For Field Day this year, the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association (WØTLM) is planning a one day event that combines our Tech Day training activities with normal Field Day radio operating. This Tech Field Day will have a strong emphasis on radio education and training, including an opportunity to make contacts on the HF bands under the supervision of an experienced radio ham.
Sat June 27th, 2015 (8:00 AM to 5 PM)
Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1
11445 Teachout Road, Colorado Springs
Come to our one-day education and radio operating event and learn from informative presentations of amateur radio topics. Operate a high frequency (HF) radio station with the helpful guidance of an experienced radio ham. Learn about emergency communications and public service. Most of all, have a bunch of fun messing around with ham radio stuff!
We have quite a few licensed radio amateurs that are members of public safety agencies, including fire departments, law enforcement agencies and search and rescue. Since they are authorized users of those public safety channels, they often ask this question:
Can I use my VHF/UHF ham radio on the fire, police or SAR channel?
It is widely known that many amateur radios can be modified to transmit outside the ham bands. The answer to this question used to be that amateur radio equipment cannot be used legally on public safety channels because it is not approved for use under Part 90 of the FCC Rules. (Part 90 covers the Private Land Mobile Radio Services.) The only option was to buy a commercial radio with Part 90 approval and a frequency range that covered the desired amateur band. Some commercial radios tune easily to the adjacent ham band but some do not. The commercial gear is usually two to three times as expensive as the amateur gear, and just as important, does not have the features and controls that ham operators expect. Usually, the commercial radios do not have a VFO and are completely channelized, typically changeable only with the required programming software.
The situation has changed dramatically in the past few years. Several wireless manufacturers in China (Wouxun, Baofeng, Anytone, etc.) have introduced low cost handheld transceivers into the US amateur market that are approved for Part 90 use. These radios offer keypad frequency entry and all of the usual features of a ham radio. It seems that these radios are a viable option for dual use: public safety and amateur radio, with some caveats.
New radios are being introduced frequently, so I won’t try to list them here. However, you might want to do a search on Wouxun, Baofeng and Anytone for the latest models. I will highlight the Anytone NSTIG-8R radio which I have been using. It seems to be a well-designed but still affordable (<$75) handheld radio. See the review by PD0AC.
Some Things to Consider When Buying These Radios
The manufacturers offer several different radios under the same model number. Also, they are improving the radios every few months with firmware changes and feature updates. This causes confusion in the marketplace, so buy carefully.
Make sure the vendor selling the radio indicates that the radio is approved for Part 90 use. I have seen some radios show up in the US without an FCC Part 90 label.
Make sure the radio is specified to tune to the channels that you need.
The 2.5-kHz tuning step is required for some public safety channels. For example, a 5-kHz frequency step can be used to select frequencies such as 155.1600 MHz and 154.2650 MHz. However, a 2.5 kHz step size is needed to select frequencies such as 155.7525 MHz. There are a number of Public Safety Interoperability Channels that require the 2.5-kHz step (e.g., VCALL10 155.7525 MHz, VCALL11 151.1375 MHz, VFIRE24 154.2725). The best thing to do for public safety use is to get a radio that tunes the 2.5-kHz steps.
Many of these radios have two frequencies in the display, but only have one receiver, which scans back and forth between the two selected frequencies. This can be confusing when the radio locks onto a signal on one of the frequencies and ignores the other. Read the radio specifications carefully.
There are a number of reasonably good radios out there from various manufacturers. My favorite right now is the Anytone NSTIG-8R but I also like the Wouxun KG-UV6D. The Baofeng UV-5R continues to be popular in the amateur community as the low cost leader. However if you show up at an incident with the Baofeng, your fellow first responders will think it is a toy. Which leads to a really important point: the established commercial radio manufacturers such as Motorola, Vertex, etc. build very rugged radios. They are made for frequent, heavy use by people whose main job is putting out fires, rescuing people in trouble and dealing with criminals. These low cost radios from China are not in the same league. However, they can still serve in a less demanding physical environment while covering the Amateur Radio Service (FCC Part 97) and the Private Land Mobile Radio Services (FCC Part 90).
I’ve written before about the flexibility of Field Day and the need to season to taste to make it your own. I have always thought that one of the great things about Field Day is that it can be tuned to whatever interests you or your club. It can be a serious radio contest (well, almost); it can be an emcomm drill. It can be a radio campout; it can be a foodfest, it can be a beer-drinking party. Insert your idea here.
