Archive for category SOTA

Colorado 14er Event – August 3, 2014

Colo14er SOTA logoDuring the Colorado 14er Event, Amateur Radio operators will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and SOTA summits to set up amateur radio stations to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun on Sunday August 3 and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact.

The new Colorado 14er Event logo is now available on t-shirts and more.

Starting in 2012, Summits on The Air (SOTA) is part of this event. This means there are over 1700 summits that you can activate in Colorado, with a wide variety of hiking difficulty. This opens up the event to a lot more people and a lot more summits. See the new SOTA page.

Radio operators with 14er climbing experience who plan to activate a summit should log their name and intended peak at the Ham14er Yahoo group. This is also the email list for discussing the event and asking questions.

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Say Hello to Acorn and Barley

After losing Rooster, the alleged brains of the WG0AT SOTA team, we have great news from Steve, WGØAT.

Two new goats have joined the herd, getting trained up for more Summits On The Air (SOTA) action.

Meet Acorn and Barley, or is it Barley and Acorn? Watch out, Peanut, you’ve got company.

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A Great Bag for the FT-817

One of my favorite rigs is the Yaesu FT-817, the QRP transceiver that covers HF through 70 cm. I use it for mountaintop VHF, including Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations.

At Pacificon, I came across this bag by AMP-3 which is custom designed for the FT-817. David KF7ETX did a great job designing this bag, which he explains in this video.

There are cheaper solutions out there but this is the best one I’ve seen.

73, Bob K0NR

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A Classic SOTA Hike: Midland Hill (W0/SP-117)

Today, Joyce K0JJW and I decided to hike Midland Hill (W0/SP-117) near Buena Vista, CO (otherwise known as “BV”) and do a SOTA activation on VHF. I call this a “classic SOTA hike” because it is a real hike that requires some exertion, a well-maintained trail to the summit and some great views at the top. By my GPS, it was 2.4 miles one way, with 1600 feet elevation gain.

This hike starts at the trailhead on the east side of BV, where a footbridge crosses the Arkansas River. The SummitPost trail description is very helpful, so be sure to check it out. I checked quite a few topo maps of the area and most of them do not show the trails accurately. I found them more confusing that helpful. I’ve included my GPS track on the map below.

Midland Hill route

GPS track for Midland Hill

We started at the trailhead, immediately crossing the footbridge to the east side of the river. Then we followed the Midland Bike Trail which parallels the river. Very soon after the bridge, there is a trail leading off to the left (east) uphill that is tempting but we stayed on the main trail that parallels the river. At about 0.5 miles in, we crossed County Road 304 (38.843508 deg N, 106.112297 deg W) onto the clearly marked 6032 trail, which goes up to Midland Hill. Just follow the trail and do not turn onto 6032A trail as it goes off to the left.

If you are pressed for time, you can start the hike where 6032 intersects CR 304, but that only saves 0.5 miles. You’ll miss the bridge and great views of the Arkansas River.

Bob K0NR on the trail

Bob K0NR on the trail

Once we reached the summit, I set up on 146.52 MHz using my VX-8G connected to the 2M Arrow Yagi. Joyce stayed back outside of the activation zone, so I worked her as soon as I made the summit. Then Walt WZ0N came up on frequency and gave me a second contact.  I contacted a couple of mobile stations: Ryan KD7OHA on Highway 50 near Texas Creek and Bud NP2CT on Highway 285. Other contacts where with some of the local hams: N0OFQ near Nathrop, Jerry N0VXE and Skip W9GYA near Salida. Not bad for a Monday afternoon in the mountains. Thanks, guys, for the contacts!

Lately, some of the SOTA hikes I’ve done have involved bushwacking up the side of a steep hill to get to the summit. It was great to have a real trail this time. The 1600 vertical feet did get me huffing and puffing but that’s part of the experience. I highly recommend this summit!

