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

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

IMG_3266

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, this sign did warn me of radio interference.

Well, this sign did warn me of radio interference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

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

SOTA Summit W0C/SP-042 Activation

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

SOTA summit W0C/SP-042

SOTA summit W0C/SP-042

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

Cottonwood Pass

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

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

trail route

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

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

Bob K0NR on the trail

Bob (K0NR) on the trail.

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

trail

Typical trail conditions on the CTD.

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

Bob summit

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Making Plans for the Colorado 14er Event

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

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

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

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

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

Questions, comments, let me know.

73, Bob K0NR

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

SOTA Activation: W0C/SP-089 Unnamed Summit

With the summer season definitely here, Joyce (K0JJW) and I climbed W0C/SP-089, an unnamed summit east of Buena Vista near Trout Creek Pass, for a Summits On The Air activation.  This summit is also referred to by its elevation: 10525. The mountain is quite majestic with a large rock face that rock climbers enjoy climbing.

View of W0C/SP-089

View of W0C/SP-089

To reach the summit, we drove a 4WD truck from Trout Creek Pass on Forest Service Road 311, connecting to FS Road 373. Four wheel drive is required for this road due to the steep sections, which may not be passable in muddy conditions. You can also approach from the Buena Vista side, see the San Isabel Forest Service Map. From 373 we took a side road (shown in blue on the map below) that is not always shown on maps. I believe it is marked 373A but I am not sure. We parked the truck at the lat/lon shown.

From there we hiked a non-technical route to the west of the summit, working our way up through the draw shown on the map. There were a few faint game trails here and there but mostly it was some challenging bushwhacking up that draw. The willows and sticker bushes made us glad that we had long pants on.  Also, there was quite a bit of downed timber to step over. The route got quite a bit easier once we got to the top of the draw, but still no trail. The elevation gain was only 1100 feet but it felt like a lot more work than that.

Map 10525As we neared the summit, I heard Bob (W0BV) calling me on 146.52 MHz. I had put out an email alert to some of the hams in the area so Bob and some others knew I was going to be out climbing. Once I got to the summit, I contacted Bob (W0BV) and quickly had a mini-pileup with several stations calling me. Mark (KF5WCY) visiting from TX gave me a call, followed by Carl (K5UK) near Mount Yale. Then I worked Jim (KD0MRC) in Buena Vista and Larry (KL7GLK) in Leadville. Thanks, guys, for getting on the air and contacting me!

I used my Yaesu FT-60 handheld transceiver and a 1/2-wave vertical antenna for these contacts. While I had my 3-element Yagi antenna with me, I did not bother to set it up.

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Bob (K0NR) and Joyce (K0JJW) on the summit

My spouse and hiking companion Joyce (K0JJW) and I have worked out a standard SOTA activating procedure. As we get close to the summit, she stops below the activation zone and I continue to the top. Then I work her on 146.52 MHz which guarantees a successful activation. It is possible to get skunked on 2m fm in the backcountry, so this is good insurance. This one QSO does not result in any SOTA points, since the rules require a minimum of four contacts for activation points. Next, Joyce joins me on the summit and we work whoever is out there. Lately, I’ve had pretty good luck getting at least 4 contacts on 2m fm. On the descent, she stays on the summit and I go down the mountain and work her once I am outside of the activation zone. That way, I am able to work the summit, too.  Then she leaves the summit, catches up with me and we descend the rest of the way together.

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

73, Bob K0NR

How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation

The Summits On The Air (SOTA) program has really taken off in North America. SOTA originated in the UK in 2002, so it took a little while for it to make it across the Atlantic to this continent. The basic idea of SOTA is to operate from a designated list of summits or to work other radio operators when they activate the summits. The list of designated summits are assigned scoring points based on elevation and there are scoring systems for both activators (radio operators on a summit) and chasers (radio operators working someone on a summit). See this blog posting for links to tons of information.

Most of the operating is on the HF bands but there are quite a few VHF contacts on SOTA. Obviously, HF has the advantage of being able to work longer distances without too much trouble. Typically, the HF station is your classic portable QRP rig, portable antenna and battery power. (A portable power source is required and the use of fossil fuels is prohibited.) Being a VHF enthusiast, I prefer the challenge of making contacts above 50 MHz, so my SOTA contacts are usually on 2 Meters or 70 cm.

HT with half wave

Handheld radio with 1/2-wave antenna

My basic VHF SOTA station is a handheld FM transceiver with a ½-wave telescoping antenna. The standard rubber duck on a handheld transceiver (HT) is generally a poor radiator so using a ½-wave antenna is a huge improvement. This simple station is an easy addition to my normal hiking routine…just stuff the HT and antenna in my backpack along with the usual hiking essentials and head for the summit.

To count as a SOTA activation, you need to make a minimum of 4 contacts from the summit. If I am hiking a summit within range of a major city, I can usually just make some random contacts by calling CQ on the National Simplex Calling Frequency, 146.52 MHz. However, operating in more remote areas requires a little more planning. I’d hate to hike all that way and come up short on the required contacts, so I use a few tactics to rustle up some VHF contacts. Of course, I will post my planned activation on the SOTAwatch site in advance, to let people know that I’ll be on the air. While this goes out worldwide, it may not reach the right radio amateurs within VHF range. The next thing I do is send an email to some of VHF-equipped hams I know will be within range. Many people respond to such a request to work a summit, even if they are active in SOTA. When on the summit, my first call is on 146.52 MHz or some other popular simplex frequency. If I don’t raise anyone there, I will make a call on a few of the 2M repeaters in the area to see if someone will come over to “five two” to make a contact. SOTA does not recognize repeater contacts but it is OK to solicit simplex contacts using a repeater. These techniques and a little patience have always gotten me at least four contacts, and usually quite a few more.

