Thursday, October 1, 2015

Recent Activations Out West

I've been very busy lately with a variety of seemingly important things and I thought it was about time to write a little. In the past few weeks I've had the rare opportunity, in combination with a couple of business trips to do a few SOTA activations in California and Utah. A few words about those.


I was in Northern California, of all tough places to be, Napa. While having a look at the nearby summits I discovered that all the nearby summits were 1 or 2 pointers. Should be easy right. Well not so much. One of the inequities of SOTA, albeit well understood, is that elevation is the major determinant of point value, not length of climb or difficulty. Although all of that tends to even out over time if you do enough summits. I used my MTR II configured for 17M, 20M and 30M. I brought my LNR Trail friendly 40/20m antenna and a T1 Elecraft Tuner. The tuner failed, so I could only operate on 20m exclusively.

Mt. Diablo

This is a video from Mt. Diablo, W6/CC-045, near Walnut Creek, CA. While only a two pointer it is a substantial mountain rising up from near sea level to 3,800 ft. ASL. It is a drive up, so easy enough from an activation point of view and the views are excellent.
Sulphur Springs Mountain
This summit, W6/NC-406, is accessed through a local golf community named Hidden Brooke. Access is not forbidden and there is a nice trail to the top. The vertical gain is a little over 1,000 ft. over about 1.5 miles and it is a one pointer. Below a  short video from the top.
There is no doubt that you earn the one point. While the hike is not hard, I've had much easier hikes for many more points. Nice views from the top.
Pt. 970
This summit, W6/NC-422, can be done in tandem with Sulphur Springs Mountain, which I did. It is a more substantial hike with a 5.0 mile round trip. Not a difficult hike, it has a nice trail to the summit, but again you earn the one point. I got nice workout and I got to play radio on top.
My activations in Utah were at much higher elevations than the Northern California Coast. The two activations that I did were near Park City which sits around 7,000 ft. ASL. My wife accompanied me on these activations and we had some wonderful weather to hike in.
Scott Hill
The summit, W7U/SL-008, sits at 10,118 ft. ASL and is an 8 pointer. The hike is along nice trail/road. The road is closed to private traffic and on even numbered days the mountain bikers are out in force. However that's not a problem as everyone is courteous and respectful. This would be my 100th unique summit to activate in the SOTA program which is a nice milestone to cross. The hike is a 4 mile round trip and the final ascent to the summit is steep and you will like have to set-up in quite a steep pitch. Views are wonderful.

View from Scott Hill
Scott Hill in the Distance

Quarry Mountain

This summit, W7U/NU-067, is not the most scenic and the trail winds through a lot of scrub brush. There is a little more cover on top and so some shade to set up the station. It is a 2 mile round trip and is a 6 pointer. It was my second activation on a day that netted 14 points. Below is a short video from the summit.

So, my trip out west showed me some more of the variety that makes SOTA such a rewarding and enjoyable pursuit. A few more points and a few more summits and another memorable experience.

Monday, August 10, 2015

How I Worked VY0M From a Tent

In my last post I described my QSO with VK2SSI while experimenting with portable antennas in my backyard. Well the reason I was testing portable configurations is because I needed work Cezar, VY0M, from Melville Island, IOTA NA-248, located in the Canadian arctic.  I knew that the scheduled expedition would occur during the week that I was at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM attending a training class and I would be sleeping in a tent for the week. New IOTA's are getting rare for me, with 1,050+ confirmed so I didn't want to miss this one.

I experimented with multiple antennas as I didn't know what I would be allowed to do at the camp. Would I be allowed to put up an antenna in camp? Would I have to find a remote location somewhere else? How long would my batteries last? So my plan was to try a Buddipole vertical first. It was relatively low profile and wouldn't attract a lot of attention. So I set up the station, in my tent, for a dry run.

As luck would have it, there was a 110v plug in my tent, the power intended to power a light and possibly a fan, so exit the batteries and in with the power supply. I set up the vertical and the antenna worked fine. I was using a Yaesu FT-857, which is a very capable radio, especially for portable use.  With 70 watts I worked into Europe with good reports, so I was thinking that I might just get by with this set-up. However, the first day that VY0M came up, he was on SSB. I never heard a peep from him and decided it was time for plan B.

After erecting the vertical, a few around camp inquired about it and everyone thought the radio set-up was cool, so the next afternoon I decided to put up the bright orange Jacktite, 30 ft.  collapsible pole with an end-fed long wire through a 9 to 1 balun. After I got everything connected, I turned on the radio and tuned the antenna with an LDG tuner. Everything looked good, so I checked the spots on my iPhone and Cezar had just moved to CW. I went to 14.040 and there he was with the fluttery signal common to stations in the far northern latitudes. After two or three calls I had him in the log, Victory dance. All the planning had paid off and I had another IOTA in the log.

What a blast ham radio is. Below is video of the set-up, right after I made the QSO. I didn't have the narrow CW filter on the FT-857, so the stations you hear are actually 1 KC up, but you can still hear Cezar's fluttery signal if you listen closely.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Working VK2SSI From My Backyard

 I've written multiple times in this space about the magic of ham radio. It will always be magic to me.

