Over the last ten years I have been searching for the perfect backpack. In the end, there will probably not be just one, because the mission determines the loadout and different missions will demand different loadouts (and maybe different packs).
It started with my desire to carry a few things just in case — the prepper’s approach. I watch a lot of bushcraft videos (to learn as well as curiosity), so I have some ideas about what to put in my pack. There is also an element of just having things on me that I might need if I cannot get home or to shelter. The details are not important (to this essay), but the point is. I see a need to carry a few things with me on the trail or in the rig that can support me if required.
Enter the tactical packs. MOLLE is cool — there are lots of military surplus pouches that can be attached and serve as additional storage, but more importantly as organization. My Dust (on my kitchen table in the photograph to the left) is one such instance.
The problem came in the summer. With the heat came a lot of perspiration when I was out hiking. I found the skin on my lower back chafing because of the sweat and the shifting of the pack.
I found myself buying an Osprey Stratos (24l) to try. It has a wonderful suspension system. The hip belt works well to secure the pack and shift the weight (such as it is) to my hips. My chafing problem went away.
But, although the pack is rated as 24 liters, I cannot get nearly as much stuff in it as I could my smaller Dust. And that is notwithstanding the MOLLE pouches affixed to the outside of the Dust. The rucksack of the Stratos is not shaped will and the Camelbak takes up a lot of the internal room.
So this morning I decided to try one of my tactical packs again. I retrieved the Dust from the garage, where it laid unattended for a couple of summers. The grenade pouches and the 240-round SAW pouch were still affixed to the pack. I transferred the gear from my Stratos to the Dust and organized a little. There remains a lot of room in the Dust.
I took The Girl out for our walk with the pack. It was nice to have the Kenwood HT on the shoulder strap and I listened to some of the chatter on the CARLA system as I walked. The pack sat well on my shoulders for the 2-mile hike. If I can find it, the waist belt will provide a little extra security from the pack shifting around, although it did not shift much.
I think it will work fine for those times when it is cooler outside. I am going to wear it a few more times before I make up my mind. The the boxy interior compartments of the tactical packs offer a lot of organizational advantages that the hiker’s backpacks do not have. The tactical packs really suit me better because of what I like to carry — and my objectives for carrying said equipment.
Alright, so I might be working the Dickens metaphor a bit too much. But I cannot help myself. It works for what I am writing.
Last weekend I was quite sick. I was sick enough that I thought I finally managed to catch the COVID virus. I tested myself Thursday a week ago and it was negative. I continued to decline, although I remained active but for one day. Saturday morning I thought “I’m going to be miserable. But I am not bedridden. I can be miserable laying about the house or I can be miserable outside.”
I elected to take Sera back to Washoe Lake State Park where we could be outside. I also decided to take along a radio in case I felt like activating the park.
We left late in the morning, arrived on site, and found bunch of folks decided to be at the park for the day. So we drove north along the shore for a half-mile or so until I saw the herd of feral horses a few hundred yards out. I decided to pick a spot between the crowd of people and the crowd of horses. I parked the rig. Sera and I got out and walked a half-hour so she could burn off some energy and I could get a little exercise and some sun.
We returned to the rig and I got out my chair, some water, and her mat. We both had a nice drink and she laid on her mat. After a few minutes I decided I was not ready to go home, so I gout out the table, the Elecraft K1, the SOTAbeams 6m mast, then antenna bag, a battery, and my Begali key.
I deployed a random wire antenna, end-fed, in a sloper configuration and deployed it to the mast. The feed end was connected directly to the radio. I connected the battery and key to the radio. It took me about ten minutes to deploy the station. Then I checked the location of the horses, put some more water out for Sera, got some for myself, and sat down at the table. I was partly in the sun and partly in the shade. The sun felt good. It felt good to be outside.
I sent at text message to my buddy Dick that I was going to activate. Then I chased a few other activators that I could hear. I then spotted myself of the Parks on the Air (POTA) website and started calling.
After an hour or so I noticed the horses moving south, towards us. I knew that Sera might go chasing them and that would likely not end well. So I put her in the rig and closed the doors.
They passed, but decided to linger a hundred feet in front of the rig. So I stepped around the rig and told them to “git!” They ignored me. So I took a few steps forward, and started waving and flapping my hat. They did not care for that. I stepped forward again and repeated the process.
They decided to move along.
With them far enough away, I got Sera back out of the rig to be close to me. She returned to her mat, a happy dog. I then sent Dick a text that I was short a couple of calls for the activation. He put out word that I was at a park and needed a couple more contacts.
Friends in New Mexico came through and I had more than my required ten contacts. I was tired and sick, so I took down the station while chatting with Dick. Then Sera and I took a very short walk and headed home.
I decided to stop at the CVS for a few supplies. That done we returned home and had some supper. I tested myself for COVID a second time with a negative result. I did not feel well at all and shut down quickly.
Sunday morning I woke about my normal time. My fever broke during the night and I felt better, but not great. Again, I decided I might as well be miserable outdoors. So after breakfast we headed back to the park for a walk and maybe some radio. At the very least I could sit outdoors next to the rig and enjoy Washoe Valley.
When we got there, we found the herd of feral horses near the place I usually park on the lake bed. Of course there was a buttload of happy-lookers for the “wild” horses. So again we headed north along the shore to get away from the squatters.
Aside: The “wild” horses are not truly wild. They are feral horses that escaped or were abandoned. There have been no native horses in North America for a very long time. There is some debate on the issue and there is a reasonable article here. But, I digress.
We basically returned to the same location as Saturday. I parked the rig, and we got out to walk. The sun and air felt good. The Girl was quite happy and bounced me a couple of times wanting to rough house. We got in a good half-hour walk and I returned to the rig.
For the Sunday activation, I deployed an end-fed half-wave antenna as a lazy inverted-L. I used the Elecraft K1 again with the same battery as Saturday, although I added a small solar panel to recharge the battery while I operated. I used the same chair, table, and key. The K1 readily adjusted for the slight impedance mismatch with the antenna and I was off chasing a few other activators.
I sent Dick a text message and chased a few other activators. I then spotted myself and started calling.
This time I stored my call in one of the memories of the radio. That meant a press of two buttons on the front panel sent my call. That is what is in the video in the header of this report. That saved me quite a bit of effort. Given I am sick, that was a good choice. It was also very easy to do.
I worked Dick a couple of times, but he could not hear me on the 15m band. He said “Can you do 17m?”
“Not with the K1.”
“Not to worry, let me get the KX2 out of the rig. Then we can try 17m.”
Swapping out the radio took only a couple of minutes. It was a very difficult copy, but we were able to make the exchange on 17m for another log entry. I then returned to the 20m band to try a little more.
I worked maybe one or two more stations, then sent “LAST CALL ON 20M” and listened.
In my experience, every time I send last call, I get a bunch of calls. As expected, my frequency got busy again and I spent maybe a half-hour working another ten or so stations. I made maybe 30 contacts Sunday. That was with 7-12w of power.
After the last station, I listened for a bit. I then posted myself QRT (done for now), shut down the radio, and put away the equipment. It does not take very long, maybe 15-minutes for this deployment.
Sera and I walked a little more. Then headed home. It was a good day and a good weekend.
As always, I have a few lessons learned:
The Elecraft K1 is still a great QRP radio.
It has a great receiver.
It is easy to operate
It has a built-in speaker
It has two memories
But it is a legacy radio, is code only, and only covers the lower portion of its four bands.
The Elecraft KX2 is a modern, full-featured radio that covers the 80m through 10m bands and all modes.
The tradeoff between the K1 and KX2 is that the latter is more complicated for the additional features.
Both are excellent radios.
It is fun to take the legacy radios out to work. I am surprised that they are quite capable, given their limitations. The receivers are good. The KX1 will decode sideband (phone) transmission and covers the entire range of frequencies in its bands (unlike the K1, which only covers the lower portion). I really like both of them and have no intention of letting either go.
I believe that if Elecraft developed and marketed an updated KX1, with four or five bands, an equivalent receiver, and in kit form, they would sell. I would love to have two of them — one with 10m, 12m, 15m, 17m, and 20m and another with 17m, 20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m. Or I would use a compromise, like the K1, with the 15m, 20m, 30m, and 40m bands. With the increase in solar activity, the 15m band is working again.
In any event, it was fun and illustrative to run the K1 and then the KX2 from the same park on the same activation. I realized that I like both radios, that they are both excellent performers (surprising given the age of the K1), and that the limitations of the K1 come with lighter weight and simplicity.
After another long week, I spent some time Friday afternoon looking for a summit to activate. Both Mt. Siegel (W7N/TR-003) and Oreana Peak (W7M/TR-004) were on my list from a previous search. Because of their proximity, they looked to be doable in a single trip.
So, the stage was set for a twin activation on Saturday morning, 13 August 2022.
I loaded up a few things to take with us, mostly water, a snack, and checked that I had radio equipment. I roused The Girl into the rig, locked the front door of the house, and we headed out. We made a quick stop at McD’s for a bite, a coffee, and a water and then headed south on US395. I stopped in Minden to refuel the rig and buy a sandwich.
