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From Sea to Summit on CW

I've now been an Amateur Radio Operator for 30 years. There isn't much about the hobby that I don't like. For me and many in the hobby, radio is magic and however we experience it, by definition makes it magical. However, there are always a few experiences in the hobby that you just have to talk about and I recently had one of those experiences. Did I work my last country, no. Did I win a contest, no. Did I build a complete home-brew station, absolutely not. I suppose I've given it away with the title of this story, but I recently experienced of couple of aspects of the hobby that I enjoy in the same week and I thought it worthy of mention.

I've enjoyed the IOTA program for 25 years. It took me 16 years to get to #1 DXCC, but I'm still working new ones in IOTA. There are 1200+ island groups so it takes a while. I've also enjoyed IOTA Expeditioning over the years including islands in  Australia, Nicaragua, Labrador, Alaska and numerous islands in the Gulf of Mexico. My last expedition was in 2017 and I was getting the itch to go out again.

I live about 3 hours from the Gulf of Mexico and had been thinking about a trip to North Padre Island, (NA-092), on the Texas coast to have a fun couple of days operating portable and enjoying the National Seashore there. I was convinced that while NA-092 was not rare in the states, the RV Ham crowd has satisfied that demand, but that it would be needed in Europe and Asia. To convince myself that I needed to take the radio gear on the trip, I put out a query on the IOTA Chaser reflector to gauge interest. I was a bit surprised at the many long time IOTA Chasers in Europe and Asia who needed it. So, my hunch was confirmed.

So I put my operating plan together. My station would consist of:

K3 Transceiver
KPA500 Amplifier
KAT500 Tuner
30 ft MFJ push up pole
MFJ 2980 Feather Lite Vertical
Begali Stradivarius Paddle
N1MM+
Winkey

Since Padre Island is a barrier island it is connected to the mainland by a bridge, so no boat necessary on this trip. I have a tear-drop camping trailer that is a king-size bed on wheels with a kitchen in the back which would be sleeping quarters and a 6 person tent which would be the operating HQ. My XYL, Cris, accompanied me on the trip and was gracious enough tolerate my operating. Below is a picture of the operating location.

AD5A/p on North Padre Island
My operating strategy was to focus on European sunrise and Asian sunset on 40m, which means operating through most of the night and early morning. This was also a CW only expedition. CW is my preferred mode by a 9.9 to 1 margin. I brought a nice, heavy, Begali paddle with me so I could feel right at home.

I was very pleased with the results of the operation. I provided a new island to many EU and Asian Chasers and the station performed well. I was very pleased with the performance of the Feather Lite vertical. The antenna has a very small foot print, which in a campground is essential, and I experienced good TX/RX results with it, of course a vertical over salt water works extremely well and this was confirmed once again. During the first Asian sunset, 3:30 am for me, I had to go split for about an hour to handle the pile-up. I finished with 633 QSO's with ~40 countries, 427 of the QSO's were on 40m.

But this is only half the story. We arrived on Padre Island on a Monday afternoon and departed on Wednesday morning.

On Friday, we had to catch a flight to Albuquerque, NM and drive to our second QTH in Santa Fe, NM. One of my favorite things to do in Santa Fe is to do activations for the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. In Santa Fe we have a team we call the Three Amigos, consisting of Fred, KT5X, John, K1JD and myself. We are all Mountain Goats within the SOTA program, (1,000 activation points required) and our likeness was captured by a female artist, the subject of another blog. But here is our portrait, notice the belt buckles if you can see them:

Tres Amigos de SOTA


Upon arrival in Santa Fe, I made contact with John, K1JD (KT5X as out of town) and we decided to activate El Cerro de la Consena or W5N/SI-020 which had an elevation of 6,923 ft. This mountain has lots of loose rock and cactus.