73, Bob K0NR

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How To Do a SOTA Activation On Pikes Peak

Perhaps this should be called The Slacker’s Guide to Activating Pikes Peak since I am going to describe the easy way to do a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation on America’s Mountain. If you plan to hike up, you have my complete support but this post is not meant for you.

Pikes Peak 2

Pikes Peak (W0/FR-004) is about 10 miles straight west of downtown Colorado Springs. See the Pikes Peak web site for useful tourist information. At an elevation of 14,115 feet, the mountain towers over Colorado Springs and the other front range cities. (You may see the elevation listed as 14,110 but it was revised upward in 2002 by the USGS.) This means that is has an excellent radio horizon to large populated areas. On VHF, it is common to work stations in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico. See VHF Distance From Pikes Peak  and Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels. On HF, you’ll do even better.

Pikes Peak map

Access to the summit has three options: hike up, drive up via the Pikes Peak Highway or ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Most people will probably choose the highway since the cog rail only gives you 30 to 40 minutes on the summit. (Normally, you return on the same train that takes you to the top. You can try to schedule two one-way trips but that is a challenge.)

The highway is at a well-marked exit off Highway 24, west of Colorado Springs. There is a “toll” to use the highway (~$12 per person, check the Pikes Peak Highway web site for the latest information and a $2 discount coupon.) The road is now paved all of the way to the top and is usually in good shape. The only caution on driving up is that some people get freaked out by sections of the road that have steep drop-offs without guard rails. It is very safe but I know some folks just can’t handle it. The main caution driving down is to use low gear and stay off your brakes. There are plenty of signs reminding you to do this and during the summer there is a brake check station at Glen Cove where the rangers check the temperature of your brakes.

It takes about an hour to drive to the summit, assuming you don’t dawdle. It is best to drive up during the morning and avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. Once you get to the summit, you’ll find a large circular parking area, the summit house and a few other buildings. To do a qualifying hike, I suggest you proceed down Barr Trail which is the main hiking trail coming up from the east side of the peak. Do not try to walk along the road, as the rangers will stop you. The trail starts on the east side of the summit house (towards Colorado Springs) and is marked with a sign. You have to cross over the cog rail tracks to get to it. (Please try to avoid getting run over by the train as it scares the tourists and makes a mess.)

The summit of Pikes is broad, flat and rocky, so pick out a spot away from the buildings for your SOTA adventure. There are quite a few radio transmitters on the peak so expect some interference. Since this is way above treeline, your antennas will have to be self supporting. For VHF, giving a call on 146.52 MHz FM will usually get you a few contacts and sometimes a bit of a pileup. Be aware that on top of Pikes you are hearing everyone but they can’t always hear each other. It can get confusing. Some other VHF simplex frequencies worth trying are 147.42 MHz (The Colorado 14er frequency) and  146.46 MHz (a local 2M hangout frequency). If you have 2m SSB, call on 144.200 MHz USB.  On the HF bands, pray for good ionospheric conditions and do your normal SOTA thing.

Your body and your brain will likely be moving a little slower at 14,000 due to the lack of oxygen. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble deciphering and logging callsigns. Take it slow and monitor your physical condition on the peak.

Bring warm, layered clothes even in the summer, since Pikes Peak can have artic conditions any time of the year. Keep a close eye on the weather since thunderstorms are quite common during the summer months. Lightning is a very real danger, so abandon the peak before the storms arrive.

73, Bob K0NR

Resources

SOTAwatch web site
Pikes Peak Tourist Information
Pikes Peak (W0/FR-004) SOTA Page
Pikes Peak Web Cam
Pikes Peak Highway Information 

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A Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation (W0/FR-063)

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

Mt Herman map

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

K0NR HT in the rain

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

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Awesome App for Hiking: MotionX GPS

I’ve tried out a number of mapping apps on my iPhone but only recently found one that I really like for hiking. Most of these apps access maps on the network when needed so they are not stored on the smart phone. When you fall of the edge of the network in the backcountry they don’t work. This is a non starter for most of my backcountry hikes. Even if I am close to civilization, I’ll typically drop down into a valley at some point on the hike, losing my network connection.

