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: