Posts Tagged ‘vhf/uhf’
This year, the Colorado 14er Event had the normal two-day (Saturday and Sunday) schedule plus two bonus days (Friday and Monday) for four activation days. Of course, Joyce/K0JJW and I decided to activate all four days using VHF/UHF frequencies. Frankly, we have not been doing that much hiking this year, so we were careful to lay out a plan that would work for us over four days.
Kaufman Ridge (W0C/SP-081)
On Friday, we hiked up Kaufman Ridge, which is a relatively easy summit near our cabin. I had an online meeting in the morning that caused us to get a late start this day, but we did chase some activators in the morning. On the summit, we worked a number of stations on VHF/UHF using the IC-705 transceiver. It was clear that most of the activators left their summit before noon, as is the usual practice for the 14ers and high peaks.
Normally, we focus our SOTA fun on VHF/UHF but this time I brought along an end-fed halfwave antenna for 20m and made a few 20m SSB contacts, including one with Elliot/K6EL on Mount Davidson (W6/NC-423). That’s right, a rare HF SOTA activation by K0NR. Joyce and I also turned in a log for Parks On The Air (POTA), which was San Isabel National Forest (K-4407).
Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004)
On Saturday, I wanted to focus on making some 1.2 GHz (23 cm) contacts so we chose Pikes Peak as a good platform for that. Pikes is always fun because of its easy access (yes, we drove up) and its high location towering over eastern Colorado. We had Jon/KM4PEH and his wife join us on the summit, taking turns using the VHF/UHF bands. I made 42 QSOs on the various bands but my 23 cm contact with N0OY was the most exciting. I worked him in Salina KS on 1296.1 MHz using CW for a distance of 627km (392 mi). This is my new personal best for SOTA on that band.
Saturday was a good day for Summit-to-Summit (S2S) radio contacts, as I picked up 13 of them, all on VHF/UHF in Colorado. Joyce and I both worked Dave/W0ADV on Capitol Peak (W0C/SR-060) using 1.2 GHz FM. Capitol is a challenging climb, as shown in Dave’s video here.
Pikes Peak is in the Pike National Forest (K-4404), so we submitted our logs for POTA.
Mount Antero (W0C/SR-003)
On Sunday, we got up early and drove the Jeep up Mt Antero Road, parking at about 13,600 feet in elevation. This cuts a large chunk of the distance and elevation off the ascent to 14,268 feet. Besides, who wants to hike on a 4WD road anyway? It is still a decent climb over the rocky trail to get to the top.
This was my fourth SOTA activation of Antero, including its first activation back in 2011. (Actually, I’ve activated this many more times during the Colorado 14er Event, which predates SOTA in Colorado.) The activity was down a bit from Saturday and we were much further away from the large population centers, which is a factor on VHF/UHF. Still, we both made 17 QSOs, including five S2S contacts. We submitted our logs to POTA for San Isabel National Forest (K-4407).
Wander Ridge (W0C/SP-042)
On Monday, we activated one of our favorite summits near Cottonwood Pass, SP-042. Usually, I would refer to this as an Unnamed Summit (12,792), which is the name the SOTA database shows. Dave/W0ADV pointed out this summit does have a name: Wander Ridge, so I’ve adopted it for this special peak. The USGS approved that name in 2017 but it has not yet made it into the SOTA database.
From an outdoor hiking perspective, this was the best summit of the weekend. The hike starts at Cottonwood Pass and follows the Continental Divide Trail south toward the summit. Then, a short off-trail hike takes you to the summit. The weather and views were excellent!
The activity was a bit light but we both made 10 contacts, enough to qualify for a POTA activation (in addition to SOTA). This summit is right on the border of San Isabel NF and Gunnison NF, and we chose to activate it from the San Isabel side (K-4407). We only had one S2S contact, with Steve/K5SJC on Pikes Peak.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend with four excellent summit activations. It was wonderful to work our old and new SOTA friends on the VHF/UHF bands. My special thanks go to Pete/N0OY for firing up his mega 23cm station to work me on Pikes Peak.
