A while back I created a SOTA map based upon the AT, and then hit up the reflector to ask for some opinions on trail corridors and what not. Well one of the responses was “since you’ve done the Rim Trail, why not considering doing the West Highland Way?”. After a couple of trips to Scotland and having already climbed Ben Nevis and just having a crazy overall desire to see more of the Highlands I decided to bump the WHW up to the head of the list and SOTA-ify it. Plane tickets are booked I am headed there the first two weeks of May (my annual get away from everyone for my birthday birthday trip).
For those not aware, the West Highland way is 94 miles long, starts in a suburb of Glasgow, skirts along Loch Lomond, heads into the Highlands and goes by the base of Ben Nevis the high point of the UK, then wanders a couple of more miles down into Fort William which is at the Southern end of Loch Ness. It is also a part of the International Appalachian Trail. This is a hike that takes most people 7-9 days to do, but I have added some days dedicated to peak bagging some SOTA peaks. I am also splitting from the Way at Kinlochleven to head up into the mountains to the South of Ben Nevis as well cutting over to the peaks to the West of Nevis (It is some circuit that has it’s own “Challenge” name that escapes me). Overall I am looking to do about 140 miles in 12-13 days. I am also thinking (hoping) I will be able to do most of the activations via 2M. I will be bringing my ultra lightweight MTR3b kit for HF as a fallback. Doing 2m for the bulk of the activations will cut down the amount of time I am on peak and speed my movement along. (I promise to work as many chasers as possible, I will not cheat anyone).
For now the plan is as follows…
Land at GLA and take a taxi/shuttle/train over to Milngavie and start walking after snagging a pint and a steak pie and picking up whatever last minute needs I might have. I am planning to stop off at Glengoyne to pick up some scotch to accompany me along the two weeks. I will be doing a mix of wild camping, maybe try the glamping pods I have read about and BnB for those days where I’m looking for a little extra rest to handle the peak bagging days. For those interested, I have also heard that there are baggage shuttle/carrier services, but I will not be taking advantage of those.
Day 1 the goal will be to make it to Glengoyne before they close, and then camp or BnB in Drymen, no SOTA just getting the plane muck off me and getting out into some open country. Oddly enough the wife and I had lunch in Drymen this past October, neat little town as are all the smaller UK towns. I could see myself retiring to one of these peaceful and quiet hamlets in my older days.
Day 2: Drymen to Rowardennan and the first SOTA summit. Conic Hill. This is the lowest peak on the trail, and close enough to Glasgow this should be 2m only. I have booked the youth hostel in Rowardennan and will spend an extra day in order to activate Ben Lomond.
Day 4: This will be my longest walking day, intending to walk 20 miles to get to Crianlarich because you guessed it, the next day I am going after two SOTA peaks: Ben More and Stob Binnein. Both of them are a little off the Way, but they are 10 pointers, and 001, 002 for the GM/SS region.
Day 6: Back at it with both walking and peak bagging, headed up to Tyndrum and picking up Beinn Odhar during the day.
Day 7: is off to Bridge of Orchy, staying at one of the nicer hotels there (I think there is only one anyway) and going after at least Beinn Dorain and maybe Beinn an Dothaid
Day 8 is another move along day as I head up to Glencoe Mountain Resort. I have not decided if I am going to try out those cool looking glamping pods, or if I will just wild camp in the campground.
Day 10: So I have no clue how much snow is going to be up in the high country, but if it is clear I am going to leave the Way at Kinlochleven and go after the seven SOTA peaks up in that area. Sorry, not going to list them all out, but Ben Nevis is one of them :D. Grab SotAtlas, or Sotamaps to see what the others are.
After spending 3 days up in the high country wandering around and bagging summits I’ll finally end up in Fort William on day 12 or 13.
I have given myself till May 16 to be back in Glasgow so I will have some leeway with the schedule above if necessary. If I bag every peak intended it will be 16 peaks in 12-14 days for a total of 127 points. So you can expect some sort of write up towards the end of May as I digest the trip and get settled back in.
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.
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”.
