Posts Tagged ‘POTA’
I had the opportunity to get on the radio this afternoon and at the same time, I had called up the DX Heat cluster on my PC to see what was happening on the bands. I noticed a few POTA (Parks on the Air) stations being spotted and I know of a POTA site that gave more info regarding the activations. I was shocked that in all of 10 minutes, I made 3 contacts. From reading my blog roll Parks on the Air and Summits on the Air are very popular. All these contacts I made were CW but SSB is very popular as well. There were more that I heard but was unable to make contact with as they had a pileup and their signal slowly faded away. I give these ops lots of credit, they pick up and go, have a minimal setup and its very cold this time of year as well.
I was happy to contribute an article to the recent ARRL Parks On The Air (POTA) book. This piece is based on my Pikes Peak mountain topping article that appeared in the June 2023 issue of QST. This book is a collection of articles about POTA from 14 different authors, each writing about a different aspect of the program. The articles are all easy to read and generally provide a first-hand account of how the author has experienced POTA operating. There is plenty of beginner information and operating tips sprinkled throughout the book. More experienced POTA enthusiasts will probably pick up a few new ideas as well.
The Table of Contents below lists the articles and authors, giving you a good idea of the material covered. The meat of the book is only 118 pages long and it is quite easy to read.
My piece covered the triple activation I did from the summit of Pikes Peak, combining POTA, SOTA, and the June VHF Contest into one mountaintop adventure. For POTA, the park was the Pike National Forest (K-4404). I’ve done this type of combo activation in the past, sometimes just SOTA + POTA or just SOTA + VHF Contest. This time I did all three.
73 Bob K0NR
Lobo Overlook is an excellent summit and tourist spot near Wolf Creek Pass, one of the most scenic passes in Colorado. I’ve been up there for VHF contests and other mountaintop operations and initially thought it might be a SOTA summit. No such luck, as it is superseded by a higher summit nearby (W0C/RG-169). Lobo Overlook is accessed via an easy 3-mile gravel road just off the pass. The road leads to two small loops at the top, one of which is the actual Lobo Overlook while the other goes to an obvious radio site. The trail to RG-169 is best accessed from the radio site, so we parked there. Wolf Creek Pass and Lobo Overlook sit right on the Continental Divide and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) passes through here just a bit to the west.
This unnamed summit is listed as 11820 in the SOTA database. However, Lists of John (which was used to create the W0C SOTA database) shows this summit as 11831. My topo map seems to agree with 11831, so this might be an error. Of course, such a cool summit near the CDT deserves a name, so Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to call it Lobo Peak, for obvious reasons. (I looked for an existing nearby Lobo Peak and did not find one.)
Near the radio site, we started at the marked trailhead and headed west on Lobo Trail (878), actually going downhill to intersect the CDT about a half mile down the trail. At the trailhead, it was not obvious which summit we were headed to and it might not even be visible at that point. The summit did reveal itself as we headed down the CDT (see first photo above). We followed the CDT to a visible game trail that takes off steeply to the right (lat/lon 37.49765, -106.81515). There are several game trails that split off, heading up towards the saddle to the left of the summit and we stayed on the most established one. We set up our station within the activation zone just below the actual summit, avoiding the rock scrambling to get to the top.
The one-way distance on the trail is 1.2 miles with an up-and-down profile. Lobo Overlook is only slightly lower in elevation from “Lobo Peak”. The trail starts at about 11,770 feet, descending to a low point of 11,500 and back up to 11,800 at the summit. So that produces a net ascent of about 300 feet, maybe more, one way. Of course, you get to repeat this on the way back.
SOTA and POTA Activations
Once in the activation zone, we deployed the IC-705 on 2m FM, driving the 3-element Yagi antenna. We worked Travis/KB9LMJ on 146.52 MHz, who was mobile in Pagosa Springs. Further calling on 2m FM did not yield any contacts, but K0JJW and I did work each other on VHF/UHF. We had anticipated that this might be a tough place to activate on VHF, so we brought along the HF gear and set up an EndFed Halfwave antenna for 20m. Propagation was good and we soon worked 11 stations on 20m SSB.