We continued through Gardnerville and then took Pine Nut Road east for a few miles. I missed the turn and found myself at the transfer station, but that was not a big deal as it was only a quarter of a mile. We continued on an increasingly rough road to the Public Lands access. That road went on another mile or so and because Lone Pine Canyon Road.
That is, if it can be called a road. It is really just a two-track trail that varies from packed soil and sand to some rounded cobble to boulder size rocks. The pace declined to under ten miles per hour.
Yet, the trail was not particularly difficult. It was just rough. We continued to climb up the valley, in and out of the drainage, picking our way through the rocks when necessary and driving over them as needed.
We entered a burned out area, the Manzanite standing skeletal with burned bark and bare white limbs stretched to the sky in a dying supplication for mercy that did not come. The grasses were already returning, but the shrubs will be a long time before they grow again.
This part of the drive out was just a slog. I stopped a couple of times to let The Girl out to sniff and pee. I will say I took advantage of the stops a time or two myself. I guess the coffee was working.
As we turned south along Buckeye Creek, there were places that the trail crossed old flood outwashes. These could be trip-enders with very angular (and sharp) outcrops of rocks. They could tear a sidewall easily. I took care crossing through these areas and worked to keep my head clear of the usual woolgathering I do when driving boring roads.
I hit the intersection of the trail to Oreana Peak and paused. I could see the trail up to Oreana Peak and it looked easier than the one up to Mt. Siegel. Given how far out I was, I wanted to do both peaks on this trip.
The trail up to Mr. Siegel was not too bad. The 4Runner crawled up just fine. But I was very careful to watch for rocks. It would be easy to tear a sidewall on this trail. There were just enough loose rocks that the rig slipped a bit now and again. A torn sidewall would have been a very bad afternoon.
There is a small staging area at the top of the Mt. Siegel trail. I found a place to park the 4Runner off the trail and paused for a look around. This gave The Girl an opportunity to sniff around as well as a chance for me to catch my bearings.
The Girl and I headed up the two-track toward the summit. I had my pack that contained my station plus water for both of us. The sun was quite hot even if the air temperature was moderate. That, combined with the altitude (about 9,200ft) had me puffing a bit as i worked my way up the slope.
I looked around a bit and noticed the 4Runner down at the staging area. That called for a pause for an image. So I made it.
We walked around the rock-pile summit and I found a place where I could set up the station. I used the Elecraft KX2 and an end-fed random wire antenna to a very light six-meter carbon fiber mast. I had the station setup in a few minutes. I then gave both of us some water.
My cell service was a little iffy, but I did get a spot out for my location. I started calling and made a number of contacts right away, including a few summit-to-summit contacts. It was not difficult to get my quota.
But, I noticed that running my iPhone with the screen bright and the lock time set to five minutes was a problem. The sun shining down on us was overheating more than The Girl and I — it was overheating my iPhone. Given I log my contacts on my phone this could be a problem.
As happened during my activation of Chickadee Ridge, my phone was turning down the screen brightness to reduce heat. Given I had my quota, I decided to call it and get ready to do the other peak.
I gave The Girl some more water and we headed back down the two-track. It was not a long hike, but care was required as the trail was fairly steep and rocky. A fall would not be a good thing.
While working my way down the trail, I paused to capture an image of Orean Peak. The trail to Mt. Siegel is in the foreground. The trail to Oreana Peak is in the midground with the peak in the background. It is quite breathtaking.
I put The Girl and my gear into the rig and climbed in myself. I knew the trip back down the Mt. Siegel trail would require care to protect the tires.
I was not disappointed. The rig skittered and slid a bit on the way down, even in low-low. I had to work the brakes a bit and be careful to avoid a slide-out and tire damage. So I took my time and was very careful.
I made it down with no problem. I made the right to the Oreana Peak trail along Buckeye Creek (not much of a creek at this location) and headed back up.
When we got up to the Oreana Peak staging area, it was clear this was another bare summit with no shade. There was not enough rock outcrop to make shade. And the sun was just miserable. And, I was getting tired from the required focus, the altitude, and the heat.
So I put up the antenna, setup the radio, and made my contacts. The Girl was so hot she was crowding me trying to get into my shade. That wreaked a bit of havoc on my sending. I do not need help with that, particularly with the Elecraft key!
I kept the iPhone in my shade and that helped keep it from overheating again. I now carry a notebook and a pen in a cargo pocket. I can always log contacts on paper.
While we were sitting there, resting a bit (and she trying to crowd into my shade still), I heard something that sounded like a pickup scrabbling up the trail to the staging area.
“That’s strange,” I thought, “I did not see a vehicle approaching up the trail.”
Then the wind hit us. It was a strong gust and I was glad that the mast was put away. It might have been damaged. The wind was strong enough to rattle the rocks on the slopes of Oreana Peak.
I reloaded the pack we started back down to the staging area and the rig. Four-legs ran ahead, undaunted. The old man, however, picked his way carefully down the trail. Nothing good would come from a fall at this point in the trip. The view of the rig on the staging area with Mt. Siegel in the background struck me. I made the capture.
It was not long and we were back at the rig. I got out more water for The Girl. I dumped the pack into the rig. I drank water myself. I was gassed… not completely, but I was damned tired.
So I put us back into the rig and we started the long trail back home. It was about two hours from US395 to where we were. It would be about two hours back. And I needed to be focused for the drive.
But we made it. As were were exiting Lone Pine Canyon, my buddy Greg called. “Are you home yet?”
“Nope. I’m still working my way down the trail. I’m about 15 or 20 minutes from the highway.”
“I thought you’d be home by now!”
“No… it is a long way out there and the trail is pretty rough. But I’ll be home soon. Thanks so much for calling and checking on me.”
We chatted a bit. Then he headed off for supper. I continued the drive.
Before long the trail turned into a road. Then the road got better. I no longer had to be as focused on navigating rocks and other obstacles. The Girl was settled into her seat, after having a couple of bouts with FOMO that there might be critters out there.
As I drove into Gardnerville, I started to think about supper… and the day. It was a learning experience for me. It was a long day. It was completely worth taking the time to do the second peak because of the long drive out there. I was hungry and tired.
On the way home I decided to stop at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Francisco’s. Some hot chow and una Margarita Grande sounded so good. Well, maybe dos Margaritas…
As I continue to activate SOTA peaks, I continue to learn things about operating and the support equipment I need to make this more fun. This outing was satisfying, but not fun.
The issue of the iPhone overheating is a problem. It is my primary logging tool for portable operations. I need a way to keep it shaded so it does not overheat. Or, I need to change the way I log contacts such that the iPhone is no longer part of the system.
The radio also gets hot. To date, it has not gotten hot enough to shut down. But, it might. That would be a show-stopper. I need to mind the radio temperature. Some shade would keep it a lot cooler.
Sitting on a rock is not fun for this skinny-assed old man. I have a foldable chair. It has to go into the pack so I have a place to sit.
A (very) small table would make summit operating a lot more comfortable. The portable table I have is to heavy to pack. That is a problem with a solution.
The factory key for the Elecraft radios (the KX2 and KX3) does not work well for me. That might be a topic for another weblog entry. Nonetheless, it is a decent backup (for now), but should not be my primary key.
The AME key works reasonably well for a field key. Holding it in my hand is not the best answer. The leg strap is better, but not perfect.
I am afraid to be strapped to the radio. Sera can be impulsive and I might need to move quickly before she can get into trouble. I am not sure how to solve this problem.
Although I really like running the antenna directly from the radio, this has its own issues. If the wind rises suddenly, the pressure on the mast creates a risk of dragging the radio off its perch. A hard landing might damage a (very) expensive radio. I need to think about this problem and develop a solution.
Francisco’s is not a bad way to end a SOTA (or POTA) day!
I intended to drive up to Washoe Lake SP Saturday evening to get out of the house. The Girl is always ready for an outing. I thought I might buy a cheeseburger from DQ and a Blizzard, share both with her, and then play a little radio.
But, the Mosquito Fire had different plans for me. The cheeseburger and Blizzard were good and both made the Girl happy. But when we drove over the summit into Washoe Valley, I knew the outing was done. I exited I-580 at Bellevue Road and could not see the lake for the smoke. So, I turned around and drove home.
When I rose Sunday morning, the air was much clearer. So after getting a bite and a coffee, The Girl and I headed north to Washoe Lake. The temperature was much cooler than it had been for weeks. The walk was nice. But on the way back I realized I left two liters of water on the counter at home.
So we drove over the the east side of the lake, where there is a fuel depot and convenience store. I bought a couple bottles of water and a bag of beef jerky. Then we were back off to the operating area.
I decided to erect a SOTAbeams Bandsprnger that was in my inventory. I have a number of end-fed random wire antennas in my kit that I built. So this unit languished. But I wrote a few weeks about about the abortive attempt of a good friend to deploy his Bandspringer. So I thought I would set my instance up and test it.
