Monday, December 30, 2013

Last Activation of the Year

Previously I posted the story about my Christmas Eve Activation to Montoso Peak. On Christmas Day my youngest son, Jake, KB5SKN, and his family came to Santa Fe to stay for a few days. Jake enjoys getting out into the mountains just like I do, so one of our planned days was for skiing and the other for doing a SOTA summit.

The Summit we chose was 7472. In the SOTA world, peaks without names are assigned their elevation as a name, so as you might guess the elevation of this peak was 7,472 feet ASL. The peak is located in the Caja del Rio area that I described in my previous post. the summit is actually half of an extinct volcano. As you would expect, there was lots of volcanic rock and cactus on the mountain.

The GPS route estimated that it would take us an hour get to the summit. However, because of deep ruts in the 4WD roads it took us about an hour and a half to get to the base of the mountain. This summit, like Montoso Peak, had no trail to the top, we would have to bushwhack our way up. Also, because the approach to the summit was from the north side of the mountain, there was much more snow than we planned for. However, Jake and I made relatively good time up the mountain, scaling the 500 foot ascent over .8 of a mile in about 30 minutes.

                                                                       View from the top of 7472

We saw a lot of wildlife tracks on the way up, including Bear and Elk. The tracks were probably a day old however so we actually saw no wildlife. There are sufficient trees on the summit to hang antennas, so the first order of business on the summit was to hang the antenna, a 20m/40m EFHW. Because Jake's CW is a little rusty, I took the FT-817 for him to be able to do SSB. I used the internally battery, which supplies about 9.5 volts, so we would be operating with about 3 watts of power.

I started out on CW and things were a little slow until WA2USA told me I was on the same frequency as NI0G, so I move up a couple of KC's and things got much better.

AD5A Operating, Fishing Pole in the foreground

Then it was Jake's turn to operate SSB. I am always amazed at how well QRP does from these summits. After being spotted Jake had a nice pile-up and worked 13 stations, coast to coast, in short order.

KB5SKN Operating

After a few unanswered CQ's, I took over on CW and made several more contacts on 40m and 20m.
In total I had 21 QSO's and Jake had 13. Not a bad father/son outing.

The trip down was actually made a little easier by the snow, which was deep enough to cover the volcanic rocks.

FT-817 in special pack from AMP-3

Below is the GPS track of our trip.

Happy New Year to everyone.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Eve Summit Activation

My wife, Cris, and I are staying in New Mexico for the holidays and our kids don't arrive until Christmas Day. So what better time for a SOTA activation than Christmas Eve, right. This time of  year, the higher elevation peaks and thus the higher point value peaks have too much snow on them to make access practical. So in Santa Fe that means some of the peaks in the 7,000 - 8,000 ft ASL are much more accessible this time of year.

The Sierra De Las Valles Range, west of Santa Fe, feature many peaks in the mid 7,000's. The range is located in the Caja del Rio (Spanish: "box of the river"). Caja Del Rio is a dissected plateau, of volcanic origin, which covers approximately 84,000 acres of land in northern Santa Fe County, New Mexico. The drainage from this region empties into the Rio Grande River. The center of the area is approximately 15 miles west of Santa Fe. Most of the Caja is owned by the U. S. Forest Service and managed by the Santa Fe National Forest.  Access is through New Mexico Highway 599, Santa Fe County Road 62, and Forest Service Road 24.

 I decided to climb Montoso Peak, which at 7,315 ft. ASL is one of the tallest peaks in the Caja and Cris decided to come along for the hike. The climb is not particularly tough, other than there are no trails. The climb is 100% bushwhack and volcanic boulders and cactus are the primary obstacles. From where we parked our Jeep, we had a 640 foot vertical ascent over a one mile hike. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the top.

View from the Top
Once on top I set up the station, a KD1JV designed ATS4-B, a 4 band CW only QRP rig and a 20m/40M End Fed Half Wave.  I hang one end of the antenna over a tree branch, usually about 20 feet up, and run the antenna wire to a 21 foot carbon fiber, telescoping, pole. Below you see a photo of me deploying the antenna by elevating the end of the antenna (on an orange winder just visible in the picture) over a limb using the fishing pole. The winder, once over the limb, falls to earth, I secure the end, then attach the antenna wire to my fishing pole, running the wire down to within 6 feet of the ground. I anchor the matching device to the pole, hook up the coax and away I go. The wire is an L configuration with the shortest leg coming down the pole. I usually just prop the fishing pole on one of the evergreen trees if available, rather than guy it..

Deploying the Antenna
Once set up, the chaser pile-up was great. Signals were good, I got good reports and even squeezed in a little DX, working EA2LU on 20m. I ended up with 36 QSO's, 29 on 20m, 5 on 40m and 2 on 15m in a little over 30 minutes on the air. Below you see my operating position. The orange Velcro wrap, just up the pole is where the antenna matching device is anchored.

My Operating Position
It was a beautiful day for a hike. Not a cloud in the sky and the temps were in the mid 30's with very little wind, warming into the 40's by the end of the activation. We did not see any wildlife, however we saw lots of Elk tracks. The local name for the peak is Bear Mountain, however we saw no bears or bear prints on this trip. I wisely did not inform Cris of this "local" name until we were descending the mountain.
As Cris and I drove down the long dirt roads and then the 4WD roads, we agreed, if it weren't for Summits on the Air, there is now way we would ever have climbed this summit or explored this area. But thank goodness for SOTA, what a great day in the Mountains.

The Route up Montoso Peak

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Thoughts

This is the season for reflection. The are many facets to our lives that impact our daily living and that influence who we are, but the thing that brings the readers of this blog together is ham radio, literally. We are a community of communicators and are members of a great hobby that brings people together. You will not find a more diverse hobby.

Ham radio has been used in every country in the world, covering all the worlds religions, languages, cultures and governments. And we are always able to find common ground, joy, happiness and satisfaction in a hobby so basic as communication. Maybe the world leaders could take a lesson or two from us about how to get along. We have good friends around the world who we would not have known, except for ham radio.

So my wish for the holiday season is that ham radio continue to grow, prosper and add satisfaction to our lives. I wish not for new equipment, but the time to use what I have. I wish for the continued freedom that we enjoy that allows our conversations to cross borders. I wish to make new friendships with people different than me so that I can learn more about the world I live in. I also wish that, just like the magic of Santa Claus, the magic of ham radio never disappears.

So however you say it or however you mean it I wish you Happy Holidays. The way I say it is Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

QRP and 10 meters

As we move past the peak of this current solar cycle it seems that we are enjoying some of the best conditions on the high bands in several years. However, there does seem to be a sense of urgency to enjoy 10 meter DX since these conditions will likely last a few weeks rather than a year or two as in past cycles. I remember when I received my Novice license in 1989 that 10 meters was so busy you could hardly find a spot to call CQ in the Novice band, 28.300 - 28.500.

Since the flux has been in the 160 -170 range lately, last week's 10 meter contest was full of activity. It was a great opportunity for me to increase my QRP DXCC count which was at 160 entities worked going into the weekend. The bottom line, with the exception of V55V on SSB, I was able to work everyone I chased. It was harder work that I thought it would be, which is a testament to how busy the band was.