Been a while since i have blogged about SOTA but I have still been getting out there (365 points so far this year). Part of that time though has also seen the usual increase in SAR activity. For those that do not know I am a member of a SAR team located in the Sierra Nevada. So this is going to be a soapbox post, more for the general public then for SOTA people, and most SOTA people seem to be in the know and I hope they are in the know! Still think this is worth talking about though as a nice break from a SOTA trip report
When you read an article in your paper/online whatever and it says “hey go check out this NOVICE trail” do a bit more search then what that article supplies. We’ve had 5 SARS in the past month at a trailhead we maybe see 1 SAR in a year at that this was a direct contributing factor. Oh I’ll pick on more subjects then just these 5, but we’re going to start here! It was nice that some local paper/news outlet/whatever covered a trail to help get some exposure for it (or maybe not since increased use means increased damage) but that should not be the end of it from a research perspective. In the case of this trail maybe ask yourself some other questions like… “This is in the Sierra, what is the elevation, have I ever hiked at this elevation before?” Will my cellphone and google maps/alltrails/gaia GPS/whatever map app you use be enough in an area that probably does not have cell coverage? Have I left a plan with someone? That is the one that most people miss. They do not leave a plan. What supplies will I need? sure it’s warm during the day, but at night, when it’s 50, 40, or even down to 30 degrees, if I do end up being over due will I be warm? Which leads me to my next question, do I have a light? do I have food, enough water, or a way to treat water if I pull it from the streams? That water may look cool, clear and tasty, but chances are if it’s in the mountains it’s probably had some marmot fecal matter in it, or donkey/horse where trail crews use pack animals to take supplies in etc. Unless you want to lose 20-30 pounds FAST, do not drink the water untreated!!! I will not recommend any product or what to carry beyond perhaps consult the 10 essentials. Oh and also, IF you are taking your pup figure out things like what is the longest hike I have taken my dog on? Have I ever had my pup walk on Sierra Granite? Maybe I need shoes for my dog? SAR teams technically are not allowed to rescue animals, some districts may try and fudge it via some other various justification like “the owner was not going to leave the animal, so the owner was going to put his/herself in harm”. Be advised too that if a SAR team comes to help you with your four-legged friend, IF animal services/Humane Society/whatever happens to be in tow there is a chance you might get cited for animal negligence (yes I have seen this happen first hand. That owner started crying b/c of the overall ordeal and this last minute surprise). Sorry but as an animal lover, I concur with AS’s action in this case. The owner should have known better. ” stated they had never heard of shoes for a dog”
So back on the weather angle for a second, and I think I have ranted on this particular group of subjects in the past, but the employees from a large technology company who own a mapping division who thought it would be a great idea to go bag a 9000 foot peak in the Sierras in January. They had nothing more then 2 16oz bottles of water each, no food, blue jeans, their company schotzky jackets, and IIRC one individual of that group of three was actually wearing canvas VANs shoes. If I really need to explain even a few things that are wrong in the above, do yourself (and your local SAR teams) a favor, and stay on the couch. Sorry if I am sounding elitist, but I’ve seen enough folks not using the massive lump of gray material between their ears that just asking themselves a few basic questions would have saved themselves some possible embarrassment..
So what I will recommend is that you at least understand what the 10 essentials are. I have heard a few people often refer to this as “some arbitrary list that does no good” and well there is some truth to that statement IF you do not know how to effectively use the items, you can technically survive for a few days with just these supplies.
What are the 10 essentials? https://www.nps.gov/articles/10essentials.htm
A Pack while not on the list, is needed for carrying this stuff, so might as well put this at the top of the list. They also do not list some sort of knife (I call out a multi-tool below) but I can do more with a 4 inch full tang blade for survival then I can with a multi-tool. (Full tang means the entire length of the knife is a single chunk of steel, it’s not a folding knife etc). If you have to cut on trees to build a shelter you will end up possibly breaking a folding knife etc.).
Navigation: A cell phone alone will not cut it. Even with external battery/recharge capabilities, you are going to be in some areas where you may not have access to a cell tower. (Sometimes you do need Data to pull that map down). A GPS unit, or even just a paper map is a good back up. For you weight weenies out there, paper is pretty darn light.. The important thing here is whatever your nav method, KNOW HOW TO USE IT, or it is basically trash in your pack.
SUN PROTECTION: Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses etc. This is pretty self explanatory, and I’d almost say the sunglasses are more important in winter then summer.
INSULATION – Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear: The weather report may say “0% chance of rain and sunny” but the mountain does not always listen to the weather forecasters. The mountains are capable of making their own weather, and storms can come up out of no where. Even in the Sierras in the middle of July it can snow at night and if you are out there with nothing more then shorts and a t-shirt, you are going to have a long, cold, miserable night.
Illumination: Another one of those “and your cell phone alone will not cut it” items. I remember once i was backpacking somewhere and I was on a nearby peak to my campsite. It was nearly sunset (I had run up to watch sunset) and this group of 6 day hikers were just making the summit obviously very tired. They asked me “how long will it take us to go down?” I replied with “45 minutes quicker then it took you to go up” (which is true for most people). I could see that did not settle well with them, and I went into the “and you have a light and warm clothes? it gets cold and dark up here”. Hit our SAR coordinator via the radio on my way back down the trail to my camp.
