more gear to cover the other bands. The main rig for SSB/CW was my FT-817 driving an Arrow II dualband yagi for 2m and 70 cm. For 6m, I used an inverted Vee dipole supported by a crappie pole. I also had two FT-1D handheld radios listening on 146.52 and 446.0 MHz.

I made 21 contacts on 6m, 2m and 70cm, with 7 grids/mults and a Single Operator Portable score of 164. Not that great of a contest score but it was only a few hours of operating. From a SOTA perspective, this is an attractive number of VHF QSOs in a relatively short time.

Surprisingly, even during a VHF contest, most of the contacts were on FM with the usual SSB contest stations rather scarce. It was very handy to be able to use 146.52 MHz for the contest, finding a number of casual contesters on that frequency.

The high point of the day was working Jay W9RM on the other side of the state in DM58 using 2m CW on 144.210 MHz. The distance was about 170 miles on a path that went over or through several mountain ranges. Not too bad for QRP. (Oh, I guess it doesn’t hurt that W9RM has a serious weak-signal VHF station: 2M-5WL yagi at 50 feet.)  This contact demonstrates the advantage of CW and SSB on 2 meters. Most VHF SOTA action is on FM due to the convenience of a 2m FM HT. But FM has poor weak-signal performance so much better range can be achieved with both CW and SSB. When is the last time you made a 170 mile QSO with an FM handheld?

Caleb W4XEN running a pileup on 20m phone

This was the first SOTA activation for Caleb/W4XEN. Judging by the smile on his face, it won’t be his last one either. While I played on VHF, Steve did his usual thing on HF using CW, using a KX3 to drive an end-fed antenna. Caleb did a bit of both HF and VHF, managing to get a nice pile up going on 20m SSB, using a Yaesu FT-450 driving a BuddiStick antenna. Joyce made a few contacts on 2m FM but mostly took pictures and occasionally tossed GORP in my direction.

Bob K0NR and Steve WG0AT on their first ever joint SOTA activation (photo: k0jjw)

On my last winter activation, my iPhone quit in the cold, so I did not want to rely on it for logging this time. I had a clipboard with my paper log on it, also holding the dual-paddle key. The key moved around a bit and my Morse code sending was sloppy.  I don’t work a lot of CW for SOTA but it does come in handy at times, so I’ll be looking at improving my setup.

The 6m inverted Vee worked out OK but it was a little inconvenient to run the coaxial cable to the apex of the antenna. I’ll be looking to swap that antenna out for an end-fed half wave, which is so common on the HF bands for SOTA.

Steve brought along a large umbrella for use as an instant-up wind shelter. That looks like a practical way to block the wind.

Steve WG0AT operating his KX3 under the protection of the innovative hiking umbrella

The weather was not great…we had a few patches of blue sky but it was mostly overcast and cold (probably 25 degrees F). We lasted about 2 hours before the cold started to take its toll, then we scooted on down the mountain.

Peanut goat and Caleb W4XEN. (photo: wg0at)

Thanks to Joyce, Steve and Caleb for a great day playing radio in the mountains.

73, Bob KØNR

January VHF Contest Plus SOTA

A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.
A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a January VHF contest from a mountaintop so I decided to give it a try from Mount Herman this year. The ARRL recently changed the contest rules to allow the use of the national 2m fm calling frequency for contests. See Coming Soon: 146.52 MHz in ARRL VHF Contests. I wanted to see how this change would play out in practice when doing a combination VHF Contest plus SOTA activation. In previous attempts, I had to vector the SOTA activity to another 2m fm frequency for it to be a legal contact for the contest. The SOTA + Contest operation is attractive because it has all the elements of a fun SOTA hike coupled with the increased activity of a VHF contest. The contest brings out the weak-signal folks with very capable stations, increasing the probability of making some good DX contacts.

Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.
Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.


Joyce KØJJW and I hit the trail at 10:30 AM local with the goal of being at the summit around noon (1900 UTC) for the start of the ARRL contest. The trail was icy, but manageable with the gripping devices on our boots. The weather was chilly but not bad for January. At the summit, I configured my FT-60 handheld radio for 146.52 MHz using a 2m half-wave vertical. My first call netted a QSO with Tim, KAØMWA in Castle Rock. I worked a few other stations on 2m fm and then set up the 2m ssb station (FT-817 plus Arrow II antenna). On 144.200 MHz SSB, I contacted two Wyoming stations in grid DN71, about 140 miles away. I also gave a call on 446.0 MHz fm and worked W3DHJ and KE0HBW mobile.

