Parks on the Air AAR

The Girl and I stopped briefly at the south side of Mono Lake for a short break. There is still a lot of snow in the Sierra Nevada.

This week I was tasked with travel to Southern California for a field walk. The project is just getting started and doing a site visit is a critical part of forensic engineering.

I activated Manzanar National Historic Site for Parks on the Air. The place is a testimony to the mistreatment of Japanese-American citizens about 80-years ago.
On the way down, I stopped at K-0845, Manzanar National Historic Site. In 2014, Ki and I visited Manzanar on our way back from Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, where I had a project. It was in January, so the weather was good for a visit to Death Valley, which we did. On the way north we spent an hour or so at Manzanar, walking the site and taking in what we, as a country, did to our Japanese-American fellow citizens. It was wrong. The site feels wrong.

Be that as it may, Manzanar is also a designated Parks on the Air park. I wanted to activate it. And time spent outside the rig for a few minutes is always good on a long trip. Sera got out of the rig for a run around while I got out the station. It was hot enough and there was enough traffic that I put her back in the rig.

I setup my folding table and chair under the rear hatch. Sera found a spot in the back out of the sun. It did not take long to put out an antenna and get the station on the air. In less than an hour I made my activation running 15 watts. I put everything away, gave Sera a drink, got one myself, and we got back on the road.

We spent the night at a Best Western in Sherman Oaks. It was noisy with city energy and the neighbors had a small dog that barked. This irritated Sera… she growled and grumbled several times that night. I rested some, enough to be up early to deal with accumulated email and the market.

There is a Denny’s in the facility, so I got some coffee and breakfast. Of course, I took The Girl some of my bacon and sausage, plus a couple of scrambled eggs for her breakfast.

It took about 45 minutes to get to the site and a couple of hours to see what I needed to see. I visited with my clients a bit, then headed back home.

Wisely, I had a reservation for a hotel in Lone Pine, California. This is about halfway between the site and home. I knew I would not want to drive all the way home after spending the morning on the site. So I did the easy thing and stayed over.

The Girl and I had a nice visit of the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in Lone Pine, California. I also activated the park.
I checked out early Friday morning, got Sera out for a little constitutional, and then bought a biscuit and a coffee from McD’s. I shared my biscuit with Sera and drove over to K-8300, Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, another designated park. I found a spot to setup the station, got Sera out for a bit. Again, there was a little too much traffic so she had to stay in the rig. But it was cool in the morning so it was not too bad.

Again, I had my quota after about 45 minutes. The 20-meter band was the go to band for this activation. I worked an Indonesian station and that surprised me. But DX is always welcome.

I put away the station and was able to make a meeting (virtual) using my iPhone at 1100h local. That did not last long, so Sera and I puttered a bit before heading north towards home.

At the north end of Independence, California (I think) is a BBQ place called the Copper Top. It was lunch time as we passed, so I turned back and bought a tri-tip sandwich. With pickles, onion (red onion), and a few jalapeños (and some sauce) it was good. But it was not as good a slow-cooked Texas brisket. I shared a bite of sandwich with Sera, of course.

Then it was time to slug out the home stretch. I was tired, of course. I stopped a few times to stretch, give Sera some water, and get her out of the rig. Still, it was a tough slog.

I learned a few things, of course.

  • I need to either add another set of blue Voile straps, or add a longer set of Voile straps to the antenna kit. The blue straps were not long enough to go around the 4×4 or 6×6 posts at the Alabama Hills site. I had to double the blue straps and then find a rock to keep the mast in place.
  • I really think it would be better to log on the computer than my iPhone, particularly for POTA activations. The larger screen of the computer is simply easier to see.
  • In addition, I was checking the Reverse Beacon Network for my spots. RBN is a great way for CW and digital operators to determine whether their signal is getting out to the spotter stations. The spotter stations decode the signals they hear and post the calling stations callsign, mode, signal strength, and speed to the webpage. If I am spotted, then I know the station is working because other stations are receiving my transmissions. It would be a lot easier to have multiple browser tabs open on the computer than it is to flip back and forth between tabs on my iPhone.
  • I prefer a more leisurely activation, one where I have (and take) time to operate multiple modes and work through all the open bands to take the calls of the park hunters.
  • But, when traveling, it is also a good break to stop for an hour, make at least ten contacts, be out of the rig for awhile, and get Sera out too. This type of activation has a place as well as the more deliberate, longer activation.

In all, the radio play was a nice break from the drive. I gave a few hunters an opportunity to chase a couple more parks. And Sera got a chance to be out of the rig for a while too. It was good. Life is good.

Washoe Lake SP AAR — 18 June 2023

 

A little wider view of Washoe Lake and my operating position.

I had not intended any radio play when I rose Sunday morning. But, after getting some work done and then getting The Girl out for a walk, I sat at my work table thinking about what I should do and what I wanted to do.

I have an antenna provided by a colleague in The Tech Prepper Discord channel. It is intended for NVIS (near vertical incident skywave) operations, which is a useful tool for regional communications. The ability of a station to reach others in a range from local to about 500 miles out (or so) is critical for emergency communications.

It turns out this is a useful range for park activations (and summits).

NVIS uses frequencies below about 10MHz, which includes the 30m, 40m, 60m, 80m, and 160m amateur radio bands. I often see other activators using 60m, which is in the 5MHz range and is often available during the daytime hours.

But… I really did not feel like working that hard. (That is, working at testing an antenna.) I have been so busy the last few months that I am a bit burned out. I had a lot of fun in Missouri with my family and working parks on my way out and on my way back. But, there was quite a bit of pressure to get back and get work done (another report).

The report is nearly done (review comments on Monday) and another project will be completed shortly thereafter. But the bottom line is that I am mentally fatigued and need to regroup and recharge.

Field Day will be the coming weekend (24–25 June) and there will be some camping. That will help. But the following week is travel to SoCal for another field walk, then reduce results from that and prepare for upcoming field work.

So, OK, enough whining. The bottom line is that I wanted to get outside (the weather is gorgeous), maybe play a little radio, and not do anything like work.

At that point, I found myself stuck in a mental loop. The question “What do I want to do?” was quickly followed by “What radio do I want to take?” I went round and round, mentally, and could not make a decision.

Eventually, and this took some time, I decided to use whatever was already in the rig. I got Sera and we headed out. I bought a sandwich to share with Sera on the way and we drove up to Washoe Lake State Park (K-2640).

Portrait view of my operating position and Washoe Lake in the background.

I was astounded by the amount of water in Washoe Lake. I know we had a lot of snow over the winter (the melt is not yet done), but all of the areas I normally use were under water. I found a little bit of dry ground, set up the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in its vertical configuration (thought about using a wire, decided to use the vertical), and setup the ELecraft KX3 with the KXPA100 amplifier.

The island in the water is usually dry and I often setup the station near it… not on this trip. Probably not on any trip in the near future either.