So with the band hopping, I fired up the KX3 and went hunting. I was able to work TK5EP, 4O3A, OX3XR on CW and ZS1TMJ on SSB. It was Saturday morning when I made these QSO's, so it was still early in the contest, I'm sure on Sunday, these stations would have been a little easier to work. I picked up four new counters on 10m and threw in FG5FR on 15m to get my QRP DXCC to 165. It was a fun weekend and it's good to hear some much activity on 10m.

So, go have a look at 10 meters, better yet, call CQ. You mght be surprised who comes back.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Random Thoughts and a Missed QSO

It's been a busy couple of weeks for me, full of different activities. It's hunting season in Texas and that is something that I enjoy a lot. The weather, while cold, has been perfect for hunting and has resulted in a couple of successful hunts. So there is meat in the freezer and with that a certain satisfaction of providing. We will not discuss price per pound:-)

As I have mentioned before, I am a guitarist for The No Refund Band,, and we had a great show on Saturday night. It was one of my better performances, landing all the notes and licks in front of a nice crowd, very satisfying. Check us out on iTunes, Amazon or most any digital outlet.

That brings me to radio. I guess I've been spoiled with the last few expeditions as I have documented here, getting nice band counters from S21 and XZ on the high bands. With higher sunspot numbers long path to Asia has been fantastic here in Texas, with loud signals and relatively easy QSO's. With the VU7AG expedition I expected nothing less than to make contacts on 10m and 12m. However, this chase was very different. Texas and VU7 just don't have the same path as the aforementioned countries. I listened and listened and listened. The long path was working to the US east coast, but stopped somewhere in the mid west. Kudos to the operators who tried to make this path work, but it just wasn't, until Sunday morning. I was in front of the radio, antenna turned to long path, nothing but static. Then I see some spots from W5 stations, still nothing, what gives? I turned my antenna to short path and there he was, a decent signal with a touch of artic flutter, but otherwise a great signal for short path 10m at 8:30 am from India to Texas. Unashamedly, I cranked up the amp, found the station he was working and started calling, expecting a QSO at any minute. After all, I am destined to salvage this expedition on 10m, aren't I? I called for 30 minutes when the signal began to fade and soon there was no signal and no QSO. The expedition is now QRT. Unlike the hunt and the gig, not very satifying.

However, as I said, I am spoiled. I did manage two new bands, 17m and 30m and a new mode, RTTY. As satisfying as those QSO's were, the lack of success on 10m seems to have dulled the accomplishment. But I'm over it. I still have some excitement waiting for me in the future. If we don't have hope, what do we have?

Monday, December 2, 2013

FT-817 Radio Pack

When I do long SOTA hikes at high elevation, I usually take along a very light weight radio, that is, on the order of 6 -7 ozs. Usually that means my Steve Weber, KD1JV, designed ATS-4 or an MTR. The radios are CW only and have limited band selections. These radios light and efficient. However, there are times when I don't mind carrying a slightly heavier load if I want more flexibility with bands/modes. While I have a KX-3, I find the FT-817 to be my radio of choice. It's easier to pack, takes less space than the KX-3, even with a T1 Tuner, and just feels a little more rugged.

There is a company called AMP-3 that has developed a very nice pack/bag to efficiently transport the FT-817, power supply, cables, connectors, log, etc..  I used this bag in a recent activation in New Mexico and was impressed with it's practicality. I have no financial interest in AMP-3, other than I've sent them a lot of money for their products.

Below is a link to a video of how the pack works.

Also he web site address is:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

SOTA Activation in the Snow

I did my first SOTA activation in March of this year. Since then I have accumulated 195 activator points. I am driven by goals, and I really wanted to have more than 200 points by the end of the 2013, but time is running short. As I have mentioned in the past the closest SOTA summit is a 7 hour drive for me from my home QTH. However, this summer I acquired a "get away" QTH in Santa Fe, NM and try to get out there as often as possible and when I do, I try to activate a summit or two. So since I am off work all of next week I thought the time was perfect to come out to Santa Fe for a few days and try to get an activation or two in. I desperately wanted to cross the 200 point threshold at a minimum.

Enter the weather. The forecast for my entire stay was for snow. The higher elevation peaks are out of the question, but there might be some possibilities for some the peaks in the 7,000 ft ASL range. Saturday had the best forecast, only 1-2 inches accumulation, but Sunday was for 2-4 inches.

So based on some advice on local summits from Fred, KT5X (aka WS0TA), Ortiz Mountain (W5N/SE-043) was my choice. Better yet, it was a 6 point summit which would move my Activator score to 201 points. I had to do it on Saturday or risk being snowed out.

This would be an opportunity to work on my winter approach to activations, from clothing to equipment to hiking in the snow. Cris, my XYL agreed to join in the fun.

Cris headed up the mountain
As we approached the mountain it started to snow. I had hoped to get the activation done before the snow started, but that wasn't going to happen. It wasn't a heavy snow, but steady.

We found our way to the base of the mountain and quickly learned that finding 4WD roads in the snow isn't that easy, however we managed to navigate our way to within 600 vertical feet of the summit and from there packed our gear and headed up the mountain.

The hike wasn't bad, hiking up a 4WD road to the shoulder and then up to the summit. The summit probably had 4 inches of snow and more was falling. I quickly found a decent operating location and began the set-up. This day I was using my FT-817, the trail friendly LNR 10-20-40 EFHW with a T1 tuner.

Antenna Deployed
The set-up went well and when I finished I tuned the radio to 14.061 to look for an open spot to call CQ and realized this was a major contest weekend. Thank goodness I brought the tuner.

So I set up on 17 meters and called CQ. After finally getting a spot for my frequency, my paddle decided to only send dits, I brought out my trusty micro-key, but had to remove my gloves to operate it. The temperature was 27 F, so my hands got a little cold.

My wife in the mean time had found warmth by getting the Bothy Bag we brought along. Bothy Bags are mini-shelters that are excellent for getting out of the cold or rain.

I made my requisite QSO's, working both coasts with my QRP signal, plus a few more and decided to declare victory and head back down the mountain. The snow had stopped for the trip down which we managed at a comfortable pace.

It was a fun day. Enduring the elements, summiting a mountain and getting 6 SOTA points. We felt accomplished when we were done and celebrated with some Mexican food in Santa Fe.

View from the Top


Thursday, November 21, 2013

I Couldn't Stand it Anymore

The past few weeks have been one of the best "rare DX" runs I can remember in a long time. Rare DXCC entities, good operators and excellent propagation have all come together for a lot of radio fun. I've had my share of the fun, picking up a couple of new 160m countries and numerous band counters. However, I suppose you never can get enough of good DX.

Last weekend I missed the opportunity to work XZ1J during a 10m LP opening into Texas, not only on 10m, but also on 12m. I was just not paying attention and by the time I realized I needed XZ on those bands, the opening was closed. So all week I've watched the DX cluster from my office as these LP openings have become daily happenings. Very frustrating, as there have been no evening SP openings. To make matters worse, I will be out of town this weekend and will not have a chance to work them then.

