Last Saturday Older Son and I drove the 4Runner up to the Prison Hill summit to setup and activate Prison Hill for Summits on the Air. SOTA is a game played by amateur radio operators who operate from designated mountain/hill tops for chasers to contact and make a pre-defined exchange. Both activators and chasers receive points for the contacts.
But the real fun is getting outdoors, setting up for portable operations, and making a few contacts with other radio operators. I enjoy the activation part of the game and try to get a few activations in whenever I can.
The image is one from our hike up Prison Hill (and helluva hike, by the way) where I setup the Elecraft KX1 radio and the Elecraft AX1/AXE1 antenna and checked in to the 40m noon net using Morse code. That was a good day. On Saturday, we setup my KX3 portable station a few tens of feet from this location and put up a proper wire antenna. I listened to the 40m band for awhile and picked out a couple of CW stations callsigns. But I was too chicken to respond. I am still learning Morse, so am not up-to-speed (literally) yet. But I can copy and send a basic exchange if the other operator is patient.
So I moved to the phone portion of the band, found a quiet frequency, and asked if it was in use three times. That is good operating policy. Hearing nothing, I started calling “CQ” and then spotted myself on the SOTAwatch website.
In just a few minutes I was working a pile-up. A pile-up occurs when there are multiple stations calling a running stations to make a contact. It is difficult to separate out the calls and get callsigns. So, one has to work a pile-up. This was my first time working a pile-up, but I have heard them worked plenty of times so I knew the basic procedure.
In less than half an hour I had almost a dozen contacts, including three summit-to-summit contacts, which are highly desirable. After a few more calls, I heard no more stations. I thought for a moment about switching bands to 20m and doing it again, but decided that I had achieved my objective and would tear down and go hike a bit and search for a geocache.
Older Son and I had one in mind. We hiked the few hundred yards to the site and searched for almost an hour before deciding that it was no longer there. The last log was four-years earlier. So we were not particularly surprised that the cache had gone missing.
The hike back up to the rig was strenuous, given it was a big climb. But that was good for me too and I don’t mind the exercise.
We put away our things and started back on the trail out when a good friend and amateur operator pulled up in his rig. So, we practiced social distancing and visited from our respective vehicles for an hour before calling it a day and heading back down the trail.
It was a really, really good day. I am so very thankful and grateful for it.
Older Son and I hiked up Prison Hill yesterday. We parked the 4Runner at the staging area, donned our packs, and headed up the hill. The summit is about 1.7 miles from the staging area and the elevation gain is about 1,000 feet. The hike took us a bit and we were pretty hot and winded by the time we made the summit.
It was about noon, so I put up the Elecraft AXE1 and AXT1 antenna and coil for the 40 meter band. I brought the Elecraft KX1 transceiver along with me and hooked it up. The little radio was featured on my Instagram feed some time ago, but it is a Morse Code only transceiver and makes about four watts of power.
I tuned the band and found the frequency for the noon net. I heard the net control station calling for any check-ins. So, I sent my callsign.
“Who’s the CW station? Come again.” came the direction from net control. So I sent my call again. The operator got part of it, “I heard ‘TX’… is that a thanks?”
I sent my call again, twice. “A something TX, you’re fading old man. Come again.” So, I sent my call again.
“AG something TX, is that AG7TX? Send a roger if so.” I sent two ‘R’s to indicate ‘Roger, roger.’”
“I didn’t get it. Did anyone get that?” Another station came in (one of the relay stations) “He rogered! That’s the only code I know.”
“You’re in the log Dave. Next station…”
I was so pumped up that I could get into the noon net using Morse Code and a four-watt radio. My study of Morse Code is beginning to pay off. I can send a few important bits of information with some confidence. I am learning to copy Morse by listening to it. I hope to be a proficient code operator in a few more months. It is a useful skill to know.
Older Son and I puttered around the summit for a few more minutes. We found several locations that would make good places to hide a geocache. I think the next time we go up there (maybe Saturday) we will take some materials and make a hide. The area deserves to have a geocache.