I talked to my buddy Dick a bit while getting equipment out of the 4Runner. But I had to end the call to work on the station. I forgot my earbuds.

The bands were a little noisy. The Sun is busy right now, although the geomagnetic field of the Earth is relatively quiet. I set the radio to calling CQ and spotted myself.

None of the higher bands produced any calls. I had only one on 15m. When I got to the 20m band, things perked up. I worked a couple of nice pile-ups and found I could still copy Morse Code. I struggled with my sending, though. My key kept slipping on the surface of my folding table.

I quit about 1630h local (before we turn over a new day on UTC). It did not take long to put away the station. I got Sera out to play a little. She wanted to get in the water, but I did not want to have a wet dog in the rig… nor did I feel like using the towel on her and getting her all rowdy. (Heh)

In the end, it was a good day. I left with 28 contacts (plenty for my activation), a good deal of Sun and fresh air, and a happy dog.

I did learn a few things, as usual:

  • I really need to have a plan for these outings.
  • My propensity to get caught in a mental loop will be averted if I make such a plan.
  • I need to plan for experimental time, such as testing of the antenna provided by a friend. This is more like work, but is necessary if I am to learn more about radio.
  • The back of my rig is now disorganized. I need to spend some time sorting out the gear in my 4Runner and using the space efficiently.
  • The top of my folding table is too slick for the Begali Traveller key. I need a pad of some kind in the kit for this key. I could have gotten out the N3ZN key and bracket for the KX3 and used it. (It will not move because it is attached to the radio.) But I was already in the thick of the activation when I noticed the key moving.
  • I encountered the usual number of LIDS who will call, send their exchange, and then assume I copied them and logged them. I do not log these callers.
  • I know I had one operator who had a similar call to another I was working. He/she will think I logged the contact; but I did not because I did not copy their call or their exchange.

It was still a good day, even with the mental loop that trapped me for a half-hour. I enjoyed the outdoors. Washoe Lake is beautiful with all the water. The weather is absolutely gorgeous this spring — it is hard to believe it is nearly summer. We are usually much warmer by now. But, I will take it! Life is good. I am grateful.

Contact map for the 18 June 2023 activation of K-2640, Washoe Lake State Park.

Washoe Lake SP, K-2640, AAR 21 Jan 2023

This is my Yaesu FT-897D deployed at Washoe Lake SP.

The Girl and I finally got outside some yesterday. It the first time in a few days. Both of us need the exercise, but there was so much winter the last few weeks that a nice day was difficult to find.

The mornings have been very cold for here, between 0–10oF. That is just too cold to be out early. The afternoon high temperatures were in the 30oF range, but that was still cold without sunshine.

But yesterday the sun was shining and it was warm enough by late morning. So I took Sera over to the Station 51 park and we walked a couple of laps around the perimeter. She was off-lead part of the time (good to get more exercise) but I called her in when other handlers and their charges arrived. Her energy was way too high and I knew she would bolt to engage.

I just never know how the other dog will react. Confident dogs are great — they will run and play rowdy with her. Dogs without confidence nearly always start a fight and then Sera gets blamed.

After this bit of exercise, during which my front leg slipped out from under me and I took a knee (no harm), we packed back into the 4Runner and headed north. This weekend is a Support Your Local Parks weekend and I knew there would be lots of activators out for POTA.

I stopped at Subway and bought a sandwich to take along. It took only a few minutes to get out to Washoe Lake SP. Access to the shore is still dicey given how much snow is on the ground. So I elected to park in the western staging area and deploy my rig.

I used the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in a vertical configuration. The stake was driven into the pavement shoulder and I ran the counterpoise to the west. There was enough wind that I did not want to be out long. I thew the coaxial cable through Sera’s window and set up the Yaesu FT-897D on the dash. It took only a few more minutes to connect the battery, microphone, and key. I logged contacts on my iPhone. (HAMRS does the job for me.)

I could tell the North America QSO Party was active on the major bands. The phone section of each band was pretty busy with participants. Nonetheless, there were a few POTA activators spotted, so I started tracking them down. I was able to make my activation (10 contacts) hunting other activators. So I knew that whatever additional contacts I made would just be for fun.

I called my buddy K7ULM during a lull and got out my sandwich. We chatted a bit while I ate and then tried to find a frequency or two to make a phone contact. We finally did make the exchange, but the signal was weak. I think he was in the skip zone for the bands that were available.

I picked a frequency and started running. Dick spotted me and it was not long before a few calls trickled in. By the time we ended the call, I had quite a few calls in my log… more than enough. When I glanced down at my log, I saw the day had turned over on UTC time, which meant I started a new activation.

“Oh, I see that it’s now tomorrow, UTC. I have one contact on Sunday. That will not do — I need to make at least nine more.”

Dick laughed.

I spent the next hour or so calling on both phone and CW modes to make the second activation. I was blessed with a couple of pile-ups, which are always fun to work. I also had a couple of nice chats on phone with other operators.

The sun dropped behind the Sierras something about 1700h local. I knew it would get cold fast, so I called QRT (I’m done), posted QRT on the spotting website (so other operators knew I had closed shop), and got out to put away the antenna and rig.

This took about 15 minutes. I started the 4Runner to warm up the engine and interior while I stowed equipment.

Before we ended the phone call, Dick asked me “So what will be your reward for this?”

“I have a Cognac and some tiramisu for this evening.”

“Oooh, that sounds nice.” We both laughed.

I reflected on the day as I drove us back home. It was getting a little dark and a little cold. When we got home, I let Sera sniff around a bit while I gathered up some of the gear. The battery needed to be recharged and I prefer to keep the radio indoors when it is this cold.

As always, I learned a few things. I really want to have a better way of operating from the 4Runner. That will take some work to sort out. But it will be worth it. When it is this cold, operating in the open is generally not feasible.

A Tale of Two Radios

Alright, so I might be working the Dickens metaphor a bit too much. But I cannot help myself. It works for what I am writing.

Last weekend I was quite sick. I was sick enough that I thought I finally managed to catch the COVID virus. I tested myself Thursday a week ago and it was negative. I continued to decline, although I remained active but for one day. Saturday morning I thought “I’m going to be miserable. But I am not bedridden. I can be miserable laying about the house or I can be miserable outside.”

I elected to take Sera back to Washoe Lake State Park where we could be outside. I also decided to take along a radio in case I felt like activating the park.

We left late in the morning, arrived on site, and found bunch of folks decided to be at the park for the day. So we drove north along the shore for a half-mile or so until I saw the herd of feral horses a few hundred yards out. I decided to pick a spot between the crowd of people and the crowd of horses. I parked the rig. Sera and I got out and walked a half-hour so she could burn off some energy and I could get a little exercise and some sun.

We returned to the rig and I got out my chair, some water, and her mat. We both had a nice drink and she laid on her mat. After a few minutes I decided I was not ready to go home, so I gout out the table, the Elecraft K1, the SOTAbeams 6m mast, then antenna bag, a battery, and my Begali key.

