Posts Tagged ‘Mountains’
Charlie/NJ7V invited Joyce/K0JJW and me to be on the All Portable Discussion Zone, on the Red Summit RF YouTube channel. We talked mostly about Summits On The AIr (SOTA) using VHF/UHF. It was a fun experience for both of us.
For Summits On The Air activations, I have been exclusively using the VHF/UHF spectrum. I like the HF bands but for SOTA, I just think that Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) of a summit is an ideal match for frequencies above 50 MHz. See Summits On The Air VHF Mountain Goat.
nagging peer pressure encouragement from my fellow W0C SOTA activators, I decided to give HF a try. (The solar index had markedly increased in the past week, so the timing seemed right.) I chose an easy summit to hike (Threemile Mountain), so I could just focus on the radio operating. Plus, Joyce/K0JJW and I were carrying a bit more radio gear, the usual VHF station plus my Yaesu FT-817 for the HF bands. For HF antennas, I dug two single-band EndFedz halfwave antennas for 20m and 15m out of the basement.
We quickly made four contacts on 2m FM and then set up the HF station. I used a telescoping fishing pole as the antenna support, strapped to a conveniently-located pine tree. The halfwave antennas were mostly horizontal and not that far off the ground (maybe 15 feet at the highest point).
A quick check of the SWR using the internal FT-817 meter showed that the transmitter was happy. Then, I called Bob/W0BV on 14.346 MHz to see if I was radiating anything. I was not real strong at his location but we made the contact. As soon as he spotted me on SOTAwatch, I had a nice pileup of stations calling. In the meantime, Joyce kept working stations on 2m FM.
I quickly made 12 QSOs on 20m, including F4WBN in France (best DX for the day). Before I left 20m, Bob/W0BV met me on 14.061 for a CW contact. Just because. Then, I took the 20m antenna down and hoisted the 15m halfwave, the same configuration but a bit shorter in length. The 15m band was not quite as good and had more fading but I made 7 QSOs there.
I was very pleased with the results, especially being able to use the 15 meters, my favorite HF band. I could have brought along additional antennas to try 17m, 12m and 10m, but there’s always next time. I had a great time working the SOTA chasers on HF, so I will surely do it again.
73 Bob K0NR
One thing to watch out for when doing SOTA activations is the presence of strong Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) on some peaks. The typical scenario is that the summit is also an established radio site with transmitters that interfere with your ham radio operations.
I use the VHF/UHF bands for SOTA, so I am writing from that perspective. My impression is that HF interference is much less likely because these radio sites don’t usually have any HF transmitters. However, they may have broadband noise sources such as networking equipment, power line arcing or switching power supplies that can create problems on HF. Anyway, this post is focused on 2 meters and higher bands.
In my experience, the transmitters at radio sites may include land mobile repeaters (VHF or UHF), NOAA Weather (162.xx MHz), TV/FM broadcast stations and mobile wireless (cellular) systems. The TV/FM broad stations are really bad news because they run a crapton of RF power.
The worst summit I have encountered is Sandia Crest (W5N/SI-001) near Albuquerque, NM. See trip report here. They even have a sign in the parking lot to warn you that the RFI may wipe out your car’s keyless remote.
In a high RFI environment, your radio receiver gets overloaded such that you can’t hear stations calling you but they can hear you just fine. This results in the SOTA activator calling and calling while the chasers get frustrated that the activator never hears their call. Not good. It may not be obvious that this is happening. This blocking of the receiver may come and go, depending on which transmitters happen to be active.
There are a few things that you can do to deal with the RFI:
Move Away From The Source
Probably the first thing to try is just moving away from the source of interference. This may mean moving away from the highest point on the summit but it may be better overall to give up a few feet of elevation to not have the interference. You’ll need to stay in the activation zone to be a legitimate SOTA activation.
Use A Better Radio
Some radios are better than others when it comes to receiver performance including the ability to reject unwanted signals. The low cost radios from China (Baofeng or similar) generally have lousy receivers so they are a poor choice for operating from an RFI-intense summit. Many people report better results with the Yaesu FT-60, a solid performer. Commerical radios from Motorola are even more robust. I’ve been using a small mobile radio for SOTA (Yaesu FT-90) which outperforms most handheld radios.
Change Your Antenna
Using a directional antenna can help…just point it away from the source of the interference. Oddly enough, using a worse performing antenna can help improve your ability to communicate. For example, a rubber duck antenna on a handheld radio will allow less of the interfering signal to get into your receiver which may improve your ability to receive. As long as the antenna is “good enough” to complete the radio contact, it may be the way to go. One trick I’ve used is to deploy two radios, one for receive with a crummy antenna and the other for transmit with a better antenna. That way, you still radiate a stronger signal while reducing the interference into the receiver.