So, this morning, my oldest son Michael, AB5EB, who lives about 30 miles from me, sent me a text tell me he worked S21ZBC on 10m SSB and 17m RTTY. I checked the spots quickly to see that XZ1J was coming in as well. Well that put me over the top. If you remember the Popeye character from cartoons who used to say, "I've had all I can stands and I can't stands no more". I had a couple of hours clear on my work calendar, so back to the house I went.

The drive home is about 30 minutes and I got behind every slow car in the area. Finally I get to the house sprint to the shack to go the  XZ 10m frequency. He's there and loud. Quick, find the station he's working in the pile-up, right there, make the call, de AD5A AD5A...... AD5A 5NN.....sweet. First call. Now the S21, which I also need is a few KC's up the band. He isn't as strong, working up two. I put in my call....... AD5A 5NN, sweet again. Two new ones on 10m in a matter of a minute, each on the first call. Now what about 12m? No spots, I tune the band, no XZ or S21. I text my son to post my response to his DXploits and comment that now they need to move to 12m. I tune the CW portion and hear CQ CQ CQ de S21ZBC up 2, what???? I put in my call 4 or 5 times and then, AD5A 5NN...ecstasy. I text my son who needs S21 on 12m. He had to turn around and go back home to make the QSO.

So, I drove back to work feeling satisfied and accomplished. Even though no XZ on 12m, one can't get greedy, save a little fun for later.

I do like this radio stuff.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wake Island on 160m

Yesterday morning I worked K9W (KH9) on 160m, but it wasn't QRP. Only in my dreams could that happen, but I'm always excited to get a new one on Top Band. The QSO was at 12:45z, just before my sunrise, which is the primo time for 160m propagation.

 The one notable comment on my 160m set-up is that my antenna is a simple Alpha-Delta DX-A mounted on a 55 ft. tower, no beverages or listening antenna of any sort, just the DX-A. I have worked and confirmed 170+ countries on 160m with this antenna. So it still falls into the category of accomplishing a lot with a little.

AE5X also blogged about his 160m contact with K9W, so I guess I'm just trying to keep up;-)

Lots of good DX on, so now is the time to work the new ones.

Monday, November 4, 2013

QRP Fun; 2 Out of 3 Isn't Bad

Sunspots are up and the DX-peditioner's are out. This is a great formula for getting some nice QRP DXCC counters. I had a free evening after a very busy run over the last few weeks so I sat down in front of the KX3 to work a little DX or at least try to work some new QRP DXCC countries. On the menu were K9W from Wake Island (KH9), XR0YY from Easter Island and 5J0R from San Andreas. Not a bad selection of nice DX on Monday night.

My first target was K9W. Wake Island isn't on very often, so if you have a chance to work them you should, you never know when the island will be on again. At my QTH, northeast of San Antonio, TX, all three stations were coming in nicely, but with good propagation they are heard by many and the pile-ups were significant. I started chasing K9W on 12m, working up, however the operator wasn't paying much attention to NA, so I moved up to 10m where they were working NA/SA. After 10 minutes of chasing him up and down the band, I got them in the log at 00:59z. One down, two to go.

Next up 5J0R on 30m. I called for 15 minutes, no luck and the pile-up was huge. There was then a spot for  XR0YY on 10m SSB working simplex. A quick QSY netted a QSO on the first call at 01:18z. Cool. Two new QRP DXCC counters in 20 minutes. Only one more for the trifecta, so back to 5J0R on 30m. Another 20 minutes of calling and no QSO. I stepped away from the radio for a while and came back to their 20m SSB station. I had him in the clear a couple of times, but couldn't manage the QSO, so I called it quits for the night.

Overall a successful night of QRP DXing, my QRP DXCC count is now up to 159. Upward and onward.


Friday, November 1, 2013

More Summits

It's been a while since I sat down to blog a little. In the interim I've made a trip to California  and New Mexico and suffered through a kidney stone. The trips were great, the kidney stone is not recommended.

The California trip was a golf oriented trip with a business associate of mine, so no radio. We stayed in Huntington beach which is gorgeous this time of year; mid 70's, no wind, perfect.

This past weekend I was at my Santa Fe, NM QTH with a mission to activate some SOTA peaks. Mission accomplished. Below I'll share some of the fun.

Barrillas Peak W5N/PW-022

Barillas Peak is the home of an abandon fire tower, so as you might guess there is a road to the top. This summit is about 1.5 hour drive from my QTH because the roads leading to it are not the best. My old backpacking buddy Jeff came with me and our plan was to knock this off in the morning and be back shortly after lunch. I had been told that this one was simple. Accordingly I didn't do much homework and entered the coordinates in the GPS which generated a route that took me the base of the summit, on the wrong side of the mountain. We could get the Jeep to within a couple of miles of the summit, but it was a bushwhack and we had no knowledge of the mountain, so we decided to drive around to the other side, a 60 mile trip.

Now the, "getting done early", scenario was gone so we stopped in Las Vegas, NM to have lunch. When we found the summit there were some beautiful views. I chose to use my AlexLoop and FT-817 since I didn't have a long hike to the top. I also wanted to try some of the higher bands given that the flux numbers were good.

Calling CQ from Barillas Peak

The activation went well with 27 QSO's on 20m, 15m and 12m including a QSO with G4OBK.

Polvadera Peak W5N/SE-003

Polvadera Peak in in the Jemez Mountains, northeast of Santa Fe. The Jemez range is a beautiful range of mountains full of adventurous peaks. Polvadera in one such peak. It's elevation is at 11,232 ft, so the peak is about as high as you can go and still have trees on the summit. I did the peak with Fred, KT5X, who had done it before and served as the guide. It is about a hour drive to the end of the road to start the climb. There are no man made trails up Polvadera, only game trails. So there is a fair amount of bushwhacking required and some challenging climbs. We walked through several patchs of snow on the way up, a signal that this area will be snow covered soon. There were elk tracks, bobcat and coyote tracks in snow, a reminder that we aren't the only ones there. It took us an hour to reach the summit and we were rewarded with both nice views and some good operating locations. For this summit and most all summits that require a reasonable hike I carry my ATS-4 and an EFHW for 10-20-40m. I run the wire from a selected tree limb to my 21' carbon fiber telescoping pole and the down to the matching device. Today I would tune this antenna with an elecraft tuner on 15m. Fred, aka WS0TA, would handle the lower bands and I would operate on 15m. Propagation was excellent and I logged 18 QSO's including OH9XX. The EFHW tuned very well on 15m as I received many nice signal reports. 

View of Polvadera Peak from Clara Peak

Clara Peak W5N/SE-033

The road to Clara Peak is on the drive back toward Santa Fe, so it is an easy add on to Polvadera. There is a road to the top, but walking might be faster. It is definitely 4WD only and I had to put the Jeep in 4WD low. I used the AlexLoop again and the FT-817 as I wanted to give 12m a shot. However I only netted 3 QSO's on 12m and finished up on 15m and 20m, and totalled 13 QSO's for the activation. The views from Clara  are phenomenal (I keep saying that) and on this day there was no wind. A clear day, 55 degrees, no wind, calling CQ from a SOTA summit, it doesn't get much better.

After tearing down the station, Fred and I headed back to Santa Fe feeling satisfied. We had chalked up 18 Activator points while enjoying a wonderful day of hiking, radio and fellowship.

View of Santa Fe Baldy from Clara Peak

This SOTA stuff is fun.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

More Fun With the Rock Mite

Last night I had a few minutes to operate, so I thought I would call CQ with my 20M Rock Mite. I did a little more than CQ however, as I wanted to know how the radio was getting out. First, I measured the output power. I had assumed 500 mw of output during my first QSO's with the radio but after measuring the output, it was closer to 300 mw. Secondly, I wanted to see where the radio was being heard using the Reverse Beacon Network, If you've never played around with this, it is pretty cool. There is an entire network of skimmers out there that will post your frequency and callsign if you are copied calling CQ on CW.

So I called CQ with the beam pointed due north from my Boerne, TX QTH. Withing seconds the RBN spotted me calling CQ on the east coast and shortly thereafter on the west coast. Pretty cool. So clearly I was getting out fine with my 300mw. After a few CQ's, AB4QL, Barry in Alabama, called me.  I swung the beam and he was a solid 559 running his KX-3. He gave me a 329, but he didn't seem to miss anything. The contact was just short of a rag chew but we had nice QSO.

After we signed with each other, I looked up Barry on and learned that his QTH was 820 miles from mine. At 300mw that comes out to 2,733 miles per watt. Any way you slice it, that's good mileage.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tidbits From the QRP History Book

I've been reading, in small doses, "The History of QRP in the U.S., 1924 - 1960" by Adrian Weiss, W0RSP. So after reading about some of the beginnings of the QRP movement it is interesting to note in 1924, QST Technical Editor, Robert S. Kruse, 1XAM, went on the offensive in  promoting low power operation. His methods however were a little different than might be tried  today.

It seems that Kruse felt that American operators had become too enamored with high power operation and that the QRM and inefficiencies of high power operation were precluding the "grassroots" operator from even hearing DX stations. Weiss writes,

 "QST continually derided the abuse of power among American amateurs by coining a long list of derogatory epithets for the high power types. Such names as "watt-hog", "ether buster", "tribe of ampere hounds", "ampere chaser", "thunder factory', "watt burner" and "most miles per gallon" flowed across the pages of QST, leaving little doubt as to the attitude of the QST staff, and presumably the ARRL, to combat the developing dependence upon brute power by American amateurs in place of the ideals embodied in the QRP Operator...."

In, December 1923, the very first QRP contest, The Station Efficiency Contest, was announced with this subtitle, "Miles Per Watt: An Argument For The Small Set and For Intelligence In Place of Brute Force" Weiss comments, "In other words, the use of low power was inextricably linked with intelligence and diametrically opposite to high power"

Further Kruse argued, "...what if his brute power does let him cover 4,000 miles, isn't he still inferior to the other man who handled his power correctly and went twice as far per watt?"

So there you have it, QRP operation = Intelligence.

Need we say more;-)

The book goes into much more detail about the attack on high power operation and rising credibility of the QRP operator in those early days. Interesting reading and entertaining as well.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cool 12m SOTA contact

As we all know the high bands have been less than stellar during this solar cycle peak. I was reminded how busy 10m used to be during "real" solar cycle peaks of the past by a recent article on AE5X's blog.  As I remember it you could hardly find a place to call CQ on the novice segment of the band. However, even at lesser solar flux values, the high bands can still produce a lot of fun.

The past Saturday I had a rare weekend with not much on the schedule so I was chasing SOTA summits among other things. It was a fun day on the radio and I worked several Europeans on 12m. Currently the SOTA program has a 12m challenge in place which encourages activity on this band and when open, provides some fairly long haul DX for these QRP summit operations. I wasn't operating QRP, I was using my FT5000 and my Log Periodic Antenna up about 50 ft, however there are always several summit to summit QSO's among the activators that are QRP both ways across the pond. However this wasn't the most fun of the day.

Around 0130z on Saturday evening a SOTA spot came up for VK3ZPF, Peter, on a Mt. St. Phillack in Victoria, Australia on 12m SSB. I swung the beam around, not expecting to hear a peep. I wouldn't be writing the article if that is how it ended;-) I could hear the CQ faintly, but there was deep QSB. Finally on the peak I called and he came right back. We exchanged reports I had him in the log. A few minutes later, Glenn, VK3YY, who was with Peter was calling and I worked him as well. Glenn sent me an email saying that he was using a 40m EFHW antenna through an Elecraft T1 tuner and an FT817. Pretty cool and on SSB as well.

This radio stuff is fun.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Rock Mite and It Did

I wrote a short piece a few months back on a 40m RockMite that I bought and I couldn't make a QSO with. I entitled it the "Rock Mite and Then Again It Might Not". The stigma of not making a QSO has bothered me and I was in need of redemption. So as I was perusing EBay the other day and found a very nice 20M RockMite that was up for auction, I couldn't resist. Besides the enclosure matched my paddle. So when it arrived I sat it on the shelf until this evening. My goal was two fold, first make a QSO, but more importantly get 1,000 miles per watt. At 500mw output, I would only need a QSO of 500 miles to make it.

My 20M RockMite That Could

I connected my 10 element log periodic antenna to the radio, plugged in my matching paddle and away I went. I was beaming west and received an answer to my first CQ, but couldn't complete the QSO due to QSB. At least I am getting out!!! Being rock bound can be a little discouraging as I endured a relatively long QSO on my frequency, 14.059, before turning my beam north. Quickly W5BM, Dan, came back to me. We had a nice QSO, I received a 359 report and my next question, what was his QTH? Dan came back, Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is 442 miles from my QTH, drats, a few miles short. I then turned my beam west again and soon, WN7SIU came back to my call giving me a 449 report and quickly signing with me. I asked for his QTH....Sandy, UT. which is 1,300 miles from my QTH in Boerne, TX. 2,600 miles per watt. Alright!!! Mission accomplished.

So the RockMite is in good favor with me again. I like this radio stuff.

Friday, September 27, 2013

APRS On Your Phone

A lot has changed during my ham radio career since I was first licensed in 1989. The logging was manual, you received your DX news via a weekly newsletter that you actually received in the mail and packet was all the rage. Thanks to innovation of the ham radio community, now several technical generations later, we enjoy a very different hobby than we did in those days.

Periodically, I peruse the app store on my iPhone to see what new cool ham radio apps have been developed. I will admit it has been a while since I've done that so this is probably old news to many of you. As I scrolled through the apps I came across an APRS application for the iPhone. APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System), developed by Bob Bruninga WB4APR, combines packet radio technology with GPS technology to allow you to transmit your coordinates to a digi-peater that then posts your position on the internet. This allows others to know your location for any number of reasons, i.e., to follow progress up a mountain or simply for others to know that you are safe and to follow your progress to your destination. However, previously, to enjoy this functionality required a special radio with the GPS built in or a modification to add GPS functionality to your radio. However, with the apps now available you can accomplish the same thing with your iPhone. Of course you have to have cell service for the system to work and it can use up battery power, but the functionality can now be used without a radio.

