Monarch Ridge South SOTA Activation (W0C/SP-058)

For the 2016 Colorado 14er Event, I chose really easy SOTA summits to activate because I had fractured my ankle earlier in the summer. At this point, I was able to hobble around with a protective boot but walking more than a few hundred feet was difficult. On Saturday, our radio crew (Bob K0NR, Joyce K0JJW, Denny KB9DPF and Kathy KB9GVC) drove up Pikes Peak and took a short stroll away from the vehicle to operate. On Sunday, we decided to activate Monarch Ridge South (W0C/SP-058), using the sight-seeing tram that goes to the top.

Trailhead signAccess is right off Monarch Pass (Hwy 50), where there is a large parking lot. There is a trail that goes to the top and we’ll be back to hike that some other time. (Actually, Joyce K0JJW and I already tried to snowshoe to the top in blizzard conditions but that is another story for another day.) The trail is a popular mountain bike route, part of the Continental Divide Trail (CTD). Monarch Pass is oriented north/south and the trail heads off to the east (behind the tram building). At some point, you need to turn left off the main trail to ascend the summit.

Tram lower buildingBut we opted for the tram, boarding it inside this building near the parking lot. We purchased tickets in the nearby gift shop, which is worth a look if you need a map, book, ice cream cone or trinkets. See their website for latest schedule and pricing.

 

 

 

Tram going up mountainHere’s a photo of the tram going up the side of the mountain. Of course, the views are great and the ride takes about 10 minutes. The tram car holds four people and a reasonable amount of SOTA gear.

 

 

 

KB9DPF operating 2m fmAt the top, Denny KB9DPF made contacts on 2m FM, aided by expert logger Kathy KB9GVC. The actual summit is about a tenth of a mile to the south but we operated from a concrete pad on the north side. The ridge is flat and we judged the activation area to be very large.

We made a total of 13 contacts on 2m and 70cm, including 5 other SOTA summits (S2S).

 

 

K0NR operating 70cmI used my Yaesu FT-817 to call on 432.100 MHz SSB, hoping to find someone in the UHF contest that was happening concurrently with the 14er event. I didn’t work anyone on 70cm SSB but I did work K3ILC in Colorado Springs on FM at a distance of ~90 miles. Not too bad. The Arrow antenna is attached to my hiking stick via the camera mount thread.

 

 

 

Radio SiteThere is a substantial radio site on Monarch Ridge that did provide some RF interference to us on 2 meters. The 70 cm band seemed to be unaffected but I can’t be sure. The “bad boy” transmitter is the KMYP automated weather station (AWOS) transmitting continuously on 124.175 MHz. Well, at least we could receive current weather information. We did relocate to put some distance between us and the transmitters but my lack of mobility kept us from going very far.

If you are looking for an easy access SOTA summit near Monarch Pass with excellent views, this is it. The hike up should not be very difficult but the tram makes it even easier. If you plan to operate 2 meters, expect some interference. Next time, I’ll try locating even further away from the transmitter site. I might even bring along some bandpass filters. Other SOTA enthusiasts have reported no problems on the HF bands.

At the time of this post, there are plans to put a 2m amateur repeater at this site on 145.325 MHz.

73, Bob K0NR

What’s In Your Rubber Duck?

rubber-duckyAnyone with a VHF or UHF handheld transceiver (HT) probably uses the standard “rubber duck” antenna for casual use. I often refer to the rubber duck as The World’s Most Convenient Crappy Antenna. To be fair, all antennas are a compromise…the rubber duck optimizes small size and convenience at the expense of performance. The Wikipedia entry describes the rubber duck antenna as “an electrically short monopole antenna…[that] consists of a springy wire in the shape of a narrow helix, sealed in a rubber or plastic jacket to protect the antenna.

Being curious about what really is hiding inside the typical rubber duck antenna, I decided to take a few of them apart. I did not try to assess the performance of the antennas but just examine their construction.

