Kaufman Ridge is a ridge line that runs along the border of Park and Chaffee Counties in Colorado, near Trout Creek Pass. There are two Summits On The Air (SOTA) summits on this ridge: Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-081), formerly Kaufman Ridge HP, and North Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-085), formerly Kaufman Ridge North. I have activated these summits before including a winter activation of North Kaufman Ridge. These summits have turned out to be popular SOTA activations because they are easy to access, easy to hike and have outstanding views of the surrounding area.
Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to do a SOTA activation on a pleasant September day. On previous trips, we approached the summit from the east without much thought to the route. This time we approached from the north, based on a tip from other SOTA activators. This route is a little bit longer than coming from the east but it turned out to have fewer steep spots and less downed timber to navigate.
To get to the start of the hike, we went south on Windmill Drive to FS 318, entering the San Isabel National Forest. There is a gate at the entrance to the forest that is closed from December to April. We turned right onto FS329, which may not be marked but is an obvious 4WD road heading to the north. We drove to the end of the road and parked near the National Forest boundary. These are really easy 4WD roads such that a high-clearance 2WD vehicle should have no problem.
At this point, we aimed straight at the summit and started hiking. We found only bits and pieces of a trail here and there. Someone has attempted to mark the trail in places but it was difficult to follow. No worries though as the route was relatively smooth without many obstacles such as rock formations and difficult downed timber. We had to do some minor route finding but just looking ahead for obstacles was sufficient. The one-way distance was 1.1 miles with a vertical gain of 800 feet.
On top, we both snagged plenty of radio contacts on VHF/UHF and enjoyed the excellent views in all directions. This made for a nice SOTA activation on a sunny fall day!
Mount White (W0C/SR-021) is 13,667 feet in elevation, just south of its big brother Mount Antero (W0C/SR-003) at 14,269 feet. Joyce/K0JJW and I activated this summit on SOTA using VHF/UHF. There had only been 4 activations of Mount White, which is a bit surprising. It is not that difficult to get to…if you have a decent 4WD vehicle. We have a stock Jeep Wrangler that handled the road just fine, but I would suspect that a AWD crossover (e.g., Subaru) or similar would not be adequate. We saw a number of hikers on the road (probably headed to Antero), so that is always another option.
The Mount White / Mount Antero area is covered with mining claims and old mining roads. This may degrade the hiking experience but does provide some decent 4WD roads to access the area. The Summitpost.org posting on Mount White has some interesting geological information about Mount White and Mount Antero. There are two summits on Mount White and Summitpost says the actual summit of Mount White is the eastern one. However, the SOTA database indicates the western one. Some other maps also indicate Mount White as the summit to the east but I believe the SOTA information is correct. I guess for SOTA purposes, it is correct, by definition.
A San Isabel National Forest map is very helpful for figuring out access to this summit. Basically, you head west on County Road 162 towards Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Eventually, you’ll get to FS 277 which is a moderate 4WD road marked as the road to Mount Antero. Take a left turn onto FS 278 and follow that uphill to eventually take a left turn onto FS 278A. Stay on 278A for a very short time, then take a right onto FS 278B which takes you to the saddle below Mount White. (See map below.) This route does require good vehicle ground clearance. There are two stream crossings and many tight switchbacks. All in all, it was an easy-peasy fun trip with our stock Jeep Wrangler.
The hiking route is not difficult: 0.35 Miles one way and 450 feet vertical. But you are above 13k feet, so expect the oxygen to be thin. We started out by following a road along the north side of the peak, then scrambled up the talus to the summit. There are bits of pieces of “trail” but we did not find an established hiking route. The day we were there in September it was extremely windy so we did not stay long.
Mount Antero is close by so you could do both summits on the same trip, assuming the weather cooperates.
Joyce/K0JJW and I were getting prepared for a trip to Gatlinburg, TN in August with some of her family. Gatlinburg is the gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding area. I had hiked and camped in the Smokies years ago and this was a great opportunity to visit that area again. Of course, we needed to get in a little Summits On The Air (SOTA) action during this trip.
We decided to pick out some easy-to-access summits in the area so we could weave them into the trip without too much disruption. My first step was to consult the SOTA database for potential summits in Tennessee and North Carolina, looking at the summits with the most activations. This is usually a good indication of easy access and not too difficult of a climb. I did pick out two iconic summits to activate: Clingmans Dome (this highest summit in the national park) and Mount Mitchell (the highest summit east of the Mississippi river in the US). After checking the various trip reports logged on the SOTA web site, I created a list of potential target summits. Clingmans Dome and Mount Mitchell were Must Do but any other summits would be more opportunistic based on available time and location.
We are using VHF/UHF for SOTA activations and opted for a basic FM station for this trip: a pair of Yaesu FT-1D handhelds, a couple of vertical antennas and a 3-element Arrow yagi antenna for 2 meters. I debated about whether to bring along the yagi but the split-boom design fits into my luggage without any problem. In the end, I am glad we had the yagi as several of the contacts would have been missed without it.