So if you are a SOTA activator and have avoided the expense of getting a VHF APRS set-up, you can now accomplish the same thing with your phone. You can avoid battery degradation by only turning your phone on at intervals and allow the system to register your position, then turning it off again.

Very cool.

One of the APRS Apps for the iPhone
(I have no commercial interest in this product, nor have I actually used it)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back Home

No radio for me the last 8 days. I have been on a business trip to GW, G and EI. I did drive past a few SOTA summits, but unfortunately my business colleagues would not have understood. I did take a few pics of a side trip or two that I took to have a little fun.

Pembroke Castle in Wales

Guinness in Dublin

So now back to business at home and back to the radio to see what memories I can create with it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Little Prevention and a Pound of Cure

Its no secret that the amateur radio population is, on average, a little older than the current population's average age. That is a nice way of saying that we are older. With age many things accrue to us, wisdom, grandchildren, pensions and other good things. However there are some other things we tend to inherit as we get older that aren't so good including a few more health risks. We have a few extra pounds, our cholesterol goes up and we aren't in the same condition as we once were. We all know the story if we are more than 40 years old.

Recently, a very active SOTA activator who had probably 80 or 90 summits to his credit suffered a heart attack while on a climb. These events are always a little sobering because we aren't so different in age. It isn't intuitive that an active individual would be a heart attack candidate. The fact is he had 100% blockage in one of his arteries. My son is an MD and explained that the body will build it's own bypass system over time, so 100% blockage means that the main artery was blocked, but there were several smaller bypass blood vessels that were at least transporting some blood, but obviously in the case, not enough.

There were two lessons to learn from this incident. The first in the preventive part. After say, age 50, we should have a full blown physical at least every other year, complete with an EKG that will check you heart capacity and function. If you have to borrow money to pay for the physical, you should do it. A physical is not an expense, but an investment that will yield a nice return in the form of additional years to enjoy all the things you have worked for in your life. We should do some exercise at least 4 times a week, even if it's just walking for 30 minutes. If you aren't currently exercising, get the physical first and if you are exercising don't assume that you don't have issues. The example above should be enough evidence to convince you of that. One health issue associated with ham radio is that we can do it sitting down which isn't necessarily good from a health perspective.

The second lesson from this is the pound of cure. If  you are involved in outdoor activities, hiking, biking, etc.. carry a small first aid kit and include aspirin in the kit. This will help to temporarily mitagate heart attack symptoms until help can arrive. Get a book on outdoor first aid and understand what you can do when you are miles away from help and have a medical emergency. There are even several apps available for your smart phone that give solid first aid advice.

The outcome of the incident above was a good as you could hope. His hiking buddy was calm and solicited help from other hikers, one of which had some aspirin in his pack. They had cell service and could call 911 and the victim was flown to a hospital where a stent was put in. (If no phone service, have a 2m rig with the local repeaters in the memory) He is much better and should be able to get back to climbing soon. His recovery is due, in no small part, to the alert reactions of those around him.

So go make that appointment.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Four Days, Four Summits

I spent a long Labor Day weekend at my new QTH in Santa Fe, New Mexico. From a flatlander's point of view, Santa Fe is SOTA heaven. Lots of nice peaks to climb and now with a place to lay my head, I can go back home and not to a hotel room. From my home QTH in Boerne, TX it is 380 miles to the nearest accessible peak. As I would discover, there is a nice 8 pointer 11 miles from my front door.

Day 1 Peak 8409 W5N/PW-027 (8 pts)

We are still setting up house in Santa Fe and so on this Friday morning there were deliveries scheduled for 9:30. So I needed a quick hit summit that I could get on and off of quickly and get back home. Peak 8409 fit the bill. The summit is 11 miles from my house and isn't a particularly difficult summit as you can drive to within a few hundred feet of the summit. So I left the house early and found a pull-out on the road to the summit and scrambled up ~200 feet to my eventual operating position. Quickly the antenna was in place and I was calling CQ within 5 minutes. A chaser pile quickly ensued and in 25 or so minutes of operation I made 23 QSO's. After a few unanswered CQ's, I quickly tore down the station was back home in time to meet the delivery man. Cool, 8 activator points and back home in time to get something done.

Day 2 Atalaya Mountain W5N/PW-023 (8 pts)

Atalaya is not in the easy ascent category. The hike isn't too long, ~5.6 miles round trip depending on where you start (we took Trail #170), but it is relatively steep. I wouldn't call it a hard hike, so moderate is probably the best description. My son Jake, KB5SKN, who flew in the day before, would join me on this one. Jake isn't that active as a ham but when asked if he wanted to operate from the summit, he said he would rather operate than just watch me. So, in addition to my ATS-4, cw only rig, I made Jake carry the FT-817 so he could operate SSB. This is a nice hike and the views of Santa Fe are outstanding. It took us 90 minutes to get to the summit, with Jake having to adjust a little to the altitude, but we make relatively decent time.

Jake was new to mountain portable operation and he was surprised how quickly we were on the air. We set up the EFHW, stringing it in the trees to my carbon fiber collapsible pole. We received good reports, I made 21 QSO's on CW and Jake made 12 on SSB. He was surprised at how effective this antenna was. It was a nice walk down and a good day for father and son.

KB5SKN Logging His First Activation
AD5A on Summit of Atalaya :Mountain

Day 3 Sandia Crest W5N/SI-001 (10 pts)

Sandia Crest is the big mountain that dominates the Albuquerque landscape. I decided to take a chance on a Sunday afternoon activation. Thunderstorms are always an issue in this part of the world, but there is a tram that takes you up the mountain, so I decided to risk it.

Sure enough when we arrived at the tram there was a light rain on the summit. Actually I thought the tram landing was within the activation zone. When we arrived, in the rain, I realized we need to ascend another 200 feet before I was high enough on the summit. A favorite activation location on this mountain is Kiwanis Cabin; it was a short 1.5 miles away. So my XYL and I set off in the light rain for the cabin. While the rain was light, thunder was echoing through the valley as there were widespread thunderstorms. Upon reaching the cabin, the rain had stopped, so I set up my station. On crowded summits I use the Alexloop antenna. It has a small footprint and actually works pretty well. After tuning it and calling CQ, I didn't get any immediate responses. Little did I know there had been a CME just a few hours before and conditions were not good. Over about a 15 minute time span I made 8 QSO's. Then the wind came up and the thunder got louder, so I shut down. We hiked back to the tram to find a 90 minute wait to go down. This was a holiday weekend after all. So rain, a CME and tram delay turned this into a little more adventurous and time consuming outing than planned, but I made the QSO's to qualify the activation and enjoyed some magnificent views.
AD5A on Sandia Peak

View from Sandia Peak

Day 4 Santa Fe Baldy W5N/PW-006 (10 pts)