The K1 legacy radio is still a very good QRP radio.
I deployed a random wire antenna, end-fed, in a sloper configuration and deployed it to the mast. The feed end was connected directly to the radio. I connected the battery and key to the radio. It took me about ten minutes to deploy the station. Then I checked the location of the horses, put some more water out for Sera, got some for myself, and sat down at the table. I was partly in the sun and partly in the shade. The sun felt good. It felt good to be outside.

I sent at text message to my buddy Dick that I was going to activate. Then I chased a few other activators that I could hear. I then spotted myself of the Parks on the Air (POTA) website and started calling.

After an hour or so I noticed the horses moving south, towards us. I knew that Sera might go chasing them and that would likely not end well. So I put her in the rig and closed the doors.

Part of the herd of feral horses that wandered by the station. Slide Mountain is in the background.

They passed, but decided to linger a hundred feet in front of the rig. So I stepped around the rig and told them to “git!” They ignored me. So I took a few steps forward, and started waving and flapping my hat. They did not care for that. I stepped forward again and repeated the process.

They decided to move along.

With them far enough away, I got Sera back out of the rig to be close to me. She returned to her mat, a happy dog. I then sent Dick a text that I was short a couple of calls for the activation. He put out word that I was at a park and needed a couple more contacts.

Friends in New Mexico came through and I had more than my required ten contacts. I was tired and sick, so I took down the station while chatting with Dick. Then Sera and I took a very short walk and headed home.

The Elecraft K1 radio feeding an random wire antenna at Washoe Lake State Park.

I decided to stop at the CVS for a few supplies. That done we returned home and had some supper. I tested myself for COVID a second time with a negative result. I did not feel well at all and shut down quickly.

Sunday morning I woke about my normal time. My fever broke during the night and I felt better, but not great. Again, I decided I might as well be miserable outdoors. So after breakfast we headed back to the park for a walk and maybe some radio. At the very least I could sit outdoors next to the rig and enjoy Washoe Valley.

When we got there, we found the herd of feral horses near the place I usually park on the lake bed. Of course there was a buttload of happy-lookers for the “wild” horses. So again we headed north along the shore to get away from the squatters.

Aside: The “wild” horses are not truly wild. They are feral horses that escaped or were abandoned. There have been no native horses in North America for a very long time. There is some debate on the issue and there is a reasonable article here. But, I digress.

We basically returned to the same location as Saturday. I parked the rig, and we got out to walk. The sun and air felt good. The Girl was quite happy and bounced me a couple of times wanting to rough house. We got in a good half-hour walk and I returned to the rig.

For the Sunday activation, I deployed an end-fed half-wave antenna as a lazy inverted-L. I used the Elecraft K1 again with the same battery as Saturday, although I added a small solar panel to recharge the battery while I operated. I used the same chair, table, and key. The K1 readily adjusted for the slight impedance mismatch with the antenna and I was off chasing a few other activators.

I sent Dick a text message and chased a few other activators. I then spotted myself and started calling.

This time I stored my call in one of the memories of the radio. That meant a press of two buttons on the front panel sent my call. That is what is in the video in the header of this report. That saved me quite a bit of effort. Given I am sick, that was a good choice. It was also very easy to do.

I worked Dick a couple of times, but he could not hear me on the 15m band. He said “Can you do 17m?”

“Not with the K1.”

“Too bad.”

“Not to worry, let me get the KX2 out of the rig. Then we can try 17m.”

Swapping out the radio took only a couple of minutes. It was a very difficult copy, but we were able to make the exchange on 17m for another log entry. I then returned to the 20m band to try a little more.

I worked maybe one or two more stations, then sent “LAST CALL ON 20M” and listened.

In my experience, every time I send last call, I get a bunch of calls. As expected, my frequency got busy again and I spent maybe a half-hour working another ten or so stations. I made maybe 30 contacts Sunday. That was with 7-12w of power.

After the last station, I listened for a bit. I then posted myself QRT (done for now), shut down the radio, and put away the equipment. It does not take very long, maybe 15-minutes for this deployment.

Sera and I walked a little more. Then headed home. It was a good day and a good weekend.

After working with the K1, I setup the KX2 for 17m.

As always, I have a few lessons learned:

  • The Elecraft K1 is still a great QRP radio.
    • It has a great receiver.
    • It is easy to operate
    • It has a built-in speaker
    • It has two memories
  • But it is a legacy radio, is code only, and only covers the lower portion of its four bands.
  • The Elecraft KX2 is a modern, full-featured radio that covers the 80m through 10m bands and all modes.
  • The tradeoff between the K1 and KX2 is that the latter is more complicated for the additional features.
  • Both are excellent radios.

It is fun to take the legacy radios out to work. I am surprised that they are quite capable, given their limitations. The receivers are good. The KX1 will decode sideband (phone) transmission and covers the entire range of frequencies in its bands (unlike the K1, which only covers the lower portion). I really like both of them and have no intention of letting either go.

I believe that if Elecraft developed and marketed an updated KX1, with four or five bands, an equivalent receiver, and in kit form, they would sell. I would love to have two of them — one with 10m, 12m, 15m, 17m, and 20m and another with 17m, 20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m. Or I would use a compromise, like the K1, with the 15m, 20m, 30m, and 40m bands. With the increase in solar activity, the 15m band is working again.

In any event, it was fun and illustrative to run the K1 and then the KX2 from the same park on the same activation. I realized that I like both radios, that they are both excellent performers (surprising given the age of the K1), and that the limitations of the K1 come with lighter weight and simplicity.

It was a good weekend, despite being sick.

Sera posed prettily for me on her mat. She was a very content dog.

Another Weekend, Another Two Mountains — AAR

It’s not the best image, but it conveys the feel of looking out over the trail breakover on the way down from the Oreana Peak staging area. Sometimes these views give me the willies!

After another long week, I spent some time Friday afternoon looking for a summit to activate. Both Mt. Siegel (W7N/TR-003) and Oreana Peak (W7M/TR-004) were on my list from a previous search. Because of their proximity, they looked to be doable in a single trip.

So, the stage was set for a twin activation on Saturday morning, 13 August 2022.

I loaded up a few things to take with us, mostly water, a snack, and checked that I had radio equipment. I roused The Girl into the rig, locked the front door of the house, and we headed out. We made a quick stop at McD’s for a bite, a coffee, and a water and then headed south on US395. I stopped in Minden to refuel the rig and buy a sandwich.

We continued through Gardnerville and then took Pine Nut Road east for a few miles. I missed the turn and found myself at the transfer station, but that was not a big deal as it was only a quarter of a mile. We continued on an increasingly rough road to the Public Lands access. That road went on another mile or so and because Lone Pine Canyon Road.

