More QCX modifications (and other musings)

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:

img_3894For 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.

Midpoint check-in: img_3891

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.

Checking for fit
Checking for fit

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.

QCX ready for testing..
When I operate tests I goto the meadow behind my house, the neighbor there has a picnic table that is perfect for staging.

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!

72 de N6JFD.

The kit gets lighter and W7N/TR-025

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:

  • KX2
  • 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

57756889132__6c08cef7-cd06-4c2b-b9ac-c72258477e8aI 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

 

Herlan Peak (W7N/WC-008) 3/30/19

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.

Bear TracksEven 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.

from the summit towards South Lake.
Plenty of peaks off in the distance. The view from North Lake looking South (just my opinion) is so amazing. a lot of nooks and crannies you cannot see from the South looking North

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..

 

SOTA down under! VK[2,4]/N6JFD/P

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

meh

 

 

 

 

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

Mt Warning is pretty much dead center under the clouds.
Byron Bay lighthouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

73 de N6JFD

The push for Mountain Goat, and other new happenings.

That’s right, I’m getting to the stretch to make Mountain Goat.  As of Nov 5 I am sitting on 841 points.  I’ve already set the date for Mountain Goat on a peak back east.   W4C/EM-003 (Hump Mountain) This mountain has special meaning from the childhood.  I have already booked my tickets for Martin Luther King Weekend.   I am thinking Sunday.  I’ll use Saturday to pick up any extra points needed on the way.   As much as this next part saddens me, so long as winter in the Sierra continues to be warm and dry, I am going to keep taking advantage of the open roads, and working those double peak days on drive ups or peaks with a < 1 mile hike.  Obviously not as fun as the 20 miles it takes for Pyramid peak, or a long overnight just to get to the launching point for a SOTA summit, but I am close so it is time to push on with a lot of efficiency.

The last time we spoke I had just finished some more Hope Valley peaks, since then I have done 216 points, and have been out almost every weekend.  Nothing to epic, although I did do 3 peaks on the same weekend I ran a half marathon.  That was interesting given the half was down in Joshua Tree, but all the peaks I did were up in the Whites.  Had a few other firsts, I went out on Grouse Ridge on a Friday night for the specific purpose of chasing and/or getting chased by VK/ZL land.  I had a contact with VK on SSB, I could hear a couple more, and almost had an S2S with VK.  No ZL calls came back to me.  That same night I did have a cross-mode SOTA contact with KB6B.  For those not sure what cross-mode is, I was operating SSB on an SSB frequency and this individual contacted me via cw.  I was able to get the data I needed for the contact.  On a different activation I was chased by someone from JP land as well, so I know have Asia, Australia and Europe for SOTA contacts.   I have also managed to go out with a few different activators, K6ARK for an activation, and KE6MT and I both also went out for a weekend.  Now that we are both involved with the leadership for W6 we did a lot of planning conversations while we were hiking and such.  The W6 ARM will be getting updated soon enough.

So, from this point, I have 8 weekends I can do SOTA to get the 149 points I need to be setup to push past 1000.  I only need 3×8 pointers, or 2×10 pointers per weekend to accomplish the task.  December 1 is the start of the +3 winter bonus for most of the regions I activate.  I’ve got most of the weekends filled up with which peaks, but somewhere in there I know it’s going to snow..Hopefully we get enough snow to make it possible to snowmobile come mid December, because that will open up a LOT of territory for me.   For now I will keep plugging along hitting the 8/10 pointers that I know I can get 2 – 4 peaks per weekend.   One of those weekend’s the Thanksgiving weekend I will head to the Crowley lake area; with that being a 3-5 day weekend I can snag  50+ points as there are quite a few peaks that have very short hikes to reach.  That weekend and the rest of Nov should help out with the goal.   The reason why I have put such a close timeline is I am heading to Australia in Feb, it will be my last trip with Jeremiah for ski week before he heads off to the Army next August, I did NOT want to make GOAT while on another continent, and since I knew which peak I wanted to do I wanted a three day weekend.   what’s yet another challenge?  Maybe I can get some more EU contacts that weekend.

So lets also discuss the SLOTH in the room.  No I’ve not hit Shack Sloth yet, however i am at 860 chaser points, so long as I do not go out of my way to chase, AND I get an S2S here and there along the way I can actually hit Sloth and Goat on my Hump mountain activation.  I’ll probably run my chaser points up to 995 leading into that weekend.  Hopefully someone is getting out that weekend somewhere to help me hit 1000 chaser points.  Apparently it has not been done yet either.  The funny thing is I was not even aware of how many chaser points I had, I was more into the S2S points, and just happened to notice how close my numbers were.  Those chaser points add up when you try and work S2S a lot.  I’ve had a few activations along the way where I did not post a single spot and just chased S2S.

