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

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

The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado

K0NR Operating VHF on Mt Herman
K0NR Operating VHF on Mt Herman (Photo: Ken Wyatt WA6TTY)

I’ve often said that Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) is the most (ham) radio active mountain in Colorado. Many of us have operated from that summit for VHF contests, QRP events and Summits On The Air (SOTA). Of course, I didn’t have any data to back that claim…until now. A review of the cumulative SOTA activations in Colorado through Jan 1, 2016 shows these four summits as the most-activated SOTA peaks.

Summit SOTA Designator Number of Activations
Mount Herman W0C/FR-063 95
Pikes Peak W0C/FR-004 53
Mount Evans W0C/FR-003 33
Squaw Mountain W0C/PR-082 31

All of these summits are relatively close to the large population centers in the state. Also, they not that difficult to get to and some of them have roads that go to the top. Pikes and Evans are both 14ers but can be accessed via 2WD vehicles.

But what makes Mount Herman so special? It does not have a road to the summit — you definitely have to hike it, a little bit more than a mile one way with elevation gain of ~1000 feet. What makes the difference for Herman is that it is in the backyard of the well-known radio ham, goat hiker and SOTA enthusiast, Steve WGØAT. Steve has personally activated the summit more than 30 times AND he drags along mentors encourages other radio hams to join him. Frank KØJQZ did 22 activations, some with Steve and many on his own. (Frank just achieved SOTA Mountain Goat status, activating enough summits to earn 1000 SOTA points.) Fortunately for me, Mt Herman is about 4 miles as the GPS flies from my house, so I have worked that summit 31 times (usually Steve or Frank and always on 2 meters). I’ve also activated Mt Herman for SOTA three times, as described here: A Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation, Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest and Winter Assault on Mt Herman.

Here’s one of Steve’s fun videos that captures the first SOTA activation of Mt Herman, with his goat crew Peanut and Rooster (SK).

Frank and Steve, thanks for all of the Q’s from Mt Herman over the past years! See you on the air and on the trail.

73, Bob KØNR

Winter Assault on Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063)

On the last day of the year, it seemed like a good idea to get in one more SOTA activation. It turns out that I had not been up Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063) all year, even though it’s close by. See this page for the trail description. Joyce KØJJW and I decided to hike up in the morning, reaching the summit around 11 AM local time.  This was my third SOTA activation of Mt Herman, but I’ve operated from there many more times in various VHF contests (back before SOTA was a thing in Colorado).

Trail conditions
Winter conditions on Mount Herman trail.

The road to the trailhead (Mt Herman Road, FS 320) was in very good condition but snowpacked and icy. This road is not plowed during the winter but it is often passable with a decent 4WD vehicle. Today, you could make it to the trailhead with 2WD and some careful driving. The trail conditions were typical for winter time: almost completely covered in snow with a few bare spots showing here and there. The trail was packed powder and not particularly icy. Still, we appreciated having traction devices on our boots. This trail can be downright treacherous when it ices up, so traction devices (Yaktrax, Microspikes, etc.) are highly recommended. Trekking poles can be helpful, too.

K0JJW K0NR
Joyce K0JJW and Bob K0NR on the trail.

Once at the summit, I used my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and a half-wave vertical antenna to work people on 146.52 MHz. Having notified a number of people that I would be on the air, I actually had a bit of a pile up on 2m fm. In short order, I worked KE5QNG, WA6MM, KH7AL, WG0AT, W7AWH, K9MAP, K0JQZ, K9DBX, W0STU, KD0MFO, WB0ROK, KD0VHD and KL7IZW. Best DX was about 50 miles with W7AWH in Pueblo West. Thanks to everyone that got on the air to work me.

The weather was cold, about 15 deg F, so we didn’t stay too long on the summit and headed back down the trail. OK, maybe “winter assault” is a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s call it a fun hike in cold weather.

73, Bob K0NR

Other postings on SOTA activation of Mt Herman:
Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation (W0C/FR-063)
Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest

Just Another VHF SOTA Contact

On Sunday, I noticed that Brad WA6MM posted that he planned to activate Dakota Hill (W0C/SR-051) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Dakota is not a good VHF shot from my house but I was planning to be mobile out east towards Black Forest that morning, so it was worth a try. I texted Brad to let him know I’d be looking for him on 2m fm.