Greentop (W4T/SU-076) was our first summit…basically a driveup mountain with radio towers and a lookout tower on top. I noticed quite a bit of interference on the 2 meter band, something I’ve encountered in previous activations near transmitter sites. It turns out that putting a more effective antenna on an HT (such as a half-wave vertical) couples more of the interference into the receiver and degrades its performance. On the other hand, the standard rubber duck antenna picks up less of the interference and performs better then the “good” antenna. After I realized this was happening, I tried using two HTs with reasonable results: one radio with a rubber duck was used for receive on 146.52 MHz while another radio with a half-wave antenna was used for transmitting. The net result was reasonable performance that allowed us to make contacts on 2m fm.
Clingmans Dome (W4C/WM-001) is a popular tourist spot in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Parking is a challenge and there are quite a few people on the short trail to the summit.
Although it sits right on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, it is in the W4C (Carolinas) Association for SOTA purposes. As I approached the summit, I saw a fishing pole sticking up in the air. I thought “huh, I wonder what the rangers are demonstrating today.” Followed by “Hey, wait a minute, that looks like a SOTA activation.” Sure enough, I met W2SE and WI2W setting up on 20m CW. Joyce and I headed to the observation tower and worked 2m from up there. There were quite a few people on the observation tower so I considered just operating from down below. I decided to leave the yagi in the backpack and just use the half-wave vertical. We fit right in with the chaos of tourists on the tower.
At 6684 feet in elevation, Mount Mitchell (W4C/CM-001) is the highest point in the USA east of Mississippi River. (Interesting perspective: our house in Colorado is 800 feet higher than this summit.) We started with just the 2m vertical but switched to using the yagi when we had trouble copying a few stations. It definitely made a difference…probably 6 dB or so. When signals are near the FM threshold, this can pull them out of the noise.
One of the highlights on Mitchell was working Kevin/K4KPK on Walnut Mountain, summit to summit. Kevin is very active in SOTA and has contributed many SOTA summit guides in the area. I made good use of these reports when planning our trip. He is also the top activator in the W4G association, a Mountain Goat approaching 2000 points.
Richland Balsam and Waterrock Knob
We discovered a number of summits right along the Blue Ridge Parkway and we ended up working these two: Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003) and Waterrock Knob (W4C/WM-004). Another flashback for us was driving sections of the parkway, which is a lovely drive (typically 45 MPH speed limit) that winds through the mountains. It has been years since we’ve been on that road. This route is something I’d like to explore further on a future trip as you could spend a week wandering along the parkway and knocking out summits.
We worked Pat/KI4SVM on 2m fm from Watterock. I recognized his callsign from the trip reports he has submitted to the SOTA web site. Later, I looked up his SOTA score and found that he is a double Mountain Goat (> 2000 activation points) and the highest scoring activator in the W4C association.
The Mountain Explorer Award is a SOTA award for activating in different SOTA Associations (regions). Activating in Tennessee (W4T association) and North Carolina (W4C association) got my total to 6. Joyce pointed out that we might be able to also hit Georgia on the trip, so we added Brasstown Bald (W4G/NG-001) to the list. This is the highest summit in Georgia, so it rounded out our collection of state high spots for TN, NC and GA.
Brasstown Bald is an easy hike up summit with a significant observation tower on top, including a visitors center. This is another location where we experienced interference from radio gear on the summit, so we chose our position carefully and used the 2m yagi to point away from the interference sources.
This trip worked out really well. We managed to activate 6 summits for a total of 58 points, operate from three new SOTA associations (W4T, W4C and W4G), enjoy some really nice hikes and see some great scenery. I was a little concerned whether we would find enough random activity on 2m fm for our SOTA activations but it all worked out. Actually, there were a few times that 146.52 MHz was busy and we had to standby to make a call. Some of our contacts were less than 25 miles but many covered 100 miles or more. Yes, the 3-element yagi made a difference.
If you are in the Gatlinburg area, it certainly makes sense to try a few SOTA activations. I am also thinking about a return trip to enjoy the area more fully including some longer hikes. We really liked hiking the trails and summits there. The elevation is lower than Colorado (read: you have oxygen to breath), the forests have lots of deciduous trees (not just evergreens) and the trails are less rocky. I am sure we will be back.
Mount Peck (W0C/SP-053) is a 12,208 foot summit near Monarch Pass, accessible via a 2.5 mile hike with ~900 feet of elevation gain. This is one of the most pleasant Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks along the Continental Divide. For most of the route, you are hiking on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), with outstanding views in all directions. It is always a treat to hike on the CDT, which is like walking on top of the world.
The hike starts at the parking lot at Monarch Pass. (I’ve adapted these directions from Walt W0CP’s notes on the SOTA website.) Take the marked trail that goes behind the building of the Monarch Crest Scenic Tram. Proceed on this trail (really a road at this point) until the CDT exits off to the right (follow it). This section of the CDT is a popular mountain bike trail, so you may encounter bikers on the route. In fact, dirt bikes are also allowed…we encountered a few of them, too.