Aside: The Bandspringer is an end-fed random wire (EFRW) antenna. That is, it is not a resonant antenna. Therefore, it presents an impedance of around 250-350 ohms at the feedpoint, an impedance that the antenna matching unit in many transceivers can accommodate (up to a SWR of about 3:1).
In contrast, and end-fed half wave (EFHW) antenna is a resonant antenna that will present a low SWR at its fundamental and multiples of the fundamental frequency. It will present a very high impedance at the feedpoint, something on the order of 2,500 ohms or more. Therefore, some kind of matching transformer is required at the feedpoint to bring the impedance down to a value the internal (or external) antenna matching unit of the transceiver can match.
The two antenna types are quite different, even if they appear to be similar.
The directions for the antenna are not very good. But I use this type of antenna often and knew what to do. I ran the radiating wire out in the direction I wanted to deploy the antenna. I ran the counterpoise wire out parallel to it but a few feet away. I then setup a six meter carbon fiber mast that is super quick to deploy, ran the tip through the fixture used to attach the wire to the mast, and spaced things out so the mast was the right distance from the radio table.
I staked the distal end of the radiating wire and walked back to the operating point. I staked the radiator at a point about three feet upstream from the feed point to provide some strain relief at the radio should the wind blow.
It was then a matter of connecting the antenna to the radio, affixing the key to the radio, and connecting a power supply.
Total setup time was about 15 minutes. I checked in to the 40m Noontime Net with ten watts phone and then played around hunting other activators. They were not hearing me.
I decided that meant I should just run a frequency. So I gave The Girl some water and got some for myself. I found a jar of honey-roasted peanuts in the rig and had a snack (The Girl begged some peanuts as well). I picked a frequency on the 20m band and spotted myself.
After a few calls I started working callers. I had a couple of small pile-ups that were fun to work. When the responses stopped coming, I switched to the 17m band and worked a few more. I decided to try the 15m band, but when I listened there the noise level was S5 (that is pretty high for a rural area).
I went back to the 20m band and worked a few more stations. Then I shut down the radio and just sat back for a moment.
About that time my buddy Dick called. “Man, I’ve been busting my ass to get this done while you were still activating so I could test it with you!. Then I saw you go QRT [cease operations] and said ‘Aw man!’.”
“I can turn the radio back on.” I did, but someone had occupied the frequency I was using on 20m. So I tuned a few kiloHertz to the left and found an open frequency. “Call me on 14.063MHz. I’m listening.”
I heard his call loud and clear, so I responded and we made the exchange. Then we chatted a moment (in Morse Code).
I then looked up from the radio and noticed smoke. What I saw was the first image at the top of this entry.
“Wow! You should see the smoke rolling over the mountains. Something must have changed. It’s time for me to put things away. I have time, but the smoke is coming and I don’t want to have to be in it.”
We continued chatting while I put everything away. That took me about 15 minutes. The smoke continued to increase as time passed.
Slide Mountain was invisible in the smoke as I put the last of my equipment in the back of the rig. I gave Sera a bit more water, then put her in the rig. I then stepped around the rig to look to the south.
What I saw was smoke rolling over I-580 and through the gap between the Sierra and the Virginia Range, into Carson City. I put myself into the 4Runner, started the engine, glanced around one last time to be sure nothing was left behind, and started the A/C. We headed west along the trail to I-580. As we approached the east end of Bellevue Road, the next (and final) image is what I saw.
The smoke front obliterated the view of the highway! I was certainly happy to be in the rig and headed home.
I said my goodbyes and drove on. When I crossed the summit into Carson City, the smoke front bisected the city from the northwest to the southeast, intersecting the mountains at the north end of the Prison Hill Complex.
I was glad to get home, but also glad to have gone out.
As always, I have a few lessons learnt.
Always check that I have water in the rig. I got distracted and failed to check. It was not a catastrophic failure, but an error nonetheless.
The Bandspringer is just another end-fed random wire antenna. It is just like others I built as I experimented. It is well-built, but the instructions could use some work. I do not need it in my inventory.
I was not able to get an impedance match for the 30m band. I suspect that I had some capacitive coupling between the radiator and counterpoise, probably because both were near the top of my small camp table, which is made of aluminum.
End-fed random wire antennas can be affixed directly to the radio output *if* the radio has a good antenna matching unit built in. If not, then an external antenna matching unit is needed with a sufficient range to match a wide range of impedance presented by the antenna.
The Elecraft matching units are very good and will match a wide range of feed point impedances.
It was good that I noticed the smoke. It would have been unhealthy to be in that smoke very long without a mask.
I keep a N95 mask in my pack for just such a case. Unfortunately, along with the water, I left my pack at home. Hmmm…
Regardless of the smoke, it was a good day. After a number of weekends of too much heat, a day in the 80Fs was nice.
With a hat tip to Mr. Dickens, I offer an after-action report for two very different Summits on the Air (SOTA) activations. The first was an activation of Bald Mountain, W7N/TR-005 on Saturday 6 August 2022. The second was an activation of Chickadee Ridge, W7N/WC-005 on Sunday 7 August 2022.
Bald Mountain, W7N/TR-005:
Last week I was fairly busy, once again. I knew that I wanted to get out for some radio play on the weekend, but had not decided what to do. So, I waffled.
I think it was Thursday that I received an email from my friend Greg that there was a Summits on the Air (SOTA) activity for Saturday. He wanted a piece of the action and was considering activating Prison Hill. Prison Hill is easy access from our home and there are several good places to setup a station (and more).
But, I already activated Prison Hill this year, so there would be no points for me. I suggested another of the peaks we were thinking about and we started looking around a bit more. Eventually we settled on W7N/TR-005 — Bald Mountain that is an hour or so south of us.
We quickly planned a route to the site. The area around the peak looked reasonably level, enough so that we could put up shade and run a full-power station. Greg planned to bring a grill and grill hamburgers for lunch. Of course, there would be wine and treats as well.
As arranged, I picked up Diana and we stopped at the McD’s to pick up some breakfast sandwiches. We then made the short drive to Greg’s Place. I called Mike on the SNARS repeater system and they were headed south from Reno to meet us. They were a half-hour out, so I knew I had plenty of time to make the trip.
We hit Greg’s Place about 0700h and they were in the front, finishing their loadout. We passed out the breakfast sandwiches about the time that the rest of our party pulled up.
We chatted a bit while finishing food and everyone had a chance to love on Sera. We then mounted up, did a radio check, and headed out.
Greg had a route loaded into his GPSr (and so did I). He had me take lead and we headed south on US 395. He called the turn off, but I missed it. He called again that it was blocked and I missed the second turn off. But there was a big pullout area on the right, so I pulled off the highway, paused, and turned around. The second turn off point for the track was open.
We turned east there.
I stayed in the lead as we passed through a burned area. I think it was burned two-years ago. The trees were still burned-out trunks, but the grasses were beginning to return. The road had some puddles from the recent showers (we’ve been in a monsoon pattern for a week or two now). The trail was not bad and not too steep. There were a few stretches where the trail had washed out. But the firefighters left a path adjacent to the trail and we had no trouble working our way up to the summit.
I made one wrong turn on the trail up, but it was just a short distance before we knew of it. The remainder of the trip up was not bad. Once out of the burn area, the landscape was lovely. We found a heard of sheep being watched over by a burro and a Great Pyranees. The shepherd’s camp was below the summit.
After a short confab, we chose a site within the activation zone, parked the rigs, and began to deploy our equipment. The two EZ-ups went first and were secured. Tables were setup and a group of us began assembling the DX Commander antenna. It was the second time I setup this antenna, with the first being when I helped Greg assemble it and cut the antenna wires a couple of years ago. So there was a bit of scrambling to get all the parts together in the right order. Eventually we got it together and Greg checked it.
We complied with the SOTA rules in that our station was independent of the vehicles and carried to the operating point. SOTA is intended to be inclusive. So, although drive-ups are permitted, they are not particularly encouraged. Yet, we were within the rules.
I consider this kind of SOTA operation as a GLOTA expedition — GLamour SOTA, which includes shade, food, wine, and lots of chairs.
I let the other operators play a long time. I sat in the sun (it was cool at 9,000ft) with a cover on and kept track of Sera. She is a tenderfoot and I need to keep an eye on her or she will wander off or start running in pursuit of a critter. I do not want another foot injury. I do not want her to get lost. We were not far from the shepherd’s camp and he had several border collies with him.
There were lots of good reasons to keep Sera close. So, I did.
After most of the others made their contacts, I took a turn at the Icom 7000. Greg found an adapter for my key. We figured out how to set the power and character speed. I started making my call and logging the contacts as they were made.
The bands were pretty busy and I needed a narrow filter. Greg helped me find it on his rig. That made signal copy a bit easier.
I recall one caller I just could not copy. I sat back in my chair and exclaimed “I can’t copy this!!!!!” Everyone looked at me.
One asked “Are we too noisy?”
“No… the code is so poorly formed I can’t make it out.”
The group looked relieved, but quieted down. I continued working on the call and eventually got it. The operator must have been using a straight key and the characters were poorly formed. There are a lot of reasons this might be the case, including a lot of physical reasons. In any event, the exchange was completed and logged.