Freq    Mode    UTC     Call     Grid
146.52    FM    1900    KA0MWA   DM79
146.52    FM    1902    N0AXK    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    N0LP     DM79
146.52    FM    1905    K0GPA    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    WG0AT    DM79
146.52    FM    1920    N0ISB    DM78
146.52    FM    1923    N0LEA    DN70
144.2    SSB    1932    WY7KY    DN71
144.2    SSB    1935    K0ALE    DM79
144.2    SSB    1938    AB0YM/R  DM79
144.2    SSB    1939    KG0RP    DN70
144.2    SSB    1940    WA7KYM   DN71
144.2    SSB    1942    KC4YLV   DM79
446.0    FM     1948    W3DHJ    DM78
144.2    SSB    1949    WE7L     DM79
144.2    SSB    1951    N0SP     DM79
446.0    FM     2000    KE0HBW   DM79

The wind was strong at the summit and kept blowing everything around, making it difficult to operate the radio and manage the antennas. After an hour of operating, I decided to QRT and head on down. I know I missed a bunch of potential contacts, especially having not gotten on 70 cm and 6m ssb.

Except for the short operating time, the operation played out as expected. I was able to work the SOTA folks and 2m fm enthusiasts on 146.52 MHz. I made it a point to not hog the calling frequency, as there are quite a few folks that monitor there. Switching over to 2m ssb, I worked the contest crowd, typically with more capable vhf stations. My score is a whopping 114 points, in the single-op portable category.

Thanks to everyone that got on the air to play radio that day!

73, Bob KØNR

HF Slacker Operation for CQ WW SSB

The CQ Worldwide DX SSB contest was last weekend and I applied my signature HF Slacker™ operating methodology to this event. Most of the HF gear I have is kept at our cabin in the mountains but I had to be at the house this weekend due to some commitments. I decided to apply Field Day principles and rig up whatever I could with equipment on hand.

FT-847I dug out the Yaesu FT-847 transceiver, an MFJ antenna tuner and a half-size G5RV antenna to configure a basic HF station. Using a fishing pole to cast a steel washer over a tall tree in the back yard, I rigged up the antenna between the tree and the house. The G5RV is a compromise antenna…I’d much rather have something like a trap or fan dipole. But it’s what I had on hand, so I made it work. The impedance presented by this antenna is all over the map, so a decent antenna tuner is a must.

G5RV editI started out on 15m with a few contacts to Europe and Central America. Later I moved up to 10m and made even more contacts there. I was mostly searching around for the best DX but still working a few stateside stations. Later in the afternoon, the bands swung towards the west and I managed to work KH7CW and JR3NZC before going QRT for the day.

Sunday morning brought more propagation, first to Europe, then the Caribbean and South America. The high point was working AHØBT in the Mariana Islands and VK2GGC in Australia. AHØBT was not real strong, maybe S5 at my location so I thought I’d struggle to punch through the noise and QRM on the band. However, it only took a couple of calls to make the contact. That’s what I like about the 10m band!

I used the N1MM logging program during the contest. A snapshot of the log is shown below.CQ WW SSB 2015 K0NR LogI only worked the contest intermittently on Saturday and Sunday, maybe 5 or 6 hours total operating time. Still, I managed to work 49 countries and 30 CQ Zones. That’s half way to DXCC on one weekend with a very basic HF station. Radio contests stimulate activity and DX contests bring out the DX. I point this out to encourage others to give it a try, even if they don’t have huge antennas on a tower and a linear amplifier.  Almost all of my contacts were on 15m and 10m, which tend to be more productive when conditions cooperate. Twenty meters gets jammed with high power stations so it is often tough going for the little pistols.

