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

NPOTA: Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain

arrl_npTo celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, the ARRL is sponsoring National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) during 2016. Joyce KØJJW and I happened to have a trip planned to visit several of the National Parks, so it was great opportunity to take along some radio gear and operate portable from the parks.

Grand Teton National Park

First stop was the Grand Teton National Park (NP23) in Wyoming. I operated from Signal Mountain, which is also a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak. See my previous blog posting: SOTA plus NPOTA on Signal Mountain.

Two of the 3700 buffalo that inhabit Yellowstone NP

We continued on to Yellowstone NP (NP57), where we saw lots of wildlife: buffalo, elk, deer, bear and antelope. (Click on any of the photos to get a larger image.)

NPOTA station operating in Yellowstone NP.

As described in the Signal Mountain post, my portable station was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed halfwave antenna on 20m. I used a SOTABEAMS pole to support the antenna, lashing the pole to whatever posts I found available. It was not too difficult to find a suitable parking spot close to mounting post. I was prepared to operate on other bands but 20m seemed to be the best choice based on current band conditions. I made 48 contacts on 20m ssb in about 30 minutes.

As we headed back home to Colorado, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park (NP48). We entered the park from the west side and crossed over to the east entrance via Trail Ridge Road. Love that drive! But first we stopped on the west side to do another NPOTA activation. Again, 20m phone was the operating mode and I made 33 contacts with stations across the US and Canada.

Rocky Mountain NP elk.

We took our time leaving the park around dusk so that we could spot some elk. The strategy paid off as we saw more than 20 elk in various locations.

Our top priority was enjoying the parks and viewing wildlife so we did not spend a huge amount of time doing NPOTA activations. Still, we activated three of our favorite National Parks, making 121 QSOs. We also worked in two SOTA activations on the trip as a bonus. All in all, it was a great trip with some fun ham radio activity included.

The SOTA and NPOTA logs have all been submitted (SOTA database and Logbook of The World, respectively.)

73, Bob K0NR

SOTA plus NPOTA on Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161)

Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161) is now my favorite spot in the Grand Teton National Park. The summit is well-marked on the Grand Teton NP map, on the east side of Jackson Lake. It has a paved road to the top and it provides excellent views of Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountains. Oh, and it’s a great location for ham radio.

On this summit, I did a combination Summits On The Air (SOTA) and National Parks On the Air (NPOTA) activation. Well, sort of. It turns out that when I packed for the trip, I included my usual SOTA gear, which is all VHF. For NPOTA, I loaded up my HF DXpedition gear that needs a pretty hefty power source. These means that the HF stuff uses my car battery, so it is not SOTA-compliant. Oh well.

Bob K0NR works stations on 2m fm for a SOTA activation.

For the SOTA activation, I used the Yaesu FT-1DR and my 3-element Arrow yagi antenna to work a handful of stations on 146.52 MHz. I was a little concerned about finding enough stations listening on 52, but once again a little bit of patience payed off and I made my four QSOs.

Bob K0NR using the “back of the SUV” operating position. The 20m end-fed half-wave antenna is supported by a SOTABEAMS pole.

Then I set up the NPOTA station to activate Grand Teton National Park (NP23). My equipment was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed half-wave for 20m from LNR Precision. I’ve tried a number of different portable antennas over the years but have found that a half-wave radiator up in the air is a pretty effective antenna. This could be a center-fed dipole antenna but that can be a challenge to support, depending on the physical location.

The end-fed half-waves (EFHW) from LNR Precision are easily supported using a non-conductive pole such as the 10m SOTABEAMS pole. The top two sections of the pole are too thin to support much of antenna, so I have removed them. This makes my pole about 9 meters in length which is still long enough to support a 20m halfwave.  (The antenna angles out a bit as shown in the photo but its pretty much vertical.) I attached the pole to a fence post using some hook/loop straps. I don’t fiddle with the length of the antenna, I just let the antenna tuner in the FT-991 trim up the match. This is the same configuration I used in Antigua (V29RW), where it worked great.

