Tag Archives: Summits on the Air (SOTA)

SOTA Activation: Snowy Mountain W3/PD-007

Eric holds up his SOTA flag while kneeling over his radio setup in the woods.

Hey look, a flag!

Stats

  • When: 2017-12-24 from 1543Z to 1625Z
  • Where: Snowy Mountain – W3/PD-007
  • Who: Just me
  • Ascent: 148′ over 0.64mi
  • Equipment: Elecraft KX3, SOTABEAM MIDI antenna
  • APRS Coverage: Excellent
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Good. Had 4G (no LTE) coverage at the summit.

Oh what a difference a day makes! The family and I hiked up to the fire tower at the summit of Snowy Mountain. It was around 10 to 12 degrees colder than yesterday but it wasn’t raining and the sun was actually shining!

The walk up from our parking area wasn’t too bad. The dirt road has been maintained well so it was more of a leisurely walk up. I setup near the fire tower to stay away from the nearby power lines and other RF noise generators at the radio tower site that also inhabits the summit.

I chose the west-facing side and strung my antenna up in among some pine saplings. I was surprised to find a 4G cellular signal (T-Mobile) out here and took advantage of it to check for other summits that were also on the air at the time. I did see N3ICE up on W3/PH-004, of which I thought would have been an easy S2S contact, but could not hear her on 40m. My usual 60m channel was in use so I started on 40m and sent out my first spot.

Contacts

I thought I’d give my fingers a rest and do a little voice work today. The upper portion of forty meters is pretty busy but I managed to find an open spot to call CQ. I quickly put NP2EI, K1LIZ, NE4TN, W9MRH, and KI4TN into my log. I was informed that the Eastern Tennessee SOTA chaser contingent was listening and would be trying to work me. 🙂

I switched over to CW and put AC1Z, KI4TN, K8HU, and WA2USA in the log. My ear seemed to handle the code much better today compared with yesterday. I tried twenty meters but for some reason the antenna wouldn’t tune-up. I moved down to seventeen meters but got no response even though the band seemed to be open.

I checked the spots, again, and saw I had a request for eighty meters or sixty meters. The MIDI antenna isn’t supposed to do 3MHz but I have had it work before; not today. Luckily I had Internet connectivity so I was able to lookup the channels for sixty meters. I finally found one that wasn’t in use, spotted myself, and started calling CQ. I picked up N2ESE, N2GBR, and K3JZD all on CW. Tried voice on the same channel but no joy.

Amanda and Elise are cold. Harlan is missing.

By this my fingers were getting cold and my family, all of whom had already abandoned me for the car, were waiting “patiently” for me at the bottom. It didn’t take me long to break camp and hike the .6 miles down.

The sky was clear enough that I was able to see other mountain summits in the distance. Just a beautiful sight.  I would highly recommend this summit to others as it’s fairly easy to get to and offers some very nice views once you get away from the summit itself.

Lessons Learned

From yesterday, I had the same problem of a wet, cold ground to sit on.  Because I’m still trying to figure out how to pack all my gear I still am carrying my KX3 with much of what it was packed in when it was shipped to me: lots of plastic, foam USPS envelopes.  I ended up sitting on one of these and it worked great!  My butt was warm and dry the entire time!  My friend Zach has suggested a, perhaps, more suitable solution: a Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad.

I still need to figure out why the MIDI antenna will sometimes tune up on a band and other times not.

I also need to figure out an antenna to better support the lower bands (80m and 160m).

Summary

All in all, this is a great summit to activate.  It requires some hiking (I would have preferred a bit more), the views are nice on a clear day, and the RF noise isn’t so bad here.  I hope to come back to this summit and do it again some day!

SOTA Activation Report: Methodist Hill North W3/PD-006

An Elecraft KX3 HF transceiver on the ground with a SOTA flag.

Portable HF setup on Methodist Hill North

Stats

  • When: 2017-12-23 from 1832Z to 1915Z
  • Where: Methodist Hill North – W3/PD-006
  • Who: Just me
  • Ascent: None (see below)
  • Equipment: Elecraft KX3, SOTABEAM MIDI antenna
  • APRS Coverage: Excellent
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Nil

I arrived at the summit a little earlier than I had originally planned only because of the littlest one’s nap time. I also didn’t hike in due to the weather, which was and is a disappointment. Nonetheless, I did wander around the activation zone a bit trying to find that perfect place to setup. Unfortunately, I had to settle for a rotten log in an area that wasn’t as thick, brush-wise, as the rest of the area.

This is the first deployment of my Elecraft KX3 and, coupled with the SOTABEAM MIDI antenna, I have no complaints. Receive noise levels were low and signals were decent. Only problem I could find in the whole mix was me!

