Posts Tagged ‘Activations’

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.

Activating SOTA’s at Philmont Scout Ranch

Philmont Scout Ranch belongs to the Boy Scouts of America and is located near Cimarron, NM. Philmont consists of some 136,000 acres of rugged back country ideal for backpacking and any number of other outdoor activities. (www.philmontscoutranch.org) Philmont offers a variety of backpacking itineraries that cover 10 days of hiking ranging in distance from 56 miles to 106 miles.

I was fortunate to be able to do a 84 mile backpacking trek with my son, AB5EB, and my grandson, KF5GYD, at Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, NM. It was 25 years ago to the day, July 5th, 1991 that I started a  trek with my two sons, the second, KB5SKN, to July 5th, 2016 that I started this trek. Pretty cool from a grandfather perspective. Aside from the trek experience I had in mind to activate a couple of SOTA peaks, within the Philmont boundries, that we would climb on our trek. Neither had every been activated for SOTA.


Philmont rates their treks by the magnitude of difficulty from Challenging, Rugged, Strenuous and Super Strenuous. The trek I was on was in the Super Strenuous category, for those familiar with the system, our Trek was # 31. I have been training for this trek for over a year and would need all that accumulated fitness to make the trip. We had a crew of eight, two adults and six teenage boys. What you learn, or maybe remember, is that youth covers lots of physical ills, in other words, they recover quickly.

The first summit on our trek was Baldy Mountain, W5N/CM-002, 12,441 ft. ASL. We would summit the mountain on the 4thday of our trek. Trek #31  started at ~ 6,500 ASL, so we would spend 4 days climbing with 50 lb packs on our back toward the summit of Baldy Mountain. There were a multitude of other activities on the way, but the trail was always going up. The day of the final ascent, we arose and 3:30 am, was on the trail by 5:00 am and we climbed ~2,300 vertical feet over four miles of trail from 9,200 ASL to 11,500 ASL with full backpacks to the shoulder of Baldy and hiked the final 1,200 feet with day packs. It was a full day.

Baldy Mountain getting closer
The SOTA activation of Baldy was a bit chaotic. Baldy Mountain is the iconic destination for Philmont trekkers so there was a significant number of scouts on the summit and trying to keep them away from my EFHW was a distraction. I used the KX2, needing SSB capability from my grandson. We made a total of 16 QSO’s in tough conditions, using both my call, AD5A and KX5BSA, a club call that my son is the trustee of. I’ve had my eye on this summit for a while, but the only way to access it is to do a Philmont trek. The descent was satisfying, but when we go back to our packs, we had to saddle up and hike another 3 miles, this time downhill, to our camp for the night. It was a 15 mile day, 12 miles of which was with full packs.

Operating from Baldy Mountain
AD5A In The Middle and AB5EB On The Right
Fast forward six days, the last day of our trek, we camped at ~7,500 ASL, We would ascend almost 2,000 feet again to Schaeffer’s Peak, W5N/CM-016, at 9.413 feet, with full packs. The final 100 ft. or so was with day packs. We had a nice activation there with 23 QSO’s between AD5A and KX5BSA. On this activation, my son and grandson both had sufficient QSO’s to qualify for the points and the scouts gathered around to listen to CW and SSB as my grandson activated. A couple of the boys expressed interest in getting licensed so we will follow up on that.

Baldy Mountain From Scheaffers Peak
Yes, We Hiked That Distance
My Grandson, KF5GYD Operating
From Scheaffer's Peak


After the activation of Scheaffer's Peak, we had to put our packs back on and finish the last nine miles of the trek. Another long day, but at the end, what a sense of accomplishment. Hiking 84 miles in rugged back country and activating two new SOTA summits.

What a great hobby.



Chinese Kit Invasion

I suppose that I might be a little late to the game, so to speak, but I was browsing through the variety of  QRP kits on Ebay the other day and was shocked at what I saw. Many may already be familiar with  this phenomena in the QRP kit world, however it was news to me. A new Pixie 2 kit for $3.54 plus a whopping $1.80 for shipping. Now that's a QRP price. The kits were from China. As I considered this, I rationalized that at that price, something was askew, surely the quality was suspect, the parts incomplete and the instructions resembled some graffiti on an inner city wall. I passed it off as maybe a joke and went about my EBay browsing.

A few days later I stumbled upon an entry on the SOTA reflector entitled "QRPp Activation with a $3.56 Chinese Pixie..." by Manuel HB9DQM. Manuel had seen the radio on EBAy and couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a shot. He not only built the radio, which takes the better part of an hour, but he decided to put it to the test in the field.

HB9DQM Pixie Station

Using the configuration above, running 300 milliwatts, he made 16 QSO's from a summit top bench. Pretty cool. 300 mw, wire antenna, battery power and a straight key, ah the magic of Ham Radio.