Baofeng UV-5R Stock Antenna

Baofeng UV-5R rubber duck
Baofeng UV-5R Antenna

I started by dissecting a Baofeng UV-5R antenna, which took some aggressive action with a diagonal wire cutters to split the rubberized jacket near the bottom. After that, the jacket slid off to reveal the classic spiral antenna element inside. You can see some white adhesive near the top of the spiral element (upper right in the photo).

The Baofeng antenna had a female SMA connector.

Note: You can access high resolution versions of the photos in this article by clicking on them, allowing you to see lots of detail.

 

 

Yaesu FT-1DR Stock Antenna

Yaesu FT-1DR antenna
Yaesu FT-1DR antenna

The Yaesu antenna was easy to disassemble. In fact, I chose this antenna because I noticed that the outside jacket had come loose and was starting to slide off the antenna. A steady pull on the cover exposed the antenna elements without any further antenna abuse. (I plan to reinstall the cover with a few dabs of glue and expect that it will continue to work fine.)

The construction of this antenna is quite different from the Baofeng. The main element is a very tightly-wound spring…so tight that I expect that it acts like a solid wire electrically. In other words, it doesn’t have the spiral configuration that makes the antenna act longer electrically. At the bottom of the antenna, there is a coil inserted in series with the radiating element (connects radiating element with the center pin of the SMA connector).

Yaesu FT-1DR coil closeup
Close up of antenna coil

 

The photo to the right shows a closeup view of the male SMA connector and the coil.

 

 

 

 

 

Laird VHF Antenna

Laird antenna peeling coating
Peeling back the outer coating of the Laird antenna

Next, I wondered if antennas for commercial radios used different design or construction techniques. Laird makes high-quality antennas for the mobile radio and other commercial markets, so I purchased one of their VHF rubber duck antennas to dissect. This model is intended for use with Motorola radios requiring a threaded antenna stud.

This antenna was a challenge to cut open. I used a sharp knife and diagonal pliers to cut the rubberized jacket and peeled it back using a needle-nose pliers. The rubberized coating was embedded into the spiral antenna element, so it did not come apart easily. It took over an hour fighting with the antenna and I gave up before getting the entire spiral element exposed.

 

Laird VHF antenna
Laird VHF antenna

The Laird antenna is clearly the sturdiest of the three antennas. The spiral element is much thicker than the Baofeng and the rubberized coating is tougher and molded tightly into the spiral element.

The Baofeng and Laird antennas use the same design concept…just take a spiral antenna element and apply a protective cover. However, the Laird construction was far superior, but not a surprise given that Baofeng is a low-cost provider in the ham radio (consumer) market.

My disappointment is with the Yaesu antenna. The antenna came apart after one year of not very heavy use. I expect I can put it back together with some adhesive, improving on the design in the process.

Anyway, I found this interesting and wanted to share it with you. What’s in your rubber duck?

73, Bob KØNR

All VHF Shack Sloth

w0sotaOn June 21st, I worked Steve K7PX on Mount Garfield (W0C/FR-040) using 2m fm to push me over 1000 points to quality for the SOTA Shack Sloth Award using only VHF. This is my first significant SOTA award, which I have been working towards for several years now. I decided to pursue Shack Sloth using only the VHF bands, which is much more difficult than using HF. Why did I choose that? Something about mountains, Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) and VHF radio has always intrigued me.

Here’s the line up of my top chased summits, with Mt Herman and Pikes Peak taking the clear lead. Mt Herman is The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado and it is in my backyard. Most of those contacts were with Steve WGØAT and Frank KØJQZ. Thanks, guys! Pikes Peak is also a clear VHF shot from my house and many SOTA activators and tourists like to activate that summit. No surprise, the rest of the summits are various peaks in Colorado, worked from my house or from our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. Quite a few of these are Summit-to-Summit contacts made when activating peaks, often during the Colorado 14er Event.

chased summitsMost of my thousand points were contacts made using plain old 2m fm, The Utility Mode. A few contacts were made on 2m ssb along with some 70 cm fm and ssb contacts. I have been encouraging folks to try 2m ssb for huge improvements in weak-signal performance but the universal nature of 2m fm seems to be winning out.