WA6MM to K0NR map - Dakota HillHeading south on Highway 83, the road was gaining elevation when Brad let me know he would soon be on the air. Dakota Hill is 10,929 feet and set back into the mountains, so I wasn’t sure if I could make the RF trip over Palmer Divide to work him. I pulled over at the crest of the hill and made a call. Brad had moved off 146.52 MHz due to some intermod interference and was on 146.55 MHz. Brad was using his trusty handheld radio running 5 watts into a half-wave antenna while I had a 50 watt mobile with a 1/4-wave antenna on the roof of the SUV. We made the contact without too much trouble…his signal was half scale on my meter. I listened to Brad work another station as I drove on, losing elevation and losing Brad’s signal on the other side of the hill. That was apparently THE SPOT to make the contact. Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) is a key factor for VHF SOTA.

I put WA6MM into the log, scoring 6 SOTA chaser points for the 70 mile QSO. No, this wasn’t a rare DX station, no new record set, nothing that exceptional to report, actually. But it was a fun contact, with Brad hiking to a summit in December and me trying to find a location to work him.

This is why I like VHF on SOTA. Just another example of having fun messing around with radios.

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

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

West Buffalo Peak (W0C/SP-018)

Buffalo Peaks are a pair of 13er summits that stick up quite prominently on the west side of South Park in Colorado. West Buffalo Peak is the taller of the pair (13,326 feet) and the SOTA summit (W0C/SP-018). I’ve had my eye on these peaks for a while, wanting to climb then and also do a SOTA activation. Here’s a winter view of the summits, as seen from the south near Trout Creek Pass.

Buffalo Peaks - small
Buffalo Peaks in the Winter

There’s quite a bit of good information on the peaks at SummitPost.org.

Joyce K0JJW and I hiked in from the north, off of Buffalo Peaks Road (FS 431). The trailhead is not marked and is easy to miss but this trip report on the 13ers.com web site is very helpful. Pay special attention to the photo of the trailhead. This trip report describes doing both East and West Buffalo in a bit of a loop. We opted to focus on just West Buffalo, skipping East Buffalo.

Joyce K0JJW on the trail
Joyce K0JJW on the trail.

Here’s my favorite hiking partner on the trail near the trailhead. The “trail” is not very well marked, following various old logging roads.  We roughly followed the route indicate on 13ers.com. Once we cleared the trees we had a good view of both peaks and aimed for West Buffalo. We did make a critical error by going for the summit too early and got onto some very steep talus. Not fun. So the main route finding advice I am going to provide is make sure you approach the summit from the (more) gentle saddle on the northwest side. I marked this waypoint (N 38.99444, W 106.12866) as a good point to aim for on the way up so that you stay far enough west.

Once on the summit, I worked the following stations on 146.52 MHz: KD0MRC, KJ6NES, AF5KS, W9GYA, KE0DMT, W0BV and K5UK.

Bob and Joyce Buffalo Peak
Bob K0NR and Joyce K0JJW on West Buffalo Peak, with East Buffalo Peak in the background.

On the descent we stayed west of the route marked on the 13ers.com trip report with the intent of having an easier route. However, mostly what we did was encounter additional off trail hiking, so that is probably not recommended. It would have been better to just retrace our ascent route. Eventually, we found a different trail that led back to FS 431, popping out about a quarter mile west of where we parked. I had the location of our Jeep marked in the GPS, so it was easy to backtrack to the vehicle.

This was the first SOTA activation for West Buffalo Peak, so it was great to get that in the log. Thanks to everyone that got on the air to work me.

73, Bob K0NR

The Ten Essentials for Hiking (and SOTA Activations)

hike-shoe-printMost backcountry hikers are familiar with the Ten Essentials that you should take with you whenever you head into the wilderness. Over the past few years, I noticed that I was getting a bit sloppy with regard to what is actually in my pack when I head out on the trail. This hit home one day when my GPS battery went dead. I fumbled around to find my compass which was supposed to be in my pack. Well, it was in my pack, the other one that I left at home.

This caused me to review the list of ten essentials to make sure I had the right stuff in my kit. A search on the internet revealed that the classic list of ten has been modified and augmented by various people to make it better. (Innovation runs rampant on the interwebz, you know.) One of the better resources I found was this page on the REI web site, which explains how the Classic Ten Essentials have been updated to the Ten Essential Systems:

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

Read through the REI web page to get the fine points of this system approach. I won’t repeat that information here. They also include a Beyond the Top Ten list which calls out the need for:

Communication device: Two-way radios, a cell phone or a satellite telephone can add a measure of safety in many situations.

