Archive for category VHF

The KP2 Slacker DXpedition Guide

I’ve had several opportunities to take amateur radio along on vacation and do a little radio operating from other countries. I try not to focus too much on ham radio during such a trip, as it has a tendency to create marital discord and can suck the fun out of the vacation. Some people call this a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.

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The marine yellow Baofeng UV-5R handheld transceiver got a lot of use.

St John USVI

Joyce (K0JJW) and I were planning a vacation with three other couples that we’ve known for years. It turns out that six of the eight have their ham licenses. (We’re still working on the last two.) Our primary goal was to find an island location with great beaches and snorkeling. Someone proposed the island of St John in the US Virgin Islands  and the idea took hold.

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The Buddistick antenna is mounted on the railing of the patio, overlooking the sea.

From a ham radio perspective, USVI is an interesting choice since it does count as a DXCC entity (“country”), even though it is a US possession. See my article on HamRadioSchool.com for more information on how that works. Anyone with an FCC license can operate from there without any special licensing or approval. KP2 is the prefix for USVI, so identify as KP2/<callsign> to indicate that you are operating from USVI.

Radio Gear

We were trying to pack light, so the radio equipment had to fit into our normal luggage. I took my Yaesu FT-817 and a Buddistick™ antenna. Paul (KF9EY) took along a Yaesu FT-100D, while Denny (KB9DPF) transported his FT-817 and a G5RV Junior antenna. Our primary operating mode was using the FT-100D (more power, baby) to drive the Buddistick, which was attached to the railing on the patio.

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The FT-100D was the primary operating rig, carefully placed on a random table out by the pool, with the St John Guidebook nearby.

I decided that the true slacker approach required some Official Beach QRP contacts in the style of Buddies in the Caribbean (see the video). One day on the beach, I took along my FT-817 and the Buddistick and set up for some QRP action.

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Some slacker beach operating (Bob K0NR).

The Buddistick was mounted on a Dolica WT-1003 camera monopod stuck into the sand, with the radial trailing off into the vegetation. My compact Heil headset was a convenient way to make some phone contacts without blasting my fellow beach bums with noisy audio.

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The view looking out from the beach operating location.

How did we do on the HF bands? We managed to make a number of contacts on 20m, 15m and 10m into the Americas and Europe. I was a bit disappointed that we never really got a pileup going. I think our signal was plenty strong but KP2 is maybe just not that rare.

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The innovative “plop the rig on top of a backpack” operating configuration.

We spent quite a bit of time exploring the island, driving around in two rental Jeeps. For mobile communications, we chatted back and forth on 146.58 MHz, the Golf-November-Tango frequency, using handheld transceivers. In the end, these radios probably got the most use during the trip. (Did I mention this was a slacker DXpedition?) There are a few 2m repeaters in the islands but we did not make use of them.

I brought a Yaesu FT-60 and a Baofeng UV-5R along on the trip, but mostly ended up using the Baofeng radio. If was the perfect radio to take to the beach — does the job and not that big of a loss if it landed in the ocean. Using the dual receive feature of the HT, I monitored the marine calling frequency, 156.80 MHz, listening to the boat traffic.

So if you are looking for a great place to go to enjoy the sand and water, I highly recommend St. John. Go ahead and take along some ham gear and do some slacker DXing. For more information on KP2 ham radio, see the ARRL Virgin Islands Section web site.

— 73, Bob KP2/K0NR

QSL to KP2/K0NR via Logbook of the World or to K0NR via Buro or Direct with SASE

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Get Your Mobile Frequency Sticker On

One of the things I try to do is monitor the National Simplex Calling Frequency for 2 meter FM: 146.52 MHz, especially when mobile. It is fun to see who might show up on 2m simplex: SOTA operators, hikers, mobile stations, campers, etc. See these two posts on operating ideas: A Simple Wilderness Protocol: 146.52 MHz and The Use of 146.52 MHz.

14652_decalIt is also fun to say hello to another ham when you pass them on the highway. While you may see their call letter license plates or notice their mobile antenna, you may not know what frequency they are monitoring. The Noise Blankers Radio Club has solved this problem — just put this sticker on your vehicle.