 Band     QSOs     Pts  Zone  Country
    14       2       3    2    2
    21      30      70   13   21
    28      52     136   15   26
 Total      84     209   30   49
Score: 16,511

Another weekend of having fun messing around with radios. Even if I’m an HF Slacker™. 🙂

73, Bob K0NR

2014 September VHF Contest Certificate

The certificate for my entry in the 2014 ARRL September VHF Contest arrived in the mail last week. Given that it has been 11 months after the contest, I had pretty much forgotten about the effort. The ARRL VHF contest certificates look great, even if they do take a while to get issued. It turns out this contest entry was the combination VHF contest plus Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation from Mt Herman that I blogged about.

K0NR 2014 Sept VHF Contest AwardMy blog posting said my score was 767 but the actual score was 780. Not a big score by any standard but not bad for ~4 hours of operating on a Saturday afternoon. As I suspected, this sets a new record for the Single Operator Portable category in the Colorado Section. What I did not expect is placing sixth in the overall contest (for my category). For the most part, this was just a really fun SOTA activation that included some VHF contest action.

Summary: The score doesn’t matter; any day having fun with ham radio is a good day.

73, Bob K0NR

Coming Soon: 146.52 MHz in ARRL VHF Contests

arrlnewlogo-transI’ve been known to whine complain comment about the prohibition against using 146.52 MHz during ARRL radio contests. For example, see The One Frequency You Should Never Use on Field Day and Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest.

During my presentation on Mountaintop VHF for SOTA at the Central States VHF Society Conference in Denver today, I mentioned this is an issue. Basically, I pointed out that Summits On The Air (SOTA) operators often default to the 2m fm calling frequency, which is prohibited for use in the ARRL contests. This gets in the way when mountaintop stations do a combination SOTA and VHF Contest operation.

During my presentation, Brian Mileshosky N5ZGT, ARRL Director of the Rocky Mountain Division, reported that the ARRL has decided to remove the prohibition of 146.52 MHz in VHF contests. It will take some time for this to work its way into the actual rules, so stayed tuned for further developments.

This is great news…a cleanup of an unnecessary impediment to VHF contesting. Now, will the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest do the same?

73, Bob K0NR

Added 21 Oct 2015, here’s the ARRL announcement:
Use of 146.52 MHz FM Simplex Frequency Cleared for ARRL Contests

Another June VHF Contest In the Log

Last weekend was the ARRL June VHF Contest, my favorite ham radio event of the year. For me, this is “vhf activity weekend” when all of the vhf radio enthusiasts come out to play on the bands above 50 MHz. The sporadic-e propagation that is (almost) always present during the contest means that 6 meters will be hopping.

antenna vhf contest 2I entered in the 3-Band Single Operator category, using 6m, 2m and 70cm. My 6m rig is a Yaesu FT-950 driving a 6M5XHP Yagi antenna.  For 2m and 70cm, I use a Yaesu FT-847 to drive a 2M9SSB Yagi on 2m and a similar Yagi for 70 cm. I set up portable masts at our cabin in DM78av, near Trout Creek Pass, Colorado (9600 feet).

This year, propagation seemed OK but not great. My score turned out to be about the same as last year with similar effort and same equipment, but down from previous years. 6m had sporadic-e openings very late both evenings, about the time I was ready to give up. Fortunately, I stuck with it and made quite a few contacts late into the evening.

The rovers kept things from getting too boring when 6m was not cooperating. Thanks to W3DHJ/R, ABØYM/R and WE7L/R for roving in eastern Colorado. WBØGAZ/R passed through South Park heading towards Denver and give me a few contacts. I also got a few contacts from KØCS/R and KØJJW/R. Thanks for roving!

Best DX was ZF1EJ in EK99, a new country for me on 6m.

73, Bob KØNR

K0NR June VHF Contest Summary: 
 Band  QSOs  Mults 
    6:  190    83 
    2:   30    13 
  432:   11     6 
Total:  231    102  Total Score = 24,684

Good Operating Habits on Field Day

In preparation for ARRL Field Day, I will be doing a presentation at our radio club meeting, explaining how FD works. We have lots of newer hams, so I want to cover the basics well. I looked around on YouTube for some video of typical Field Day contacts so our members could hear what it sounds like.

This video shows Andy K5PO doing an outstanding job of operating the WR5P Noise Blankers Field Day station. Give a listen and notice how he keeps the contacts short and to the point, clearly communicating using phonetics.