This year, our local club, the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association is going to try a new approach that we call Tech Field Day. We previously have held a one-day educational event that we call Tech Day, that featured a series of presentations and hands-on demonstrations. The main theme of Tech Day was to help the Technician level hams gain more knowledge and help them move on up to General class operating.
We are taking the basic idea of Tech Day and combining with a shortened one-day version of Field Day. So on Saturday June 27th, we’ll offer a series of educational presentations along with some classic Field Day radio operating. The operating emphasis will be on giving newer hams a chance to get on the air, probably on both HF and VHF. (Our plans are still coming together.) We will also promote the theme of emergency communications, operating off a emergency power source, etc.
There are a number of things that we are intentionally leaving out. We won’t operate the entire 24 hour period…in fact, we’ll probably just be on the air Saturday afternoon. We won’t worry about making a lot of contacts or running up the score. Our stations will be relatively simple (no towers, no amplifiers).
So that’s our idea of a fun Field Day. What are you planning to do?
Anytone Tech is shaking things up in the low cost handheld radio market. They have introduced three new dualband transceivers with features including dual receive, crossband repeater and legal operation on MURS, GMRS and commercial (Part 90) frequencies. See the excellent reviews on the Hans PD0AC blog:
HamRadioNow reports on some very interesting developments of digital voice technology. See the video interview with David Rowe VK5DGR, who is developing some amazing technology (codec2 and related work).
This hilarious video will show you some good safety tips for working with high voltage…not really.
On the topic of operating events for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, Guy N7UN suggested focusing on six major events for 2015. Most of these are VHF-oriented but HF activity can also occur on these days.
Jan 24-26: ARRL Jan VHF Contest + NA SOTA Winter Activity Weekend
(oops, I guess we already missed that one)
Apr 18-19: North America SOTA Spring Activity Weekend
Of course, any day is a good day for SOTA activity. I also think six weekends are a great way to focus our operating activity and create S2S (summit to summit) radio contacts. The August 1-2 weekend looks to be the alignment of the planets with four events happening on that weekend. Early August usually offers excellent conditions for hiking the highest peaks in Colorado, so come on out and play.
After acquiring a Ford F-150 truck last year, I’ve been working on getting a ham radio installed in it. At times, I have loaded up my vehicle with multiple radios covering HF through 70 cm but lately I am content with just having a reasonable dualband 2m/70 cm FM rig in the mobile. Actually, I used a Yaesu FT-8900 that does FM on 10m, 6m, 2m and 70 cm but just set it up for the two bands.
One of the most critical questions for a mobile installation is what kind of antenna to install and where to put it. In the end, the antenna is going to be the main determinant of mobile performance. Ideally, I’d like to have the antenna on the roof of the cab but the truck will not fit in my garage in that configuration. Another option I considered was mounting a longer dualband antenna using one of the stake pocket mounts from Breedlove. I prefer NMO mounts for VHF/UHF antennas and the stake pocket looked like a good way to go. However, a little measuring revealed that a 1/2-wave or 5/8-wave 2m antenna on the stack pocket was not going to clear my garage door. So it seemed that I was limited to a shorter antenna. I may still use the stake pocket mount for an additional antenna for road trips or to add 6m and 10m antennas.
At this point, the F-150 bracket offered by The Antenna Farm looked like a good option. They have a number of these brackets made specifically for various vehicles, so check them out. This made the antenna installation quite simple. <click on any of the photos for a larger view>
The antenna is an NMO-mount dualband that I had laying around the hamshack. I don’t recall the exact model number but these are very common, about 19-inch long for 1/4-wave operation on 2m and a small loading coil to make it work on the 70cm band.
The F-150 has several precut holes for passing wires through the firewall. I used one that is on the passenger side just below a large module, as shown in the photo. It took a stiff wire and some force to punch my way through the rubber plug and into the cab compartment.
I don’t have a photo of the battery connection but I connected the positive lead right onto the battery terminal while the negative lead was attached to the truck chassis near the battery. You may have been told to always connect directly to the battery terminals but that advice no longer applies to some newer cars because there is a current monitoring device in the negative battery lead. To avoid confusing the vehicle battery monitoring system, the negative connection to your transceiver needs to be on the chassis side of the current monitor. Alan K0BG explains this issue on his web site. Actually, Alan has a wealth of information on mobile installations on his web site: www.k0bg.com. Oh, of course, I used inline fuses on both the positive and negative power cables.
I mounted the FT-8900 transceiver on the floor under the back seat. To route the power cables and antenna coax, I pulled up the flat plastic trim piece that runs along the floor at the passenger door. I started from the front and did some careful prying (and praying) to remove the trim without breaking it. This exposes a trough with a factory wiring harness in it but there’s room for more. A few other plastic trim pieces were removed to get access to the wires coming through the firewall. All in all, this was not that difficult. (Yea, Ford!)
The photo to the left shows the FT-8900 radio installed under the passenger side rear seat. I drilled holes through the floor and mounted the radio with hefty sheet metal screws. The screws go right through the metal floor and and can be seen from under the truck. (Check that out before drilling!) Because the radio body is under the rear seat, I am using a small external speaker mounted near the drivers seat.
The radio control head is mounted inside a little door/shelf that normally pops open to reveal the USB port for plugging in a smartphone. (Note that Ford has multiple seat / dashboard configurations.)
The FT-8900 control head just fits inside this little shelf, even when the door is closed (see photo). The microphone does have to be removed to close the door. I mounted a microphone hanger with a couple of sheet metal screws, as shown in the photo. I don’t like the crappy little hanger that usually comes with a ham transceiver so I bought some higher quality hangers on Amazon.
Overall, I am pleased with the radio install. The antenna location is clearly a compromise and I notice the performance is not as good as my previous vehicle (which was a small SUV with an NMO mount antenna in the middle of the roof.) But the antenna is “low profile” and sufficient for “around town” mobile operating. I am getting a little noise on the 2m band which needs some investigation. The 70cm band is very clean and is the band I use the most.
One continuing discussion in the VHF community is how to promote more activity, especially during the major VHF contests. One central theme that always emerges is how to modify the VHF contest rules to make them better, to make them fairer and to encourage new contesters. (Let me say up front that there is room for improvement in the contest rules but I don’t think rule changes alone will change contest participation significantly.)
In 2013, the ARRL contests added the Three-Band Single Operator and Single Operator FM Only entry categories. In January 2015, the ARRL added three more categories: Single Operator Unlimited High Power, Single Operator Unlimited Low Power, and Single Operator Unlimited Portable. These “unlimited” categories allow “passive use of spotting assistance” which roughly means these operators can monitor the various DX spotting networks but not spot themselves. The CQ Worldwide VHF Contest already allows passive assistance for all participants and self-spotting for digital EME and meteor scatter contacts. See the CQ WW VHF rules.
In January, the ARRL announced additional changes:
The Board … adopted amendments to the General Rules for ARRL Contests Above 50 MHz to encourage greater participation and band utilization. The changes become effective with the 2015 June ARRL VHF Contest. The revisions stemmed from recommendations offered by the Board’s Programs and Services Committee’s ad-hoc VHF and Above Revitalization subcommittee, composed of active VHF/UHF contesters, and they received strong support from the VHF/UHF community.
The subcommittee was charged with developing recommendations to increase the level and breadth of ARRL VHF and above contest participation and encourage operation on lesser-used bands. As a start to the process, the Board approved three changes that will permit assistance for all operator categories, with no effect on entry category; permit self-spotting for all operator categories, and allow single operators to transmit on more than one band at a time.
The changes will permit assistance in arranging contacts, but not in conducting contacts. They will, for example, allow a station to announce its location in a chat room, on a repeater, or even via e-mail.
The self-spotting/assistance issue is a hotly debated issue among VHFers, with two main schools of thought:
1) Contacts should be made completely independent of non-amateur assistance. Sometimes passive spotting assistance is allowed, but some folks want to eliminate that practice as well.
2) Contacts can be made with non-amateur assistance (spotting networks, chat rooms, etc.) as long as a complete radio contact occurs over the ham bands. This follows the common practice of internet spotting for EME and meteor scatter. Also, some rover stations have requested the ability to spot themselves when they enter a new grid.
There are a number of shades of gray positions between these two points of view (see the CQ WW VHF rules, for example), but I won’t try to explain them here. In general, I support the move to loosening up the restrictions on assistance (#2). Without good 6m propagation, VHF contests tend to be “QSO poor” and expanded use of spotting will allow for additional contacts. The potential risk is that we’ll get sloppy with what constitutes a legitimate contact. Once I know the exact frequency and call sign of the other station, it will be easier to “hear” the other station even when the path is not there. Of course, we already have this situation when we complete a QSO on one band and QSY to another band to work the same station. We know the frequency and call sign (and the grid)…did we really hear the other guy or just think we did? In the end, it all comes down to the integrity of the radio hams involved in the contact.