73 Bob K0NR
August 5 to 8, 2022
Friday to Monday
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 annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. Be aware that many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.
This event is normally held the first full weekend in August. Following up on the success of the 10-day W0C SOTA event in 2021, in 2022 we will add two bonus days to the Colorado 14er Event. The main two days remain Saturday and Sunday (Aug 6 & 7), while the bonus days are Friday Aug 5 and Monday Aug 8th, for those SOTA enthusiasts that need more than two days of SOTA fun!
The 14er event includes Summits On the Air (SOTA) peaks, which includes over 1800 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 W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org.
Important: The recommended 2m FM frequencies have been changed to 146.58, 146.55, and 146.49 MHz, to align with the use of the North America Adventure Frequency for SOTA (146.58). The National Simplex Calling Frequency (146.52) may be used as appropriate. See the operating frequencies page.
See the very cool Colorado 14er Event gear available at https://www.cafepress.com/mtngoatwear
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
For a complete list of suggested HF, VHF, and UHF frequencies see this web page.
And there is more!
On the same weekend, SOTA enthusiasts in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon will activate summits for the Pacific Northwest Not-Quite-Fourteener (PNW-NQF) event. Also on the same weekend, the Southern California SOTA group will hold their SOCAL SOTAFEST. So there will be plenty of SOTA stations to work that weekend.
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force
For the June VHF contest, I operated Single-Op Portable from the summit of Pikes Peak. I combined this with Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA) activations. In a few hours, I made 80 QSOs on 6m, 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, and 23cm bands. It was a fun time.
Quite a few of the contacts were made on 2m FM, The Utility Mode. Even though CW, SSB and WSJT modes are more efficient (especially with weak signals), FM is still the least common denominator for modulation. Everyone has it, so there are more QSOs available with that mode.FM is the default choice for easy VHF simplex communication.
Where Be Digital?
Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen in my brain, but I started to wonder:
Why the heck, in the year 2022 are we still using an analog mode for so much of our amateur communication?
FM was invented in the 1930s, which is ancient history from a technological point of view. Of course, we do have many handheld and mobile radios available that support digital voice (DV) modulation. In fact, we probably have too many digital formats to choose from, all incompatible, which has fragmented the market. The three dominant digital voice modes are D-STAR (first out of the chute), DMR (a commercial standard) and Fusion (Yaesu’s C4FM offering). I think these all have their advantages and disadvantages which attract various people to support one or more of them. However, none of them is dominant and universal, like FM. It is interesting that virtually all DV radios on VHF/UHF include analog FM because it is The Utility Mode, the fallback modulation that keeps us all compatible.
Universal Digital Voice
For this post, I am primarily looking at this from a SOTA and POTA perspective, which means simplex operation and not repeaters. (However, you could extend this idea to repeaters, too.) I am also not so concerned about keyboard modes, just DV plus some basic digital telemetry that goes with it. It can’t be too complex or it will not be fast and easy to use.
I propose a universal DV mode that is implemented in all VHF/UHF transceivers (think in terms of your typical handheld or mobile transceiver for 2m and 70cm). And yes, go ahead and also implement D-STAR, DMR, Fusion, or whatever, but give us a universal digital format that just works. The key idea is to have a digital least common denominator mode that replaces FM. This mode can be the defacto standard for “meet me on simplex” and become the Next Generation Utility Mode. How cool would it be to get on top of a summit and push the DV Call button and work stations on digital many miles away? The station’s callsign should be embedded in the digital stream along with location data (lat/lon or grid locator) and some user-defined fields ( SOTA reference or other information). This format should also have really good weak-signal performance, significantly better than FM, for when the signal-to-noise ratio is low. All the technology must be open, to encourage wide adoption, with no proprietary codecs or modulation schemes.
