Random travels in the hills of the world with a radio
Love playing in the outdoors, Amateur Radio operator. Since I love hiking and bagging peaks, I picked up Summits on the Air back in 2015. Made Mountain Goat (and Shack Sloth) in early 2019. Also do Search and Rescue in the Tahoe Area. Work in the tech industry.
One of those rare posts since it looks like I have not posted since Double Goat. So after 10 years the wife and I are saying goodbye to South Lake Tahoe. I guess I am taking part of the “Great Resignation” as it’s called by pop culture. The reality is this though, the ability to sell our house thanks to the crazy increase in values due to the tons of city folks exiting the cities for those more rural slower lifestyle places has made it possible for me to retire (from tech) and set aside a ton for later in life, and for the wife and I to take the next 12-18 months to decide where is next. For me at least, I know what is next. I have spent many years volunteering, and some side hustling involving Search and Rescue, or other wilderness education and leadership endeavors. It has always been my goal to find a way to do that as a profession, or even semi-profession; so anywhere we end up will have to offer some kind of guiding, teaching beginning backcountry travel or even some outdoor therapy. We are hibernating for the spring in the Reno area so maybe I’ll finally get a few of those North Lake peaks I’ve been ignoring, but after that we are hitting the road. We plan to spend some time down under with some friends, so hopefully I’ll be picking up one of the ZL associations, and spend a couple of weeks in Australia so I’ll get some more VK action too. Later in the year we will be headed to the UK and EU, I’ll be doing the West Highland Way (SOTA edition) in September and the wife has agreed (or well she decided for us) to do a little jaunt in the Lakes District called the Peaks to Pubs in August (if that’s what it takes to get her to do some walking with me so be it :D).
I do kind of want to reflect though on my time in Tahoe. (I’ve actually reflected quite a bit on those last few evening dog walks I like to do). I dare say for both of us, we lived our best lives in Tahoe (so why give it up?). I’ve always been a hiker and backpacker, but for whatever reason (and I blame this more on SOTA than Tahoe, however Tahoe was such a great launching off point), I did more hiking then anywhere else we ever lived. Also just the amount of giving back I was able to do as a 9 year volunteer for the local SAR team. I spent the last 5 years in a leadership position within SAR, the teaching/volunteering for the college teaching backpacking etc. I was definitely enjoying that whole aspect of my life. So yah, “best life we could live, why leave?” For starters we just no longer really enjoy (or our bodies do not) the snow any more. Despite that the winter of 21/22 was pretty mild, my body hurt a bit more than in years past, including those heavier snow years. Not that I am a weather wimp, but I do love hiking in green landscapes and sunshine :D. Other than continuing to augment the existing lifestyle, or explore further and further out there is just not a lot of new to get out of the area. That is the key driver to why it is time for us to leave this mountain town and try and find a new one. I am hoping we can find something that is less touristy, a bit cheaper but still offers access to water and mountains and exploration!
I will still be doing plenty of SOTA (I will admit, as a peak bagger, SOTA makes it a lot easier to decide which peaks are worth bagging, I just may be operating with a different callsign a year or so down the road.
With that, I say 73, and maybe I’ll get another blog post out here and there.. while we travel, but this is not the end yet 😀
So, here we are, in August and the one big goal I had set out to do did happen. I made double goat on Aug 21, 2021. Like all blog posts though we’re going to start with a little backstory on how double goat also because a double goat, double activation double double extravaganza!
With Covid-19 still causing persnicketyness (yes made up word) with travel, but I really jonesing for some terrain some color other then brown and white I had intended to go and hike the N GA, NC section of the AT up to the Fontana Dam at the Southern end of the Smokies. Queue the W4C campout, something I had been wanting to go to for a few years after activating with KI4SVM back in 2017. So in a matter of a few days about a week before I was supposed to take off I shifted my plans from flying into ATL and taking a shuttle to Springer to flying into Roanoke and hanging with a whole new group of SOTA activators. I ended up activating directly with Ron (NR3E) and Liz (K1LIZ), both of whom I had chased before. For those that do not know her Liz/K1LIZ is completely blind, and has been activator for quite a while now. As of this writing she herself is a double Goat and Ron is a triple goat. I also activated a couple of peaks with Dean (K2jB) and Pat (KI4SVM). Always good to get out with Pat. I finally got to meet Paula (K9IR) whom I had chased and been chased by a few times before as well as met up with quite a few other East Coast activators, including one brit who is a bit cheekier than Paul 😉 (N2GBR). All in all, I spent my first few days in VA with those guys, but I did need to start hiking South as I was trying to validate my thoughts on hiking the entire AT as a SOTA project. I am considering taking 2023 to do a full thru hike and activate the 170 or so peaks that fall on the trail itself. You may remember in 2017 and 2018 I retraced the Tahoe Rim Trail but activated all the peaks that fell within 1 mile of the trail corridor. This turned a 170 mile trip into a 230 mile trip with a lot of zero days that had 10+ miles and a ton of elevation gain. The nice thing about the AT being a true ridge run is the trail itself goes directly over a bunch of peaks. I was however surprised at the density and distribution of where those peaks are on the trail (ie..the bulk of the points are on the Southern end before Harpers Ferry. So off I strode heading South on the AT with a goal of reaching Pearisburg and activating everything I could. Along the way and why this part of the story has bearing on this post is that Paul, W6PNG texts me and asks “hey why don’t we do Double Goat TOGETHER!”. We kept talking during that trip, and I think we had both realized that no two activators had double activated for double GOAT yet, so we set a tentative goal of July knowing that for various reasons the date would most likely slip. All summer long we both kept in active touch with other, kept activating, and started the planning process. We both knew we wanted something in the 395 corridor (Eastern Sierra) but had not decided N or S yet. Also that time of year can be kinda dicey when it comes to fires and smoke and such, so it was safe to say that we each had numerous plans.
