Archive for the ‘ham radio’ Category
This past year, Joyce/\K0JJW and I did quite a few Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA) activations, often as part of an RV camping trip. During this time, we made some improvements to our portable gear. For SOTA, we primarily use the VHF/UHF bands but we have been sprinkling in a bit more HF activity. For POTA, we often don’t have a Height Above Average Terrain advantage, so we definitely use the HF bands.
Our main goal was to have a backpack portable station for SOTA and POTA that can cover HF through 70 cm, on the most popular bands/modes including CW, SSB, FM and FT8.
Using The IC-705
The Icom IC-705 is a great transceiver for covering most HF, VHF and UHF bands. With an external battery, the transceiver puts out 10 watts of RF power. (This is a bit less than the 50 watts from our Yaesu FT-90, which is our default choice for 2m and 70 cm SOTA.) We have accumulated a number of Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries from Bioenno. They are all set up with PowerPole connectors and are easily interchanged. See a previous post, My SOTA Battery Journey.
Arguably the biggest weakness of the IC-705 is the lack of an internal antenna tuner for the HF bands. Of course, you can operate without a tuner by making sure your antenna is always 50 ohms. I find that limiting, especially under portable conditions where the antenna configuration might be compromised. Also, some common end-fed antennas that cover multiple bands are not a good match for all bands. There are external automatic antenna tuners available for the IC-705, so initially those looked like a good solution. Then I remembered that I had a small MFJ-902 Travel Tuner that could do the job. The MFJ-902 is a classic T-network with two variable capacitors and one variable inductor. I gave it a try and was impressed with how easy it was to tune using the SWR meter of the IC-705. This thing is simple and it works.
The rear panel of the tuner has two SO-239 connectors, one for the transceiver and one for the antenna. I put a BNC adapter onto the transceiver port and used a short BNC cable to connect to the IC-705.
The Travel Tuner is compact and not very heavy, so it works out well for backpack portable use. It can handle up to 150 watts, which is overkill for the IC-705 but it may come in handy when used with a higher power transceiver. Still, I am on the lookout for an even more compact (probably lower power) manual antenna tuner.
We have collected a variety of HF antennas, focused mostly on 20 meters and higher. These are typically end-fed, including single-band half-wave designs as well as multiband random-length antennas. These are used in the classic SOTA configuration with one end of the wire supported by a lightweight fishing pole and the coax connection on the ground, fed by a 25-foot length of RG-8X coaxial cable.
With the popularity of FT8 on the HF bands as well as 6 meters, I figured we should include that mode in our portable kit. My first thought was to use a compact Windows computer running the standard WSJT-X software. Ultimately, I chose the SDR Control app for the Apple iPad (by Marcus/DL8MRE), which supports specific Icom radios. The iPad connects to the IC-705 via its WiFi connection, which simplifies the connection/cabling challenge. The SDR Control app does cost $49.99, so it is not your inexpensive iOS app but I have found it to be worth the price. Because this app is focused only on iOS and certain Icom radios, it is well-tuned to be a no-fuss solution. I am currently using the app only for FT8 but it has other features and modes for me to explore.
The Powerwerx PWRbox is shown in the photo above, which we often use for operating POTA. (This box is a bit heavy for hiking.) The PWRbox holds a 20 Ah battery as described here. Also shown in the photo is a handy little stand for the IC-705, the NEEWER Folding Z Flex Tilt Head. It does a great job of holding and stabilizing the radio at a variety of angles. (Hat tip to Kyle/KD0TRD.) It is also a little heavy for backpack portable, so it usually gets left behind on a hike.
For a protective case for the IC-705, we use the Maxpedition 12-Inch X 5-Inch Bottle Holder. I’ve seen other IC-705 users recommend it and OH8STN mentioned it on his blog. At first glance, the case seems a bit large but this provides enough room inside to stow a small Bioenno battery and other accessories. The side pouch is a good place for storing the microphone and power cord.
