Tag Archives: 2m

Upcoming SOTA Activation(s) – Methodist Hill North and Snowy Mountain

Updated: 2017-12-20 @ 0315Z – Not doing Long Mountain, adding Snowy Mountain.


SOTA LogoLooking at taking a few days and going hiking up in Pennsylvania this upcoming weekend.  I have at least two summits in my sights: W3/PD-006 and W3/PD-013 W3/PD-007 that I’d like to activate for Summits on the Air (SOTA).

Methodist Hill North – W3/PD-006

The first, Methodist Hill North (W3/PD-006), appears to be a drive-up summit but I’m hoping to take advantage of some quiet and hike in the 4.57 miles from the parking area at Shippensburg Road along the Appalachian Trail.  The terrain doesn’t look too bad: up 700 feet, down 643 feet (gross).

Trail profile along to W3/PD-006

Trail profile along to W3/PD-006

Long Mountain – W3/PD-013

The second, Long Mountain (W3/PD-013), has never been activated before and I’m not sure if that’s because it’s such a low point summit (2 points) or if there are access restrictions.  Either way, I’ll find out as it appears to be an easy drive up to the summit along a roadway that has houses along side it.

Snowy Mountain – W3/PD-007

A little further away from base camp than I would have liked but the Long Mountain summit doesn’t look like it’s going to work out.  The SOTA community in the W3 area suggested that I try Snowy Mountain so I’m putting it on the list.

Other summits?

There is a very slim chance I may try to activate another summit during this trip but I’ll have to see what the family is up to doing first.

The Gear

This will be my first activation using my Elecraft KX3.  My CW is rusty (it down right sucks, really), and SSB isn’t going to be fantastic, so I hope to make up for my lacking in both of these areas by offering up PSK-31 directly from the rig.  I’ve done this a little bit, and have been somewhat successful, but have never tried this in the field so if you hear me please give me a little latitude when trying to make a contact.

I’ll be using my SOTABEAMS Bandspringer Midi antenna which is supposed to be good 10m through 60m.  This antenna has worked really well with my Elecraft K1 (40m-17m) and I can hardly wait to see (hear) what it will do on the KX3.

The Operations Plan

Still working out the exact timing; I’m hoping to be on the summit early afternoon on Saturday, 23 December 2017.  As soon as I get the antenna up in the air I’ll start on 60m and try to work CW, then PSK-31, then voice.  I’ll repeat this pattern on every band, through 10m, I can tune up on until I get tired or run out of time.  I will also be monitoring 146.535MHz FM on my HT along with chirping on APRS (WG3K-7).  I’ve heard I won’t have cellular coverage at the summit so I’m hoping to have APRS coverage so I can self spot when I get started.

That’s the plan as of now.  I’ll update this if there are any changes before heading up (if I can).  73!

Apple Orchard Mountain in July 2017

Success! That’s the word I’m using to describe my latest battle up a summit. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t without some failure, but I’m willing to give this trip a grade of B. Luckily I had some help…

Stats

  • When: 2017-07-15 from 14:00Z to 20:00Z
  • Where: Apple Orchard Mountain – W4V/RA-001
  • Who: Dave KB3RAN, Ed KC3EN, Steve N3IPN, and myself
  • Ascent: 280ft in .58mi (3928ft to 4208ft)
  • Equipment: Lots (See below)
  • APRS Coverage: Excellent with nearby I-Gate
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Poor.  Could receive text messages and voicemail notifications but couldn’t make calls or send messages.  Seemed common among all carriers.  There is one spot at the northwest corner of the FAA fence that seems to get okay coverage that may work.

Getting There and Staying There

Picture of Ed KC3EN, Steve N3IPN, and Eric WG3K.

Ed KC3EN, Steve N3IPN, and Eric WG3K. – Photo by Dave KB3RAN.

This is a fun event made even more enjoyable by the addition of a few friends. This year, like last year, I was joined by Dave KB3RAN and Steve N3IPN. A new member of the group, Ed KC3EN, also joined us this year, and I hope will continue to be part of the team.

Since we’re so far away (about a 5 hour drive) we camped at the Peaks of the Otter Campground, the night before, which is a few miles south of Apple Orchard Mountain.  The campground is nice and wasn’t crowded.  We were able to get two sites that were adjacent allowing us to put up two tents and have the RV all together.

Steve, and his excellent fire-building skills, had a roaring fire going in no time, and pork chops were our first meal of the trip.

Overnight rain kept me in a tent and out of my hammock that I’ve been sleeping in as of late, so that was kind of a bummer.  At least we missed the torrential rainfall that hit the area earlier in the day.