I will update as time goes on to see how I am doing (even if only monthly).   Maybe toss out a quick note if there are some more epic outings etc.

Some images from the past couple of months.

Picketts and Hawkins, more backyard peaks

A quick write up and alternative option for bagging this two-fer.

Alternative access for HawkinsAfter spending all day on SAR duty Saturday, it was time to do some SOTA on Sunday, but I wanted to be in range of the basin if a SAR did break out. I goto the Burnside area a lot for camping and was thinking that since both peaks are near drive up i would see if I could snag em both in a single day.. Reality was I woke up Sunday morning without that as a plan, and just decided over breakfast to get after it.   I had tried to drive up to Hawkins back in May to do a “sleep on top and activate overnight” activation, but the road was still blocked by snow, and the winds picked up with some sort of incoming weather so I had to bail on that idea.  Similar with Pickett’s I’d hiked up from the gate at Pickett’s junction to scout the road, and since I had Lola (my pup) with me, I did not want her on that rock as it would tear up her pads etc..  This was a pretty straight forward activation though.  Drive out Burnside road grab the road that goes up Hawkins, park past the solar station and walk up the 15 minutes it takes to get to the summit.   Another option that is probably faster is before the road loops around on the north side, there is a pull out/sort of road on the right that goes straight up.  I am thinking that might save a few minutes on approach.  Regardless see my notes below about doing a 2-fer here so you wont even be on this road ;-).  About the time I was realizing I left my cell phone in the truck was about the time I was topping out.  Oh well, I had my HT with me, APRS ftw yet again!  (just no summit pics).

Solar Farm

So once on top there is a large-ish flat area that is away from the antenna installation that sits on top.  This almost looks like it could be a heli-pad if a helicopter needed to bring stuff in.   I setup my vertical there and ripped thru the activation pretty quick.   In 20 minutes I had 14 contacts between 20 ssb, and 30 cw.   20m was real strange today, folks that would normally be reachable on 40 were giving me 59 on 20 (Oregon as an example) while others that I would normally get in the midwest were giving me 33 etc.  While tearing down I took this time to look over the landscape to see if there was a better way to get to Pickett’s that did not involve driving all the way down, almost all the way out, and up Pickett’s Peak road which I remembered being a bit more rough then the NFS road up to Hawkins peak.

Time Call Band Mode Notes
18:44z N1GB 14MHz SSB s53, r52
18:44z W0MNA 14MHz SSB S53, R33
18:45z ND0C 14MHz SSB S55, R33
18:47z W0ERI 14MHz SSB S55, R55
18:48z N6DNM 14MHz SSB S53 R55
18:49z N0TA 14MHz SSB S55, S2S W0C/FR-179
18:50z NS7P 14MHz SSB S57 R44
18:51z W7TAO 14MHz SSB S55, R44
18:53z KE0HNW 14MHz SSB S2S, W0C/SJ-026, S57, R33
19:02z K6HPX 10MHz CW 55N, 52N
19:03z K6EL 10MHz CW 599, 55N
19:04z NQ7R 10MHz CW 55N, 5NN
19:05z KB7HH 10MHz CW 55N, 55N
19:07z K0MT 10MHz CW 55N 55N

 

img_1642It took me about an hour to drive around and up to an area that could access Pickett’s peak.  I ended up with about a 30 minute bushwhack, so not that bad.  It sounded like a SAR was about to break out so I made it to a flat spot in the AZ, and setup and started my activation on 20ssb.  The SAR worked itself out, and I opted to relocate onto the summit proper. (this explains the break in QSO times in the chart below).    I ended up with 10 contacts between 20 and 17 ssb, and 30 cw.  I was not getting any responses on 40 hear either.   17m seemed to give me the longest QSO of the day.

Time Call Band Mode Notes
21:30z WW7D 14MHz SSB 59, 57
21:34z K5RHD 14MHz SSB s53, r32
21:35z K7MK 14MHz SSB s55, r55QSB, ID
21:36z K6HPX 14MHz SSB 52, 51
22:15z K6MW 14MHz SSB s59, s59
22:20z WW7D 14MHz SSB S2S, W7W/cw-074
22:26z NS7P 10MHz CW 55n, 55n
22:47z VE6CC 18MHz SSB 53, 44, Calgary
22:48z KD0YOB 18MHz SSB S2S, W0C/PR-090
22:49z W7MSX 18MHz SSB s57, r57

I had no intention of doing any S2S (because my chaser and activator points are about even), but I still got hit up 5 times.  I have a loose goal to make Shack Sloth and Mountain Goat on the same activation if possible.  I always welcome S2S though!