This post shares some new equipment configurations we are using for SOTA and POTA, mostly focused on the IC-705. I really like that radio for portable ops as it is the best solution for operating HF through UHF. The SDR Control software on an iPad has also turned out to be a win for us.
What are you using for your portable station?
Do you have any tips or other operating ideas?
73 Bob K0NR
Ham Radio Extra License Class
Palmer Lake, Colorado
Sat Oct 21 through Sat Nov 4, 2023
- Two all-day in-person sessions Oct 21 and Nov 4 (8 AM to 5 PM)
Palmer Lake Town Hall, 42 Valley Crescent Street, Palmer Lake, CO, 80133
- Additional 8 hours of Zoom & video sessions (scheduling TBD)
- Students are expected to attend all scheduled sessions.
The Extra License is the top amateur license, providing full access to the FCC Amateur Radio Service band allocations.
- Upgrade from General to Extra Class radio privileges
- Pass your FCC Extra Class amateur license exam
- Live equipment demonstrations and activities
- Expand your HF ops on 15-, 20-, 40-, & 80-meter bands
- Gain a deeper understanding of radio electronics and theory
- Take the next step with antennas, amplifiers, digital modes
Registration fee: $40
In addition, students must have the required study guide:
Ham Radio School Extra License Course
First Edition, effective 2020 – 2024, $29.95
A current FCC General License is required for registration.
For more information and to register, go here:
Questions, email: [email protected]
Sponsored by the
Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association
Joyce/K0JJW and I enjoy visiting the National Parks in the US, an activity that naturally combines with Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA). While planning a visit to Isle Royale National Park in upper Michigan, we decided to activate at least one SOTA summit as well as activate the park for POTA. The park is one large island surrounded by many smaller ones, accessible by boat or airplane. The park is actually closer to Canada than the US mainland.
There is quite a bit of information about visiting the park on the Isle Royale National Park website, so I won’t repeat that here. We opted to take the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry from Copper Harbor, MI to and from the island and stay for three nights at Rock Harbor Lodge on the northeast end of the park.
The closest SOTA summit to Rock Harbor is Mount Ojibway (W8M/UP-059), which soon became the objective for our SOTA activation. This summit had been activated only once, by Scott/WA9STI in 2017. I contacted Scott, who was very helpful in sharing his experience on Ojibway. (There are three other SOTA summits in the park, with first activations by Mark/NK8Q.)
We had four friends join us on this trip, including the hike to Mount Ojibway. Two of them were licensed radio amateurs: Paul/KF9EY and Beth/KB9DOU with Paul joining us in doing the SOTA activation.
We normally do SOTA activations using VHF/UHF, so this raised the issue of whether that was possible given the remote nature of the island. I poked around on the interwebz and reached out to radio clubs on both the US and Canadian sides. Randy/VA3OJ in Thunder Bay and Bill/KD8JAM on the Keweenaw Peninsula were particularly helpful and they both confirmed they can work stations on Isle Royale from their locations using 2m FM. The distance is not that far, especially to the Canadian side, and it is a straight shot over water.
There were two things that I worried about on this activation: bugs and rain, neither of which were under our control. For bugs, we loaded up on a variety of insect repellents and head nets. However, once we arrived at the island, it was pretty clear the bugs were not bad at all, probably because we were late enough in the year (late August). For the rain, we made sure we had rain gear and synthetic clothes, with the attitude of expecting to get soaked and being able to survive it.
There was no internet on the island (the lodge says they have it but it was not working). Occasionally we would get 1 bar of Verizon LTE service at Rock Harbor but is was not reliable. This meant that we were very limited in sending any email updates out to people. I emailed our plans to interested parties and posted an Alert on SOTAwatch before we hopped on the ferry.
