Sunday, September 21, 2014

An almost perfect SOTA activation (Knights Peak W0C/FR-144)

So what makes a perfect SOTA activation. Points? A lot of QSOs? Easy Hike? Maybe for some those are motivators but for me just being able to summit a peak like Knights Peak with my XYL. The last time I did this summit it was in the winter with wG0AT and we had a grand time.

We used Lynn's KX3 and an End Fed that is always in my pack as a backup. I forgot to pack the Buddipole Vertical which I would have rather used on this rocky summit. We got Lynn setup and despite having 3 bars on my phone I was not able to SMS a text to spot Lynn on the web site so she called CQ. It took an hour to produce just one QSO so we went to 2 meters and got on a local two meter simplex chat freq of 146.460 and worked two more stations. One of the contacts informed me that everyone else was at a breakfast so Lynn went to 146.520 and picked up a mobile station. Four QSOs means she gets the points for this summit but I was not too worried about it because we can always come out again and do it. I was off on my activation time as I did not expect us to get such an early start so I take some of the blame. I would rather not spot at all but use APRS but it has been my experience that chasers do not seem to want to check APRS beacons as much as they use to. Everyone waits for the spot to appear.

Thanks to KE5YYJ who was portable in a park in Texas. Lynn worked him on 20 meters and he mentioned that he wanted to try SOTA but lived in the flat lands. Also thanks to the local 2 meter crowd that gave Lynn those much needed three remaining QSOs. Ray KG0SS, Melvin KD0DRH and James KC0EL all in Colorado Springs.

The summit registry is really secured to the boulder and it has been there for at least ten years. There is even a wrench attached to help you get the cover off.

Summit Registry
The leafs are starting to change colors and there was a lot of activity in this area when we left. When we parked at the makeshift firing range nearby there was only one car. When we left there were several more.

Parking Area/Firing Range
Several people stopped to ask us for directions so at lot of first timers were out in this area. There was a couple of loads of Boy Scouts that were lost (or their Scout Masters were lost). Having been a Scout I was a little disturbed with the lack of preparedness and courtesy of the Scout Masters. Maybe that is because all my Scout Masters were United States Marines. I hope they found where they were trying to get to but more importantly, I hope the lads had a good time.

After Lynn finished her activation I debated if I wanted to operate at all but I did want to see if my friend G0PEB, Rob, was able to hear me in the UK. Rob had his HW-8 out for a SOTA activation and dropped me an email before he headed out. He had his KX3 as a backup so I tried the bands that I thought would work to the old country, 21 Mhz and 24 Mhz. I could not see if he was on due to no cell phone connectivity but Rob did email me that he saw the RBN spot for me on 24 MHz. I did get into Spain so I know 15 Meters was open. After a while I dropped down to 20 meters and got KC7DM and my friend John, N0EVH on summits in OR and MI respectively.

Mount Rosa from Knights Peak
I would have really loved to have at least heard Rob on his HW-8 but maybe another time.

Now I want to get an HW-8!!!!!

I watched some clouds move in and we got back in time to enjoy the rest of the day. It was as nice an activation as they come.

72
from Frank and Lynn



Video:

Bonus video: SOTA activation of Signal Butte:


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Observatory Rock, 9410 and SOTA Backpacks

I was sore after the Mount Rosa activation but I was also on a high to have conquered Rosa from the East and being able to do it with Steve and Peanut was a bonus. It was loads of fun.

The next day I took time off and messed with the video from that activation. The day following Lynn wanted to get out so we went to Observatory Rock in the Lost Creek Wilderness as we have always liked Observatory and Eagle Rock which is not far from there. It was a fun but short hike up to the summit but our activation was cut short by weather but still a fun time.
Here is the video:



On Monday I wanted to get down Old Stage road mostly for recon but figured if we could, we would activate an unnamed summit called 9410. 9410 is a neat easy hike. There are some vertical parts to the beginning and the end but in between it is just a pleasant walk in the forest. You basically follow a horse trail that goes to Grayback Peak and bushwack when you get to the base of 9410.
The views on this hike are tremendous and there are plenty of places to pitch a tent or stop for lunch.