SOTABEAM MIDI deployed in the woods.

I mentioned the weather wasn’t great. Temperatures were in the 40Fs with a breeze. There was also rain. My CW likely ranks among the worst on the air and it gets worse when I’m sitting on the wet, cold ground being rained upon. For those that worked me, thank you. For those that worked me towards the end on 40m, as we say down in the South, “bless your heart”. I was going to try some PSK31 to give my fist a break but the USB connection for the keyboard seems to make a lot of RF hash noise. Switching to voice yielded no contacts so I just packed up and headed down the mountain.

Contacts

Thirteen contacts were had over two bands: sixty and forty meters. I started with sixty meters where I put K8HU, N2ESE, W2SE, KB9ILT, N3SW, and N2GBR in the log. I moved down to forty meters and found K3TCU, KI4TN, AC1Z, NE4TN, VE2JFM, AB9CA, and AA1CQ. All contacts were CW.

Lessons Learned

First, I need lightweight gloves that will keep my fingers warm but will still allow operation of a CW key.  Even at moderately cool temperatures, my fingers were getting too cold to not make mistakes when sending CW.  Not sure what to do about my brain getting too cold to not make mistakes when decoding CW.

Second, I need to find something lightweight and flexible to sit on that will insulate my butt and keep me dry while I sit on the ground.  It was not comfortable to absorb the dampness that was the ground while making contacts.

Summary

Thirteen contacts in the log and a new summit to boot.  Overall, I’m happy with the activation and can hardly wait to do it again!

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 Emmaville Mountain North W3/SV-019

SOTA LogoStats

  • When: 2016-11-11 from 18:04Z to 18:33Z
  • Where: Emmaville Mountain North – W3/SV-019
  • Who: Amanda KI4IWS, Harlan, Elise, and myself
  • Ascent: Drive up
  • Decent: Drive down
  • Equipment: Elecraft K1, SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi, Navy Flameproof Key
  • APRS Coverage: Good coverage
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Good coverage
  • Contacts: 10

Overview

Picture of SOTA Antenna Deployed

SOTA Antenna Deployed

This was a good stop, about half way, on our way up to Ohio. The kids got a chance to get out and run around and I got a chance to put a few more contacts in the log.

The roadway going to the top is a single lane, gravel road that is in good condition. At the top of the summit is an open area that allows for parking and one could imagine lots of antennas and operating locations here. You are ringed with trees, however, so I’m not sure if this would make a good microwave location. Perhaps in the winter when the leaves are off the trees…

The Gear

Picture of Elecraft K1 on tree stump.

A convenient operating position.

After hiking across the field I began setting up my gear.  Just as I used at Sugarloaf Mountain a few weekends ago, I setup my Elecraft K1 (5 watts using 8 AA batteries), the SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi antenna, 4.1m fiberglass pole, and Navy Flameproof key.  I was able to find a convenient tree stump in which to setup my station.  The antenna was setup nearby in the bushes and held well in spite of the stiff breeze that was blowing.

The Operating

Navy Flameproof key sitting on stone.Most stations were quite loud.  Unlike last time, the bands were stable enough that stations didn’t have to chase me around the bands trying to contact me (or at least if they did I couldn’t hear them like on Sugarloaf).

I continue to be surprised by how quiet the bands are once you get on top of the mountain.  The K1’s receiver continues to do a fantastic job.  I quickly put four contacts in the log on 40m before moving to and putting three contacts each on 30m and 20m.  I was planning on trying 17m but time was running out and my family was getting cold.  It was time to hit the road once again.  Next time I might try to start on the upper bands and work my way down.

Oh, there was one challenge.  When I first started working 40m I had my four year old son basically hanging all over me so my CW, both listening and sending, were negatively impacted.  Luckily I was able to tie him to a tree and get back to making contacts!  (I’m kidding!)

Furthest contact was with OK1DVM in the Czech Republic (~6895km)!  I was very surprised he could hear me while I was only running 5 watts.  I’ll take contacts like that any day!

Thanks to all the chasers that helped with my activation: W4DOW, K3JZD, KG3W, N1EU, N1GB, W4ALE, W4HBK, K4MF, OK1DVM, and W7CNL.

SOTA Awards Received

Yesterday I received, by way of U.K. Royal Mail and the U.S. Postal Service, two SOTA awards!  The first is my award for chasing 100 points-worth of summits:

WG3K's SOTA 100 Points Chaser AwardThe second award is the SOTA Mountain Hunter – Bronze award where I had to work at least two summits in at least five mountain associations:

WG3K's SOTA Mountain Hunter - Bronze AwardHopefully I’ll have some activator awards in the coming year!