73, Bob K0NR

CQ WPX, LoTW and the End of QSL Cards

N1MM LoggerLast weekend, I had a fun time working the CQ WPX contest on SSB. I’ve always liked the format of the contest with the callsign prefix as the score multiplier (e.g., K1, K2, W1, W2, VE1, VE2 are all multipliers). Its like every new contact is a multiplier. This contest attracts plenty of DX but unlike some DX contests, everyone works everyone.

Consistent with the contest, the CQ WPX Awards Program issues operating awards based on callsign prefixes. The initial mixed mode (CW, SSB, digital) award requires confirmed contacts with 400 different prefixes. Back in the 20th century, I kept track of my confirmed contacts for WPX but lost interest along the way. I am sure I’ve worked more than 400 prefixes but the challenge was getting them all confirmed. More recently, the ARRL Logbook of the World (LoTW) added support for the CQ WPX Awards, so I started paying attention again, watching my CQ WPX total grow. I am not a big awards chaser but I have found value in using them as a specific goal to motivate me to get on the air.

Right before the CQ WPX contest, I had 380 prefixes confirmed via LoTW, so I figured that if I worked a few new ones during the contest, I could punch through 400 without too much trouble. I used my signature HF slacker approach at the cabin, using the Yaesu FT-950 to push 100 watts of RF power to wire antennas in the trees. For 40m, 20m and 15m, I used a trap-dipole antenna and for 10m I used a newly built ladder-line j-pole mounted vertically.

On Saturday, the propagation on the 10m band was smokin’ hot, strong signals from all continents. The 10m j-pole performed well. It was an absolute blast to easily work into Africa, Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.  The 15m and 20m bands were also very productive. My approach was to tune around, looking for new prefixes to add to my confirmed total. Propagation was not as good on Sunday but still respectable but I only operated a few hours.

After the contest, I submitted my log to the contest web site and loaded my contacts into LoTW (188 QSOs and 157 prefixes). Immediately, I received two new confirmed prefixes. Over the next few hours, I checked back to watch my CQ WPX confirmed total climb on LoTW. It did not take long before it passed through 400 (and the total is still climbing). I will admit that I really liked the instant gratification of seeing my QSOs immediately confirmed.

That’s when it hit me: I am done with paper QSL cards. The amount of time and effort it takes to get 400 paper cards in my hand is just not worth it. It is soooooo 20th century.

Disclaimer: Actually, I still enjoy and use paper QSL cards…but they are just obsolete for chasing awards.

2014 World Radiosport Team Championship

From the World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) website:

The World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) is a competition between two-person teams of amateur radio operators testing their skills to make contacts with other Amateur Radio operators around the world over a 24 hour period. All teams use identical antennas from the same geographic region, eliminating all variables except operating ability.

WRTC2014 included 59 competing teams from 29 qualifying regions around the world. Competitors represented 38 different countries.

This is a unique contest in that the stations used are roughly identical so that operator skill is the main variable. I love watching these guys work the radios, especially the CW ops. Even if you are not a contester, take a look at this excellent video and enjoy radio hams having fun messing around with radios.

WRTC 2014 Documentary from James Brooks on Vimeo.

Dorking With VHF Contest Rules

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgOne continuing discussion in the VHF community is how to promote more activity, especially during the major VHF contests. One central theme that always emerges is how to modify the VHF contest rules to make them better, to make them fairer and to encourage new contesters. (Let me say up front that there is room for improvement in the contest rules but I don’t think rule changes alone will change contest participation significantly.)

In 2013, the ARRL contests added the Three-Band Single Operator and Single Operator FM Only entry categories. In January 2015, the ARRL added three more categories: Single Operator Unlimited High Power, Single Operator Unlimited Low Power, and Single Operator Unlimited Portable. These “unlimited” categories allow “passive use of spotting assistance” which roughly means these operators can monitor the various DX spotting networks but not spot themselves. The CQ Worldwide VHF Contest already allows passive assistance for all participants and self-spotting for digital EME and meteor scatter contacts. See the CQ WW VHF rules.

