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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

SOTA Expedition to NM and CO

Last week was a great week. I took a week of vacation and my wife and I headed to the mountains. We flew to Santa Fe, NM on Monday and that night had a nice dinner with local SOTA enthusiasts’,Fred KT5X aka WS0TA, John K1JD and Doc K7SO and their XYL’s. It is always nice to get together with friends with similar interests. We had a lot to talk about as we planned to do two 10 point SOTA summits the next day, a doubleheader if you will. We would work in teams of two and summit the separate peaks at roughly the same time. This would allow us to have summit to summit (S2S) QSO’s  with each other. The S2S contacts count toward a separate award within the SOTA program. We would then descend from the peak we were on and ascend the summit that the other team had just activated. You must make 4 QSO's from each summit for it to qualify for activator points.

 Since the forests were closed in the Santa Fe area due to high fire risk we went east of Taos, NM. Our activation targets were W5N/SS-019, Peak 10,900 and W5N/SS-024, Sierra de Don Fernando, both are 10 point peaks and are in excess of 10,000 ft. ASL. The activations went well, making HF contacts t qualify the summit and VHF, S2S, contacts with our buddies on the other summits. My portable station, documented in my previous post, worked very well. I used my ATS-4 transceiver,  an EFHW strung up in a tree for an antenna and a 500 mAH lipo battery for my power supply.. We had a great time and only had a few rain drops fall on us. We were deep in the forest and the smells and sounds in the mountains are very therapeutic. The plan almost worked to perfection. Fred, Cris (XYL) and myself were on one team and John and Doc on the other. We were down from the second summit when Doc called in on 2m to let us know that they had a flat tire. So we were forced to wait on them in the cool forests of New Mexico.

After successfully activating these two summits we said goodbye to our Santa Fe friends. We then headed to visit Jeff, my old backpacking buddy, and his wife Becky in Red River, NM. There are several 10 pointers in the Red River area and we decided to just do one, Greenie Peak, W5N/SS-015, on Wednesday morning. This would allow us more time to visit and catch up.

Wednesday turned out to be an adventurous day.  The Greenie Peak activation went well. There are beautiful views from there and it has a large summit area. Despite poor propagation I quickly filled the log and we determined, with thunder in the distance, we should head down.

Operating on Greenie Peak, NM
My Station is on the right

On the way down however, we saw a sign on the trail to Sawmill Peak. Sawmill is another 10 pointer that I had considered but there is no trail to the top. After seeing the sign, I thought maybe I had found a trail no-one else had found. The 4WD trail dead ended into what appeared to be a hiking trail. It was not, but lead to a bushwhack over 3 lesser peaks to finally reach Sawmill. Again, the summit wasn't planned. We reached the summit, started deploying the antenna and the skies opened up. There are commercial antennas on the top of Sawmill and we found refuge under a pier and beam building there. We got wet. After an hour and a half rain delay we set up again in light rain. My hands were wet and cold and the micro key seemed very small and I had considerable trouble operating it. The rain continued to fall.

I called CQ for 10 minutes before NS7P called and then spotted me. We made a few more QSO's despite the keying problems and qualified he summit. Thanks for those who stuck it out with me. We hiked back in the rain, but with 20 points in the bag rather than 10. Is was a satisfying day, activating Sawmill Mountain, which had only one previous activation, unexpectedly, felt good.

On Thursday morning we bid farewell to our friends and headed north to Colorado. We planned to climb Mt. Sherman which is 14,036 ASL. I previously have climbed 6 of Colorado’s 54 14’ers, but I haven’t done one for more than 15 years. I live near San Antonio, TX, so acclimation to altitude is always a concern.  I keep myself in decent shape, but the question in the back of my mind was, “can I still do it”. This climb and activation would culminate a great week of SOTA activations. All four summits for the week were 10 pointers, so going into Friday the  plan had gone very well, but the big target for the week was Mt. Sherman, 14,036’ ASL.

