Here it is towards the end of April, spring is in full swing in some areas, however the Sierras are still coated with feet of snow, but the mountains in NV are calling and open with easy access. So for the past two years I have been operating with a KX2 and that is an amazing rig, full of features, and I am sure i am only scratching that surface, and my kit weight has varied over that two years as I have added/subtracted batteries changed up antenna configurations etc, but it does come in around 5lb.
All that said last year I went thru level 1 of CWops and started doing some CW on my activations. I immediately went from hoping to get 10 contacts, to always getting more then 10 contacts when I started doing CW as the bulk of my activation. I’ll still hit some 40m SSB because some of my friends still are SSB. Why I brought up old news, is that going to cw opened up 30m for me, and on those weekends when 20/40 are in use for some contest, that can make an activation a bit more challenging. What I have found with 30m is I still get the same chasers I do on 40/20, but the signal reports are not as strong, with the exception for W5N, and W7A which are stronger. W7O is down in the 3s and W7W is in the 4s for me and I can consistently hit W0C. While I am not saying 30m will always get me the most number of contacts all the time, it will at least get the job done, and the regular chasers will do their best to work you, especially if they know you are mono-banding.
About this same time the NASOTA slack channel really started to grow. A few of those fellow SOTA folks are kit builders, and love tinkering with their rigs etc. K6ARK has added a touch sensitive keyer directly into his MTR3b as an example, since then he even built a micro-pixie with built in matching unit and direct attach end fed for a SOTA capable rig that he has used on an activation that weighs in the 3oz range. KT5X out in NM is always looking to make a lighter kit as well, and often writes the NASOTA groups.io forum with his updates. KE6MT has also been a fountain of information on the builder front and has helped me immensely (he better, I’m his associate association manager ;P ). That said, I took it upon my self to order a 30m QCX (from qrp-labs.com) with the intention of using that as a light-weight SOTA rig on those days where I want to do a lot of miles, and I may be shooting for a lighter pack to focus on miles while still carrying the 10essentials, or I am time limited. The Black Diamond Distance 15l fills the bill well, and I used it on a recent co-activation with Rex on Waterhouse Peak. Maybe I will be one of the first SOTA guys to do an UltraThon AND an activation on the same event. (doubtful, but one can dream).
My current kit:
- 4.5mah BioEnno battery (I get ~11 hours of operation on a single charge with the KX2 at 10w)
- LNR Trail Friendly, or QRPGuys 20/30/40 Vertical antenna
- 15 foot feedline (for the vertical)
- Mic, Keyer, headphones etc..
- Fishing pole for antenna mast.
- fit into an REI “medium” bathroom travel bag.
That five pound mark is not too bad overall, and I know folks who carry more, and even with that list, there are some changes I could make to get it lighter yet. End Feds are great just draping off the side of the mountain as a “sloper” and in some cases, some peaks already have things you can use to help go inverted vee (like tree limbs or no longer used antenna towers). So I can drop the fishing rod all together in the future.
I have set my goal to be less then 2lb overall because I have a few hikes I want to try as a “HaRunk” (ham radio trail run). So I have set out on how to accomplish this mission, enter the QCX and a new kit
I have chased a few folks with the QCX from the QTH, but now it was finally time to use the QCX as my activation rig. It was on Easter Sunday and on a day that 30m propagation was not great and I was not on summit till noon. SotaWatch showed that I was the first spot in over two hours. I managed seven QSO over 25 minutes and then my battery decided it was time to shut off for recharge (oops..been testing a lot, forgot to check levels). Either way it was a successful activation on a unique summit. Full disclosure it was also the first time I have done an activation without using the decoder, and I managed to get a good copy on all those who called me whom I could hear, so I am getting better there too. Contacts included: AG6VA, K0RS, KR7RK, W7USA, WA9STI, W7GA and K7RJ. According to RBN I was reaching the VE6WZ beacon up in Calgary, approximately 700 miles. Last time I checked, I was putting out 2watts of power, but that was before I really tuned my EFHW. On the approach drive in *4×4 road* I managed to make it to within a mile of the summit, but overall this is a drive up summit. Either way, b/c I am in run training, the 1 mile 400 foot elevation just helps with the training, and I do my best thinking when I’m walking (more on that below). Those structures you see on the summit proper are from past deployments I think, all the radio towers, cell towers, and TV towers have been moved to other nearby peaks, overall (at least on 30m) this was an RF quiet peak.
Now on to the kit you see pictured above: (Phase one of weight reduction)
When I started tinkering with the idea of a single band antenna I went and snagged a qrpguys NoTune end fed HW antenna. I was still lugging that big 4.5mah battery, so I am thinking next up there will be to go snag an 1800-2200mah LiFE/LiPo battery; that should give me 3-5 hours of operation overall. Weight difference there is almost a pound. I love having that mono band EFHW antenna, but I was concerned that banging the PCB around on rocks, or letting it hit snow, or snag on a limb could be detrimental. While I was hiking out, it dawned on me, that all I really needed from that PCB is the transformer and capacitor, and some way to shove it inside the QCX enclosure or protect it another way. I actually went back to the QRP guys page b/c I’d heard rumors they were making a self contained matchbox version of the same antenna, and sure enough they have a mini version. Purchase complete, hopefully here by the end of the week. That actually helps me solve a couple of issues as I can use the matchbox to cover the opening that removing the BNC from the QCX will create. I will also be able to use that to wire the components direct to the QCX PCB. (I am just a rookie at the tinkerer thing, so things will probably look/be clunky at first). I will have to plug the hole on the matchbox for the BNC, so a new problem to solve, but not major. Honestly the best outcome is to somehow figure out if I can get the full setup inside the QCX enclosure, and then tap two screws for counterpoise and antenna thru the enclosure. I will also be able to roll the wire (42’6″) around the QCX case as a winder. Moving to this will also eliminate the need for a feedline, or a BNC/BNC coupler and with lighter battery will help achieve that 2lb goal I am shooting for. I am hoping to have that all setup for the Lake District SOTA weekend in the UK, as I am looking to do some mileage on my first day over in Wales to snag Snowdon and YLlwedd before heading up to Ambleside. I may actually break it on Mt Shasta the weekend prior to heading out.
Once i get the new changes put in, I’ll start doing some power drain measurements and add those to a followup post. This is the part of SOTA that makes Ham Radio fun, the tinkering and playing and seeing what can be accomplished with small gear.
So let me re-iterate: I do not condone leaving the 10-essentials at home, but we always have room for improvement in reducing pack weight. Given enough time and creativity really coming up with ways to build a walkabout kit with SOTA gear that borders on featherweight on the back is in and of itself a fun exercise.
Get out there and enjoy the hills!
72 de N6JFD