GPS Pikes Peak

The MotionX GPS app solves this problem by allowing you to download and storing maps on your iPhone. This requires you to do a bit of planning on what maps you need but it seems to work pretty well. The map quality is good and includes topographic information. (Click on the map image above to zoom in.) No, you probably don’t want to download maps to cover the entire US as you’ll consume all available storage!
GPS Track

Besides mapping, MotionX supports a ton of other features such as tracks, waypoints, compass headings, etc. It is quite flexible and I am still learning all of its tools.

Oh, did I mention this app only costs $1.99? Amazing!

- Bob K0NR

 

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Trying Out the Buddistick Antenna

At the Dayton Hamvention, I had picked up the Buddistick™ Deluxe Package portable HF antenna. This antenna is very popular with the Summits On The Air crowd and other QRP enthusiasts. Usually when I am doing SOTA activations, its all about VHF. But being a self-proclaimed HF Slacker, I might get on HF sometime from a summit, so having a Buddistick available seems like a good idea.

I decided I better check this thing out to see if I can make it work on our back deck.

The Buddistick Deluxe Package

The Buddistick Deluxe Package

After actually reading the instructions, I assembled the antenna and used the clamp mount to attach the antenna on our deck railing. I strung the single radial out on the deck to the recommended length and connected up the transceiver using a short length of RG-8X cable.

Buddistick clamp

Then I used the “by ear” tuning technique to set the tap on the antenna coil. You basically just run the tap down the coil to find the spot that produces the highest noise level at the transceiver.  I checked the match using the built-in SWR meter in the Yaesu FT-817 and verified that it was good.

The tapped tuning coil

The tapped tuning coil

At first, I tried 20 Meters and discovered an S6 noise level. Not good. Retuning the antenna, I moved up to 15 Meters and found the noise level to be much lower. I also heard a few strong stations working the North American QSO Party.

The mighty Yaesu FT-817 transceiver

The mighty Yaesu FT-817 transceiver

I tuned around on the SSB portion of the band and found Bob N4BP calling CQ Contest so I gave him a quick call. He came back to me right away and I gave him the contest exchange of name and state. QSL and I was in his log, no problem! I heard N8II calling and repeated the same exchange, no sweat.

Hey, this QRP stuff really works!

So that was a great first experience with the Buddistick. Now I need to try it from a summit.

73, Bob K0NR

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Two SOTA Activations: W0/SP-099 and SP-115

Bald Mountain (W0/SP-115)

Bald Mountain (W0/SP-115)

Lately, I have been focusing on activating the SOTA (Summits On The Air) peaks near our cabin in the mountains. The basic idea is to identify a SOTA summit, hike to the top and make a few contacts on VHF. On Friday, my spousal unit (Joyce, K0JJW) and I decided to head out to an unnamed peak (W0/SP-099), southeast of Buena Vista, CO.  By no coincidence, this summit had not been activated yet, so we’d get the esteemed honor and glory of being the first.

For lesser known summits, a bit of research is required to figure out the route. My first stop is to check the SOTA database for basic information on the summit. I’ll usually have to dig further using ListsOfJohn and SummitPost. ListsOfJohn is an incredible database of topographical information, listing every summit along with information such as elevation, lat/lon, rise, etc. (The Colorado SOTA information was gleaned from ListsOfJohn.) SummitPost will usually have more detailed information on a summit but only for the more popular ones. The  SOTA Mapping Project is another excellent resource with very useful interactive topo maps. And, of course, I also dig out the US Forest Service map for the area, which often gives the best view of access roads.