With the date set, it was time to pick the peak. We had considered all kinds of FAs in W6/SS and NS, and had narrowed it down to a few, and built plans around them, but ultimately we settled on this cluster of peaks near Bridgeport CA. Little did we know the Dixie, Tamarack and Caldor fires would all try and foil our venture in one way or another. Once we met up in the area we found a wonderful dispersed camp site at the trail head for Emma Mount (W6/ND-395). It was kind of fitting that we were doing a peak whose number was “395” given that we were right off the 395. So remember what i was saying about those fires? Just after dinner the smoke started to pour in, and 20 miles away in Bridgeport the AQI was reading in the 300s, to the point that I slept with a mask and my buff on to try and keep the lungs from filling up with crap.
Fortunately though by morning it had pulled back some, and after a 530am wake up we were on the trail by 0630. The approach to Emma was mostly off trail and straight up; about 1900 feet of elevation over a 1.5 mile approach, some of it super steep, and the top 600 or so feet is mostly talus, none-the-less we made it up in 1 hour and 50 minutes. On the summit it was very windy, and cold. I think at one point I made reference in one of video clips that it was warmer the previous December when I was on Mt Whitney (W6/SN-001). We decided to just run with Paul’s KX2 (Paul is not yet a cw operator) so that we could do a pass the mic style operation on SSB, and Paul was cool with giving me some time to run some CW while he listened in. We ended up with 9 SSB contacts overall and then I ran another 15 total CW contacts between 20 and 40m. Because of the winds, we both decided it was time to head down after knowing we’d cleared the main glut of chasers. We would like to have stayed longer, but the winds were wreaking havoc on us, so with that we packed up and headed down. The walk down was uneventful, but because of the incoming glut of smoke, the fact that the Caldor fire was bearing down on Tahoe we both agreed that it was time to cut our weekend plans short. So with that, we had some lunch in Bridgeport and parted ways.
So, now that double goat is done, what is next for me? Well Paul and I agreed we’d both keep on activating, and I even tossed out it’d be fun to do another activation in the UK together, so maybe we should work towards doing our 3x MG in the UK. Either way, we are not yet done with SOTA, and really enjoy feeding off of and motivating each other!
Well shoot, I did not do very much blogging last year. So, I think for most of us 2020 started with high hopes, and then the ‘Rona happened. The big highlights of last year were I still kept marching forward on a few of my classes for the Wilderness Ed program, was certified as an LNT trainer and spent some time backpacking. Yes I still did plenty of SOTA too, quite a few Uniques and FAs. Picked up 3 new Associations (W5T, W7Y and W7W), I activated the tallest peak in the lower 48 in December, which in and of itself was a pretty fun feat, but very last minute (W6/SN-001); it was also my 200th activation. That was a happy accident to say the least and was not the least bit planned. I wound up just shy of 300 points, a very middle of the road year for me. Even with CV-19 I still managed at least one activation in every Month, but reality is we were pretty busy with Search and Rescue with lots of new people trying out the backcountry for the very first time in March and April. At the end of May I left the job I was at and decided to take a sabbatical for the summer. I could no longer deal with the toxicity of the company I was working for at the time, and Covid was only making those people that much crazier, so I felt it was time to take a break and reassess the direction I wanted to go in.. One thing was for sure is that I was done with large company corporate America. That said while I was off for those 4 months I spent some time doing out of county Search and Rescue support (mutual aid), and spent a lot of time camping and out and about.
The country pretty much went on lockdown after the wife and I did a trip down to El Paso to take our son his truck, and visit him. I still swear he brought ‘Rona home with him on his December block leave in 2019. While there I did an activation of South Franklin Mountain. It was kinda humorous at the time, but I watched all kinds of folks slipping and falling on the switchback cuts, while folks were actively asking me “why you taking the long route?” I do not like to fall, and I hate slippage :P.