For equipment, we decided to take our Icom IC-705 and an external battery pack for 10 watts of RF on all bands of interest. Our priority was VHF but we also took along antennas for 40m through 10m. In addition, I configured an iPad for FT8 but we did not end up using that capability.
Mount Ojibway is about a 7-mile hike from the Rock Harbor Lodge, so we decided to have the water taxi drop us off at Daisy Farm Campground and hike in from there, which is about 2 miles one way. We also scheduled the water taxi to pick us up for the return trip. So this set us up for a 4-mile round trip hike with modest elevation gain.
On the morning of our activation, a thunderstorm rolled into Rock Harbor delivering a good dose of lightning to the area. I checked on the status of the water taxi and it was uncertain whether it would be running due to the storm. We sat tight and the weather cleared up enough such that we could go. Still, it was cloudy and the forecast included some rain in the afternoon. I told our group, “We are going to get wet today.”
Mount Ojibway at 1150 feet is part of the Greenstone Ridge that runs along the top of the island. It is also the location of an observation tower, now used as a radio site. The SOTA database shows the summit a bit to the northeast of the tower and the ridge is quite flat with a broad activation zone. My GPS app showed our hike as 1.9 miles one-way, with 540 feet vertical. The trail is well-established and in good condition. There were several narrow boardwalks (narrow planks) over marshy areas that were unnerving for some of our group.
At the summit, we appreciated some blue sky and nice weather that appeared while we set up the IC-705 and 3-element Yagi for 2 meters. We called CQ SOTA on 146.52 MHz and soon worked KD8JAM and VA3OJ. We kept calling and picked up two more 2m FM contacts: W9GY and VA3DVE. About this time, we set up the endfed antenna for the HF bands and (just barely) worked W0BV in Colorado on 20m SSB. (My phone was not able to spot us but I used my Garmin inReach to message W0BV and he came up on frequency.) I also worked W4GO, who had a decent 55 signal at the summit. But 20m was not working very well for us and I started to consider what changes I should make to the station. However, the dark clouds approaching from the northwest made that a moot point as we packed up our gear and headed down the trail. Sorry, we were not able to do more on HF.
On the way down the summit, things got a bit more exciting, and not in a good way. The storm clouds moved in and the light rain we experienced off and on during the day turned into a downpour. My warning of “we are going to get wet today” became all too true. This is the kind of rain that turned the nice, well-developed trail into a river of flowing water. With the rain came lightning, not close by but close enough. We were walking through a well-established forest so the lightning exposure was not too bad. The muddy trail definitely slowed us down as we did not want to add injury to our adventure.
We all were thoroughly drenched by the time we arrived at Daisy Farm Campground. At that point, the storm quit and we hung out on the dock waiting for the water taxi to pick us up. The water taxi apparently had its schedule adjusted and arrived over an hour later than expected. I guess we were on island time.
It was a successful but wet activation. Thank you so much to the radio amateurs who worked us, especially KD8JAM and VA3OJ. We couldn’t have done it without you.
73 Bob K0NR
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OLIVIA DIGITAL MODE AUGUST 2023 QSO PARTY
Dates: August 11, 12, 13, 14 UTC
These are UTC dates,
starting at 00:00 UTC on first date, and,
ending at 23:59:59 UTC on last date
Our August Olivia QSO Party Weekend is published in QST!
On Facebook, the event link is: https://www.facebook.com/events/1332228534167891/
For full information about using Olivia, please visit our Groups dot io Olivia Group:
What is unique about THIS particular QSO party?
Olivia is the digital (HF) protocol developed at the end of 2003 by Pawel Jalocha. This is the 20th Year Anniversary QSO party by the Olivia Digital DXers Club (we’re on Clublog).
Using UTC (GMT), starting at 00:00 UTC, August 11, through 23:59:59 UTC, August 14, 2023 – Olivia on the HF bands. Chat is encouraged, not the number of contacts, but the quality…
We will issue PDF certificates, after you send your ADIF log to NW7US (see QRZ dot com for email address for NW7US).