The FT-991 is a great little radio for this kind of operation. The SUV we were driving is not set up for HF operation so I just located the radio in the back of the vehicle and plopped down on a folding camp chair. For power, I clipped directly onto the vehicle battery with fused 10 gauge wires.

I started by making a few calls on 20m ssb. As soon as I was “spotted” on the usual web sites, I had a good pileup going. I worked 40 stations in about 40 minutes, so averaged one QSO per minute overall. Thanks to everyone that worked me; all contacts have been uploaded to Logbook of The World.

Oh, and it was a lot of fun.

73, Bob K0NR

How About an Updated FT-817?

The Elecraft KX2 made a big splash with QRP enthusiasts at the Dayton Hamvention this year. HamRadio360 had some good coverage of the product introduction. Basically, the KX2 is a shrunken version of the KX3, covering the HF bands 80m through 10m.

The Yaesu FT-817ND
The Yaesu FT-817ND

There were rumors circulating that Yaesu would introduce a replacement for the FT-817ND, but that turned out to not be true. It is a good rumor because the original FT-817 was introduced way back in 2001 (according to Wikipedia). Also, Chris Wilson NØCSW was actively soliciting inputs for an 817 replacement at the Central States VHF Conference last summer.

A while back, I did a comparison of the FT-817 and the KX3 (big brother to the KX2). I evaluated the two radios from a VHF/UHF point of view. The FT-817 is the only portable single-radio solution for 50 MHz, 144 MHz and 432 MHz. The KX3 includes 50 MHz standard and 144 MHz is an option. The KX2 leaves out the VHF bands completely to achieve a smaller size.

What’s Next for the FT-817?

Its always fun to speculate on what might be coming in new gear. I expect Yaesu will maintain its position as the QRP transceiver that covers HF/VHF/UHF. It has a long history of delivering cost-effective “do everything” radios. We can look to recent product introductions from Yaesu to get a hint of what might be coming.

The FT-2DR, FT-400DR and FT-991 have all adopted larger touch-screen displays so we can probably expect that for the 817 replacement. However, this will challenge the existing form factor…you can’t just drop a larger display into the existing 817 design. The three newer radios include the System Fusion C4FM digital mode…at this point, I don’t think Yaesu would introduce a VHF/UHF radio without it.

Which raises another question: will the new radio also include a GPS receiver? This capability is a good complement to the C4FM mode in a portable radio. The FT-991 requires you to enter your location manually, which the FT-2DR and FT-400DR use a built-in GPS. But it adds circuitry and complexity so I am going to guess they will leave that out.

I am expecting (hoping?) Yaesu will improve the battery life of the transceiver. (Receive standby current is spec’d at 450 mA.)  Even if they don’t improve the current drain, newer battery technology could be used to improve operating time. Also, depending on the form factor changes, it may be wise to dedicate more space for a physically larger battery.

Yaesu will probably improve the overall receiver performance, including advanced DSP features. Many 817 users have complained about the lack of coverage of 162 MHz weather radio in the US. On the transmit side, a little more output power would be nice…maybe match the KX3’s 10 watts on HF. Yaesu could really make the VHF crowd happy (in the US) if they included the 222 MHz band.

Take One Tablet

The radio will surely have a computer I/O port with USB being the most flexible choice. There is an opportunity to innovate a bit here by coupling the radio with Android and iOS tablets. I could see a really nice app that handles logging, CW, PSK31, RTTY, bandscope, and other advanced features. This could take the pressure off having a larger display and loading tons of features into the radio. The most convenient I/O would be wireless, most likely Bluetooth or maybe WiFi.  Many of the SOTA and QRP operators already take along a smartphone or tablet for logging and other tasks, so it would be a good fit to that market. The key to this idea is careful human factors design and tight integration with the radio. Do I expect this from Yaesu? Not really. So surprise me and knock my socks off.

Those are my thoughts. Your turn.