Stay on the CDT until you see an old 4WD road heading off to the left. Leave the CDT at this point and follow the road uphill. When the road crests and before it starts to go back downhill, leave the road and hike off-trail towards the summit. This is the steepest section of the hike where you gain the most elevation. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view. (My spouse started singing songs from The Sound of Music at this point.)
Often hiking on old 4WD roads can seem just like that: hiking on a road and not very enjoyable. This route is not that way…it is actually quite pleasant as the “road” is not rocky or rutted and just seems like an extra-wide trail.
We had great weather on the summit and managed to work a number of stations on 2m fm (Yaesu FT-1D driving a 3-element Arrow yagi antenna). This is a hike that we want to repeat in the future.
Another SOTA summit, South Monarch Ridge (W0C/SP-058) is nearby and it is possible to do both of these summits in the same day.
There are (at least) 20 different summits named “Black Mountain” just in the state of Colorado. I’m sure there are many more nationwide. It seems to be a popular, if unimaginative, name. This is why we have a numbering system for Summits On The Air, else we would forever be talking about “which Black Mountain was that anyway?” Or Deer Peak or Sheep Mountain or …
On Thursday, Joyce K0JJW and I activated another Black Mountain, this one with Summits On The Air (SOTA) designator: W0C/FR-031. I’m not sure why it has an FR or Front Range designation, as the summit is actually in the South Park region of the state. I can tell you that it is an awesome summit with great views.
To get to Black Mountain, take Highway 9 south out of Hartsel, CO (or come north on Highway 9 from the south). The Pike National Forest map is very helpful with getting into the vicinity of the mountain. Turn west on FS 108. (This is the same road that leads to Dicks Peak W0C/FR-041.) This road has a sign that indicated “Dicks Peak” and “Black Mountain”. Follow FS 108 S/SW and then take FS 107 to the south (right turn). Follow FS 107 to FS 268, then follow FS 268. About this time, you should have an excellent view of Black Mountain to the south. The roads were muddy and rutted, definitely 4WD. Our Jeep Wrangler had no problem but a AWD crossover/Subaru may be challenged to get through.
Black Mountain has a steep vertical rock face to the north, which is visible as we approached from the north (see photo). At this point, we wondered if we signed up for a difficult climb…but not so. FS 268 turns west, kind of parallel to Black Mountain, then heads away from it. At this point, we wondered if we were on the wrong road. Not so. At this point, the Pike National Forest map failed us…it is incomplete in this area. Instead we used the gaiagps.com app on my smartphone which had a representation of the terrain and roads. As we headed west on FS 268 we saw a road heading off to the south. (I don’t recall if it is marked, but see map below.) Take this road south for about one and a half miles…looking for an unmarked road heading off to the east. The intersection with this road is easy to miss as it is not that distinct. But the road is very visible heading off to the east, so you’ll probably spot it later if you miss the turn and can circle back.
We took the unmarked road east until it deadended at a camping spot. We parked there and started the climb up to the summit. There are only random bits of a trail here and there, so we mostly just followed the GPS towards the summit. The route is forested with some downed timber but not difficult to navigate. The steep north side of Black Mountain provided some nice views. The hike is about 1.5 miles and 1000 feet vertical.
On top, we worked stations on 2m and 70cm fm without much trouble. It is an excellent VHF/UHF site and we found a number of locals hanging out on 146.52 MHz. We reversed our route on the way down and drove the Jeep out.
Steve WG0AT suggested that we could do an nearby unnamed peak (W0C/FR-222) on the same day. This is an excellent idea and we did just that. We headed back north and took FS 269 west, parking just south of FR-222. FR-222 is not shown on the Pike National Forest map but the Gaiagps.com app and other maps show it. The summit is easily seen from the road and a short hike gets you to the top (about 1/3 mile and 500 vertical feet).
For several years, I’ve had my eye on an unnamed summit (12132) in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area (W0C/SP-055). No one had activated it for Summits On The Air (SOTA) probably because the summit is somewhat remote. I originally thought I would have to do many miles of bushwhacking from the north to get to get to the top. After studying a few maps and trail descriptions, I eventually found a route from the east that is not too difficult.
My hiking partner Joyce/K0JJW and I started at Lynch Creek Trailhead, which is about 9 miles west of Highway 285 on FS 431, also known as Buffalo Peaks Road. The USFS Pike National Forest map is a good reference for finding the trailhead. We followed Salt Creek Trail #618 for about 1 mile to connect to the Tumble Creek Trail #617. These are well-used and well-maintained trails and a joy to walk on. We had been doing too much off-trail hiking lately, so this was a very nice change. The trails are marked by signs at the junction and are easy to follow.
We considered ascending the east side of the mountain but concluded that we’d end up hiking through some dense forest, which usually means downed timber and slow progress. Instead, we approached the summit from the south, leaving Trail 617 about three miles in from the trailhead, and heading uphill through a grassy meadow. There is a large beaver pond to the south at the point where we left the trail, so that makes for a good landmark. You can’t completely avoid the trees on this path but they are sparse enough to easily walk through. Near the summit, the easiest path hooks around to approach the summit from the west, avoiding some steep rocks on the south side of the summit. (Actually, we went straight up the rocks on the ascent and decided to avoid them on the descent.)