That is, if it can be called a road. It is really just a two-track trail that varies from packed soil and sand to some rounded cobble to boulder size rocks. The pace declined to under ten miles per hour.

Yet, the trail was not particularly difficult. It was just rough. We continued to climb up the valley, in and out of the drainage, picking our way through the rocks when necessary and driving over them as needed.

We entered a burned out area, the Manzanite standing skeletal with burned bark and bare white limbs stretched to the sky in a dying supplication for mercy that did not come. The grasses were already returning, but the shrubs will be a long time before they grow again.

This part of the drive out was just a slog. I stopped a couple of times to let The Girl out to sniff and pee. I will say I took advantage of the stops a time or two myself. I guess the coffee was working.

As we turned south along Buckeye Creek, there were places that the trail crossed old flood outwashes. These could be trip-enders with very angular (and sharp) outcrops of rocks. They could tear a sidewall easily. I took care crossing through these areas and worked to keep my head clear of the usual woolgathering I do when driving boring roads.

The trail up to Mt. Siegel is obvious in this image. That trail was not bad, but care was required to protect the tires.

I hit the intersection of the trail to Oreana Peak and paused. I could see the trail up to Oreana Peak and it looked easier than the one up to Mt. Siegel. Given how far out I was, I wanted to do both peaks on this trip.

The trail up to Mr. Siegel was not too bad. The 4Runner crawled up just fine. But I was very careful to watch for rocks. It would be easy to tear a sidewall on this trail. There were just enough loose rocks that the rig slipped a bit now and again. A torn sidewall would have been a very bad afternoon.

Oreana Peak is on the far right. I think that is Smith Valley in the background.
There is a small staging area at the top of the Mt. Siegel trail. I found a place to park the 4Runner off the trail and paused for a look around. This gave The Girl an opportunity to sniff around as well as a chance for me to catch my bearings.

I might have been able to drive the 4Runner up a bit farther. I decided to hike it.
The Girl and I headed up the two-track toward the summit. I had my pack that contained my station plus water for both of us. The sun was quite hot even if the air temperature was moderate. That, combined with the altitude (about 9,200ft) had me puffing a bit as i worked my way up the slope.

I looked around a bit and noticed the 4Runner down at the staging area. That called for a pause for an image. So I made it.

Yep, that is the 4Runner down at the staging area.
We walked around the rock-pile summit and I found a place where I could set up the station. I used the Elecraft KX2 and an end-fed random wire antenna to a very light six-meter carbon fiber mast. I had the station setup in a few minutes. I then gave both of us some water.

My cell service was a little iffy, but I did get a spot out for my location. I started calling and made a number of contacts right away, including a few summit-to-summit contacts. It was not difficult to get my quota.

But, I noticed that running my iPhone with the screen bright and the lock time set to five minutes was a problem. The sun shining down on us was overheating more than The Girl and I — it was overheating my iPhone. Given I log my contacts on my phone this could be a problem.

As happened during my activation of Chickadee Ridge, my phone was turning down the screen brightness to reduce heat. Given I had my quota, I decided to call it and get ready to do the other peak.

Here’s the Elecraft KX2, the factory key, a microphone (yes, I did operate phone), and the water bottle. The yellow wire is the antenna.

I gave The Girl some more water and we headed back down the two-track. It was not a long hike, but care was required as the trail was fairly steep and rocky. A fall would not be a good thing.

While working my way down the trail, I paused to capture an image of Orean Peak. The trail to Mt. Siegel is in the foreground. The trail to Oreana Peak is in the midground with the peak in the background. It is quite breathtaking.

The Mt. Siegel trail is in the foreground. Oreana Peak and its trail is in the midground and background.

At the Mt. Siegel staging area, I looked out over Carson Valley and saw that someone had put up a cross. I did not check to see if it marked a grave.
I put The Girl and my gear into the rig and climbed in myself. I knew the trip back down the Mt. Siegel trail would require care to protect the tires.

I was not disappointed. The rig skittered and slid a bit on the way down, even in low-low. I had to work the brakes a bit and be careful to avoid a slide-out and tire damage. So I took my time and was very careful.

I made it down with no problem. I made the right to the Oreana Peak trail along Buckeye Creek (not much of a creek at this location) and headed back up.

When we got up to the Oreana Peak staging area, it was clear this was another bare summit with no shade. There was not enough rock outcrop to make shade. And the sun was just miserable. And, I was getting tired from the required focus, the altitude, and the heat.

So I put up the antenna, setup the radio, and made my contacts. The Girl was so hot she was crowding me trying to get into my shade. That wreaked a bit of havoc on my sending. I do not need help with that, particularly with the Elecraft key!

I kept the iPhone in my shade and that helped keep it from overheating again. I now carry a notebook and a pen in a cargo pocket. I can always log contacts on paper.

Yes, she was hot. No, I did not take a picture of the deployed station. I was hot too.

While we were sitting there, resting a bit (and she trying to crowd into my shade still), I heard something that sounded like a pickup scrabbling up the trail to the staging area.

“That’s strange,” I thought, “I did not see a vehicle approaching up the trail.”

Then the wind hit us. It was a strong gust and I was glad that the mast was put away. It might have been damaged. The wind was strong enough to rattle the rocks on the slopes of Oreana Peak.

As I headed down the trail from Oreana Peak to the staging area, I made this image of the rig and Mt. Siegel. Carson Valley is in the distant background.
I reloaded the pack we started back down to the staging area and the rig. Four-legs ran ahead, undaunted. The old man, however, picked his way carefully down the trail. Nothing good would come from a fall at this point in the trip. The view of the rig on the staging area with Mt. Siegel in the background struck me. I made the capture.

It was not long and we were back at the rig. I got out more water for The Girl. I dumped the pack into the rig. I drank water myself. I was gassed… not completely, but I was damned tired.

So I put us back into the rig and we started the long trail back home. It was about two hours from US395 to where we were. It would be about two hours back. And I needed to be focused for the drive.

On the way down from Oreana Peak, this is the trail (after the steep part). Mt. Siegel and its trail are in the background.

But we made it. As were were exiting Lone Pine Canyon, my buddy Greg called. “Are you home yet?”

“Nope. I’m still working my way down the trail. I’m about 15 or 20 minutes from the highway.”

“I thought you’d be home by now!”

“No… it is a long way out there and the trail is pretty rough. But I’ll be home soon. Thanks so much for calling and checking on me.”

We chatted a bit. Then he headed off for supper. I continued the drive.

Before long the trail turned into a road. Then the road got better. I no longer had to be as focused on navigating rocks and other obstacles. The Girl was settled into her seat, after having a couple of bouts with FOMO that there might be critters out there.

As I drove into Gardnerville, I started to think about supper… and the day. It was a learning experience for me. It was a long day. It was completely worth taking the time to do the second peak because of the long drive out there. I was hungry and tired.

