After being gone for more than a month, it took me nearly two weeks to regroup. At first, the heat was oppressive here in Carson City. I have one cool room in my house, the living room. The portable A/C is sufficient to keep that room cool, but not the remainder of my house. In general, I am able to cool the rest of my place by opening the windows at night and drawing in the cool evening air.
But on 16 July 2021, the Tamarack Fire bloomed from a single isolated tree to a raging wild fire. I happened to be in Gardnerville to have Sera’s ears checked. I could not get a vet to see her, so we left. As I stepped outside the office, I saw the plume rising in the south and the winds blowing it over the Pine Nut Mountains. I had no idea how bad it would get.
Over the next few days the fire grew as the crews sought to protect structures in and around Markleeville. The aggressiveness of the fire and the rough landscape made fighting it difficult. Winds from the southwest blew the smoke into Carson Valley, Carson City, Washoe Valley, and Reno. At times, Mount Scott is invisible from my house, just a couple miles away.
The air quality has been in the very bad range. We had a few reprieves when the winds turned westerly and moved the plume to the east (poor folks east from us). The management team projects they will have things under control by the end of August. That is a long time to deal with this smoke.
We continue to walk in the morning. I am rising earlier to get us out before the heat rises. Sera does not handle the heat well. So I carry water for her as well as myself. So far, I have not felt the impact of the smoke too much. I can tell it affects me, but not badly.
My friend called and asked to to meet him, his bride, and another couple at Stampede Reservoir Saturday. I was concerned that the smoke would be bad, but agreed anyway. The worst case scenario would be I turned around and returned home. So I agreed.
Sera and I got an early walk Saturday, then I loaded the rig. I made a mistake of driving SH 28 along the northeast side of Lake Tahoe. Traffic was awful and unnecessarily slow. I knew much of the route because I have a project on the Truckee River near Boca Reservoir. It is a pleasant route once off the Interstate.
Boca was very busy with the campgrounds and dispersed camping fairly full. However, because it is a little farther out, Stampede Reservoir was not bad. There were a few rigs down by the water and a few watercraft on the lake.
I found a copse of trees to shelter in. The smoke was bad, but less so than at home. I parked the rig, set up my radio, and watched Sera chase the local squirrels. I made a couple of contacts with SOTA activators before my friends arrived.
I turned off the radio and visited the remainder of the afternoon. We got a little westerly wind and the smoke was a little better. The wind also provided a little cooling.
Before we broke up to head back home, I made a capture of the lake through the trees. It was my only photograph of the day.
While in Missouri last month, SiL took us out to the old family place. Dean’s Ford is now abandoned and the right-of-way for the ford and the county road returned to the landowners. Access to the ford is blocked with a berm and it and the old county road are gated to prevent trespassing.
However, the family still has access by the kindness of the current landowner. So, SiL took us out to the old family place to look around and reminisce.
I made a few images while there and will probably post a few of them along with a few words. This capture is a view downstream from the old ford. I took the kids down here to play on the sandbar many times when we lived up the road or, later, when we were visiting. They loved chasing tadpoles and splashing in water to cool off from the summer heat.
Dad and I spent a lot of time fishing just downstream from this location. There was a long pool deep enough to have catfish as well as bass and perch. We often fished with rod and reel, but sometimes would set out limblines to leave out overnight in hopes of catching a large catfish.
I sure miss those times hunting and fishing with Dad. We had a lot fun together and told lots of stories and tall tales.
The plan for Winter Field Day 2021 started late in the fall of 2020. My friends and I drove out to the potential site and spent a few days camping there over the Thanksgiving holiday. We cleaned up the old tank and they played on the dirt bikes while I played with The Girl and a little radio.
But project work got busy so I could not leave Friday to camp and enjoy the weekend. My friends went out Friday, setup camp, and threw a couple of tarps over the tank to keep any weather out and some heat in.
I received a call yesterday morning that the generator they were using to power the stations was generating so much interference that it was affecting operations. So I decided to load up my smaller generator (a Honda) and drive it out there. The outing would do me and The Girl some good and I thought I might play a little radio before returning home.
It took me an hour to collect things and run an errand, but we headed out by about 1030h. The drive was a bit more than an hour. The trail was mostly snow-covered or damp sand/gravel. There were a couple of places that were slimy, but the 4Runner had no trouble traversing them.
Camp was a muddy mess, though. There was enough sun to melt the snow and the surface freezing, so they were left with sandy mud. The Girl did not mind and took off to check all her favorite sagebrush clumps for critters.
With one eye on The Girl, we got my generator running and providing power for the equipment. I learned that my friend’s radio was having an audio issue and not working reliably. This is odd for an Icon 7000. It had been a solid performer for the last couple of years we have been operating portable.