The summit is above treeline and relatively flat, offering excellent views in all directions.
Joyce and I both got on the air and made calls on 146.52 and 446.00 MHz using handheld VHF/UHF radios. We just used vertical antennas and didn’t bother to assemble the yagi antennas. Thanks to these stations that we worked that day: W0BV, W0DLE, N0VXE, K0RCW, K9LNH and KD0VHD.
The GPS app on my smartphone indicated the one-way distance at just under 4 miles, with an elevation gain of 2000 feet. The actual elevation gain may be slightly more than that due to some ups and downs on the trail. This is one of those hikes that we’ll probably do again in the future. It has an enjoyable mix of good trails, rolling streams, green meadows, great views and a pleasant summit.
One of the cool things about the Summits On The Air program is that it has many different awards available. The SOTA database records the QSOs of everyone involved in the program and is used to qualify for the awards. QSL cards are not required. The most coveted awards are Shack Sloth (reaching 1000 points as a “chaser”) and Mountain Goat (reaching 1000 points as an “activator”). There are so many SOTA activators on the air these days, reaching Shack Sloth is not too difficult. Just get on the air and make the contacts. (Last year, I completed Shack Sloth using VHF and higher frequencies only.) Mountain Goat is much more of a challenge because you have to physically go out and activate each summit, one at a time. Currently, there are 9 radio hams that achieved Mountain Goat status in Colorado. I have a long way to go for Mountain Goat.
Most of my SOTA contacts have been on the 2 meter band (144 MHz) using FM, SSB and CW. Recently, I put additional emphasis on making QSOs on two of the UHF bands: 70 cm (433 MHz) and 23 cm (1.2 GHz). With the SOTA scoring system, there are no extra points or credit for working the same station on additional bands. Still, I’ll often check with the other station on 2m to see if they want to make a QSO on one of the other bands…just because. The SOTA database does keep track of these QSOs separately so you can go in and look at your results on, say, just the 70 cm band.
For some unexplained reason, 1.2 GHz has my interest right now and I’ve been trying out my capabilities on that band. The 23 cm amateur band is one huge hunk of spectrum: 1240 to 1300 MHz (US allocation). To put this in perspective, this 60 MHz swath of spectrum is 171 times the size of the 20m amateur band. (Yeah, I grant you, the propagation on 20m is usually a lot more interesting.) So the first thing I ran into on this band is the lack of commercially available equipment. I think the number of radios that will do 1.2 GHz has actually declined in the last decade. I ended up buying a pair of Alinco DJ-G7T handheld tranceivers that put out 1W of RF power on 1.2 GHz.The second thing I ran into is the lack of other hams that have 1.2 GHz gear. But when you do find them, they usually are interested in making a contact! (I suppose it gets lonely on that band.)
Initially, Joyce K0JJW and I made some short-range SOTA contacts on 1.2 GHz using the two handheld radios, on the 1294.5 MHz FM calling frequency. Then I started looking for DX contacts from local stations that have 23 cm gear. To provide some additional antenna gain, I used a 4-foot yagi antenna (Comet CYA-1216E), specified as 16.6 dBi. One of the cool things about UHF and higher is that compact antennas can provide some serious gain. My best DX so far is 54 km (33.5 miles) but I expect to be able to do distances 3 to 4 times that. The SOTA awards system considers the 23 cm band to be “microwave” so my 54 km QSO just barely qualifies me for the 50 km award. (The microwave awards are based on distance worked, unlike the other SOTA awards.)
Joyce K0JJW and I were preparing to drive back home from the mountains and began to consider what Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks might be on the way and easy to access. I consulted with Steve WG0AT, who had a number of good suggestions but we ultimately decided on Blue Mountain (W0C/SP-123). This is an easy summit to get to and an easy summit to hike.
I found Carey’s (KX0R) trip report to be helpful, so I suggest reading that information. A Pike National Forest map is very helpful. To get to Blue Mountain, just get on Blue Mountain Road (CR 61) heading south out of Lake George (see map above). You’ll see that CR 61 passes by Blue Mountain on the east side and then turns west. Take forest service road FS 244 to the right (north), which takes you up to the west side of Blue Mountain. This road turns into easy 4WD (challenging 2WD with high clearance). We just kept going on FS 244 (ignoring the side roads) and parked at the very last turn, as shown on the map below (38.93108N, 105.35597W). Going any further on the road just takes you to a spot that is a bit tight to turnaround in.
At this point, you can just take aim at the summit (40.33530N, 105.28100W) and hike your way up. Approaching the slope at an angle makes it not quite so steep. Actually, precision isn’t required for any of this, just keep heading for the summit and you’ll likely get there.
For this activation, we took along gear for 2m, 70cm and 23cm, FM only. Basically, this amounts to a pile of HTs and a few compact antennas. All of our contacts were on 2m FM except I did work Paul W0RW on Wilkerson Pass using 1.2 GHz (23 cm). At an elevation of 9230 feet, this location does pretty well on VHF and higher, so we easily worked stations in Buena Vista (W0BV), Woodland Park (WA6TTY) and Como (KD0VHD). We also worked a hiker (Jim, KD0MRC) on the side of Mount Yale, about 50 miles away.