This summit sits right on the dividing line between the Rio Grande National Forest and the San Juan National Forest, both valid for Parks On The Air (POTA). We opted to operate from the Rio Grande side (K-4405) because that was a new one for both of us.
Continental Divide Trail
I’ve hiked sections of the Continental Divide Trail before, including some pre-SOTA backpack trips with Denny/KB9DPF. It is a great trail because it runs along the backbone of the Rocky Mountains. It is often accessible via roads to high mountain passes. (Another example is Wander Ridge, just off Cottonwood Pass.) Once you hop onto the CDT, you are hiking an established trail that is literally on top of the world.
This is an excellent, easy-to-access summit in the Wolf Creek Pass area. So if you are in the area, this might be one to activate. The road to Lobo Overlook is closed during the winter.
73 Bob K0NR
Argentine Peak (W0C/SR-019) is a high 13er (13,738 ft) in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. I had my eye on this summit for a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation for quite some time now. This summit is a short distance from Argentine Pass, which is the fourth-highest road in Colorado at 13,207 feet. A non-radio goal I have is to drive the Jeep up the twenty highest roads in Colorado, so Argentine Pass is on that list. Not only that, Argentine Peak sits on the Continental Divide, separating the Arapaho National Forest and the White River National Forest, so it can also be activated for Parks On The Air (POTA).
So the plan emerged: Joyce/K0JJW and I would take the Jeep to Argentine Pass and then climb up to Argentine Peak for a SOTA and POTA activation. The road is usually blocked by snow for much of the summer, making it a late summer/early fall adventure. Somehow September slipped away and it is now October, but fortunately, the road is still open. Note that the more common way to hike Argentine Pass is from Silver Dollar Lake trailhead (see KX0R trip report).
The 4WD route starts with FS 248.1 as it leaves Guanella Pass Road, about 3 miles south of Georgetown, CO (see map above). The forest service road takes off at a point where the Guanella Pass Road takes a very sharp bend. You should have a good topo map to guide you on this route as there are quite a few roads in the area. In general, you follow FS 248.1 which has some subvariants such as 248.1B and 248.1K. The exact choice of roads is not critical but, eventually, you need to get on FS 724.1 which sports a few wide and steep switchbacks up to Argentine Pass. The one-way distance is 9 miles and it took us about 1.5 hours to make the drive.
This road and route is considered moderate 4WD and FS 248.1 provides a good taste of that right after you leave the paved road. Many other sections of the road are easy 4WD but there are some challenging spots along the way. This is a real 4WD road, so you’ll need a decent high-clearance 4WD vehicle in the class of a Wrangler, Bronco, 4Runner, etc. We drove a stock Jeep Wrangler and had no trouble. However, at one spot, the wheel placement was very critical, so Joyce spotted me as I drove through it. Not that difficult…unless you screw it up.
As shown below, the climbing route up Argentine Peak (blue line) follows the Continental Divide ridge line as it heads south from Argentine Pass. The road up Argentine Pass ends kind of high in the pass, so at first, we were walking downhill. A faint trail follows the top of the ridge but fades out in many places. Looking at the topo map, I underestimated how much up and down there would be on the ridge but it was not too difficult.
The hike is about 1 mile with 650 feet vertical (one-way). We had fantastic weather in October: sunny, with temperatures in the 40’s F and some light wind (10 to 15 mph). This is one of those top-of-the-world hiking experiences, right along the Continental Divide.
This mountain goat wandered by while we were on the summit.We used our standard 2m/70cm FM station: Yaesu FT-90 running 30 watts to a 3-element Yagi for 2 meters or a 7-element Yagi for 70 cm. We worked stations mostly on 146.52 MHz FM and a few on 446.0 MHz. With downtown Denver about 45 miles away, we easily worked stations in the greater Denver area. We were also successful working stations out to 60 or 70 miles, often with good signal reports in both directions. We both made 20 QSOs using VHF/UHF.