I offered to leave my Elecraft KX2, but he declined. He encouraged me to setup my rig, though, and make a few contacts. So I setup the rig and used his antenna (a very quick setup). I heard a number of loud stations calling and answered a few calls. I worked stations in California, Nebraska, Illinois, Florida, and Texas before deciding it was time to pack up and head home. I wanted to be off the trail before dark.
So I broke down and stowed my radio equipment, called in The Girl (who was very happy), and we said our goodbyes. She was not too muddy with just a little bit on her feet and a few splashes on her tummy. She mostly snuggled next to me on the way home, as she usually does. Most of the sand had fallen off her by the time we arrived home, just after dusk.
It was an easy unload, then supper for both of us and some rest. I watched a little Netflix while I ate some supper and she laid on her mat next to me, lightly begging for a bite of pizza. After supper and my show, I stayed on the sofa awhile longer, simply enjoying the quiet and the company of my dog.
I made about a dozen contacts over the couple of hours I worked the bands. Most of them were on the 20m band, which was nicely open yesterday.
Today I need to get a little work done, as well as take care of both of us. I am hoping for a little sun later today so we can enjoy that on our walk.
A few weeks ago (seems like forever now), after the Nevada QSO Party, I was not ready to settle down for very long. I started working up a new outing almost as soon as I had the camper unpacked and the laundry running. My friends suggested that I was not working hard enough, but I am not quite sure what they meant.
Given that everyone in our little group was tied up or busy doing other things, I planned a little outing to a SOTA summit south of Carson City near Lake Topaz in Douglas County. I posted an alert on SOTAWatch that I would be attempting an activation and emailed a few of my CWOps Academy friends to be on the lookout for me.
Saturday morning arrived and I loaded up the rig, put some dog food in a baggie (The Girl will not eat before an outing), and made sure we had plenty of water. The route was in the GPSr and I had everything needed. So, out the door we went.
I stopped at McDonald’s for a biscuit and a coffee. I ate on the way south, saving a bite of my biscuit for The Girl, who was watching me like Snoopy on his doghouse.
I did not miss the turnoff for the trail and it was a fairly easy trail drive to up near the summit. In the spirit of SOTA, I schlepped my radio equipment to my selected operating point and then paused to give The Girl a short walk around the summit to burn off some energy.
We found a CalTrans benchmark on the summit. I thought that was pretty cool. I never tire of finding the old benchmarks on top of mountains or near highways as I travel around.
The Girl settled down a little, so I put out her mat and assembled the station. I have put together the little Elecraft KX3 station so many times that I think I could do it blindfolded. I tested the setup and everything looked to be operating normally.
I did not connect the microphone to the radio. I determined that I would operate code only and do my best. I found a frequency on the 40m band that was quiet and asked a few times if it was in use. Nothing heard, so I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and posted my spot on SOTAWatch.
Then I began calling CQ (general call) SOTA (identifying myself as a SOTA activator), sent my callsign, and listened. It took only a few calls before a pileup of stations were returning my call. My hands shaking and my breath a little ragged, I responded to the fragments of callsigns I could pick out, sending the fragment plus a question mark indicating that the calling station should send their callsign again so I could copy it.
One by one I worked these stations, putting each one in my log (on my knee) with their signal report, my signal report, and the time. I heard a few S2S calls (summit-to-summit, cherished contacts for double points) and worked those stations the best I could. Some were just too weak for me to hear, but I worked everyone I could hear, including one of my CWA instructors.
I made a dozen or so contacts on 40m, more than enough to qualify my activation. As I fished out the hole, I called a couple more times “last call before I change bands” and listened. I cleared the frequency and moved to the 30m band.
Again I called CQ SOTA and listened. Several station returned my call, but not as many as on 40m. Many chasers had their contact for my activation and were looking for other activators. I worked another of my CWA instructors and that was a treat. With that hole fished out, I cleared the frequency and moved to 20m.
I worked a few more chasers on 20m, but I could tell that the herd was thinning. Then I heard a call that sounded like “EA2…” and listened a couple more times. The station was fading in and out of my noise floor and I had trouble getting a full callsign. I returned the call and we worked and worked until I got the callsign. I was reasonably sure I also copied the signal report.
At that point I decided to call it a day. I cleared the frequency, looked over my log, and shut everything down. The Girl was ready for some movement so we walked the area again a couple of times. I took her to the rig and got her some water. She was ready to go home. So I tore down the station, stowed my gear in the rig, and then did one last walk-around to be sure nothing was left behind. I paused one more time to take in the view, even with the smoke. I made sure I had captures of the area.