The photo on the left shows my portable 2m FM station: Yaesu FT-1DR handheld transceiver, 1/2-wave Flex antenna (Smiley Antenna), and the dismantled 3-element Yagi (Arrow Antenna). I recently started using the Smiley halfwave antenna because it flexes on the connector end, making it more resilient to on trail use.
In the photo to the left, I’ve got the yagi antenna assembled and I’m using it to make contacts. With a little practice, the Arrow antenna screws together quickly and provides some useful gain over the halfwave vertical (about 6 dB).
We had excellent weather today so that helped make for a fun day. If you are in the Lake George, CO area consider Blue Mountain for an easy and fun activation.
Operating goals or awards are a fun way to keep focused on accomplishing something via ham radio. Really, it’s a specific reason to get on the air and make radio contacts. I am not big on idle chit chat via the radio (“the weather here is 65 deg and raining”) so having a reason to make contacts helps me get on the air. I’ve tended to pursue awards in a serial manner…once I hit some level of accomplishment, I usually declare victory and move on to something else.
Way back in the wayback machine, the first award I pursued was Worked All States (WAS). It does take some effort but I was pretty active on the HF bands at the time, so many of the states just showed up in my log. But to really drive it home, I kept track of which states I still needed and actively looked for opportunities to work them.
Next up was Worked All Continents (WAC), which obviously requires working some DX. But then I decided that if I was going to have any DX cred at all, I needed to get DX Century Club (DXCC). This turned out to be a bit of a challenge with my modest station (100 watts and a dipole) but I found that working DX contests to be very helpful. The big hassle was collecting the QSL cards and getting them checked by the ARRL (back before the Logbook of the World was a thing). Once I checked the box on DXCC at just over 100 countries, I was satisfied and went on to other things. Serious DXers chase all available countries/entities to get Honor Roll and other bragging rights.
The VHF and higher bands have always been a passion for me, so I pursued the VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) awards. First, it was 6 meter VUCC, the easiest one to get. A really good run during the ARRL June VHF contest can produce the 100 grids you need for the award in one weekend. For me, it took a few more contests than that after factoring in the fallout that occurs when trying to get confirmation QSLs. The 10 GHz VUCC only requires 5 grids which turned out to be not too difficult. My VHF collaborator at the time, Doug W0AH (now W4LY) and I took turns operating from Pikes Peak while the other guy went out and activated the required 5 grids. It helps to have a big honkin’ mountain nearby to use for 10 GHz operating. About this time, I got into working the LEO satellites and worked the required 100 grids for satellite VUCC. I still don’t have very many grids confirmed on 2 meters, so that one is still calling to me.
Recently, I spent some effort going for the CQ WPX Award (worked prefixes award). This is an intriguing award structure because every new callsign prefix counts as a new one. For the basic mixed-mode award, you need to work at least 400 different callsign prefixes. I found this format to be a lot of fun because “everyone is DX” so to speak, but DX prefixes are also very valuable. This scoring approach is used for the WPX contests, which naturally brings out stations with less common callsign prefixes. A big motivator for me was when the ARRL announced Logbook of the World (LoTW) support for the CQ WPX awards. I mean, there was no way I was going to collect 400 QSL cards to submit for this award, but using LoTW made this very efficient. More on that story here: CQ WPX, LoTW and the End of QSL Cards.
Summits On The Air
Lately, I’ve been active in the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program, both activating and chasing summits. This is a natural fit for me as I’ve enjoyed mountaintop operating in various forms, mostly on VHF and UHF. (See my SOTA blog postings.) The SOTA program has a wide variety of awards, supported by a very powerful database used to record SOTA radio contacts and keep track of the scores. It is not really a competition but there is friendly rivalry between SOTA enthusiasts as they monitor each other’s posted scores.
I’ve been using VHF (and UHF) exclusively for SOTA and managed to qualify for the Shack Sloth Award using just those bands. (Shack Sloth is achieved with 1000 chaser points.) Shack Sloth is a bit of a misnomer for me as many of my SOTA chasing contacts were done while hiking, mobile or portable (not sitting at home in a shack). The Mountain Goat Award is taking a bit longer because I have to drag myself up enough summits to reach 1000 points as a summit activator.
Here’s the current scores for the Colorado (W0C) SOTA activators: At the top of the list, we find Carey KX0R totally killing it with 2808 points. These folks have all reached the coveted Mountain Goat status: KX0R, K0MOS, K0JQZ, W0CCA, KC0YQF, W0CP, KC5CW. I am further down the list, tied with AD0KE at 302 points. Now, remember this is not a competition 🙂 Honestly, I wish I were further along the path to Mountain Goat but I’ve decided to not fret too much, keep working at it and enjoy the journey. Walt W0CP recently gave me some excellent advice: just keep making progress.