John, K1JD, sent me an email asking if during my stay in Santa Fe I would be interested in doing Santa Fe Baldy, the tallest mountain in the Santa Fe area at 12,622 ft. It is a 10 point summit and I had already done a fourteener this year, (Sherman 14,036), so I knew I could handle the altitude. “Of course” was my response. The kicker on this hike is that it is a 15 mile round-trip. The hike is not 7.5 miles up and then 7.5 miles down, it is a rolling hike for several miles until you get to the trail up to the saddle that leads to the summit. We both knew there were easier 10 pointers around, but activating Santa Fe Baldy is a badge of honor; it looks good on the resume. So as you talk among other activators, you can always ask what their longest hike was and odds are, at 15 miles, not many can best that. So some bragging rights are at risk here and that’s important. We appropriately planned the hike for Labor Day.
The weather forecast wasn’t favorable for a Labor Day activation, 50% chance of rain, which translated during monsoon season in the New Mexico mountains, it’s gonna rain. We toyed with idea of doing it on the Sunday before Labor Day, but my son was in town and I couldn’t get away. So we took our chances on Monday.
We met at 6:20 am local time and headed for the Trailhead near the ski resort outside of Santa Fe. The day dawned with a partly cloudy sky, not a particularly good sign. We were on the trail at 7:12 am. The trail is a widely used trail, especially at the lower elevations. The trail took us through the forest, across streams and up and down inclines of varying difficulty, however, no one part of the hike is tough. It’s just long. To make a long hike story short, we summited around 11:10, so four hours up the mountain.
We decided, in the interest of time since clouds were building, we would only erect one antenna and take turns operating. After setting up the pole, my job, John deployed the wire. I quickly turn on my 2m radio to hear Alan, NM5S, calling John. I answered and had my first QSO. Alan had camped at Spirit Lake overnight and was checking on us. After we signed, Fred, WS0TA, called. He was on Elk Mountain, another 10 pointer across the valley as were NM5SW and K5RHD. The local S2S’s were in the bag. Of course John worked these guys as well.
John started on HF to mixed results and after knocking off a half dozen or so QSO’s passed the antenna to me. Over the next 6 minutes I managed 9 more QSO’s on 20m before John took another run. The clouds were building, we were 7.5 miles from the truck; it was time to go.

AD5A Operating from Santa Fe Baldy
K1JD on Santa Fe Baldy

The trip down was uneventful, just long. As always a nice walk through the forest is better that most anything else you may want to do to relax, so John and I enjoyed the walk and had several good, long conversations on numerous topics. There was lots of thunder and rain clouds around us, but not a single drop of rain fell on us. It was a grand time. We got back to the truck at 3:23 pm, 8 hrs 11 mins on the trail, including the activation, but 10 points in our pocket.

This was a great trip, four days, four summits and 36 points. I can’t wait to do it again.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

SOTA Activity Weekend, September 7th and 8th

North America SOTA Activity Weekend is a casual event involving tiny battery-powered radios on mountain summits. It is not a contest but is intended to introduce "Summits on the Air" to newcomers with home stations who try to work summit operators during one or two days. There are no rules regarding power levels, modes or number of bands worked, but please be courteous when more than one station is trying to talk to a SOTA operator on a summit. The SOTA operators have just climbed mountains as high as 14,000 feet; they use low power; and they don't receive on split frequencies. Check to spot who is on which mountain. Summits are numbered, and you can hover your cursor over the number to see the name and point value for each summit. Expect the website to show activity near 7.032, 7.185, 10.110, 14.342, 18.095, 18.155, 21.350, 24.905, 24.955, 28.420, 146.52, 446.00, and 61 Khz up from the bottom of 20, 15 and 10 meters CW. Don't be deceived by the QRP power levels, these guys have some nice antenna supports.

 Participants are invited to collect points toward certificates and trophies offered by the eleven-year-old international SOTA group ( As we learned in past years, this is a barrel of fun for both hill climbers and home operators. See you then.

 The folks at

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Busy Days, Fun Days, Two Summits in New Mexico

It have been a very busy couple of weeks. For the two or three of you that follow my blog, you have probably noticed the recent silent period. Worry not, I haven't been slacking on radio adventure. As some of you may have noticed, I have been activating a few summits around New Mexico. Well my wife an I have looking for a vacation home in Santa Fe. We weren't in any hurry and wanted to find just the right spot. Well, we found it and spent last week buying it and furnishing it. It is in a non-ham friendly neighborhood, but that makes for more of a challenge. My plan is to do most of my radioing outside anyway. There are summits galore. While I was there tending to moving-in activities I did find time to activate a couple of summits. Below are some brief summaries.

 Glorieta Mesa W5N/PW-032 August 16, 2013

This was my first solo summit. I've done summits with other activators and my wife often does the hike with me, however this time I was on my own. Glorieta Mesa is an 8 point summit whose elevation is just over 8,000 ft. Finding the route required a little research but the SOTA website is very valuable in finding routes if previous activators have uploaded their activation notes. Such was the case here and I was able to get two sets of coordinates, the first directed me where to park and the second pinpointed the previous operating location of another activator. Given those two points the hike was fairly straight forward. Only about 300 feet elevation gain over 1.5 mile climb isn't too bad.

I used my GPS unit with it's TOPO map to navigate to the activation zone. There is no trail per se on this climb. I would classify it as a minor bushwhack. While there are no trails the forest is very walk-able with a few brushy areas that you have to walk through, but not bad.

On The Way Up
There were some very nice views on the way to the top as evidenced by the picture to the left.

Once on the top I used my ATS-4 and my modified Buddi-Stick vertical. Conditions were decent and after couple of CQ's I had a nice SOTA Chaser pile-up. I managed to work 18 stations in a 20 minute span working stations Coast to Coast.

A Chaser pile-up is the ultimate QRP thrill in my opinion. You are operating a station that you carried up the hill on your back, using a portable antenna and other stations are actually chasing you. The signals were loud and I was getting some 569 and 579 reports.

View from the Top

Operating Position 

I was behind schedule, so I called it quits after about 25 minutes on the air. It was a satisfying trip down the Mesa, mission accomplished. Exercise, portable QRP, Chaser pile-up and 8 Activator points.

Thompson Peak W5N/PW-013 August 17th, 2013

Thompson Peak is a 10 point peak with an elevation at 10,554 ft. To get to the trail head you have to travel a 4WD road for ~15 miles. Once at the trail head the hike is fairly straight forward. The trail is easy to follow. There are some ups and downs on the hike before you get to the summit so its's not just an straight up and straight down hike. The trail is a little over 1.5 miles to the summit with a net 700 ft. climb, but because of the up and down nature of the trail the gross elevation gain might be twice as much.

AD5A on the Trail

My old friend and ex-ham Jeff accompanied me on this hike. A nice hike in the forest with an old friend is lots of fun. We enjoyed the hike and before we new it we were on the summit.

Summit Cairn

I used my trail friendly 10m/20m/40m/ EFHW antenna. I used my 21 foot collapsible carbon fiber pole to put the end of the wire over the highest branch I could reach and then used the pole as a support for the other end of the antenna. In no time I had a loud pile-up. There was some QSB as K index was 4, but I made 21 QSO's in ~30 minutes, all on 20 meters. I called CQ on 40m, but no joy there.