Up the mountain we go

Ed, Eric, and Steve arriving at the summit with wagon #2 loaded with radio equipment.

Final push for wagon #2 as we arrive at the summit. – Photo by Dave KB3RAN

I don’t think I touched on this subject last year, probably because I was still sore (physically and emotionally) about the situation.  For this year’s readers I’ll do a recap.

Last year was our first year supporting the APRS Golden Packet event.  It was also our first time ever going atop Apple Orchard Mountain.  While we had looked at maps and measured distances and altitude changes we really hadn’t grasped the energy it would take to get two overloaded wagons up the mountain.  For the record, the distance up the road is .6 mi and the elevation change is just over 300 feet.  But last year the two wagons of gear were likely weighing in excess of 2 tons each (metric, imperial, royal… your pick).

This year we scaled back enormously.  Batteries and antenna masts were reduced and lightened.  Radio and antennas were lessened.  Oh, and we added another mule to the team (thanks Ed!).  This year we made it up to the summit much faster than last year.

The Primary Mission

Image of Eric WG3K setting up the APRS digipeater on a boulder.

Eric WG3K setting up the APRS digipeater. – Photo by Dave KB3RAN

The primary mission of this trip was to activate an APRS digipeater on Apple Orchard Mountain in support of the APRS Golden Packet event. The event takes place annually and takes fifteen teams from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdyn in Maine to build and maintain a network of VHF digipeaters so that a golden packet may be passed from Georgia to Maine and back.

Last year we completed our portion of the mission but there were problems along the link (equipment and personnel) that caused a failure.  What parts we did get active worked well and we tested both 1200 and 9600 baud links.

This year we decided to do only 9600 baud links.  Unfortunately I didn’t realize that the link between us (AOMTN-5) and Hawksbill (HAWKBL-6) is quite fragile and a change in antenna made the path between us unusable for 9600 baud.  Even 2m FM voice was tough going.  Fortunately 1200 baud packet was able to get through, and everyone switching to 1200 baud allowed the entire network to connect and function.  It wasn’t too long after everyone switched to 1200 baud that news went out that the Golden Packet had been passed from Maine to Georgia and back so we were successful!  Mission complete.

Hind sight

In hind sight I should have probably walked our antenna around a bit to see if I could have found a better location while I had Hawksbill on VHF voice.  Next year I want to bring a 2m/70cm yagi to direct my power to where I want it to go instead of just having it fly all over the place.

I’m also hoping to venture back out to Apple Orchard Mountain, before next July, and test comms with Hawksbill if I can get time and another team on the distant end.

Other Activities (SOTA)

Image of the SOTA flag flying from an antenna mast.It’s a haul to get up to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. At least the road is paved, though. Of course we’re not going to go up there with only a TM-D700 and call it a day; no, we brought stuff! I believe there were five HF/VHF+ transceivers that made the trip with several antennas, batteries, poles, tents, and other accouterments. Like last year, we also decided to activate the summit for SOTA!

We were much more successful this year than last. We did have some failures, but overall I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Last year Dave had issues with his portable HF digital station but had this to say this year:

I had 15 contacts, 13 states, have 4 eQsl confirmations already and maybe picked up VT as my 49th state. Dang, could have had DE and had a WAS but couldn’t hear Bob Balint [KF3AA].

Steve also had problems last year but was busy scratching contacts onto his log while working a pile-up on 40m. He wanted to work 2m SSB but heard no one, which is unfortunate.

Image of Steve N3IPN with his 2m loop antenna in the air.

Steve N3IPN with his 2m loop antenna.

I, too, tried listening on the lower portion of 2m and didn’t hear squat which I found amazing from ~4200 feet. No beacons or chit chat of any kind. What was worse was the neighborhood RF seemed to be overloading the front end of my K1 making my Plan A QRP station completely inoperable. Thankfully I was able to borrow a 40m dipole for a few minutes and put a few contacts in the log using my FT-857D.

I was actually talking with W2SE on 40m when I had a duh moment and grabbed the microphone on the D700 and called Comers Mountain and worked their crew for summit-to-summit (S2S) credit. Hawksbill had already closed down so I missed my opportunity there, unfortunately. In the end I managed 10 SOTA contacts which isn’t too shabby.

What worked well

APRS worked really well from up on the summit.  There was plenty of digipeater coverage below and that allowed us to send spots and communicate with others well.

Dave KB3RAN sitting on a up-turned milk crate working PSK31 using a tablet.