My next goal is Mountain Goat with VHF only. I’ll need to activate a lot of summits to get that done, so it will take me a while. It’s always good to have something to work towards.

73, Bob KØNR

How About an Updated FT-817?

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

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

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

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

What’s Next for the FT-817?

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

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

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

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

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

Take One Tablet

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

Those are my thoughts. Your turn.

73, Bob KØNR

Summits On The Air – Colorado Style

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

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

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

73, Bob KØNR

Announcing: 25th Annual Colorado 14er Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force

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

Yaesu FT-1DR: A Trail Friendly SOTA HT

A common topic in the QRP community is the Trail Friendly Radio (TFR) concept for backpack-style operating on the high-frequency bands. I’ve adapted the concept for the VHF/UHF bands, calling it the VHF Trail Friendly Radio (VTFR).

IMG_0728edit

Strong candidates for the best VTFR include the Elecraft KX3 (with 2m option) and the Yaesu FT-817. Heck, both of these radios deliver all of the HF bands, 6m and 2m in one portable package. (The FT-817 also has 70cm.) See my blog post that compares the two rigs.

But the other set of strong contenders for the best VTFR is one of the many dualband HTs available on the market. It is hard to beat the compact, portable attributes of these great little radios for casual use on the trail. I’m not going to review them all but instead talk about my current favorite: the Yaesu FT-1DR. (Yaesu has recently replaced the FT-1DR with the newer model FT1XDR, which is the same design but with an improved GPS receiver and larger battery pack.)

My main usage of the radio is when hiking and doing Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations. This radio has a lot to offer in terms of capability and features, but the main things that stand out are 2m/70cm band coverage, two independent receivers and built-in GPS/APRS capability. Most SOTA VHF operating is on 2m fm so that band is critical, but I also make contacts on 70cm. More important is that together 2m and 70cm covers that vast majority of fm repeaters in my state, providing the best backcountry repeater coverage. The built-in APRS features allow the HT to be an effective tracking device as I move down the trail. SOTA chasers can see my position in real-time and anticipate when I’ll be on the summit. The radio has two separate receivers which turns out to be very useful when on the trail. With two receivers, I can monitor 146.52 MHz (2m fm calling frequency, often used for SOTA) while also keeping an ear on a local 2m or 70cm repeater. Another configuration is using one side of the radio to ping my location via APRS while the other side monitors 146.52 MHz.

The extended receive capability of the radio opens up lots of listening options: AM broadcast, FM broadcast, airband, shortwave and NOAA weather radio. I don’t use these very often but there are times that I want to tune to weather or news.

I am not a huge fan of Yaesu’s C4FM digital mode but do use it on occasion. The DN (digital narrow) mode supports voice and position information simultaneously, so Joyce KØJJW and have been using it to keep track of each other on the trail. The radio provides a basic indication of distance and direction to another C4FM radio.

A few other tips: if you buy an FT-1DR, I recommend upgrading the belt clip to the BC-102 clip from Batteries America. It is way better than the standard one from Yaesu. Michael KX6A created a very handy quick reference card for operating the FT-1D, so consider putting one in your pack.

73, Bob KØNR

Winter SOTA Activation of Kaufman Ridge North

Today, Joyce KØJJW and I activated Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). We’ve been on the summit before, including the first ever SOTA activation back in September of 2012. This summit is close to our cabin, so it made for a convenient hike. The mountain is not that difficult of a climb but we encountered quite a bit of snow in March, up to three feet in places, which we tromped across with snowshoes.