After poking around cafepress.com, I found some additional options for indicating your radio frequency:

The 2meter SSB calling frequency:

2_meter_ssb_calling_frequency

 

 

 

 

 

The APRS frequency:
digital_position_reporting_on_board

 

 

 

 

 

And there’s this magnet for your refrigerator:

oval_simplex_sticker_rectangle_magnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there’s this option, 73 the coolest number

73 sticker

 

 

 

 

 

If you don’t like any of these, cafepress.com makes it easy to create your own. Go for it!

73, Bob K0NR

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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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Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem

baofeng b5The various models of Baofeng handheld transceivers keep popping up everywhere. At prices less than $50, radio amateurs (including veterans and newbies) are scarfing up these radios. See my postings or check out PD0AC’s blog for more information.

Also very frequently, the new owner of such a radio finds that they cannot figure out how to program it. Of course, the solution is “use the programming software” which is often helpful (and often not). The really gnarly problem that usually surfaces is getting the programming cable to work.

It appears that many of the cheap Baofeng USB programming cables use a clone of the Prolific PL-2303 chip that is not supported by the latest Windows driver. This Miklor web page does a good job of explaining the driver problem and giving some helpful advice. (Actually the Miklor site has tons of information on these radios, so check it out.) I’ll also note that the same cable can be used to program a Wouxun radio, so the same remedies apply. Using the info on the Miklor site allowed me to get my Baofeng/Wouxun cable working with my old Windows XP computer. When I bought a new notebook PC, it came with Windows 8 installed, which I later “upgraded” to Win 8.1. (I will spare you the sad story of dealing with Win 8 and 8.1)  Anyway, I have not gotten the Baofeng cables to work on Win 8 or 8.1, even following the Miklor advice.

I started using the Chirp programming software, an open source application that supports a wide variety of radios. (I have found the supplied Baofeng and Wouxun software to be, uh, well, crapware. It can be made to work but it is a pain.) While the Chirp software is not bug free and is in perpetual beta, it basically works well and does a great job of supporting a wide range of radios. I noticed that the Chirp Cableguide recommends the use of programming cables with an FTDI USB chip. I found this one on Amazon for $19, a little more expensive than the cheapo cables but not bad.  I plugged it into my Win8.1 computer and it started working immediately. I did not load any drivers, Windows actually did its job and took care of it for me. In minutes, I was programming a variety of Baofeng and Wouxun radios. Success!!!

My strong recommendation at this point is to use the Chirp software and get a FTDI-based programming cable. You will be a much happier Baofeng or Wouxun owner.

73, Bob K0NR

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Adios to CQ VHF

CQ VHF Another “dead trees” publication is coming to an end. CQ VHF Magazine is ceasing publication, with some content being rolled into a new online publication.

From the ARRL web site:

CQ Communications Inc has announced plans to realign its publications lineup and to launch a new online supplement to its flagship magazine, CQ Amateur Radio.

“The hobby radio market is changing,” said CQ Communications President and Publisher Dick Ross, K2MGA, “and we are changing what we do and how we do it in order to continue providing leadership to all segments of the radio hobby.”

Effective with the February 2014 issue of CQ, said Ross, content from the magazine’s three sister publications — Popular Communications, CQ VHF and WorldRadio Onlinewill be incorporated into CQ’s digital edition as a supplement to be called CQ Plus. The print editions of Popular Communications and CQ VHF will be phased out, and WorldRadio Online will no longer exist as a separate online publication. Current Popular Communications, CQ VHF and WorldRadio Online subscribers will be converted to CQ subscribers and receive CQ Plus at no additional charge. Details will be posted on each magazine’s website.

As the name implies, CQ VHF was focused on amateur radio activities above 50 MHz, which was well aligned with my interests.  I’ve been writing the FM column for CQ VHF magazine since the summer of 2005 (wow, has it really been eight years?).  I have really enjoyed this opportunity and found the four-times-a-year schedule to be just about right for me as an author.

All good things come to an end and it was not a surprise that CQ VHF would cease publication. Clearly, print media is struggling in most markets and a niche publication like CQ VHF was feeling the pressure. My thanks go to Joe Lynch N6CL for his leadership as editor and also to my fellow authors for the great content they produced over many years. I am going to miss having the magazine around but it is time to move on.

73, Bob K0NR

Update Jan 2, 2014: See this information at cq-vhf.com

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Contest Results Are In

300px-International_amateur_radio_symbol.svgIn the past two weeks, the results of several ham radio contests from last summer were posted. The typical contest takes months for the official results to be finalized and I have usually forgotten about the contest by then. The more serious contesters share their results via the 3830 web site so they can get an early read on how they did relative to their peers. But you need to be patient for the official results.