I keep getting asked about the Baofeng radios. Usually, it’s a new ham asking “hey, should I buy the Baofeng?” Even though I own several of them and make good use of them, I have been a little reluctant to recommend them as a first radio. I put together my thoughts on these radios plus a few tips to help people get started with them. Read the full story here on HamRadioSchool.com.
If you ever thought it would be a good idea to use a banana as a Morse code keyer, check out this video. Meanwhile, Burger King has recognized the importance of ham radio for space communications (video).
Stu W0STU over at HamRadioSchool.com has been straining his brain on the topic of complex impedance. If you need some help understanding this (ahem) complex topic, take a look at his three part article on the subject: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
If you are worried about exposure to excessive EMF (Electromagnetic Field), you’ll want to consider this device over at Amazon.com. Be sure to read the reviews to get the full entertainment value.
It was a nice fall day, so Joyce K0JJW and I decided to go for an easy hike up Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081) and do some SOTA operating. Well, maybe the hike was her idea and the Summits On The Air thing was my contribution to the plan. The hike is less than a mile with about 900 feet of elevation gain, depending on where you start.
This was definitely a slacker operation: easy access, easy hike, great weather and 2m FM activation via a handheld radio and the 1/2-wave whip.
Note that there are two SOTA peaks with the “Kaufman Ridge” name: Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) and Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), located near Trout Creek Pass in Colorado. Today we headed to SP-081 which we reached by following County Road 318 from Trout Creek Pass, which is also called Buckrake Drive and then Windmill Drive. These roads pass through private property to reach the San Isabel National Forest, where there is a gate that is closed from December to April (see map). At this point, the road is easy 4WD; most 2WD high clearance vehicles will do fine. You can also approach from the south on FS 308 through Mushroom Gulch.
We turned left onto FS 308 and then took a short side road FS 308B toward the summit. There are several other turn offs but 308B seems the best (shown in black on map). The road is blocked for vehicular traffic at 38.858659° N / 105.933921°W. You can continue walking on the road a ways or just head straight for the summit (blue on map). While the hike is short and not very steep, there are plenty of downed logs to give you a challenge.
You never know who is going to show up on 146.52 MHz in the mountains but I had put the word out via email to some of the local hams to let them know I was doing a SOTA activation. When I got to the summit, I had a few stations already calling me and I quickly worked Ron N0MQJ, Jerry N0VXE, Dave K0HTX, Jim KD0MRC, Bob W0BV and Don K0DRJ. Don was my “best DX”, about 60 miles away in Woodland Park with a few mountains in the way. Thanks to everyone that came on frequency and contacted me.
Side note: if you want to activate SP-085, go north on a forest service road (shown in black on the map) near where 318 and 308 intersect. Just drive a short ways north, find a parking spot and bushwack your way up the summit. (NM5S provides some tips on finding a trail.) You could easily activate both summits in one day.
The North America SOTA Weekend coincided with the ARRL September VHF Contest, which I interpreted as a great opportunity to do a combination SOTA activation and QRP VHF operation. A few other folks thought that was a good idea so we all got on the air from SOTA peaks on the Sunday of the weekend. I decided to operate from Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) in grid DM79. I hiked up the same mountain for last year’s September contest and got soaked by the rain. Fortunately, the weather was excellent this year, making it a great day.
For radio equipment, I took a couple of HTs for 2m and 70 cm FM and the FT-817 for CW/SSB on 6m, 2m and 70 cm. Most of the SOTA action would be on 2m FM but SSB is critical for working the VHF contest. I did put out the word to the usual VHF contesters that there would be FM activity and did work a few of them via 2m FM. The 2m FM calling frequency, 146.52 MHz, is commonly used for SOTA but is not allowed for contest use. (Another example of how this rule is just a barrier to contest activity.) We used 146.55 MHz for the contest contacts. I had coordinated with Brad WA6MM who was going to be on Grays Peak (W0C/FR-002), one of the Colorado 14ers. When he made the summit, I had my 2m yagi antenna pointed in his direction and easily worked him on 2m FM at a distance of 65 miles. Brad was using an HT with a 1/2-wave vertical antenna. Also, I worked Stu W0STU and Dan N0OLD on Bald Mountain (W0C/FR-093) , which sits on the east side of I-25 right at Monument Hill. Contest activity was light, as usual for the September contest in Colorado. We did have two rover stations that activated a few of the unpopulated grids in eastern Colorado: George AB0YM and Jonesy W3DHJ.