73, Bob KØNR

Summits On The Air – Colorado Style

14erLOGOsmallSummits On The Air – Colorado Style is the title of my presentation at Hamcon Colorado, 2 pm Friday May 13th. I will be discussing the Summits On The Air program and the Colorado 14er Event.

The slides are available here:
Summits On The Air -Colorado Style

The conference will be excellent. I hope to see you there!

73, Bob KØNR

Announcing: 25th Annual Colorado 14er Event

14erLOGOsmallAmateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun during the 25th annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. This year the event is expanded to include the entire weekend, August 6 & 7. However, many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.

See the very cool 25 Year Anniversary t-shirts available at http://www.cafepress.com/wg0at

The 14er event includes Summits On the Air (SOTA) peaks, which add over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide range of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org

Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er Yahoo Group. To subscribe to the “ham14er” email list, visit the Yahoo groups site at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ham14er/ . Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org  It is also a great idea to post an ALERT on the SOTAwatch.org website.

Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz.  At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz.

Frequency (MHz) Comments Frequency (MHz) Comments
147.42 Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps  7.032 40m CW Frequency
147.45 Alternate 2m FM frequency  7.185 40m SSB Frequency
147.48 Alternate 2m FM frequency 10.110 30m CW Frequency
147.51 Alternate 2m FM frequency 14.060 20m CW Frequency
446.000 Primary 70 cm FM frequency 14.345 20m SSB Frequency
446.025 Alternate 70 cm FM frequency 18.092 17m CW Frequency
144.200 2m SSB calling frequency 18.158 17m SSB Frequency
50.125 6m SSB calling frequency 21.060 15m CW Frequency
21.330 15m SSB Frequency
Other Bands/Modes Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply. 28.060 10m CW Frequency
28.350 10m SSB Frequency

Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.

Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force

Here’s the event flyer in pdf format: Colorado 14er Event Flyer 2016

DX, Artificial Scarcity and The List

dxEconomists see scarcity, supply and demand as fundamental forces in a market. Items that are scarce demand a higher price while items that are easy to obtain tend to have a lower price.  A diamond is an example of something that is relatively scarce (and in demand) so it commands a high price. In contrast, wood is generally available and is much less expensive than diamonds.

Then there’s the concept of artificial scarcity. If some items can be made scarce (or even just appear scarce), the price will tend to increase. For example, if I own all of the banana trees on an isolated island, I could reduce the available supply of bananas and command a higher price from all of the banana eaters there. Or maybe I start screening bananas for quality and I put a special sticker on them to brand them as special.

bananaWe have a case of artificial scarcity in ham radio, called the DXCC list. This list defines what is considered a separate country when chasing DX. (Actually, the correct term is entity, not country.) For example, Hawaii (KH6) and Alaska (KL7) are considered separate entities even though they are part of the United States. (See Is Alaska a Country?) For someone chasing DXCC entities, because Alaska is on The List, a radio contact with Alaska becomes more desirable. It’s kind of like putting a “premium sticker” on a banana to indicate that it is special.

In my imagination, the DXCC list resulted from a bunch of hams sitting around drinking beer and bragging about how many countries they had worked. One guy, Larry says he just worked Hawaii, bringing his total to 125 countries. His buddy Leroy says, “You can’t count Hawaii because it’s part of the US of A.”  To which Larry says, “You bet I can count Hawaii…and Texas too. It’s a whole ‘nuther country.” Clearly, we are going to need an official list to keep track of what counts as a country.  A more credible version of how the list got established is captured in this article from the October 1935 QST.

Of course, the two main factors that drive scarcity of DXCC entities is the ham radio population and ease of access. Radio contacts are easy to make with entities that have an active ham population. If an entity doesn’t have many active hams but is easy to get to, someone will probably put that location on the air once in a while.  On the other hand, some locations are unpopulated and really difficult to get to. These are not only on The List, they are on The Most Wanted List.

