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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Smoky Mountain SOTA Adventure

I've documented in this space before what I love about the Summits on the Air program. I love the mountains, the views, the exercise, the fresh air, the sense of accomplishment and the planning and executing of a successful radio operation. All of those elements came into play these past few days as I took a quick trip to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.

The bulk of the trip was spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a target rich environment from a SOTA perspective. The drive along the Parkway is beautiful all by itself, especially this time of year with the leaves starting to change. The Parkway is a winding road, with a speed limit of 45 mph, but because of the scenery you are tempted to drive slower. I highly recommend it.



From a SOTA perspective I wanted to activate as many summits as I could in a 2 1/2 time frame. I had been wanting to do this trip for over a year and finally found a hole in my schedule and some decent weather to make the trip happen. I wanted to activate summits in both Tennessee and North Carolina as these would be new SOTA Associations for me to activate. I had some frequent flyer miles on Delta Airlines that needed to be used so we flew into Knoxville, TN. The Smoky Mountains are just a short drive south from there.

I was able to activate eight summits, seven of which were 10 pointers with the other being an 8 pointer. In order of activation they were:
Greentop                                   W4T/SU-076
Clingmans Dome                      W4C/WM-001
Bunches Bald,                           W4C/WM-013
Waterrock Knob,                       W4C/WM-004
Black Balsam Knob                   W4C/CM-005
Mount Pisgah                             W4C/CM-011
Mount Mitchell                          W4C/CM-001
Richland Balsam                        W4C/WM-003

My XYL accompanied my on this trip. She is in great shape and is very helpful setting up and tearing down. Because she was with me and could carry the Alex Loop, my station consisted of Yaesu FT-817 with the 3000 MAh rechargeable battery, Pico Paddle and Alex Loop. The Alex Loop is easier to manage on crowded summits and worked well.

My operating strategy was simple, start on 20m and run the pile-up until I get several unanswered CQ's, move to 40m and get the local guys and then go to 15m to look for some DX. I had some decent DX on 15m. My typical activation takes around 25 - 30 minutes. Since these activations were during the week, I figured QSO counts would be down, however I would say they were better than I expected with 130 QSO's over 8 activations.

Greentop Mountain W4T/SU-076

This is a drive-up summit with radio towers on the top. I didn't have any trouble with RF in the radio however and had a nice activation, 16 QSOs including CU3AA and OE8SPW.

Greentop Mountain


Clingmans Dome W4C/WM-001

Clingman's Dome is a tourist attraction. While it is mostly a drive up, there is about a 1/2 mile hike to the top. Walking past all of the out of shape tourists, I felt rather fit. The trick for the operation is to avoid the crowds. I went to the left of the observation deck and down a path to a clearing next to a air monitoring station and some solar panels. Nice and quiet, away from the crowds and as you can see below, a very nice operating position. 14 QSO's from here.

Operating Position at Clingman's Dome

Bunches Bald W4C/WM-013

As much as Clingman's Dome is a tourist attraction, Bunches Bald is not. It's off the beaten path on the backside of a campground. Got to SotaWatch for more details, but at the back of campsite #14 there is a faint trail to the summit. The hike is probably less that a 1/4 of a mile, but it is through some fairly dense woods/undergrowth, however the trail makes it easier. The summit is very small, so I wouldn't count on two different stations if you do it with someone. I made 27 QSO's from here including EA2LU and F5UBH.
Benchmark on Bunches Bald
Operating from Bunches Bald






















Waterrock Knob W4C/WM-004

Waterrock Knob has a visitor center, toilets and a nice trail to the summit. While the trail is nice its a challenging little hike, not too long, but steep in places. Wonderful views from here. 16 QSO's from here including EA2LU, EA2IF and CU3AA.

View from Waterrock Knob

This finished off the first day. As you can see from the pictures, the weather was glorious and the scenery fantastic. The XYL and I finished off the with a nice pizza pie.


Black Balsam Knob W4C/CM-005

This is a unique summit for the area in that there are no trees on top. I'm sure there is some reasonable explanation but I didn't talk to anyone who knew. I would have guessed that this summit would have "bald" in the name since it has no trees, however, it's a "knob". Bunches Bald, is anything but bald as it has lots of trees and undergrowth on the summit. Go figure. From the trailhead this is probably a 2 mile roundtrip but not a bad hike at all. Because there are no trees on the summit you can see for miles and miles. Beautiful!! 22 QSO's from here including EA2LU and DJ5AV.

Operating from Black Balsam Knob

Mt. Pisgah W4C/CM-011

This is a classic hike in the region. It's 3 miles round trip and gains 750 vertical feet, however the first third of a mile is relatively flat, so most of the vertical gain comes over the last mile. The trail is well shaded, but the trail is rock laden, be sure to wear supportive shoes. Pisgah is a summit that will, at most any given time, have 5 -10 people on top. There is an observation deck, however, based on N1EU's recommendation, I crossed under the tower and operated from the other side of the tower opposite the observation deck. I made 15 QSO's from here including a couple of EA's.


