Saturday, December 17, 2016

Activation Report: SOTA W6/CC-063

Today I went to the summit of Mount Tamalpais, in Marin County across the Golden Gate from San Francisco, intending to attempt a "summit-to-summit" contact with my friend Andrew, VK1AD, who was activating Mount Stromlo (VK1/AC-043) in the Australian Capital Territory. Much to my chagrin, I left my freshly-charged 12-volt battery sitting on the kitchen counter at home and was unable to work any HF. It was also a little embarrassing, as a father and his two young sons were watching me set up my rig in hopes of seeing me operate my radio. It was a little awkward for all of us when I realized what I had done.

I had brought a handheld FM radio (a Yaesu VX-6R), however, and was at least able to log 9 contacts on the 2-meter band (146.520 MHz FM) and qualify for an activation of the summit.

Looking South from Mt. Tamalpais
Looking south, with San Francisco in the distance.

Looking South-Southwest from Mt. Tamalpais
The Pacific Ocean, over which I had hoped to talk to VK1AD.

Mt. Tamalpais
The summit of the east peak of Mt. Tamalpais, as seen from below.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Portable/Mobile on Mt. Vaca

Today I drove up to near the summit of Mount Vaca (SOTA W6/NC-151), put my Yaesu ATAS-25 antenna on the roof of my car, and "tuned the bands" to see what I would come up with. I didn't operate as a Summits-On-The-Air activation; I was operating from my vehicle--a SOTA no-no, plus I already activated the summit this year.

I logged four contacts:
  • On 20 meters (14.340 MHz), I chased KD0YOB, who was activating Iron Mountain (SOTA summit W0C/MZ-031) in northern Colorado, gaining four chaser points for myself. The distance was approximately 822 miles (1323 km).
  • On 14.275 MHz, I chased N4CD, who was conducting a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation at Carlsbad Caverns National Park (NP10) for a distance of approximately 1,079 miles (1736 km).
  • On 17 meters (18.125 MHz), I responded to a CQ from Norm, NH6I, on the "Big Island" of Hawaii (approximately 2,419 miles [3893 km] away). This is my longest-distance contact thus far.
  • On 40 meters (7.230 MHz) I logged another NPOTA contact, this time with K6WDE, who was operating from the Mojave National Preserve (PV13) in the Southern California desert, a little over 400 miles (644 km) away.
On the first three contacts, I needed to run 75 watts to be heard; 50 watts was sufficient for the last one.

My trusty Yaesu FT-857D is ready for action in the back of my RAV4.

Looking east, with Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance.

Looking northeast; in the distance, the Sutter Buttes can be seen rising from the floor of the Sacramento Valley.

These are just a few of the many radio towers that line Blue Ridge.

Looking west toward San Francisco Bay, with Mt. Tamalpais in the distance at right center.

Activation Report: SOTA W6/CC-071

On Tuesday, November 29, I activated Point Reyes Hill (elevation 1336 feet [407 meters]), which is located within the boundaries of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Access is quite easy, with a short .4-mile walk from the gate at the end of the road near the top of the hill.

While driving the road up the hill, I encountered another ham. Fred, N6YEU, was activating Point Reyes for National Parks On The Air (NPOTA). He was operating from the camper on the back of his pickup truck; the large inverted-v dipole antenna projecting above the truck is what caught my eye and identified him as a ham. After chatting with Fred for a few minutes, I continued a short distance up the road to the parking area near the gate.

The activation area at the top of the hill has spectacular views of the seashore and the Pacific Ocean. There is also, quite conveniently for a radio operator, a picnic table. The sky was crystal clear, with a few light clouds overhead and some fog over the ocean in the distance. There was just light breeze; it was hard to believe that it had been rainy and stormy for the several days prior.

I set up my rig and started calling "CQ" on the 20-meter band (14.310 MHz). It took a little time before I logged my first contact, NQ7R in Arizona. Two minutes later, I heard from the aforementioned Fred, N6YEU, who was just down the hill from me. He also responded 35 minutes later, after I rolled over to 7.239 MHz (40 meters). I logged a total of eight contacts over a period of just over two hours, including another Arizona station, two from New Mexico, and one from Southern California. A highlight was a Summit-to-Summit with K6YOA/P on Ryan Mountain Mountain (W6/CD-016) in the Joshua Tree National Monument, also another NPOTA contact.

A perfect spot for a hilltop radio station. The antenna is a Yaesu ATAS-25.

