Saturday, February 22, 2014

Five Summits in Three Days

I have SOTA fever really bad. Activating summits seems to continually occupy my thinking these days. My goal, 1,000 activator points at which time I will buy piece of glass with my call and a picture of a goat on it. Doesn't everyone think about that?

To feed my addiction I made a trip to my QTH in Santa Fe, NM. I arrived there on my birthday February 13th. I had been planning this trip for more than a month and was worried about how the weather would be since the long weekend in Santa Fe would be my only chance to activate summits for a while. The weather forecast was for highs in '60's. Perfect.

. I had a different strategy for this trip, since none of the hikes would be more than a mile one way, I carried my FT-817 and an Elecraft T-1 tuner with plans to get on the WARC bands since the ARRL DX-CW contest would be going on the weekend. The FT-817 is fresh from getting modified with the W4RT on-board filter for both SSB and CW and the DSP as well.


So on Friday the 14th, I met up with Fred, KT5X aka WS0TA. We had two summits on the agenda, Peak 7119, W5N/PW-037 and Glorieta Mesa, W5N/PW-032. The day was windy, but the temps were comfortable. While the climbs were short, they were very steep to both summits. There were probably easier ways up, but what the heck, we were looking for adventure.

Propagation was good on the first summit, Peak 7119,  I worked 5 EU stations, OH9XX, DJ5AV, EA2LU, ON4LI and G4OBK. My antenna was an LNR Trail Friendly 40-20-10 EFHW strung over as high a limb as my pole could reach and then to my carbon fiber fishing pole and down to the rig, an inverted L configuration. the antenna tuned great on the WARC bands. Fred and I employed a strategy that maximized available bands. I started on 12m and worked my way down to 20m while Fred started on 20m and move down to 30m and 40m. So as a team we made the summit available in several bands. I made 20 QSO's; 11 on 12m, 3 on 17m, 5 on 20m and 1 on 30m. I did have a couple of S2S's, one with N6JZT and another with N7CW, both with huge signals. Thanks guys.

The Glorieta Mesa expedition was executed in a very similar manner, same radio, same antenna configuration, except this time I made 25 QSO's on the following bands; 10 on 12m, 5 on 15m, 2 on 17m and 8 on 20m. The only DX was DJ5AV on 15m.

It was a good day, 45 QSO's, two nice hikes and 20 SOTA points.


Fred was unable to go on Saturday, so my buddy Jeff from Red River, NM was visiting, so he set out with me for the days activities. Again, there were two summits on the agenda, Peak 8409, W5N/PW-027 and Peak 9420, W5N/PW-020.

Peak 8409 is a relatively easy summit, with only about a 75 vertical feet ascent required to get into the activation zone. I used an AlexLoop on this summit as I wanted to get set up quickly. Propagation must have been in the process of warming up. I only made 9 QSO's 8 on 12 meters and 1 on 30 meters. The stations I heard were loud, but there weren't many of them. I never was spotted on RBN. I tried to self spot on SMS but put a slant bar in the summit reference which is the incorrect format. I didn't figure this out until later. So,  I had to pack up to make the scheduled time on Peak 9420, so Jeff and I made our way down the hill to the car and were on the way to the next summit.

Peak 9420 is an excellent SOTA Summit. It climbs 800 feet over a distance of about one mile, which is relatively steep, but the hike is only a mile  to the summit and it has a nice trail with lots of switchbacks to take some of the sting out of the hill. I'm in relatively good shape and it took me 23 minutes to get to the top. The weather was cooler and the wind was blowing at a stiff clip. There was some snow on the ground at the top, but not too much. It was too windy right on top, so I moved down a little to get out of the wind. I used my FT-817 with the Elecraft T1 tuner and the EFHW. I netted 31 QSO's , 11 on 12m,  9 on 20m and 11 30m. During my run on 30m, I heard a faint but copiable signal and a slow but sure fist calling. It is K7NIT, Rachel, calling for an S2S, followed soon thereafter by K7ATN. Thanks guys. Another fun thing happened, after my first run on 12 meters I didn't work either W4DOW or AE4FZ both of which are well up the standings on the 12 meter challenge. I worked AE4FZ on 20m so I knew he was out there. So after the pile-ups died down I went back to 12m and threw out the bait. Like two big trout after a fly, very quickly after calling CQ I worked both W4DOW and AE4FZ. I knew then it was okay to QRT.

AD5A coming up the trail to 9420
Operating from 9420, out of the wind

For the day, 40 QSO's and 22 SOTA points (including bonus points)


Day 3 would require a little driving. I was headed to Sandia Crest, W5N/SI-001. Sandi Crest is dominant peak in Albuquerque, NM. My XYL accompanied me on this trip. It is a drive up to the summit which sits at ~10,600 feet. We also wanted make the drive on HWY 14 out of Santa Fe which is a beautiful drive. In addition to the views it goes through Madrid which is where much of the Tim Allen film, "Wild Hogs" was filmed. Its a very cool little town. We didn't have time to stop, but will make a special trip next time.