On the way home I decided to stop at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Francisco’s. Some hot chow and una Margarita Grande sounded so good. Well, maybe dos Margaritas…

As I continue to activate SOTA peaks, I continue to learn things about operating and the support equipment I need to make this more fun. This outing was satisfying, but not fun.

  • The issue of the iPhone overheating is a problem. It is my primary logging tool for portable operations. I need a way to keep it shaded so it does not overheat. Or, I need to change the way I log contacts such that the iPhone is no longer part of the system.
  • The radio also gets hot. To date, it has not gotten hot enough to shut down. But, it might. That would be a show-stopper. I need to mind the radio temperature. Some shade would keep it a lot cooler.
  • Sitting on a rock is not fun for this skinny-assed old man. I have a foldable chair. It has to go into the pack so I have a place to sit.
  • A (very) small table would make summit operating a lot more comfortable. The portable table I have is to heavy to pack. That is a problem with a solution.
  • The factory key for the Elecraft radios (the KX2 and KX3) does not work well for me. That might be a topic for another weblog entry. Nonetheless, it is a decent backup (for now), but should not be my primary key.
  • The AME key works reasonably well for a field key. Holding it in my hand is not the best answer. The leg strap is better, but not perfect.
  • I am afraid to be strapped to the radio. Sera can be impulsive and I might need to move quickly before she can get into trouble. I am not sure how to solve this problem.
  • Although I really like running the antenna directly from the radio, this has its own issues. If the wind rises suddenly, the pressure on the mast creates a risk of dragging the radio off its perch. A hard landing might damage a (very) expensive radio. I need to think about this problem and develop a solution.
  • Francisco’s is not a bad way to end a SOTA (or POTA) day!
This is a favorite place in the summer. The Girl and I sit on the patio. She is very good.

Washoe Lake SP, K-2640, AAR 11 Sept 2022

It begins…

I intended to drive up to Washoe Lake SP Saturday evening to get out of the house. The Girl is always ready for an outing. I thought I might buy a cheeseburger from DQ and a Blizzard, share both with her, and then play a little radio.

But, the Mosquito Fire had different plans for me. The cheeseburger and Blizzard were good and both made the Girl happy. But when we drove over the summit into Washoe Valley, I knew the outing was done. I exited I-580 at Bellevue Road and could not see the lake for the smoke. So, I turned around and drove home.

When I rose Sunday morning, the air was much clearer. So after getting a bite and a coffee, The Girl and I headed north to Washoe Lake. The temperature was much cooler than it had been for weeks. The walk was nice. But on the way back I realized I left two liters of water on the counter at home.

So we drove over the the east side of the lake, where there is a fuel depot and convenience store. I bought a couple bottles of water and a bag of beef jerky. Then we were back off to the operating area.

I decided to erect a SOTAbeams Bandsprnger that was in my inventory. I have a number of end-fed random wire antennas in my kit that I built. So this unit languished. But I wrote a few weeks about about the abortive attempt of a good friend to deploy his Bandspringer. So I thought I would set my instance up and test it.

Aside: The Bandspringer is an end-fed random wire (EFRW) antenna. That is, it is not a resonant antenna. Therefore, it presents an impedance of around 250-350 ohms at the feedpoint, an impedance that the antenna matching unit in many transceivers can accommodate (up to a SWR of about 3:1).

In contrast, and end-fed half wave (EFHW) antenna is a resonant antenna that will present a low SWR at its fundamental and multiples of the fundamental frequency. It will present a very high impedance at the feedpoint, something on the order of 2,500 ohms or more. Therefore, some kind of matching transformer is required at the feedpoint to bring the impedance down to a value the internal (or external) antenna matching unit of the transceiver can match.

The two antenna types are quite different, even if they appear to be similar.

I ran a simple station for this outing. It was the Elecraft KX2 to an end fed random wire in an inverted vee configuration. The battery is a 4.5Ah Bioenno LFP and the key is the Begali Dual Adventurer. I was running ten watts.
The directions for the antenna are not very good. But I use this type of antenna often and knew what to do. I ran the radiating wire out in the direction I wanted to deploy the antenna. I ran the counterpoise wire out parallel to it but a few feet away. I then setup a six meter carbon fiber mast that is super quick to deploy, ran the tip through the fixture used to attach the wire to the mast, and spaced things out so the mast was the right distance from the radio table.

I staked the distal end of the radiating wire and walked back to the operating point. I staked the radiator at a point about three feet upstream from the feed point to provide some strain relief at the radio should the wind blow.

It was then a matter of connecting the antenna to the radio, affixing the key to the radio, and connecting a power supply.

Total setup time was about 15 minutes. I checked in to the 40m Noontime Net with ten watts phone and then played around hunting other activators. They were not hearing me.

I decided that meant I should just run a frequency. So I gave The Girl some water and got some for myself. I found a jar of honey-roasted peanuts in the rig and had a snack (The Girl begged some peanuts as well). I picked a frequency on the 20m band and spotted myself.

After a few calls I started working callers. I had a couple of small pile-ups that were fun to work. When the responses stopped coming, I switched to the 17m band and worked a few more. I decided to try the 15m band, but when I listened there the noise level was S5 (that is pretty high for a rural area).

I went back to the 20m band and worked a few more stations. Then I shut down the radio and just sat back for a moment.

We had a good walk before I set up the station. As I prepared to put the kit away, I stopped for a selfie with The Girl, who was happily napping.

About that time my buddy Dick called. “Man, I’ve been busting my ass to get this done while you were still activating so I could test it with you!. Then I saw you go QRT [cease operations] and said ‘Aw man!’.”

“I can turn the radio back on.” I did, but someone had occupied the frequency I was using on 20m. So I tuned a few kiloHertz to the left and found an open frequency. “Call me on 14.063MHz. I’m listening.”

I heard his call loud and clear, so I responded and we made the exchange. Then we chatted a moment (in Morse Code).

After tearing down the station, I took a few minutes to watch the smoke front approach from the west. This was the view to the north end of Washoe Lake.

I then looked up from the radio and noticed smoke. What I saw was the first image at the top of this entry.

“Wow! You should see the smoke rolling over the mountains. Something must have changed. It’s time for me to put things away. I have time, but the smoke is coming and I don’t want to have to be in it.”

We continued chatting while I put everything away. That took me about 15 minutes. The smoke continued to increase as time passed.

Slide Mountain is behind the smoke to the left.

Slide Mountain was invisible in the smoke as I put the last of my equipment in the back of the rig. I gave Sera a bit more water, then put her in the rig. I then stepped around the rig to look to the south.

This is the south end of Washoe Valley about where I-580 crosses into Carson City,

What I saw was smoke rolling over I-580 and through the gap between the Sierra and the Virginia Range, into Carson City. I put myself into the 4Runner, started the engine, glanced around one last time to be sure nothing was left behind, and started the A/C. We headed west along the trail to I-580. As we approached the east end of Bellevue Road, the next (and final) image is what I saw.