First Aid Supplies: This does not need to be that exhaustive; mole skin, some aspirin, some bandaids etc..basic first aid you might keep in your house. Not looking for you to be carrying SAM splints and being able to reset a dislocation here, just enough to deal with the minor discomforts that can happen.
Fire: This is one of those, that depending on where you live, I hesitate to say “be able to make a fire AND control it”. Over the past few years fires in the backcountry end up being banned in a lot of the western states during late summer/fall. Reality is, if you have a jacket, and the rest of the stuff on the list you can go without a fire. While I do love a good campfire I’d rather my house be standing then burned down from a wildfire I caused while trying to stay warm while lost. The Cedar Fire (2003, San Diego) and Rim Fire (Groveland/Yosemite 2013) which is the 5th largest in CA history as well as many others were all started by individuals who were lost and cold, and their fires got out of control. There are others but most folks will have heard of these (if they live in California). Again, I’ll re-iterate, if the fire danger is anything but Green/Low use your clothing layers that are in this list and skip the fire. Winter, by all means do what you can to stay warm.
REPAIR KIT AND TOOLS – Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, and scissors: A multi-tool is enough there, and if you happen to use trekking poles, that is a great way to hold duct tape for emergency use.
NUTRITION – Food: You may only think you are heading out for a couple of hours, but part of being out there is enjoying nature and taking some time, so might as well have enough food to last you 24 hours just in case, besides a salami and cheese tastes great when hanging by that alpine lake. Sure we can go 5 days without eating, but if it’s cold out, you’ll stay warmer if you have some extra calories, even something as simple as a few extra trail bars can make a difference.
HYDRATION – Water and water treatment supplies: I think I ranted on this above, just because that water looks clean does not mean it is. Giardia, Cryptosporidia etc. They all exist in our water. If your destination is a popular one, you can believe your water will be contaminated with something.
EMERGENCY SHELTER – Tent, space blanket, tarp, and bivy: This can be anything from a Bothy bag, to the emergency blankets that are the size a deck of cards, reality is, if you have your emergency clothing listed above, you can survive the night (unless you are stuck in torrential rain/heavy snow).
That is the list of things that most backcountry travelers will tell you you cannot live without (with the exception of building a campfire if in a high fire danger area). However it is one thing to carry it, it’s totally another thing to know how to use it when it’s time. So take the time to understand what you are carrying and why.
So when you get to that trailhead, it’s worth it to sign the permit/log book on where you plan on hiking. SAR teams do have access to the permit box/log. Heck I was in the backcountry once when a wildfire broke out, and because the NPS had my travel plans on the permit, they used that to call my cell phone (which I was not carrying on that trip) and leave a message asking me to call them when I got out of the BC. We have done similar. Since that time, I now carry a radio, and I do have it open on part 90 frequencies so I can listen to fire crews in the field, and if needed get beta on where I need to go to stay safe. (as an amateur radio operator I would never advise anyone to just pick up a radio and start yelling into the microphone beyond to say “do what you have to do to ensure the security of human life and limb”). The FCC is not going to fine you if you found someone injured and called “SOS” on whatever frequency they might have programmed in.
While I am at it, I might as well mention and IF you do get lost, STAY PUT! There is a wonderful thing that is being taught to kids now: “If you get lost ‘S.T.O.P’ Stop. Think. Observe. Plan. If you did leave your plan with someone, and you are not that far off your intended path by staying put we will be able to find you quicker.
Good luck and enjoy the nature, be safe, be prepared and PLEASE LEAVE NO TRACE!
I spent the last year reading the big green book a couple of times, and studied the exam pool questions (especially E7 and E9 those gave me the most trouble) easily a hundred times. I finally ponied up to take my Extra, and passed on the first try. Only missed 7. That was my first goal for 2018, and I’ll be able to operate full CEPT in Germany in April and UK in June/July. Next up..starting back in hot and heavy on CW…I want to be able to activate a peak via CW by the summer time!
I’m sure most of the SOTA folks out there who go summiting in the winter have the right gear. This is intended for those that may be new at the venturing in the cold and limited daylight of the November – March month time frame in alpine areas. Reality is, this is just paying homage to the old Boy Scout mindset of be prepared (I myself was never a scout) but just thru dumb luck, memorizing the Mountaineering bible and years of playing I’ve come to always carry the following things so I never have to rely on the kindness of strangers, search and rescue or more dumb luck. The goal here is that I could survive for 24 hours (minimum) IF things did not go to plan. As always though YMMV based upon where you are, experience, tolerance to cold, weather etc. To be clear, I have done a ton of hiking and backpacking in the winter, so this list is based upon that..This will be the first year where SOTA is going to be the primary goal of my outings this winter. Who knows, I may even get some summits via snow machine, but not sure yet..