Operating from Mt. Pisgah
My XYL Cris on the trail to Mt. Pisgah





















Mt Mitchell W4C/CM-001

Mt. Mitchell is located in Mt. Mitchell State Park. The mountain is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. There is a nice road to just below the summit, which is just a short walk away. This is another summit with an observation deck and as before I walked to opposite side of the summit from the deck. I found a nice flat rock to operate from. I made 16 QSO's from here including CU3AA.
Mt. Mitchel Benchmark
Operating from Mt. Mitchell

Mt. Mitchell Summit
Mt. Mitchell finished the second day. We were tired and had dinner at the restaurant just down from the summit. The restaurant food was delicious and the views incredible.
Friday morning, the third day of the trip was forecast for 80% chance of rain. I had a plan to do Richland Balsam if I could get there before the rain did.
Richland Balsam W4C/WM-003
Visibility on the Blue Ridge Parkway was near zero in places and a rain storm was approaching from the west. I was racing the weather to get this one in before it got too bad. It took a little time to find the trail head because of the fog, but we finally found it. The trail is probably .6 miles one way through some dense forest.  We arrived at the summit with only the wind and foggy mist to deal with, but after the first QSO, the rain started. My XYL, what a trooper she is, was holding the umbrella while I hastily tried to qualify the activation. So I was sitting in the rain after 3 QSO's in log, N7UN, NE4TN and W2CKL. It was around 1245z, a little early for the chasers in the west and this was a work day as well. I called CQ for what seemed like an eternity trying to get that 4th QSO. I switched to 40m from 20m, called a couple of CQ's and then the golden answer, de N4EX. Hallelujah!! Another quick QSO with N4MJ and I QRT'ed as the rain intensified. We packed up and happily, at least me, headed down the mountain in the rain.
Operating from Richland Balsam just before a rain
Departing Richland Balsam in the rain
What a great trip, lots of SOTA points and lots of beautiful scenery and even some adventure.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Miscelleneous

It's been over a month since my last post. The day job, busy weekends and yes even a little radio have kept me occupied. I won't bore you with the non radio stuff, but I'll try to hit the highlights of the last few weeks.

SOTA

I've been on a couple of SOTA excursions. The first was mid-August to the Davis Mountains in West Texas. If you have never been there, it is an oasis in the middle of a desert. With mountain elevations in the 6 -7,000 ft. ASL, the climate is much closer to a summer alpine climate than a desert climate. Afternoon showers keep the entire area lush and green. I partnered with Mike,  KD5KC on this trip and did three summits, Pine Peak W5T/DW-003, Summit 6641, W5T/DW-018 and Locke Mount, W5T/DE-003. Locke Mount is the home of the McDonald Observatory.

Pine Peak was a first activation for that summit. It is located within the Nature Conservancy boundary, It is open to the public a couple of weekends a year, so we made sure to be there that weekend. It is a pure bushwhack with no trails to the top, so we had fun making a path.

AD5A on Pine Peak Ascent
 
 
Over the Labor Day Weekend I was able to do three summits in New Mexico. I didn't take any pictures, but had a great time with Alan NM5S activating Cerro Vista, W5N/SS-010, and Cuchillo De Fernando, W5N/SS-013. My daughter-in-Law, Kat, wanted to do a hike, so she accompanied me on an ascent of Summit 9700, W5N/PW-018.
 
I've now crossed the 600 point threshold on my way to the 1,000 points required to earn the Mountain Goat award from SOTA.
 
 
New Radio
 
I bought a used X1M Platinum, the 5 band QRP rig from China. I will need to play with it a little more, but so far I'm impressed. For the price, it's a nice rig. I suppose the jury is out on durability, but time will be a good test for that. It's SSB and CW, smaller than the FT-817. It has 80,40,20,15 and 10m bands. However it has the ability to transmit on the other bands, but the filtering would need to be added. I'm sure there are tons of mods for this radio.
 
I will try to catch up over the next few days.
 
 


Friday, August 15, 2014

North America SOTA Activity Weekend, Setptember 13-14


North America SOTA Activity Weekend 2014, September 13ths and 14th, is a casual event involving tiny battery-powered radios on mountain summits.  It i s 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 SOTAWATCH.org 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 twelve-year-old international SOTA group (SOTA.org.UK).  As we learned in past years, this is a barrel of fun for both hill climbers and home operators.  See you then. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rocky Mountain Rendezvous

I was fortunate to attend the SOTA Rocky Mountain Rendezvous that occurred from July 31 - Aug. 3 in Buena Vista, CO. This year's Rendezvous was a no-host affair with informal gathering of SOTA Activators. Participants consisted of  locals, visitors in rented cabins, campers, etc.... It was a great time. The group that I was a part of rented a house about 12 miles outside of Buena Vista and little did we know there were two SOTA peaks within a 5 minute drive to the base of the mountains. Staying in the rented vacation home were Fred KT5X (aka WS0TA), Guy N7UN (ask NS0TA), John K1JD, Doc K7SO, Alan NM5S, Curtis KC5CW, my grandsons Reid KF5GYE and Boogie KF5GYD (both General Class), my XYL Cris KC5HZQ and myself.. Camping, about 5 minutes away at the base of Kaufman Ridge, was Steve, WG0AT along with Acorn and Barley.