After tearing down the station, The Girl and I headed out. As we approached I-580, the smoke front was just crossing the highway.

The smoke front obliterated the view of the highway! I was certainly happy to be in the rig and headed home.

I said my goodbyes and drove on. When I crossed the summit into Carson City, the smoke front bisected the city from the northwest to the southeast, intersecting the mountains at the north end of the Prison Hill Complex.

I was glad to get home, but also glad to have gone out.

As always, I have a few lessons learnt.

  • Always check that I have water in the rig. I got distracted and failed to check. It was not a catastrophic failure, but an error nonetheless.
  • The Bandspringer is just another end-fed random wire antenna. It is just like others I built as I experimented. It is well-built, but the instructions could use some work. I do not need it in my inventory.
  • I was not able to get an impedance match for the 30m band. I suspect that I had some capacitive coupling between the radiator and counterpoise, probably because both were near the top of my small camp table, which is made of aluminum.
  • End-fed random wire antennas can be affixed directly to the radio output *if* the radio has a good antenna matching unit built in. If not, then an external antenna matching unit is needed with a sufficient range to match a wide range of impedance presented by the antenna.
  • The Elecraft matching units are very good and will match a wide range of feed point impedances.
  • It was good that I noticed the smoke. It would have been unhealthy to be in that smoke very long without a mask.
  • I keep a N95 mask in my pack for just such a case. Unfortunately, along with the water, I left my pack at home. Hmmm…
  • Regardless of the smoke, it was a good day. After a number of weekends of too much heat, a day in the 80Fs was nice.

A Tale of Two Summits — AAR

Wider view of the Bald Mountain activation point.

With a hat tip to Mr. Dickens, I offer an after-action report for two very different Summits on the Air (SOTA) activations. The first was an activation of Bald Mountain, W7N/TR-005 on Saturday 6 August 2022. The second was an activation of Chickadee Ridge, W7N/WC-005 on Sunday 7 August 2022.

Bald Mountain, W7N/TR-005:

Last week I was fairly busy, once again. I knew that I wanted to get out for some radio play on the weekend, but had not decided what to do. So, I waffled.

I think it was Thursday that I received an email from my friend Greg that there was a Summits on the Air (SOTA) activity for Saturday. He wanted a piece of the action and was considering activating Prison Hill. Prison Hill is easy access from our home and there are several good places to setup a station (and more).

But, I already activated Prison Hill this year, so there would be no points for me. I suggested another of the peaks we were thinking about and we started looking around a bit more. Eventually we settled on W7N/TR-005 — Bald Mountain that is an hour or so south of us.

We quickly planned a route to the site. The area around the peak looked reasonably level, enough so that we could put up shade and run a full-power station. Greg planned to bring a grill and grill hamburgers for lunch. Of course, there would be wine and treats as well.

As arranged, I picked up Diana and we stopped at the McD’s to pick up some breakfast sandwiches. We then made the short drive to Greg’s Place. I called Mike on the SNARS repeater system and they were headed south from Reno to meet us. They were a half-hour out, so I knew I had plenty of time to make the trip.

We hit Greg’s Place about 0700h and they were in the front, finishing their loadout. We passed out the breakfast sandwiches about the time that the rest of our party pulled up.

We chatted a bit while finishing food and everyone had a chance to love on Sera. We then mounted up, did a radio check, and headed out.

Greg had a route loaded into his GPSr (and so did I). He had me take lead and we headed south on US 395. He called the turn off, but I missed it. He called again that it was blocked and I missed the second turn off. But there was a big pullout area on the right, so I pulled off the highway, paused, and turned around. The second turn off point for the track was open.

We turned east there.

I stayed in the lead as we passed through a burned area. I think it was burned two-years ago. The trees were still burned-out trunks, but the grasses were beginning to return. The road had some puddles from the recent showers (we’ve been in a monsoon pattern for a week or two now). The trail was not bad and not too steep. There were a few stretches where the trail had washed out. But the firefighters left a path adjacent to the trail and we had no trouble working our way up to the summit.

Part of the Bald Mountain SOTA crew.
I made one wrong turn on the trail up, but it was just a short distance before we knew of it. The remainder of the trip up was not bad. Once out of the burn area, the landscape was lovely. We found a heard of sheep being watched over by a burro and a Great Pyranees. The shepherd’s camp was below the summit.

After a short confab, we chose a site within the activation zone, parked the rigs, and began to deploy our equipment. The two EZ-ups went first and were secured. Tables were setup and a group of us began assembling the DX Commander antenna. It was the second time I setup this antenna, with the first being when I helped Greg assemble it and cut the antenna wires a couple of years ago. So there was a bit of scrambling to get all the parts together in the right order. Eventually we got it together and Greg checked it.

Telephoto shot of the activation point.

We complied with the SOTA rules in that our station was independent of the vehicles and carried to the operating point. SOTA is intended to be inclusive. So, although drive-ups are permitted, they are not particularly encouraged. Yet, we were within the rules.

I consider this kind of SOTA operation as a GLOTA expedition — GLamour SOTA, which includes shade, food, wine, and lots of chairs.

I let the other operators play a long time. I sat in the sun (it was cool at 9,000ft) with a cover on and kept track of Sera. She is a tenderfoot and I need to keep an eye on her or she will wander off or start running in pursuit of a critter. I do not want another foot injury. I do not want her to get lost. We were not far from the shepherd’s camp and he had several border collies with him.

There were lots of good reasons to keep Sera close. So, I did.

After most of the others made their contacts, I took a turn at the Icom 7000. Greg found an adapter for my key. We figured out how to set the power and character speed. I started making my call and logging the contacts as they were made.

The bands were pretty busy and I needed a narrow filter. Greg helped me find it on his rig. That made signal copy a bit easier.

I recall one caller I just could not copy. I sat back in my chair and exclaimed “I can’t copy this!!!!!” Everyone looked at me.

One asked “Are we too noisy?”

“No… the code is so poorly formed I can’t make it out.”

The group looked relieved, but quieted down. I continued working on the call and eventually got it. The operator must have been using a straight key and the characters were poorly formed. There are a lot of reasons this might be the case, including a lot of physical reasons. In any event, the exchange was completed and logged.

The other operators finished lunch and made a few more contacts. Greg took another turn at the radio and completed his activation.

“You want another run at it?” he asked me.

“Sure, I’ll do a little more.” So I did. I made about 25 contacts, using 25w to 50w of power and a radio I did not know.

We chatted for a bit longer in the group. One memory that stands out is the group talking about my sending. The characters form patterns, which we learn to recognize in groups of characters, just like we learn words. One of them was singing some of the characters in my sidetone. It was interesting to listen to them as I sent out my call.

It was time to tear down and head home. With so many hands, this did not take long. The trip down was not bad and we got some more photographs along the way.