I had also been planning since October of 2019 to go and hike/SOTA activate the West Highland Way in Scotland. I had a really solid plan/map/spreadsheet and was really looking forward to that. For those not aware, the WHW starts in the suburbs of Glasgow and heads north up thru the Highlands to Fort William up by Ben Nevis (GM/WS-001) Once we got into April though it was obvious that was not going to happen. I am still going to do the West Highland Way, just not sure if it is going to be 2022, or 2023. I have plans to do a much longer long trail in the very near future but I will need to save a bookoo dinero to pull that one off. Around April time and realizing the world was going to be on hella lockdown, I decided to give glamping a try and used some of the refunds on our planned travel to pickup an RTT for the Tacoma. All in all I did spend more than a months worth of nights in the thing, but only a few of those it actually made a difference. After looking back at the number of nights I spent in the tent, only about 3-4 of those nights the tent made a positive impact on my sleeping, and those were mostly SAR related.. That said the RTT is already up for sale.
Wow, I just realized i never actually finished the write up I did for the Lake District Weekend in May of 2019 (two years later :D). I only bring it up because one of the coolest things I had experience to date occurred. I had the highest number of S2S ever on a single summit, and all of them were 2M, and on one summit, 4 of us ended up on top of the same summit at the same time. This picture was later included in the UKs version of QST. Much like Ham14er in Colorado, the Lake District Weekend is a lot of fun, and can be done mostly 2m only and there is a lot of S2S to be had. I managed to finish the trifecta of UK high points on this trip. I’d already done Ben Nevis (2018), and on this trip I managed Scaffel Pike and Snowdonia over in Wales. Maybe one of these years I should try for the Three Peaks Challenge with SOTA as part of the mission (because just doing those three peaks is not hard enough :P).
So, back to 2020 I took a week in May and overlanded from an area near Tonopah back towards the Ghost Town of Bodie, and activated quite a few first activations along the way. In the process almost stepped on a rattlesnake. This is the first time I’ve encountered snakes in this part of California, and my first time dealing with them in SOTA too. I finally finished off “the Sisters” which is nearby as well. The mountain range is called the Sweetwaters and it contains Mt Patterson (W6/ND-001) as well as East (W7N/TR-001), South (W6/ND-002) and Middle Sister (W6/ND-003). This is one of those interesting areas that a line of peaks that split regions/associations have differing bonus seasons. The W6/ND peaks all have a summer bonus, and W7N/TR has a winter bonus yet there is a mix of both on this same mountain range. Needless to say, it was not Bonus season when I finished this mini project off. Also nice to see that after I did the FA on South Sister in 2017 that Paul (W6PNG seen in the UK picture above) came and activated it this summer. Unfortunately that peak is in a bad location for me to chase short of getting in the car and heading to a nearby pass, so no complete as of yet. Also of note was an FA on Mt Dubois (W6/WH-001). This was an all off trail, LONG day extravaganza, and was my blown activation of the year. I managed 3 QSOs on 2m but because I was not able to get a spot out at all and I’d missed the RBN SOTAWATCH window for my alert no one knew to chase me up there, so no HF love. I’d started that walk in the dark and finished in the dark. Not the first time I’d be doing that this year :D. In October I activated W6/NS-099 Boulder peak off the PCT in between Sonora and Ebbett’s pass, but I accessed it from Highland Lakes. Still a lot of unique and FA peaks for me to go after in this zone in 2021 as well. It also would not be an exciting year if I did not get almost struck by lightning too. Well this has only happened on one occasion to date, on Dunderberg peak, but in this case it’s hard to tell if I was going to get struck or not. I was on Mt Gibbs (W6/SS-101) in Yosemite and it started snowing. I deployed into my Bothy Bag and was feeling a big static charge build up. There was thunder though and even after tearing down I was still “buzzing” while I was hiking off. That was fun b/c it was a summer time snow encounter. This was one peak that did not want to give up the activation easily. Adam (K6ARK) and I had tried to do this peak in 2018 as part of a two-fer with Dana Peak to the North. After we started hiking from Dana to Gibbs a huge storm built up so we had to bail.
So those are the big highlights worth calling out of 2020, so now to 2021. International travel is still a bust, so the West Highland way is still out but I need a backpacking trip in May. If you’ve been following me a while on here you know I love building maps and spreadsheets and doing SOTA projects. Well this years is going to be a dry run for a much larger project that I have planned in the next couple of years. I’m going to depart from Springer Mountain (after I activate it) in North Georgia and walk to the Southern end of the Smokies/Fontana Dam. There are a little more than 20 peaks on this stretch of the AT good for 202 points. Speaking of points I am also marching full speed towards Double Goat. In fact IF I have planned my points well and if I get everything I intend to get on my AT jaunt then I’ll be setup for Double Goat on W4C/EM-003 Hump Mountain a few days later. I’d originally intended for that peak to be my first MG, but time of year was wrong, so I opted for something local.