We had a Dutch cookout on Friday night which attracted all the finest people including, Bryan N0BCB w/XYL and friends,Walt W0CP w/XYL,  Dave NN5K w/XYL. Seems like some others, but these are who I can remember. We had a great time grilling burgers, steaks, brats, etc... and swapping SOTA stories.

The RMR coincided with the 14er event put together by Bob K0NR, who stopped by the SOTA house on Saturday night along with his XYL Joyce, K0JJW. The event is an annual event (ham14er.org) which encourages hams to actuvate one of the 14,000 ft. summits in Colorado. As a SOTA chaser and activator, it is a cool event with lots of activity on both HF and VHF.

While in Colorado I was able to active 3 Summits, Kaufman Ridge (10,700 ft. ASL) W0C/SP-081, Horseshoe Mountain (13,900 ft. ASL) W0C/SR-064 and Mt. Sherman (14,034 ft. ASL) W0C/SR-061.

My grandsons and I were fortunate to be able to climb Kaufman Ridge with Steve, WG0AT and he two SOTA Goats, Barley and Acorn. We had a great hike and my grandsons loved interfacing with the goats. Steve did a video of our climb and it can be found at the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcWGh7Wl3Gw


                                                               KF5GYE (Reid), Barley and Acorn on Kaufman Ridge



                                                          K1JD and AD5A on Mt.Sherman, 14,034 ft.



                                                             KF5GYD (Boogie) on Horseshoe Mt. (13,900 ft. ASL)



                                                      Panorama from Horseshoe Mt. (13,900)

It was a great trip and something all SOTA activators should consider doing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Solar Superstorm of 2012

As we hams bemoan the fact that sun spots are sparse currently we can't forget the power of the sun. Below is a link to an interesting article, recently published, and  a video on what could have been a disastorous Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) in April of 2012.

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/23jul_superstorm/

It never hurts to have a back-up plan.

Monday, July 21, 2014

After 25 Years

Last February I celebrated 25 years in Amateur Radio. Unlike many who were licensed at a  young age, I didn't get my ticket until I was 32 years old. In fact I recieved my license the same day that my then 12 year old son,Michael received his. We had consecutive calls, KB5ILS and KB5ILT. We subsequently upgraded to extra and received AB5EA and AB5EB. My son kept the later call but I recieved the vanity call AD5A in 1996.

As a teenager my cousin exposed me to shortwave listening. As many of us will say, it was magic to be able to sit in my bedroom and hear signals from around the world. I was mesmerized. I couldn't wait for the mailman each day to see if a QSL card might arrive. However, there were no local hams, learning morse code seemed impossilble, so I never pursued my ham license until years later, when I came across a Gordon West course in the local Radio Shack. The course cover proclaimed that a novice license was good for 10 years and you could talk on 10 meters. I bought the course, my 12 year son listened along as I did, we learned the code together.

So fast forward 25 years, what has changed? I supposed in many ways things have changed a lot. Things like:

- Internet
- Email
- Enhanced Digital Modes
- Online Confirmations
- Equipment functionality

I'm sure I'm missing a few things, but the efficient access to information is much easier now. QSL routes used to be one of the great mysteries of the world, in fact, INDEXA used to have a net on 14.236 that dipensed the lastest QSL route news. Setting schedules required weeks/months of letter writing. Increasing your DXCC count meant turning the dial, find the pile-ups and then back down to figure out the split, find which DX station might be on and then jumping into the fray . Logging was manual and data mining your log for forgotten contacts was a laborious task, but just as rewarding. DXing news came in weekly newletters not daily emails.

But there are some things that haven't changed:

- The concern over how to fund expensive expeditions
- Frequency cops
- QRMer's
- Complaining about the cost of getting a real QSL card
- The thrill of receiving that QSL card
- The excitement of a new one
- The magic of wirelessly communicating around the world
- Dayton, Friedrichshafen, DXCC, IOTA, WABA, etc....

Like some many things, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here is a toast to the next 25 years, God willing.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Who Needs Sunspots

I read that July 18th was the first day without sunspots since sometime in 2012. That's not a good sign for sure. I'm definitely not a solar expert, but I do know that zero sunspots is bad for propagation. That said, last night I worked VK5CZ at 0124z on 15m operating QRP from a summit in Australia.Then this morning I worked GW0PEB/P on 15m from a summit in Wales and a couple minutes later snagged HB9BCB/p on 17m from a summit in Switzerland. Not bad for having a spotless sun. Who needs them anyway?

Just in case, let's hope a few show up:-)