In the ARRL June VHF Contest, I placed in the top ten for the new Single Operator 3 Band category. This category is restricted to 50, 144 and 432 MHz, which is a good match to my radio interests. We had good 50 MHz conditions in Colorado (relative to other parts of the country), so CO stations seemed to score well.

Speaking of Colorado, in the Colorado QSO Party I finished first in the Phone – Low Power – Single-Op category. I was actually not that pleased with my score this year (45,500), which was considerably less than my score from last year (76,464). Oh well, I will invoke the Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio and say I had a great time in the contest, regardless of the score. Thanks to the Pikes Peak Radio Amateur Association for sponsoring this event.

The ARRL Field Day results are also posted. Joyce K0JJW and I did a one transmitter (1B) operation from the cabin using the club call KVØCO, resulting in a modest score (454). We mostly made phone contacts on 20m, 15m and 6m. We had some nice sporadic-e on 50 MHz, which is always a treat. Remember, the key to a fun Field Day is: Season To Taste.

73, Bob K0NR

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Hey, My Yaesu Beeps When I Transmit!

FT-8800R_thumbI own a variety of Yaesu ham radio transceivers and like them a lot. Except for that one little annoying feature that the FM rigs have: WIRES.

About once every two weeks, one of the local radio hams gets on the repeater with a DTMF beep at the start of every transmission. We’ve come to expect it now, so the first question to the ham is “are you by chance using a Yaesu radio?” They always say “yes” and then we talk them through the process of turning off the WIRES “feature.”

The WIRES function sends a DTMF signal at the start of every transmission for use with Yaesu’s version of internet repeater linking (which is not used much in the US).  The problem is that it is very easy to bump the wrong button on your radio and accidently get it into this mode. This means that this is mostly a nuisance feature in the US.

I recently came across a way to disable this feature on your Yaesu radio so that it won’t sent the DTMF tone even if you activate it by accident. Basically, you set the WIRES tone to be empty, so nothing is transmitted if you accidentally turn on WIRES. I did not come up with this clever hack…in fact, I am not sure who put this together. (If you do, let me know and I’ll give them credit.) Take a look at this pdf file and follow the instructions to de-WIRES your radio: Turn Off Wires

73, Bob K0NR

 

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When All Else Fails or SHTF?

when-all-else-fails-logoA while back, Dan KB6NU noted the increasing number of preppers getting involved in ham radioPreppers are people who are actively preparing for emergencies, natural disasters and disruption of social order. In our Technician license course, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people identifying themselves as preppers.

Of course, amateur (ham) radio has a long history of emergency service and disaster preparedness. FCC Rules Part 97 says this is one of the purposes of the Amateur Radio Service: Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

Historically, most radio amateurs approach the hobby from a technical or radio operating point of view, then find ways to apply it to emergency preparedness. The prepper tends to work the equation the other way…starting with the desire to have emergency communication capability and then working to get an amateur radio license.

Many prepper sites just give a quick overview of ham radio, positioning it with GMRS, FRS and CB radio. See Prepper Communications. Articles like this one give a more complete introduction to ham radio: The Skinny On Ham: Getting Licensed.  This one, too: Every Prepper Should Be A Ham.

You may run into some creative acronyms on these prepper sites:

SHTF = “Stuff” Hits The Fan
EOTW = End Of The World
TEOTWAWKI = The End Of The World As We Know It
YOYO – You’re On Your Own

There are web sites devoted to prepping with radio communications:

Prepared Ham
RadioSurvivalist.com
RadioMaster Reports

Many of these sites have useful information that may stretch your thinking on “being prepared.” Of course, some of these prepper sites (not the ones listed above) are a bit over the top and may have resulted from people going off their meds. Draw your own conclusions.

I’ve noticed a pattern of people creating prepper frequency lists, such as the one shown below. (Note that some of the ham frequencies listed do not conform to generally accepted band plans.) I can see the usefulness of having some assigned frequencies but its not clear to me how they’ll actually get used. I think the challenge for new prepper hams is to think through who they are going to communicate with and for what purpose. It’s also important to get familiar with the equipment and gain experience on the air, so when the EOTW happens you aren’t sitting there reading the radio manual.

shtf_frequency_list_2013e_500

Whether you think of emergency communications as “When All Else Fails” or when SHTF, amateur radio is a resilient communication tool.

73, Bob K0NR

Added 7 Dec 2013: I came across this video that does a good job of introducing ham radio to the prepper crowd:  So you want a ham radio for emergency communications!

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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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Digital Voice at Pacificon

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Pacificon amateur radio convention in Santa Clara, something I have been trying to do for several years now. It is a great event, with good technical programs and a super venue.

The most interesting presentation I saw was the one on digital voice (DV) technology by Bruce Perens K6BP. The presentation was mostly about the digital voice known as FreeDV,  an open source approach to DV that uses the Codec 2 voice codec for digitally processing/compressing speech.

K6BP photo

Bruce Perens K6BP talking about FreeDV

I won’t cover all of the technical details here but you can follow the links above to go deeper on the topic. The initial FreeDV efforts are focused on the HF bands, using the sound card plus computer approach to implementing DV. This is a good approach since it is a relatively easy way to adopt this technology. (Compare this to VHF/UHF where you need to solve the repeater infrastructure problem to make progress.) FreeDV operates with a bandwidth of  1.25 kHz, narrower that the standard 3 kHz or so SSB signal. FreeDV also has the benefit of degrading gracefully as the  signal-to-noise ratio is decreased, with less of a digital dropoff that we see with D-STAR and other DV technologies.

Like many hams, Bruce pointed out the concerns and limitations of the proprietary AMBE chip used in D-STAR, DMR and now the new Yaesu DV system. I totally get this point and support the idea of a an open source codec. On the other hand, this work is coming more than a decade later than the creation of D-STAR. I like to refer to this phenomenon as “our ideas are better than their products.”

Bruce introduced Chris Testa KB2BMH to talk about the “HT of the Future”. This is a handheld transceiver implemented using Software Defined Radio (SDR) and inspirations from the world of smartphones. As Bruce said, “Why isn’t your HT as smart as your smart phone?” This is similar to the Android HT idea that I blogged about a while back. See Chris’s blog and this HamRadioNow video for more information.

Another presentation that I attended was about D-STAR with several speakers, including Robin AA4RC. The innovation continues to happen in the D-STAR world with a strong theme of using Raspberry Pi computers to create D-STAR hotspots and repeaters. Robin described the “DV Pi” being developed…a DVAP-like daughter board that plugs into a Raspberry Pi. Jim Moen K6JM talked about the many ways you can implement a D-STAR Hotspot. For more info on that see his D-STAR Hotspot page.

There’s much innovation happening in the area of Digital Voice. It got me thinking about it again so I dug out my ICOM D-STAR HT and put my DVAP back on the air.

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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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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This Spewed Out of the Internet #25

0511-0701-3118-0930Here’s another update of interesting important stuff spewing forth from the internet.

I put my two presentations from HamCon Colorado out on the web:  Practical Amateur Radio Measurements and Mountaintop VHF in the Colorado High Country . Also, check out Kelly N0VD’s blog posting on the event.

Having trouble finding a repeater to use on VHF? Check out my Shack Talk article on HamRadioSchool.com

KB5WIA provides some good tips on EME operating.

Hans PD0AC addresses the question: What’s the Best Chinese Dual-band HT? For best price/performance, he selected Baofeng UV-B5/UV-B6 (and I agree).

The Noise Blankers continue to publish their Ham Hijinks. Remember: Do Not Take These Guys Seriously. Seriously. Do not do this. Seriously.

There’s lots of great ham radio events coming up this summer. This weekend is the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest, the only “true VHF contest” out there since only the 50 MHz and 144 MHz bands are used. Then there’s the Colorado 14er Event, which includes Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, on August 4th. (Don’t forget to check out the great new Colorado 14er Shirts!)  The Colorado QSO Party is another great operating event, on August 31st.

Remember: There is no such thing as ground.

Think about it: an infinitely large electrical node with zero impedance able to sink an infinite current. Not likely.

73, Bob K0NR

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Get Ready For Field Day

2013FieldDayLogoWebAttention all radio amateurs, this weekend is ARRL Field Day! Don’t forget to get on the air.

Field Day is a flexible event, so it can be anything you want it to be: camping weekend, stay at home, participate with your club, go mobile, whatever you desire. Remember to season to taste.