Also of note, I am going to try the video thing out this year too. That channel name is N6JFD Treks. A fun little play on words there. Not sure I’ll be any more active doing video because well, lets face it, editing videos takes longer than a SOTA activation, but if I want to find a way to increase interest in my AT project then I’ll need all the revenue income streams possible ;-). I am also playing with LoTW finally. I started playing with FLE (Fast Log Editor) as a way to prep log files for importing into SotaDB, and realized i could also fast upload into LoTW. I’d not uploaded anything since 2016, and it was pretty interesting that spot checking a few of my past activations I ended up with more then 100 confirmed QSLs . So going forward I will do all my SOTA logs into LoTW as well.
So I’ll leave you with a few other parting shots from the past couple of years and say 73s for now, feel free to just follow the video channel, although I’m sure if i have something more to say in text format, or have some fun pictures to show those will end up here.
Decided to do an overnight for two peaks in the Sierra
Disclaimer: The two peaks I am going to talk about here do require some offtrail/overland navigation skills, and have some high consequence results if something goes wrong. This is a trip report of my experience, and is in no way beta for you to go and tackle these peaks. If you take this data and get hurt, or your loved ones get hurt that is on you period..FWIW I did cut up my hand pretty good on a fall I had while descending Lightning Mountain. In both cases these peaks are thin spine rock piles; one being a large pile of talus and boulders, the other is decomposing volcanic material. Also note these approaches are steep, think avalanche terrain steep. The approach to Disaster Peak was in the Donnell Fire zone from 2018, there is a lot of fire damage along the way including sink holes forming from burnt out tree root systems. Sink holes that could give out and definitely put a damper on your day if you fell in. I had NO cell service from either peak at all, and I was not getting any APRS beacons until I was up high enough to hit something to my west. That said, enjoy the read!
So I have this map of SOTA summits between Carson Pass (HWY 88) and technically the Northern border of Yosemite, but HWY 108/Sonora Pass for all intent and purpose that I have been working off of primarily the past two years. The area I have primarily focussed on this year is along the PCT corridor South of HWY 4. So far this year I had hit up Bloods Ridge, Antelope Peak, Mineral Mountain, Deadwood and a couple of numbered peaks in the area. I also missed 5-6 weeks of hiking in Sept/Oct because of a knee injury sustained doing Tinkers Knob/Mt Lincoln. Funny too, that was probably the easiest hike I had done to that point this summer. Here we are in mid Nov though and my knee was feeling good again five weeks after a meniscectomy, the weather is still plenty warm, there is plenty of sunshine, and the last remnants of any early season storms from back in September were long gone. The only signs of snow were left over patches from the previous long Winter season. So LETS HIT THE TRAIL and get a nice fall overnight in!
I have had my eye on three particular peaks that are all in close proximity, and oddly enough two of them are accessed on the same trail (but from a different direction) as my approach to Arnot peak, specifically the Disaster Creek Trail. The two in question for this trip are Lightning Mountain, and Disaster Peak. The third peak I will have to go after some other time. Compared to some of the other peaks I had done around this area these two peaks were right off a trail, and the on vs off trail ratio would be about 50/50 for once. For context, Antelope Peak was a 15 mile day for me, only 2 miles were on trail, rest of the time I was picking my way across open fields, manzanita and willow thickets and whatever else the mountain could throw my way. This area is the Carson Iceberg Wilderness area and overnights do require a permit. As a day trip (and this is totally doable as a long single day two-fer) no permit needed. The Trailhead is off of Stanislaus FS Road 7N83.
I started heading up the Disaster Creek trail at 8am, and the walking was pretty easy. In 2018 the Donnell fire ravaged some of this area pretty bad, there are plenty of large trees that have fallen as a result and even more on the verge of falling. I stopped at what I think was a Jeffery Pine to count the rings, and made it to 100 but was only 2/3 of the way across, and was easily a 10 foot diameter tree. I’d noticed some recent tracks along the trail, some that looked real recent, but the cattle grazers had already pulled out for the year, and I could tell I was going to be totally alone in the wilderness this weekend =).
Once I had my basecamp setup I started looking for a way up, and wouldn’t you know there was an animal use trail right behind my camp, so up I went along a shoulder that I had planned as my approach for Lightning Mountain. The approach was approximately 1500 feet and was 3 miles each way. I was in the trees until 8500 feet. Oddly enough along the way I found a fire ring in the strangest place ever at 8300 feet. No real trail, not very flat but someone had spent some time here. After this weekend I actually wondered if the owners stay with the cattle most of the summer.
The last few hundred feet is where the pucker factor starts, but not for the full duration. Depending on which shoulder you ascend, you come to a crumbly rocky knob that has bad consequences on one side and devastating consequences on the other. Choose your route, be choosy with your footing and proceed. For the next little bit you just kinda traverse over to the saddle at the base of the rock structure that makes up the summit. The summit is long and spiny, and a little bit of class 2/3 that is crumbly and slidy so again, be careful, and be choosy and test before you weight your foot placement.