Operating from Thompson Peak

After several unanswered CQs, it was time to go. After packing up the station we headed down the hill, another mission completed and 10 more activator points on the scoreboard.

The nice thing about these two activations was that after I got down, I was able to go to my new home in Santa Fe rather than a hotel room. That was a first as well. My home QTH is 380 miles from the closest 10 pointer, so travelling is a must if you are to activate summits. 

So, look for a few more New Mexico summits from me.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Do QRP'ers Have an Identitiy Crisis?

So I was browsing the QRP Blogs today and I read about the most recent QRP contest. It occurred to me that maybe QRPer's have self esteem issues. Two of the activities that seem to attract a lot of QRP'ers are, "The Flight of the Bumblebees" and "The Skeeter Hunt". So, as I contemplated the deeper meaning, both the bumblebee and the skeeter are annonying creatures that bite you and yes, even carry disease. People actually spray chemicals on themselves to keep bees and skeeters away. Now I ask you as a fellow QRP'er; is this really who we are? Skeeters and bees, should these be the mascots of QRPdom? We should rather associate ourselves with the sly, skilled animals of the forests that we are, those that through their guile and agility are able to strike quickly and capture their prey. Why can't we have, "The Flight of the Eagles" or "The King of the Jungle Hunt". These symbols, or mascots if you will, would invoke a much stronger sense of purpose and pride, we can hold our heads high and make cool T-Shirts, while demonstrating to the world that indeed QRP'ers are a force to be reckoned with. We could say, "come join us in our hunt for the Lions this weekend", instead of "hey, wanna go skeeter hunting?". Anyway, just some thoughts, skeeters and bees or Eagles and Lions.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

My Backpack Progression

A lot is written in the SOTA Blogosphere about backpacks and which one is the ultimate one for treks into the wilderness to operate portable. What can be quickly be deduced from these articles is that the ultimate backpack is a matter of taste and philosophy. Will you want to account for every possibility or have a quick exit strategy should something go wrong? Your philosophy can be driven by the circumstance, e.g., if I live in the mountains I am quick to abandon a summit attempt as I can always do it tomorrow. However, if I am in the mountains on a vacation or otherwise limited schedule, I might be prepared to endure more in-climate weather to get a summit activation in. Each philosophy dictates a different approach.

As with any activity the more experience you get, the more refined your approach becomes and so it has been with me. My first activation was last March. I took my KX3 with an FT-817 as backup, an Alexloop, a Buddistick, several coax jumpers (BNC - PL-259, BNC - BNC and other combinations just in case), a pound of trail mix and several bottles of water. All this for a 3.5 mile round trip. I didn't even want to weigh it.
Pack Evolution
I started with the black Kelty, then the red North Face
and finally I've progressed to the CamelBack Fourteener in the middle

I started with a big pack and I filled it up, which is a big mistake. So I realized maybe I should downsize a little. So I began to rationalize what I carried. I realized that the KX3, while a very nice radio, is a lot to carry in both weight and bulk. I am really more of a CW guy, so I was carrying around a lot of capability that I didn't need. I owned an ATS-4 which weighs a few ounces and is a CW only rig with 5 bands. Also, the Alexloop is an effective antenna, but it's bulky and takes a lot space in a pack. For relatively long hikes, it's too much. The problem with bulk is that it makes you get a bigger pack and human nature dictates that you fill it up, so you unconsciously take more stuff. For an antenna I went to a trail friendly EFHW 40/20/10 supported by a carbon fiber fishing pole that telescopes to 21 feet.

If I am on a drive-up/walk-up summit, I might carry some of the bulky stuff because it's easy. I recently used the Alexloop on Mt. Locke because I didn't have to carry if far, sot the situation can dictate a different configuration.

The other consideration is water. You should get a pack that allows you to insert a water bladder with a drinking tube accessible to you while you are hiking. This not only allows you to drink on the go, it is a better way to carry water and eliminates the need for bulky water bottles.

As you can see above I have continually downsized my pack. The CamelBack Fourteener is about 1/3 the capacity of the Kelty that I started with. Below is what I carry.

Typical Activation Load

My radio is in an iPad portfolio along with the power supply, paddle and ear phones. I carry two antennas, a modified Buddi-stick and a carbon fiber telescoping fishing pole with an EFHW antenna, VHF radio, coax, GPS, log, first aid kit and rain gear. The pack above weighs about 9 lb. The bladder in this pack holds 100 ounces of water (gallon ~ 128 ounces). I been on an activation in the heat that was 9.5 miles round-trip and I had water left over, so you don't have to fill it up every time. Without water and without any food/snacks the above weighs, including the pack,  about 9 lbs. I do have a redundancy with the antennas, but that is to allow for different conditions and what I have time for on the summit. If I lived in the mountains, I would only take one antenna.

I have climbed Mt Sherman, 14,036 feet and Emory Peak, 9.5 mile round trip using this pack and I haven't lacked anything that I needed.

However the game continues, I am still looking for ways to cut back.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Emory Peak Activation

Emory Peak (7,825 ft) is the highest point in Big Bend National Park in Texas. As previously posted I had activated Mount Locke  in the Davis Mountain the day before. Mt. Locke was a relatively easy activation , but I would earn my points and more on Emory Peak.

 For those not familiar with the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program there are bonus points added for activating a summit either during the winter in cold climates or during the summer in hot climates. West Texas is definitely a hot climate. Emory Peak is a 10 point summit (maximum), but activating in the summer months is worth 3 extra bonus points. On the drive from Mt. Locke to the Big Bend area temperatures hovered between 99 F to 101 F. The temperatures would moderate a little at the Chisos basin where we were staying, although not a lot. The Chisos Mountain Lodge is around 5500 feet in elevation, but the high temperatures during this time of year are in the low 90's.

The Chisos Mountain range within Big Bend National Park is a beautiful place. Emory peak may be the only peak that is climbable, but even then, you must climb the last 35 feet using some, not so easy, rock climbing techniques. I would not recommend it if you aren't experienced.

The trail to the summit of Emory Peak is a very nice trail. It is well marked and maintained. The only issue is that the round trip is 9.4 miles and there is 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Given that distance the elevation gain is not particularly difficult, if you are accustomed to mountain hikes, but it is a long way.

Emory Peak Trail 
The Peak is in the background

We started relatively early, 7:30 am.  I wanted to start sooner, but my XYL was nervous about the warning about hiking too early. The Big Bend National Park and the Chiso's Mountains in particular have Mountain Lion and Black Bear populations. Both are sighted quite often, but Mountain Lions in particular are active in the early morning. We had to check out of our hotel room at the Chisos Mountain Lodge by 1:00, so we needed to depart the summit by 10:30 by my calculation to get back in time. I figured 2.5 hours up, 30 minutes to operate and then 2 hours back down. If my calculations were correct, 7:30 was the latest we should start. My wife and I are in relatively good shape, so I felt 2 miles an hour was a doable pace considering we were gaining 2,500 feet.