My XYL  (who has five 14ers to her credit) and I had re-conned the trail-head on Thursday afternoon. There is a gate, open in the summer, and we found that you can drive a long way up the mountain, if you want to, probably close to 12,800 if you have a 4WD. However there were no cars at the trail-head at the time so I wasn't sure where the typical starting point was. So the next morning we arrived at the gate at a little before 7:00 am. There were a handful of cars already parked outside of the gate, but none were parked past it. I didn't want to be the guy that drove his car way up the hill, when everyone else starts at the gate. So we parked there and were quickly on the trail/road up the summit. We followed a local guy, who seemed to know what he was doing, however it turns out that he didn't. We missed the main trail, i.e., the road that goes to 12,800, and is relatively easy hiking. Instead stayed left and climbed up a fairly steep pile of rocks to the old mine. That snafu, while not really adding any distance, probably added 30 minutes to our time. We realized this when we go to the top of that climb when a couple came walking up the road that goes around the rocky slope. Oh well, as my friend Jeff says,” If you know what’s going to happen, it’s not an adventure”.

My XYL Cris on the way up Mt. Sherman

The rest of the climb was just the grind that all 14ers are. You settle into a pace, enjoy the views and try to breathe. We summited at 9:30, a little later than I had hoped, since there was an outside chance I might do Mt. Sheridan, another 10 pointer, which was a across the ridge from Mt. Sherman. We actually felt pretty good at the top, tired by not overly so, and no altitude induced maladies. We enjoyed summiting another 14’er, the views are magnificent.

So now to the radio. I had used an EFHW all week but, in the deluge of rain and hail on top of Sawmill Mountain the previous Wednesday, I had lost the buttons I use as guides for the antenna wire on my crappie pole. So I decided to take my back up Buddi-stick vertical. I've had good luck with this antenna before and it’s very quick to deploy. However, for some reason the SWR was high and  I couldn't get it down with quick adjustments of the radials, so my signal suffered in what weren't good conditions to start with. I started well with an S2S with NM5S who was on Mt. Windom in Colorado, another 14er, but then it became hard work. NS7P called in with his usual loud signal and gave me good report and then WA2USA followed with a 229. After that I didn't get any calls for what seemed like an eternity. After several fat finger, altitude induced mistakes, I finally was able to post that I needed one more QSO via my iPhone, and W0MNA, W6UB and ND0C called in. Looking to the west I could see that, while still a ways off, rain clouds were forming. So I packed up. Not a glamorous activation, but it counts. With rain clouds on the horizon, I decided to leave Sheridan for another day.

Operating from the summit of Mt. Sherman

On our way down, at around 13,500 ft. we encountered a husband and wife climbing with their 4 month old daughter.  While it is a courageous thing to do, I wondered about the wisdom of such an adventure. My wife said that seeing that made her feel like a wimp. Despite that we pressed forward and made steady progress down the mountain as the rain clouds formed. It always surprises me that people will start up a 14er at mid-morning. We encountered several who were on the way up as we were descending that clearly would not summit before noon, which is the time you should be off the mountain. This time we took the road rather than descend the rocky slope that we needlessly climbed on the ascent and it was fairly easy going once we reached that point. 

After we made it back to the car, my XYL and I high-fived, having proven to ourselves that “we still got it”. As we did that, the first rain drop fell. As I shut the door of the SUV, the hail started falling and the clouds let loose. Perfect timing for us, down just in time, but I couldn't help but think about that little 4 month old. I hope the parents were prepared to keep her warm and dry. 

The hike is 5.2 miles round trip  and ~ 2200 feet vertical gain from the gate. The red track above illustrates our route up and down Mt. Sherman. The left route on the way up is not easiest way up. The red dot on the summit plateau is where I operated from.

So another double header of sorts, another summit activated and finally another 14er climbed. What a great day. For the week, 50 activator points, 76 S2S points and 36 chaser points; not too bad.

AD5A and XYL Cris on the summit of Mt. Sherman
(date and time wrong on the picture)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My New SOTA Portable Station

I few weeks ago I took a trip to Santa Fe, NM for a long weekend and activated a couple of SOTA Summits. I was fortunate to meet Fred, KT5X and John, K1JD. I learned quite a lot from them on portability and efficiency. So motivated by John, I have developed my new portable SOTA Station.