We drove the Jeep to within a mile of the summit and started hiking up. I posted our route information on ListsOfJohn, so take a look there for that information. The summit is unnamed, so it is referred to by its elevation: 10123. I had my Yaesu VX-8GR burping out APRS packets which were plotted on aprs.fi when we reached the summit.APRS K0NR-7

When we reached the summit, I spotted myself on the SOTAWatch web site using the SOTA Goat app on my smartphone. More importantly, the night before the hike, I sent an email to some of the radio amateurs that were likely to be within VHF range. That paid off and I worked Jim KD0MRC, Walt WZ0N and John K3NOQ on 146.52 MHz FM. Jim was hiking to Harvard Lakes above 10,000 feet, so it was special to be able to contact him on the trail. A little later, I caught KV4AL who was mobile near the top of Mount Evans. While only one contact is required to “activate” a summit, four contacts are needed to earn SOTA points, so I was happy to make these four QSOs. My gear was a Yaesu FT-60 driving a 3-element Arrow yagi antenna.

In addition, Joyce and I generally work each other on the SOTA the summit. The SOTA rules say that “QSOs with others within the same Activation Zone do not count towards the QSO total” which means that one of us needs to hike down a bit to get outside of the activation zone (75 feet vertical feet from the summit). We take turns doing this so that each of us activates the summit and makes a contact with the summit.

We took a round about path back to the Jeep and headed for Bald Mountain. At this point, we were both very tired and the thunderstorms were moving in. We decided to at least check out the access to Bald Mountain (Wo/SP-115) even if we didn’t climb it that day. It turns out that there is a 4WD road that goes to the top of the mountain, so we drove to the summit. The road is very rough in a few spots but the Jeep handled it nicely. At the top, we hiked back down a bit to meet the non-motorized ascent requirement for SOTA. We also did our “work each other” technique while on the mountain so that we each had a contact. I was not able to raise anyone on 146.52 MHz but I did catch Carl K5UK on the 146.745 MHz repeater and worked him on simplex. By this time, it was raining with lightning getting closer, so we abandoned the summit and headed back to the cabin.

Thanks to the guys that took the time to contact us on the two summits.

73, Bob K0NR

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A Little Mountaintop Video

While digging through the archives, I came across some previously unseen video from the 2012 Colorado 14er Event. Joyce KØJJW and I operated from Mount Sneffels (SOTA W0/UR-001) and this video shows a radio contact with Mark KTØAM on Mount Shavano.

The 2013 event will be held August 4th, see www.14er.org.

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Summits On The Air (W0/SP-112) – Castle Rock

There is a very jagged peak just east of Buena Vista, CO called Castle Rock (not to be confused with the city by the same name). I knew this was a SOTA summit (W0/SP-112) and I had my eye on it for a while now. It is extremely rocky and jagged near its summit, so I was not sure if it could be ascended without a technical climb. A little research revealed that it was climbable but quite steep near the top. SummitPost.org has a good description of how to ascend this peak.

Castle Rock

Castle Rock

My hiking partner and wife, Joyce K0JJW, joined me on the climb. We managed to get off the preferred route and got into some very steep rock scrambling. Good judgment prevailed and we regrouped and found a more reasonable path but probably cost us an extra hour of hiking. As advertised, it did get very steep at the top. (Study the SummitPost information more carefully than I did.)

Assembling the Arrow 2-Meter antenna

Assembling the Arrow 2-Meter antenna

Recently, I picked up an Arrow 3-element Yagi antenna for 2 Meters  (Model 146-3). This antenna can be dismantled and carried inside a reasonable size daypack (or strapped on externally). The boom has two threaded holes for mounting the antenna on a camera tripod. I used a MountainSmith trekking pole that can double as a camera monopod and mounted the antenna on it.

Operating with the Arrow antenna mounted on the trekking pole

Operating with the Arrow antenna mounted on the trekking pole

For this SOTA activation, I kept it simple and just used my Yaesu FT-60 to work 2 Meter FM. Accordingly, I configured the Yagi antenna for vertical polarization. (There are two mounting holes on the boom, so you can choose vertical or horizontal orientation.)