The technology for this already exists and it would not be difficult to implement. The real challenge is the lack of industry coordination and collaboration between amateur radio manufacturers. Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing any time soon.
That’s my thought for today. What do you think?
73 Bob K0NR
In May, we met up with our friends Paul/KF9EY and Beth/KB9DOU for a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Joyce/K0JJW and I had been on the parkway before but had not completed the whole route. We all thought it would be a great trip to do together, in about a week, so we would not be in a rush. Both couples have Class B RVs (camper vans), which are well-suited for such a trip.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is part of the National Park Service, construction started in the 1930s and took decades to complete. The basic concept is a scenic road with a maximum speed limit of 45 MPH connecting Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Shenandoah National Park. We met at the Smoky Mountain end of the parkway and traveled north to Shenandoah.
Of course, we included some Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA) activations. The Blue Ridge area is target-rich with SOTA and POTA opportunities.
Our first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation was from Clingmans Dome (W4C/WM-001), the highest spot in the Great Smoky Mountain NP. This is an easy activation with a half-mile hike (one way) to an observation tower. See my previous trip report here.
We opted for a simple VHF SOTA activation, using a Yaesu FT-2DR handheld transceiver and an RH-770 whip antenna. The observation tower was not too crowded and we were able to make a surprising number of 2m FM radio contacts. We just called CQ on 146.52 and raised a number of home stations, mobile stations, and a few campers. Joyce, Paul, and I all completed at least 10 contacts so we decided to submit the activation for both POTA and SOTA.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Then we headed up the parkway, stopping along the way for photo opportunities, a winery visit, lunch stops, and short hikes. We stayed at different campgrounds for three nights along the parkway. To activate the parkway for POTA (K-3378), we stopped at a picnic area for lunch and set up for 20m SSB. We used our typical POTA setup: Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed-halfwave antenna supported by a fishing pole.
The station worked well for us but it was a little slow completing contacts on 20m. A 20 AH Bioenno battery supplied the DC power for the FT-991 and we kept the RF output at around 50 watts. I used HAMRS on my Windows PC for logging and it worked well for me. (That logging program keeps getting better with each revision.) Paul and Joyce preferred to log using old-fashioned pen and paper.
Loft Mountain Campground
We camped the last two nights of our trip together at Loft Mountain Campground in Shenandoah NP. This is a rather unique spot in that the campground is located on top of a broad SOTA summit and is inside a national park. The SOTA summit is appropriately named Big Flat Mountain (W4V/BR-009), while Shenandoah NP is park K-0064. This makes for an easy SOTA plus POTA activation.
The summit is located inside the National Radio Quiet Zone, which may require you to coordinate with the NRQZ before operating. However, the W4V Association Reference Manual says that “the typical SOTA activation does not require coordination,” mainly because it is a short-term, temporary radio activity.
Once again, we operated midday on 20m SSB and had reasonably good propagation. Joyce and I made some stateside contacts but when Paul took over, he snagged a couple of European stations. That might be due to his superior operating skill or maybe the band just shifted. Between the three of us, we made 45 QSOs in about an hour or so.
We had a fun time on this trip, which is another example of blending SOTA and POTA activities with a camping vacation. Our “leisurely pace” strategy worked out well and we were never in a hurry. Of course, there are always more things we could have done. The Blue Ridge Parkway has plenty of interesting tourist, hiking, and SOTA/POTA opportunities. Too many to do in a week.
73 Bob K0NR
We have been looking for an opportunity to activate a SOTA summit in our home state of Indiana. Joyce/K0JJW and I were both born there and misspent our youth there. Of course, you might be thinking “there are SOTA summits in Indiana?” Yes, there are three. Two of them are on public land, one is on private land and apparently inaccessible. These three summits are in the southern part of the state, not too far from the hills of Kentucky.