In January, the ARRL announced additional changes:

The Board … adopted amendments to the General Rules for ARRL Contests Above 50 MHz to encourage greater participation and band utilization. The changes become effective with the 2015 June ARRL VHF Contest. The revisions stemmed from recommendations offered by the Board’s Programs and Services Committee’s ad-hoc VHF and Above Revitalization subcommittee, composed of active VHF/UHF contesters, and they received strong support from the VHF/UHF community.

The subcommittee was charged with developing recommendations to increase the level and breadth of ARRL VHF and above contest participation and encourage operation on lesser-used bands. As a start to the process, the Board approved three changes that will permit assistance for all operator categories, with no effect on entry category; permit self-spotting for all operator categories, and allow single operators to transmit on more than one band at a time.

The changes will permit assistance in arranging contacts, but not in conducting contacts. They will, for example, allow a station to announce its location in a chat room, on a repeater, or even via e-mail.

The self-spotting/assistance issue is a hotly debated issue among VHFers, with two main schools of thought:

1) Contacts should be made completely independent of non-amateur assistance. Sometimes passive spotting assistance is allowed, but some folks want to eliminate that practice as well.

2) Contacts can be made with non-amateur assistance (spotting networks, chat rooms, etc.) as long as a complete radio contact occurs over the ham bands. This follows the common practice of internet spotting for EME and meteor scatter. Also, some rover stations have requested the ability to spot themselves when they enter a new grid.

There are a number of shades of gray positions between these two points of view (see the CQ WW VHF rules, for example), but I won’t try to explain them here. In general, I support the move to loosening up the restrictions on assistance (#2). Without good 6m propagation, VHF contests tend to be “QSO poor” and expanded use of spotting will allow for additional contacts. The potential risk is that we’ll get sloppy with what constitutes a legitimate contact. Once I know the exact frequency and call sign of the other station, it will be easier to “hear” the other station even when the path is not there. Of course, we already have this situation when we complete a QSO on one band and QSY to another band to work the same station. We know the frequency and call sign (and the grid)…did we really hear the other guy or just think we did? In the end, it all comes down to the integrity of the radio hams involved in the contact.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest

The North America SOTA Weekend coincided with the ARRL September VHF Contest, which I interpreted as a great opportunity to do a combination SOTA activation and QRP VHF operation. A few other folks thought that was a good idea so we all got on the air from SOTA peaks on the Sunday of the weekend. I decided to operate from Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) in grid DM79. I hiked up the same mountain for last year’s September contest and got soaked by the rain. Fortunately, the weather was excellent this year, making it a great day.

View from the south side of Mt Herman
View from the south side of Mt Herman

For radio equipment, I took a couple of HTs for 2m and 70 cm FM and the FT-817 for CW/SSB on 6m, 2m and 70 cm. Most of the SOTA action would be on 2m FM but SSB is critical for working the VHF contest. I did put out the word to the usual VHF contesters that there would be FM activity and did work a few of them via 2m FM. The 2m FM calling frequency, 146.52 MHz, is commonly used for SOTA but is not allowed for contest use. (Another example of how this rule is just a barrier to contest activity.) We used 146.55 MHz for the contest contacts. FT-817 I had coordinated with Brad WA6MM who was going to be on Grays Peak (W0C/FR-002), one of the Colorado 14ers. When he made the summit, I had my 2m yagi antenna pointed in his direction and easily worked him on 2m FM at a distance of 65 miles.  Brad was using an HT with a 1/2-wave vertical antenna. Also, I worked Stu W0STU and Dan N0OLD on Bald Mountain (W0C/FR-093) , which sits on the east side of I-25 right at Monument Hill. Contest activity was light, as usual for the September contest in Colorado. We did have two rover stations that activated a few of the unpopulated grids in eastern Colorado: George AB0YM and Jonesy W3DHJ.

Band       QSOs X pt =  QSO pts.  X   Grids   =     Points
 50         8      1      8             5             40
 144        23     1      23            5             115
 432        14     2      28            3             84
 TOTALS     45            59            13            767

My contest score was not bad for a few hours of operating QRP portable. It turns out that I had set the Colorado section record for “single-op portable” back in 1990 with just 624 points (using my old callsign KB0CY). Oddly enough, 24 years later it appears that I set a new record. (This speaks more to the lack of QRP activity during the September contest and less about my incredible operating ability.)

All in all, it was a great day in the mountains to take a hike and play with radios. I will probably do the SOTA + VHF Contest activation again.

