Friday, May 10, 2019

From Sea to Summit on CW

I've now been an Amateur Radio Operator for 30 years. There isn't much about the hobby that I don't like. For me and many in the hobby, radio is magic and however we experience it, by definition makes it magical. However, there are always a few experiences in the hobby that you just have to talk about and I recently had one of those experiences. Did I work my last country, no. Did I win a contest, no. Did I build a complete home-brew station, absolutely not. I suppose I've given it away with the title of this story, but I recently experienced of couple of aspects of the hobby that I enjoy in the same week and I thought it worthy of mention.

I've enjoyed the IOTA program for 25 years. It took me 16 years to get to #1 DXCC, but I'm still working new ones in IOTA. There are 1200+ island groups so it takes a while. I've also enjoyed IOTA Expeditioning over the years including islands in  Australia, Nicaragua, Labrador, Alaska and numerous islands in the Gulf of Mexico. My last expedition was in 2017 and I was getting the itch to go out again.

I live about 3 hours from the Gulf of Mexico and had been thinking about a trip to North Padre Island, (NA-092), on the Texas coast to have a fun couple of days operating portable and enjoying the National Seashore there. I was convinced that while NA-092 was not rare in the states, the RV Ham crowd has satisfied that demand, but that it would be needed in Europe and Asia. To convince myself that I needed to take the radio gear on the trip, I put out a query on the IOTA Chaser reflector to gauge interest. I was a bit surprised at the many long time IOTA Chasers in Europe and Asia who needed it. So, my hunch was confirmed.

So I put my operating plan together. My station would consist of:

K3 Transceiver
KPA500 Amplifier
KAT500 Tuner
30 ft MFJ push up pole
MFJ 2980 Feather Lite Vertical
Begali Stradivarius Paddle

Since Padre Island is a barrier island it is connected to the mainland by a bridge, so no boat necessary on this trip. I have a tear-drop camping trailer that is a king-size bed on wheels with a kitchen in the back which would be sleeping quarters and a 6 person tent which would be the operating HQ. My XYL, Cris, accompanied me on the trip and was gracious enough tolerate my operating. Below is a picture of the operating location.

AD5A/p on North Padre Island
My operating strategy was to focus on European sunrise and Asian sunset on 40m, which means operating through most of the night and early morning. This was also a CW only expedition. CW is my preferred mode by a 9.9 to 1 margin. I brought a nice, heavy, Begali paddle with me so I could feel right at home.

I was very pleased with the results of the operation. I provided a new island to many EU and Asian Chasers and the station performed well. I was very pleased with the performance of the Feather Lite vertical. The antenna has a very small foot print, which in a campground is essential, and I experienced good TX/RX results with it, of course a vertical over salt water works extremely well and this was confirmed once again. During the first Asian sunset, 3:30 am for me, I had to go split for about an hour to handle the pile-up. I finished with 633 QSO's with ~40 countries, 427 of the QSO's were on 40m.

But this is only half the story. We arrived on Padre Island on a Monday afternoon and departed on Wednesday morning.

On Friday, we had to catch a flight to Albuquerque, NM and drive to our second QTH in Santa Fe, NM. One of my favorite things to do in Santa Fe is to do activations for the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. In Santa Fe we have a team we call the Three Amigos, consisting of Fred, KT5X, John, K1JD and myself. We are all Mountain Goats within the SOTA program, (1,000 activation points required) and our likeness was captured by a female artist, the subject of another blog. But here is our portrait, notice the belt buckles if you can see them:

Tres Amigos de SOTA

Upon arrival in Santa Fe, I made contact with John, K1JD (KT5X as out of town) and we decided to activate El Cerro de la Consena or W5N/SI-020 which had an elevation of 6,923 ft. This mountain has lots of loose rock and cactus.

Planning for a SOTA activation is much simpler than an IOTA expedition, but you will need to be self propelled. This hike is ~6.5 mile round-trip. My station consisted of a KX-2, a 3 band trapped EFHW made of 28 ga. wire, an 81 to 1 transformer and a 20 ft. collapsible fiberglass pole. The paddle I use is the Elecraft paddle made for the KX2 I made 28 QSO's on this activation and found these:

Hopi Petroglyphs
The next day I did a solo hike to Peak 9420, at oddly enough, 9,420 ft ASL. This summit is only about a 2 mile round trip, but has a nice operating position on the summit. As you can see from the picture it is within an Alpine region and it is a beautiful hike. I made 38 QSO's from here.

AD5A Shack at 9,420 ft

So in the span of a week I had gone from Sea Level to Mountain Summits operating CW and enjoying the magic of our hobby. There is adventure in ham radio, and many ways to get out and make QSO's. If you can't make QSO's at home, go to where the QSO's are, the seas and summits.

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