The trekking pole is not self-supporting and does not provide much additional antenna height but it makes the antenna a lot easier to point for extended periods of time. I like to use a trekking pole for hiking, so this is a good way to get a little extra utility out of it. I am pleased with how this antenna system performed and will use it again.

73, Bob K0NR

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The WG0AT List of SOTA Resources

Here’s a great set of Summits On The Air (SOTA) links from Steve WG0AT:

Name: Medium: Source: Description:
Official SOTA Site Web SOTA UK Gateway to all official SOTA resources
Rules & Guidelines PDF SOTA UK General Rules & Guidelines for SOTA
WØ SOTA Site Web WØ Assoc.Mgr A good place to start for SOTA info for the WØ region
WØ Association Reference Manual (ARM) PDF WØ Assoc.Mgr. Defines all summits and rules for the WØ Association
SOTA Activator Guidelines PDF SOTA UK The rules summarized on one page :)
SOTAwatch: Alerts Web SOTA UK Create activation alerts for the world to see (You have to sign-up for a free account)
NA SOTA (Yahoo Group) Web 3rd party: Yahoo The NA-SOTA Group on Yahoo is a great place to meet fellow Chasers/Activators, announce activations and share experiences. You have to submit a ‘join’ request before getting access
Results & Summits Database Web SOTA UK Submit activation logs, search for summits, view results etc.
Adventure Radio: Mapview Web 3rd party: Mario/DC7CCC Google map overlay. Allows to search for SOTA summits based on Assoc./Region or grid locator.
How to Activate a SOTA Peak PDF 3rd party: Guy/N7UN Guy/N7UN’s helpful 4-page summary of the steps involved from planning, posting an activation Alert, conducting the activation itself and post-activation activities.
WØ Summits Web WØ Assoc.Mgr. Find a summit in your WØ region
Colorado 14er Event Web 14er Event The web site for the Colorado 14er Event (includes SOTA activations)
SMS Gateway Phone SOTA UK: Andy SMS gateway for selfspotting. You have to register with Andy: mm0fmf_sota (at) intermoose dot com
SOTA Goat iPhone appy iTunes iTunes Spotting app for your iOS device at the iTunes store
SOTA Spot Monitor App web Eric KU6J SOTA spotting app for Windows PCs

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New Colorado 14er Event Shirt

Colo14er SOTA logoThanks to Steve WG0AT, we now have a new design for the Colorado 14er Event Shirt. Steve gen’d up a new logo that has the Colorado 14er Event blended with Summits On The Air (SOTA), that is available on a variety of t-shirts, a coffee mug and maybe a few other items. The logo, shown to the left, is a fantastic graphic featuring Ham Radio at Altitude.

Go to Cafepress to view and purchase the items that are available.

73, Bob K0NR

 

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Dayton’s Over – Time to Analyze

I made it to the Dayton Hamvention this year, after a multi-year absence. Due to that four-letter word known as work, I was not able to arrive until really late Friday night. That left all day Saturday and the half day on Sunday to partake of the event.

Bob at CQ booth

Bob K0NR discovers the cover photo for the spring CQ VHF

I’ll start with the obligatory dig at Hara Arena, repeating my tweet:

Hara Arena continues to be everything that I wish it wasn’t.

Check out the posts by Jeff KE9V and Steve K9ZW about their impressions of Hamvention.

I spent some time helping out at the HamRadioSchool.com booth in the north hall. Wow, what a positive response we got from that effort. Stu W0STU’s Technician and General Class books have really hit their mark, finding a good balance between covering the material to pass the FCC exams while also helping students to really get it. We heard quite a few instructors stop by and say “This is what I have been looking for!” If you are teaching a ham radio licensing class, you need to check out the HamRadioSchool.com books….and the companion web site and iOS apps.

One of the high points of the weekend was discovering the poster-size front cover of Spring 2013 CQ VHF with my mountaintop photo on it.  Joyce K0JJW took a great shot of me operating from Mt Sneffels last August (Colorado 14er Event and SOTA), so it was an excellent complement to my article: “A Little Mountaintop Operation”.

So I leave Dayton, thinking about the highs and lows for the weekend. There was not much new that really caught my attention. (Disclaimer: I am sure I didn’t see everything there.) I am still looking for an FT-950 with 2 Meters, an Android HT and a D-STAR radio from Kenwood, Yaesu or even Alinco. Also, there is a real trend of vaporware instead of products. I’ve gotten really jaded about this. If a company can’t quote price and delivery, then it doesn’t exist in my world.

As K9ZW pointed out, much of the fun of Dayton is being with great people: some old friends (like my bud Denny KB9DPF) and some new ones, too.

How was your Hamvention?

73, Bob K0NR

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The Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps

iphonesIt is about time I updated one of my more popular posts, The Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps from 2011. This was a challenging task back then and has gotten more difficult as the number of ham radio apps for the iPhone has greatly expanded. Still, I will give it a shot and appreciate your feedback to make the list better. I am only evaluating iPhone apps, not iPad apps, since I don’t use an iPad.

In general, I will focus on free or low cost (less than $5) apps that I am actively using.

From the Simple Utility Category:

 Maidenhead Converter (Author: Donald Hays, Cost: Free) Handy app that displays your grid locator, uses maps and does lat/lon to grid locator conversions.

Ham Radio Handbook (Author: Antonis Miliarakis Cost: Free) This app provides some basic ham radio info: Q Signals, Country Prefixes, Band Plans and RST signal reporting.

UTC Time (Author: Michael Wells, Cost: Free) A simple app that displays UTC time and local time.

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!

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.

CallSigns (Author: David Fleming W4SMT, Cost: $1.99) This is my favorite ham radio callsign lookup. The features are not much different than the others I have listed but the graphics are nicer and the user interface a little cleaner. I am sure this is mostly personal preference.

There are a few repeater directory apps out there:

iHAM Repeater Database (Author: Garry Gerossie, Cost: $4.99) Geolocation repeater directory. This seems to work well.

RepeaterBook (Author: ZBM2 Software, Cost: Free) I’ve only used this one a bit but it seems to work well and its free.

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 these as my needs are pretty simple….just track me, baby!

iBCNU (Author: Luceon, Cost: $1.99) The first APRS app I was able to get running. It just turned on and worked. It integrates the aprs.fi mapping into the app, so it is easy to use. I recommend this one for most casual APRS users.

Ham Tracker (Author: Kram, Cost: $2.99) APRS app, works OK, 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:

ISS 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: Free) A free app for finding SOTA summits, checking spots and accessing other information.

SOTA Goat (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $4.99) This is a great app for SOTA activity. It works better when offline than Pocket SOTA (which often happens when you are activating a summit).

For Technician License training, I like the HamRadioSchool.com app. (OK, I am biased here as I contribute to that web site.)

HamRadioSchool (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 license book. They also just released the General practice exam, too.

For a mobile logbook:

HamLog (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) I am not too keen on the idea of keeping a log on an iPhone, but it does come in handy once in a while. More importantly, HamLog includes 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.

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

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SOTA Activation: Aspen Ridge (W0/SP-084)

Spring is finally coming to the Colorado high country so it was time for a SOTA (Summits on the Air) activation. I don’t know which idea comes first: let’s go hiking or let’s play SOTA. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

I’ve had my eyes on activating Aspen Ridge, which is near our family cabin but I wasn’t sure if the road was open. It turned out to be an easy Jeep ride down Forest Service Road 185 to get close to the summit. Then a half mile hike around and over the occasional snow patch got Joyce K0JJW and me to the summit.

K0NR on Aspen Ridge IMG_1553

My portable station was a Yaesu FT-60 handheld and a couple of antennas. Shown above is my dualband Arrow II antenna with only the 2 Meter elements installed, resulting in a 3-element Yagi antenna. My other antenna is an omni-directional MFJ-1714 1/2-wave whip antenna, which is a little easier to handle for general use. Often that is the only antenna I bring along but this time I decided to add a few more dB of signal by using the Yagi. I also take along a Yaesu VX-8GR that pings my location on APRS (www.aprs.fi/k0nr-7).