Use A Bandpass Filter
You can insert a filter into your antenna feedline to reduce the interfering signal. The best approach is to use a bandpass filter that passes the frequency you are operating on but attenuates other signals. SOTABeams offers a compact bandpass filter for the 2m band. (Note that it has a 5W power rating which is fine for handheld radios but not more powerful transceivers.) DCI Digital Communications offers higher power filters but they are much larger in size.
Sometimes a small change in frequency might help a bit if the interference is limited to certain frequencies. Another tip is to try another band. That is, if you are getting interference on 2 meters, you may find that the 70 cm band is better. Or vice versa. It all depends on the transmitters at the site.
73 Bob K0NR
On August 10th, she reached 1000 activator points while activating Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004). She had quite the pileup on 146.55 MHz. Her best DX for the day was WY7ATH near Cheyenne, WY at a distance of 167 miles. Not bad!
Early on, she always hiked with me on SOTA activations but didn’t start pursuing activator points until the middle of 2017. All of her SOTA contacts have been on the VHF/UHF bands, lots of 2m FM along with 2m SSB, 70 cm and 23 cm FM.
Joyce has activated 181 summits, 112 unique in 19 associations.
She is the second female Mountain Goat in Colorado (after Lynn/KC0YQF) and is the eighth female goat in North America.
73 Bob K0NR
McQuaid Butte (W0C/SP-019) is a 9043-foot mountain near our cabin in Park County. Joyce/K0JJW and I activated it for Summits On The Air (SOTA) way back in 2013 but for some reason, we had not been back to it. The access road (Salt Creek Road, FS 435) is gated closed from January 1 to June 15 to protect wildlife habitat, so I suppose that is a factor.
Today, we decided to make a return trip to the summit and activate it on VHF/UHF. I remembered that Salt Creek Road can turn into a muddy mess but today it was dry and easily drivable with most vehicles. Salt Creek Road is accessed from Highway 285, south of Fairplay but north of Antero Junction.
There is a good parking spot shown on the map above at 38.95791, -106.00790. A trail begins here, heading east. It used to be 4WD road but it is now closed to motor vehicles. This trail/road heads east and then curves to the north and eventually disappears. About that time, you’ll encounter a fence that needs to be crossed as you make your way towards the summit (approaching from the west). There are pieces of a trail here and there but its mostly bushwacking up the side of the summit. In places, there is substantial downed timber that can be stepped over and around but its mildly annoying.
Our route turned out to be 1.3 miles one way with 650 vertical feet. We both quickly made enough QSOs to qualify for activator points, working W0BV, KD0MRC, K0MGL, WZ0N on 2m FM (and some on 70 cm). The weather was excellent, resulting in a fun SOTA activation in the Pike National Forest.
We will probably return again to this summit because it’s a nice hike that is easy to get to from our cabin. It would also be a great choice for someone passing through on Highways 24 or 285.
73 Bob K0NR
In 2018, Joyce/K0JJW and I did a trip to the Black Hills area of South Dakota to do some SOTA activations: Dakota SOTA Adventure. We really enjoyed that part of South Dakota and figured we would be back. The Black Hills top out at ~7200 feet and the climbs are usually interesting but not very difficult. There are plenty of SOTA summits to choose from and the scenery is beautiful.
This summer we found ourselves on a road trip returning to Colorado from Wisconsin, so we decided to swing by South Dakota for a couple of days. Joyce is getting close to achieving the coveted SOTA Mountain Goat award (1000 activator points), so we were looking to add to her activator score. I’m not saying we only did easy summits but we pretty much did easy summits.
Looking at the SOTA database, we scanned for summits with 6 points or higher that also had a significant number of activations. On this trip, we were driving our Class B RV (basically a big honkin’ van with RV gear in it). This limited our choice of SOTA summits to ones that can be accessed via reasonably good roads. We were fine with the typical gravel US Forest Service road in good condition but not anything worse.
We connected up with Don/K0DAJ who we met at a hamfest in Loveland, CO earlier this year. Don reviewed my list of potential summits and provided valuable feedback and additional summit suggestions. Don also alerted the local hams that might want to get on the air to work us. We use VHF/UHF exclusively for SOTA, so it is easy to get skunked if there isn’t anyone around. (I found out later that Gary/KT0A also passed along the word for us.)