Cris, my XYL, just below the summit
AD5A just below the Summit
VHF Antenna above are on the Summit
The hike up wasn't too bad. Most of it is in the shade as the sun comes up over the mountains. It is a nice hike through a mostly forested trail. The last mile up was exposed to the sun, but there were still patches of shaded forest and the temps were bearable. We reached the summit around 10:00 am, right on schedule.

From my research I know that there weren't any tall trees on the summit, so getting an End Fed Half Wave antenna high enough would be an issue. I also know that time would be short with a hike this long, in the heat, so I needed to be able to deploy quickly. I decided on the Buddi-stick vertical. I only planned to operate on 20m, given the short time, so the vertical made sense.
Emory Peak Shack
You can see the Buddi-stick if you look closely
So I quickly deployed the station knowing that I would only have a short time to operate. I propped he vertical against a tree limb and then extended the counter poise over another limb. I took out my SOTA notebook station, seen above, plugged in the LIPO battery to ATS-4 QRP radio, grabbed my Porta-Paddle and I was ready to go. I called my first CQ at 10:13 am CDT. My good friends from Santa Fe, NM, Doc, K7SO and John, K1JD were monitoring my advertised frequency of 14.061. Doc answered my QRL? :-) John quickly followed. What then happened was SOTA bliss. The vertical was working well and in the next 15 minutes I made 21 QSO's. I wished that I had more time, but we needed to get off the mountain, both to beat the heat and to avoid an additional day's charge on our hotel room. So I took the station down as quickly as it went up, packed it all up and Cris and I headed down the mountain. We didn't get away until 10:45, a little behind schedule.

The trip down was uneventful, just long and the last mile or so, the heat was getting just a little on the uncomfortable side. However we were fully prepared, we carry 100 oz Camel Back water bladders in our pack, so we stayed hydrated. We made it back to our room at 12:55 pm. The good people at the Chisos Mountain Lodge let us shower and clean up before check out without an additional charge. I personally think it was self serving on their part as they didn't want us eating in their restaurant smelling like we just came off the trail:-)

This was a challenging hike, but completing it left us feeling good that we can still do it. The radio portion of the adventure came off without a hitch, so it was a good day in the Chisos.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

SOTA Activation, Locke Mountain, Davis Mountains, TX

This was fun activation today. Locke Mountain is the home of the McDonald Observatory and you can drive most of the way to the top. There is a short climb to the summit from the parking lot.  Locke Mountain is in the Davis Mountains which this time of the year is like an oasis in West Texas. Everything is green and the mountains are beautiful. The only problem with this area is that so many of the peaks are on private property. I need to do a little more research to find ways to get on them. I tried to get permission to do Guide Peak, another 10 pointer close to Locke Mountain, but the owner said no, this time.

Today,because of a potentially crowded summit, it wasn't, I used an Alex Loop for the first time. Very pleased with the results, ~30 QSO's on 4 bands with my ATS-4. I actually did two stints on the summit. After lunch in Fort Davis I went back up to try to work a few more guys while my wife shopped in town. Fort Davis is a very nice town.

Tomorrow I will try Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park, W5T/CI-009. This is a 9 mile round trip. I will be on the trail early, but if it gets too hot, I will call it a day. Check out for spots. I will try to summit between 1400-1500z on 2 Aug.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tom Christian, VP6TC SK

Sad news......

VP6TC/VR6TC, Tom Christian, longtime famous ham from Pitcairn
Island, who probably gave most of us that "new one," has passed away,
peacefully, on July 7th.  Tom was diagnosed with possible Parkinson's
and early signs of Alzheimer's/dementia in December, 2009, while on a
family visit in New Zealand.  His wife, VP6YL/VR6YL, Betty Christian,
says his health "deteriorated all too quickly," and the last few
months were "cruel ones to watch such a strong, vibrant man reduced
to where he was not really aware of his surroundings and then was
unable to walk and swallow food or liquid."  Tom was buried July 8th
in the cemetery on Pitcairn.  Lack of available transportation
prevented most of Tom and Betty's children making it back for the
funeral.  Tom was known as the "Voice of Pitcairn," was an M.B.E.,
Member of the British Empire, and served on the Pitcairn Island
Council as the Governor's Representative for 40 years.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

QRP Respect Day 2013

It is a QRP party, that is, a non competitive contest for QRP hams, especially those operating in portable mode with simple home made antennas.

The time is 08:00 UTC – 12:00 UTC and the bands are 40, 20, 15, 10 meters. It is recommended to stick around QRP frequencies, according to Region 1 band plan: CW 7030 – 14060 – 21060 – 28060; SSB 7090 – 14285 – 21285 – 28,365.

You can find other informations on (Rules Click on the English tab.


Courtesy of DXCoffee

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lighter, Easier to Pack, Telescoping Pole

I've been busy with day job, rock band and some of my other hobbies, but I've been meaning to write about this subject for a while. As I have been analyzing my approach to portable QRP SOTA operations I have been tweaking and lightening my load. One of the major advances is the telescoping pole that I use. As most of you know, Locktite has a very nice set of poles, up to 33 feet as does SOTA Beams. However, the issue is that when collapsed they are still close to 4 feet in length and 2 -3 lbs in weight. This means the pole is fine to carry in your car, but it is awkward to carry up a 14,000 mountain. So what to do?

I found, through KT5X, a supplier of Japanese made carbon fiber, telescoping fishing poles. It telescopes to 21 feet, weighs 7 oz. and collapses down to 25 inches. Brilliant. Now, these are a little pricey, from $75 -$120, but if you are carrying it for a few miles, the price amortizes nicely:-).

Carbon Fiber Telescoping Poles

There are a couple of caveats with these poles. There is no tip guide and the ends are a little flimsy. However if you wrap the top three sections with rod guide thread and coat it to strengthen the tip, it should suffice. You will also need to add very small rod guides, I used 3 mm guides, or buttons, yes buttons, to route the antenna wire down the pole. The buttons, two hole buttons, will need to be of varying sizes so that each will go further down the pole. The second hole of the button is what you thread the antenna wire through. If you use rod guides they should be mounted at the top of the last 3 or 4 sections so that the pole will still collapse. Once you start pondering this, while looking at a pole, it will make more sense. More on this in a later post.

 I've found the best way to deploy an EFHW, where there are trees is to use the pole to place the end of the antenna, wrapped around a winder, over the highest branch you can reach with the pole. Let the winder fall to the ground and tie it off. So now the end of your antenna is 20+ feet high over the branch that you selected. Then thread the other end of the antenna wire down your pole and extend the antenna until the end of the antenna is a couple of feet off the ground, threaded down the pole. Use a velcro wrap to secure it, attach your matching device and you're good to go. I often prop my pole on the limbs of another tree, so there is no need to guy the pole.

So to sum up, this lightens the load considerably and the deployment approach eliminates the need to throw a line or use a sling shot to try to get it over the right branch.

I will post some pictures of my pole in a later post. The poles are available at
in a variety of lengths and wall thicknesses.