For POTA, we were right on the dividing line between White River NF and Arapaho NF but needed to choose one for our activation. We had previously activated Arapaho, so we chose to operate from White River NF on this trip (K-4410) which is a new park for us.
We had an absolute blast on this activation. I think it was the combination of a Jeep trip, hiking, SOTA, and POTA all wrapped into one adventure that made it so good. As a bonus, we had excellent weather and a visit by the mountain goat!
73 Bob K0NR
To save time, let me get this out of the way:
Yes, I do know that making contacts via FT8 is not as personal and may not be as much fun as running a pileup on SSB or CW. Still, it is Real Ham Radio and enjoyable in a different way.
I’ve used this station on multiple activations now but I have to admit that these have been mostly for POTA. It seems that whenever I get on top of a SOTA summit, I tend to focus on making VHF contacts which consumes the available time and the HF gear remains stashed way in my pack. This is more about my operating habits than anything else. Looking at spots though, there is a lot of FT8 on POTA and not nearly as much on SOTA. The SOTA crowd tends to have a lot of traditional CW enthusiasts and maybe POTA has fewer of them. Also, SOTA operating is usually backpack portable so carrying a compute device for FT8 may be considered an unnecessary hassle. POTA stations are often in or near a vehicle, so station size/weight is less of a concern.
For POTA, I make sure my activation is posted at pota.app, indicating the park number I am activating. When calling CQ, I modify the standard FT8 text to be “CQ POTA” to indicate that I am doing an activation. When my signal is detected by the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), a spot is created that shows me doing a POTA activation from that park. Pretty cool. If I have an internet connection, I monitor my spots using the Ham Alert app. This provides useful feedback about where my signal is showing up around the world.
But what are the main reasons that FT8 is useful for POTA?
FT8 is popular
In case you haven’t noticed, FT8 has emerged from being just a niche activity to now being very popular on most ham bands. At times this can be a problem with the standard FT8 frequency slice being overloaded with signals. There is a lot of FT8 activity on the bands, for general ham use and SOTA/POTA.
FT8 works well with low power
FT8 and the other WSJT-X modes are designed to work well with weak signals, so they are a great match for low-power operation. Of course, QRP power levels are very common for backpack portable activations, mostly due to the limitations of carrying a reasonable-size battery.
FT8 signals are spotted on RBN
As mentioned earlier, FT8 signals are picked up and spotted by RBN. For better or worse, people have come to rely on spotting for many types of ham radio operating. When on a SOTA or POTA activation, you really want to be spotted as such. For phone activations, I usually do that with a smartphone but that requires some extra effort and a mobile phone connection. FT8 and RBN take care of that for you.
FT8 logging is automated
The various FT8 software applications automatically log the QSO information, which means it is easy and less error-prone. After the activation, I just pull up the ADIF log file, check it for obvious errors, add in the SOTA/POTA info, and submit it to the appropriate websites.
FT8 is campsite friendly
This last one may be a bit subtle but I’ve found FT8 to be campsite friendly. By that, I mean I can get on the air at any time (early, late or at nap time) and not disturb anyone else. (On SSB, I would likely be enthusiastically yelling into the microphone trying to work a pileup.) Besides the audio noise factor, FT8 operation allows for multitasking. I can converse with my fellow campers while still keeping up with the FT8 flow. Alternatively, I can cook dinner, make a fire, or pack my backpack while the FT8 QSOs roll in. This may sound a little bit like cheating but, hey, whatever works.
So clearly, I’ve been having fun with FT8 for POTA. I consider it to be another tool in the toolkit. There are times when I will make good use of it but there will also be times to use other modes.
73 Bob K0NR
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
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