For those that know me, or just looking at my TOC you can see I spend a lot of time in W6/NS and W6/SN, and I do love venturing out into the snow (although 2017/2018 is not shaping up to be very wintry at this rate)..but it’s conditions like this that I would consider are more dangerous for the inexperienced mountain topper. To illustrate the point, during the winter of 2014/2015 (the worst year of the California drought) we had a SAR where some folks on a low snow year thought climbing Pyramid Peak (W6/NS-094, and no not doing SOTA) was a great idea in Vans and blue jeans with 3 16 oz bottles of water between the group and NO food or other supplies. Needless to say we found them…200 yards from the road, they never made it far even though they wandered thru the woods for 8 hours. A lot could be said about their preparation, but the main point I am looking to illustrate here is do not let benign conditions, and technology create a false sense of security. This is not an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination.
I use my older backcountry snowboarding pack (DaKine poacher 45L) as it has plenty of room. I am still using a lowepro camera case to carry my SOTA gear, it’s not broken yet, and I see no need to replace it as my entire HF kit and amish logbook (pencil and paper) all fit. This is also my base SAR pack for what it is worth.
I’ll link a short write up on my radio gear separately but like most of us it is probably an ever evolving list of toys so it will be out of date tomorrow.
I am a bit OCD when it comes to organization in my backpack, a stuff sack for every purpose, and every purpose with a stuff sack (also referred to as ditty bag, or just bag).
I will start with what I consider my second most important bag… I call it my “butter bag”:
It basically carries Justen’s butters and trail bar of choice (currently for me is the Tahoe Trail Bar). I smear the butter on the trail bar for 500 calories of awesomeness (pretty sure i’ve talked about that before). I call it important, and in winter I put a bit of priority around food..(warmth always comes first, but food is harder to come by in the snow and snow can be melted for water).
I have enough bars and gooey peanut butters that I could survive 72 hours if I had to.
I also carry a not quite full cook kit:
snowpeak gigastove and canisiter. note: A single 110ml canister lasts for a week of boiling water. IF my stove ever gives out I may move to a Jetboil system, but my stove is running rock solid at the moment so no need to replace it. I have had it since 2003. In the cold warm the canister before trying to use it.
GSI outdoors Micro dualist cook kit.
bag of soups, teas, instant coffee for warmth.
sometimes I carry a full thermos of hot water too just to skip cook time.
So next up is my clothing. My clothing is based upon my known tolerance for cold, and I tend to run warm. I use a 13L stuff sack for my clothes. Other things get in and out but these are always in this sack:
Synthetic puffy pants (not putting these on is a mistake I make often for some stupid reason).
Pair of wool socks: one thing I did learn from my dad was take care of your feet and everything else will be all right.
Pair of lightweight legging base layer (capilene 1)
Down jacket based upon possible summit temps. I have a lightweight OR 600 fill down sweater as well as a heavier Cloudveil 800 fill down jacket.
Some things you may not see in pictures but that always are somewhere in my pack
balaclava (I picked up the coolest merino wool balaclava made by a Japanese company named Oyuki last winter.
gloves that are weather specific
headlamp, spare batteries
spare radio battery
2 person bothy bag (these things are great wind break shelters that pack down VERY small). I would not want to backpack for a week in one, but I have spent the night in mine just to see what it was like.
GPS as well as map and compass (I still am not willing to trust a cell phone as a means of navigation..I rescue way to many people who do). 1 extra set of batteries. A pair of Duracell Quantums last about 24 hours of constant use in my GPSMap62s
fire starter (#1 priority in survival is staying warm).
basic first aid kit
water treatment in case I do find running water
Avalanche kit (beacon, shovel, probe). Never head to avy country without them.
Rain jacket for wind break
Ziplocks and some Toilet Paper (please if you have to drop a deuce in the cold do not leave it).
Other things you will see in the pictures at the bottom include:
Sit pad..part of staying warm is get off the snow
crampons if conditions require it
snowshoes, but they are not being carried, they are being worn. I have done used my backcountry snowboard for SOTA too.
And that is it. all told the base weight is about 20lb, but winter is a time where I would definitely rather have it and not need it then start yelling CQ SOS and hoping someone gets to me soon. What I can share is in the county where I volunteer, from the time you call 911 to the time we are at the trailhead and ready to move to you is about 2 hours. It takes time to get the right folks involved and the teams built, blah blah. Once we are on the move we move at anywhere from 2.5mph to 4mph; however snow does slow groups down. So again, better to have it and not need it then test fate and get REAL COLD!
Given my summit success during the late running winter and snow coverage in early 2017 I plan to do some more summits this winter (and take advantage of that winter bonus to get my points per activation up).
-73 and hope to hear you out there in the coming months