After a few calls on 146.52 MHz FM, I worked KC8I in Woodland Park. A few minutes later, I caught Steve WG0AT operating from another SOTA peak (Mt Herman, W0/FR-063) for the QRP To The Field contest. A little later, I worked Ted N0ZPX who was fishing at Antero Reservoir, then N0VXE mobile near Salida and Ron N0MQJ in Ranch of the Rockies.

K0NR on Aspen Ridge IMG_1557

This photo shows the beautiful Collegiate Peaks in the background, with plenty of snow still showing. Needless to say, it is a gorgeous view from Aspen Ridge!

73, Bob K0NR

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What’s All This SOTA Stuff?

w0sotaThe Summits On The Air (SOTA) program is seeing increased activity in the US. SOTA represents another one of those crossover activities that combines amateur radio with another activity, in this case hiking. The whole idea is to operate ham radio from a designated list of summits or to work those radio operators on the summits.

I’ve always had this fascination with Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) and how that can really make a difference for radio operating, especially on VHF and higher. This means that on most hikes of any altitude, I’ve got some kind of radio gear with me.

To get an idea of how the SOTA program operates, check out these web sites:

The SOTA program provides some structure for this activity and a method to keep score. I’ve noticed throughout my ham radio experience, having a specific goal (usually in the form of an award such as WAS, WAC, DXCC, etc.) has been a good motivator for me. In some ways, I don’t like the notion of “keeping score” entering into a fun hobby, but I have to admit that sometimes it helps. The SOTA database is a robust system that keeps track of summit activations and contacts made. I don’t have a specific goal yet, other than to activate summits when I have the opportunity and to work as many of summits on VHF. (Yes, my VHF/UHF bias comes through again.)

To get a feel for the action, take a look at the Activator Scores, click the Filter selection to W0-USA (or other call area of interest), click on Show!. You’ll see the list of hams that have been activating summits, such as K0MOS, WG0AT, N6UHB and KD0PNK. You will find my callsign a ways down the list. Similarly, you can look at the Chaser Scores,  also selecting the call area of interest and clicking on Show!

But wait, there’s more! The SOTAwatch web site provides a way to spot active summits and to alert people of future activations. Clicking on Summits, leads you to a useful set of data about each summit. For example, Devils Head (designated as W0/FR-051) is a summit that I activated on 15 Jul 2012, with SOTA info available here.

So check out SOTA…you might find it fun to activate summits or you may just decide to be a chaser. Or maybe both. Anyway it works out, it will be fun!

73, Bob K0NR

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VHF SOTA Activation (W0/ SP-081)

It was another great day for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activity. I hiked up to Kaufman Ridge HP (W0/SP-081) with Joyce K0JJW to do the first SOTA activation of that summit. This summit is just south of Kaufman Ridge North (W0/SP-085) mentioned in this post.

Unlike some of my previous SOTA activations, I actually kind of sort of planned this one. I had my Yaesu FT-60 HT with a decent omni antenna for 2 Meters (the MFJ-1714). I also took along the VX-8GR handheld for use as an APRS station. Note the innovative In The Tree mounting scheme for the FT-60:

On the way up, I heard Steve WG0AT on the summit of Mount Rosa (W0/FR-034) calling on 146.52 MHz. I gave a quick call to Steve to let him know I was hearing him but that I was not at the summit yet. About 20 minutes later, I was on top and worked Steve and his hiking partner Frank K0JQZ, for a summit-to-summit contact.

A call on 146.52 MHz got a reply from John N0EVH who was operating mobile. Then I worked Bill KD0PFF who was driving up a 4WD road to Red Cone Peak. Later, I worked his 4WD partner Stan KD0PFC. Fred WA0SIK, a regular in the various VHF contests, came up on five two to give me another contact. Then I got a call from Dave K0HTX who spends many weekends over on the other side of South Park. Finally, I caught Randy KN0TPC and Jeremy KD0MWT on 147.555 MHz, near Divide at a Boy Scout Camporee.