Dave KB3RAN sitting on a up-turned milk crate working PSK31 using a tablet.

APRS2SOTA worked spectacularly!  Being able to let the chasers know what frequencies were were operating on in real time via RF was priceless.  It’s easy to use, and I was able to interact with the service using only my D72 portable radio.

PSK31.  Dave left his tablet and phone home last year but was ready this year and boy did he put some contacts in the log.  Of course you never really knew when he was working stations or just goofing off because he was always just sitting on the up-turned milk crate with the tablet in his hand looking around and chatting.

LifePo4 batteries. I purchased one of these batteries days before the expedition so I hadn’t had a chance to do anything except rig it with Anderson Power Poles and charge it up.  Turns out, the battery lasted for around five or so hours being hooked to the D700 being run on high power for the digipeater, high power on UHF for coordination with Comers, and on the FT-857D running 25-watts on HF.  When it stopped working (and boy did it stop) the voltage was a little over 8V.  It had recovered a bit by the time I had gotten home but I’ll call it a good day.

What didn’t work well

K1.  The K1’s front end seemed to be overloaded from the high-RF environment that is Apple Orchard Mountain.  Unfortunately, I had planned on this being my primary operating radio and so the antenna I had brought was specifically for this transceiver.

Cellular phones. Up on top of the summit there is either too much competition for cellular signals or weird multipath happening.  Sitting in one spot I could watch my phone go from no signal to get a 3G signal to a 4G signal to nothing all within the time-span of a minute or two.  Walking to one specific location on the summit would yield a usable signal for text messaging and maybe a phone call where the rest of the summit was useless.  This problem seemed to be common to all carriers.

2m weak signal. Not sure what was going on as last year that’s pretty much all I worked.

Ideas for next year

I’ve got a couple of ideas for next year including a better antenna to point at Hawksbill.

One thought is to attempt a microwave link to Comers (2.4GHz, 3GHz, or 5GHz).  We’ll have to coordinate some on this one.

Speaking of coordinating, others were apparently active on HF from their summits.  It would have been nice to know what summits were active and coordinate with them (maybe using our freshly-built APRS network) to make some SOTA contacts.

Anyway, I’m excited about what 2018 will bring.

Heading up to Apple Orchard Mountain this weekend.

Like last year, I’ll be heading over to Apple Orchard Mountain to support the annual APRS Golden Packet Event.  My friends Dave KB3RAN and Steve N3IPN are once again part of the team with the addition of Ed KC3EN joining us for the long slog up the mountain.

In addition to operating APRS, we’ll also be active on HF and VHF+.  You can watch for spots from us on the SOTAwatch2 site.

Changes from last year

Last year we didn’t quite know what to expect; we ended up bringing way too much stuff and it was all way too heavy.  This year weight is a primary concern and we don’t plan on making the same mistake again.

My friendly postal carrier dropped off a box just yesterday which contained the new heart of my station.  I’ve heard good things about these new LifePO batteries so I figured I’d get one to try it out for myself.  So far I’m impressed.  I’ve not really put it under a load test, yet, but if it really gives me the watt-hours that it says it will at ~3 lbs, I’ll be ecstatic!

Another change is that I’ll be bringing my Elecraft K1 with SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi antenna.  This is an extremely lightweight HF setup and has proven itself to work quite well (you can read about my adventure activating Emmaville Mountain North up in Pennsylvania with this setup).

Listen for us!

We’ll be on the air from the summit starting Saturday, 15 July 2017, morning (likely around 1400Z) and will stay on the air until early to mid afternoon.  I’ll be chirping on APRS (WG3K-7) if you need to get a message to me while we’re up on mountain!

73!

Activating Apple Orchard Mountain (W4V/RA-001)

On Saturday, 16 July 2016, Dave KB3RAN, Steve N3IPN, and I hiked up Apple Orchard Mountain (SOTA W4V/RA-001) to activate it for the Appalachian Trail Golden Packet event.  While we were there we took advantage of the altitude and activated the summit for Summits on the Air (SOTA), National Parks on the Air (NPOTA), and the CQ WW VHF Contest.

Getting to the summit

Steve N3IPN and Eric WG3K hauling their gear.

Steve N3IPN and Eric WG3K hauling their gear.  Photo by Dave Hardy KB3RAN

Wow, getting to the top isn’t easy.  First we took way too much stuff.  We were, however, prepared for most anything.  Suffice it to say we’ll be better prepared for hiking and less prepared for anything next time we activate a summit.

We were originally hoping that one of the existing tenants on the mountain could have allowed us access by vehicle to the top but everyone was otherwise engaged and so we were left to drag everything up the service road to the top on foot.