There are a few rock markers marking the trail. I setup this marker to show where we started to go East or Up the side of 9410. Once on th ridge line you just walk to the summit. It is important to stay on the ridge line the trail keeps you on and to not try a direct approach on the summit. I am sure it is possible but it would be a rough hike.


greyback peak



lynn

frank

rock markers

this is where you approach the summit

Elecraft KX3

KC0YQF working the pileup




rock marker on summit of 9410

Mount Rosa

Mount Rosa

TV antennas near the top of Cheyenne Mountain

Colorado Springs
looking West and down
Cheyenne Mountain summit

SOTA Jeep


Once on the summit, since we were a little ahead of our posted activation time, I decided to do a “what’s in my pack” video. Of course if I was just out hiking I would have a lot of the same stuff but Kyle, KB0RPM, asked me what was in my pack for a S.O.T.A. activations so I felt I should do a video on that subject. In the video Lynn also covers the contents of her pack. Which is an interesting point; if you are hiking with a spouse or significant other you can split the load or have one carry food and th other carry water etc. Lynn has not used her real backpack yet so she is limited to day hikes for now. I guess as long as I am the "pack goat" she does not have a need to pack any weight. LOL

The video is below but here are the items by weight:

Golite Jam 35 pack: 16ozs
First Aid kit: 8ozs
Multi tool: 2.4ozs
Flashlight: 2.7ozs
Snakebite kit: 1.2ozs
Eye meds: .2ozs
Extra Pen: .5ozs
Go pro battery: 1ozs
Go Pro: 2.6ozs
KX3/Log/paddles/clock/Antenna/Battery: 5.5lbs OR MTR/Antenna/battery/paddles/log/clock: 18ozs
Audio recorder: 5.6ozs
Extra Speaker (with the MTR): 1.3ozs
GPS: 5.5ozs
Camera: 4.5ozs
Warms Gloves / Hat: 4.8ozs
Bandana: 1.1ozs
Topo: 1.4ozs
Compass: .7ozs
1 liter of water: 2.46lbs
Food: varies

2 Meter Radios: (it depends on the hike on which 2 meter I take)
Kenwood TH-D72: 13.3ozs
Yaesu FT-252: 9.8ozs
Baofeng UV-3R: 5.4ozs

The pack has a whistle built into the chest strap but I am going to add another whistle which is around an oz extra so no big deal. I also carry extra plastic bags, one for trash and smaller ones for water proofing stuff like the 2 meter radio.

Video is here:



73
Frank
K0JQZ




Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mount Rosa, Completed

This was an Epic Hike. I was joined by Steve, wG0AT and Peanut for this one. I am glad Steve and Peanut re-arranged their schedules to join me. It was a grueling, long, tough hike but well worth it. The trail was not crowded like it normally is (at least up to Saint Mary's Falls) and we only ran into two couples and one young lady the whole day. One couple was heading to Saint Mary's Falls while everyone else we saw was seeking the same thrill as we were and that was the summit of Mount Rosa.

I thought we would have to call this off as they are still repairing the flood damage to the parking area but the news report said cars could park in the Helen Hunt Falls parking lot which is what we did. That required us to hike about .5 miles up to the regular parking lot and then another 1.5 miles to the actual trail head.

Our hike was 14.4 miles, took us 11 hours and 57 minutes and we had an elevation gain of 5452 feet. The elevation at the parking lot was 7239 feet and the summit is 11,500 feet. I do not think I looked at the elevation on the GPS until we had about 1000 feet to go.

The trail is well marked (although we did miss the Mt Rosa sign and visited the Falls by accident) until you get to the gate. You will want to go towards Mt Rosa which is to the left but you actually go to the right and look for the rock markers and a few meters down the trail you will see the 672 sign. Soon after you get to the saddle and it is a nice walk to the base of the summit and another 500 vertical feet.

As soon as we got on the trail proper Steve decided to set a new fashion trend and wear his broke sunglasses. After a while I did not notice it anymore. I am sure it was an odd sight for the people we met along the trail.
One Eyed Old Goat
The views from Rosa are worth it and I wish we had more time to enjoy them but it took us 7 hours to summit and about 4 hours to descend. I thought we may be hiking in the rain and dark but we made it with a few minutes of daylight left.

The weather was fine until we were on the summit, rain, hail, thunder and lightning but not much wind. When the hail started it felt like the temp dropped 20 degrees and I started to look for my gloves but after the sun came back out it was a pleasant 60 degrees again.

GPS track
APRS Beacon
After doing a firmware upload to me Kenwood TH-D72 it seems it is working better with the APRS function. I was glad to se that. The Kenwood is a little heavy to carry all the time but the APRS function and limited email and text capability without Internet connection make it one great survival tool. Once we were near Saint Mary's Falls anyone could have tracked us.

Steve and I chatted a lot while Peanut just kept us moving along. Lesson Learned, never let Peanut set the pace.