Planning for a SOTA activation is much simpler than an IOTA expedition, but you will need to be self propelled. This hike is ~6.5 mile round-trip. My station consisted of a KX-2, a 3 band trapped EFHW made of 28 ga. wire, an 81 to 1 transformer and a 20 ft. collapsible fiberglass pole. The paddle I use is the Elecraft paddle made for the KX2 I made 28 QSO's on this activation and found these:

Hopi Petroglyphs
The next day I did a solo hike to Peak 9420, at oddly enough, 9,420 ft ASL. This summit is only about a 2 mile round trip, but has a nice operating position on the summit. As you can see from the picture it is within an Alpine region and it is a beautiful hike. I made 38 QSO's from here.

AD5A Shack at 9,420 ft

So in the span of a week I had gone from Sea Level to Mountain Summits operating CW and enjoying the magic of our hobby. There is adventure in ham radio, and many ways to get out and make QSO's. If you can't make QSO's at home, go to where the QSO's are, the seas and summits.


The Pedernal – My SOTA Activation

Some things in life are very special and others, very ordinary. The difference, I suppose, is dependent on the individual. I recently had an experience that, to me, was very special and, of course, it is the subject of this post. As I write this April of 2018, I have summited more than 265 mountains, hills and mesas as I enjoy the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. For the uninitiated, SOTA is an award program for amateur radio operators who get points for making radio contacts from qualifying summits. Some summits are tougher than others, some higher than others but a few are very special. One such special summit for me is the narrow mesa in northern New Mexico called Cerro Pedernal. In English, the words mean "hill of flint".

The Pedernal, as it is commonly known, was made famous by the American artist Georgia O'Keefe,  O'Keefe is quoted as saying, "It's my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it." O'Keefe not only painted the mountain itself but incorporated its image in many other paintings. Moving to New Mexico permanently in 1949, O'Keefe painted the surrounding area in a prolific way, capturing the area in art as no-one has before or since. Upon her death, at the age of 98, O'Keefe's ashes were spread on the summit of the Pedernal.

Pedernal
Painted by Georgia O'Keefe 1942

 In SOTA speak, the reference for Pedernal is W5N/SE-018. A nondescript reference to a magnificent natural monument that doesn't do justice to the mountain it refers to. The Pedernal is much more than a number or a name. I had pondered climbing the Pedernal for a couple of years. One of my SOTA climbing buddies, Fred, KT5X, a full time resident of New Mexico, had climbed it a couple of times and had volunteered to show me the way. However, it seemed to never become a priority as we opted for easier climbs. Then an award was created by New Mexico SOTA aficionados called the Iconic Peaks of New Mexico award (check out WS0TA on QRZ.com for the list and rules). The requirement for a non-resident is to climb 5 of the 10 Iconic Peaks. I had done 4, The Pedernal would be the 5th and qualify me for Award #1 for the non-resident Iconic Peaks award. Not that I'm competitive but, with an award at stake, climbing the Pedernal became a priority.  

 Ascending the Pedernal is no cake walk. The summit tops out at 9,866 feet above sea level and dominates the horizon. Protected by cliffs, the summit is very narrow ranging from 10 ft - 20 ft wide and the slopes leading to the final, rocky ascent, are very steep. There is, however, a weakness on the back side of the mesa that allows those, willing to do a little rock climbing, access to the summit. Negotiating the rock face is the key to a successful climb.

The Near Vertical Climb
The actual route is up the left side

As we stood in front of the rock face standing between us and the summit, there was a bit of trepidation. I'd climbed faces more difficult than this in the past, albeit more than 30 years ago. After a few minutes of analyzing the route and some coaching on the best hand holds from Fred, I ascended the face successfully. The difficult part was over, but a steep climb up a narrow trail remained and close attention must be paid to ensure a totally safe ascent.

After some arduous climbing into the thinning air, we were on top. Summiting the Pedernal was an awe inspiring, almost spiritual experience. I've climbed dozens of mountains that are taller, much taller, but none of those climbs could match the experience of climbing this peak. I've stared at this iconic landmark for years, imagining what it must be like to be on top and now, here I was. For the first time in my SOTA activation history, I put the pack down and instead of grabbing the radio to set up, I picked up the camera to capture the moment. Fred and I spent 10 - 15 minutes just soaking it in. 