My contest score was not bad for a few hours of operating QRP portable. It turns out that I had set the Colorado section record for “single-op portable” back in 1990 with just 624 points (using my old callsign KB0CY). Oddly enough, 24 years later it appears that I set a new record. (This speaks more to the lack of QRP activity during the September contest and less about my incredible operating ability.)
All in all, it was a great day in the mountains to take a hike and play with radios. I will probably do the SOTA + VHF Contest activation again.
For truly portable mountaintop all-mode VHF operating, especially SOTA and VHF contests, the Yaesu FT-817ND has been my rig of choice. You might say that it is really the “only game in town” for a 6m/2m/70cm radio that fits in a backpack.
I’ve had my eye on the Elecraft KX3 transceiver ever since it was introduced, but really I have been waiting for the 2m module to become available. (The KX3 has HF plus 6m standard.) After being announced over a year ago, the 2m module is now shipping and radio amateurs are getting their hands on the unit.
I do enjoy getting on the HF bands but my radio passion has always been centered on 50 MHz and higher. For my purposes, the manufacturers could have left off the HF bands and just designed a portable rig that does 6m, 2m and 70 cm (and maybe 1.25m, too). Or how about a dualband HT that does SSB?
I’ve used my 817 for many portable operations, so I have quite a bit of stick time on that rig. I’ve not really used a KX3, other than to play with it at hamfests. I’ve also talked with a number of KX3 owners that really like the rig. I was a bit surprised that the KX3 output power on 2m is only 2.5W minimum (3W typical), compared to 5W with the FT-817. (Yeah, I know, that’s only 3 dB difference, blah, blah, blah.) One of the big complaints on the 817 is that it is a bit of a battery hog on receive (450 mA) but the KX3 is not that much better at 300 to 350 mA. Here’s my comparison table for the two radios — with the emphasis on VHF operation.
KX3 with 2m Module
HF + 6m, 2m, 70cm
HF + 6m, 2m
6m Power Out
2m Power Out
Standby rx current (2m)
300 to 350 mA
Transmit current (2m)
2.5 lbs, 1.2 kg
1.5 lbs, 0.7 kg
KX3 assembled $900
Hand mic $60
2m module $260
The price comparison is a bit tricky because the KX3 can be purchased in kit form for $100 less. Many hams will actually see the kit assembly as a plus, since they get the satisfaction of building their own radio. A microphone is not standard on the KX3, so I added that to the list. Also, there are several different variations on the 2m module, depending on whether the automatic antenna tuner for HF is installed and whether the factory installs the option. I just picked a price that was in middle of the range.
The table would lead you to conclude that the FT-817ND is the clear winner mostly based on price (and the 70cm band). But its not that simple. There is a lot to like about the KX3, including the nice big display and the trail friendly layout. It also has more features for CW, PSK31 and RTTY.
For me, the answer is clear: keep on keepin’ on with the 817, since there is not enough of an advantage to go to the KX3. But I will probably keep lusting after it anyway. This also raises the question: what does Yaesu have coming to replace the aging 817?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
As 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.
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.
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.
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 not 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.
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.
My award certificate for the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest arrived in the mail this past week. The new VHF contest certificates look great, don’t you think? Nice job, ARRL! Similar to other years, I operated from the family cabin at 9600 feet elevation in DM78 near Trout Creek Pass with temporary antennas (see my previous blog posting.) I knew that I scored OK in the contest but I’ve had higher scores in the past. The June VHF results article is a good summary of the national activity.
This was the first year for the Single Operator Three Band category, defined as operating on 50 MHz (100W limit), 144 MHz (100W limit) and 432 MHz (50W limit). I found this category to be very attractive because my interests are focused on VHF and not the higher bands. Often, I’ll just run 6m and 2m during VHF contests but with the three-band category it was not a big stretch to add in 70cm. The scoring system for the normal single operator categories provides a large incentive to operate on 1.2 GHz and higher, which makes it more difficult for a “VHF only” station to win in those categories. Some guys like the challenge of operating more bands and pushing the limits of going higher in frequency. I totally get that, so more power to them…it is just not that interesting to me.
It was not a big surprise that I took first place in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Division because there were only a handful of entries in my category. I was pleased to place third in the overall contest. I expect that competition in this category will get more intense as other single-op stations realize they can win in this category. But limited to three bands and 100W, this competition will be more about propagation and operator skill, and less about deploying lots of gear.