Peanut waiting for the weak humans

Mount Rosa, Steve and Peanut
Once we got on the saddle and saw Mount Rosa I was elated. This is also where the short trail comes up from Capt Jacks Frosty Park or whatever it is called accessed via Old Stage Road. Old Stage Road opened a few hours before we summited after being closed for a year for repairs. When we heard gun fire we knew that Old Stage Road was officially re-opened.

We could see the clouds forming and knew our time would be limited but you do not hike 8 hours and not try to activate. I got the end fed up and set the link for 30 meters, pulled out the new MTR II and fired it up with a 9 volt battery and called CQ SOTA at 2 watts and soon I was picked up by the Reverse Beacon Network and those that I could hear I worked until the pill up subsided. That was only 6 QSOs but only 4 are needed for the 6 points this summit is worth so that was good.

New MTR version 2 (three bands: 40, 30 and 20)
After 30 meters it was Steve's turn on 20 meters but the storm moved over quicker than we thought so we covered everything and hunkered down waiting for the hail and rain to stop. There was not an electrical component to the storm at that time so it was just a nuisance more than anything else.

After the storm Steve pulled out his KX3 and went to work on 20 meter SSB. About this time the lightning started and I started to pack getting ready to run down the mountain at a moments notice. Steve kept his cool and worked through the pileup with the last station being Guy, N7UN. We had to pull the plug early so I apologize to any chasers we left hanging but safety was an issue.



We hastily packed up and headed off the summit. It rained on us off and on the whole way down.



I have never been that exhausted after an activation. It was brutal. I marveled at the young couple that passed us and a young lady named Hannah that appeared energetic and unaffected by the difficult hike. Amazing!

Thanks chasers. It was a good test for the new MTR. I love a radio that can run off a 9 volt battery.

The fun of SOTA for me is the outdoors, minimalist radio, 9 volt battery and simple wire antenna and the pileup that ensues for that setup. What fun. Thanks Chasers.

Check out wG0AT's videos here: goat hiker

My Mount Rosa video is here:


Peanut meditates on the summit


73
Frank
K0JQZ

Monday, August 25, 2014

Planning to attack Mount Rosa, AGAIN!!!! (and some ramblings)

I was thinking about a few summits for this Friday since I have off from work and I keep coming back to Mount Rosa. Lynn and I started up that trail twice, the first time we were not committed to a summit attempt and the second time Lynn got sick and it turned out to be the beginning of a week long illness that had us in the Emergency Room. I am just glad she was able to make it back to the car. She did 6 miles, sick!!!!!

Well, Lynn does not want much to do with that summit again. At least not from the East side approach. The West side approach is relatively easy, a couple of miles and maybe 1,500 foot legation gain. Not so from the East, it is 12 to 13 miles round trip and 4,000 elevation gain. I need to know if I can do it so I will attempt it on Friday.

I hope to have my APRS beacon on (K0JQZ-7) so I can be tracked and hopefully I will be able to talk to a few locals on 146.520 on the way up. Weather is a factor so we will see how it goes. If I make it I have the reward of every SOTA hike with a view to kill for and if not I hope I am only turned back due to weather and not something else. I am figuring 5 to 6 hours to summit and hope to be at the Trail Head at 0600.

Lynn and I have been busy doing some SOTA summits and I have not done any videos and have not taken many pictures. I was just in one of those moods where I did not feel like coming home and spending hours trying to make another movie. I do think it is important to make those videos to promote SOTA and SOTA in Colorado but it is somewhat liberating to come home, upload the logbook and just chill. Do not get me wrong, I like making the videos but I am just taking a break.

Lynn has taken a few pictures and I found a few from summits past and I might as well share these with you all.

Here is a pic of our older cat Mayv who is wanting attention before another SOTA hike.

Mayv
Not sure where this was from but that was a good size bee on my backpack. He was not aggressive, just checking things out.

Bee

This is a bird of prey (hawk maybe) and I watched this bird circle and hunt for about 20 minutes and tried to get several shots thinking that I did not get one until I got home. This was one of the few times that he was actually above me at over 10,000 feet.

Bird of Prey
I have been using my Buddipole Vertical almost exclusively and this is what happens on windy summits in 25 degree windchill. Stuff starts to come apart. I think I have it fixed now.

Buddipole parts
A few pictures from Monarch Ridge.

Buddipole and walking stick counterpoise support ready for work
The views from our ham shack
Lynn operating
I think my antenna is bigger, er closer....
Lynn enjoying the tram ride up rather than the grueling hike.

All smiles
Not sure where this one was taken but Lynn's radio, the KX3 and some other equipment. The Elecraft KX3 is such a great radio. It far surpasses anything out there in performance, power consumption, weight to capability ratio and the most important thing, functionality/ergonomics. I am a fan and am glad Lynn lets me use hers from time to time.