Portable radio station W6SAE: Yaesu FT-857D transceiver, LDG Z-11 Pro II antenna tuner, LiFePo4 battery, and MFJ headphones.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

W6SAE (Portable) Log

This is a page from the notebook I use when I'm operating portable, in the field. It's the first page from my most recent Summits-On-The-Air (SOTA) activation, on Pine Hill in Northern California. Some of the notations (the check-marks, distances, "Georgia") were added later, after I got home and started to enter the information in the computer.

W6SAE Logbook

Translation of the stations logged:
W6JMP (Gene, El Dorado Hills, CA--less than 4 miles away)
KK6ZLY/AG (Alex, on another SOTA summit--"S-2-S!")
W0MNA (in eastern Kansas)
W0ERI (in eastern Kansas)
N4DA (in Georgia [!])

This was my first time on HF, so I was pretty excited about the Kansas and Georgia QSO's.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Activation Report: SOTA W6/NS-357

Yesterday (November 18), I activated Pine Hill, near the community of Rescue in the Sierra Nevada foothills, 25 miles or so east of Sacramento in El Dorado County. It has an elevation of 2,059 feet (628 meters). It's located in the Pine Hill Preserve, home to a number of unique species of plants and animals. The summit is open for public access, as long as visitors keep to the trails.

This was to be my first expedition in which I operated HF in single-sideband (SSB) mode, as opposed to my usual VHF/UHF FM. I tried not to set my expectations too high, as it was planned at the last minute and I felt somewhat disorganized. In addition, I was not fully confident that I really knew what I was doing when it came to SSB. (High Frequency or "HF" are the bands with which one tries for the long-distance "DX" contacts.)

I was able to drive in to within about 6/10 of a mile from the summit, where there is a gate for pedestrian access. The walk up the paved private road was relatively easy. Once at the top, the view was impressive, as can be seen through my photos.

After I caught my breath and collected myself, I set up the radio and antenna, plugged in the headphones, and double-checked to make sure that I was operating within my frequency privileges. Then I spotted myself on the SOTA Goat app to advise the chasers that I was on the air.

I tried the 40-meter band (7.220 MHz) first. I called "CQ SOTA" and immediately received a response from Gene, W6JMP. Gene's QTH (station location) was 3.69 miles away in El Dorado Hills--I literally drove right by his house on my way to the hill...well, at least my signal was getting out.

After several fruitless minutes on 40 meters, I decided to switch to 20 meters. As I was spotting myself on SOTA Goat I saw that an acquaintance, Alex, KK6ZLY/AG, had just spotted himself on Hill 1272 (W6/NC-387), approximately 73 miles (118 km) to the southwest. I rolled over to 14.310 MHz just in time to hear him calling CQ. I logged my first "Summit-to-Summit" contact, and 73 miles was better than 3.89--but I was still not setting any records for distance.

Encouraged by this QSO, I switched to 14.291 MHz and, after confirming the frequency was clear, started calling CQ myself. At 2125 hours UTC (1:25 p.m. local), W0MNA responded, followed by W0ERI a minute later. Their QTH? "Eastern Kansas." Roughly 1,395 miles (2244 km) away. Now, this is what I got into the hobby for! Their signals were quite strong and clear; mine was slightly less so on their end.

Three minutes later, N4DA.  His signal was quite strong on my end, although mine was apparently not so good on his end. We were able to successfully complete the QSO, though. Because of the difficulty hearing me on his end, I never caught his QTH. I made a mental note to look up his callsign when I got home.

N4DA was my last contact on HF, and after another 10 minutes or so I switched over to 146.520 MHz (FM) to drum up a few local contacts. I logged four in quick succession, the furthest over 90 miles away in Lake County, California. My grand total for the day was nine QSO's.

I packed up my rig: a Yaesu FT-857D, running through an LDG Z-11 Pro II antenna tuner to a Yaesu ATAS-25 portable vertical antenna--I operated with 50 watts on 40 and 20 meters, 5 watts on 146.520.

As I drove home, I wondered about N4DA. I knew that Region 4 was in the southeastern U.S., but operators here are not required to change their prefixes when they move so I wasn't sure. As soon as I got home I went to the computer and looked him up: Cartersville, Georgia, 2,023 miles (3255 km) away! And with 50 watts and a small vertical antenna on my end.

All in all, not bad for my very first attempt at HF. Especially considering my lack of confidence when I started. Needless to say, my confidence--and enthusiasm--shot way up.

Clicking on any image below will enlarge it.

Portable station W6SAE; those rocks made a convenient work station.