IMG_0720edit
Joyce K0JJW on snowshoes in typical trail conditions

My blog posting about the next mountain to the south, Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), outlines a good way to access both summits during the summer. However, a seasonal gate closure (December to April) means we needed to find a different route. We approached the mountain from the north, parking our vehicle on Castle Court (a short side road off of Kaufman Road). We quickly crossed what appears to be private property (empty lot, no signs) to get to the US Forest Service boundary. Once we hopped the fence we were on public lands. We intentionally routed to the east to avoid some houses.

Snowshoe route shown to summit of Kaufman Ridge North
Snowshoe route shown to summit of Kaufman Ridge North. We parked at Castle Court, the unlabeled road that connects with Kaufman Road.

I don’t claim that this route is optimal. We had to break a lot of trail, pushing through the snow. We found a section of trail that had recent snowshoe traffic on it but it wasn’t of much use to us heading to the summit. We followed numerous game trails which appeared and disappeared on the side of the mountain. Mostly, we busted through the snow on our own. Surprisingly, the last quarter mile to the summit had little snow, so we removed our snowshoes at that point and just hiked in boots.

IMG_0728editMy Yaesu FT-1DR has become my favorite rig for SOTA activations. It covers both 2m and 70cm with dual-receiver capability. it has a built-in GPS receiver and APRS capability that facilitates easy APRS tracking. Joyce and I have a pair of these which we’ve been using to track each other’s positions on the few occasions we get separated on the trail.

 

 

Bob K0NR knocks out a few 2m fm contacts from the summit
Bob K0NR knocks out a few 2m fm contacts from the summit

After we made the summit, I made a few contacts on 146.52 MHz. Thanks to Jim KDØMRC, Dave KØHTX, Carl K5UK and Candy KEØDMT for giving me my four required SOTA contacts.

The weather turned out to be better than predicted…partly cloudy and temps around 50 degrees F. On the way back down, we retraced our ascent path so we had more of a snowshoe trail to follow. I have to admit that this trip was a good lesson in how off-trail snowshoeing can really be a challenge. This was many times more difficult than a summer trail hike of equal length and elevation gain. Trip stats: 2.6 total miles, 1300 vertical feet.

At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

73, Bob K0NR

January VHF Contest Plus SOTA

A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.
A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a January VHF contest from a mountaintop so I decided to give it a try from Mount Herman this year. The ARRL recently changed the contest rules to allow the use of the national 2m fm calling frequency for contests. See Coming Soon: 146.52 MHz in ARRL VHF Contests. I wanted to see how this change would play out in practice when doing a combination VHF Contest plus SOTA activation. In previous attempts, I had to vector the SOTA activity to another 2m fm frequency for it to be a legal contact for the contest. The SOTA + Contest operation is attractive because it has all the elements of a fun SOTA hike coupled with the increased activity of a VHF contest. The contest brings out the weak-signal folks with very capable stations, increasing the probability of making some good DX contacts.

Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.
Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.

 

Joyce KØJJW and I hit the trail at 10:30 AM local with the goal of being at the summit around noon (1900 UTC) for the start of the ARRL contest. The trail was icy, but manageable with the gripping devices on our boots. The weather was chilly but not bad for January. At the summit, I configured my FT-60 handheld radio for 146.52 MHz using a 2m half-wave vertical. My first call netted a QSO with Tim, KAØMWA in Castle Rock. I worked a few other stations on 2m fm and then set up the 2m ssb station (FT-817 plus Arrow II antenna). On 144.200 MHz SSB, I contacted two Wyoming stations in grid DN71, about 140 miles away. I also gave a call on 446.0 MHz fm and worked W3DHJ and KE0HBW mobile.