The other operators finished lunch and made a few more contacts. Greg took another turn at the radio and completed his activation.
“You want another run at it?” he asked me.
“Sure, I’ll do a little more.” So I did. I made about 25 contacts, using 25w to 50w of power and a radio I did not know.
We chatted for a bit longer in the group. One memory that stands out is the group talking about my sending. The characters form patterns, which we learn to recognize in groups of characters, just like we learn words. One of them was singing some of the characters in my sidetone. It was interesting to listen to them as I sent out my call.
It was time to tear down and head home. With so many hands, this did not take long. The trip down was not bad and we got some more photographs along the way.
As we approached the north end of Carson Valley, Greg called and we all said our goodbyes. I think everyone was tired from all the fun and air. I know I enjoyed the cool up on Bald Mountain and made my contacts as well.
On the way into Carson, Diana asked “Do you want a snack?”
I thought about it for a moment, then decided that an early (not very much, really) supper was in order. We chatted a couple of minutes about potentials.
“Let’s do Francisco’s. The Tacos de asada are very good and you will probably like them.”
Also, there is a patio where Sera is welcome. I want her to practice her place and being able to ignore the traffic and hustle/bustle when out and about.
I am always reminded of my time in Bolivia. The city of Tarija is typical of third-world cities, where the sewers are combined. That is, the underground sewers convey both sewage and storm-water runoff. There is a wet well for a grinder pump near the Francisco’s patio. The occasional waft of sewer gas can be smelled.
Some people might be offended by it. It is not strong and simply serves as a reminder of my time in Bolivia. I also smile when I hear the pump turn on and I get a drift of that smell.
Chickadee Ridge, W7N/WC-005:
I rested well Saturday night. When I woke Sunday morning, I was not ready for the weekend to be over. I was also thinking about the afternoon, when the heat would rise and it would be warm in the house. Plus I just wanted to get out and away from the norm.
I decided to do another summit. I chose a summit and not a park because I wanted the cool of elevation. In addition, I wanted a bit of a physical challenge to test myself.
I chose W7N/WC-005, Chickadee Ridge, as my target. I plotted a route from the staging area at Tahoe Meadows to the summit (and back). With the route loaded into the GPSr, I grabbed my pack, refilled the Camelbak and bottles, checked the contents, and loaded Sera into the rig.
We headed out. I stopped at Maverick to top off the fuel tank and grab a breakfast sandwich and something for lunch. Then, on the way north, I called Young Son and chatted with him a bit.
Once I turned west on Mt. Rose highway, I told Young Son “I’ll probably lose you soon; I’m heading up the hill.” Sure enough, as we chatted, I dropped signal. I drove on in the quiet, Sera and I.
There was a lot of traffic Sunday morning. I guess folks were headed out from Reno for a drive or to spend the day up at Lake Tahoe. We soon crested the Mt. Rose summit and the staging area there was pretty full. It was only a couple more miles to Tahoe Meadows and the staging area for our hike.
There was no room on the south side of the highway. So I parked on the north side, knowing that it meant we would cross the highway. I do not care for that much, but sometimes it is necessary.
During the trip through the twisties, I heard something slide in the back of the rig. I thought it was probably my lunch but thought no more about it. Then, at the staging area, while Sera chirped and trilled in her excitement to get out, I could not find my lunch! Search as I might, my sandwich was missing.
I put the Elecraft KX2, an antenna, and the six-meter carbon fiber mast into my pack. I then set the GPSr to my trail, shared the map on Mapshare, and put Sera on leash. With the highway traffic and the foot traffic, she needed to be on-leash.
We crossed and headed south on the boardwalk through Tahoe Meadows to our trail. I have not hiked the Tahoe Ridge Trail, but from the mapping I thought the trail would not be too difficult and the climb at the hill would be doable. I did find one error in my track where I missed a loop in the trail. But that was not too bad.
There was enough traffic that I kept Sera on-lead most of the way out on the trail. I decided to sidehill up to a saddle between Chickadee Ridge and an unnamed peak. I was able to release her from the lead and she ran about the hill hunting chipmunks.
I looked at the map on my GPSr and then the hillside… boulders. I decided to start up the slope and it was a boulder climb. I am glad that I wear my pack regularly — a lot of hikers do not wear a pack regularly and are unaccustomed to the change in balance that the pack causes. This might have been a problem for me as I scrambled over the boulders. But, because of my practice, it was not.
The climb was not overly difficult, but was a challenge for me. That is a good thing. It also made me think I chose the wrong route. Sera paused a couple of times, but with a little encouragement she climbed right up.
The activation zone was a mix of granite boulders and DG sand. I deployed the antenna as a sloped random wire to the six-meter mast. I setup the KX2, external battery, key, and microphone. I retrieved Sera’s bowl from my pack, gave her water, and got myself a drink as well.
I put her in the shade of a boulder and sat down at the radio. I was able to check in to the 40m Noon Net on phone. The station was working.
I started calling CQ on 40m phone. I made several contacts, including some summits. I also had a nice short chat with a couple of other operators. Then I switched to CW mode and continued calling. I worked a few summits, then noticed my iPhone was hot and the screen was dimming.
It became more and more difficult to read the screen so I could log my contacts. I struggled for a bit, then set the phone aside and changed to the 30m band.
My intent was to work my up from 40m to 15m, calling on by phone and CW modes as I went. It was early enough in the afternoon that I had time. My overheating phone, though, was a problem. I did not have ready access to an alternate log.
I picked up my iPhone again and worked a station on 30m. It was hard copy with his signal dropping into the noise and then back up again with the QSB (fading). When I completed that call, I could barely read the iPhone’s screen.
In frustration, I decided to call it. I had enough contacts for my activation. I decided to post myself done (QRT) after the phone cooled off. I started to put away the station.
When I picked up the KX2, it was hot! It was not hot enough for it to shut itself down, but it was warmer than I wanted to handle. I think it was a good thing to stop.
I gave The Girl another drink, gathered up my pack, and we started down the hill. I elected to stay to the north and not retrace my path over the boulders. I was convinced that there had to be a better approach.
I was right. The path north was all DG with a few boulders that were easily bypassed. The route was steep and would not be an easy climb. But it was a better route than boulder scrambling.
At the saddle, we paused and Sera permitted me to make a selfie of us. She was still focused on chipmunks more than she was on me. That is OK.
We had a little more of the steeper slope to get down to the trail. That was not too bad. A woman with a young Golden Retriever was on the trail. The dog barked at us, then ran partway up the slope toward us, despite the calls of its handler.
Sera was perfect, staying next to me (although on-lead), although focused on the other dog. It eventually broke off and returned to its handler.
We continued down the trail until we arrived back at Ophir Creek. There I had The Girl get into the water to cool off and get a drink. She puttered about, splashing and sniffing until a group of people walked up. I put her back on lead and we headed to the rig.
When we got there, I wondered about my sandwich. I decided to check one more time.
There, in the side pocket of the door, was my sandwich. It had slid off the deck into the side pocket. Me, not expecting it to be there, looked everywhere else.
I started to rig to get the air conditioner running. Then I gobbled my sandwich. I was hungry. I did save a bite for Sera, though, which she also munched. I think she was hungry too.
The trip home was uneventful. I arrived home tired and sore. I knew I would be more sore in a couple of days. I was right.
I must have a way to shade my equipment. I have to pick a shaded spot or bring something to make shade.
My iPhone is a great logging tool. HAMRS has templates for both SOTA and POTA. That makes uploading my contacts trivial. However, I need a backup for those cases where the iPhone fails. In this case, the iPhone got too hot and turned off the screen to reduce current use.
I need to pay more attention to my routing. I made a small error on the trail. I made a bigger error on my choice of route up the side of the hill. It worked out alright in this case, but in a different case I might have been faced with a climb I could not do.
When I heard something slide around in the back of the rig, I should have checked the side pockets of the rear doors. If I had on this trip, I would have had my sandwich with me on the hilltop. That would have improved my outlook on the situation — food always helps.
The latter lesson is also a lesson to expect the unexpected. I could not have known the sandwich slid into the side pocket of the door. It did. I looked everywhere but there. My lesson — pay attention.
I elected to test myself physically on Sunday by hiking the summit. (It was not driveable anyway.) I learned that I can do a four-mile hike with elevation. I might be slow. I might be tired. I might be sore. But, when I returned to the rig, I was not spent. I had reserves and could have done more. It was OK that I did not, but it is also good to know that I could.
When operating in a group environment, headphones or earbuds are appropriate. They would not have helped my copy of the poor code. They would certainly have helped keep the background chatter, which was completely understandable and normal, reduced so I could focus more on the signal.
I really like POTA and SOTA activations. I am outside. It is away from my normal environment, which can be a distraction (and often is). I can get cooler if I go higher.
Field Day 2022 is a long story, as these expeditions tend to have both a lot of moving parts and a lot of events. I would like to at least hit the high points of the story and describe some of the things that I learned. Perhaps one day there will be no more lessons… but I doubt it.