This past weekend I was testing portable configurations for a trip I will be taking to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico next week. I am the President of the Alamo Area Council of the Boy Scouts and will be going through some training there. So, this trip I will not operating from a summit, but rather I need to work an IOTA Island that I need that will  QRV the week I am there.

I use EFHW's from summits all the time, but at QRP power levels, this time I will be running ~100 watts from a battery, so I thought an on air test would be a good idea. I conduct such tests in my backyard "Outdoor Radio Laboratory". I test portable configurations in an outdoor environment to simulate the conditions I will be operating in. I was running ~100 watts from an old Yaesu FT-100D to the EFHW  on a 30' pole tied off in a tree. I was tuning on 17m and I found and was able to work VK2SSI on OC-194, Solitary Island. So a portable to portable QSO would bode well for the capability of the set up.

Below is a video of the set up.

I think I have more fun in my backyard than in my regular shack.

Friday, July 10, 2015

SOTA Activity Weekend September 12th & 13th

 September 12th & 13th is the annual "Summits-on-the-Air" Activity Weekend

North America SOTA Activity Weekend 2015 is a casual event involving tiny battery-powered radios on mountain summits.  It is not a contest but is intended to introduce "Summits on the Air" to newcomers with home stations who try to work summit operators during one or two days. There are no rules regarding power levels, modes or number of bands worked, but please be courteous when more than one station is trying to talk to a SOTA operator on a summit.  The SOTA operators have just climbed mountains as high as 14,000 feet; they use low power; and they don't receive on split frequencies. 

Check to spot who is on which mountain.  Summits are numbered, and you can hover your cursor over the number to see the name and point value for each summit.  Expect the website to show activity near 7.032, 7.185, 10.110, 14.342, 18.095, 18.155, 21.350, 24.905, 24.955, 28.420, 146.52, 446.00, and 61 Khz up from the bottom of 20, 15 and 10 meters CW.  Participants are invited to collect points toward certificates and trophies offered by the thirteen-year-old international SOTA group (  As we learned in past years, this is a barrel of fun for both hill climbers and home operators.  See you then. 


Thursday, July 9, 2015


I think this video will spark memories of what brought you to ham radio. Click on the link below.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Field Day 2015

ARRL Field Day in an annual operating event designed to demonstrate and practice portable station operation. The Field Day exercise is important in that it shows how radio amateurs can be mobilized in the case of an emergency of any sort. Those involved in the planning of a Field Day understand the detailed planning required to construct, operate and tear-down a quality operating station. There is also the social side of Field Day that is the annual highlight for many clubs, that is a side benefit of the operating activity.

I haven't participated in Field Day for a couple of decades. This year I was invited to participate in the Field Day operation of W5YA. W5YA has won their entered category numerous times and has finished in the top 10 of all Field Day stations multiple times, operating QRP. Their success is directly correlated to meticulous planning and the excellent execution of that plan by the team of KT5X, K1JD, K5KM, NM5S, K7SO, K6XT, W0CCA and WD9FJL. The primary antennas are wire antennas strung in the trees at the Field Day site near Chama, NM.

My role this year was to fill in some shifts at the CW stations but primarily to supervise the operation of the GOTA (Get On The Air) station along with my son, Michael Jr., AB5EB. The GOTA station used my call, AD5A, as the GOTA station must operate under a different callsign than the primary Field Day station. The GOTA operators were my grandsons Reid, KF5GYE, age 14 and Boogie, KF5GYD, age 13. Both have their General tickets, but are not very active, which is a requirement of the GOTA station. My son and I would coach them during the event. Neither of my grandsons do CW, so we would be operating SSB, QRP. Not the easiest of assignments. Operating on a crowded band with beginner level operators is quite a learning experience for all involved. What was slightly frustrating in the first 12 hours was a delight in the last 12. Both boys learned a lot about operating QRP, proper procedures and amateur radio etiquette. In the final hours of the event, no coaching was needed. They  learned to handle both calling CQ and answering stations in a pile-up. Overall a fantastic result, the boys finished with 158 SSB QSO's from the GOTA station using 5 watts from a KX3 and a wire in the trees.

The final tally hasn't been made yet, but the CW station contributed over 1,400 QSO.s with wire antenna's and 5 watts of power. A very cool accomplishment and a testament to what is possible with amateur radio. Teaching us those lessons and getting new hams involved is what Field Day is all about.

We camped in a tent for two nights so I got to enjoy my son and grandsons in a great outdoor radio experience. Below is a video of the two GOTA operators. KF5GYD is operating and KF5GYE is cooking. The video should give you a flavor of Field Day.


Monday, May 18, 2015

SOTA Mountain Goat Trophy Arrives

My engraved SOTA Mountain Goat trophy finally arrived. It took 118 summit activations to earn this little piece of glass making it priceless, to me at least.

My Ph.D. in Portable Mountain Ops
No two trophies are alike, each is hand chiseled. Pretty cool!!