At the summit it was cold. In the 30's and very windy. I would have to find a spot out of the wind. Because of the cold my wife decided to sit this one out, in the gift shop. Now this was probably a mistake on my part, because when I was done with the activation she had found several nice things to put in our house. Another way of looking at this is that it's a small price to pay for a SOTA pass:-).

I hiked about a quarter of a mile south of the summit structures and found a place where I could sit on a log, out of the snow, be sheltered from the wind but yet give my antenna a good look at the world. The picture below is what I found. The log in the foreground was where I sat and the Alexloop, with the tripod anchored in the snow, has a nice look over the snow bank. I again used the 817.

Operating Position on Sandia Peak
Propagation was very good as I had 35 QSO's. I surprisingly found an open spot on 20m despite the contest that was going on and started there. I made 23 QSO's on 20 meters and then move to 12m, where I had 7 QSO's including contacts with DJ5AV and EA2LU. I finished out on 30m with 5 more contacts. When the CQ's produced no more results I packed up and headed back to the warm gift shop and my awaiting bill. But no worries, it was a fun trip. I was happy, my wife was happy and we had a nice day in the mountains.
This was a very nice SOTA trip. For a winter weekend in New Mexico, the weather was exceptional. I activated 5 Summits, made 120 QSO's and netted 55 Activator points. I'm just a little closer to that piece of glass.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Upgrading My FT-817

The FT-817 is a great little radio. It has been around for 15 years and was the first QRP radio, that I'm aware of, that was designed for backpacking and covered 160m through 70cm. It is housed in a rugged package that is efficient, and is relatively easy to pack. The radio sells for ~ $660 and is a great value for the money. It has been the undisputed leader of it's class until the entry of the Elecraft KX3 came to market. The KX3 is a fine radio that clearly has more bells and whistles than the FT-817 although it is doesn't cover 2m and 70cm in its base model.

I have both radios but favor the FT-817 for SOTA expeditions when I choose to carry an all band radio. (I usually carry CW only radio that is much lighter, but carry the FT-817 on some trips). Clearly the out of the box filtering is better on the KX3, but so is the price. You can buy two 817's for the price of a KX3. However that said, I set out to modify my 817 to see if I could close the gap between the two. So I added the W4RT On Board Filter ($284) with both SSB and CW (300Hz) filters. I also added the BHI DSP filter ($169). These prices include installation by W4RT, if you do it yourself you can save a few bucks. These modifications, in my opinion help to close the gaps between the two radios considerably.

Below are some very basic, unscientific, comparisons of the two radios on SSB and CW.

CW Comparison

SSB Comparison

As you heard in the videos the differences boil down to a matter of taste. I think the 817, with the 300Hz filter comes very close if not better than the KX3 on CW, on SSB the KX3 has the advantage but the DSP does clean up the noise and the SSB filter does sharpen the 817 audio considerably. I favor 817 for outdoor work and the KX3 for the in-shack QRP radio.

In future blogs I will discuss a couple cool additions to the 817.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

FT5ZM with QRP

All major expeditions are chaotic in the first days. Panic sets in as days go by and contacts aren't made, logs aren't posted, propagation doesn't cooperate and on and on. It is a very predictable pattern. However there is also a predictable pattern in the last days of  a major expedition and that's comments on the reflector of, "finally made it", "on 14.023 begging", "working simplex", " worked with a wire", "worked first call", "worked mobile!!!" and finally, "worked QRP". An so that time has arrived for the FT5ZM expedition.

I can't say enough about the quality of this team and their operating plan. Amsterdam is antipodal to my QTH and yet these guys have been workable on most bands, I have worked them on six bands using my battleship sized station and yes, I worked them yesterday QRP with my FT-817 on 20m. Over 2,000 miles per watt! It's ironic, but there is power in QRP. There was a small pile-up, relatively speaking, covering 2-3 KC's but my 5 watt signal travelled almost exactly half way around to the world to be copied by a station almost 12,000 miles away. Very cool.

The QRP contact was the first good news of the day, the second was a bonus. The common grayline/shared darkness with FT5 and my QTH in W5 is about 30 minutes. Yesterday around 0028z, with still some faint sunlight, the FT5ZM signal came out of the mud on 3.523 listening up 2. I use only an inverted L on 80m at about 55 feet at its apex, so we aren't talking about a superior antenna. Their signal was in the 339 - 449 range. Very light copy, but solid. I was excited just to copy them. I am usually confident when I jump in a pile-up, but not this one, figuring the east coast would drown me out. However on about the fourth call I could hear faintly but solidly, AD5A 599, I went back, de AD5A 599 599 bk.......AD5A 599 599. Oh no, he didn't hear me come AD5A 599 599 599 bk.......AD5A 599 TU UP.....Yesssss! An unexpected bonus and a short victory dance and another short one when the QSO was verified in the online log today.

 There are so many ways to enjoy radio and yesterday was another fun day in this wonderful hobby of ours.