You may not find the awards and goals I’ve mentioned to be very interesting, but there are many other options. In 2016, the ARRL sponsored the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, which created a lot of interest and activity. I did just three activations for NPOTA but many people really got into it.
You might also set your own personal goal, not associated with any award. I know one ham that decided his goal was to make a ham radio contact every day of the entire year. This sounds simple but if you have a full-time job and other responsibilities, it takes some persistence to make this happen. Perhaps you are public service oriented; you might set a goal for the number of ARES events you support this year. I challenge you to think about what it is you are trying to do with ham radio and set a goal that is consistent with that.
With the most recent release of the W0C ARM, there were 61 summits added to the Colorado SOTA list. I noticed that one of the new summits, H-44 Benchmark (W0C/SP-130) was easy to access, easy to climb and was in the vicinity of our mountain cabin. Surely, we needed to check it out and perhaps be the first ones to activate it.
To get there, take Highway 285 south out of Buena Vista (or north from Salida), exiting at County Road 194 clearly marked as Hecla Junction. As you travel east, the road climbs then tops out. Soon after the road started to descend, Joyce K0JJW and I stopped and parked at lat/lon: N38.64998 deg, W106.06747. I don’t think where you park is critical but be aware that this road can get busy during the summer with the many rafting outfitters taking out at Hecla Junction (on the Arkansas River). There are two driveways heading south near where the road crests…we opted to stay to the east of these. One of them appears to be a campsite and the other leads to a house/cabin.
We proceeded south towards the visible summit, looking ahead to find a route that did not have too many ups and downs. There are many options and there was not much downed timber to deal with. We found a nice route that hit the main ridge about 0.2 miles west of the actual summit. We did cross a old logging road which had some recent dirt bike tracks on it, so that may be another option.
Joyce K0JJW had the honor of activating this SOTA summit for the very first time. As usual, we were working VHF//UHF, mostly 2m FM, but we also made some contacts on 440 MHz and 1.2 GHz. I managed to work Jay W9RM near Olathe, CO on the west side of the state using 2m CW. (We couldn’t quite make the contact on SSB, so we switched to CW to get the job done.)
I’ve noticed a few other SOTA peaks are named “something benchmark.” I think that’s essentially an unnamed peak that happens to have a survey benchmark on it. So I looked around for the benchmark and found this marker at the summit:
Of course, like many of the lower summits in the Arkansas Valley, this one has a great view of the Collegiate Peaks to the west.
I expect this summit to be a popular SOTA activation because its easy to get to and has a great view. I estimate our total distance traveled as 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of 500 to 600 feet. Sorry, it’s only 2 points.
Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Well, last year we celebrated the 25th annual event so this year it must be the 26th. We are continuing the all weekend approach on August 5 and 6. However, many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early in the morning with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.
The 14er event includes Summits On the Air (SOTA) peaks, which add over 1700 now 1805 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide range of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org
Frequencies used during the event Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF, VHF and UHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz. We try to stay off 146.52 MHz, the National Simplex Calling Frequency to avoid overload, but if you need to make a call there, go for it…and be brief.
Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps
40m CW Frequency
Alternate 2m FM frequency
40m SSB Frequency
Alternate 2m FM frequency
30m CW Frequency
Alternate 2m FM frequency
20m CW Frequency
Primary 70 cm FM frequency
20m SSB Frequency
Alternate 70 cm FM frequency
17m CW Frequency
2m SSB calling frequency
17m SSB Frequency
6m SSB calling frequency
15m CW Frequency
23 cm FM calling frequency
15m SSB Frequency
Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply.
10m CW Frequency
10m SSB Frequency
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
Joyce (K0JJW) and I were driving back to Colorado from Texas on Highway 87 that goes right past Capulin Mountain in the Capulin Volcano National Monument. Capulin is a dormant volcano with a large crater on top, a great place to visit if you ever in the area. Oh, and it’s a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak, too (W5N/SG-009). Obviously, I thought it was a great opportunity to activate it for SOTA. There’s only one problem: this summit is out in the middle of nowhere so making some contacts on 2 meters was not going to be easy. (Yeah, I have been doing SOTA activations only on VHF.) In many locations, I just put out a call (or many calls) on 146.52 MHz and I eventually get my 4 QSOs to qualify for SOTA activation points. This works near populated areas and places where there is significant tourist traffic.
Capulin Mountain is in NE New Mexico, about 150 miles from Colorado Springs, 200 miles from Denver and about 190 miles to Albuquerque. These distances are all workable with a decent weak-signal station on 2 meters. But I was going to be operating at QRP power levels and a small 3-element yagi antenna. I concluded that this activation was still possible but it depended on getting some of the weak-signal VHF guys on the air so I had someone to work. So I put the word out to some of the VHF enthusiasts in the Rocky Mountain area asking for help. I received a good response which was encouraging so I published a schedule for Tuesday afternoon, starting at 19:30 UTC, 1:30 pm local.
The national monument is easy to access, just a few miles from the highway. I have an annual national parks pass, so we did not have to pay an entrance fee. This satellite photo of the monument, shows the crater and the access road that winds around it. The parking area is visible on the west side of the crater (zoom in).