Those of you interested in the Olivia Digital Mode on HF (Amateur Radio Chat mode), we have a live Discord server for live spotting, etc. Here is the Discord chat: https://discord.gg/yktw8vC3HX
Our email reflector is: http://OliviaDigitalMode.org
ABOUT OLIVIA DIGITAL MODE ON HF
Below are suggested frequencies on which can be found Olivia signals (note: Olivia is a weak-signal mode, NOT a low-power mode). While it is easy to spot a STRONG Olivia signal anywhere on the waterfall, by using these suggested calling frequencies at least once and a while, you will enable us to find your signal when the signal is too weak to hear and too faint to see on the waterfall.
Olivia can do well with weak signals. Yes, our suggested 8 tone with 250 Hz bandwidth results in slow transmissions. But it is one of the better settings when attempting to decode very weak signals. Once you make contact, you can move up or down a bit, away from the calling frequency, and then change to 16/500 to make the conversation go faster. But, on a calling frequency, it is advisable to configure operations in such a way as to increase the likelihood that you will find and decode that weak signal.
In the following list, CENTER is where you place the center of the software’s cursor, and click to select that center frequency on the waterfall. If you use the DIAL frequency from this list, then click 1500 Hz offset up the waterfall (1500 Hz to the RIGHT of the LEFT side of the waterfall, if your waterfall is oriented horizontally with the lowest frequency on the left). This results in the software and transceiver being correctly tuned for the CENTER frequency.
The listing shows CENTER, then DIAL, then the number of tones and the bandwidth.
CENTER DIAL Tones/Bandwidth (Notes) 1.8390 MHz 1.8375 MHz 8/250 (ITU Region 1, etc.; Primary International) 1.8270 MHz 1.8255 MHz 8/250 (ITU Region 2; Secondary) 3.5830 MHz 3.5815 MHz 8/250 7.0400 MHz 7.0385 MHz 8/250 (ITU Region 2, etc., Primary International) 7.0730 MHz 7.0715 MHz 8/250 (Secondary) 10.1430 MHz 10.1415 MHz 8/250 10.1440 MHz 10.1425 MHz 16/1000 (Potential - be mindful of other stations) 14.0730 MHz 14.0715 MHz 8/250 14.1075 MHz 14.1060 MHz 32/1000 18.0990 MHz 18.0975 MHz 8/250 21.0730 MHz 21.0715 MHz 8/250 24.9230 MHz 24.9215 MHz 8/250 28.1230 MHz 28.1215 MHz 8/250
REMEMBER THAT IF YOU USE THE DIAL FREQUENCY (THE SECOND FREQUENCY PER ROW), SET YOUR WATERFALL CENTER AT 1500 Hz)
ALSO: If your software is able to decode/encode the Reed-Solomon Identification signals (RSID), please turn on both received and transmit RSID. An example is shown in the following video, which demonstrates enabling RSID in a popular software suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBIacwD9nNM
Please share this everywhere possible, as part of our effort to rekindle the love for our conversational mode, Olivia.
73 de NW7US
For the Colorado 14er Event, Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to do one activation per day during the four-day event. We focused on 2m and 70 cm FM but also took along handheld radios for 1.25m and 23 cm. Our standard 2m/70cm portable station is a Yaesu FT-90, powered by a Bioenno battery, driving a small handheld Yagi (either a single band 2m or 70cm antenna).
On Friday, we activated Castle Rock, a short but challenging climb with plenty of nasty brush to scar your arms and legs. This is a summit that we’ve done before but not in the last few years. It is relatively close to our cabin so we decided to give it a return visit. Frankly, it is a lot of work for only 4 SOTA points, but it definitely gives you the feeling of a real climb. We each made about 14 QSOs, mostly 2m FM, including 2 Summit-to-Summit (S2S) contacts.