Of course, what they really mean is an amateur radio transceiver and antenna but they probably can’t say that in print due to licensing issues. (Not everyone in the backcountry has an FCC ham license. I know, they all should have an amateur license but many don’t…very hard to understand :-) )

So how are you doing with your Ten Essentials list? Are you consistent in taking along the right stuff in your pack? Any tips to share with hiking hams?

73, Bob K0NR

Summits On The Air at Central States VHF

Recently I had the opportunity to speak about portable, mountaintop VHF operating at the Central States VHF Society Conference in Denver. A key part of my presentation was the Summits On The Air program, portable VHF equipment, VHF contests and other operating events.

CSVHFSThe presentation slides are available here in pdf format. I also submitted a paper on the same topic to the conference a paper on the same topic to the conference proceedings.

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

Use SSB For Better VHF Range on SOTA Peaks

Previously, I had written about how the use of SSB made the difference while activating Prospect Mountain (W0C/FR-069) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). This time I was the SOTA chaser, trying to work Brad WA6MM as he activated two peaks near Breckenridge, Colorado.

Bald Mountain to Black Forest (click to expand)
Bald Mountain to Black Forest (click to expand)

It was the Saturday of ARRL Field Day, so I planned to be out at our FD site in Black Forest. Brad and I had coordinated in advance and pretty much concluded that it would be difficult or impossible to make the contact on FM. Brad decided to take his FT-817 along with a homebrew 4-element yagi to give him 2m SSB capability. Out at the FD site, I saw that Brad was spotted on Bald Mountain (W0C/PR-019) via SOTAwatch early in the morning, so I borrowed the FD VHF station to try to work him. It was an FT-897 pushing 50 watts to a 4-element yagi up about 30 feet. I heard Brad clearly on 144.200 MHz (SSB calling frequency) and we made the contact.

I estimate that the contact was about 75 miles. I did not do a careful analysis of the terrain but the the signal had to get over the Rampart Range and quite a few other mountains to get from Black Forest to Bald Mountain. The summit of Bald Mountain is at 13,684 feet, so that certainly helps.

A few hours later, Brad showed up on the summit of Boreas Mountain (W0C/SP-030), another 13er near Breckenridge. By now, the Field Day station was in use, so I pulled out my own FT-817 and a 3-element Arrow yagi. Holding it in my hand, I pointed it towards Boreas Mountain and tuned to 144.200 MHz USB. This time Brad was even weaker but still readable, so we completed the contact.

In both cases, Brad was fair to good copy but just above the noise, I am sure that using FM would not have gotten the job done. For serious VHF work, 75 miles is not that great of a distance but we were running QRP power levels with small yagi antennas.

Brad and I are both concluding we need to encourage the use of SSB for 2m SOTA here in Colorado. It is common to end up on a high peak in the Colorado backcountry and not have enough range to reach the larger population centers. Sure there are more people active on 2m FM, but if no one is within range, it does not matter.

Congratulations to WA6MM for first activations of two more challenging summits in Colorado and thanks for 18 chaser points!

73, Bob K0NR

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.

click to expand
click to expand

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

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

SOTA Activation: Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081)

It was a nice fall day, so Joyce K0JJW and I decided to go for an easy hike up Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081) and do some SOTA operating. Well, maybe the hike was her idea and the Summits On The Air thing was my contribution to the plan. The hike is less than a mile with about 900 feet of elevation gain, depending on where you start.

This was definitely a slacker operation: easy access, easy hike, great weather and 2m FM activation via a handheld radio and the 1/2-wave whip.

Bob K0NR Kaufman Ridge SOTA 1

Note that there are two SOTA peaks with the “Kaufman Ridge” name: Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) and Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), located near Trout Creek Pass in Colorado. Today we headed to SP-081 which we reached by following County Road 318 from Trout Creek Pass, which is also called Buckrake Drive and then Windmill Drive. These roads pass through private property to reach the San Isabel National Forest, where there is a gate that is closed from December to April (see map). At this point, the road is easy 4WD; most 2WD high clearance vehicles will do fine. You can also approach from the south on FS 308 through Mushroom Gulch. 

We turned left onto FS 308 and then took a short side road FS 308B toward the summit. There are several other turn offs but 308B seems the best (shown in black on map). The road is blocked for vehicular traffic at 38.858659° N / 105.933921°W. You can continue walking on the road a ways or just head straight for the summit (blue on map). While the hike is short and not very steep, there are plenty of downed logs to give you a challenge.