The parking lot is not within the SOTA activation zone, but an easy hike up the ridge got us to the summit. For VHF, I wanted to be as high as possible anyway with a 360-degree view. There is a trail that goes completely around the crater rim, also crossing the summit. It is a short hike on a paved trail, a bit steep in spots but nothing difficult. We did encounter some extremely annoying gnats that swarmed around us the entire time.
We got to the summit earlier than planned, around 17:30 UTC, started calling on 146.52 fm and 144.200 ssb without much luck. Finally, I caught WE7L in Elizabeth, CO (DM79) on 2m cw at 19:05 utc. He was weak but very readable. I think I was pointing the antenna a little too far east…later he came in stronger when I directed the antenna further west. After that I worked Arne N7KA (DM65) near Albuquerque and K9VSW (DM76) near Taos. Once I got my antenna zero’d in on K9VSW, I was able to work him on ssb. Some time later, I heard Lou K0RI calling from the Colorado Springs area. He was loud enough that I heard him off the side of the antenna, still pointed at Albuquerque. Lou was running 160w to a 17-element 2M5WL yagi at 75 feet.
I heard some other stations but was not able to work them. The challenge was quite clear: most VHF enthusiasts are running 150W or more of RF power, while I had the FT-817 max’d out at 5W. This is quite an imbalance, easier for me to hear them than they could hear me. Clearly, cw saved the day, punching through with minimal signal levels.
My best DX for the day was N7KA at 229 miles. Actually, this is an all time best distance for me on 2m while doing a SOTA activation. I recently worked W9RM from Mount Herman at 170 miles and was pretty happy with that. We had signal to spare that day, so I figured I could do better. Also, I had previously worked 160 miles using FM between two Colorado 14ers. See Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels – 160 Miles.
I really, really, really appreciate the hams that got on the air to try and work me on Capulin. I could not have activated the summit without those skilled radio operators and their capable VHF stations.
Joyce KØJJW and I were out for a little snowshoe activity near Monarch Pass in the San Isabel National Forest. Initially, we were headed to Old Monarch Pass when we noticed that the snow and weather conditions looked favorable on Monarch Ridge (also called Monarch Crest). Last winter, we tried snowshoeing Monarch Ridge twice, failing both times, once due to blizzard conditions that blew us off the summit.
For SOTA, Monarch Crest South is a versatile and very accessible peak. The slacker method is to ride the tram up during the summer months. It also can be an easy summer hike. Monarch Pass is at 11,312 feet in elevation and Monarch Crest South rises to 11,898 so the vertical gain is about 600 feet. In winter, it is a reasonable snowshoe trip. However, watch the weather carefully: you might get blown off the summit.
We started from the Monarch Pass parking lot and snowshoed straight up to the summit, roughly following the tram line. This route is simple but steep. Near the top, the ground was bare, so we removed the snowshoes and hiked on bare ground and rocks. I had not really planned for a SOTA activation that day but I did have my Yaesu FT-1DR transceiver and a half-wave antenna for 2 meters. Rather minimal equipment, but sufficient. I did not have cellphone coverage at the parking lot but I did get “one bar” about halfway up the mountain. I used this to post a SOTAwatch alert and send an email notice to hams in the area.
Just like last time, I did have some minor interference on 2m fm from the radio site at the summit, which seemed to peak up right around 146.52 MHz. Lovely. But it did not keep me from making contacts.
As you can see from the photos, it was a gorgeous day. The temperature hung around 35 degrees F with some wind at the summit, so no problem with that. Another great day in the mountains, playing with ham radio.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Thanks to Joyce, Steve and Caleb for a great day playing radio in the mountains.
I’ve been thinking about activating Ormes Peak (W0C/FR-052) for a while now. It is not too difficult to get to and is not a difficult climb. After the Waldo Canyon fire (2012), the area was closed for several years, so I needed to be patient. Then I noticed that Don KØDRJ put an alert on SOTAwatch indicating that he was going to activate the summit, so I gave a listen on 146.52 MHz. Sure enough, around mid-morning I heard Don on the frequency and worked him without any problem from my home location.
Then I got to thinking. Joyce KØJJW and I had talked about going for a walk this afternoon, so I did a little checking on Ormes Peak and concluded that it was an option. My fractured ankle is still on the mend so I am not back to 100% of my hiking ability. Ormes seemed like a good next step that would keep me progressing.
We hopped in the Jeep and headed to Rampart Range. To get to Ormes Peak, take USFS road 300 from the north (which is what we did, via Mount Herman Road) or from the south via Garden of the Gods. You’ll want to have a Pike National Forest map for this trip.
Turn East onto USFS road 303 and then follow USFS 302 (these roads are easy 4WD, probably OK for high clearance 2WD). These roads go through the Waldo burn area so you see what a burned forest looks like. Ormes Peak was not directly affected by the fire but we did see a few burned trees on the mountain. According to the Summit Post info, the best approach is from the south but we continued on around to the east and parked at the marked parking area here: 38.948680 deg N, 104.929677 deg W. From there, we bushwacked westward up the side of the hill without too much trouble (about half a mile and 600 feet vertical).