It was really cool to catch all these folks out having fun in the mountains. It was a glorious fall day and the aspen trees were at their peak fall color.

73, Bob K0NR

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Ham Radio Action Next Weekend – Sept 8/9

There are three excellent ham radio activities going on this coming weekend. Check these out and see if there is an activity that catches your interest. This is written for people in Colorado but items #1 and #3 are North American wide.

  1. ARRL September VHF QSO Party – noon MDT on Saturday until 9 PM MDT on Sunday    http://www.arrl.org/september-vhf
  2. Colorado FM Sprint – a mini version of the September VHF QSO Party,
    using FM only on these bands: 146 MHz, 222 MHz and 440 MHz
    Saturday from noon to 7 PM MDT
    http://www.qsl.net/k0yb/Colorado_FM_Sprint.html
    Suggested frequencies: 146.58, 146.55, 223.5, 446.000, 446.100 MHz FM simplex
  3. North American Summits On The Air (SOTA) Weekend
    SOTA activations all over North America
    http://na-sota.org/NASOTA_Weekend.html
    Go here to see announced summit activations: http://www.sotawatch.org/
    VHF contacts are usually on 146.52 MHz
    (Note: this frequency is NOT allowed for contacts in the
    Sept VHF QSO Party and Colorado FM Sprint)
    HF contacts are on frequencies listed on sotawatch.org

Wow, lots of stuff to choose from!

At the very least, I’d suggest getting on the air Saturday afternoon to see if you can work some of the VHF contest stations. They are likely to be some mountaintop SOTA stations active at that time, too. Some of these folks may try to work the VHF contests AND do the SOTA thing on the same expedition.

73, Bob K0NR

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A Great SOTA Weekend

For the long Labor Day weekend, Joyce (K0JJW) and I headed to the cabin in the mountains. My main objective was to work the Colorado QSO Party. See previous post.

When in the mountains, I try to remember to monitor 146.52 MHz. You never know who might show up on that frequency…some of the locals chatting, a mobile station passing through, people camping or…a SOTA (Summits On The Air) station.

Sure enough, on Saturday, I heard Eric (W0ECE) calling from the summit of Mount Evans on 146.52 MHz. Joyce and I gave him a SOTA contact (and I got a new county for the CO QSO Party). Then, on Sunday morning, we heard Dave (KI6YMZ) calling from the summit of Mount Shavano, also on 146.52 MHz. We were mobile at the time and both of us worked Dave to give him two contacts. Then on Monday morning, again listening to 146.52 MHz, we heard Bob (AD6QF) on Quandary Peak. We handed out two more contacts.

Sometime on Monday morning, we started thinking of doing a hike. That led to the idea of hiking up Kaufman Ridge North (W0/SP-085), a SOTA peak about 2 miles from our cabin. It had not been activated before,  so that seemed like a good idea.

Except for the fact that I did not bring along any of my SOTA gear. (Note to self: whenever you are in the mountains, take along the SOTA gear.) I scrounged around the cabin and found a dualband HT with fully charged battery. Unfortunately, the only antenna was the rubber duck. (The World’s Most Convenient Crummy Antenna.)

Oh, what the heck, we gave it a try anyway. It was an easy climb to the summit. I got out the HT and called on 146.52 MHz. I quickly got a reply from Ben (KD0ELP) and Mark (KE0P). A little more calling and I raised Jerry (N0VXE) in Salida, CO. To get the minimum four contacts, I tried calling on two of the local repeaters and found Dave (K0HTX) who QSY’d to 446.00 MHz for a simplex contact with me. That made it an official SOTA activation, so we headed down the mountain.

A good weekend for SOTA activity. Keep listening on 146.52 MHz.

73, Bob K0NR

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