Of course the radio has limitations, it's crystal controlled, the radio comes with a 7.023 crystal (HB9DQM used a 7.030 crystal) and the bandwidth on receive is very wide, but as Manuel demonstrated, you can have some good, cheap fun with this little radio. He said he was listening to the world news, in English (courtesy of a BC station), while he worked the callers. An interesting diversion.

I did some further research on YouTube and found many happy campers who had purchased and assembled the kit. So I took the big plunge. I even went overboard and bought a couple of extra's as projects for my teenage grandsons who are hams.

There is one thing a little troublesome about this kit invasion however, at these prices, the other QRP kit providers can't compete. What will happen to them? Such is the world these days.

Chinese version of the Pixie 2
The inexpensive kits aren't limited to Pixie's, there are also '49ers, RockMites, etc.. Some even come assembled. I saw and assembled Rockmite, with a case for $35.00.

Chinese Kit Invasion

I suppose that I might be a little late to the game, so to speak, but I was browsing through the variety of  QRP kits on Ebay the other day and was shocked at what I saw. Many may already be familiar with  this phenomena in the QRP kit world, however it was news to me. A new Pixie 2 kit for $3.54 plus a whopping $1.80 for shipping. Now that's a QRP price. The kits were from China. As I considered this, I rationalized that at that price, something was askew, surely the quality was suspect, the parts incomplete and the instructions resembled some graffiti on an inner city wall. I passed it off as maybe a joke and went about my EBay browsing.

A few days later I stumbled upon an entry on the SOTA reflector entitled "QRPp Activation with a $3.56 Chinese Pixie..." by Manuel HB9DQM. Manuel had seen the radio on EBAy and couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a shot. He not only built the radio, which takes the better part of an hour, but he decided to put it to the test in the field.

HB9DQM Pixie Station

Using the configuration above, running 300 milliwatts, he made 16 QSO's from a summit top bench. Pretty cool. 300 mw, wire antenna, battery power and a straight key, ah the magic of Ham Radio.

Of course the radio has limitations, it's crystal controlled, the radio comes with a 7.023 crystal (HB9DQM used a 7.030 crystal) and the bandwidth on receive is very wide, but as Manuel demonstrated, you can have some good, cheap fun with this little radio. He said he was listening to the world news, in English (courtesy of a BC station), while he worked the callers. An interesting diversion.

I did some further research on YouTube and found many happy campers who had purchased and assembled the kit. So I took the big plunge. I even went overboard and bought a couple of extra's as projects for my teenage grandsons who are hams.

There is one thing a little troublesome about this kit invasion however, at these prices, the other QRP kit providers can't compete. What will happen to them? Such is the world these days.

Chinese version of the Pixie 2
The inexpensive kits aren't limited to Pixie's, there are also '49ers, RockMites, etc.. Some even come assembled. I saw and assembled Rockmite, with a case for $35.00.

Mountain Goat Summit Revisited

A little less than a year ago I summited a mountain, known in SOTA terms as 9431 (it's elevation ASL) with a designator of W5N/PW-019, which put me over 1,000 Activator points and thus qualified me for the Mountain Goat award. This award is one of the most satisfying awards I've achieved in ham radio, including #1 Honor Roll. I did the summit that day with a couple of friends of mine, Fred KT5X (aka WS0TA) and John, K1JD. Both are also mentors to me as I learned the SOTA trade so to speak.

So, nearly a year later, the three of us returned to the same summit. Like the previous ascent we would need snowshoes to get to the top. The hike is a little more than 3 miles round trip and climbs 1,100 vertical feet. The hike starts in Black Canyon with a steady ascent to the shoulder, and then two different steep pitches to the top. The drifts on the summit were significant with our snowshoes sinking 1-2 feet into the snow. There were patches facing the south were the snow had completely melted, however most of the final ascent is on the north side of the mountain.

Below is a brief video of my set-up on the summit. I have configured my 3 band MTR (17m, 20m and 30m) so that I can hold it in my hand. As you will see in the video, the battery and paddle are attached to the radio and I use the back of the radio to hold my log. Very compact and very efficient. I certainly can't claim this as an original design since I coped it from Fred, KT5X. My antenna is a linked EFHW into an 81:1 transformer. The actual link connection design was inspired from Frank, K0JQZ.



Below is my log:


TimeCallBandModeNotes
17:31zW7RV10MHzCW
17:31zK0LAF10MHzCW
17:32zK6JMP10MHzCW
17:33zW7USA10MHzCW
17:34zK7JFD10MHzCW
17:34zAK5SD10MHzCW
17:35zNU7Y10MHzCW
17:35zNG6R10MHzCW
17:36zND7PA10MHzCW
17:36zN7LP10MHzCW
17:38zK1LB10MHzCW
17:41zW4AMW10MHzCW
17:41zK0HNC10MHzCW
17:42zKG3W10MHzCW
17:47zK6EL14MHzCW
17:48zAE9F14MHzCW
17:48zKG3W14MHzCW
17:49zNA4SO14MHzCW
17:51zN9KW14MHzCW
17:51zNK6A14MHzCW



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