Once on top, I started calling on 146.52 MHz using the FT-1D handheld transceiver. I assembled my 2m yagi antenna hoping to work Brad WA6MM headed up Mt Antero but I found out later he did not summit. We had excellent visibility in all directions: great view of Pikes Peak to the south, Mt Yale and a sliver of Mt Princeton to the west and Mt Evans to the northwest. This really is a great spot to just sit and enjoy the view.
After making 7 contacts on 2m fm, we packed up the gear and headed down the mountain. Ormes Peak is a good “close in” summit accessible from Colorado Springs area.
73, Bob KØNR
09 July 2017 Update
Joyce and I returned to Ormes Peak today with WG0AT, W0ASB and WB0GMR. We parked at the “trailhead” on the southwest side of the summit, which has a pretty decent trail leading to the top. The parking spot (38.94880N, 104.93935W) is at the end of a short 4WD road heading north off FS 302, shown on the map below as the lower left waypoint.
On Saturday, I activated Bald Mountain (W0C/SP-115) for Summits On The Air. It was an awesome fall day here in the Rockies, so Joyce KØJJW and I were ready for some outdoor fun. When you say you are going to the summit of Bald Mountain, the usual response is “which Bald Mountain?” Fortunately, for SOTA purposes we can use the designator (W0C/SP-115) to drive out the ambiguity. Else, you have to deal with the fact there are 32 summits in Colorado known as Bald Mountain. And I am sure there are many more in other states.
SP-115 is a drive-up summit if you have a reasonable 4WD vehicle. For us, this meant taking the Jeep Wrangler to the top. (I am still recovering from a fractured ankle and just starting to hike a bit, so a drive-up opportunity sounded good to me.) Many maps do not show the road up Bald Mountain, so I included a portion of the latitude40smap.com map for the area (below). These recreational maps are excellent quality so I recommend you get one for exploring the area.
To get to this Bald Mountain, take Highway 285 south from Buena Vista, exit at Fisherman’s Bridge, then head towards FS road 300. (Refer to the San Isabel National Forest or Latitude 40 map for details.) We followed FS 300 east which is easy 4WD. About 2 miles in, we took FS 300B (marked) to the north which winds its way up Bald Mountain.
At 0.6 miles from the intersection of 300 and 300B, an unmarked 4WD road leads off to the left and proceeds around the west side of the mountain. Taking this route provides a much easier path than the main route leading to the east side of the mountain. (We had taken the main route on our previous activation.) The preferred road does one big switchback out to the west and then returns east to the summit. This road is easy 4WD but is a bit narrow so a full size SUV or truck may have trouble. Of course, you can always hike to the summit…most likely just following the road.
I got out my trusty Arrow 2m yagi antenna, connected it to the Yaesu FT-1D and started calling on 146.52 MHz. It took a while to get my four contacts but I kept at it. Actually, I worked five stations on 2m fm: KEØDMT, KDØMRC, K5UK, KAØABV and NØVXE. Thanks for the contacts! I was hoping to work WGØAT who was on the summit of Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063), but I was unable to copy him.
The summit has awesome views of the Collegiate Peaks to the west and it’s worth the trip just for the view. Mount Princeton with some light snow on it is shown just left of center in the photograph.
To 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
The Grand Teton National Park has plenty of mountains for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, so I wanted to activate a few of them as we enjoyed the park. I am still recovering from a fractured ankle, so I was definitely looking for an easy-peasy summit to activate on our trip. It turns out there is a summit right at the top of the Jackson Hole Arial Tram that operates during the summer months (W7Y/TT-061). (This tram serves the ski area during the winter.)
The SOTA database shows this summit as unnamed and refers to it by elevation, 10450. The locals may refer to this as Rendezvous Mountain, not to be confused with Rendezvous Peak (W7Y/TT-035). For SOTA purposes its just “10450”.
The bottom of the Arial Tram is accessed in Teton Village and is easy to find. However, don’t confuse the it with Bridger Gondola, which goes to another peak.
Well, this sounds pretty awesome…ride the tram to the top and play ham radio. Now the bad news: the ticket for the tram is $42. It’s an all day pass that gives you access to other lifts and plenty of hiking trails but still it is expensive. OK, slightly better news: if you purchase online you can get the pass for $32. There are senior and other pricing options, so check out the web site for the latest info.
The September weather was overcast and cold at the summit. I opted for a simple VHF activation using my Yaesu FT-1DR and a half-wave vertical antenna. I had my 3-element 2m yagi with me but I didn’t deploy it. I figured that my ability to contact folks on 2m fm would be limited more by who happens to be monitoring…signal strength would not be a major factor.
It was cold at the top and I was glad that I packed my gloves, hat and a decent jacket. I made five contacts by calling on 146.52 MHz. Corbet’s Cabin at the top of the tram offers basic food and drinks and warm place to sit.
The tram ride was quite enjoyable with good views of the Jackson Hole area. However, this may go down in history as my most expensive SOTA activation.