We were headed south towards the Smoky Mountains and passing through southern Indiana and decided to activate Jackson County HP (W9/IN-002). First, we camped at one of Indiana’s best state parks: Brown County State Park, about an hour away from IN-002. The next day we headed to the Jackson-Washington State Forest, where the summit is located. The Indiana Dept of Natural Resources supplies this trail map. As you’ll see, there are a number of trails that can take you to IN-002, but we chose the most direct route, starting at Knob Lake.
There is a State Forest campground around Knob Lake, so that would be another option for camping out.
We headed up a gated road that was labeled “Trails 2 and 3”. This road narrowed into a trail and we took a left turn at the Trail 2 sign. This is slightly tricky because Trail 2 goes off to the left and it continues on straight. The “left” Trail 2 ascends up to IN-002, for a total elevation gain of 465 feet and a distance of 0.7 miles. Go Left.
Once on top, we unpacked our recently purchased Icom IC-705 transceiver. This seemed like a good choice for this activation. While we were sure to try good old 2m FM, there was a good chance that we would get skunked on VHF at this rural and not-too-high summit. Sure enough, 2m FM was silent, even using the mighty 3-element Yagi antenna.
Next, we set up the end-fed halfwave for 20 meters, hoisted by the popular extendable fishing pole. OK, I admit that I had to do some fiddling around with the antenna to get the SWR to behave. Somehow, the test run at the campsite the day before was not sufficient. The SWR was way too high for the “I like 50 ohms” Icom, so some adjustments were required. After an unreasonable amount of fiddling, we put out an SSB signal on 20 meters that seemed good.
The band conditions were not great but they were not terrible. Calling CQ did not seem to work very well, so we tuned around and worked a number of Parks On The Air (POTA) stations to get our 4 QSOs. At that point, we declared victory and headed back down the hill.
This summit was easy to access and an easy hike. If you are in the area and want to knock out a Hoosier SOTA activation, this one is a great choice.
73 Bob K0NR
When doing VHF activations for Summits On The Air (SOTA), the radio range is dependent on the height of the summit and the surrounding terrain. The Radio Mobile website from Roger/VE2DBE is a great tool that can be used to estimate the radio range from a particular site. Repeater system owners often use tools like this to predict the coverage of their repeaters. I don’t normally do this type of analysis for SOTA…I just look at a topo map and get a rough idea of how far my signal will go. Then, I decided to spend a little time analyzing a few summits in Colorado to see what I could learn.
Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004)
Pikes is a 14,115-foot summit that towers over the eastern plains of Colorado, making it an ideal radio site. The Radio Mobile plot shown below shows the solid radio coverage in blue and the fringe area in yellow. I won’t go into how to use Radio Mobile on this post. As you’d expect, you enter the location of the radio site (summit) along with various parameters such as frequency, minimum detectable signal level, transmit power, and antenna gain. I entered some nominal parameters consistent with typical SOTA stations on 146 MHz (2 meters).
Pikes covers about half of the state of Colorado, reaching out to the Kansas state line. To the west, the coverage does not go as far because the radio signals are blocked by other mountain ranges. In particular, the signal tends to drop off at the Sawatch Range, west of Buena Vista. I’ve activated Pikes many times and this plot lines up well with my general experience. The blue area can be worked quite reliably with a decent station on both ends. By “decent” I mean a 20-watt transmitter on the summit with a small Yagi antenna and a 40-watt radio with an omnidirectional antenna at the chaser station. Working stations near the Kansas state line is usually easy on 2m FM. The highest spot in Kansas (Mount Sunflower, not a SOTA summit) can usually be worked without much trouble. However, longer distance contacts are possible, especially using SSB or CW. I’ve written before about the Myth of VHF Line-Of-Sight.
When using VHF for SOTA activations, It is important to consider the potential stations that will be within range and on the air for you to work. Besides being a high summit, Pikes overlooks the major cities in Colorado, from Fort Collins to Pueblo, so finding someone to work on 146.52 MHz is usually easy. It is common to have a pile up of stations calling you.