After drinking some water, we started back down. I chattered quite a lot, being excited to be heard using Morse Code.
As we walked down the hill, I remarked “There’s only one thing that would make the day better… The Girl would have loved poking around up there. ‘What’s this? What’s this?‘ She would have been all over the place and had a blast.”
Yes, I still miss The Girl. Her cremains were returned last Friday and have a memorial on my bookcase next to Wife’s memorial.
A week ago (yeah, it has been a week) I drove out to Burnt Cabin Summit where my friends Greg and Subrina were camping. Greg asked if I wanted to come help with the antenna we’ve been working on.
So of course I drove out there.
We worked on the antenna most of the afternoon. I think it is working on all the bands (that he wanted) with the exception of 80-meters. For some reason, the element won’t tune properly. We worked on that a long time.
As the sun drifted below the mountains to the west, we put away tools and equipment. I paused for a moment to make a couple of images with my iPhone. To the east, the moon was rising over the northern Nevada desert. I liked the light, so I made this capture.
“How about chicken alfredo for supper?” my friend asked, “I think I have enough wine for two glasses.”
“Of course,” I replied, it didn’t take me long to think about it.
We enjoyed supper in their camper, The Girl resting on the floor where it was warmer than in my 4Runner. The food, wine, and fellowship was fun and I enjoyed it.
The Girl and I then headed home for the evening. It was a little later than I am usually out (about 2130h when we got home), but it was totally worth it.
Thursday night was COLD! Greg told me it was 11F when he rose Friday morning. Diana was tent camping!
I made some coffee and sat down at my table. I had not setup my radio yet so I put on some music, sat, and relaxed a bit before making some breakfast and setting up the station.
I setup my radio on the dinette table, put the (very heavy) AGM batteries on the seat across from my operating position, and then started working outside. I assembled my portable vertical antenna and tuned it for the 40m band. I decided to put up my end-fed wire antenna as well. The intent was to provide both vertical and horizontal polarization for the outbound signal. So I threw ropes over two juniper trees and hoisted the wire antenna up to about 12 ft off the ground.
I setup the solar panel to keep the station batteries charged. As soon as I connected the charge controller to the panel and batteries, the controller showed that current was passing to the batteries. This was confirmed by meters I installed in-line on both the input and output sides of the system. I now have solar power for my station.
I crawled up on the front storage box of my camper and assembled the mesh network antennas and router. We used the Broadband-HamNet software flashed to old Linksys home WiFi access points/routers so we could use a networked contact logging software, N1MM+. In testing, the mesh nodes permitted communications locally through the mesh net and the intent was to allow all of us to work stations and log contacts to a common database and under Greg’s callsign.
After connecting everything else and double-checking all the connects, I powered up the radio, the panadapter, and the station computer. Everything seemed to be working and I was able to check into one of the nets that was operating.
I headed down to the Greg/Subrina camp to see if help was needed down there. They had everything under control so Greg sent me up to Diana’s camp to help setup her mesh node and antenna. This required some jury-rigging to get the antenna up high enough for line-of-sight with minimum interference from vegetation. Duct-tape always works. Because of the relatively high frequency, the cable run from the mesh router to the antenna has to be short, so I had to “hang” the router from the antenna mast.
After some fiddling and a few trips back and forth, we had a working mesh network. It was time for a lunch break and a rest. Then it would soon be time to start operating for the Nevada QSO Party.
For the next couple of days, I played some search-and-pounce (listen/look for signals and then call for a contact) and also called CQ many times. The voice recording feature of my K3 was wonderful because I could transmit a standard call and then call using my voice and microphone every few calls to keep from being bored to death and to provide some variety in my calls.
Friday and Saturday nights we gathered at the Greg/Subrina camp to share meal, take break, and fellowship. Then it was back to the stations and try for a few more contacts.