Yaesu ATAS-25 ("Active Tuning Antenna System"), configured for HF--it gave me contacts 2,023 and 1,395 miles to the east, far beyond those mountains in the distance.

The ATAS-25 configured for VHF/UHF, local and regional distances.

The views were impressive:

A Visit to HRO and a Quick SOTA Activation (Last Catch-Up Post)

On Saturday, November 5, I paid a visit to Ham Radio Outlet (HRO) in Oakland, California, with a small shopping list in hand. I had two goals in mind: (1) getting my new end-fed HF antenna up and operational, and (2) setting up my Yaesu FT-857D for portable (SOTA) operations.

A couple hundred dollars later, I headed southeast to nearby San Leandro to W6/NC-432 (Chabot 2 Benchmark) for a quick and easy SOTA activation. I thought I had shot some photos, but apparently not since I can't find them on my iPhone. There was a great view of San Francisco Bay and the cities of the East Bay.

The highlight of this otherwise uneventful activation was that I actually got a couple of bites on 6 meters (50 MHz band).

K6EL, KK6ZLY, and K6JEL are all fellow SOTA junkies.

Pacificon 2016 (Almost Finished Catching Up)

Saturday, October 15th through Sunday the 16th, I attended Pacificon 2016, the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) Pacific Division Ham Radio Convention. There were lots of hams, lots of vendors, and lots of neat stuff to drool over.

I was able to control myself pretty well, as far as spending money was concerned. I did leave with a few items though, the most expensive of which was a lithium iron phosphate (LiFePo 4) battery for portable operations with the FT-857D. I also bought a nifty callsign desk plaque--seen in the photo of my shack in the previous post--and a few other small items.

The event was a bit overwhelming for me at first, but once I got my bearings I really enjoyed myself.

Progress in the Ham Shack (Continuing to Catch Up)

I bought an Alinco DR-235T Mk III 220 MHz (1.25 meter band) transceiver and installed it in the shack to supplement the Yaesu FT-857D. With my current antenna setup, I can operate on all bands between 80 meters and 70 cm--or at least I will when I put up my HF antenna.

Speaking of my HF antenna, I finally settled on one and bought it. It is a multi-band, end-fed wire, good for bands between 80 meters and 70 cm.

Here are updated views of the shack and my antennas:

W6SAE Radio Shack
The minimalist shack.

Station W6SAE Antennas
The antenna on the left is an Ed Fong DBJ-220 j-pole for 220 MHz; on the right is a KB9VBR 2-meter  j-pole, which also works well on 70 centimeters. The satellite TV dishes are inactive but help to make the scene a little more impressive.

Activation Report: SOTA W6/CC-045 Mt. Diablo (Still Catching Up)

On Tuesday, September 13, I activated Mount Diablo (elevation 3,849 feet/1173 meters), a very prominent feature that is visible throughout much of northern and central California. Due to this, a CQ ("calling any station") from its summit is usually guaranteed to draw a great response from a wide area. I logged 18 QSO's (contacts) on this date, all on the 2-meter band (FM).

Larry, KA6GND, in Forest Ranch was approximately 138 miles (222 km) away; not bad for 2 meters.

The views are pretty amazing:

The view from Mt. Diablo
The view from Mt. Diablo
The view from Mt. Diablo
The view from Mt. Diablo

SOTA Chases of the Last Few Months (Continuing to Catch Up)

As you can see below I've been active chasing other SOTA activators' summits as well--twelve since late August. Phil, KK6YYD, continues to be the most common one I catch.

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

I will talk about the last log entry (KK6ZLY/AG) very soon in an upcoming post.

Catching Up

So, what have I been doing for the last three months? Where to begin...

The fourth week of August found me in Oakland, California, for four days of annual training and testing (I work as a conductor for Amtrak, America's passenger railroad). Two of those days, I found nearby summits in the Oakland Hills to activate for Summits on the Air--Oakland is in the "East Bay," across the bay from San Francisco. Both activations were pretty straightforward, with relatively easy climbs. As usual, I was operating on the 2-meter band (144 MHz) in FM mode.

Vollmer Peak (W6/NC-298), located above Berkeley was the first (on Tuesday, August 23); I logged seven contacts, all from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Portable station W6SAE, Vollmer Peak.

My trusty "homebrew" portable 2-meter antenna at work on the summit of Vollmer Peak.

Looking southwest from Vollmer Peak toward the city of Oakland and San Francisco Bay.

This is the view to the east from the trail up to the summit of Vollmer Peak,
with Mt. Diablo (W6/CC-045) in the distance. Quite a different look than that from the west (S.F. Bay) side of the hill, with its cold winds and fog.