Colorado has over fifty 14,000-foot mountains and all those are workable from Pikes Peak on 2m FM.
Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063)
Mt Herman is another popular SOTA summit, with an elevation of 9063 feet, not nearly as high as Pikes Peak. This summit also looks out over the eastern plains of Colorado, as shown in the coverage plot below. Although the range is not as good as Pikes, it still covers the major cities, so again it is easy to do a 2m FM activation from Mt Herman. It is more difficult to work stations to the west. I can usually work stations in Woodland Park and Divide from Mt Herman, but reaching Buena Vista is a challenge.
Threemile Mountain (W0C/SP-107)
VHF activations can be much more challenging when the summit is further away from populated areas. Let’s consider Threemile Mountain, which is 10,020 feet in elevation, located about 20 miles south of Hartsel, CO. This summit tends to get blocked to the east by the Front Range and to the west by the Sawatch Range. Even though the summit is higher than Mt Herman, its radio range is not as good.
In particular, it does not cover Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo very well, so the number of available stations to work drops dramatically. There are a number of stations that monitor 146.52 MHz up in the mountains, so if you are patient you can usually make some VHF contacts. This can be a source of frustration for VHF activators, or you can take it on as a challenge. I have activated Threemile five times and I don’t think I’ve ever worked a Denver station on 2m FM. I have worked some Denver stations from there using 2m SSB, during a VHF contest. Oh, I did manage to work Larry/N0LL in Smith Center, KS on 2m SSB for a distance of 372 miles. See Radio Fun on Threemile Mountain (W0C/SP-107). So you never know what you’re going to get on VHF/UHF.
So what conclusions can we draw from this analysis?
- Radio Mobile does a good job of predicting typical 2m FM coverage. My experience on these summits aligns well with the Radio Mobile predictions.
- But much longer distance contacts are still possible. VHF is not limited to line of sight. Radio Mobile is intended to predict reliable radio coverage, not the exceptional radio contact.
- Be aware of the population density of the coverage area because that is a huge factor for making radio contacts. New VHF activators should start on summits that overlook the major Colorado cities.
- Improve your VHF activator station. Every additional dB of signal improves your ability to make those weak-signal contacts on the edge of the coverage area.
As always, get off the couch, gather your radio gear, and head for a summit.
73 Bob K0NR
In January 2021, I wrote about the North America Adventure Frequency (NAAF) which originated in the North America SOTA community. About a year later, how is this working out? Is anyone actually using it?
A few key points to remember:
- The NAAF is 146.58 MHz.
- This frequency is in addition to, not a replacement for, the National Simplex Calling Frequency 146.52 MHz.
- Local usage will likely vary depending on needs.
- Program 146.58 MHz as The Other Simplex Frequency in your radio.
I’ve noticed that quite a few SOTA activators are posting Alerts and Spots with 146.58 MHz. For example, K2CZH and KN6OUU posted these SOTA Alerts:
Of course, the National 2m FM Calling Frequency (146.52 MHz) still gets a lot of use. I tend to use Five Two when I am activating in rural areas, some distance from the major cities. The frequency is usually quiet AND there are a number of folks that tend to monitor it. I use the NAAF when I’m near the big cities (Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, …). Putting out a Spot is usually important, to get the attention of the more dedicated SOTA chasers watching SOTAwatch. That is, I don’t think there are a lot of people monitoring the frequency (compared to 146.52), so a spot on SOTAwatch gets them on frequency.
Some of the Parks On The Air (POTA) activators are also using NAAF. Here’s an activation alert by KD7DTS from the POTA website:
So I think the NAAF is working as intended. It is not a replacement for 146.52 MHz but a standard choice for portable operating when you want to stay off the calling frequency. Thanks to everyone that has given it a try.
73 Bob K0NR
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