There is no cell service (or AT&T) on this peak, so I was relying on APRS to handle my spotting. Back in the summer ON6ZQ did some fun hackery to put all SOTA activators on aprs.fi, and low and behold because I was hitting the summit, a welcome message appeared on APRS. :D. I could hear some guy squawking away on another summit up in North Lake Tahoe area, so I waited 20 minutes to get a QSO with him. Kind of a mistake since he was not actually doing SOTA, but it was at least my first QSO for the first activation on this peak. Overall today I ended up with 1 2m contact 7 on 40m with an S2S, and 4 on 20m. After about 2 hours on the summit, decided it was time to head down mostly retracing my steps. Back at that dicey knob, I did end up losing my footing in one spot, but not on the steeper section, but because the rock was all crumbly and such I did manage to tear up my hand some.
Camp was camp, nothing to speak of here, but I did have a nice sunset glow (I am looking East in the photo I posted above).
Next morning my plan was simple, get up, break down camp and go find the trail to Disaster Peak; todays peak would be ~2350 feet of gain and another 3 miles each way. I would leave my pack at the bottom, and normally I would say this is probably not a good idea, and I’ll admit there were a few times I was like “damn, hope there are no bears today down in the valley”, but it is what I did. I wonder if the scent of used TP in a ziplock would ward animals away from my pack 😉 (pack it in, pack it out). Reality is I did not bother bringing any extra food on this trip, so I’d eaten my allotment already. Once I found the use trail to Disaster peak (more on that in a minute), found a somewhat hidden place under a tree to park my pack, grabbed my Z-lite sit pad and the case I use to carry my MTR clipped it to my belt, killed a liter of water and went on. (yes, I set off for a 6 mile hike on a hot summer, I mean fall day with no water).
The nice thing about the setup I have, is it weighs < 2lbs. Super easy to just carabiner to a belt loop. I have a trapped EFHW made with 30awg silicon wrapped wire that a buddy built. This thing is LIGHT, the MTR3b, and my 1400mah battery which I am running an experiment on to see just how many operating hours I can get out of it. The battery may be the heaviest part of the kit
So, I mentioned “use trail” before, what i had read was a hard to follow use trail was only partially true, and this was a trip report from well before last years fire. The trail once I did find it was actually a well used pathway that was easy to follow, plus had its fair share of cairns along the way. That was until I got about half way and walked into one of the areas that was damaged pretty bad by the fire. I had never seen the results of a fire that burned so hot it burned out the root system of a tree, but here you go:
You definitely had to be careful because those roots ended up being sink holes, and if you were not aware of where you were stepping it would be easy to cause a sink hole to happen and you would be done hiking for the day. Once past the burn area, you just round a shoulder/corner, and it does get a bit exposed for a minute or two, but you round a corner and your destination is there in full view. At this rate, just work your way up the hill as best you can. In some cases there are some cattle trail, and it does look like if you attain the Southern shoulder the jaunt along that shoulder to the peak is a much easier ascent then straight up the gut. I also saw plenty of camps/fire rings in some more strange places, nothing like what I saw the day before, but strange enough..
On the summit, it was your typical activation, since I was further East on this summit no one could hear me in the central valley, I did pick up someone out in Yerington NV though. Also managed another 11 HF contacts on CW, more 20m today then 40m, so another successful activation of a virgin peak.
Takeaways: Always enamored by the fact that I have studied this area extensively on the maps, and you think it is all spread out, but it is not. I drove some 200+ miles to ultimately access two peaks that were 35 miles crowfly from my home.
Do the cattle grazers stay in the field all season, and where can I sign up for that gig without going out and buying a bunch of cows? 😀 (and does it pay as well as my current job?)
So as I called out in my last blog that the 30m QCX test was a success. In 25 minutes I had 10QSO before my battery died. You may recall me commenting that during the hike out, I was wondering if I could somehow reduce the weight and some of the additional hardware by using just the inductor and capacitor and direct wiring into the PCB on the QCX. QRPGuys makes a mini version of their single band half wave EHFW: Enter the QRP Guys Mini NOTune Half wave EFHW. Finally having a night I can work on it I set out to get as much as the matchbox part of the build done. First up, time to remove the BNC adapter on the QCX:
For the sake of giving myself some options down the road I just snipped the leads off the BNC adapter, and then carefully worked the anchor studs out.
Next up it was time to work on the plastic enclosure for the antenna and get that prepped. I actually like that the matchbox they supply with the kit is not pre-drilled. This gives you some options, or more over, does not mean you have holes to plug if your intentions end up similar to mine.. I did not drill the big hole for the BNC connector obviously.
The instructions are pretty straight forward on this and I had the solder work done within an hour. One thing I’ll call out now is that the QRPGuys mini is the same height as the QCX enclosure, so it wont look too awkward.
Thinking that I was not going to be using the BNC adapter hole I thought put the main antenna out one side, and the counterpoise on the other. That later ended up being a mistake because the screw stub was now covering the 3.5mm jack for the key. Whoops, one more hole I now have to fill. Maybe this is why I should not work late ;).