Kingman Reef (KH5) was just deleted from The List, instantly changing it from one of the most desired contacts in amateur radio to a big giant Why Bother. You see, there used to be 340 countries on the list but now there’s only 339. Kingman Reef will now be considered part of Palmyra/Jarvis, so it still has value for DXCC, just a lot less.

As I write this article, there is a major DXpedition (VKØEK) operating from Heard Island, an unpopulated island near Antartica. The only reason those guys are there is that Heard Island is on The List. Take a look at their web site and you’ll see how much time and energy has gone into activating this lonely island. Drop it from the list and suddenly a radio contact with this location is a lot less in demand.

So try to keep this all in perspective. There are lots of radio contacts out there to be made, some more interesting and desirable than others. It is appropriate and necessary that we have the DXCC list, to provide consistency in how we count countries, I mean entities. But really, it all traces back to Larry and Leroy arguing about who worked the most countries.

Thanks to the dedicated DXpeditioners that put these rare locations on the air.

73, Bob K0NR

V29RW: Slacker DXpedition to Antigua

Recently, I had another opportunity to take ham radio along on vacation to a Caribbean island, this time to Antigua. This was not a super-gonzo turbo-charged DXpedition. I just worked in some radio action in between snorkeling and beach walking. This is referred to as a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.

qsl card beach
V29RW QSL Card

Radio Equipment

The radio gear needed to fit easily into my luggage. After all, we’ve got snorkel gear to take along. I wanted to put out a healthy signal from the island, so I rejected the idea of running QRP, opting instead for a 100W transmitter. Ultimately, I chose to take a Yaesu FT-991 which is full-power and full-featured but still relatively compact. It easily fit into my carry-on bag along with some other items. Having a built-in antenna tuner was a real plus and it was also good to have the 2m and 70 cm bands.

operating position
Patio operating position with FT-991 and logging computer

Choosing an antenna was a critical item. My first thought was to take my Buddistick antenna which covers the HF bands I was interested in working: 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m. I used that antenna from the Virgin Islands and it was really handy for taking to the beach. This time I wanted something bigger under the theory that size does matter. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to take full size yagis for each of the bands. I finally settled in on using End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antennas for the 4 bands (from LNR Precision). This gave me a simple half-wave antenna on each band with no coils, no traps, nothing funny going on. These antennas radiate well and have decent bandwidth…any SWR degradation can be tweaked up quickly using the FT-991 antenna tuner.

antenna pole
End-fed half-wave antenna supported by SOTABeams pole

Steve WGØAT suggested I use the SOTABEAMS 30-foot mast to support the EFHW antennas. It is an incredible mast that collapses to 26.5 inches, small enough to fit into my bag. This antenna set up is common with the SOTA activators: EFHW supported by some kind of lightweight pole. I also tossed in a 19-inch magmount antenna for 2m and 70cm. (I did find a good repeater on on 147.0 MHz but did not spend much time on it.)

end fed half wave
Close up of the EFHW antenna matching network

Rounding out the kit was an Astron switching power supply, a 25-foot length of RG-8X coaxial cable, a Heil Traveler headset and a few patch cords. I found it tempting to keep throwing more stuff in the bag so I adopted the backpacker mentality of taking just what I needed and not much more. For computer logging, I chose N1MM Plus software, with the log type set to “DX”.

I have to confess that I did manage to break the 30-foot mast early in the trip. The house was on a hill and we always had a strong breeze coming through. One day it flexed the mast enough to break it. This was quickly repaired with duct tape. After that, I did not use the 3 top sections of the mast which reduced the amount of sway in the wind (and stress on the mast).

On The Air

Bob K0NR
Bob KØNR operating as V29RW in Antigua

My operating time was a bit sporadic and my operating strategy was simple: work the highest band (of 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m) that had some decent propagation to somewhere. Antigua is not extremely rare but it seemed to attract attention. Typically, I called CQ, worked a few stations and then a big pileup would develop. I made lots of QSOs with stations in North America, South America and Europe. I also made a few contacts into Africa but none with Asia. Signal reports were generally good (S9 +), so the antennas were doing the job.