The SOTA Summits
We identified seven summits that we wanted to activate, which would provide 56 new activator points. They ended up being clumped into three northern summits, around Deadwood, and four southern summits southwest of Rapid City. We camped at a USFS campground in between the two clumps, activating the northern three on the first day and the southern summits on the second day.
Terry Peak (W0D/NW-002)
Terry Peak is a drive-up mountain with a short hike up to an observation platform. We approached Terry Peak from the south on Terry Summit Road, off of Hwy 85/Hwy 14A. The Black Hills National Forest map is very helpful for finding all of these summits.
We discovered that Terry Peak is quite the tourist spot and several groups of people showed up while we were there. It is also a big radio site with over a dozen towers and many more transmitters. When we parked, I noticed that the VHF/UHF mobile transceiver in the RV had both S meters pegged at full scale on all frequencies. Rut Roh, there is probably some RF around here. As usual, we had the Yaesu FT-90 transceiver which has a robust receiver in it, and it performed well. Still, I noticed that strong signals would abruptly drop down to being almost unreadable when some transmitter on the site turned on.
Mount Theodore Roosevelt (W0D/NW-023)
Mount Theodore Roosevelt turned out to be a pleasant surprise with a really good trail to the summit (0.4 miles one way, less than 200 feet elevation gain).
Also, at the summit, there is a tower that was built in honor of President Roosevelt. This is a fun little hike with a monument at the summit.
Unnamed Summit – 5110 (W0D/NW-038)
For a third summit, Don suggested an easy-to-access unnamed summit (5110), W0D/NW-038. We got there by driving south from Sturgis on Vanocker Canyon Road (26), then west on Galena Road to USFS 171.1. Driving a short distance north on 171.1 got us to an open area where we parked. Then it was just a bushwack up the hill (no trail), 0.3 miles one way with an elevation gain of 400 feet.
Day 2 was a repeat of summits that we did in 2018, so I won’t repeat all of that here: Odakota Mountain (W0D/BB-002), Bear Mountain (W0D/BB-029), Coolidge Mountain (W0D/BB-012) and Rankin Ridge (BB-089). Refer to the 2018 trip report for more info.
This time, Odakota Mountain was extra special because Don/K0DAJ joined us on the summit.
There is an actual summit marker for Odakota, so I had to get a photo of me standing there.
Most of the contacts were on 146.52 MHz, a few on 446.0 MHz. Joyce’s log and my log are pretty much the same but I did work a few more stations. In summary, we had QSOs with these stations during the two days: AD0HL, K0DAJ, KB0QDG, KC0WC, KD0AYN, KF0AFX, KF0ARA, KF0XO, KF7ZQL, NC0K, W0LFB, W0NIL, W0SEB, W0SSB, W5LJM, W7LFB, WN6QJN and WS0V. Thank you to each and every one of you for getting on the air!
In Colorado, we pretty much work Colorado stations on VHF from the summits, so it was fun to contact other states on this trip. From Bear Mountain, we worked W0NIL and W0SSB in Chadron, NE, about 90 miles away. Not too shabby. From Terry Peak, we worked Clem/KF7ZQL in Carlile, WY at a distance of 50 miles. Not as far, but another state in the log.
We caught AD0HL and KF0ARA on unnamed summit 6167 (W0D/BB-008) from both Odakota Mountain and Bear Mountain, for two Summit-to-Summit (S2S) contacts. We also got two S2S contacts with Don/K0DAJ: Crooks Tower from Terry Peak and Terry Peak from Mount Theodore Roosevelt. It was kind of an S2S festival!
Don/K0DAJ and Terry/AD0HL worked us on 6 of the 7 summits, so they were our most prolific chasers. Thanks, guys! Finally, special thanks to Don for the helpful advice and joining us to play radio in the Black Hills.
We were able to get our minimum 4 QSOs on each summit and usually had many more. This resulted in 56 activator points, so we are quite happy with that. We have just sampled a few of the many SOTA summits in the Black Hills area, so I suspect that we will be back for more.
73 Bob K0NR
August 1 & 2, 2020
Saturday and Sunday
Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun during the 29th annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. The covers the entire weekend but many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.
The event includes all Summits On the Air (SOTA) summits, which adds over 1800 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from with a wide range of difficulty. See the Colorado SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org
Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er group via the ham14er groups.io website. Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org
Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz.
For a complete list of suggested HF, VHF and UHF frequencies see this web page.
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
There is a lot more information available here: www.ham14er.org
Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force
Also be aware that the SOCAL SOTAFEST is happening on the same weekend, which means there will be plenty of SOTA activity on the ham bands! See http://socalsota.com