One of my goals for Sera is to train her to alert me if my blood sugar falls. Part of her training is to stay on place when at a restaurant. She’s practicing on the patio at Francisco’s Mexican Restaurant in Carson City, Nevada.
As we approached the north end of Carson Valley, Greg called and we all said our goodbyes. I think everyone was tired from all the fun and air. I know I enjoyed the cool up on Bald Mountain and made my contacts as well.

On the way into Carson, Diana asked “Do you want a snack?”

I thought about it for a moment, then decided that an early (not very much, really) supper was in order. We chatted a couple of minutes about potentials.

“Let’s do Francisco’s. The Tacos de asada are very good and you will probably like them.”

Also, there is a patio where Sera is welcome. I want her to practice her place and being able to ignore the traffic and hustle/bustle when out and about.

I am always reminded of my time in Bolivia. The city of Tarija is typical of third-world cities, where the sewers are combined. That is, the underground sewers convey both sewage and storm-water runoff. There is a wet well for a grinder pump near the Francisco’s patio. The occasional waft of sewer gas can be smelled.

Some people might be offended by it. It is not strong and simply serves as a reminder of my time in Bolivia. I also smile when I hear the pump turn on and I get a drift of that smell.

Lake Tahoe view from Chickadee Ridge.

Chickadee Ridge, W7N/WC-005:

I rested well Saturday night. When I woke Sunday morning, I was not ready for the weekend to be over. I was also thinking about the afternoon, when the heat would rise and it would be warm in the house. Plus I just wanted to get out and away from the norm.

I decided to do another summit. I chose a summit and not a park because I wanted the cool of elevation. In addition, I wanted a bit of a physical challenge to test myself.

I chose W7N/WC-005, Chickadee Ridge, as my target. I plotted a route from the staging area at Tahoe Meadows to the summit (and back). With the route loaded into the GPSr, I grabbed my pack, refilled the Camelbak and bottles, checked the contents, and loaded Sera into the rig.

We headed out. I stopped at Maverick to top off the fuel tank and grab a breakfast sandwich and something for lunch. Then, on the way north, I called Young Son and chatted with him a bit.

Once I turned west on Mt. Rose highway, I told Young Son “I’ll probably lose you soon; I’m heading up the hill.” Sure enough, as we chatted, I dropped signal. I drove on in the quiet, Sera and I.

There was a lot of traffic Sunday morning. I guess folks were headed out from Reno for a drive or to spend the day up at Lake Tahoe. We soon crested the Mt. Rose summit and the staging area there was pretty full. It was only a couple more miles to Tahoe Meadows and the staging area for our hike.

There was no room on the south side of the highway. So I parked on the north side, knowing that it meant we would cross the highway. I do not care for that much, but sometimes it is necessary.

During the trip through the twisties, I heard something slide in the back of the rig. I thought it was probably my lunch but thought no more about it. Then, at the staging area, while Sera chirped and trilled in her excitement to get out, I could not find my lunch! Search as I might, my sandwich was missing.

I put the Elecraft KX2, an antenna, and the six-meter carbon fiber mast into my pack. I then set the GPSr to my trail, shared the map on Mapshare, and put Sera on leash. With the highway traffic and the foot traffic, she needed to be on-leash.

We crossed and headed south on the boardwalk through Tahoe Meadows to our trail. I have not hiked the Tahoe Ridge Trail, but from the mapping I thought the trail would not be too difficult and the climb at the hill would be doable. I did find one error in my track where I missed a loop in the trail. But that was not too bad.

There was enough traffic that I kept Sera on-lead most of the way out on the trail. I decided to sidehill up to a saddle between Chickadee Ridge and an unnamed peak. I was able to release her from the lead and she ran about the hill hunting chipmunks.

I looked at the map on my GPSr and then the hillside… boulders. I decided to start up the slope and it was a boulder climb. I am glad that I wear my pack regularly — a lot of hikers do not wear a pack regularly and are unaccustomed to the change in balance that the pack causes. This might have been a problem for me as I scrambled over the boulders. But, because of my practice, it was not.

The climb was not overly difficult, but was a challenge for me. That is a good thing. It also made me think I chose the wrong route. Sera paused a couple of times, but with a little encouragement she climbed right up.

Sera on Chickadee Ridge, with the random wire antenna and mast in the view.
The activation zone was a mix of granite boulders and DG sand. I deployed the antenna as a sloped random wire to the six-meter mast. I setup the KX2, external battery, key, and microphone. I retrieved Sera’s bowl from my pack, gave her water, and got myself a drink as well.

I put her in the shade of a boulder and sat down at the radio. I was able to check in to the 40m Noon Net on phone. The station was working.

I started calling CQ on 40m phone. I made several contacts, including some summits. I also had a nice short chat with a couple of other operators. Then I switched to CW mode and continued calling. I worked a few summits, then noticed my iPhone was hot and the screen was dimming.

It became more and more difficult to read the screen so I could log my contacts. I struggled for a bit, then set the phone aside and changed to the 30m band.

My intent was to work my up from 40m to 15m, calling on by phone and CW modes as I went. It was early enough in the afternoon that I had time. My overheating phone, though, was a problem. I did not have ready access to an alternate log.

I picked up my iPhone again and worked a station on 30m. It was hard copy with his signal dropping into the noise and then back up again with the QSB (fading). When I completed that call, I could barely read the iPhone’s screen.

In frustration, I decided to call it. I had enough contacts for my activation. I decided to post myself done (QRT) after the phone cooled off. I started to put away the station.

When I picked up the KX2, it was hot! It was not hot enough for it to shut itself down, but it was warmer than I wanted to handle. I think it was a good thing to stop.

We paused (for a moment) on the way down Chickadee Ridge for a selfie. Sera was still hunting chipmunks, but permitted the capture.
I gave The Girl another drink, gathered up my pack, and we started down the hill. I elected to stay to the north and not retrace my path over the boulders. I was convinced that there had to be a better approach.

I was right. The path north was all DG with a few boulders that were easily bypassed. The route was steep and would not be an easy climb. But it was a better route than boulder scrambling.

At the saddle, we paused and Sera permitted me to make a selfie of us. She was still focused on chipmunks more than she was on me. That is OK.

We had a little more of the steeper slope to get down to the trail. That was not too bad. A woman with a young Golden Retriever was on the trail. The dog barked at us, then ran partway up the slope toward us, despite the calls of its handler.

Sera was perfect, staying next to me (although on-lead), although focused on the other dog. It eventually broke off and returned to its handler.

We continued down the trail until we arrived back at Ophir Creek. There I had The Girl get into the water to cool off and get a drink. She puttered about, splashing and sniffing until a group of people walked up. I put her back on lead and we headed to the rig.

When we got there, I wondered about my sandwich. I decided to check one more time.

There, in the side pocket of the door, was my sandwich. It had slid off the deck into the side pocket. Me, not expecting it to be there, looked everywhere else.