From both peaks, AT&T Cell service is there but spotty because you can see down into Carson Valley/Minden/Gardnerville.  There is a Verizon tower on the antenna structure on Hawkins so that should serve those folks well.

So enough about the activation, this is just a suggestion, and I included it on the SOTA page for both peaks as a way to just drive up to a high point in between and access both summits with not that much hiking and less pain on your vehicle’s suspension.

At Pickett’s Junction drive in on Burnside road about 4 miles to NFS road 31019B.  Follow that road up to a flat area that has both Picketts and Hawkins peak visible.   When I look at maps and sat imagery, it almost seems like this road should connect to Picketts peak road somehow, but I could not figure it out after my activations.   Once you park just figure out which order you want to hike them.   Picketts is closer to this saddle then Hawkins is.  I am guestimating 1.5 to 2 miles to Hawkins, and maybe 30 minutes from car to the top of Picketts.

Hawkins from Picketts
Hawkins from Picketts

 

Thanks for stopping by, de N6JFD 73

Griswold Euro Vacation: DL, DM, GM, G SOTA edition; or SOTA in Eu, where most all qso are dx :)

This is a LONG write up since it covers the SOTA highlights of a three week EU tour.

img_1319So time for the annual family trip, and this year we decided England and Germany ftw. I was not sure how much SOTA I would get to do, but I took my gear anyway!! After spending a few days in London we took one of those awesome cheap flights on Ryan air to Germany and landed in Memmingen, picked up a rental and away we went. Stop one was going to be Neuschwanstein, and would you not guess but yes there was some SOTA action to be had. There is a trail up by the castle that accesses two different SOTA peaks and that being Branderscrofen (DL/AM-031) and Säuling (OE/TI-448). There are a few other peaks in the area, but these can both be accessed from the town of Schwangau Germany. Oh if I could have had one more day, I could have had two associations. :).

img_1343The hike from Neuschwanstein to Branderscrofen is ~5.5 miles of which the first 2.5 miles gains 80% of the elevation. Once we reached the cruising altitude, (I mean flat stretch) up high the hike went pretty quick. There is also a tram you can take to reach an area that is ~25 minutes from the summit, and also has a restaurant, and heli port for hang gliders and paragliders. The summit is a knife edge ridge, and there is not a lot of room for what is a very popular summit. I ended up tossing my vertical for HF off the side and radials deployed as normal. A few folks showed interest in what I was doing and as usual I obliged.  I ended up getting three s2s one of of which was a gentlemen who was 15km away in Austria (vhf). In less then an  hour I ended up with contacts in the UK, Munich, Sweden, Austria and Poland.

Time Call Band Mode Notes
10:36z DD5LP 14MHz SSB 58 into Munich.
10:42z OE/DJ2FR 144MHz FM S2S
10:45z SA4BLM 14MHz SSB Sweden!! s57, r55
10:46z MC0POG 14MHz SSB 55, 55 wales
10:49z G0RQL 14MHz SSB r44, s57 South England
10:54z SO9EWA 14MHz SSB S2S, SP/BZ-046 s55
11:02z DG1EHM 14MHz SSB S2S, DL/AL-107 s/r 55

We decided to hang a 2nd day in Schwangau since it was so much like home.

Next up we rolled to Stuttgart with the intention of heading to Heidelberg after checking out the Porsche museum.  As a last minute effort i opted to snag Königstuhl DM/BW-114. (Soapbox time): So here is where I have to bag yet again on google maps and those that use it as a sole means of navigation off the beaten path. This is the first time I have looked to GM to route me to a summit and I did it without a backup map, and I dare say it looks like GM either uses the wrong datum, or has poor coverage of Germany (well they suck in the US too) because the actual summit and lat long for Konigstuhl vs where GM sends you is off by a mile. I guess Google is not really the cartographers they thought they were and they should either hire pro cartographers, or leave it to the pros. (i have rescued plenty a hiker in the Sierras who thought GM would get them safely to/from many a backcountry spot and failed to do so…). More over for folks who rely soley upon GM, good luck.. Soapbox aside, once on Summit it was a lot of work to get just 4 qso. No one was listening (or they did not hear me) on 2m, and same with 20/40. I managed 1 cw contact with Guru in Spain, another Spanish contact on SSB, Southern England, and a Sweden also on SSB. at this rate it was time to head on but it took me ~90 minutes to get those four contacts.