All in all, I was pleased with the contacts I made, given the slacker effort. I especially enjoyed working 17m, a band I have not spent that much time on. The propagation is similar to 20m but noticeably less jammed with signals.

  Band  QSOs DXCC
    14   309   36
    18   162   13
    21    21   10
    28    91    6
 Total   583   65

QSLs for V29RW should be sent to my home callsign: KØNR (direct or via the bureau). Logbook of the World contacts have already been confirmed. Instant gratification, baby!

73, Bob KØNR, V29RW

Licensing info: It was relatively easy to get a ham radio license in Antigua, based on my US license (fees were $30 US). See this web page.

16 Mar 2016: V29RW QSLs have been sent out via US mail based on cards received

2016 SOTA Activity Days

Bob summitSummits On The Air (SOTA) operating events are a great way to promote activity and create opportunities for summit-to-summit radio contacts. Here’s the 2016 calendar, an update of the 2015 list suggested by Guy N7UN. Many of these dates are aligned with VHF events but there will be HF activity as well.

IMG_1836Of course, any day is a good day for SOTA activity.  The August 6-7 weekend looks to be the alignment of the planets with four events happening around that weekend. Early August usually offers excellent conditions for hiking the highest peaks in Colorado, so come on out and play.

For more info on VHF SOTA, see How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation.

Get off the couch, put on your hiking boots, grab your backpack, grab your radio but most important: get on the air!

73, Bob K0NR

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

Colorado 14er Event: Mount Antero (W0C/SR-003)

For the 2015 Colorado 14er Event, Joyce K0JJW and I activated Mount Antero (W0C/SR-003) on the 2m and 70 cm bands. Alan NM5S joined us on the summit, operating mostly HF plus some 2m fm.

We took our Jeep Wrangler up the moderate 4WD road and parked at 13,800 feet. This makes for a very manageable hike to the 14,269 foot summit. Of course, you can always choose to start the hike from lower on the mountain, but you’ll end up walking along the road. This web site provides a good overview of the 4WD road.  The 14ers.com web site and summitpost.org are additional sources of summit info.

Here’s a short video of our operation on the summit.

Here’s the K0NR log on the 2m band, fm and ssb:

August 2, 2015 K0NR Log, time in UTC
15:09     144MHz     FM     K0JJW     
15:13     144MHz     FM     W0CP     
15:16     144MHz     FM     KC5JKU     Mt Elbert 
15:17     144MHz     FM     KD0WHB     Grays Peak
15:21     144MHz     FM     N0XDW      Pikes Peak
15:37     144MHz     FM     KD5HGD     Mt Elbert 
15:42     144MHz     FM     KD0MRC     
15:42     144MHz     FM     KE0DMT     
15:44     144MHz     FM     NQ0L       Franktown 
15:45     144MHz     FM     KE0EUO     Mt Democrat 
15:46     144MHz     FM     K7SO       Mt Democrat 
15:50     144MHz     SSB    KD0YOB     W0C/PR-005 
15:53     144MHz     SSB    W0BV       Buena Vista
15:53     144MHz     SSB    K0YV       Buena Vista
15:57     144MHz     SSB    W0STU      Monument
16:06     144MHz     FM     KD0WHB     Torreys 
16:13     144MHz     FM     KI6YMZ     Mt Elbert 
16:19     144MHz     FM     KE0EKT     Mt Elbert 
16:29     144MHz     FM     WZ0N     
16:29     144MHz     FM     KE0DAL     
16:31     144MHz     FM     WO9S     
16:33     144MHz     FM     K0UO     
17:10     144MHz     FM     KD2FHB     Pikes Peak

I used my Yaesu FT-817 driving a 3 element Arrow yagi antenna (shown in video) for both FM and SSB 2m operation. It was a great day on the mountain with quite a few Summit-to-Summit (S2S) SOTA contacts. See you next year on a Colorado mountaintop!