On Saturday, we returned to Mount Antero at 14,269 feet. I did the first SOTA activation of this summit in 2011 and this latest one is my fifth activation. Dennis/WA2USA, W9 Mountain Goat from Indiana, joined us for this effort. Dennis worked CW on the HF bands while Joyce and I worked VHF/UHF.
We drove the Jeep to 13,800 feet and hiked up from there. This turned out to be the most fun summit of the weekend, because 1) it was a 14er with an excellent radio horizon 2) the weather was perfect 3) we had WA2USA along for the ride and 4) we took our time on the summit and just enjoyed the experience. Overall, I made 28 QSOs, 10 of them S2S. I caught Jon/KM4PEH on South Monarch Ridge on all four bands: 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, and 23 cm. It was a pleasure to work Terry/WB0RBA as he did the first activation of Mount Sopris (W0C/SR-039).
Wander Ridge (W0C/SP-042)
On Sunday, we headed to one of our favorite summits, W0C/SP-042, known as Wander Ridge. See my previous trip report for more detail. This activation starts with a hike on the Continental Divide Trail (and Colorado Trail) from Cottonwood Pass. It really is walking on top of the world.
The weather was sunny and warm but the wind was a bit of a challenge. We made good use of the rock shelter at the summit, sitting in comfort while we made radio contacts. When we stood up to leave, we were almost knocked over by the high winds.
I made 19 QSOs, including 4 S2S. Steve/WB5CTS showed up on 2 meters from Slumgullion Pass, but also had 1.2 GHz gear along, so we made a contact on that band (about 63 miles). I was not expecting 1.2 GHz activity but I did have the Alinco HT, so I used it with just a rubber duck antenna. Hey, it worked!
Finally, on Monday we activated The Pulverizer, near Wilkerson Pass, which is a new summit for us. See my trip report for more info: Activating the Pulverizer.
The first three summits are in San Isabel National Forest and The Pulverizer is in Pike National Forest, so we also submitted our logs as Parks On The Air activations.
We had a great time doing these summits. I enjoyed hearing the other stations having a good time making VHF contacts. It warms my heart when someone makes a VHF contact that they did not think was possible. That is exactly the point…you never know where the signal will go so give it a try and prepare to be surprised!
73 Bob K0NR
There is a SOTA summit next to Wilkerson Pass called The Pulverizer (W0C/SP-092). With such an inviting name, of course, we had to activate it.
According to its Summit Post page, this summit was named by well-known mountaineer and author Gerry Roach. Apparently, this name is an adaptation of the name of a nearby summit, Pulver Mountain. The Pulverizer does not have a trail to the summit and is known for having a lot of downed timber in the way. I found a trip report that said,
Overall, this is the kind of “hike” you only do if you really, really want to get these summits. It’s the kind of hike that you take someone on if you never want them to go with you on a hike ever again. Miserable downfall for pretty much the entire hike.
Having climbed the summit, I think this is an exaggeration but we did encounter plenty of downed timber. Many of our SOTA activations involve off-trail hiking, so we have been conditioned to expect the all-too-common dead trees on the ground.
Joyce/K0JJW and I followed the route identified by Walt/W0CP that starts at the Wilkerson Pass Visitor Center. (This summit can also be accessed from the east, via County Road 90.) We parked the Jeep on the east end of the parking lot and walked the trail (actually a sidewalk) to the south. At the “trailhead” waypoint, we left the sidewalk and headed south on a trail that quickly faded away.
Most of this area is in the Pike National Forest but there is a large piece of private property as shown on the map. The route to the summit is not critical but you need to avoid the private property, well marked with No Trespassing signs. The northeast corner of the property is shown on the map below as Fence Corner #1 (39.03252, -105.52364). We aimed for that corner, then followed the fence line heading south to Fence Corner #2 (39.02911, -105.52373). After that, you pretty much head to the summit, adjusting your route to avoid the worst sections of downfall.