Then we returned to the rig and headed down the trail. I was tired, hot, and sweaty, but deeply gratified that I had completed my SOTA activation in CW mode only. It was good to be home, get a shower, enjoy a little cooler air in the house, and settle down for the remainder of the day. With a shower and some food, I was nearly done. But I worked on my log a little, played with The Girl a little, and then called it a day. It was a really good day.
I learned a few things as well:
I should tie my pen to the kneeboard. I kept dropping my pen in the dirt.
I got hot in the sun even if it was a little cool when we got to the OP. I should have setup the station in the shade even if I needed a cover to be warm. It was too much sun that day.
Headphones would probably make copying the calling stations a little easier. I do not like to be isolated from my surroundings, so perhaps just one phone or earbud would help without disconnecting me from my environment.
I should determine my own pace. Chasers will either wait to work me or they will not. I only need four contacts to make the activation. I can afford to slow down my pace a little so I can breathe and have fun. I had fun anyway, but I let myself get stressed.
I had plenty of power with the 15w that the KX3 makes. I might have worked a few more stations with a few more watts, but I made my activation and it was a lot easier without having an amplifier along too.
Late last week, The Girl and I got away a little late for our daily walk. Work kept me busy much of the morning. Yet I wanted a walk and The Girl was insisting on a walk and I knew that cold weather was on the way. So I put us into the rig and we headed out to our favorite area, the Carson River at Silver Saddle Ranch.
There was almost no one on the trail that day. I guess the cooler temperatures and the wind were keeping them away. As we approached the trail, I could see that much of the fall color was gone. There were still a few stragglers, hanging on to their leaves while others had given up and dropped theirs. The riparian area is taking on the colors of winter — more browns and grays, more earthy looking, more like waiting for the winter snow.
Yet we had a good walk. There were periods of sun and shade as the clouds blew in, foreboding the coming colder temperatures and the prospect for rain or snow. When the sun shone, it was plenty warm and I was tempted the shed my outer layer. But then a cloud would obscure the sun and I felt chilled. I elected to keep the outer layer on.
The Girl ran from place to place, hunting lizards. “They’ve all bunkered in,” I told her. But she hunted anyway, enjoying the activity as much as the prospect of jumping something to chase.
We jumped a brace of mallards from the Mexican Ditch and she started off in chase. “Come-on back; you can’t catch those…” I called. She broke off her chase, and returned, bright-eyed and wolfy-looking.
Near the Mexican Dam, we paused for a moment for me to look out over the river. She stepped up onto the spoil berm and I noticed. She stayed long enough for me to make the capture. We walked on a few more steps to within spitting-distance of the dam, then turned and headed back.
I was struck by the quality of the light and the mix of clouds and blue sky. So I paused to make another capture, which went to my Instagram account.
The Girl rushed me on, “There are lizards to hunt…” she seemed to say.
We had a good walk back to the rig. She was ready to hop in and head home, as was I. I came away with two good captures, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and a tired dog. It was a good day.
Last weekend I really wanted to get out and play some radio. But, I also wanted to get my 4Runner cleaned up after a full summer of desert running (and the ensuing layers of dust) before the fall snows/rains come.
So, Saturday I worked some in the garage, at least enough to create a staging area for the radio equipment carried in the 4Runner. In the process, I opened a couple of the remaining cartons from my move to the duplex. I found my Garmin Montana 650t, which I planned to sell but now think might be a good GPS receiver to keep for trail driving.
I set the GPS unit and dash mount aside. I would deal with that later.
The Girl played around in the front and back yards while I unloaded the gear from the 4Runner and staged it on and around a folding table. With the 4Runner empty, I closed up the house, put The Girl in the rig, and we drove down to Minden to let Melvin’s do their thing. When I pulled into the queue, the operator gave me my ticket and said “That’s a lot of dust. I don’t know if we can get it all.”
“I will pay extra…”
“We’re just so busy…” He was right — I was probably sixth or seventh in the line.
“That’s OK, I’ll take what I can get. I’ve been in the desert a lot.” I left the keys on the dash and The Girl and I went into the shop to pay our bill. Whatever I got for my 25 bucks would be so much better than what I had.
Next for the 4Runner is getting the replacement tire in the shop and on the ground. (That was a left-over from the Bald Mountain activation. I broke a sidewall on a tire coming down the trail.) I am looking into a roof rack and air bags for the rear axle and the passenger’s seat has a parting seam in the leather that needs attention.
We waited outside (what a beautiful afternoon) for the rig to be washed. I listened to the local repeaters while folks chatted about small matters. There is a jammer in range of the Carson Valley repeater who was interfering with a couple of local hams. So they switched to another repeater that has coverage. I switched too so I could follow the conversation.