73, Bob K0NR

2015 Colorado 14er Event

Colo14er SOTA logo smallAmateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around world. Join in on the fun on the first full weekend in August and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. The prime operating hours are on Sunday August 2nd from 9 AM to noon local time (1500 to 1800 UTC), but activity can occur throughout the weekend.

Now including Summits On the Air (SOTA), which adds over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide variety of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org

Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should set an “Alert” on the SOTAwatch.org web site. To subscribe to the “ham14er” email list, visit the yahoo groups site at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ham14er/. Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org. For climbing info on the Colorado 14ers, see the excellent resources at 14ers.com.

Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz.  At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48, 147.51, 147.54 MHz.

Frequency (MHz)
 147.42 Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps
 223.5 Primary 222 MHz FM frequency
 446.000 Primary 70 cm FM frequency
 446.025 Alternate 70 cm FM frequency
 52.525 Primary 6m FM frequency
 144.200 2m SSB calling frequency
 50.125 6m SSB calling frequency
 14.060 20m CW Frequency
 14.345 20m SSB Frequency
 18.092 17m CW Frequency
 18.158 17m SSB Frequency
 21.060 15m CW Frequency
 21.330 15m SSB Frequency
 28.060 10m CW Frequency
 28.350 10m SSB Frequency
 Other Bands/Modes:
 Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply.

Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity. Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.

Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force

We Call It “Tech Field Day”

For Field Day this year, the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association (WØTLM) is planning a one day event that combines our Tech Day training activities with normal Field Day radio operating. This Tech Field Day will have a strong emphasis on radio education and training, including an opportunity to make contacts on the HF bands under the supervision of an experienced radio ham.

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Sat June 27th, 2015 (8:00 AM to 5 PM)
Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1
11445 Teachout Road, Colorado Springs

Come to our one-day education and radio operating event and learn from informative presentations of amateur radio topics. Operate a high frequency (HF) radio station with the helpful guidance of an experienced radio ham. Learn about emergency communications and public service. Most of all, have a bunch of fun messing around with ham radio stuff!

Time Activity Presenter
8:00 Setup starts
8:30 FM Simplex and Repeaters Bob Witte, KØNR
9:30 Operating SSB on the HF Bands Stu Tuner, WØSTU
10:30 Construction of Dipole Antennas Larry Kral, NØAMP
11:30 Summits On The Air (SOTA) Steve Galchutt, WGØAT
12:00 Start Field Day Operating
13:30 Copper pipe antennas Al Andzik, WBØTGE
14:30 Emergency Power for Ham Radio Mike Hoskins, WØMJH
15:30 Ask an Elmer Panel Bob Witte KØNR and crew
17:00 End of operations – tear down

For more information, visit the W0TLM web site.
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.

ARRL Field Day: Season To Taste

2015 Field Day Logo Red Design 1I’ve written before about the flexibility of Field Day and the need to season to taste to make it your own. I have always thought that one of the great things about Field Day is that it can be tuned to whatever interests you or your club. It can be a serious radio contest (well, almost); it can be an emcomm drill. It can be a radio campout; it can be a foodfest, it can be a beer-drinking party. Insert your idea here.

This year, our local club, the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association is going to try a new approach that we call Tech Field Day. We previously have held a one-day educational event that we call Tech Day, that featured a series of presentations and hands-on demonstrations. The main theme of Tech Day was to help the Technician level hams gain more knowledge and help them move on up to General class operating.

We are taking the basic idea of Tech Day and combining with a shortened one-day version of Field Day. So on Saturday June 27th, we’ll offer a series of educational presentations along with some classic Field Day radio operating. The operating emphasis will be on giving newer hams a chance to get on the air, probably on both HF and VHF. (Our plans are still coming together.) We will also promote the theme of emergency communications, operating off a emergency power source, etc.

