Activating Prison Hill, W7N/TR-075, 27 July 2021

This is one of my favorite radios — the Elecraft KX1. It is code-only, will operate on four bands (20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m), has an internal antenna tuner, and makes about four watts.

On Tuesday, 27 July 2021, I woke to relatively clear air. The smoke was so bad for so many days (and nights). There were nights when I either would not open the windows or when I woke during the night smelling smoke. On those nights, I rose, walked the house, and closed any open windows.

I know we do not have it as badly as those either near or directly affected by the fires. Yet I am careful with my respiratory health having had asthma as a child.

I miss those evenings with the windows open. It cools here about 2200h local and I can shut off the air conditioner and let nature cool the house. So many mornings I will need a blanket because of the wide temperature spread of the high desert. It is one of the things I love about the west.

So Tuesday morning was better regarding smoke. Some overnight clouds kept the temperature from falling as much as it might. But the lingering clouds meant that the sun would not be beating down during morning walkies. So I rose, made coffee, and began my day.

I got The Girl out about 0700h to go walk. She is always excited about our walks and I really enjoy walking her and working with her. We had a good walk, pausing a few times for a little water before we returned to the rig.

With our walk done early and the pleasant morning, I decided to go play radio a little. It was a year ago that I activated Prison Hill, which is not far from my home. I decided it might be fun to do it again this year. So off we went.

This was the view from my operating position on Prison Hill on Tuesday, 27 July 2021. We had some clouds and smoke is visible in the distance from the Tamarack Fire. But the air was much better than on previous days.
I inadvertently took the long way up to the top of the hill and traversed a few parts of the trail that a pickup truck would not be able to do (too long). But the 4Runner is a beast and had no difficulty making the slope changes and crawling up the steep parts. It was a little nerve-wracking though as I intended to find a place to operate the radio and not play on the trails.

Nonetheless, we made it to the activation zone about 1000h. I decided to go simple, so I got out the Elecraft KX1 (a code-only radio), a telescoping mast, and some Bongo ties. I keep a couple pieces of wire in the case with the KX1, so I used a random wire antenna, with one end affixed to the top of the mast with a Bongo tie and the second connected directly to the radio. A short piece of wire served as the counterpoise (the other part of the antenna).

I called QRL? (is the frequency in use) a couple of times on 40m at 7.060MHz. Hearing nothing, I began the process of spotting myself. I knew with only four watts I would not be loud. So some Internet assistance would be useful.

Then I thought the 40m noon net might be warming up, so I tuned to 7.2835MHz. Sure enough, they were taking early check-ins. So in a gap, I sent my callsign. Someone stepped on me. So I sent it again. The Net Control Operator heard me calling, so he said “There’s a CW station trying to check in. Everyone else be quiet while I try to copy him.” It took a few tries before Net Control copied my signal and signed me in. That meant that everything was working well enough. Those 40m Noon Net operators are all very good operators.

So I returned to 7.060MHz, listened a bit to ensure the frequency was not in use, and spotted myself on the SOTA website. I took a deep breath, and called CQ CQ CQ SOTA de AG7TX AG7TX AR. That means I’ll take a call from anyone working SOTA stations and am waiting for a call.

It did not take long before my call was answered. A small pile-up got started and I worked the stations one by one. I admit I was a little bucky and had to call for a few repeats.

I heard an S2S, which means summit-to-summit (highly desirable) so I sent S2S in return and waited for the callsign. He was faint, so I adjusted the filter to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. He was very readable and I recognized the callsign as an active SOTA operator. We made the exchange (which made me quite happy) and I sent TU 73, which means thank you and best regards.

This was my view of Carson City from my operating position on Prison Hill on 27 July 2021. There is some smoke up towards Eagle Valley and Washoe Valley, but Mount Scott is visible and the air was so much better than on previous days.
This went on for awhile. My code copy was pretty ragged as was my sending. The copy was because I have not been doing much radio the last couple of months. The sending was just ragged.

I logged 11 contacts. I decided to stop for the morning and not switch to another band. Had I more time, I would definitely have run 30m and 20m. That would have given some chasers an opportunity to hear me and then call. But I had a 1300h appointment and did not want to be pressed for time. I knew I still had to get down off the hill, get home, and prepare myself for my appointment.

So what did I learn?

  • I need to make a lapdesk or something similar. That will give me a better platform from which to send.
  • A lapdesk would also make logging with either my iPhone or a paper log easier.
  • A short length of coaxial cable (maybe even three feet) would take some pressure off the BNC connector of the radio and I would not feel like the antenna was trying to drag off the radio.
  • A lapdesk would also provide a solid place to hold the radio.
  • I could wind the antenna wire around the mast to stabilize the wire. The short length of coaxial cable would permit me to sit near the base of the antenna and everything would be more secure.
  • I should sit in my chair. I would be more comfortable. I know this would improve my sending and might improve my copy as well.
  • I need to get back to practice copying Morse Code. I also need to operate more.

All in all, I still had fun. I had only one station who called that I just could not get an exchange. It was not all my fault either. His/her sending was choppy and irregular, so I suspect he/she was not an experienced operator… or they were having a rough day like I was.

What a good day it was. The air was much clearer than it had been. The temperature was pleasant. The sun was at bay. Sera was wonderful.

Life is good.