There was also some chatter on the CARLA network. A group of California hams assembled a complicated but useful network of repeaters that will cover most of the state and a lot of Nevada and Oregon. I monitor that network regularly as well.
The rig clean, The Girl and I visited Ronnie McD’s place and headed north toward home. She was antsy, but settled as I shared my fries with her. We pulled into the Koontz Avenue access to the Prison Hill Recreational Area and parked. I finished my late lunch (sharing of course) and then we got out for a walk.
It was a good day.
Sunday was rather a repeat of Saturday, except that I worked on some battery packs for my portable operations. I am reorganizing my portable radio kits and had some new materials in hand. I used some velcro to attach a power distribution box and a solar charge controller to the new 6Ah LFP battery. The velcro will permit (difficult) removal of the attached pieces if I decide that I do not like the setup. I also attached a distribution box to the 15Ah LFP battery, which is used when I want to run a 100w radio. The 6Ah battery will power my radios (and maybe a computer) with up to about 35w of power (or barefoot if I do not want to run power).
That only leaves the little 3Ah LFP battery to work with. I will probably add a charge controller and power distribution box to that pack as well. Or I might leave off the distribution box because I’ll likely be running on a barefoot radio.
I also got the Montana 650t updated and put onto a charger to see if the LiON battery is still serviceable. The unit has been in storage for several years so I am not sure about the battery.
The Girl was pestering, so I loaded her into the rig and we headed off to get in a walk. At the upper Silver Saddle Ranch staging area, I let her out, donned my EDC pack, and we headed down the trail. She ran herself hot and returned to me several times asking for a drink. But I knew that we would be at the Mexican Ditch in a few minutes and would not be on the trail that long before returning to the rig, where I can a water bottle for her.
She jumped into the ditch, of course, cooling herself and getting a drink. Then, as usual, she trotted past me and shook, giving me a shower as well. I always thank her for the shower and then we walked on.
At the ranch compound, I put her on-lead because there were a bunch of horse trailers parked in the lot. She is not sure about horses and I do not want an incident. But we saw no horses, yet the leash time was good because it gave us some practice working on-lead.
I gave her a bowl of water back at the rig and put her inside. I retrieved the KX1 go-box from the rig, threw a wire over the sage and bitter brush, and thew a counterpoise wire out on the ground. I sat on an old cottonwood stump, put the KX1 on my knee, and started chasing POTA (Parks on the Air) and SOTA (Summits on the Air) stations.
The Elecraft KX1 is a code-only radio, so I was using my newly acquired Morse Code skill. I worked five stations, including a park in Alabama being activated by one of CW Academy instructors, Ken K4EES with only about 3w of power. It is amazing what can be done with a little wire and a radio.
I thought about chasing a few more, but decided it was a good day. So I packed up my gear, got The Girl out for one last short outing, and we headed home. I made some early supper and fed her, then settled in to update my log and relax before the week started. It was a good day and a good weekend.
I am in the migration process of my bullet journal. That means I am closing out the October pages of the journal and opening the November pages. The ink in use is a little slow in drying, so I thought I would work on a weblog entry before I continue working on November. Why, well last week I sat at my worktable one morning, reflecting on what I have been doing, what I am currently working on, and what I want to be working on. One of the latter is that I want to post something here more frequently than once every two months.
I know there are not a lot of readers of my words, but there are a few friends and family who enjoy the words and photographs. So I want to continue documenting this journey through life. My original reasons for keeping a weblog have not changed either.
I was graduated from my Intermediate Class in the CWOps Academy a little more than a week ago. I am signed up for the Advanced class that will begin in January. However, I will probably be assigned to my previous teacher and he will begin informal class the first of December, then reset when we begin formally in January. That gives his students a head start on the work.
In addition, the regular practices will run on other days of the week. There are four practice sessions on Sunday evenings for the various levels of students. In general, everyone is welcome to participate in those practice sessions. I generally make between one and three of them and think I will continue that effort. There are other practice sessions that run through the week as well and I try to make at least one of those. There are also two class sessions per week as well (although we are on break now).
Every Wednesday there are three CWT mini-contests spread through the day. These last one hour and the objective is to make as many contacts as possible. The exchange is simple and the CWOps operators exchange is tabulated on their website. So, I can chase the runners (the operators who are calling) and once I have their callsign (which might take me a few tries to get at speed), I can lookup the remainder of the exchange if I cannot copy it.
I typically operate from home morning and evening, but for the noon session we go to one of my portable operating points and I work the CWT from there. I can hear much better. The image above is from the 02Sep2020 noon contest. I setup my portable radio, a place for The Girl, and an awning to keep some of the sun off (it was hot and smokey too).