You never know who is going to show up on 146.52 MHz in the mountains but I had put the word out via email to some of the local hams to let them know I was doing a SOTA activation. When I got to the summit, I had a few stations already calling me and I quickly worked Ron N0MQJ, Jerry N0VXE, Dave K0HTX, Jim KD0MRC, Bob W0BV and Don K0DRJ. Don was my “best DX”, about 60 miles away in Woodland Park with a few mountains in the way. Thanks to everyone that came on frequency and contacted me.

Side note: if you want to activate SP-085, go north on a forest service road (shown in black on the map) near where 318 and 308 intersect. Just drive a short ways north, find a parking spot and bushwack your way up the summit. (NM5S provides some tips on finding a trail.) You could easily activate both summits in one day.

73, Bob K0NR

The Completely Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps

iphonesIt is about time I updated one of my more popular posts about my favorite ham radio apps on the iPhone and IPad. As usual, I will focus on free or low cost (less than $5) apps that I am actively using. Some apps have just disappeared from iTunes and new ones have emerged. While this list is completely updated, it is still incomplete, because there are so many apps to choose from.

 

From the Simple Utility Category:

Ham I Am (Author: Storke Brothers, Cost: Free) A handy app that covers some basic amateur radio reference material (Phonetic alphabet, Q Signals, Ham Jargon, Morse Code, RST System, etc.) Although I find the name to be silly, I like the app!
Maidenhead Converter (Author: Donald Hays, Cost: Free) Handy app that displays your grid locator, uses maps and does lat/lon to grid locator conversions.
HamClock (Author: Ben Sinclair, Cost: $0.99) A simple app that displays UTC time, local time and grid locator. This one reads out to the second.

 

There are quite a few good apps for looking up amateur radio callsigns:

CallBook (Author: Dog Park Software, Cost: $1.99) Simple ham radio callbook lookup with map display.

Call Sign Lookup (Author: Technivations, Cost: $0.99) Another simple ham radio callsign lookup with map display.

 

There are a few repeater directory apps out there and my favorite is:

RepeaterBook (Author: ZBM2 Software, Cost: Free) This app is tied to the RepeaterBook.com web site, works well and is usually up to date.

 

For a mobile logbook (and other tools):

HamLog (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) This app is much more than a logbook because it has a bunch of handy tools including UTC Clock, Callsign Lookup, Prefix list, Band Plans, Grid Calculator, Solar Data, SOTA Watch, Q Signals and much more.

 

To track propagation reports, both HF and VHF:

WaveGuide (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $2.99) This is an excellent tool for determining HF and VHF propagation conditions at the touch of a finger.

 

If you are an EchoLink user, then you’ll want this app:

EchoLink (Author: Synergenics, Cost: Free) The EchoLink app for the iPhone.

 

There are quite a few APRS apps out there. I tend to use this one because my needs are pretty simple….just track me, baby!

Ham Tracker (Author: Kram, Cost: $2.99) APRS app, works well, uses external maps such as Google and aprs.fi. “Share” feature allows you to send an SMS or email with your location information.

 

Satellite tracking is another useful app for a smartphone:

Space Station Lite (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: Free) A free satellite tracking app for just the International Space Station. It has annoying ads but its free.

ProSat Satellite Tracker (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: $9.99) This app is by the same author as ISS Lite, but is the full-featured “pro” version. Although it is a pricey compared to other apps, I recommend it.

 

For Summits On The Air (SOTA) activity, there are a few apps:

Pocket SOTA (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) A good app for finding SOTA summits, checking spots and accessing other information.

SOTA Goat (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $4.99) This is my favorite app for SOTA activity (finding summits, checking/posting spots and alerts, etc.)

 

For ham radio license training, I like the HamRadioSchool.com apps. (OK, I am biased here as I contribute to that web site.)

HamRadioSchool Technician (Author: Peak Programming, Cost: $2.99) There are a lot of Technician practice exams out there but this is the best one, especially if you use the HamRadioSchool.com license book.

HamRadioSchool General (Author: Peak Programming, Cost: $2.99) This is the General class practice exam, especially good for use with the HamRadioSchool.com book.

 

Morse Code is always a fun area for software apps:

Morse-It (Author: Francis Bonnin, Cost: $0.99) This app decodes and sends Morse audio. There are fancier apps out there but this one does a lot for $1.

 

Well, that’s my list. Any other suggestions?