My intent was to leave Carson City on Thursday morning, have a leisurely drive for a couple of hours east to Dry Lake, and then set up camp and enjoy some solitude. However, the life of a consultant (consulting engineer) does not always lend itself to such plans. In any event, for this instance work interjected itself into the equation (it is a chaotic-dynamic system after all) and I was unable to prepare and leave as planned.
So, with Thursday not possible, Friday morning I threw some food, clothes, and gear into the camper and got out of town around noon. I did take time to make a grocery run the evening before, so I had a couple of sandwiches and some drinks in addition to breakfast and supper makings. I stopped at the Maverick on the east side of Carson City, refueled the 4Runner (gulp, gulp), did my final walk-around, and we (Sera and I) headed east.
On the way I chatted with a couple of operators through the SNARS (Sierra Nevada Amateur Radio Society — the Reno club) repeater network. I had a pretty good signal into the Mt. Rose repeater that is located southwest from Reno. It has a big footprint and I can hear it far to the east, especially when crossing the ridges in the basin and range territory.
I exited U.S. 50 onto NV 722 and drove through Eastgate, where I then started up the hill to cross the range into Smith Creek Valley, or whatever it is called. The grade is not bad and the air cooled with elevation. I put down the windows to enjoy the air and The Girl sniffed and whuffled as she smelled the things only she can smell.
I caught up with a one-ton truck dragging a trailer full of cattle. The 4Runner pulling the camper does not have the torque to pass on the uphill grade. But, I did not have to follow long because he pulled off the road before the summit. On the other side of the summit, I caught up with a heavy truck pulling a trailer and wagon full of cattle and moving very s-l-o-w-l-y. But I was not in a big hurry and followed a ways behind (you know why) until the driver turned off onto a ranch road and left me with an open highway.
Except… there were cattle on the highway. So I kept my speed down, not trusting them to stay out of my path and threaded my way through the herd.
Past the cattle-jam, it was only a few more miles to my turn off for Dry Lake. I took the first turn off, which is a good gravel road more than half way to the lake before it turns into a trail. The trail was quite passable if a little slow and dusty.
I called my friends two-meter simplex for directions to the camp site. I had a pin dropped in the GPSr I take with me, but they might have had to relocate camp. They confirmed their location and guided me through the collection of land sailors to our camp area. On site, I stopped by to see Greg and Subrina, who were finishing camp setup. I could see where Tom was setup and where Joe’s group was set up, so I took off to the northwest and chose a spot about 1,000ft from Greg’s Place.
I then dropped the camper and began deployment of my camp and antennas. It does not take long to set up the camper, maybe 15 minutes or so. Once the roof is up and the sides are in place, it is only a few more minutes to drop the stabilizers and deploy the solar panels that keep the camper batteries charged. The sun was so good that my panels were generating about 110 watts. They are rated for 120 watts. The sun was good out at Dry Lake.
I decided to use the home built doublet my son and I made a couple of years ago. Each leg is 22 feet long and we built open wire feed line. The open wire terminates at about the window level of the camper, where I place a 4:1 balun to a short coaxial cable run for the last few feet to the radio.
I also deployed a twinlead J-Pole for local two-meter simplex operation. With our group so far apart and the fact that my camper is a Faraday cage (as far as HT use is concerned), I wanted an external two-meter antenna. I eventually deployed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical for the main station. I find that sometimes the vertical will bring in a signal better than the inverted-V doublet.
I power my station with a 60Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery. It has enough capacity to run a couple of radios, the station computer, and charge smaller batteries. To keep it supplied, I run another set of panels that are rated for 120w through a Genasun GV-10 MPPT charge controller. Eventually I plan to install the station battery under the bed. I would also like to move the camper batteries under the bed.
All of that took about an hour and a half to complete. I was then ready to settle in, so The Girl and I walked over to Greg’s Place to socialize a little. She needed a walk (and really wanted to hunt the hammocks that litter the dry lake bed) and so did I. I was hot and sweaty and knew that a shower was going to be really good that evening. I checked in with my friends, who were still working on their camp, and then proceeded on to the next camp, Tom’s place.
Tom was setup and relaxing in his tent, but roused when we approached and came out to visit and play with Sera. Like all canines, Sera knows dog-people and readily takes up with Tom. As we visited, Greg rode over on his motorcycle and we continued to visit until it got dusky.
The visit complete, we returned to our camp, getting credit for a nice walk. I fed The Girl then got myself some supper and began settling in for the night. I was tired, hot, and sweaty. The camper was cooling down with the sun behind the mountains and the fan running. So I got a shower and listened to the radio a bit. Then I hit the rack, knowing I would be up as soon as the morning twilight came.
Sure enough, I was up as the sky brightened in the east. I rolled out of bed, stepped outside to relieve myself and enjoy the sky, then returned to the camper to make a cup of coffee. While I worked through my first cup, I turned on the radio to listen for any stations. The upper part of the 40m band was full of Asian broadcast stations, as usual. There were some other stations working in the phone portion of the band below that. I heard nothing I was interested in working, so I just enjoyed listening to the stations.
I made another mug of coffee and started breakfast. It was my usual camp fare — bacon and eggs. I can tell that I am my father’s son. I think he ate bacon and eggs almost every morning, at least as long as I knew him.
Of course, I pour the bacon fat over The Girl’s kibbles. That is her treat and once it cools a bit, she eats it. Then she wanders over to see what I have and if I will share.
After breakfast I wandered through the adjacent camps, in part to visit and check on folks and in part to get in a walk for both of us. Tom was just finishing his breakfast and gave a bite to Sera. It was not long before Greg wandered over and all chatted (yes, the bull was shot) for awhile.
As starting time approached, I headed back to my rig. I moved the station outdoors, thinking I would operate outside under the shade of the 4Runner’s hatch. I really prefer being outdoors.
Greg organized a local net, knowing the craziness that occurs during the first hour of an international event (like Field Day). I do not recall why, but after making the circuit on the two-meter band (simplex), Greg excused himself and handed off “net control” to me. So we worked 70cm, then turned to 10m, and then those of us who know Morse Code exchanged information on 10m CW mode.
I had an issue with my logging program when we moved to the 10m band (which was the KX3). (The VHF/UHF exchanges were on the FT-897D, which was not connected to the computer and logging software.) So it took me a couple of minutes to solve the problem. This was good, because I would be logging with this software for the duration of Field Day.
As we concluded, I noticed a shower moving in from the south, so I tore down my outside deployment and moved the equipment indoors. As I was finishing putting away the folding table and chair, the wind gusted and a few drops of rain fell. Everything outdoors that could be impacted by rain was moved indoors or to cover.
I moved indoors.
I sat down at my station and listened for calling station and chased a few of the runners. I was listening to our shared frequency on 2m and heard a call.
“Are you alright?” came the call.
“Yes, I’m in the camper running the radio.”
“I was just checking. Tom’s tent and EZ-up folded up in the wind.”
As it turned out, our group lost two EZ-ups and a tent. I had no problems at my camp and neither did the other group. But it was the end of the road for one of our group, who showed up at my camp to wish me well. He had a wadded up mess in the back of his pickup. I could only shake my head.
“At least this gives me a chance at a new tent,” he said. I nodded.
Another part of our group reported sparking of equipment in their trailer. They took down their antennas and sheltered inside.
At my place, I had some light “ticking” heard on the radio and could feel some static electricity. I was getting some static buildup from the wind blowing on the wire.
About suppertime Greg pulled up outside on his bike. “You have any supper plans?”
“You’re welcome to bring supper up and eat with us. I’m going to grill a steak. I’d offer you one, but we only brought enough for ourselves.”
“I have a couple of hamburger patties that need to be cooked. Would you mind?”
“Of course not, bring them over.”
He headed back to camp and I grabbed some food. Sera and I walked over to their camp. The grill was about ready to receive our dinner meat and Greg graciously cooked my hamburger patties. It was certainly good to get away from the radio for a bit.
I guess I was hungry because I ate both patties. After supper we visited for a bit before Sera and I headed back to our camp. I continued working stations until about midnight, when I called it a day. I took Sera outside to relieve herself and looked up at the sky while she sniffed about. It is dark out at Smith Creek Dry Lake and the stars are gorgeous. I heard coyotes calling and they did not sound too far away. Sera looked intently in the direction of the sound. “Leave it!” I demanded and decided it would be better to retreat to the camper.
As the eastern sky brightened, I woke. I made a cup of coffee and enjoyed the sunrise.
After getting The Girl out for a short walk, I returned to the radio and worked stations until about 1000h. By that time I had enough and decided to shut down. The Girl and I walked down to Greg’s Place and checked in with our friends.
As the day wore on, I took a break and caught a nap. Sera is (almost) always willing to nap with me. It is one of the things I love about dogs. They are such wonderful companions.
After Field Day 2022 ended, we celebrated the weekend and the fellowship. The remainder of our group had already departed. We stayed over.[/caption]It was time to gather for our Field Day 2022 celebration. When we are on expedition, we always gather for a close-out party of some kind. Greg and Subrina graciously provided hamburgers. I brought what I had (at least a bottle of wine). And we visited, laughed, and shared a meal.