Learning Morse Code started the beginning of this year. I did not realize how big an effort this would be. It has been a big effort and has challenged me. This is a good thing. The challenge is good.
On many days, after walkies, The Girl and I pause for a few minutes for me to setup a radio and chase some of the Summits on the Air (SOTA) and Parks on the Air (POTA) operators. They are listening for contacts so they can get the required quota to count the activation. Chasers also receive points for making those contacts. It is a fun game (on both sides) and I am enjoying it. There is a challenge to making these contacts with low power (typically a few watts) and the exchanges are simple.
On this day, The Girl and I paused in the shade near the staging area for Mexican Ditch Trail and the trails on Silver Saddle Ranch at River Park. It was pretty warm the afternoon of 22Sep2020, but there was a little breeze and it was pleasant to rest after the hike in the shade and listen to the radio and the wind rustle the leaves of the trees. What a good day it was.
On 22Sep2020, The Girl and I drove up towards Reno to activate Steamboat Hills. It was a short trail drive up to a staging area and then another couple hundred feet hike to get to the top. I used the little magnetic loop antenna with my Elecraft KX2 (and no amplifier) to make quite a few contacts (more than my quota). I also chased a few summit-to-summit contacts as well.
My friend Dick sent me a text message and commented “It’s as intimidating as hell to call CQ in CW mode (Morse), knowing that there will be a pileup, isn’t it?” I responded to him that it was and I was nervous about making a call. But I wanted to get started making Morse contacts on the summit (one of the reasons I decided to learn Morse Code), so I thought about it for a few minutes, then said (to myself) “F-this, I’m just going to do it!” I sent Dick a text, then posted a spot of myself requesting chasers to respond slowly.
My CQ (general call for any station) was responded to by two patient operators. They put up with my stumbling and bumbling and request for a repeat. We made the exchange and I put them in my log.
The weekend of 10–11Oct2020 was the Nevada QSO Party. Greg, Subrina, and I drove out east of Ft. Churchill to camp and operate on the Lyon/Churchill County line. I think that expedition deserves a story of its own, so I think I will write that later. I do have photographs as well.
The following weekend I did not want to stay indoors, despite the heat and smoke. So The Girl and I drove south to Wild Oat Mountain. There I setup my portable station and activated the summit. This time I used Morse Code only; I did not make a single phone (voice) contact.
I had plenty of butterflies as I readied to call CQ on 40m. I checked that the frequency was open, then spotted myself on the SOTAwatch website. I started calling CQ SOTA and after a few calls the pileup happened. There were too many stations calling me, but I caught part of a callsign and responded with that fragment and a question mark.
The operator filled his callsign and we made the exchange. After my “TU” (thank you), the pileup started again. So, I caught another fragment of a callsign and repeated the process. I cannot remember how many contacts I made on 40m, but it was quite a few. And, eventually, I fished that hole dry. When I heard no more calls, I announced that I was changing bands and cleared the frequency.
I repeated the process on both the 30m and 20m bands and worked more stations. On 20m I worked a station in Spain with the 12w that the Elecraft KX2 produces. He was difficult to hear and kept fading in and out, but I think we made the exchange.
In the end, I made 21 contacts that day. I was tired, sweaty, and hungry. So I broke down the station and The Girl and I made a few rounds about the top of the hill, enjoying the weather, the sun, and the sights.
Beyond the radio activities, work and walkies keep me busy. There has been a little drama in the firm that I support, but I think that things are settling out. (No, the drama does not involve me.) I appreciate the work — the pay is good and the intellectual stimulation from working on technical problems is good for my old brain too.
The Girl must be walked every day. She needs the exercise to burn off that young-dog energy. I need the exercise to keep my body moving and limber. The time outdoors is good for me as well.
My goal is to write a little more here, at least once or twice per week. There are lots of things to write about and photographs to post. I simply need to set aside an hour or so from other things to assemble my thoughts and images so I can make the posts.
Saturday was both the 2020 Hawaii and Ohio QSO Parties. After our morning walk, The Girl and I rested a bit. After waking, I decided to go out to one of my perches in the Pine Nut Mountains. I wanted to play radio a little and be outdoors.
Lately I have eschewed outdoor activities beyond those necessary. The California fires are impacting our air quality and I really do not want to breathe a lot of smoke. But Friday and Saturday were a little better and I was tired of being indoors. So we headed out mid-afternoon on Saturday for some additional outside time.
I set up my vertical antenna and the Elecraft KX2 with my miniPacker HF linear amplifier behind the radio. That gives me about 35w out output, which should be enough for either phone or code operations if propagation is decent.