– 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

Portable All-Mode VHF Radio: FT-817 vs KX3

For truly portable mountaintop all-mode VHF operating, especially SOTA and VHF contests, the Yaesu FT-817ND has been my rig of choice. You might say that it is really the “only game in town” for a 6m/2m/70cm radio that fits in a backpack.

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

I’ve had my eye on the Elecraft KX3 transceiver ever since it was introduced, but really I have been waiting for the 2m module to become available. (The KX3 has HF plus 6m standard.) After being announced over a year ago, the 2m module is now shipping and radio amateurs are getting their hands on the unit.

I do enjoy getting on the HF bands but my radio passion has always been centered on 50 MHz and higher. For my purposes, the manufacturers could have left off the HF bands and just designed a portable rig that does 6m, 2m and 70 cm (and maybe 1.25m, too). Or how about a dualband HT that does SSB?

KX3_small1
The Elecraft KX3

I’ve used my 817 for many portable operations, so I have quite a bit of stick time on that rig. I’ve not really used a KX3, other than to play with it at hamfests. I’ve also talked with a number of KX3 owners that really like the rig. I was a bit surprised that the KX3 power is only 2.5W minimum (3W typical), compared to 5W with the FT-817. (Yeah, I know, that’s only 3 dB difference, blah, blah, blah.) One of the big complaints on the 817 is that it is a bit of a battery hog on receive (450 mA) but the KX3 is not that much better at 300 to 350 mA. Here’s my comparison table for the two radios — with the emphasis on VHF operation.

  FT-817ND KX3 with 2m Module
Bands HF + 6m, 2m, 70cm HF + 6m, 2m
6m Power Out 5W 8W
2m Power Out 5W 2.5 -3W
Standby rx current (2m) 450mA 300 to 350 mA
Transmit current (2m) 2A 1.7A
Weight 2.5 lbs, 1.2 kg 1.5 lbs, 0.7 kg
Price $690 KX3 assembled $900
Hand mic $60
2m module $260
Total: $1220

The price comparison is a bit tricky because the KX3 can be purchased in kit form for $100 less. Many hams will actually see the kit assembly as a plus, since they get the satisfaction of building their own radio. A microphone is not standard on the KX3, so I added that to the list. Also, there are several different variations on the 2m module, depending on whether the automatic antenna tuner for HF is installed and whether the factory installs the option. I just picked a price that was in middle of the range.

The table would lead you to conclude that the FT-817ND is the clear winner mostly based on price (and the 70cm band). But its not that simple. There is a lot to like about the KX3, including the nice big display and the trail friendly layout. It also has more features for CW, PSK31 and RTTY.

For me, the answer is clear: keep on keepin’ on with the 817, since there is not enough of an advantage to go to the KX3. But I will probably keep lusting after it anyway. This also raises the question: what does Yaesu have coming to replace the aging 817?

What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

SOTA Summit Activation: Sandia Crest (W5N/SI-001)

Joyce KØJJW and I were headed to the Duke City Hamfest in Albuquerque when we decided to make a side trip up Sandia Crest for a low overhead (read: slacker) Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation.

IMG_3266
The view of the summit when approaching via the Sandia Crest Road.

Sandia Crest pokes up 10,678 feet, towering over Albuquerque at roughly 5000 feet. Although the weather was rainy, we enjoyed the drive up the paved Sandia Crest Road through the Cibola National Forest. This looks like a great area to explore and we’ll probably be back sometime in the future.

At the parking lot, about 40 vertical feet below the summit, we paid the $3 per day use fee (self-service USFS station), grabbed the radio gear and headed up the walkway to the top. There is a gift shop and restaurant at the south end of the parking lot, along with several hiking trails. A large radio site on the north end of the parking lot has numerous towers and high power transmitters. The field strength is so strong that a sign has been placed there to warn of radio interference to car alarms and keyless remotes.

There is a large radio site with powerful transmitters near the summit.
There is a large radio site with powerful transmitters near the summit.

I pulled out the trusty Yaesu FT-60 handheld transceiver with the MJF-1714 1/2-wave antenna for 2 meters. I gave a few calls on 146.52 MHz and heard no replies. I am thinking, “surely with so many hams in town for the hamfest, someone is listening on five two.” Joyce was standing next to me with her FT-60 and a rubber duck antenna. We noticed that her radio was hearing signals that I could not hear.

Well, this sign did warn me of radio interference.
Well, this sign did warn me of radio interference.