K0NR on Sneffels

K0NR operating with 2M yagi antenna on Mt Sneffels

The omnidirectional antenna of the basic VHF SOTA station will make some contacts, adding some antenna gain can really help your signal. There are a number of compact directional antennas that are easy to take hiking. Elk Antennas makes a log-periodic antenna that covers 2 Meters and 70 cm. Another popular antenna is the 2 Meter / 70 cm Yagi antenna made by Arrow Antenna. These antennas are lightweight and assemble/dissemble easily, which is important to hiking radio operators.

So far, most of the SOTA VHF activity in North America is on on 2m FM, the utility mode. Everyone seems to have a 2m HT, so tossing it in a backpack and heading out is a natural thing to do. Using my FT-817, I have made some VHF contacts on CW and SSB. See this posting about a recent SSB activation. These modes are much efficient than FM and the station on the other end is likely to be a big weak-signal station. Nothing like a big gun station with huge antennas to help pull your QRP signal out of the noise! I expect the use of CW and SSB to increase on VHF as SOTA becomes more popular. While FM activity uses vertical polarization (antenna elements are vertical), most SSB/CW activity uses horizontal polarization (antenna elements are horizontal).

Summits On The Air is a great way to take ham radio outdoors. So get off the couch, find a summit and have some fun with ham radio.

See my other SOTA postings here.

73, Bob K0NR

SSB Makes the Difference on Prospect Mountain

Spring is finally making an appearance in the Rocky Mountain region which means it is time to get on top of some SOTA peaks and transmit some RF energy. On Saturday, Joyce K0JJW and I had planned to drive through the Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park and also sneak in a quick SOTA activation. Matt K0MOS suggested a few peaks and we chose Prospect Mountain (W0C/FR-069) just south of Estes Park. See Matt’s trip report for a good overview of the hike.

Bob Prospect Mtn SOTA

For a low hassle SOTA activation, I usually just take my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and operate 2m FM. Most of the VHF activity is on FM anyway and I usually rustle up some SOTA contacts that way. On this trip, I also brought along my Yaesu FT-817 so that I could operate 2m ssb, to provide better weak signal options.  For SSB operation, my 3-element Arrow yagi antenna was mounted on my walking stick for easier pointing, with horizontal polarization.

FT-817 on a rockThe above photo shows the FT-817 in its Sitting-On-A-Big-Rock operating position, using the AMP-3 carrying case with lead-acid battery inside.

I had arranged a sked with Stu W0STU who was located ~100 miles away with a group of Scouts at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch. There wasn’t a solid radio path between our two locations, so I wasn’t sure if we’d make it or not. I did not think we could make the contact on FM but the efficiency of SSB should do better. He had a small yagi pointed in my direction driven by an FT-857 transceiver but we tried working on 144.200 MHz SSB without any success. Another station W6LEV near Loveland came up on the calling frequency so I worked him.

After working a few stations on 146.52 MHz using a half-wave whip on the FT-60, I decided to try to work W0STU one more time. I sent him a text message and confirmed that he was available. However, snow was moving into his location (welcome to spring) so  he had dismantled his yagi antenna and only had a vertical antenna on his truck. I told him to give me a call on 144.200 SSB and I’d try to find him. I flipped my yagi to vertical polarization and pointed in his direction.

At first, I heard nothing but noise. I was about to give up when I rotated my antenna around to see if the signal peaked up in another direction. Sure enough, when pointed S/SW, I could hear Stu’s signal rise to just above my noise floor. His actual direction from me was SE, so we were probably getting a reflection off one of the mountains to the south.  My signal was right at his noise floor, so we just barely completed a contact. Without the weak-signal performance of SSB and the gain of the yagi antenna, I am sure we would have never completed the contact. Another lesson is that it pays to point your antenna in different directions, since you don’t always know what the best propagation path will be.

Another fun day messing around with ham radio.

73, Bob K0NR

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.

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

A Classic SOTA Hike: Midland Hill (W0C/SP-117)

Today, Joyce K0JJW and I decided to hike Midland Hill (W0C/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

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 (W0C/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. (Check this web site for when the gate opens, usually 7:30 am in the summer.) Once you get to the summit, you’ll find a large circular parking area, the summit house and a few other buildings. The W0C Association Reference Manual (the SOTA rules for Colorado) used to suggest a “qualifying hike” of 100 vertical feet but this item has been removed from the manual. If you decide to do such a 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 feet 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 arctic 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
W0C SOTA Website
Pikes Peak Tourist Information
Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) SOTA Page
Pikes Peak Web Cam
Pikes Peak Highway Information 

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

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

Mt Herman map

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

K0NR HT in the rain

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

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

 

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

Two SOTA Activations: W0C/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 (W0C/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 (WoC/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

Summits On The Air (W0C/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 (W0C/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

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
WØC SOTA Site Web WØC Assoc.Mgr A good place to start for SOTA info for the WØ region
WØC Association Reference Manual (ARM) PDF WØC 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.
WØC 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

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