I slept really well. The camper’s heater kept us plenty warm. The Girl and I got enough exercise walking between camps over the rough ground. Some care was required because we found a few cacti that grow really close to the ground, are almost invisible, and have nasty spines. One of those in The Girl’s foot would have made a very bad day.
As the event wound down Sunday afternoon, the contacts dried up. I had been calling CQ for awhile when a voice broke in during my pause to listen.
“Are you going to answer all those foreign stations calling for North America?” came the call.
“If I could hear them, I would!”
“You goin’ to sit on this frequency all day?”
About that time my noise level came up and I could no longer hear the caller. He did not give his call sign and was therefore in violation of Part 97 of the CFR (the rules that govern amateur radio).
Yes, I did camp on the frequency the remainder of the day. We had been spotted by another station and had as much right to the frequency as anyone else. I made a few more contacts before the end of the event.
Sunday night we gathered at Camp Greg/Subrina, broke bread together, and drank a little wine in celebration of the weekend. It was a successful event. We made contacts. We solved problems. We spent time outdoors with people who matter.
I never could get my wire antenna working. It needs some work and measuring to figure out what I did wrong. I will be working on that.
We broke camp lazily Monday morning and headed for home. The trip home was largely uneventful, with the exception that Diana’s handheld radio stopped working.
I parked the camper in my driveway and then unloaded. It was nearly dark but I do not relax well until the bulk of the unloading is complete. But once I was done, I poured myself a Cognac, sat in a comfortable chair, and relaxed.
It was a good trip and a good experience. And now that experience is shared.
A few days ago I reveled in the luscious colors of fall along the Carson River. The Girl and I walked the Mexican Ditch Trail nearly every day. Those times we could not do the long walk, we drove over to Riverview Park and made a shorter walk, but still near the river.
Then, seemingly overnight (actually a day or maybe two), the cottonwoods shed their color, but not their leaves — at least not all of them. The trees took on their winter colors, conserving their energy for the coming spring.
I love the turn of the seasons. The extremes of summer and winter are harder, but I love the change and I can keep cool or warm as the season demands. There is something magical in the seasons and when I am aware I marvel at that regular pattern and am grateful to experience it.
The fall colors were sure pretty this year. A couple of days ago The Girl and I were walking the Mexican Ditch Trail along the Carson River. She enjoyed doing doggie-things and I enjoyed being outdoors and the fall color.
When I reached the Mexican Dam, I was treated to a combination of color and reflection. I was carrying the Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens. It’s a good combination.
After working so hard on a numerical model Friday, then early Saturday morning (0-Dark-Early), I decided to take a break and work the local Carson Valley/Eagle Valley 10m net from the old state school park. The net begins at 1800h (local) and is an informal social net. But, it gives me practice operating and the OM who participate are a good group of experienced operators.
The Girl was demanding an outing, so we drove over a bit after 1700h. I parked the 4Runner and got her out. We did a walk around the park and I started setting up about 1735h. I had everything setup in about ten minutes.
On my first test transmission, I was told that my signal was Q5 (perfectly readable) but weak. So, I lifted the counterpoise (red wire), changing it into a radial element and pinned it in the back of the 4Runner with a bucket of miscellaneous field “stuff” I keep handy.
My signal level came up a lot. So, I knew I had an operational station. I also learned that the counterpoise wire needs to be elevated (making it a radial element). I should have known this because my design and testing was with the wire elevated, not on the ground. The counterpoise is “tuned” with it elevated.
It was a “Well-duh!” moment. But I learned something (a good thing). I was able to work the evening net with just 12 watts of power and was able to hear everyone, which I cannot do from my home station.
A few weeks ago, my friend and amateur operator suggested we do another Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation. He had chosen a mountain not far from Carson City.
Yesterday, Older Son and I had just started our walk with The Girl out at the Mexican Ditch Trail on Silver Saddle Ranch. I had a handheld radio with me (of course) and called another friend to see if he was walking his dog.
My SOTA-hunting friend responded to my call and we chatted about a group meeting he had been to when he asked if I was interested in the SOTA activation we discussed a few weeks ago.