After jamming some John Denver most of the night, I got to the point that my next step was drilling into the enclosure and given it was past 11pm I opted to wait till morning, and took advantage of a mid morning break between meetings.
<The Next Day> 😀 Marked the holes on the enclosure, pre-drilled with a bit that was about the same size as the supplied self tapping screws, then hit the enclosure with a step bit to go just a touch wider.
Sweet, the mounting holes were lined up perfect, and the wires come thru with plenty of length. After this I put some electricians tape around the inside of the opening to keep wire/metal from touching the enclosure. I unfortunately did not have any clear silicon caulk, and was too lazy to head to the hardware store, so I opted to use some white latex/tile caulk that I had around. It is just a temporary thing, but the goal was to have some sort of seal between the enclosures. Oh and to also seal up that extra hole I put into the antenna matchbox. It’s ugly and you will see that down below., but for now it will get the job done.
At this point I went ahead and re-added the QCX into the enclosure, secured it on two of the mounts for testing, and then soldered the new connections to my antenna nubs. I then plugged in the battery to make sure it still powered up, and was still getting the same power out, and voltage in readings it was before. No smoke and the numbers looked good :D. Might as well go ahead and see if this setup actually works, so borrowing the radiator off the PCB version of this antenna I ran out to the meadow behind the house where I do my testing from. W00T: Success: After a couple of run thrus of the pre-recorded test cq message I setup a while back I was picked up by VE6WZ which is about 900 miles away on the RBN. Not bad given this QCX with its current setup/battery puts out 1.85W of power. For those that do not know, apparently the build specs on the 30m QCX are a little off for inductors L1 and L3, most folks who have offered feedback suggest changing those inductors to 16 turns and not the 19 it calls for in the instructions. I have not yet done L1 but I did do L3 which did boost power a little. Inductor L1 is in a weird spot, and I am not sure I want to deal w/ the headache of re-attaching it once I get one side off. Besides from a summit, 2W is plenty of power, and given the RBN did pick me up from the Tahoe Basin I call it a success as is.
Yes that white caulk is ugly, I’m thinking I’ll scrape that off and redo with a clear silicon. I also ordered some new 22awg wire for the new radiator in a different color. The yellow one is a little bit short, but I know that radiator on the PCB version of this antenna is resonant at 10.118 and I will still use that antenna with my KX2.
So now that everything is back together, I took and weighed the entire kit as I will carry it to a summit. It is coming in at a whopping 1lb 2.2 oz. The kit contains: palm pico paddle, small ear buds, 1400mah battery, MSR mini-hog tent stake to secure the far end and of course that QCX. A pretty simple rig for those days where I want to go far with minimal weight, and get there quickly. Next modification maybe to go with a touch sensitive keyer. Find a way to build a battery into the enclosure and the only *extra* stuff I’ll be carrying are the headphones.
I’ll be testing this out on a live activation this coming Saturday. Anyone want to buy a KX2? (seems like 30m and a 2m HT will get the job done for the most part, at least in the areas I like to activate from. Not sure I’m ready to sell the KX2 yet, just kidding, I do chase from home with the KX2.
Speaking of QSOs, I finally got around to designing and then ordering some new QSL cards. I intend to start shipping out QSL cards as response to ones received over the past couple of years next week. Better late then never :D. What prompted that decision was in a matter of a couple of weeks I received ~10 QSL cards because I had been making some new contacts, including some with IOTA folks. I like getting them, only fair I should respond in kind. I went with qslpostcards.com because a few of the QSL cards I’d received over the years had their URL somewhere on the card. The quality of the ones I’d received seemed pretty good, and they were a good price. (250 cards for $69.00). I like supporting small businesses too and these guys are HAMS. Those finally came today.
That is all for now, hope to QSO you from a summit in the future!
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
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.
SOTA Activation of a peak I’d been eyeing for a while
So for those that have been following me in anyway know I’ve had a desire to knock off all the peaks that are in some proximity to the Tahoe Rim Trail. This was also the final weekend of the W7N bonus weekend (W6 cuts out on 3/15, that is in the process of getting updated though). There are three possible ways to get to this peak, and as a day hike, all are kind of ambitious. Doing this when there is still a good amount of snow on the ground amps up that factor more.
So the three possible ways to access this peak are from Tahoe Meadows on the Mt Rose hwy, Spooner summit to the South of US-50. Both of these are primarily the Tahoe Rim Trail. I chose to use the Flume Trail/Tunnel Creek route to go up, then hop over towards Twin Lakes. According to my CalTopo route this should have been ~5.23 miles each way and 2722 feet elevation gain. Mt Rose to Herlan peak is ~10 miles each way and has a fair bit of up and down (+2050, -1830 elevation change). Not quite ready to drop a marathon on snowshoes since most of the stuff up high was fluffy and untracked. Half Marathon? No problem.