Hmmm, the radio with the better antenna is not able to hear anything but the radio with a crummy rubber duck is working fine. At this point, I realized that my HT was being overloaded from the transmitter site with my high-efficiency antenna doing a great job of coupling those signals into my radio. I had to chuckle about this since I’ve often pointed out the poor performance of your typical rubber duck antenna. In this case, the less effective antenna was doing us the favor of reducing interference.

I swapped antennas and began making calls on 2m fm with the rubber duck. I also moved further away from the radio site to reduce the signal level. Yep, now I heard some guys coming back to me on 146.52 MHz. I could tell there was still some interference but it was workable. In short order, I had these stations in the log: KE7WOD, W5AOX, K5LXP, WB5QXD and K0JJW (after moving downhill outside of the activation zone),. Thanks for the QSOs!

I will admit that NM5SW mentioned the interference problems on this peak, so I had fair warning. Keep in mind that the FT-60 has reasonably good intermod performance, probably better than your average HT, and was getting completely blocked with the long antenna. I was glad that I was not using one of the Baofeng HTs. It made me wonder how well my FT-817 would do under the same conditions, but that will be a test for another day.

This sign shows the trail system at the summit and the location of the tram.

Another way to ascend the peak is via the Sandia Peak Tramway, which comes up from the Albuquerque side. We came across this sign that shows the trail system near the summit and indicates the top of the tram (click to expand). The tram drops passengers off some distance from the actual summit, so you’ll have about a 1.5 mile hike to the summit.

In summary, it was a successful activation although the weather could have been better. The big thing I learned was that a more efficient antenna is not always the best antenna. Sometimes a crummy rubber duck does better!

73, Bob K0NR

P.S. I later heard from Mike KD5KC that the Kiwanis Cabin (shown on the map) is a good place to operate from without radio interference issues on HF and VHF.

SOTA Summit W0C/SP-042 Activation

For the 2014 Colorado 14er Event, Joyce K0JJW and I decided to try a summit close to our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. The basic idea was to activate a non-14er SOTA peak with good VHF paths to all of the Colorado mountains. We also wanted to demonstrate the idea of activating Summits On The Air peaks during the 14er event.

SOTA summit W0C/SP-042
SOTA summit W0C/SP-042

We chose an unnamed peak (W0C/SP-042) that rises to 12,792 feet near Cottonwood Pass . This summit was already on my list of SOTA peaks to activate, so that was another plus. The trail starts at Cottonwood Pass, right on the continental divide and runs along the divide for about 2 miles.

Cottonwood Pass
Joyce (K0JJW) at the trail head, Cottonwood Pass.

In fact, we followed the Continental Divide Trail (CTD) to get to this SOTA peak. I’ve done several backpack trips on the CTD and its always a blast to be walking along the top of the continent enjoying the awesome views.

trail route
The trail starts at Cottonwood Pass and runs along the Continental Divide.

The main trail passes over the top of another summit at 12,400 feet before continuing on to SP-042. The trail does not go to the top of SP-042, passing it on the east side. We just stayed on the trail until we were due east of the summit, then climbed up the east side which turned out to be a bit steeper than it looked. On the way down, we left the summit by following the ridge a bit to the south and found a gentler route back to the trail. Also on the way back, we followed a side trail to the east of the 12,400 foot summit, saving some vertical gain and loss. My GPS app on the iPhone logged the one-way distance as 2.2 miles (including going over the first summit). It looks shorter on the map but the switchbacks add some distance.

Bob K0NR on the trail
Bob (K0NR) on the trail.

After we reached the summit around 9 am, I quickly assembled the 2m/70cm Arrow antenna and mounted it on my hiking stick. Once I had the FT-817 up and running, I spotted myself on Sotawatch.org using the SOTA Goat app. Logging was done with HamLog on my iPhone.

trail
Typical trail conditions on the CTD.

I worked a number of mountaintop stations on 2m fm (147.42 and adjacent simplex frequencies) with the best DX being N4MMI on Redcloud Peak, about 80 miles away. I tried calling on 2m and 70 cm SSB without any luck. Joyce made a few contacts on 446.0 MHz using an HT with a vertical antenna.

Bob summit
Bob (K0NR) pointing the 2m yagi (vertically polarized) for maximum signal strength.

The weather cooperated all morning with mostly white fluffy clouds. We stayed on the summit until noon and then hit the trail back to the pass. This hike is now one of our favorites, really good for visitors that want a taste of hiking above treeline with great views.

73, Bob K0NR