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.