I purchased an ICON portfolio designed to carry an iPad or similar notebook. It is hard sided and the inside lining can hold on to velcro.
The ICON Portfolio closed the handles removed

So I removed the handles and some unnecessary attachments from the inside and laid out my station. With a little help from velcro, everything stays put while transporting and operating.

ICON Portfolio SOTA Station

I mounted the ATS-4, a 500 mAH Lipo and a small container that holds my micro key and also serves to keep any pressure from the sides, when closed, off the radio. I also have my earphones wound on a cool little winder. Just add an antenna and I ready to to call CQ.

The whole thing weighs 18 oz and fits nicely in my backpack. Credit to John, K1JD, who I stole the idea from.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Interesting Weekend, Radio and otherwise

Some weekends are boring or should I say, laid back, while others have lots of interesting turns and twists. This past weekend was one of the latter. The only thing on the calendar was a gig on Saturday night that my band,,  had in San Antonio, so not much else was contemplated. There was also an IOTA island coming up that I needed, OC-175, DU9/JA1PBV, however space weather didn't look that great and the time on the air for DU9 station wasn't known, so I didn't get my hopes too high.

On Friday afternoon after I got home from work there were some intrepid SOTA activators on and I picked up a few chaser points working those guys. I did some experimentation with telescoping pole anchored EFHW dipole antennas in preparation for my trip next week to NM and CO. I also went through a few guitar drills just to keep the old fingers limber. A relatively quiet evening.

Saturday dawned hot. The temperature would eventually reach 108 degrees, a good day to remain indoors and that is what I did. I was able to work several SOTA summits, but generally took it easy. I had to be at the venue for the show by 5:00 to set up and sound check. Of course everything was late which is typical in a business that is normally, hurry up and wait. The show went extremely well, good crowd and sold a few CD's. Driving home after the show, it was still 94 degrees at 11:30 pm.. The down side of the show was that the IOTA I needed came up around 2300z and was worked by a couple of my buddies.  I received an email from Buzz, N5UR, notifying me of what I had missed. Oh well that's how it goes.

Sunday dawned cool and rainy. I made a cup of coffee and sat on the back porch enjoying the change in the weather. It rained for a couple of hours which in Texas, in July, is a nice rain. However, that is when the rain became the enemy. DU9/JA1PBV was spotted on 20m. Great, I come in from the porch and head to the shack, only find that the rain noise was S7. The DU9 had a nice signal, but too much static to hear consistently enough to work, plus he had  big EU pile-up as well. So sit and wait, everyone once in a while the rain would diminish, his signal was easily readible, so call a few times, the rain picks back up and the static covers him up again. The cycle repeated itself several times. Frustration. However, patience is often rewarded, while waiting  a spot for PJ5/K3RTM on 6m came across the cluster from a ham not too far from me. Wait a minute I need that one, so a I swing the antenna around and there he is, solid signal through the static, a couple of calls and a new one on 6m. Cool. During the DU9 chase, I would periodically see a spot for a SOTA summit and I worked them throughout the pursuit. Back go the DU9. Finally around 1600 the rain relented, however his signal had dropped considerably although still copiable, he was now working EU exclusively, up 2 to 3. My hope was fading. To add to the problem, I couldn't hear who he was working so I was hoping he would find me. Finally, I swung the beam to EU just to hear where the largest concentration of stations were calling and set my 2nd VFO there. I was throwing the heavy artillery at him, 1,200 watts. Sometimes 5 watts is just not enough.  Finally at 1653z I broke through the wall and got a QSO, hallelujah!!!.

So all is well that ends well. A rare IOTA in the log, a new 6m band country and a 136 SOTA chaser points for the weekend. A 108 degree day followed by an 85 degree day. A successful gig, I got a haircut, changed the oil in the Jeep and washed it after the rain stopped. A very interesting weekend.

Oh, the DU9 showed up again on 17m CW later Sunday afternoon, working up 1. I got him on the first call. Go figure.