The next day, August 24, I worked W6/NC-398, otherwise known as Hill 1180 for its elevation. It is located a few miles south of Vollmer Peak in the same range of hills. I logged just five contacts, including a couple of stations from the previous day.

I didn't bother to shoot any pictures that day.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I'm still here.

I have been neglecting the blog. It has been one month since my last post. Various things of interest have occurred during that time but I haven't made the time to post anything about them. I've done several SOTA activations and chases. I've also been looking into my HF options. I'm going to try and make myself sit down and write about them this weekend.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

24 Easy SOTA Chaser Points

Phil, KK6YYD, activated three summits today: W6/NS-179 (Signal Peak), W6/NS-389 (Buzzard Roost), and W6/NS-155 (Sand Ridge). I logged contacts with him on all three summits, which are in the northern Sierra Nevada and well over 90 miles away from my home QTH (station). Each of them was worth 8 points; I was able to more than double my chaser points, from 15 to 39. He was working 146.520 MHz FM.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Shack: A Work in Progress

W6SAE ham shack: a work in progress
Shown are my awesome Yaesu FT-857D transceiver and a Diamond SX-1100 SWR meter. The antenna cable is connected via an MFJ-4601 FeedThru Window Panel. An MFJ-4125 switching power supply powers the radio. My rig is very simple because I'm only set up for VHF and UHF so far. Once I add an HF antenna (for long-distance "DX" contacts), an antenna tuner will be added to the equipment on the table.

To the left, on the window ledge, is my trusty Radio Shack PRO-651 handheld scanner. Posted on the bulletin board is my first  QSL card (!).

When I get around to finishing the shack, there will be a small bookshelf next to the table for my growing collection of amateur radio literature, and the bulletin board and various certificates will be on the wall.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The First Antenna is Up

Station W6SAE: 2-Meter J-Pole Antenna
The mast--a 10-foot length of galvanized conduit--is mounted to the 4x4 railing corner post of the landing, which is just under 10 feet above the ground. I attached it with two large screw-type hose clamps, one at the top and one at the bottom of the post. It seems secure and has held up well, so far, in the winds that are common here. The cable runs through a window on the far side of the building; I used an MFJ window pass-through.

My ham shack is located on the upper floor of a detached garage to the rear of our house. My rig consists of a Yaesu FT-857D HF/6m/2m/70cm transceiver, along with an MF-4125 switching power supply and an LDG Z-11 Pro II antenna tuner. Photos of the inside of the shack to come soon (hopefully).

The antenna is a KB9VBR J-Pole, tuned for the 2-meter band (VHF); it also works well on the 70-cm band (UHF). I'm still researching HF antennas for those long-distance (DX) contacts.

The two satellite TV dishes are inactive.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My First QSL Card!

I just received the first of what I hope will be many QSL cards over the coming years. It confirms this Summits-on-the-Air (SOTA) QSO (contact) with Phil, KK6YYD, of Placerville, California.
Along with this card comes the realization that I should start thinking about designing my own card.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

5 Watts, Nearly 100 Miles

Today, I logged a Summits-on-the-Air contact with Philip, KK6YYD (my role was that of "chaser"). He was activating Mt. Price (W6/NS-377), near South Lake Tahoe, California. We were on 2 meters (146.520 MHz) FM. I find this contact to be especially noteworthy because we were both operating at 5 watts (indoors on a handheld, in my case) and were approximately 98 miles (158 km) away from each other. It was a clear, hot, sunny day of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37+ degrees Celsius); could that have been a factor in helping the propagation?

Ham Shack Progress

I have been slowly putting together my home radio station. I hope to have it operational by the end of this week.

The shack is going into a room above the detached garage to the rear of the house. The room is finished, with carpeting and central heat and air. The Yaesu FT-857D is connected to the power supply and the 2-meter J-pole antenna. The antenna's 10-foot mast is mounted to the corner 4 x 4 railing post of the deck at the top of the stairs to the entrance. The deck is just over 9 feet above the ground, so the top of the antenna is just shy of 25 feet high. The radio is essentially operational, although I'm still learning how to use it. I plan to add an additional, HF (high frequency) antenna for long-distance ("DX") contacts. I'm still wading through the many options to decide which antenna is best for my situation. We are renting the house, so everything needs to be able to be removed easily, plus space is somewhat limited; I'm leaning toward some sort of vertical antenna with a simple mast-mount like the 2-meter antenna.