I know the antenna well enough that I can set it for the 20m and 40m bands without an antenna analyzer. I used one, of course, but I was close enough just “eyeballing” it.
I got The Girl settled on her mat next to my operating position and started listening to the 20m band. I quickly worked three loud Ohio stations. Then I heard a weaker, but readily heard station activating a park (POTA — Parks on the Air), so called him. We made the exchange although he gave me a signal report of only 22 (that’s weak and difficult to copy), but he got the information correct so I put him in my log.
I heard a few Ohio stations calling in Morse code, but none of them could hear me. But I heard HI3T calling and giving signal reports, but not identifying as one of the QSOP stations. When I checked QRZ (online database) on my iPhone, I learned this was a Dominican Republic station. He was working stations very quickly.
During a lull in the action, I sent my callsign. I was stepped on by a stronger station. I waited a few moments and sent my callsign again, during another lull. He returned my call with a signal report of 5NN (best possible signal and probably not a true sigreport). I responded with TU and 5NN (thank you and my real signal report) and he moved on to the next station.
I puttered around the bands for a little longer. I heard no Hawaii stations calling and could not work any of the others stations I could hear. So I packed up the station and The Girl and I made a walk around the knoll.
She glided from sagebrush to sagebrush, sniffing and hunting for lizards. I looked over the Carson City valley and the Prison Hill complex, thinking about the California fires and the smoke we suffered from. Fire is a natural part of the desert ecosystem. Regular burning reduces the fuel load and results in less serious fires (from an ecological perspective). Over the last century, we interfered with that natural cycle. Now wildfires have access to greater fuel loads and are very serious.
Last weekend I watched the Loyalton Fire sending smoke into the sky. This week and this weekend Carson City suffered a lot of smoke. I will be happy to see it go. But I will also be happy to know that the fires are under control and extinguished because I read the heartache they cause for those affected by them.
I have been looking through my image archive the last few weeks. In the process, I found a few nice captures that I want to share over the coming few weeks. Many of them were shot with a little Olympus E-M10 micro-4/3s body I bought, thinking I wanted a really small, capable camera. I have adapters for a variety of legacy lenses, which often produce surprisingly good results.
On this day, we were walking down by the Carson River. It was in the fall or winter months, but no snow. Ki found a bit of cottonwood deadfall and decided to destroy it.
I had the Olympus fitted with a 25mm f/1.4 or f/1.6 Wollensak lens that was probably built in the 1950s for a 16mm movie camera. It is not as sharp as modern lenses, but there is a quality to the image that I really like.
I really love the subject, though. She was a hoot to have in the field and we loved our outings.
Introduction: The middle of last week, our fearless leader sent out an email that our intended SOTA activation, Fred’s Peak, was not going to work. Another team member had scouted the area and found a locked gate blocking access to the area.
Therefore, an alternate site, Genoa Peak (W7N/TR-007 and an eight-pointer) would be the target if the group agreed.
I am generally agreeable and am interested more in the activity and the fellowship than the particulars of the event. I knew we would have fun. I knew it would be refreshingly different from my normal routine. I knew the sights would be beautiful. (Now can they not be with Lake Tahoe visible from the site???)
I already had most of my radio gear ready to go, if not well organized. I intended to use the Elecraft KX2, the MiniPackerHF linear amplifier, the Bioenno 12Ah LFP battery and Genasun GV10 charge controller, and a Bioenno foldable 28w panel as the station equipment. I would log my contacts on paper.
What needed to be done was figure out provisions and water for The Girl and myself, get everything staged (so as not to forget something), and gather the last minute needs on departure.
I decided to take a small sandwich, the snacks that are always in my pack, plenty of water, and some iced tea. I would use the Yeti cooler to keep the cold-things cold and figured I would be able to hike back down to the 4Runner at the staging area to retrieve food and drink.
It has been hot here during the day and the west side of my unit is warm until at least 2200h local. So I do not go to bed until sometime between 2200h and 0000h. I knew that getting up early would be a challenge and that I would not get as much sleep, nor would I get an afternoon nap.
But, I got what sleep I could, woke about 0600h, and figured I would be good if I met the rest of the group at the departure area by 0800h. I puttered around a little, drinking some coffee, gathering up a few last things, and generally waking.
The Trip Out: Then I realized suddenly that it was 0700h and it was time to go! The Girl knew I was hustling about, so she woke and her energy level immediately came up. On these kinds of mornings, she will generally avoid food because our routine is that we are back home by noon and she eats a late breakfast. Well, not so this day…
I schlepped the remaining things to the 4Runner, loaded up The Girl, and made a last pass through the house to ensure I did not miss something. Then we headed for the fuel depot to refuel, get some ice for the cooler, and buy a sandwich and drinks for the day.