The hike is 1.5 miles one way, with about 950 feet of elevation gain. There is a bit of up and down so the accumulated elevation gain may be higher than this. It starts out downhill, then flattens out but then provides a steep uphill section at the end. On the return trip, head for Fence Corner #2 and then follow the fence line north.
On the summit, we had good luck with making VHF & UHF radio contacts. This was during the Colorado 14er Event, so we had other summits on the air for S2S contacts. Sitting right above Wilkerson Pass, it has an excellent radio horizon in all directions. Here’s the view from the top, looking east:
So the real question is did we like the summit and will we do it again? We are glad that we did it, kind of a check-the-box item for SOTA activations in the South Park area. This is not our favorite SOTA summit but we might do it again sometime. You might say “We Have Been Pulverized” and we are not in a hurry to do it again.
73 Bob K0NR
The FT8 mode was first released as part of the WSJT-X software in 2017. This new digital mode was adopted relatively quickly and is now a major force in amateur radio. You’ve probably heard the praises and complaints about it. On the plus side, it enables radio contacts under very poor conditions while detractors say that it is not real ham radio because the computer is making the contact. FT8 is an excellent example of a disruptive technology, impacting daily ham radio operations. This summer, I had two operating experiences (VHF contests) that really drove this point home.
My temporary station setup on the porch for the VHF contest.
ARRL June Contest
In the ARRL June Contest, we had very good sporadic-e propagation on 6 meters (and even 2 meters). I used my IC-7610 for 6 meters and usually had one receiver listening on the SSB calling frequency and the other sitting on the FT8 frequency. My strategy was to operate FT8 while keeping an ear on the SSB portion of the band. If signals were present on SSB, I switched over to that mode. The idea is that the run rate on SSB is inherently faster (and more fun), so it is my preferred way to make contacts.
There was definitely activity on the SSB portion of the band, but it came and went throughout the contest. There were times that I was able to run on a frequency, calling CQ and having a steady stream of stations to work. Other times, I had to search and pounce, tuning around the band to find a new station to work. The FT8 story was different: most of the time there was consistent activity and new stations to work, but at a slower rate.
The FT8 operators tended to stay on FT8, even when the signals were strong. If they wanted to maximize their score, they probably should have switched over to SSB to make contacts at a faster rate. But they didn’t and that is their choice. (One thing I’ve come to accept is that I don’t control the choices that other radio hams make in terms of operating mode and band.) On 6 meters, I made 428 contacts with 80% of them on FT8. Radio operator decisions affect the types of QSOs made and if I focused only on SSB, I would surely have had more SSB contacts (but how many?)
CQ WW VHF Contest
In July, the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest was even more striking. While I was hoping for a repeat of the band conditions from June, the CQ WW conditions were not very good. However, I did manage to make QSOs using FT8 on 6 meters. The run rate was low and I often struggled to complete the exchange before the band shifted. Again, I listened on 6m SSB and picked up contacts there whenever possible. My QSO total for 6m was 164, with 90% of them via FT8.
After the contest, I heard from contesters that used only analog modes (SSB and CW) who reported that the contest was a complete bust. Even with hours of operating time, some folks only made 10 or 20 QSOs. This clearly tees up the choice: if you don’t want to work digital, you can severely limit your number of contacts. On the other hand, if you use FT8, you can make contacts under weak conditions, but at a slower rate with a computer in the loop.
Like many contesters, I would much rather have a nice run of QSOs on SSB filling up my log. It is just way more fun than sitting there watching the computer screen report the slow progress of FT8. But in the end, we all have the same choice when conditions are poor: actually making contacts using FT8 or sitting there hoping that band conditions improve enough to support SSB.
2 Meter Band
I did make some FT8 contacts on 2 meters, but found only a small number of operators using that mode. I expect that FT8 activity will increase on that band as people figure out they can squeeze out a few more contacts & grids using that mode.
73 Bob K0NR