Washoe Lake State Park Activation — 18-19 June 2022

The vehicle is my 4Runner positioned to get a little shelter from the wind on a cold Saturday afternoon.

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.

This was my station for the Sunday afternoon activation of Washoe Lake SP.

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.

This perspective provides a little better view of the WRC antenna as deployed Sunday afternoon. I stake it down to keep it from tipping over in the wind. It is also set for the 20m band and no coil is needed. The coil is bypassed and the whip shortened a couple of feet for resonance on 20m.
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.

The Elecraft KX3 station setup to activate Washoe Lake SP Sunday afternoon. The antenna in the background is the Wolf River Coils vertical.
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.

This is a map of the contacts made for the weekend activation of Washoe Lake SP.

Weekend Radio Play

Before going for a big roll in the grass, Sera posed for me sniffing at the flowers.

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.

The gang decided to activate Fairview Peak (W7N/PC-032) again this year. What a gorgeous day to be on the mountain!
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.

We were both glad to be outdoors on a cool June morning. I stopped to make a few images and Sera posed for me.

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.

We walked before the wind rose. Sera had a blast and could not resist rolling in the grass.
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.

Life is good.

Sunday afternoon, the wind blew Washoe Lake to the northeast. This left about ten feet of the lake bed exposed. I expect the setup was about three or four inches and demonstrates the impact of wind shear on a lake surface.

Reno QRP Net AAR — 09 June 2022

This is my Elecraft KX1 shack-in-a-box that I often take to the field. It has almost everything in the box to make a radio station — the radio, battery, key, headphones, and antenna. All that I need is a way to elevate the antenna (a mast or tree).

After a long dry spell, I am back at the weblog. The reason for my absence is simple — there was so much work to prepare for my testimony in Austin, Texas that by the end of the day there was little energy to write.

I had things to write about. I spent some of my time in the field running the radio (Parks On the Air activations, mostly) and enjoying time with The Girl. But there just was not enough energy left in the tank at the end of the day.

My testimony was completed last week. I returned home Friday morning, quite early. After retrieving The Girl from her trainer’s, we got in some exercise and then I came home and crashed. I am getting better and attending to my other project work now. I am spending time with my Girl and even doing a little radio play.

There is a small group of operators in Reno that are strictly QRP (low power) CW Mode (Morse Code) operators. They are a club of sorts, but really an anti-club because they do not have a formal structure. Now that the pandemic is less of a concern, monthly meetings for breakfast and chat are happening again. Every ten days or so there is an net (which is ham-speak for a group chat on the air). The net provides an opportunity to run the radio, practice Morse Code, and check in with friends.

The net protocol is simple:

  • Net control issues a general call (CQ) announcing the net.
  • Net control calls for station check-ins.
  • Net control acknowledges each station and asks for a repeat of the call sign if it was not copied the first time.
  • Net control calls each station in turn for the exchange.
  • Net control calls for any late check-ins and then works any that respond.
  • Net control closes the net.

The exchange is simple as well. It is operator name, signal report, location, rig, antenna, and power. The speed is slow speed, with net control calling at ten words per minute (that’s quite slow) and responding to calling stations at their speed.

I drove up Goni Road about 0900h (net meets at 1000h local in the summer), turned west on a trail, and parked the rig on an open spot off the trail. The antenna was a length of wire (25f) thrown over the top of the sagebrush (the Sagebrush Antenna) and a second length of wire about the same length thrown on the ground. The wires were directly connected to the radio. I used my Elecraft KX1 radio for this outing, which contains an excellent antenna matching unit and makes about four watts on the 40-meter band.

I readily heard net control call from his location at Hidden Valley Park on the eastern side of Reno. I listened as the other stations called and he acknowledged them and made his list. When the check-ins slowed, I sent my call, identified myself as a portable station (AG7TX/P) and was acknowledged.

I then listened as each station sent their information. I copied some of it, but not all of it. This is a mode that I am not used to. Most of my operations are contest-like, being SOTA, POTA, QSO parties, and contests. So it is excellent practice for me to listen to this code and work at catching the words.

My turn came and I sent my exchange, fumbling a bit with the KX1 key. I do not usually use the factory key for the KX1 and its touch is different than my usual keys. But I got my exchange sent and was acknowledged.

The 4Runner is visible in the lower right quarter of this image.
Net control closed the net. I put away my station (which took only a few minutes). Then I got The Girl out for a hike. We were both ready and I wanted to get it done before the heat came. So, up the hill we went.

This hill is straight up. There are no flat spots. So I climbed until I needed to pause and catch my breath. Then I climbed again until I needed to catch my breath. You can induct…

It was a good climb and good for my legs. At the top we paused to walk around a bit and for me to drink a little water to wet my throat. While there, I admired the view of Washoe Lake with Slide Mountain in the background.

This is the wonderful view from a hilltop south from Washoe Lake.

After my rest, we headed back down the hill. It was a great workout for my old legs, which had been cooped up too much over the last ten days. I was pretty spent when we reached the bottom of the hill and turned toward the 4Runner.

There I paused to send a text message to friends along with a couple of photographs. My ham buddies like to see the countryside here.

It was a good outing and a good net. Life is good.

After the net, I paused for a selfie with my radio and The Girl in the background.