Here I am on a summit trying to figure out how to fix a broke antenna.... there is a little Macgyver in all of us.


These next photos are from Mount Evans today, 25 Aug 2014. I watched the weather move in as Lynn activated and it was not soon after my turn began that the skies opened up. Of course at over 14K feet you seldom get rain so we got a snow hail mix and I kept going as long as I could. It did start to get very cold (it was in the high 30s when we drove up). We had the perfect spot just North of the parking lot in-between a few rocks out of the wind. If we had been exposed this would have been a no-go activation. No electrical component to this storm or that would had been a no-go as well.



Trying to think above 14K feet and send code
Todays activation on Mount Evans went well. When I checked the SSB freqs, the 20 meter band seemed crowded so I had Lynn move to 14.343 and Phil NS7P was right there and spotted her. That really helped. There are a few operators that really make an activation go well and seem to understand what is going on with the activator as he or she battles weather, high altitude impairment, curious on-lookers and the other things that distract an activator while trying to keep the pileup under control. I would like to say thanks to:
NS7P
N4EX
K6EL
W9FHA
KG3W
N4MJ
NA6MG
K4PIC
N7UN
W7TAO
W0MNA
W0ERI
ND0C
W6UB

There are others but these are the stations to come to mind as I type this. No awards just thanks.

Back to Mount Rosa. I will try to go light weight and will take a newly constructed MTR II (powered by a 9 volt battery, pico paddles, speaker), a linked EFHW, 200hz audio filter, recorder, go pro, 3 liters of water, food, warm gear and rain gear. I will also have a 2 meter radio, cell phone, topo map and compass and my GPS. There are other things I will take but I may or may not post a complete inventory. I am real excited about this adventure!

73
Frank
K0JQZ

Sunday, August 17, 2014

US Northern Command MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System) Testing/Training

I am a Cyberspace Operations Planner in the USNORTHCOM and NORAD Operations Directorate (J3). Most days my job is very boring but sometimes you get to do something cool. Although my definition of "cool" may differ from yours. In addition to an office hike up Mount Herman I thought it would be a good time to demonstrate the deployable US Northern Command M.A.R.S. Station. The icing on the cake is Lynn, KC0YQF, was able to join us and was on hand to make sure I used the KX3 correctly.

Our command is licensed under Army M.A.R.S. with the call sign AAM8N and is the brainchild of Mark, WA6MVT. Mark is about as enthusiastic an Amateur and Communicator there is. He was unable to make our training but he will make it up in the future.

Our office is composed of operational planners not communicators so we would not be the ones deploying with this equipment save Mark and I. Of course what makes M.A.R.S. different from other forms of military and civilian communications is the amateur radio licensing requirements. If you want to know more about Army M.A.R.S. they are under NetCom and here is a link: Army Mars

Incidentally I have been licensed and a participant of Navy US Marine Corps M.A.R.S. at Camp Lejeune, NC and United States Air Force M.A.R.S. during most of my career in the USAF. This is my first time with Army M.A.R.S.

Our M.A.R.S. station consist of an Elecraft KX3 modified for M.A.R.S. frequencies (incidentally, it is the only radio that met all requirements), Buddipole A123 battery source and a Buddipole Antenna system. We did not have the Buddipole Antenna along on this demo as I wanted to show that it is possible to reach out and touch the far reaches of the country with a simple wire antenna without any support infrastructure. While my buddipole vertical is setup for this type of work (see some of my videos on my youtube channel) I did not feel like hauling out the commands system for this training.


USNORTHCOM and NORAD J3 Cyber Planners (and Scout)
Bill and I discuss how to install the End Fed
Explaining propagation
My plan was to actually check into a MARS Net but I was thinking on the way up that a SSB Summits On The Air activation would yield a more impressive capability demonstration. I do not have to explain to the regular readers of my blog how SOTA is the epitome of agile and viable communications but from the layman perspective it helps to be able to listen to an actual pileup of stations across the country calling.

Using my call sign we talked to other Amateurs in the following states in about 10 minutes:

Pennsylvania
Texas
Tennessee
North Carolina
British Columbia
California
Kansas
Kentucky

I think that shows the viability of the commands deployable MARS Station. Now if we could only convince them that a stations is needed at Headquarters with remote capability from other areas.


USNORTHCOM Mr. Potato Head ensuring fun was had by all
A fun Video:

As we grow this capability I hope to do more informative videos on net procedures, winlink, ALE and other forms of data communications. My goal is not to convince anyone to join MARS but more to just be aware of the capability and how it fits in a disaster response. 

73 Frank
K0JQZ