The cooler filled and secured, I used the iPhone McD’s app to order a couple of biscuits and another coffee. I was still running about a quart low. After I placed my order, I realized that the app put in my order at the north McD’s, not the south store, which took me out of my way. Poop!
So I drove to the north store and checked in for curbside pickup. Of course, it was my day for the s.l.o.w. service. The phone rang… it was Greg…
“How’s things? Are you still planning to come along to Genoa Peak?”
“Yep. I’m picking up a bite and should be there in about ten minutes.”
“Good, see you then.”
About that time, a server brought my goodies. I thanked her and we were off. The drive south through Carson City was a little slow. Carson Street is all torn up for construction. But at least there was little traffic. So I caught up to the group about on time.
We chatted for a few minutes and then were off. The Girl was doing her excited-bouncing-on-the-seat-and-back-seat-and-front-seat thing. I am hopeful that will wear off a little as she gains experience on our trips and gains a little age. But, we will see.
The trip up the hill to the trail was short and uneventful. Once on the trail, the dust was awful. Nevada is normally a dusty place; this powdery dust was worse than usual and my 4Runner looks like it. I think I blew dust from my nose for several days. But the trip was not bad except for a wrong turn that took us up a reasonably sketchy bit of trail. Mike’s pickup had a little trouble traversing one portion, but it was just rough, steep, and rocky other than that.
Setup and Operation: We arrived at the staging area. The hike was about what I expected, something short but fairly rough and steep. I hoped The Girl would not get into trouble on the way up. But there is only one way to learn to be a trail dog and that is to hike trails.
I grabbed my radio pack and then stuffed the battery and solar panel into it. I did not take time to repack the bag nor to examine what was in it before we headed up the trail. I learned an important lesson from this.
Most of our group was already on the trail to the peak by the time The Girl and I headed up. We readily caught up with Subrina and Sharon. Sharon was particularly struggling to get up the trail. I stayed with her a good part of the way to help her with some of the big steps that were required. As we walked together, I thought “It would not be good for her to fall.” The trail was rocky with plenty of scree and a fall (for any of us) would be a bad thing.
Sharon apologized for being slow so many times I finally had to tell her “Stop! I don’t mind walking with you and I’m not in a hurry.”
We laughed about that fact I might have to grab-a-handful-and-push several times on the hike up. We are both old enough and good enough friends that I would have immediately grabbed her had she slipped or failed to make the step. But, eventually she sent me on and I permitted it. She has a right to do things her way without an old man hovering.
When I hit the summit, I took a moment to take it in. I was facing south. To my left was Carson Valley and to my right was Lake Tahoe and its basin. Both were stunning and well worth the trip, even if no radio happened.
I set myself to setting up my station. I found a relatively flat rock not far from a large boulder that I thought would support my telescoping antenna mast. I got out the linked dipole (20-30-40m bands) and started unspooling the wire and coaxial cable from the wire winders. I then affixed the center support and balun to the top of the mast and ran it up. I secured the mast by wedging it next to the large boulder with some smaller rock and walked out the antenna. It was easy to find brush or boulders to secure the ends.
I assembled the KX2 and linear amplifier, added the battery, DC distribution block (fused), and the solar panel. With everything connected, I tested the station and everything was working. I was ready to operate.
In the meantime, the other part of the crew were busy assembling Greg’s DX Commander, an all-band vertical antenna that does not (when properly constructed) require an antenna matching unit, or tuner.
I puttered with the radio a little, sending some Morse Code to determine if a frequency was in use. I checked into the 40m noontime net (via phone). The other station was coming together and they did not need my help.
The Girl and I headed back down the hill to get a bite to eat and some water. The others were kind enough to give her some water from their supply, but I needed water and the bottle I mooched was not sufficient.
So down the hill we went. The Girl scampered ahead, looking for lizards and the chipmunks that live on the summit. I called her back several times because I am so much slower than she is. All-wheel drive is a thing.
We took time to rest a little, or rather I rested while she hunted lizards around the staging area. I made sure she got plenty of water while we were there and decided to carry a liter back up the hill with me.
So we humped it back up the hill, this time with water.
The remainder of the group was ready to go. They got started while Greg headed back for lunch while others activated the mountain.
The Girl was hungry. As usual, she ignored breakfast in her excitement to get on with the day. Sharon is an animal-lover, so she asked “Can she have some cheese?”
“Of course, just make her behave.”
Being hungry, Sera was a little grabby, so I told Sharon how to handle that. “Just palm it if she’s grabby. She knows how to behave, but sometimes needs some instruction.”