There are a number of things that we are intentionally leaving out. We won’t operate the entire 24 hour period…in fact, we’ll probably just be on the air Saturday afternoon. We won’t worry about making a lot of contacts or running up the score. Our stations will be relatively simple (no towers, no amplifiers).

So that’s our idea of a fun Field Day. What are you planning to do?

73, Bob K0NR

ARRL Field Day Information Page
ARRL Field Day Site Locator

ARRL Field Day – Complete Information Packet

2015 SOTA VHF Activity Days

Bob summitOn the topic of operating events for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, Guy N7UN suggested focusing on six major events for 2015. Most of these are VHF-oriented but HF activity can also occur on these days.

IMG_1836Of course, any day is a good day for SOTA activity. I also think six weekends are a great way to focus our operating activity and create S2S (summit to summit) radio contacts. The August 1-2 weekend looks to be the alignment of the planets with four events happening on that weekend. Early August usually offers excellent conditions for hiking the highest peaks in Colorado, so come on out and play.

For more info on VHF SOTA, see How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation.

Get off the couch, put on your hiking boots, grab your backpack, grab your radio but most important: get on the air!

73, Bob K0NR

What’s All the Fuss About K1N?

If you have been paying any attention to the world of ham radio DX, you have heard about the DXpedition to Navassa Island. According to Wikipedia, Navassa Island is a unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States. Haiti (just 40 miles to the east) also claims ownership of the island but it appears that the US currently has control. The island is designated as the Navassa National Wildlife Refuge by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and access to the island is severely limited. (There is some interesting reading about the various territories of the US on Wikipedia.)

Navassa Island mapFor the purposes of DXCC, Navassa Island is considered a separate country (I mean entity), one that is very difficult to work because no one lives there. Actually, its worse than that because hardly anyone is even allowed to set foot on the island, let alone install a ham station. This means that Navassa is near the top of the list of the most wanted DXCC entities.

An enterprising and persistent group of radio hams managed to get permission to visit the island and put it on the air. The logistical challenge is large, including the use of ships and helicopters to get all of the people, radio gear and supplies on and off the island. As you can imagine this gets quite expensive.

This is where I have to chuckle at the silliness of the situation. Imagine explaining this to someone that drops in from another planet. We have this hobby that involves communicating long distances via electromagnetic waves. One of the pursuits in this hobby is counting up how many countries you have contacted. Well, they aren’t all true independent countries, so we have to keep a special list to keep track of which ones are considered countries. Now, we have this one island that is on the list but we also have this rule that no one is allowed to live on this island. This causes a group of people to assemble a major expedition, costing a great deal of time and treasure, with the sole purpose of enabling electromagnetic communication from the island.

At this point, I should mention I am a slacker DXer. Many years ago, I did take the time to get >100 countries confirmed so that I could claim DXCC but I don’t spend much effort trying to chase new countries.  When I heard about the Navassa DXpedition, it did peak my interest because I knew it was such a rare opportunity. Who knows when and if I would get another shot at working this country? I also knew the getting enough RF from my station to Navassa would not be very difficult. It is only 2300 miles from Colorado, a slam dunk on 20m, even with my modest 100W to a dipole antenna. Except that there would be 20,000 other hams called at the same time, creating a huge pileup. Which is why I don’t get into chasing rare DX. While I love the challenge of bouncing my signal off the ionosphere to reach distant locations, I don’t groove on the pile up that normally ensues. That quickly turns into a contest of who has the biggest signal (size does matter) and who is most adapt at getting the attention of the DX station.

About the time that K1N started operating from the island, I was out of town on business. I began to think that working Navassa was not for me. However, I did manage to find some operating time on Feb 14, which turned out to be the last full day of K1N operation. After just a couple of calls, I got through the pileup and worked them on 20m SSB. (I’d like to think that it was superior operating technique but it was probably just dumb luck.)

Thanks to the team that put Navassa Island on the air. (Yes, I did send in a small donation to help the cause.) From what I experienced, this DXpedition was very efficient and well run. Take a look at the interview with one of the participants, Glenn W0GJ,  who had some interesting comments about the experience.