It was just the three of us plus Sera. The remainder of our group had left. That is alright — it is often the four of who do things together. Others come and go from our circle, but the four of us are a constant.
We decided to drive around the playa. We intended to use the hot spring. When we arrived at the hot spring, someone had drained the tank. The water was too hot to get in without it having time to cool. So, our Nevada hot spring bath would have to wait.
Greg wanted to check out the smaller dry lake north of the larger one, so we headed out that way. It would also make a good operating spot and would not have any land sailors to deal with. (Although they have never been a problem.)
We split and headed to camp. I began to put away the doublet I had setup and the J-pole I was using for local 2-meter communications. I put away the Yaesu FT-897D as well. But I left the Elecraft KX3 out and left the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 setup so I could play a little more radio before calling it an expedition.
It was break time for me. I wandered over to Greg’s Place, brought my supper along, and then we relaxed with a campfire before The Girl and I headed home.[/caption]As dusk approached, I needed a cover and wanted to feed Sera. So I fed her and then we headed over to Greg’s Place to complete our celebration of Field Day 2022. Greg built a campfire in his burn barrel. The wind was cooperative (for a change) and did not blow smoke at us (most of the time). I kept Sera close because it is very dark.
I woke early, again, made some coffee (while Sera looked at me for a moment, sleepily), and stepped outside. The morning horizon was so beautiful. As I finished my coffee, I got the small drone out to see if I could get some video or stills.
Once again, the DJI Mini refused to fly reliably. There was little wind, but it just would not maintain altitude. I cannot figure out what I am doing wrong, but I was disappointed to leave without some aerial images.
So I made another coffee, played a little radio (mostly just listened), and prepared for the final tear down of camp and loading up of everything. It only took me about an hour to get done and I was just finishing up when Greg/Subrina pulled up.
It was mid-morning, or a bit later. We were not in a hurry. We headed out, but I noticed the vent hatch on their trailer was flopping. It needed to be secured, so I called them (radios are great) and we stopped so they could secure it.
As we climbed over the hill, Subrina called… “Is it too soon for lunch? I was thinking we should stop at Middlegate.”
“I’m always up for some Middlegate.”
“Very good… let’s do it.”
“Roger, roger!” I smiled. One of my favorite places in Nevada is the Middlegate Station bar/grill. It is a favorite stop for all sorts of travelers through central Nevada. I stop there whenever I am out that way and it is about lunchtime.
What was even better is that Subrina was buying! Instead of my usual cheeseburger (very good), I ordered a pastrami melt. It was super good and the home fries were excellent. I do not eat as many potatoes now as I used to, but I get them and share them with Sera.
Too soon, once again, it was time to go. We headed out to the rigs and then on down the road, west on U.S. 50 to Fallon and then on to Carson City.
I called and told Greg/Subrina that I needed to refuel. Greg suggested the Speedway in Fallon but indicated that there was now a Maverick store there. He did not know where.
As we entered Fallon, the Maverick store is near the Speedway location. So I stopped there to refuel. I cleaned up the windows as well. And, I noticed an RV dump there that I could use. So I took a few minutes to empty the blackwater tank and then wash my hands.
Greg/Subrina had continued on. They were going to refuel and dump in Carson City. On my way west, I called them a couple of times and we could hilltop. They were a few miles ahead of me. I did catch them at the Maverick in Carson City, where I stopped to say my goodbyes and thanks for the weekend.
I really, really did not want it to end. These people are family to me. They might as well be blood.
It was only a short final hop to the house. I backed the camper into my driveway, unhooked, parked the rig, and raised the camper. With Sera secured in the house, it took only about a half-hour to unload those things necessary to unload. I then got myself a glass of wine, let the swamp cooler do its thing, and relaxed.
Field Day 2022 was over. It was time to think about cleaning up after the trip and to think about finished the work in front of me.
As I always do, I learned a few things during Field Day 2022. Here are a few of them:
The Yaesu FT-897D is a great radio. It is also a big radio. It takes up too much space on my work table (the dinette) for use as only a two-meter radio.
Using an external antenna for two-meters (the J-pole) is an excellent idea. The camper is almost a Faraday cage, especially for the two-meter band. My HT will just not get out. Given the FT-897D is too big for what I want, a smaller, dedicated two-meter rig in the camper would be a great addition to my portable station.
I have a Kenwood TM-V71A in my 4Runner as my mobile 2m/70cm FM radio. It is a winner in my view. While it is only FM mode, it has excellent audio, adequate power (50w), and is very easy to program from the front panel. In fact, I like the radio so much that I bought another for use at home in my workroom. I should put one of these radios in the camper and then either put a permanent mount on top of the dormer (above the galley), or use a J-pole on a telescoping mast like I did for Field Day.
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is excellent as a portable logging computer. It is small enough to be easy to carry but large enough to be able to read. It also has a smallish but workable keyboard/cover. It does not use a lot of power. It is powerful enough for some light photographic editing and will probably serve well enough for digital modes.
The home built doublet continues to be a solid performer for portable operations. I lengthened the cordage at the end of the legs to get them a bit higher off the ground for this deployment. The best I could tell, there was no difference on receive between the doublet and the vertical antennas. I think some additional experimentation is in order. /li
The current doublet is built with 16ga THHN I bought at the local hardware. Although it is stranded wire, it is very stiff and difficult to stow on the line-winder without kinking it. Plus, the home built ladder line (made of the same wire) is difficult to wrangle in the field. It would be a lot easier to manage with some 16ga flexweave wire for the elements and some window line for the feed. I have a design in mind that I want to try. The THHN elements and home built ladder line would be fine for a semi-permanent installation; but not so much for a field deployment.
Weather will always be a potential issue. I now have a ground rod for my camper station. I need to finish preparation of a place to ground the rod to the camper chassis and provide a ground for the station. That would eliminate any static collection and is likely to improve station performance.
I am satisfied with my Field Day 2022 deployment. My equipment worked as planned. I had plenty to eat. I had great fellowship with my friends. It was a good deployment despite the fact that we lost two easy-ups and a tent.
I am looking forward to our next expedition. I do not know when it might be or where. But I know that I am ready and looking forward to spending time in the field with my friends.
This year, 2022, was my first Flight of the Bumblebees contest. This is a QRP (low power, usually 5w for CW mode) and has been going on for a number of years.
I planned to work the contest for the last few weeks. I decided to operate in the field (of course) from Washoe Lake State Park, which is also a Parks-on-the-Air park (K-2640). I often activate the park as it is only a short drive from my home and The Girl and I love to walk there. It is a win-win for both of us.
I picked up my friend, Diana (KJ7GVY) about 0900h and we made the short drive up to Washoe Lake. I prefer to operate on the west side because the take-off angles are better and there are a lot fewer people. We picked a spot and started setting up the equipment.
I elected to hang a tarp over the back of the 4Runner to provide extra shade as it has been very hot in the afternoons here. Although there was overcast, the wind was down and the humidity was up. By the time we got the station set up, I was quite soaked in sweat. This is unusual for me.
The station was my Elecraft KX3 at five watts to an end-fed half wave antenna. The antenna is built on a Balun Designs 49:1 matching transformer, but I cut the wire and counterpoise for the antenna and tuned them.
Aside: I have in mind another design for an EFHW. After reading a paper on these antennas, it seems that a 36:1 matching transformer with a 200pf capacitor about a third of the way from the feed point will make a 40m EFHW work better on the upper bands. I am going to try one. I just about have everything I need to build the transformer and radiating elements.
I think I started operating about 1030h local. I heard nothing on 40m. I was hoping for some California and close-in Oregon stations, but nothing heard. The 20m band had quite a few operators around 14.060MHz. I chased a couple of them and then looked over at my friend.
“I’m going to run a frequency. I think I’ll do better if I just pick and place and go.”
So I found a place about 14.062MHz and started calling CQ CQ BB de AG7TX AG7TX/BB AR. After a few calls I started picking up some callers and worked them as I could. I am still learning CW and CW operating practice. This was the first time I ran a frequency in a CW contest.
But all the practice running a frequency for POTA and SOTA activations paid off. I picked off call signs or fragments and worked the callers. It is such good brain work and I had a blast.
Each time the well ran dry, I would check another band. I worked a friend on 40m, but I’m confident he was running more than five watts. I also worked him on 20m, but he never got below 20w. So he does not count for the contest (but will get a POTA credit).
The 20m band was the band to work here in western Nevada. I made a total of 35 contacts, dropping those that I did not get a power from or that I new were operating more than five watts. This included 19 Bumblebees.
After the contest ended, we walked The Girl a bit. Then we headed back to Carson City and made a stop at the Sonic. The chili dog and shake just topped off the day. The Girl got a few tater tots for her contributions as well.
On Thursday, 30 June 2022, The Girl and I visited to Parks On the Air parks — Mormon Station SP in Genoa, Nevada and Washoe Lake SP in Washoe Valley. After the intensity of the last several months, I did not get enough of other-than-work time on Field Day. My Field Day AAR still needs to be written. I will get to it, probably over the weekend.