The Girl does not get a lot of people food, but she gets a lot of little bits as a treat. I think this also bonds her to her people because we share our food with her. She understands.
When my turn came to operate the radio, I fired up my KX2 and got started calling CQ SOTA. I made several contacts after Greg spotted me on the SOTA network (we had cell service). All of my contacts were phone. I am still too chicken to call CQ with Morse Code. I made my quota quickly and even had a couple of summit-to-summit contacts. Those are fun, even if sometimes difficult to work, and give double points.
After I turned operation over to the next operator, I realized that my linear amplifier was in bypass mode. I could not see the front panel well and missed it. So my contacts were made with five watts — I was in QRP mode. Hah!
Mike got into a rag chew with an operator in San Diego. Most SOTA operators do not get into rag chews, preferring to make the exchange and move on. Not Mike, though. They talked about all kinds of things, especially about vehicles. I was amused.
I got a second shot at operating and this time made sure the linear was inline. That gave me 35 watts and made it a lot easier for other stations to hear me. I made a few more contacts and one more summit-to-summit and then the well went dry.
Teardown and Return: So I turned off the rig, satisfied with the day. It did not take me long to tear down and prepare to repack my pack. This time I took everything out and packed it properly. That made the trip down the summit easier because my load was balanced and the weight low and close to my back.
At the bottom of the hill and at the staging area, for the last time this trip, I paused, wanting a photograph of The Girl and myself at the end of the trip. Another group were standing around visiting and enjoying the day. So I asked.
“Would one of you please take a couple of pictures of my dog and me?”
A large man smiled and stepped over to us, “Sure.”
“I assume you know how to run one of these,” I asked as I passed my iPhone over to him. He smiled and nodded. Then he proceeded to make a few images of my dog and me. She was still in patrol mode, but we got one good one of her looking at the camera.
He handed back my iPhone and The Girl immediately began greeting the group. They asked me all about her, what breed was she, where she came from. So I told her story, at least what part of it I know, while she absorbed all the attention and affection.
[Soapbox] People think pit bulls, and all the bully breeds, are nothing but aggressive dogs who should be banned and destroyed. Those who know the breeds understand their breed traits and work with those traits to help these dogs become the wonderful companions that they can be. [End soapbox]
They went back to their visiting. A couple of other groups drove in, stayed a bit, and wandered off. I waited.
Before much time passed, I saw the rest of the group heading over the summit and back down the trail. The two female members of the group struggled with the steepness of the trail. I was particularly concerned about Sharon. But she had help, took her time, and made it just fine.
They stowed their gear and we headed back down the trail, this time avoiding the sketchy portion for the better trail. Once down in the trees, Greg found a wide spot in the trail and pulled off.
“Who wants wine?” I had to laugh. I have not been known to turn down a glass of red wine. Greg likes red wine, too. I pulled out a folding chair from the back of the rig and plopped into it. The Girl immediately took to hunting. So I watched to make sure she did not wander off too far. She is doing really well.
We talked and laughed and drank a little wine and enjoyed the coolness of the forest after all the sun of the day. My knees were a little sunburned given they do not get much sun on my daily outings. Well, they did this day.
The wine bottle empty, the snacks gone, and everyone tired we saddled up for the short drive (for some of us) home. I stopped by the Aloha liquor store and bought a sixpack of Coronas and a bottle of Cognac. I intended to celebrate the day a little after I got home, stowed the equipment, and showered.
Lessons Learned: I learned a few things on this activation. They are:
Always, always, always carry some water. Even for a short trip from the rig.
The pack carried a lot better on the way down, after I unloaded and repacked everything. I need to mind my pack and how it is loaded.
I can probably do these activations with a lot less radio. I think I should try working with just the KX2 and a wire antenna. I could do an end-fed half wave or just a random wire. I would still need a mast for many locations, but it would lighten my load a lot.
Operating a SOTA activation with more than one radio is difficult. We could not both operate at the same time. My KX2 would bypass the receiver to protect the itself.
I should put some orange tape on the cap of the telescoping mast. A black cap is easily lost in the shadows of gray rocks.
I should wrap the bottom section of the telescoping mast with something protective. I have a roll of orange Gorilla Tape that would work and would make the mast easy to see if I put it on the ground.
I need some kind of platform to work on. I could not see the front panel of the linear, so I made a few mistakes along the way. A working platform would also mean I could have a low chair to work from.
I need water bottle carriers on the sides of my radio pack. I should carry at least a couple of liters of water and a foldable dog bowl… always.
I should have completed my activation while the others were assembling the second station. I could easily have filled my quota for the day and then torn down my station and just played. DoH!
It was a great day, a good activation, and I am grateful. I leave the story with a view of Carson Valley from my operating position.