AD5A and KT5X on the summit of the Pedernal
We did finally put the cameras down and pick up our radios to set up on the summit. Too bad those calling us couldn't see what we saw as we made the QSO's, 31 of them with AD5A and 40 for WS0TA ( aka, KT5X),  which is a good day on any summit, but especially gratifying from the top of this iconic narrow mesa.
AD5A on top of the Pedernal
View from  the top
The trip down was uneventful, although I was a bit concerned about descending the rock face, getting down it was relatively easy. The hike back to the truck was very satisfying and I caught myself numerous times turning around to catch a glimpse of the summit from which I had just descended. Awesome.

VK9AR A Wonderful IOTA Expedition Experience

I'm not really sure why I haven't blogged about this before now, but last November I went on an amazing expedition to Ashmore Reef , an island off the coast of Australia. I can't write a better story about the expedition than the expedition leader and planner, Craig, VK5CE, put together. Here is the link, https://vkiota.wordpress.com/past-dxpeditions/oc-216-vk9ar-ashmore-reef/ 

Going to Australia was a bucket list item for me and to check it off with such an adventure as the VK9AR expedition was a wonderful treat.

Keep The Faith, Having Fun With No Sunspots

I was motivated to write this today after looking at the solar flux number which sat at 67.  I don't know if I've ever seen the flux this low. I think I've seen 68 a lot, but not 67. Truly, things must be really bad.

As it would happen today, with the flux at 67,  I did my 258th SOTA activation on a summit near Santa Fe, NM that has no name, but goes by it's elevation, 8409. There are beautiful views in every direction, from the summit of 8409, and I enjoyed them immensely. With me, on my trek up the mountain, was my KX2, a 21ft. collapsible pole to support a 29 ft. piece of wire through an 81 to 1 transformer. I feed the antenna about a foot above the ground and run the wire up the pole in an inverted L configuration. The pole was propped up among the branches of a pine tree and I tied off the antenna to a close-by pine branch. I had the power set to 5 watts and tuned the wire with the KX2. I  operated CW using the Elecraft plug-in paddle and I logged with a golf pencil on a, write in the rain, index card. The temperature was a crisp 39 degrees, but the sun was shining and not wisp of a breeze. It was a good day to be on the mountain top.

I was on the air from 1642z - 1722z. I operated on 40, 30m, 20m and 17m and completed 40 QSO's in the 40 minutes that I was on the air from 8409. Also, with the flux at 67, I managed to work two EU stations, ON and EA. I heard a 9A calling me but we couldn't complete the contact. So, 40 QSO's, coast to coast in the US and 2 DX QSO's from EU was my catch for the day. Not bad for a short QRP/portable outing. Keep in mind that's with the flux at 67. I'm glad I didn't look at the numbers before I left or I might have been a bit discouraged and perhaps wouldn't have gone out at all. I would have missed the beautiful views, the warming sunshine and a QSO a minute QRP operation. I wouldn't have worked EU with 5 watts and a wire. I would have had to put off my 258th SOTA activation for another day.

The moral of this story is simple, don't look at the numbers. In fact I would recommend that you ignore them. There is plenty of fun to be had keying up your radio even when conditions, or at least the numbers, are this bad.

Keep the Faith. Go call CQ. I was glad I did.

Jamboree on The Air – 2017

One of the mantras of us old hams is; where are the youth? Many club meetings are consumed with the question of how do we connect with youth and get them exposed to Amateur Radio? One very simple way to get involved is to participate in the Worldwide Scouting event Jamboree on the Air (JOTA). This is the 60th Anniversary of the event.  Over 1 million scouts around the world participate. There are numerous ways to participate either hosting a station or getting on the air to talk with the scouts. Check out www.K2BSA.net/jota for information on the event. The dates are October 20 -22, 2017.

Another source of information is the recent Episode of HamRadioNow which is a round-table  of Scout leaders on the benefits and some methodology of JOTA. I was honored to be asked to participate. I think you will find the show to be informative with regard to JOTA.