Freq    Mode    UTC     Call     Grid
146.52    FM    1900    KA0MWA   DM79
146.52    FM    1902    N0AXK    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    N0LP     DM79
146.52    FM    1905    K0GPA    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    WG0AT    DM79
146.52    FM    1920    N0ISB    DM78
146.52    FM    1923    N0LEA    DN70
144.2    SSB    1932    WY7KY    DN71
144.2    SSB    1935    K0ALE    DM79
144.2    SSB    1938    AB0YM/R  DM79
144.2    SSB    1939    KG0RP    DN70
144.2    SSB    1940    WA7KYM   DN71
144.2    SSB    1942    KC4YLV   DM79
446.0    FM     1948    W3DHJ    DM78
144.2    SSB    1949    WE7L     DM79
144.2    SSB    1951    N0SP     DM79
446.0    FM     2000    KE0HBW   DM79

The wind was strong at the summit and kept blowing everything around, making it difficult to operate the radio and manage the antennas. After an hour of operating, I decided to QRT and head on down. I know I missed a bunch of potential contacts, especially having not gotten on 70 cm and 6m ssb.

Except for the short operating time, the operation played out as expected. I was able to work the SOTA folks and 2m fm enthusiasts on 146.52 MHz. I made it a point to not hog the calling frequency, as there are quite a few folks that monitor there. Switching over to 2m ssb, I worked the contest crowd, typically with more capable vhf stations. My score is a whopping 114 points, in the single-op portable category.

Thanks to everyone that got on the air to play radio that day!

73, Bob KØNR

2016 SOTA Activity Days

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

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

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

Trail conditions
Winter conditions on Mount Herman trail.

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

K0JJW K0NR
Joyce K0JJW and Bob K0NR on the trail.

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

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

Sorry, I’ve Been On 2m FM Again

This recycled post from 2008 is still accurate, but I do have my HF antenna up and recently used it for the CQ WW SSB Contest.

FT-7900R_thumbI was looking out the window the other day and noticed that my wire HF antenna is laying on the ground. Hmmm, probably doesn’t radiate very well that way. But if I put a long, lossy coaxial cable in line, the SWR will still be good at the transmitter. And I can tell my buddies that it works just fine because “I can work everyone that I hear.” (What a dumb thing to say.)

This made me realize that most of my ham radio activity lately has been on 2m FM. Actually it has been on 2m and 70cm FM, as I tend to lump these two activities together. These days, my VHF/UHF FM rigs have at least 146 MHz and 440 MHz in them (FT-7800, FT-8900, etc.). I cruise down the road and flip on the rig, talk to the locals, talk to the XYL, etc. It is just too easy and too convenient. It fits the mobile lifestyle, whether it means operating a mobile rig in the car or grabbing an HT to take along on a business trip. (I used to run HF and SSB VHF mobile but found that the rigs were rarely used, so I removed the gear from my vehicle.)

Of course, I need to apologize to the rest of the ham community for this failure to act according to accepted social norms. You know how it is…Real Hams operate HF, weak-signal VHF, microwaves, etc……almost anything that is not 2m FM. Every so often I hear that comment about “well, those techs just hang out on 2m FM,” implying that those guys are permanently stuck in ham radio middle school, unable to graduate to the next level. Or sometimes the FM operators are referred to as having “shacks on the belt” which are dependent on the “box on the hill.” The main message is that 2m FM is just too easy, too plug-n-play, too much like an appliance….too convenient. We certainly can’t have that!

Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy HF, DXing, contesting, digital modes, almost anything to do with amateur radio. That’s the cool thing about the hobby…so many bands, so many modes. One of my favorite activities is operating the major VHF contests. (I’ve even been known to make a few CW contacts.) But on a day-to-day basis 2m FM just seems to fit in better.

Some people call 2m FM the Utility Mode, because it is the mode that gets the job done. Last week, we had a weather net activated to track thunderstorms and a few tornadoes. Did this happen on 40m? I don’t think so. Two meters carried the load. Where do most of the ARES and RACES nets meet? Two meters. How is most public service communications handled? Two meter FM. Even some hard core HF DX enthusiasts are known to flip over to 2m FM to tell their buddies that the DXpedition to a rare country is on the air. It is the Utility Mode.

Over the weekend, I was driving through the mountains and heard an aeronautical mobile working stations simplex on 146.52 MHz…lots of fun. Another time, I heard a station calling about 80 miles away (I was in a high spot) and I had the pleasure of making that contact….again, on 2m FM. A few weeks ago, I operated in the Colorado 14er Event from the summit of Pikes Peak. Since many of the mountaintop stations had hiked up, the most popular mode of the day was (you guessed it) 2m FM.

So sorry, I have been hanging out on 2m FM. I’ll try to get that HF antenna back in the air one of these days.

73, Bob K0NR

Just Another VHF SOTA Contact

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Digital Voice Balkanization

Digital transmissionWouldn’t it be cool if we had one digital communications format for the VHF/UHF amateur bands with all equipment manufacturers offering compatible products? The basic modulation and transport protocol would be standard with manufacturers and experimenters  able to innovate on top of that basic capability. There would be plenty of room to compete based on special features but all radios would interoperate at a basic level. You know, kind of like analog FM.

Yeah, we don’t have that. 🙁

73, Bob K0NR

Graphic: Adapted from HamRadioSchool.com

New Satellite (Fox-1A/ AO-85) is Operational

amsatCongratulations to AMSAT for the successful launch and initial deployment of the Fox-1A amateur radio satellite.This bird has been designated AO-85 and has an FM transponder on board (435.180 MHz uplink, 145.980 MHz downlink).

I have not heard or worked this satellite yet but early reports indicate that it has a strong signal on the downlink. So start out by trying to hear the bird on 145.980 MHz. To find out when it will be overhead, use the AMSAT pass prediction page or your favorite satellite tracking software.

Download the Special Issue of the AMSAT Journal to get the full story.

73, Bob K0NR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

2014 September VHF Contest Certificate

The certificate for my entry in the 2014 ARRL September VHF Contest arrived in the mail last week. Given that it has been 11 months after the contest, I had pretty much forgotten about the effort. The ARRL VHF contest certificates look great, even if they do take a while to get issued. It turns out this contest entry was the combination VHF contest plus Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation from Mt Herman that I blogged about.

K0NR 2014 Sept VHF Contest AwardMy blog posting said my score was 767 but the actual score was 780. Not a big score by any standard but not bad for ~4 hours of operating on a Saturday afternoon. As I suspected, this sets a new record for the Single Operator Portable category in the Colorado Section. What I did not expect is placing sixth in the overall contest (for my category). For the most part, this was just a really fun SOTA activation that included some VHF contest action.

Summary: The score doesn’t matter; any day having fun with ham radio is a good day.

73, Bob K0NR

West Buffalo Peak (W0C/SP-018)

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

Buffalo Peaks - small
Buffalo Peaks in the Winter

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

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

Joyce K0JJW on the trail
Joyce K0JJW on the trail.

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

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

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

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Summits On The Air at Central States VHF

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

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

73, Bob K0NR

Coming Soon: 146.52 MHz in ARRL VHF Contests

arrlnewlogo-transI’ve been known to whine complain comment about the prohibition against using 146.52 MHz during ARRL radio contests. For example, see The One Frequency You Should Never Use on Field Day and Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest.

During my presentation on Mountaintop VHF for SOTA at the Central States VHF Society Conference in Denver today, I mentioned this is an issue. Basically, I pointed out that Summits On The Air (SOTA) operators often default to the 2m fm calling frequency, which is prohibited for use in the ARRL contests. This gets in the way when mountaintop stations do a combination SOTA and VHF Contest operation.

During my presentation, Brian Mileshosky N5ZGT, ARRL Director of the Rocky Mountain Division, reported that the ARRL has decided to remove the prohibition of 146.52 MHz in VHF contests. It will take some time for this to work its way into the actual rules, so stayed tuned for further developments.

This is great news…a cleanup of an unnecessary impediment to VHF contesting. Now, will the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest do the same?

73, Bob K0NR

Added 21 Oct 2015, here’s the ARRL announcement:
Use of 146.52 MHz FM Simplex Frequency Cleared for ARRL Contests