One more thing: Field Day is not a contest. But you can still keep score.

Oh, remember that the national simplex FM calling frequency of 146.52 MHz should not be used for making Field Day contacts. Like all contests…wait Field Day is not a contest. Whatever.

- 73, Bob K0NR

 

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The New VHF Contest Categories

arrlnewlogo-transThe results are in from the 2013 ARRL January VHF Contest, which includes the new Single Operator 3 Band and Single Operator FM Only entry categories.

There were 77 entries in the SO3B category, with Rich KV2R having the high score: 6368 pts. Breaking his contacts out by band reveals 50MHz:92 QSOs/18 Grids; 144MHz:83 QSOs/12 Grids; 432MHz:12 QSOs/2 Grids. I operated in the same category but with a lower score: 1311, broken out by band this way: 50MHz:27/12; 144MHz:24/8; 432MHz:3/3. As I recall, 50 MHz propagation was not really that great, which is going to be the major swing factor for scores in the SO3B category. Scanning through the top SO3B entries reveals a relatively consistent pattern of 50 MHz having the highest number of QSOs, with 144 MHz in the same ballpark and 432 MHz significantly lower in count.

There were only 23 entries in the SOFM category, which is probably not a big surprise. While there are pockets of FM activity during VHF contests, historically the fun mode has not been used that much for contesting. The whole idea behind SOFM is to open up contesting to the FM operator. It remains to be seen how effective this will be but if it does catch on, it will take some time to build momentum. Ev W2EV had the high score of 1080 in the FM category, broken out by band here: 50MHz:19 QSOs/4 Grids; 144MHz:27 QSOs/4 Grids; 222MHz:5 QSOs/4 Grids; 432MHz:8 QSOs/3 Grids.  W2EV’s score shows just a few grids per band, indicating shorter distance contacts overall. With only 4 grids on 50 MHz, he probably did not benefit from sporadic-e propagation on that band. The second place entry was from Erich KC9CUK who only worked the 2 Meter band, producing a score of 441 with 63 QSOs and 7 grids. The remaining entries had less than 30 QSOs. Almost everyone had contacts on 144 MHz but the usage of the other bands varied significantly.

I have always been most interested in operating 50 MHz and 144 MHz, sometimes adding in 222 MHz and 432 MHz, so I find SO3B a nice addition to the contest. In this category,  I get to operate my favorite bands but my score does not get compared with the guys that have built stations that do 50 MHz through light. I suspect there are plenty of other VHF contesters in this same boat.

I find the FM category very interesting, as I have always tried to encourage FM operating during the contests. Clearly, FM is less effective than SSB and CW, particularly when the signals are weak. I don’t know whether this category will attract new operators or not to VHF contests. FM operation needs to hit critical mass because activity generates activity. That is, if you are the only FM contester in your area, its going to be frustrating. Of course, it will help if the established SSB stations make it a point to also work FM.

Oh, one more thing… we still need to get rid of the rule that says no contacts on 146.52 MHz. This rule is counterproductive. Every time I talk with an FM op about “getting on during the contest” they say “OK, so I should just call on five two, right?” I have to explain that calling on the calling frequency is not allowed during the contest (uh, that’s only for FM, you see) and their minds start to wander to topics that make more logical sense.

73, Bob K0NR

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K0NR June VHF Contest

June VHF radio gear

My June VHF Contest operation was at the cabin DM78av, operating in the new 3-band single-op category this year. Usually, I have been a two-band guy just focusing on 2M and 6M. I drug along my 432 MHz antenna and drove it with 50W from my FT-847, picking up a few more QSOs that way.

My score is down from the previous two years, which I think relates to the 50 MHz propagation. I subscribe to the theory that any June contest that has any sporadic-e is a success, so I am not going to complain. However, it did seem like I spend more time digging weak signals out of the noise on 6 Meters this year. It was often just barely open and the QSO rate was slow.

Best DX was XE2WK in EL03 on 50 MHz.

73, Bob K0NR

2013 ARRL June QSO Party K0NR DM78
Band QSOs X pt = QSO pts. X Grids = Points
 ---------------------------------------------------------------
 50 320 1 320 112 35840
 144 34 1 34 11 374
 432 13 2 26 6 156
 ---------------------------------------------------------------
 TOTALS 367 380 129 49020
Claimed score = 49020

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