I have done my fair share of 10-15 mile snowshoe hikes, but the 2600 foot elevation gain was adding to the pucker factor some, fortunately DST and the Spring equinox has kicked in, so we’re already north of 12 hours of sunlight per day. I hit the trailhead approximately 9am and already started making shortcuts across the snow to decrease distance. I really do love snowshoeing when there is a good base, do not have to worry about damaging existing trails. Down low the snow was pretty firm, so I was making some good time. Funny though the higher I went the fewer snowshoe/shoe postholing tracks were present. About 2 miles up I was now breaking trail though on my own.
Even in the winter roads and trails still look obvious so navigating was pretty easy. When I reached the top of Tunnel Creek trail/the Saddle I opted to stay along the ridge instead of dropping down to Twin Lakes. So it was spring time, and not sure why I’d not considered this in my planning, but, I was starting to notice more and more bear tracks going between trees.
The uptrack ended up taking a bit longer then I’d hoped, especially since i was making good time earlier on, but off trail, and deep snow being what it is, it took me longer to go that last 1000 feet up then it did the first 1600. Even with the short cuts and such, I ended up doing just shy of 6 miles. I was not wandering around lost, I just think that the mapping software is not accounting for some of the switchbacks that existed. (My uptrack is posted below). If you are planning this route, anticipate 7-8 if you stick to the trail.
Once on top though, I was greeted with some amazing scenery.
One good thing about deep snow on the summit is uh..it’s easier to anchor that antenna mast..just shove it in, and step around it to pack the snow in.
So, I ended up with 20 QSO across 7SSB, 7CW, 10CW, and 14CW. With 4 S2S. 20m seemed to be pretty good today as some of my QSO were the Eastern seaboard. 30m/10mhz was a bit iffy, I’m wondering if I was close enough to Slide Mountain that I was picking up interference from all the transmitters over there (~5miles North crowfly).
I used my KX2 and my QRPguys Tri-band vertical, and as usual it performed well. That by far is my favorite setup.
The hike down I opted to overland navigate and stay on the Western side of the spine I ascended. I was also wishing for my splitboard as the snow was amazing up high, and would’ve made from some awesome cold blower powder turns. My shortcut worked out well, as i ended up cutting off a mile from my up track, and landed back on the Flume trail right where the signpost/tunnel creek turn off is.
After knocking off Herlan peak I now only have two left from the Rim Trail Challenge. Ellis Peak and Scott Peak both of which are easy and in proximity to each other so I may just knock them out as an overnight backpack this Summer. I just need to stop letting myself get distracted by all the other peaks (and travel) I want to do :D.
Thanks for stopping by. Some more images are below..
Wonder where the wind blows from
Sign at the trailhead
Crazy wind depositing on the summit.
South towards Snow Valley Peak (that might be Marlette Peak actually).
Huh?? SlothGoat? What award for Summits on the Air is called SlothGoat?? So I finally hit “Mountain Goat” (1000 Activator points), but on that same activation, I also hit Shack Sloth (1000 chaser points) via an S2S. Shack Sloth if you are a full time chaser is pretty easy to get, but the only time I would chase is to practice some cw or via summit to summit contacts (Log your S2S if you dont). Last fall I realized my chaser points were very close to my activator points, so with a lot of planning, and luck I managed to hit Sloth and Goat on the same activation on top of W6/NS-264 Boca Hill. There was nothing really significant about why I chose this peak. Leading into the weekend and watching the wx forecast, I knew there was a chamce for snow, so I had built 4 different plans/routes based solely upon various outcomes including reactivating the first peak I ever did as a SOTA activator (W6/NS-086 9614), which I activated under my original callsign (KK6TXU). Boca offered me the quickest exit if wx kicked up, and was the safest from an avalanche forecast perspective. It would also have been nice to do a unique peak too, and this activation put me at 110 unique peaks in 120 Activations; a pretty good percentage.
The approach to this peak is not too hard, and another one of those where winter time makes the ascent easier. Honestly I like the snow covered peaks for approach, I really should just bring all my winter modes with me (BC Ski, BC Snowboard, Snowshoes) and make a command decision on which ascent mode to run. Sometimes it is nice getting down the hill faster then up. I parked at the Boca dam and snowshoed over the dam. In the summer you can actually drive across to the NFS roads in the area. Looks like there is an area you can park when there is no snow.
Today marked the most number of contacts I have made on a single activation, I also managed quite a few S2S, and the bulk of the activation was CW.
So this is my son’s last year in HS and in July he heads off to the Army, so we decided to go REAL BIG for our last “Ski Week” (Presidents Day/mid winter break) trip. Time to head down under to Australia. As usual we were not looking to hit the standard tourists sites, we were just going to go hang out, I would grab some SOTA, he would do some fishing etc. It also helps when a friend from my childhood was living somewhere in country.
I do not get impressed by man made things, humans will never make something as impressive as the (real) Matterhorn, or El Capitan, but here is the opera house
After walking around the Opera House we took a walk thru the Royal Botanical Gardens and then headed back to the airport for our domestic flight up to Ballina where we would setup our base camp for the week.