The service road is a nice, paved road of approximately six-tenths of a mile in length.  It is grueling carrying a bunch of stuff to the top, however, and it took us around 45 minutes to traverse the distance hauling our wagons.

Convenient vehicle parking is available just north of the service road along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Setting up the gear

Eric gets the APRS digipeater on the air.

Eric gets the APRS digipeater on the air. Photo by Steve Hempling N3IPN

Our first priority was setting up the APRS digipeater for the AT Golden Packet event (as AOMTN-5).  We were running late so we wasted no time putting the antenna up ~12 feet in the air and powering on the radio.  We were rewarded by hearing packets coming through from both Northern Virginia to our north and Comers Rock to our south.

Because we had setup the station quickly we didn’t get an opportunity to look around and determine if there was a better location for our station.  Turns out we were close to the summit but needed to continue a few hundred yards further to reach it.  After catching our breath and regaining a little strength we picked up the APRS digipeater, feedline, and antenna and moved it to the summit.  I don’t think the performance of our setup improved but the views certainly did!

Panaramic shot towards the northwest from Apple Orchard summit.

Panoramic shot towards the northwest from Apple Orchard summit.  Antennas are up and rain is approaching!  Photo by Eric Christensen WG3K

There isn’t much shade on the summit so it’s important to either bring some sort of shelter or move off the summit a bit.  Just to the north is a rock pile with several trees growing that could offer some shelter if needed.

Other users of the summit

There is no shortage of antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain.  As this is the highest summit in the area, at 4215 feet, so many people want their radio systems up there.

Many antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain

Some of the antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain.  Photo by Eric Christensen WG3K

One user of concern for SOTA activators is the WA1ZMS 2m beacon on 144.285MHz.  Due to the proximity of this auxiliary station the weak-signal portion of the 2m band is likely unusable.  We were lucky that WA1ZMS was able to turn off the beacon for the AT Golden Packet event since the frequency used was close to the beacon’s frequency.

Contacts

AT Golden Packet Event

The mission was to link up the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Using fifteen digipeaters, we pass messages along the Trail to prove that we can setup an ad-hoc network on short notice.  We were successful in seeing sites 3 through 12 this year.  We also tested 9600 baud which also worked well.  Simplex voice communications were used to help coordinate the event on UHF.

SOTA/NPOTA/CQ WW VHF

We also activated for SOTA, NPOTA, and CQ WW VHF Contest.  Conditions weren’t great and most of my contacts on 6m and 2m were limited to a few grid squares around.  I did manage one contact out to the Midwest but most of my contacts were very much local.

It was fun giving out W4V/RA-001 for SOTA and TR01 for NPOTA.  I also worked a station that had 432MHz capabilities even though it wasn’t for the contest; I’m all about putting the contacts in the log.

The antennas used were a Buddipole 2-element 6m yagi and horizontal loops for 2m and 70cm.  The radio was a Yaesu FT-857D.

Contact Summary

  • Six Meters – 10 Contacts
  • Two Meters – 9 Contacts
  • 70 Centimeters – 1 Contact
  • Voice – 18 Contacts
  • CW – 2 Contacts

Other missions

Another mission that I was successful in was updating OpenStreetMap data for the area.  Updating this information will hopefully provide others wishing to activate the summit with better cartographic information.


View Larger Map

Summary

I haven’t talked about Dave and Steve’s attempts at activating the summit.  In spite of good radios and antennas the contact count wasn’t great.  Part of the problem was that we didn’t have any way of self-spotting on the SOTAwatch2 site meaning that their QRP signals just couldn’t be found easily.  Hopefully we won’t have this problem next time.

Operating Portable from Apple Orchard Mountain

During the weekend of July 16th I plan on being atop Apple Orchard Mountain, in Virginia, operating in the AT Golden Packet event as well as doing some VHF+ work while I’m there.  I’ll be accompanied by Dave, KB3RAN, and Steve, N3IPN, who are planning to operate QRP HF voice and digital.  This should be a fun adventure…

Supported Events

Expected Operating Frequencies

AT Golden Packet

  • 144.340MHz – AT APRS
  • 444.925MHz – Coordination
  • 144.390MHz – US APRS

General Operating

  • 50.185MHz USB +/- or 50.096MHz CW +/-
  • 144.285MHz USB +/- or 144.060MHz CW +/-
  • 432.100MHz and up
  • 14.060MHz PSK? +/- (KB3RAN)
  • Another HF frequency (N3IPN)
  • 144.390MHz – APRS (WG3K or WG3K-6 and/or WG3K-7)

 

The oddest thing happened today… Analysis of an APRS replay "attack"

The other day a fellow amateur radio operator, WJ3K, caught me on the Annapolis repeater and asked me whether I was seeing odd things happening on the APRS network.  Specifically, whether or not I was seeing station tracks getting bounced around as if an old packet had been injected into the network out of sync with the rest.  As soon as he said it I knew exactly what he was talking about.  Not only had I seen such things in recent days but I remember the Mic-E packet expansion “attack” from over a decade ago (sorry, can’t find the discussion that was held on the APRSSIG mailing list).