73, Bob K0NR

K0NR June VHF Contest 2013

My award certificate for the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest arrived in the mail this past week. The new VHF contest certificates look great, don’t you think? Nice job, ARRL!  Similar to other years, I operated from the family cabin at 9600 feet elevation in DM78 near Trout Creek Pass with temporary antennas (see my previous blog posting.) I knew that I scored OK in the contest but I’ve had higher scores in the past. The June VHF results article is a good summary of the national activity.

2013 June VHF0002


This was the first year for the Single Operator Three Band category, defined as operating on 50 MHz (100W limit), 144 MHz (100W limit) and 432 MHz (50W limit). I found this category to be very attractive because my interests are focused on VHF and not the higher bands. Often, I’ll just run 6m and 2m during VHF contests but with the three-band category it was not a big stretch to add in 70cm. The scoring system for the normal single operator categories provides a large incentive to operate on 1.2 GHz and higher, which makes it more difficult for a “VHF only” station to win in those categories. Some guys like the challenge of operating more bands and pushing the limits of going higher in frequency. I totally get that, so more power to them…it is just not that interesting to me.

It was not a big surprise that I took first place in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Division because there were only a handful of entries in my category. I was pleased to place third in the overall contest. I expect that competition in this category will get more intense as other single-op stations realize they can win in this category.  But limited to three bands and 100W, this competition will be more about propagation and operator skill, and less about deploying lots of gear.

The 2014 June VHF Contest is just around the corner (June 14-15), so time to get the station ready!

73, Bob K0NR

Contest Results Are In

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgIn the past two weeks, the results of several ham radio contests from last summer were posted. The typical contest takes months for the official results to be finalized and I have usually forgotten about the contest by then. The more serious contesters share their results via the 3830 web site so they can get an early read on how they did relative to their peers. But you need to be patient for the official results.

In the ARRL June VHF Contest, I placed in the top ten for the new Single Operator 3 Band category. This category is restricted to 50, 144 and 432 MHz, which is a good match to my radio interests. We had good 50 MHz conditions in Colorado (relative to other parts of the country), so CO stations seemed to score well.

Speaking of Colorado, in the Colorado QSO Party I finished first in the Phone – Low Power – Single-Op category. I was actually not that pleased with my score this year (45,500), which was considerably less than my score from last year (76,464). Oh well, I will invoke the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio and say I had a great time in the contest, regardless of the score. Thanks to the Pikes Peak Radio Amateur Association for sponsoring this event.

The ARRL Field Day results are also posted. Joyce K0JJW and I did a one transmitter (1B) operation from the cabin using the club call KVØCO, resulting in a modest score (454). We mostly made phone contacts on 20m, 15m and 6m. We had some nice sporadic-e on 50 MHz, which is always a treat. Remember, the key to a fun Field Day is: Season To Taste.

73, Bob K0NR

A Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation (W0C/FR-063)

Although I’ve operated a number of VHF contests from the summit of Mount Herman, I had not yet activated it as a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak. Mount Herman is a 9063 foot mountain just to the west of Monument, Colorado, pretty much in “my back yard.” Steve WG0AT did the first SOTA activation of Mount Herman, back in May 2010, chronicled here in one of his famous videos.  There is a sometimes rough Forest Service Road 320 that leads to the trailhead, then it’s a little more than a one mile hike to the top with 1000 feet of elevation gain. I call it a tourist hike, since it has just enough challenge to make it feel like a climb and there’s a great view at the top. At least on most days.

Mt Herman map

I was not expecting much of a view today since low rain clouds were dominating the sky. I was just hoping I would not get completely drenched by rain. The weather was definitely marginal but from my house I saw the clouds lift a bit, so I thought it was worth a try. The ARRL September VHF Contest is also this weekend, so it was a great combo opportunity: SOTA + VHF Contest.

K0NR HT in the rain

I hopped in the Jeep and quickly made the drive to the trailhead. Then I scooted on up the trail, making it to the summit in about 30 minutes. Just as I reached the summit, the rain really kicked in. I set my gear down under a tree, got out my HT, attached the 1/2-wave antenna and started calling on 147.42 MHz. I wanted to bag my four SOTA qualifying contacts in case the weather turned worse. I quickly worked Frank K0JQZ and Steve WG0AT. Then George AB0YM, operating as a rover in the VHF contest called me from grid DM78, so I worked him as well.