My plan was to knock out some Summits on the Air before really getting setup, but I wanted to get a place setup for staying, so we booked at the Reflections Holiday Park in Shaws Bay. The view was great I’ll say 😀
We headed up to a camp area near Mt Warning so that Jason and I could roll up the hill first thing in the morning. Mt Warning VK2/NR-001 is a sacred mountain and the climb up used to be a right of passage for one of the local native tribes. I was walking on hallowed ground, and I was reverent the whole way up. We hit the trail head around 5am, and started the 3.3 miles up. Everything I had read said this trail should take about 5 hours total to do. It took us 4:45 including me spending an hour on the summit doing SOTA. It is always fun getting that first QSO on a new summit/continent! I tossed out a CQ SOTA on 2m 146.500, and VK4IB came back to me from Brisbane. Well that pretty much helped me feel like this was going to be a successful activation. I kept calling CQ on 2 while setting up the KX2. Got my four contacts, closed down and down we hiked. The Feature image is the sunrise from the summit! Definitely heed the sign below.
After we got down, we checked out of our cabin and proceeded to the next summit on the list which was Springbrook Mountain VK4/SE-011 which is for all intent and purpose a drive up. What is funny is that it took us almost as long to drive here from Mt Warning as it took to hike up Mt Warning 😀 even though Warning and Springbrook are only separated by 13 miles/20km crowfly. I noticed that there were two ZS calls nearby also doing the VK thing on a nearby peak, so I S2S’d them. I really should have popped up to that peak too just for the complete :D. I think I helped them get the complete for Springbrook as well.
With some SOTA in the books we traveled on down to the coast coming in just south of Surfer City, checked out the Byron Bay lighthouse for sunset and stayed the night in Lennox Head. It was pretty cool seeing sunrise from a mountain where I could see the ocean, and then seeing the mountain I had climbed that morning from the ocean during sunset! Full Circle
The next morning, Jeremiah and I did a coastal walk the 6 miles from Lennox Head back to Ballina, got setup in our cabin and fished, and chilled out. By Wednesday I was itching for some more SOTA, so Thursday morning I got up at 8am and headed to the airport to pick up a car and then headed inland towards Tenterfield. I had somewhere else in mind, but while at lunch I started looking for two more peaks close together, and there were two such peaks. One being VK2/NT-025 (Mount MacKenzie) (SotaDB has it as just NT-025). I ended up with 5 QSO overall with a mix of ZL and VK calls. After 50 minutes I figured, lets maybe squeeze in one more peak (which would have pushed me past GOAT). I headed over towards VK2/NT-033, and got pretty close until I found the “Please check in with management before venturing onto these lands”. I am not a fan of folks who trespass without permission, and I was not about to break my own rule, so I turned around and looked for another peak. There was a peak over in VK4/Queensland that looked like it would have a short hike, so I headed that way. (Norman Peak VK4/SD-002). Stymied again, this time a road closure due to the fires in the area. So here I sit 7 points away from Mountain Goat. Reality is, I was not really wanting to get GOAT outside of NA because I want to get GOAT with the chasers that have chased me the most so I was not that bummed that I did not get my two-fer today. Headed back to Ballina just in time to get caught in some TORRENTIAL downpours as a result of Cyclone Oma. Had a wonderful evening dinner with friends both new and old.
We were supposed to fly back down to Sydney midday Friday so we would have some time to relax, repack, and maybe catch a few more gardens in Sydney however Oma had other plans. All flights in and out of Ballina had been cancelled due to the high winds. We got a new one way rental, and headed off down the M1/A1 (wait was I in the UK, or AU?) to Sydney. I do love road tripping, and road tripping in a foreign land is also an amazing experience! Jeremiah finally got to see some kanga’s in the wild. That sums up the SOTA portion of that trip, the rest was just me relaxing, and enjoying a break away from the snow of Tahoe.
Now I am back in W6 land and ready for my 120th activation for Mountain Goat! Stay tuned when I finally get it, but who knows when. Maybe this Saturday as part of the Tahoe/Reno meetup being hosted in Sparks NV.
So for those that do a lot of peak bagging in the Tahoe area you may have heard or read about the Tahoe OGUL list. “Ogul” is the Washoe word for Bighorn Sheep. That is kind of fitting since Cali/W6 has an award called the California Bighorn Ram
“The Bighorn Ram Award is available to those activators who have accumulated 500 points activating W6 summits.” –W6 ARM.
The Tahoe OGUL list is 63 peaks in the area of Lake Tahoe, Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass, the Sweetwater range and a few others dotted here and there. Please note that not every peak on the OGUL list qualifies as a Summits on the Air summit. SOTA adheres to the P125 meter standard for prominence, and some of the peaks on the OGUL lack the prominence compared to other nearby peaks. Case in point Basin Peak and it’s proximity to Castle Crags, the prominence is only 337 feet and on the same ridge as Castle Crags. I will include those peaks as well just for the sake of keeping the list correct as it exists at the OGUL pages but the SOTA Ref will just say “Not in Sota”.