I find Mormon Station difficult to activate. It is a small park. There is a lot of traffic at the park. There is a lot of traffic through Genoa. So there is not a good place for a good antenna and there is lots of audio noise from all the traffic.
For this activation, I set up on the south side of the park, just outside the timber wall. A handy timber in said wall provided an excellent anchor for a 10m telescopic mast. The random wire antenna I keep in my kit was the right length to connect directly to the Elecraft KX2 via a binding post to BNC adapter. The counterpoise wire was laid on the ground out of the way of any potential foot traffic.
When I turned on the radio, there was some noise. A quick look around revealed overhead power lines across the street. I already had noticed the electrical equipment 20 feet from my operating position.
I decided to try anyway. I ran the KX2 barefoot at ten watts. After a bit more than an hour, I made my required ten contacts. But I noticed the radio frequency noise and used earbuds to mitigate the audio noise (a bit).
The choice of operating position was not optimal. I need to find another place to activate Mormon Station.
The Girl and I drove up to Washoe Lake SP to activate that park too. I prefer the west side of the lake/park as there is less congestion there. For this activation, I set up the Elecraft KX3 and the KXPA100 amplifier. The antenna was the Wolf River Coils vertical with my own ground field.
Not long after I bought the WRC antenna, I read Rudy Severns’ series of articles about verticals and ground fields. So I built a set of 18 radials from cheap lamp cord for my ground field. They connect six into one and then to the base of the antenna via Anderson powerpoles. The entire systems is quick to deploy and quick to tune.
The antenna is not band agile. But if one is running a frequency (like activating a park), then agility is not the most important feature of the antenna. The antenna is resonant on the selected band, so no matching transformer is needed and there is no transformer loss. It will make SWRs of 1.5:1 or less in my location.
I used my 15Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery with a 30w PowerFilm solar panel and Genasun charge controller to keep the battery topped off. I planned to run phone first, then CW mode on each band. For phone I run 100w; for CW mode I typically run 50w or less.
The setup took me about 20 minutes. I then checked the solar conditions and decided to start on 40m to see if I could get some California contacts and then move up the bands.
I had a handful of 40m contacts not long into my activation. After I received no more calls in phone mode, I switched to CW and worked a few more stations.
I then moved up to the 30m band and made a few more contacts. Then it was on to 20m where I continued working stations until the well ran dry, or the hole was fished out. You can choose your preferred metaphor.
My buddy Dick texted me and ask “Should I call 911?” He was concerned when he saw me spotted using sideband.
“Not everyone knows Morse Code and phone operators might want to hunt this park. So I decided I might catch more fish if I also run phone.”
Yes, it felt odd calling CQ using my voice. But I got into the rhythm before long and I know there are hunters out there who only do voice comms. I think it was the right decision.
I was about to move up to 17m when I noticed it was about 1500h. I had an exam session last night to give a new operator a chance to earn her Technician class license. I wanted a shower before heading to the exam site. So I packed up the station and we returned home.
I forgot to make an image of my deployment at Washoe Lake. That is too bad as it was another simple setup. It would have made a nice image.
As usual, I learned a few things:
I still have work to do to find the best operating point at Mormon Station. There has to be at least one good place to run the radio.
It is better to activate Mormon Station away from the weekends. Genoa has a lot more traffic on the weekends when tourists come to town. The park is busier. Genoa is busier. There is a lot more audio noise as a result.
I have to remember to make an image of my deployment. There is something elegant about a simple radio setup with the park or surrounding landscape in the background. Washoe Lake was really pretty Thursday. My bad…
Including phone operation in my activation is a good idea. Although more and more amateur operators are learning Morse Code (it is part of being a well-rounded operator), there are a lot of POTA hunters that do not know code. That means there are missed opportunities for contacts if I only activate CW mode.
I should allow more time to activate more bands. Thursday I did three bands — 40m, 30m, and 20m. While it is true that propagation is not as good on the higher bands right now, it was better and will get better as we move farther into Solar Cycle 25. The higher bands offer good opportunities for DX (long distance) radio contacts.
Logging on my iPhone is a Pain-In-The-Ass. But so is setting up a logging computer, even if it is the little Surface Go 2.
HAMRS is a useful logging software. It has a template for Parks On the Air (as well as SOTA). That mitigates, to some extent, the PITA nature of logging on my iPhone. (Yes, I know it runs on my Surface Go 2.)
I know there will be more lessons as I learn more about portable operations. Now I think I want to get The Girl out and go play radio for a few hours up at Washoe Lake.
After returning from a fast trip to Summit Lake for field work, I wanted some recreational outdoor time for the weekend. The Girl and I like Washoe Lake State Park, in particular the west side that is undeveloped and less used. There is a great place to setup a radio station and activate the park for Parks on the Air. Plus we can walk the west shoreline without encountering a lot of other people.
Saturday was cold and cloudy for the middle of June. Nonplussed, after working a good part of the morning, I put a few things into the rig and The Girl and I headed north for some outdoor time. On the way out of town, I stopped at McDonald’s for a fish sandwich and then at C-A-L Ranch to pick up a few tent stakes. I am moving away from the plastic stakes, which break easily in the desert, to the aluminum stakes that are more hardy.
It is a short trip to the lake and we were there in short order. I parked the rig in the lee of a sand dune on the west side. The Girl and I got out and went for a 20-minute walk. That allows her to burn off some energy and provides me the opportunity to move my blood around.
On return to the rig, I affixed a new antenna to the 7m SOTAbeams mast and then deployed the guy lines for the mast. I would normally strap the mast to a support, but at the lake site none was available.
The new antenna is a 40m off-center fed dipole. I checked it with the antenna analyzer at is is resonant on 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m. So it is a four-band antenna and those are four useful bands. And, for those bands, no additional matching transformation is needed.
I used the Discovery TX-500 and the PA-500 radio and amplifier for the activation. There was no heard activity on 40m and 10m was not open, so I tried 15m. After spotting myself and calling for five minutes, nothing was heard. So I re-spotted myself on 20m and started calling.
That resulted in a number of calling stations. I worked them as they came in, sometimes singletons and sometimes in groups of two or three. I had my activation by about 1630h local time and took more calls until about 1645h, logging 16 stations. The 20m band was quite noisy, popping and sizzling with sunspot activity. QSB (fading) was moderate with some of the weaker stations requiring a few repetitions to make the exchange.
When I quit, I was cold. The wind had stolen my heat. I retrieved the packable anorak from the rig and put it over my hoodie. I then tore down the station and stowed everything. Then I got The Girl out for another walk and we called it a day.
On the way home I stopped at Francisco’s Mexican Restaurant, a favorite place, and bought Tacos de Asada. It was a lovely, spicy meal, and the hot chow did me good.
Sunday morning I had in mind to return to Washoe Lake SP and do some testing of another old antenna, the Wolf River Coils vertical. Because of the way I operate, it does not get a lot of use. I typically change frequencies often, hunting other stations. But for running a frequency, the use of a resonant antenna is more efficient. Plus the antenna is simply and quickly setup and tuned. And, because I intended to activate the park, a single band would be fine for this mode of operation.
So, again we drove up to the park and to the operating point. There I found a man, Nelton, who had bogged his pickup truck in a mud hole. It was not buried, but he could not get enough traction to roll out. We attempted to pull it out with what he had for a tow strap (not much), but it was not strong enough for even the slightest pressure. As I prepared to help dig him out his son arrived in his pickup with a tow strap. So, off The Girl and I went to continue our day.
I picked my spot, on a mudflat where I expected good ground conductivity (but did not get stuck). I parked the rig, got The Girl out, and we walked. She played, threatened to run out into the lake (too muddy), and then threatened to roll in a dead carp (no go). On the way back she chased me and we played a little.
Back at the rig, I let her lay out in the sun while I setup my table and chair, then got out the equipment. The antenna came first and took only a few minutes to assemble. Then came the power supply — a Bioenno battery, Genasun charge controller, and 30w PowerFilm solar panel. With the battery charging, I assembled the station. I used the Elecraft KX3 transceiver with the Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier. I then adjusted the antenna for resonance on the 40m band and returned to the operating position.
I turned on the radio and listened on 7.2835MHz for the 40m Noontime Net. It was not quite 1300h local and I heard nothing. I checked the Internet for solar conditions and it looked like we had a bit of X-ray influx that disturbed the Ionosphere and frequencies below 14MHz were blacked out. So I returned to the antenna and adjusted it for the 20m band. I got a good match on 20m.
Back to radio (only 15ft away from the antenna) I turned it on, switched to the 20m band, and listened. I saw a station spotted activating phone on 20m, so I found the frequency and listened for an opportunity to call. I made my first park-to-park contact.
I chased a few more activators and then decided I was having no fun with phone. So I found an unused frequency in the CW portion of the band and spotted myself on the POTA website. I adjusted my logging software (HAMRS on my iPhone) for the new frequency and started calling.
Again I worked a steady stream of stations who returned my general call. A few were calling pretty slowly (10-12wpm), so I slowed down. The lazy way is to keep the keyer set at your speed and add spacing between characters. The good operator approach is to turn down the keyer speed to match the other station. With the Elecraft radios, that is easy to do. So, that is what I did.