“When would you like to do that?”
“How about today?”
I looked at Older Son, he nodded. “We just started walking The Girl. We’ll go pick up a sandwich, load up some radio equipment, and give you a heads-up.” We shortened our walk a little because I knew there would be plenty of exercise for everyone. On the way home, we stopped at Subway for a couple of sandwiches, then went home, ate, and gathered up my radio gear.
We met where the pavement ends on Goni Road. After a pause for an introduction and rough plan, we headed out with our friend in the lead. The first part of the road is well-maintained. But it turned to a trail after a mile or so.
The trail varied in condition but was not technically difficult, with the exception of one short segment. Just before we reached the aspen grove, there was a snowbank. At this time of year, the snow is very dense. I had some trepidation about it, watching the Scout cross gingerly. So, I headed down the trail and crossed the snow crabwise with little traction to steer or slow. I knew there was nothing to be gained by hitting the brakes except to exacerbate the slippage and find myself stuck sideways off the trail — or worse.
After traversing the snow, I knew there would be no going back that way for my 4Runner. Our friend called on the radio “We’ll find another way back. We have options.”
We crossed the intersection of Jumbo and Ophir Grades and he told us how the Bonanza writers got much of the history of the area right. Before long we started up the last bit of grade, which had a couple of rough places but nothing the 4Runner could not handle.
There is a turn-around/staging area a couple hundred yards from the summit of Mount Davidson. We pulled up there.
“Should we just haul gear up or go scout first?” he asked.
“I’m always in favor of scouting so there is a plan,” I suggested. So, we added a layer of clothing because the wind was fast and cold and started up the slope.
It is not a particularly difficult hike, but there is some elevation gain and many sharp rocks to deal with. I worried a little about The Girl, because she is sometimes not the brightest bulb in the box and could fall on some of the steeper sections. But she proved to be mostly careful and does have full-time four-wheel drive. She needed a little encouragement/help at a couple of locations and I kept an eye on her the remainder of time lest she wander off and fall.
The summit of Mount Davidson is interesting. There are remnants of a couple of antennas up there, perhaps from either temporary installations or old repeater locations. But of significant interest is an old flagpole that was first installed in the late 1800s. At some point, the pole bent about 10-15 feet above the base and was repaired by placing a second pole (or the remnants of the first) adjacent to the base and tying them together. There are many names and dates embossed on the steel of the flagpole. We spent a few minutes looking at that and then planning our station.
We then humped it back down the hill, retrieved the appropriate equipment from the rigs, and hauled it all back up the hill. Older Son and I began assembling my antenna (a vertical all-band base-loaded whip with a lot of ground radials) while the third component of our little company assembled the station.
The Girl stayed on overwatch and made sure no gnarly squirrels or other riffraff ambushed the company.
We tuned up the antenna for the 40-meter band and gathered around the radio. Fortunately, I brought log materials and Older Son brought water, so we were ready to go.
As we prepared to begin operations, Older Son pulled a packet of Lorna Doones from his kit. Before he could get the wrapper opened, The Girl was sitting in front of him in her please sit, looking at him, and humming. We know what that means, “I can has cookie???”
Of course. We all shared some of the cookies.
Our leader called CQ-SOTA several times and got an answer from a British Columbia station. I had log duty and made the log entry. He called several more times and then offered me a shift on the radio.
The Girl came back in from perimeter duty and sat next to us, shivering a little. Older Son called her over to snuggle and warm up. We had some sun and shelter from the wind, so it was cool but not cold.
While I called CQ-SOTA, he logged into the SOTA website and “spotted” us. That means he logged an entry that we were working the Mount Davidson SOTA site so other operators could find us. I then proceeded to make five contacts, some of them contacts I had made before, some of them new contacts. I needed four contacts to log the activation (and get the points).
I handed the microphone back to our leader and took up my position with the log.