I had my trusty Arrow Yagi antenna with me but I didn’t want to bother with assembling it in the rain. I got out the FT-817, put a vertical antenna on it and called on 144.200 USB. I found stations working the VHF contest and completed QSOs with them: WB0RRU and K3ILC.

The rain intensified so I abandoned the summit and headed back down. All in all, it was not a great hike but I was successful in activating Mount Herman.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #25

0511-0701-3118-0930Here’s another update of interesting important stuff spewing forth from the internet.

I put my two presentations from HamCon Colorado out on the web:  Practical Amateur Radio Measurements and Mountaintop VHF in the Colorado High Country . Also, check out Kelly N0VD’s blog posting on the event.

Having trouble finding a repeater to use on VHF? Check out my Shack Talk article on HamRadioSchool.com

KB5WIA provides some good tips on EME operating.

Hans PD0AC addresses the question: What’s the Best Chinese Dual-band HT? For best price/performance, he selected Baofeng UV-B5/UV-B6 (and I agree).

The Noise Blankers continue to publish their Ham Hijinks. Remember: Do Not Take These Guys Seriously. Seriously. Do not do this. Seriously.

There’s lots of great ham radio events coming up this summer. This weekend is the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest, the only “true VHF contest” out there since only the 50 MHz and 144 MHz bands are used. Then there’s the Colorado 14er Event, which includes Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, on August 4th. (Don’t forget to check out the great new Colorado 14er Shirts!)  The Colorado QSO Party is another great operating event, on August 31st.

Remember: There is no such thing as ground.

Think about it: an infinitely large electrical node with zero impedance able to sink an infinite current. Not likely.

73, Bob K0NR

Get Ready For Field Day

2013FieldDayLogoWebAttention all radio amateurs, this weekend is ARRL Field Day! Don’t forget to get on the air.

Field Day is a flexible event, so it can be anything you want it to be: camping weekend, stay at home, participate with your club, go mobile, whatever you desire. Remember to season to taste.

One more thing: Field Day is not a contest. But you can still keep score.

Oh, remember that the national simplex FM calling frequency of 146.52 MHz should not be used for making Field Day contacts. Like all contests…wait Field Day is not a contest. Whatever.

– 73, Bob K0NR


The New VHF Contest Categories

arrlnewlogo-transThe results are in from the 2013 ARRL January VHF Contest, which includes the new Single Operator 3 Band and Single Operator FM Only entry categories.

There were 77 entries in the SO3B category, with Rich KV2R having the high score: 6368 pts. Breaking his contacts out by band reveals 50MHz:92 QSOs/18 Grids; 144MHz:83 QSOs/12 Grids; 432MHz:12 QSOs/2 Grids. I operated in the same category but with a lower score: 1311, broken out by band this way: 50MHz:27/12; 144MHz:24/8; 432MHz:3/3. As I recall, 50 MHz propagation was not really that great, which is going to be the major swing factor for scores in the SO3B category. Scanning through the top SO3B entries reveals a relatively consistent pattern of 50 MHz having the highest number of QSOs, with 144 MHz in the same ballpark and 432 MHz significantly lower in count.

There were only 23 entries in the SOFM category, which is probably not a big surprise. While there are pockets of FM activity during VHF contests, historically the fun mode has not been used that much for contesting. The whole idea behind SOFM is to open up contesting to the FM operator. It remains to be seen how effective this will be but if it does catch on, it will take some time to build momentum. Ev W2EV had the high score of 1080 in the FM category, broken out by band here: 50MHz:19 QSOs/4 Grids; 144MHz:27 QSOs/4 Grids; 222MHz:5 QSOs/4 Grids; 432MHz:8 QSOs/3 Grids.  W2EV’s score shows just a few grids per band, indicating shorter distance contacts overall. With only 4 grids on 50 MHz, he probably did not benefit from sporadic-e propagation on that band. The second place entry was from Erich KC9CUK who only worked the 2 Meter band, producing a score of 441 with 63 QSOs and 7 grids. The remaining entries had less than 30 QSOs. Almost everyone had contacts on 144 MHz but the usage of the other bands varied significantly.