After fishing the 20m hole dry, I switched to the 17m band. That required a trip to the antenna, with the analyzer, and an adjustment of the radiator length (a telescoping stainless steel whip). That took only a few minutes and then I was back at the station.
The 17m band generated quite a few calls in response to my general call and spot. I worked those stations one by one.
Once I start working a station, particularly one that is weak to me, I ignore other callers as I send the part of the call I heard and request a fill. It usually does not take long for the other caller(s) to figure out I will work the current station before I accept another call and they shut up. After I work the station and send TU (thank you) and 73 (best wishes), I send “DE AG7TX POTA AR” (which means AG7TX is calling POTA and standing by) and wait. If I hear nothing, then I start the general call again, “CQ CQ CQ POTA DE AG7TX AG7TX POTA AR” and listen for a few seconds.
When 17m went dry, I switched to 15m after seeing a couple of spots for the 12m band on the POTA website. Again I adjusted the antenna and returned to my station to call. After a few attempts, I heard nothing. About that time a text message from my buddy Dick came in that he had not noticed me on the park. I responded that I would return to 20m to take his call.
Which I then did.
After I re-spotted myself on the POTA website and started calling, Dick came in LOUD. I worked him and put him in my log. I then worked several more stations, including several in California.
I almost never hear California station on 20m. I think those I worked were far enough south that I was in the first “skip” zone for the 20m band. In any event, I was happy to work them.
When no more calls came, I signed off “QRT DE AG7TX SK” and listened for a moment. I often pick up a straggler or two after signing off. If I am called, I answer. But, hearing nothing, I turned off the radio and put away the station.
I got The Girl out and we went for another walk. She was very playful, attacking my boots and zooming around. She again threatened to run into the muddy water and roll on the dead fish. I laughed and called her in, which resulted in more attacks on my (new) boots.
Back at the rig, we hopped inside and warmed up a bit. It was a cool June day in western Nevada. As we headed home, I reflected on my weekend. I was satisfied that I made progress on several tasks, including some work. I decided to order a pizza for supper (and several more meals). It was a good day and a good weekend. I am grateful.
Again, I learned things over the weekend.
Always take an extra cover in the rig. I do get cold.
Put the makings for a hot drink (coffee, tea, cocoa) in the rig and the material to heat water and make a hot drink.
Put a couple of dehydrated meals in the rig and the material to make hot water to rehydrate the food. Hot chow is a good thing when cold.
I am not certain that a band-limited antenna is right for me. It probably depends on the particular operation and whether (or not) there is a contest ongoing.
In light of the above, it makes sense to have access to a couple of antennas in the rig. This is not generally an issue for me.
I need to study the tools available for measuring and predicting propagation. I am learning, but I think there is more to learn and some additional tools that will inform when a particular band (or bands) is open.
There is no reason to waste time calling on a closed band. Over the last few outings, I tried 15m several times without success. Although I was experimenting (testing), my time would be better spent working bands where I can make contacts.
The WRC antenna is a solid performer when running a frequency. It is not band agile and is not appropriate for that application. But for a POTA (or SOTA) activator who will run a frequency, it is easily tunable to the desired band/frequency and is reasonably efficient.
I want to experiment with the WRC antenna some more. It would be very interesting to take it to the coast and operate from the beach. Hmmm… a camping trip???
My Morse Code skills are improving.
I am easily frustrated operating phone, particularly when trying to call an activator.
Over the weekend, I logged 62 contacts at Washoe Lake State Park. Again, it was a good weekend.
Late last week I decided that I wanted some time outdoors and wanted some radio play. The previous weekend I was recovering from travel and testimony and just did not feel like doing much. This weekend I did not want to stay indoors all weekend.
So I sent an email to the usual suspects who like to spend time outdoors and like radio. I thought that an Summits On the Air (SOTA) activation of Fairview Peak (W7N/PC-032) would be fun. It is a familiar place (we activated it last year, I think), is high enough to be cool on a hot day, and is not too far from home. Of our group, I had three takers. So it was a go.
We drove out Saturday morning, then worked our way up the steep trail to the activation zone. I setup the radio while the others setup shade and a table to work from. I used the KX3 with the KXPA100 for this outing. I knew that the phone operators would need more power to get out. I also setup the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in the vertical configuration. I put out a couple of solar panels to keep the battery topped off.
We were ready to go before my scheduled time, so I chased another operator activating a summit on phone and logged him. Then I handed off the mike to another operator.
After an hour or so the other two operators almost had their quota. It takes four contacts to make a SOTA activation. Both operators had three contacts and a couple of summit-to-summit contacts as well. Those count extra because one receives both points as an activator and as a hunter. They were ready for a break, so I sat at the radio, listened on 15m, and then spotted myself on the SOTA website.
I was running CW Mode (Morse Code) and started sending my CQ so chasers would see/hear my signal. It did not take long until I had my first contact. I continued to work stations and also chased a few other SOTA activators during my turn.
After an hour or so I had a dozen contacts, more than enough for my activation. I handed over the radio to another operator so she could finish her quota.
Both other operators made their activation of Fairview Peak. It is more difficult when running phone than running code. It is one of the primary reasons I elected to learn Morse Code.
Sunday morning I decided I wanted to be outside. The weather was to be cooler, if more windy. I thought about doing another summit, but decided that the wind would be worse at elevation. Therefore I elected to do a park activation.
The Girl and I had breakfast, I finished cleaning up the dishes, and I put a load of laundry in. I grabbed the Discovery TX-500 transceiver and PA500 amplifier and carried them out to the rig. The Girl and I headed out and I noticed the wind was already up. I knew it was going to be windy at the lake.
I decided to activate Washoe Lake State Park again. I intended to do some testing of a new off-center fed dipole, but decided that it was too windy. So I used the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in vertical configuration again. It is one of my go-to antennas.
Before setting up the station, The Girl and I had a nice walk along the shore of Washoe Lake. There were lots of pretty flowers. A very pretty Girl posed for me in the flowers, and then went on a crazy roll to demonstrate she is no lady.
On return to the rig, I put down her mat so she could be comfortable while I deployed the station. I put up the antenna near the water and brought the coaxial cable back to my table. I got out the Discovery TX-500 and the PA500 and assembled them. I also put out a solar panel to keep the 4.5Ah Bioenno battery charged.
I staked the solar panel down. The wind was rising! After getting everything assembled (a few minutes), I put The Girl in the rig as it was just too windy.
I checked in to the 40m Noon Net (7.2835MHz) to confirm the station was working. Then I chased a few POTA activators on phone. When I tried CW mode, the monitor level from the TX-500 was too low for me to hear my sidetone. That meant I could not be sure I was sending correctly, having no audible feedback.
So, after futzing with that for awhile, I put the TX-500 away and got out the Elecraft KX2. I know this radio and was able to run my frequency easily. I completed my quota with a couple of stations to spare.
I was freakin’ miserable. The wind was strong enough to make me cold, even in the lee behind my rig. I was sandblasted. I was worried the antenna might fail. My hands were cold so sending was difficult.
When other operators stopped answering my call, I paused for a few minutes to see if there would be any stragglers. Then I posted myself QRT (done) and started putting away my station. Again, this took only a few minutes.
I then got The Girl out of the rig for a final walk (very short) and made an image of the lake shore. The wind was strong enough that the lake retreated from the western shore by about ten feet. That meant there was enough setup of the lake surface to lower it on my side by three or four inches. (It would be three or four inches higher on the lee side of the lake as well.)
I knew that this is an observable physical phenomena. It is one reason why dams have freeboard required (extra height from the nominal water surface elevation to the dam crest). Winds can push the water around and by more than one might think. This was a perfect example, in real life, of something I have known was possible my entire professional career.
How cool is that?
In any event, I came away with a few lessons:
Setting up and operating in marginal conditions is an important part of training for operations when conditions are poor.
I have a guying kit for the MPAS 2.0 vertical. I should get it out and test it. It would have been a good addition to Sunday’s deployment.
Be prepared to stake things down. I staked the solar panel Sunday. If I had not, then it would have blown away.
Even if the weather looks good, always have a cover to keep warm. It is possible to get cold even when the temperature is 70°F.
I must figure out how to adjust the monitor volume on the TX-500. If I cannot hear the sidetone, I cannot reliably send code.
Always have an alternative setup planned. Redundancy is the key to making an operation work. In this case, it was having an alternative antenna (the vertical) and a backup radio (the KX2).
It would be good to have the ability to make hot drinks and hot chow in the rig. If I (or someone else) gets cold, then hot chow will help get me warm again. I have a spare campstove and kettle. I just need to put them into the rig.
Always have a few spare parts at hand. I needed an coaxial cable adapter and had to scrounge one from another radio kit. I should assemble a small kit of adapters and jumpers.
I suppose there are more lessons learned this couple of trips. I need to start a new list in my notebook.
In the end, it was a very good weekend. I spent time outdoors. I spent time with The Girl. We spent time with friends. I operated the radio.