Activating Sugarloaf Mountain (W3/CR-003) (a.k.a. Plan B)

Stats

  • When: 2016-10-30 from 18:25Z to 19:19Z
  • Where: Sugarloaf Mountain – W3/CR-003
  • Who: Amanda KI4IWS, Harlan, Elise, and myself
  • Ascent: 984 feet in 0.36 miles along the East View parking lot using the Sunrise Trail.
  • Decent: 0.93 miles along the Monadnock, Northern Peaks, and Mountain loop Trails.
  • Equipment: Elecraft K1, SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi, Navy Flameproof Key
  • APRS Coverage: Good coverage with an active I-Gate nearby
  • T-Mobile Coverage: Decent; kept bouncing between LTE and Edge but was able to use the data without too much problem.

What brought us here

Picture of Sugarloaf Mountain

CC BY – Scott Robinson from Rockville, MD, USA

Well, we were going to get up early, pack all of our gear, and get on the road to go see the leaves changing color at Great Falls National Park.  Of course, with two kids, and I’m not the best morning person either, getting out the door at any hour before noon is asking for a miracle.  That and some of the roads we took to get there ended up being closed.  So, by the time we arrived at the park there was a line to get in that was so long we couldn’t actually see the gate.  It was time for plan B.

Plan B

Plan B was to head over to Sugarloaf Mountain (about 40 minutes away) and hike around and maybe even setup my radio and do a SOTA activation.  Luckily I had planned for this contingency and had my K1, SOTABeams Band Springer Midi antenna, batteries, a key, and expandable pole packed in my hiking pack.

The Hike Up

Picture of Eric and Harlan hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain

Eric and Harlan hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain

Our hike up from the East View parking area was pretty neat.  The red trail (a.k.a. The Sunrise Trail) gets pretty steep in sections.  My first harmonic, Harlan, was on his hands and feet trying to get up some of the rock scrambles that he encountered.  At four (almost five) years old he really did a good job making it up the mountain.  I’ll be very surprised if you don’t hear him activating some summits as soon as he gets that whole reading and licensing thing behind him!

There are many ways to get to the top of the summit.  With so many people on the mountain, today, we took the first parking spot we could find; I didn’t want to chance missing the only parking spot because I wanted to try to park closer.

At the summit

The summit area was very crowded today.  It’s a good thing that the summit is very wide.  I was able to move about 20 feet from the boulders that sit at the very highest point and setup my gear well away from everyone else.  I was actually able to “hide” behind some boulders that were in the wooded area and be completely hidden to keep the curiosity down from others.

This is the first time I have had this particular setup out in the field.  The SOTABEAMS Band Springer Midi antenna and mini telescopic fiberglass pole take only a few minutes to setup.  I’d say that within five minutes of arriving I was on the air.

What went well

Map of WG3K-7 on APRS at Sugarloaf Mountain

Map of WG3K-7

All the equipment performed well.  I picked up six stations on 40m and another three on 20m.  One of the stations I worked on 20m tried to work me on 30m but was unable to do so.  All-in-all, I’m quite happy with the performance of the station.  Honestly, the Elecraft K1 has a great receiver and the Band Springer Midi antenna performed well.  This is also the first time using the K1 with the AA battery pack installed.  No problems running the summit on eight 2800mAh AA batteries!

Also, APRS coverage was pretty good at the summit and along some of the trails.

What didn’t work so well

Me.  I haven’t been on the radio much as of late so my CW listening skills are horrific.  I would show you my log but I’m too embarrassed.  Another thing that needs improvement is my key.  I tossed my Navy Flameproof key in the bag since it already had the correct connector on it but what I should have used is my trusty J-37 with the KY-116/U bracket to hold it to my leg (if you’ve worked me /m this is probably what I was using).  Had I done that I wouldn’t have had to do a two-handed operation: one hand holding the key, the other using the key.

Disappointingly I heard K2JB on a nearby summit but couldn’t get through the pileup on 40m to make the contact.  There were a couple different summits on the air at the same time I was on the air but no S2S contacts today.

Oh, yeah, and I didn’t take any pictures of me, my station, or the perfect antenna installation.  I guess that’s the problem when setup takes hardly any time, you’re on the air and then you’re back to hiking!

QSOs

I put nine stations in the log today: 6 on 40m and 3 on 20m.  I also tried 30m but was unable to complete any contacts there.  I was going to try 17m but the family was ready to go.  All contacts made using five watts.

While putting the contacts in my official log I realized that I worked three stations that I had previously worked while they were activating a summit.  I’m happy they took the time to tune me in and work me (since, after all, I was worth only 1 point today).  The chaser has become the chased!

Overall

Overall, the trip was a success.  Everyone had fun, I had fun and made a few contacts along the way.  Hopefully my next summit activation will be even more smoothly executed.  Until next time…

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.