Not long after he took up operations, The Girl sat on a flat spot and looked at Older Son and I. I know my dog. She was sending a definite message. She said “I’m done now. The perimeter is patrolled and there is nothing to do. I’m ready to go home. Why are we still here? Don’t you understand, I’m done — I’m ready to go home. Take me home.”
He made another contact before the battery went dry. He and Older Son started over the hill to retrieve my battery. I stayed on the summit with The Girl and the gear. It was not long before their voices grew louder. I knew they were returning.
“We’re losing daylight,” our leader said, “I hate to give up, but we better tear down and pack out.”
On the way down from Mount Davidson, we paused at potential operating area to look back where we had been. The staging area is to the left of the rocky outcrop and we operated from near the peak.[/caption]It did not take long to pack up the gear and haul it down to the staging area. It was portable operations, after all. I have enough repetitions with my gear that I know what order to do things and how to pack it up. Before long we were headed back down the trail. At the Jumbo-Ophir junction, we turned east toward Virginia City on the Ophir Grade.
We chatted over the radio now and again as out leader pointed out various sights along the way. At the bottom of the hill we pulled up. “I’m whooped,” he said, “coffee will have to be another time.”
We said our goodbyes, he teased me about “stealing the glory” on this one, and we headed down the hill.
I still wanted coffee and pie, so Older Son and I drove through Carson City to Bodine’s Casino and hit the restaurant there. I like it because the coffee is good and they have a wonderful berry cobbler. I was also hungry, so I ordered off the plate menu (and bargain) and gobbled my food. It was a lot of work in the cool air to set up and run that SOTA activation.
Filled with warm food, coffee, water, and cobbler, Older Son and I headed home to pack it in. We got home about 2200h. It was a good day.
I am still waiting for my amateur radio operator’s license to be issued. My name is similar to one on an “alert list” so the automatic system pulled my application and put it in queue for review by a real person. The estimated time is weeks. To say that I am a little bummed by this outcome would be an understatement.
But I have plenty to do. I am working on my station and there is a lot to do to set up an HF station. I have equipment, but antennas are an issue. I built a simple 40m dipole and erected it in my backyard. The matching transformer arrived last week (I will learn to build them as well), so I need to attach it to the mast and then tune the antenna to resonate at the middle of the 40m band.
In the meantime, I just put up a random wire antenna, stapled to the top of the fence along my backyard. I ran the feed line into my workroom and attached it to my transceiver last night. Reception is better than with the previous instance and I can hear traffic on the 80m and 40m bands. The bands are not open much right now because we are at sunspot minimum and so there is not much energy to drive the ionosphere, which is where much of the long-distance propagation occurs.
Morse code and the digital modes are going to be the mechanic for making contacts until the Sun becomes more active. I decided to make a real effort to learn Morse code while I wait for my license. I also will work on my portable station so I can operate away from town and all the noise here. I have plenty of access to quiet areas with elevation so low-power operation is viable. Besides that, I will get away from the house, be outside, and can camp a little. Both The Girl and I will like that.
There is plenty of other work to do, too. I have a bunch of images to review and process. The little raptor above was one of my recent captures. He/she flew up near me and posed prettily while I ran the camera. The Carson River floodplain was where I saw my first Kestrel and I see them often. They are furtive, though, and do not often provide me much time to capture an image.
I am enjoying the better weather lately. The Girl and I are walking the Carson River daily and the trees are about to leaf out. I hear blackbirds calling, woodpeckers drumming, and the geese are still honking. The river is up a little as the snow begins to melt and it looks like there will be abundant water this year. I heard one of the ARES members talking about releases from Lake Lahontan in anticipation of snowmelt and they are spilling excess water into the desert down near Fallon.
The Girl just wandered in. She is looking for breakfast and an outing. I need to retrieve the Fuji’s batteries from the charger and prepare it for another wander. I want a bite, too, but do not feel like cooking this morning. Subway has some decent breakfast sandwiches, so I think I will wander over there and pick up something. Then we can drive out to river, enjoy some sunshine, and spend some time outdoors. Perhaps Mother Nature will bring me a treat.