We spent the next few days  heading to Hamburg for our flight to Edinburgh where I was planning to activate Arthur’s Seat; however I had not received word back from HES with approval to operate on the grounds.   I later found an individual from HES and they said that there was added security in the area because of some upcoming events they were way behind on approvals etc.   So we headed West towards the Battle of Bannockburn as well as Stirling.  I was hoping to find some way to get the “GM” association in the books, and I was surrounded by some 4 pointers, and further to the west getting into the highlands some 6 and 8 pointers.   The daughter was wanting to see Loch Ness and some of the other lakes in that area, and I thinking the Scottish Highlands would be a cool place to visit, plus we needed a down day to do some laundry headed to Fort William.  After scoping the SotaGoat app of the area near Fort William I realized, oh snap that’s the launching point for Ben Nevis!  Yes the UK highpoint :D.  Funny too because a couple of days before I’d read an article about how the local SAR team refused to come rescue an individual complaining about his feet being too wet.

I wimg_1477ish our SAR team could get away with that, we have had calls similar to that in our area.   So, with all that in mind, and the fact that Ben Nevis is socked in more days then not I checked the weather and noticed that Scotland was under a high pressure and was going to be the warmest day in some 100+ years etc.

So with a gallon of water and my gear (and some spare clothes in case) I headed up from the Glen Nevis trailhead.  Made the summit in 3hours and 15 minutes, not too shabby.   The summit of Ben Nevis is quite impressive actually!  It’s easily an acre in size on top, and there is what looks like the remains of a fort built up top and a weather station as well.

 

Top of Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis

I had not even dropped my pack before I heard the first “cq sota” on 2m, so I responded with S2S and we QSY’d to something off the calling freq.  The other guy had a buddy that was also able to hear me, so I picked up my second QSO.  To boot someone else could hear my side of those QSO, but not the S2S, so I snagged that contact..all told within 4 minutes I had 3 of the 4 needed for the activation.   I setup the HF gear, but did not have a way to get my vertical “up”.   I did manage 1 on 20m for the 4th.   Checking in with the family, they were about to finish up at Loch Ness and thinking I’d need about 3 hours to walk down I tore everything down, finished up my lunch and starting to walk off the summit.  Kept the HT in my hand and kept hearing folks calling “cq sota” and I was more then willing to oblige with the S2S.  I think I walked another 10 minutes still in the AZ picking up four more 2m contacts, 3 of which were S2S.

Time Call Band Mode Notes
11:01z GM3YSA 144MHz FM S2S, GM/SS-034
11:03z MM0XPZ 144MHz FM r52, s57
11:05z GM7PKT/P 144MHz FM s55, r44
11:46z DJ5AU 14MHz SSB s59, r56
12:19z GM7VAU 144MHz FM s57, r52
12:27z MM3ZCB/P 144MHz FM S2S SI-153
12:28z M1MAJ/P 144MHz FM S2S, SI-153
12:29z GM0UDL/M 144MHz FM S2S, GM/WS-079

We had a July 1 deadline of reaching Bovingdon UK where my son was looking to go to Tankfest.  So we opted to head down towards Glasgow, regroup and then roll down south.  I have always wanted to see the Lake District, so we cut off at Penrith and started working our way south by Ullswater lake.  While at lunch, I whipped out SotaGoat again to see what might have been around, and oddly enough a peak I had favorited for some reason popped up.   Red Screes was right off the A592 and looked like a pretty short hike overall (despite the warmth).   So once we reached Kirkstone Pass we parked, I tossed a spot on sotawatch, snagged the HT, downed a liter of water and pushed up this peak in about 30 minutes.   It is definitely an interesting hike up, as well as an interesting summit area.

 

img_1535

 

This one being a 2m only, I still tossed a spot up since I was near some local areas, and it seems like the UK really love their SOTA activators!  I managed to get the contacts I needed in about 20 minutes, and given that I had folks waiting on me down the hill decided to hike down.

Time Call Band Mode Notes
15:28z G0JDM 144MHz FM s59 r57
15:29z G4WHA/A 144MHz FM s57 r55
15:30z G4RQJ 144MHz FM s57 r59
15:33z G7GQL 144MHz FM s57, r59
15:34z M0SPI 144MHz FM Steve, s57, r56
15:40z G0HRT 144MHz FM Rob, S58, r57

 

After the Lake district all of my planned SOTA was taken care of, I’d been hoping for G, GM, DM and DL and accomplished that.  Not to be completely done though since Tankfest was sold out, and I had not planned on going anyway I drove down to a nearby peak, setup my vertical and chased S2S for about 5 hours.  (ie..I was not looking to activate said peak for points, so just operated as a chaser getting the S2S/Chaser points).  Managed a few cw contacts, and spent about 90 minutes trying to get into the pile up for K2I during the July 4th checkin.  20m was real long as I also heard some EA calls trying to make contact with K2I.  All in all, did more SOTA then I had hoped for, and at the end of the day the only peak that was on my original list was Branderscrofen, everything else was the result of flying by the seat of our pants, and making it up as we go :D.

A few other parting shots from the various activation hikes..

 

73 and talk to you on the next summit! — N6JFD