Here is the link:

https://www.hamradionow.tv/episodes/2017/10/2/hrn-347-old-jota

Participate if you can.

                                              



The Joy of the QSO

Since my retirement I suppose I've had a little more time to think, philosophize if you will, about the important things in life. As my work career fades into the past, I've quickly come to realize that events and issues from my work-life, at the end of the day, weren't that important at all. The things that I stressed and fretted over where simply mirages of importance that faded away as time passed.

So, I've asked myself, what is it about Ham Radio that's so important? Many of us spend a lot of time in the hobby, so where is the meaning, where is the value added to our lives? Many of us chase awards, join clubs, go on expeditions and have many significant achievements in our ham careers that bring a certain level of satisfaction. However, what we soon learn is that it's the chase, not the finish that's exciting. I've enjoyed very much chasing DXCC Honor Roll, WAE-TOP, IOTA, SOTA and competing in a variety of  contests. However, once the objective is achieved, the excitement of working toward the goal is gone and the sense of accomplishment is not quite as satisfying as the thrill of the chase.

So in my thinking about what's lasting and important about ham radio, at least to me, starts from  a simple QSO. QSO's bring joy in many ways, i.e., marking a needed entity of the list, working a new club member, getting that rare country that you never thought possible, whether QRP or QRO or perhaps a special contact on Top Band or the Magic Band. It's QSO's that bring joy. However, many of these QSO's are the 599, TU type of QSO and are more focused on accomplishment or earning some award than the relationship side of ham radio.  As I've progressed or maybe matured or perhaps just gotten more sentimental, I get a lot of lasting joy from a simple rag-chew. Does a rag-chew bring my recognition, no. Will it qualify me for any awards, maybe, but probably not. But what it does do is allow me to meet real people with similar interests as me. Since I retired I find that I have more and more rag-chews with the most interesting people. And I am starting to come across guys multiple times and we pick up where we left off from the previous QSO. It's wonderful. I don't have to worry if I've already worked them on the band I'm on, they are glad, at least I think they are, to take my call and have a chat, I don't have to worry about getting a "worked B4" response.

I've found there's lots of unexpected pleasure in the simple things. A simple QSO gives me lots of satisfaction. Don't get me wrong, you may well hear my call in a DX pile up or calling CQ in a contest, but I've learned to stop and smell the roses and the roses of ham radio, to me, are the relationships you can build and develop through conversational ham radio.

 My mode of choice is CW, but I don't suppose it really matters what mode you use. Just get on the air and have a real chat, you might find it brings a little more meaning to the hobby.

K2BSA at National Boy Scount Jamboree

When I retired in January of 2016, I thought that I would be able to blog a lot more. Well that hasn't worked out because, as many retirees have noted, I'm too busy now that I'm not working:-)

However, I just participated in a noteworthy activity that needs to be published. This year I was on the staff of K2BSA at the recently completed 2017 National Boy Scout Jamboree and what a wonderful experience it was. For a comprehensive, day by day, look at the activities at K2BSA, have look at the K2BSA Facebook page.

One of the old timer mantra's in ham radio is, "where are the next generation of hams coming from", but all too often nothing is done to address the problem. However, I can say that the K2BSA team is very busy about addressing that issue through efforts to expose Boy Scouts to Amateur Radio. During this Jamboree, 300+ radio merit badges were awarded to boys who completed the requirements which requires a contact via ham radio and a classroom session that delivers a solid primer on Amateur Radio.

Other activities included Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF), a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation, Satellite operations, both base station and portable,  VHF/UHF operation and a nightly net for the hams participating at the Jamboree. There were typically ~60 check-ins each night including local hams not participating in the Jamboree and interested hams from around the world, including JA, KL7 and VK based hams via Echo Link. As you can see a comprehensive presentation of ham radio was on display.

K2BSA is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization making contributions from US Hams tax deductible. So if you are inclined to support the furtherance of our hobby through youth, I can't think of a better organization to support. A contribution button is present on the FaceBook page or you can visit their webpage at www.k2bsa.net.




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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor