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.