Anyway, I had some time to look at some recent packets and realized that something very odd was happening.  I was seeing packets from my HT (WG3K-7) coming through a digipeater across the Bay when the HT was safely off and sitting next to me.  I turned up the volume on the transceiver hosting APRS and was very surprised to hear two things: 1) packets being received but not being passed to my client and 2) packets received at my client that I hadn’t heard come across the radio!  It would seem that the problem plaguing the local network was my problem!  For some reason, my TNC was caching the packets and then, after several minutes was releasing them to my client who had no choice but to accept them with the thought they were real-time and send them to the APRS-IS.

The culprit seems to be a SCS PTC-IIusb modem in KISS mode.  Still investigating why it’s happening and I’ll update this article when I can.

More tropo ducting today

This morning around 9AM I got mixed up with a crowd on 144 MHz.  Since I’m the new guy I ended up with a pileup on my hands!  I picked up KA3QWO, KG4KWW, K1PXE, WB2SIH, K3GNC, WV2H, N2FKF, W1AN, and WB2QEG in very quick succession.  We then ventured up to 23cm (1296 MHz) and I worked W1AN, WB2SIH, K1PXE, and K3GNC (most with armchair copy).  I ended the morning’s tropo opening with a contact with AC2BL on 2m (144 MHz).

Longest distance on 144 MHz: 320.5 mi (515.8 km) – AC2BL
Longest distance on 1296 MHz: 305.6 mi (491.8 km) – W1AN
Loudest signal: W1AN (louder and clearer the higher in frequency we went!)

I’m hoping for another few mornings like this one.  Thanks to all the stations I made contact with; it was fun!

The difference a few miles will make.

Tonight I worked several station with two in particular being W1AN and WZ1V.  Both of those stations I worked on three bands: 144, 432, and 1296 MHz.  W1AN is a little further away than WZ1V but both are fairly close to each other in Connecticut with WZ1V being a bit further west.

Oddly enough, W1AN was stronger the higher in frequency we went while WZ1V was the opposite.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Simplex C4FM QSOs

Tonight some members of the Calvert Amateur Radio Association met on 146.580MHz to test out simplex range of narrow mode C4FM as seen in the new Yaesu radios.  Five stations got into a round table discussion, all within about ten miles of my station.  I haven’t purchased anything other than the FT-1DR (handheld) so I’m only running 5 watts and am using a 2m j-pole antenna up around 40 feet.

There is talk about turning the repeater into a fully functioning digital repeater (obviously keeping the ability to utilize analog transmissions as well).  When that happens I’m sure my coverage area will increase dramatically.

Antenna maintenance

Harlan helping with antenna maintenance.

Harlan helping with antenna maintenance.

The weather was nice enough for me to get some of my antenna maintenance done that I couldn’t do during the cold winter months.  First on the list was to completely remove the 23cm (1.2GHz) antenna from the top of the tower.  While I’ve had good luck working stations up into New England from here on the band the antenna had lost the bolts holding it to the tower and was now fouling my two meter and seventy centimeter yagis. I also decided to remove the two meter yagi (13B2) from the tower and turn the seventy centimeter yagi vertical to accommodate better communications with the LPEN packet node.  I did place a two meter j-pole at the top to give me local coverage.

In addition to the tower work I was able to clean up a few projects in the back yard.  My four-element six meter yagi has now been disassembled and stored for future use.  A couple of expandable poles that were in the back yard have also been cleaned up and stored.  All that’s left is cleaning up the Butternut vertical antenna.  It was taken down for Hurricane Irene and wasn’t put back in service due to several problems I have had with it at this location (worked great in North Carolina).  I’m hoping my next location will yield a better location for this antenna.

While I got a lot accomplished I did have a little help.  Amanda fixed the j-pole I was installing (needed to be soldered in a couple of places) and Harlan came out, with wrench in hand, to work on the six meter antenna.  I’m certainly glad I have a supportive family!