I have always been most interested in operating 50 MHz and 144 MHz, sometimes adding in 222 MHz and 432 MHz, so I find SO3B a nice addition to the contest. In this category,  I get to operate my favorite bands but my score does not get compared with the guys that have built stations that do 50 MHz through light. I suspect there are plenty of other VHF contesters in this same boat.

I find the FM category very interesting, as I have always tried to encourage FM operating during the contests. Clearly, FM is less effective than SSB and CW, particularly when the signals are weak. I don’t know whether this category will attract new operators or not to VHF contests. FM operation needs to hit critical mass because activity generates activity. That is, if you are the only FM contester in your area, its going to be frustrating. Of course, it will help if the established SSB stations make it a point to also work FM.

Oh, one more thing… we still need to get rid of the rule that says no contacts on 146.52 MHz. This rule is counterproductive. Every time I talk with an FM op about “getting on during the contest” they say “OK, so I should just call on five two, right?” I have to explain that calling on the calling frequency is not allowed during the contest (uh, that’s only for FM, you see) and their minds start to wander to topics that make more logical sense.

73, Bob K0NR

K0NR June VHF Contest

June VHF radio gear

My June VHF Contest operation was at the cabin DM78av, operating in the new 3-band single-op category this year. Usually, I have been a two-band guy just focusing on 2M and 6M. I drug along my 432 MHz antenna and drove it with 50W from my FT-847, picking up a few more QSOs that way.

My score is down from the previous two years, which I think relates to the 50 MHz propagation. I subscribe to the theory that any June contest that has any sporadic-e is a success, so I am not going to complain. However, it did seem like I spend more time digging weak signals out of the noise on 6 Meters this year. It was often just barely open and the QSO rate was slow.

Best DX was XE2WK in EL03 on 50 MHz.

73, Bob K0NR

2013 ARRL June QSO Party K0NR DM78
Band QSOs X pt = QSO pts. X Grids = Points
 50 320 1 320 112 35840
 144 34 1 34 11 374
 432 13 2 26 6 156
 TOTALS 367 380 129 49020
Claimed score = 49020

HF Slacker Works the CQ WPX Contest

cq_logoThis past weekend, I had a great time working the CQ WPX (SSB) Contest. I am pretty much an HF Slacker but I do like getting on the air once in a while for these contests. The attraction seems to be the opportunity to make lots of contacts in a short time and picking up a few new countries. The format for this contest is really fun…multipliers are based on the callsign prefix, so “everyone is DX”…sort of. CQ has an awards program (CQ WPX Award) that is also based on prefixes worked, so the contest is a good way to pursue that award. The ARRL recently added CQ WPX Award support to Logbook of the World, which will help with confirming contacts. Us HF Slackers don’t like messing around with actually sending QSL cards when transferring a few bytes electronically is sufficient.

I operated from our mountain cabin, with just 100W to a trap dipole up in the trees. Not a Big Gun station, especially not in this contest. There were quite a few stations on the Caribbean, many of them contest DXpeditions. Conditions were pretty good on 20M and 15M, with 10M also quite usable during portions of the day.

        Band    QSOs     Pts  WPX
           7      39      69   30 
          14      71     142   59
          21      81     163   54
          28       9      24    6
       Total     200     398  149
       Score : 59,302

The last time I submitted a log for CQ WPX was in 2011 with roughly the same station. That year, I made 98 QSOs for a score of 18,920. So this year’s score is an improvement over that effort.

But the most important thing is to have fun messing around with radios.

73, Bob K0NR

Need A Logging Program for VHF Contests?


vhf logAs I prepare for the ARRL January VHF Contest, I loaded the latest version of VHF LOG, a software program by Dave W3KM. I have used this free program for many years and it just rolled over to version 4.0 to support Windows 8.

VHF LOG is easy to use while covering the basic contest logging requirements for the usual VHF contests (ARRL January/June/September, CQ Worldwide VHF, etc.). It includes a “Post Contest” mode, which is handy for entering a paper log into your computer for electronic submission.

VHF LOG runs on Windows operating systems, 98SE thru Win8. Check it out.

73, Bob K0NR