73, Bob K0NR

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.

This Spewed Out of the Internet #28

0511-0701-3118-0930More important things have spewed forth from the interwebz:

HamRadioNow interviews the Ham Hijinks guys and has the nerve to actually publish the video. Later the Hijinks crew posted this article about changes being made to Field Day.

Baofeng is going to change its name. Or is this just another Ham Hijinks article?

WE2F writes: 146.52 Reasons to Monitor VHF Simplex but whatever you do, do not use 146.52 MHz on Field Day. Mike AD5A posts Why Operate QRP from Summits? The FCC kicks the butt of a cell phone jammer manufacturer, to the tune of $34.9M and also fines a couple of 14.313 MHz problem children.

A Broadband Over Powerline (BPL) provider bites the dust. Did I mention that it is a really dumb idea to transmit bits over AC power lines?

I did a little explaining about those antenna connectors on handheld radios. Randy (K7AGE) has a neat video showing some basic 2m FM portable operating.

I knew it: Digital is overrated and vinyl is making a comeback. Really.

Due to popular demand, I updated the VHF QRP page. Yes, some radio hams do operate QRP above 50 MHz…apparently for the same reasons that people operate HF QRP. Which is to say we really don’t know why.

I also found that the domain name for the Colorado 14er Event was broken, so I fixed it. See ham14er.org  This event is the most fun you can have dorking around with radios in the Colorado mountains. Also, be sure to check out these operating tips.

73, Bob K0NR

Making Plans for the Colorado 14er Event

Colo14er SOTA logoThe Colorado 14er Event (Aug 3) is less than a month away so it is time to get ready. This event was born out of the basic observation that many hiking hams were taking along their radios (typically, a VHF/UHF handheld) when they climbed the Colorado 14,000 foot mountains. So we thought “let’s all climb on the same day and see who we can contact.” The typical 2m FM contacts have expanded to other frequencies and modes, including the high frequency bands, with the potential for worldwide propagation. We’ve also embraced the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program, opening up over 1700 summits in Colorado for ham radio activity.

How can you join in the fun? The most active way to participate is to operate from a summit. If you are interested in climbing 14ers, then you may want to operate from one of the 54 14,000 foot mountains. In my opinion, all of the 14ers are strenuous hikes, so be sure to assess your ability and check out the challenge of any summit you attempt. There are a few that you can drive up, Pikes Peak, Mount Evans and Mount Bross (4WD only). Note that a “non-motorized final ascent” is required if you want to qualify as a SOTA activation, which is encouraged. See this web page for some great tips on activating a SOTA peak. If you want to try something less difficult, consider one of the easier SOTA peaks (more than 1700 in Colorado). Everyone can find a SOTA peak that fits their particular hiking ability.

If you can’t get out and operate from a summit, you can still have fun trying to contact the radio hams on the various summits. There will be quite a bit of activity on 2m FM, starting with 147.42 MHz and moving up from there using the standard Colorado band plan. You’ll want to be roughly within “line of sight” to as many peaks as possible for working them on VHF. Many radio operators will be on the HF bands, too. See the recommended frequency list here.

Summits On The Air has some great infrastructure that we can use during the event. The SOTAwatch web site is using for “spotting” SOTA stations so that you know who is on the air. Spotting yourself is encouraged and can be done from many peaks using a mobile phone. SOTA Goat is a great iOS app for making and tracking spots.

Take a look at this posting for some additional SOTA resources. There’s quite a bit of information out there so take advantage of it. Remember, the Colorado 14er Event is based on the fundamental purpose of ham radio: to have fun messing around with radios. But  be careful out there, we don’t want anyone to get hurt.

Questions, comments, let me know.

73, Bob K0NR

Disclaimer: Climbing mountains in Colorado can be dangerous. Only you are responsible for your safety. In particular, be very aware of the lightning danger if you are hiking above treeline.