Soon to come--hopefully--will be photos of the (almost) finished shack.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

2-Meter J-Pole Base Station Antenna

This the first phase of a project to erect a VHF antenna outside my ham shack. The antenna itself is a KB9VBR J-Pole, tuned for the 2-meter band (144 MHz); it is claimed that it also works pretty well at 70 cm (440 MHz). For a mast, I mounted it to the end of a 1-inch diameter, 10-foot long galvanized pipe; the antenna itself extends approximately 5 feet above the top of the mast.

My ham shack is going be located in a room above a detached garage to the rear of our house. I plan to strap the mast to a 4x4 post at the corner of the landing at the top of the exterior stairs. The landing is +/- 10 feet above the ground, with the peak of the roof 10 feet above that. Mounted on the landing, the antenna will extend approximately 25 feet into the air, above the roof.

I have read many positive reviews for the KB9VBR J-Pole; after reading them and watching some YouTube videos about it, I'm expecting good results when my shack is finally up and running.

2-Meter J-Pole Antenna
2-Meter J-Pole Antenna
My starter base station rig will consist of a Yaesu FT-857D transceiver (which I also intend to use for portable SOTA work) with an MFJ-4125 switching power supply and an LDG Z-11 Pro II antenna tuner for the 6 through 160-meter bands.  I'm still pondering the best HF antenna (for the long-distance "DX" contacts) for my situation.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

New Identity

As of today, I have a new callsign: W6SAE. It reflects the initials of my name; also, I feel that it rolls off the tongue better than my old call: KK6ZLX.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Activation Report: SOTA, Lake Tahoe Basin

I activated three summits in the Lake Tahoe Basin last week and earned 16 points.

On Wednesday, June 19, I activated SOTA W6/NS-248, known simply as "7008" after its elevation in feet. It was a pretty straightforward hike--and not too difficult--up a jeep road most of the way, followed by a few hundred yards of "bushwhacking" up to the summit. As with the next summit, I was just able to eke out the four contacts necessary to earn the six points.

Here is a highlight from the hike up the jeep road to the summit.

This is the view to the west, looking toward Desolation Wilderness.

Portable station KK6ZLX. Shortly after I shot this photo, a gust of wind blew the antenna over the side; I was able to grab the coax cable just in time.

Tuesday, June 21: My next activaton was W6/NS-397, Tahoe Mountain, elevation 7,249 feet (2209 meters). This was another fairly easy climb, this time along a popular hiking/mountain bike trail. As with Pt. 7008 above. The summit is mostly tree-covered, although there are some nice views of Lake Tahoe. I must admit that I initially set up on the wrong summit, a quarter of a mile or so north down the ridge from the correct one. Luckily, my conversation with my first contact, Paul, WA6EWV (who had been on Tahoe Mountain before) helped me to realize the error of my ways. After relocating, it took me almost 40 minutes to log the necessary four contacts.

Wednesday, June 22: My final activation was W7N/TR-027, Captain Pomin Rock, elevation 7,538 feet (2298 meters), which is located on the eastern shore of the lake in Nevada. My plans for this particular day changed several times. Initially, I was going to activate South Maggies Peak but decided that it might be a bit too much for me after the previous day's climb. I decided to try Monument Peak, located on Forest Service lands in the Heavenly Valley Ski Resort. Despite it's very high elevation (10,000-plus feet), it seems that it would have been a pretty easy ascent on account of the fact that most of the distance could be covered riding in a gondola and a chairlift. Unfortunately, this plan fell through due to snow on the summit. After referring to my handy SOTA Goat app, I finally settled on Plan C: Captain Pomin Rock, which is located a short distance off the highway, 10 miles or so to the north.

I was only able to log two contacts on this summit. Not being comfortable scaling to the top of the rock, I ended up trying several different locations on the side of it. In spite of vast panoramas of the lake from these locations, I had little luck. My first contact was Gary, K7ORG in Reno (on the far side of a large mountain ridge). Almost an hour later, Aaron, KG7DLC happened to be driving along the highway adjacent to my location and responded on his mobile radio. After three hours of attempts from several different positions, I had to give up and head home to the cabin. I got no points, but at least I received credit for an activation.

I suspect that trees in front of me--along with the rock right behind me--may have worked against me; still, there was that contact with Reno, 30 +/- miles away over a high ridgeline...

Captain Pomin Rock (W7N/TR-027).

My homebrew portable 2-meter antenna, with beautiful Lake Tahoe in the background.

Portable station KK6ZLX, one of a number of spots where I set up.