Tag Archives: 70cm

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!

2015 August UHF Contest Results

2015 August UHF Contest certificateOpened the mailbox today and was surprised to see an envelope from Newington waiting for me.  Looks like I placed third in the Atlantic Division (SOLP) and first (out of two) in the MDC section!

Missed all the VHF+ contest this year but I’m hoping to get my antennas back up and figure out what to do with these transverters.  I had a slight point deduction due to a mis-copied grid when I contacted WB2JAY and a couple of duplicates.  I had fun participating and hope to do so again soon.

ARRL Contest Branch
==============================================================
Contest:    2015 ARRL AUGUST UHF CONTEST
Call:       WG3K
Category:   Single Operator, Low Power
Location:   MDC

************************** Summary ***************************

      15 Claimed QSO before checking (does not include duplicates)
      14 Final   QSO after  checking reductions

      54 Claimed QSO points
      51 Final   QSO points

       8 Claimed grids
       8 Final   grids

     432 Claimed score
     408 Final   score
   -5.6% Score reduction

    6.7% Error Rate based on claimed and final qso counts
       3 (16.7%) duplicates
       0 (0.0%) calls copied incorrectly
       1 (5.6%) exchanges copied incorrectly
       0 (0.0%) not in log
       0 (0.0%) calls unique to this log only (not removed)

********************** Results By Band ***********************

             Band   QSO  QPts  Grid

   Claimed    432    12    36     5
   Final      432    11    33     5

   Claimed   1.2G     3    18     3
   Final     1.2G     3    18     3

   Claimed    All    15    54     8  Score      432
   Final      All    14    51     8  Score      408

*************** Incorrect Exchange Information ***************

 432 CW 2015-08-02 1334 WG3K         FM18 WB2JAY       FN10 correct FN30

*******************  Multipliers by band  ********************

432 multiplier total 5

FM19  FM29  FN10  FN20  FN31

1.2G multiplier total 3

FN10  FN20  FN31

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)

 

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!

2015 ARRL August UHF Contest results

VHF and UHF antennasWhew, it’s been interesting last couple of days around here.  On Friday the only antenna I had in the sky was my OCF dipole for HF.  Saturday morning found myself, Bob N3PPH, and Dave W3PQS erecting a pole with antennas for 2m, 70cm, and 23cm.  With the ARRL August UHF contest starting at 2PM (local) we had to scramble.

Okay, so I was a little late getting on the air.  First QSO went in the log at 3:09 PM.  I operated, off and on, until 2:00 PM on Sunday and ended up with 18 QSOs, representing six grids and six states, all within ~500 km.

Best DX

432 MHz – 70cm

Best DX of the weekend was K1GX in FN31 with a door-to-door distance of ~493.9km.

1296 MHz – 23cm

Best 23cm DX of the weekend was K1TEO with his powerhouse station at a distance of ~405.3km.

Easiest Copy

K1TEO was very loud during the entire event.  When I went searching for a place to call CQ (usually around 432.107 MHz) I had to give him clearance as he was constantly in my ear.  WA3QPX was also armchair copyable and we chatted for a bit during the contest.

K3TUF gets the ‘easiest copy’ mention on 1296MHz.  We chatted using SSB on 1296.100 MHz without too many problems.

Score

I pay little attention to the score I generate in these contests as I am more interested in the number of contacts and the distances I can work.  With my small station, and with my off-and-on operation, I managed to rack up 324 points.  Obviously not a winning score but with my antennas stuck pointing at FN (basically pointing at Connecticut) and running 50 watts on 432MHz and 10 watts on 1296MHz I say I did okay.

Grids

  • FM19
  • FM29
  • FN10
  • FN20
  • FN30
  • FN31

States

  • Connecticut
  • Deleware
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania

Results of the W4OTN/R UHF repeater test

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I bought a UHF repeater and put it on the air at the Mt. Hope tower site here in Calvert County.  This was a temporary test which allowed myself and other CARA club members (and anyone else) to see what UHF would do in our area.  Turns out, the system did quite well.

We estimated ~3 watts was being seen at the antenna.  That’s not a lot of power and we weren’t expecting very good performance.  Turns out, that ~3 watts was enough to give us pretty good coverage, about a 15 to 20 mile radius with several longer distances seen.

We have now replaced the repeater with a Yaesu repeater and better duplexers.  We’re now seeing about 45 watts ERP and a better foot print (around 35 mile radius).

This has been a good experiment.  I’ll be moving on to stage two for my repeater project.

W4OTN/R on the air

W4OTN/R Installed at Mt. Hope

W4OTN/R Installed at Mt. Hope

Earlier today, Dave W3PQS and I installed my UHF repeater up at the CARA site in Sunderland.  The repeater is on the air on the TMARC shared, non-protected pair which makes the system quite portable.

In the short term, the repeater will be on the air at the Mt Hope site.  In the longer run, the repeater will be setup to be portable for special events, emergencies, and “family” use.

If you’re in the Southern Maryland area try it out and see if you can hear the system.  442.900MHz, + offset,  CTCSS 156.7Hz.

Update

As of 25 September the 442.900 repeater is off the air.  It has been replaced with a Yaesu System Fusion repeater on a frequency of 444.950MHz, + offset, CTCSS 156.7Hz.