I started to rig to get the air conditioner running. Then I gobbled my sandwich. I was hungry. I did save a bite for Sera, though, which she also munched. I think she was hungry too.

The trip home was uneventful. I arrived home tired and sore. I knew I would be more sore in a couple of days. I was right.

Lessons learned:

  • I must have a way to shade my equipment. I have to pick a shaded spot or bring something to make shade.
  • My iPhone is a great logging tool. HAMRS has templates for both SOTA and POTA. That makes uploading my contacts trivial. However, I need a backup for those cases where the iPhone fails. In this case, the iPhone got too hot and turned off the screen to reduce current use.
  • I need to pay more attention to my routing. I made a small error on the trail. I made a bigger error on my choice of route up the side of the hill. It worked out alright in this case, but in a different case I might have been faced with a climb I could not do.
  • When I heard something slide around in the back of the rig, I should have checked the side pockets of the rear doors. If I had on this trip, I would have had my sandwich with me on the hilltop. That would have improved my outlook on the situation — food always helps.
  • The latter lesson is also a lesson to expect the unexpected. I could not have known the sandwich slid into the side pocket of the door. It did. I looked everywhere but there. My lesson — pay attention.
  • I elected to test myself physically on Sunday by hiking the summit. (It was not driveable anyway.) I learned that I can do a four-mile hike with elevation. I might be slow. I might be tired. I might be sore. But, when I returned to the rig, I was not spent. I had reserves and could have done more. It was OK that I did not, but it is also good to know that I could.
  • When operating in a group environment, headphones or earbuds are appropriate. They would not have helped my copy of the poor code. They would certainly have helped keep the background chatter, which was completely understandable and normal, reduced so I could focus more on the signal.

I really like POTA and SOTA activations. I am outside. It is away from my normal environment, which can be a distraction (and often is). I can get cooler if I go higher.

It was a good weekend.

Sera and I paused at Ophir Creek — me for a photo and she to play in the creek.

Field Day 2022 AAR

Early morning view of my camp at Smith Creek Dry Lake

Field Day 2022 is a long story, as these expeditions tend to have both a lot of moving parts and a lot of events. I would like to at least hit the high points of the story and describe some of the things that I learned. Perhaps one day there will be no more lessons… but I doubt it.

My intent was to leave Carson City on Thursday morning, have a leisurely drive for a couple of hours east to Dry Lake, and then set up camp and enjoy some solitude. However, the life of a consultant (consulting engineer) does not always lend itself to such plans. In any event, for this instance work interjected itself into the equation (it is a chaotic-dynamic system after all) and I was unable to prepare and leave as planned.

So, with Thursday not possible, Friday morning I threw some food, clothes, and gear into the camper and got out of town around noon. I did take time to make a grocery run the evening before, so I had a couple of sandwiches and some drinks in addition to breakfast and supper makings. I stopped at the Maverick on the east side of Carson City, refueled the 4Runner (gulp, gulp), did my final walk-around, and we (Sera and I) headed east.

On the way I chatted with a couple of operators through the SNARS (Sierra Nevada Amateur Radio Society — the Reno club) repeater network. I had a pretty good signal into the Mt. Rose repeater that is located southwest from Reno. It has a big footprint and I can hear it far to the east, especially when crossing the ridges in the basin and range territory.

I exited U.S. 50 onto NV 722 and drove through Eastgate, where I then started up the hill to cross the range into Smith Creek Valley, or whatever it is called. The grade is not bad and the air cooled with elevation. I put down the windows to enjoy the air and The Girl sniffed and whuffled as she smelled the things only she can smell.

I caught up with a one-ton truck dragging a trailer full of cattle. The 4Runner pulling the camper does not have the torque to pass on the uphill grade. But, I did not have to follow long because he pulled off the road before the summit. On the other side of the summit, I caught up with a heavy truck pulling a trailer and wagon full of cattle and moving very s-l-o-w-l-y. But I was not in a big hurry and followed a ways behind (you know why) until the driver turned off onto a ranch road and left me with an open highway.

Except… there were cattle on the highway. So I kept my speed down, not trusting them to stay out of my path and threaded my way through the herd.

Past the cattle-jam, it was only a few more miles to my turn off for Dry Lake. I took the first turn off, which is a good gravel road more than half way to the lake before it turns into a trail. The trail was quite passable if a little slow and dusty.

I called my friends two-meter simplex for directions to the camp site. I had a pin dropped in the GPSr I take with me, but they might have had to relocate camp. They confirmed their location and guided me through the collection of land sailors to our camp area. On site, I stopped by to see Greg and Subrina, who were finishing camp setup. I could see where Tom was setup and where Joe’s group was set up, so I took off to the northwest and chose a spot about 1,000ft from Greg’s Place.

I then dropped the camper and began deployment of my camp and antennas. It does not take long to set up the camper, maybe 15 minutes or so. Once the roof is up and the sides are in place, it is only a few more minutes to drop the stabilizers and deploy the solar panels that keep the camper batteries charged. The sun was so good that my panels were generating about 110 watts. They are rated for 120 watts. The sun was good out at Dry Lake.

I decided to use the home built doublet my son and I made a couple of years ago. Each leg is 22 feet long and we built open wire feed line. The open wire terminates at about the window level of the camper, where I place a 4:1 balun to a short coaxial cable run for the last few feet to the radio.

I also deployed a twinlead J-Pole for local two-meter simplex operation. With our group so far apart and the fact that my camper is a Faraday cage (as far as HT use is concerned), I wanted an external two-meter antenna. I eventually deployed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical for the main station. I find that sometimes the vertical will bring in a signal better than the inverted-V doublet.

I power my station with a 60Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery. It has enough capacity to run a couple of radios, the station computer, and charge smaller batteries. To keep it supplied, I run another set of panels that are rated for 120w through a Genasun GV-10 MPPT charge controller. Eventually I plan to install the station battery under the bed. I would also like to move the camper batteries under the bed.

I eventually deployed three antennas. The two in this image, a J-Pole for 2m/70cm and the doublet for HF. I also deployed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical later in the day.

All of that took about an hour and a half to complete. I was then ready to settle in, so The Girl and I walked over to Greg’s Place to socialize a little. She needed a walk (and really wanted to hunt the hammocks that litter the dry lake bed) and so did I. I was hot and sweaty and knew that a shower was going to be really good that evening. I checked in with my friends, who were still working on their camp, and then proceeded on to the next camp, Tom’s place.

Tom was setup and relaxing in his tent, but roused when we approached and came out to visit and play with Sera. Like all canines, Sera knows dog-people and readily takes up with Tom. As we visited, Greg rode over on his motorcycle and we continued to visit until it got dusky.

The visit complete, we returned to our camp, getting credit for a nice walk. I fed The Girl then got myself some supper and began settling in for the night. I was tired, hot, and sweaty. The camper was cooling down with the sun behind the mountains and the fan running. So I got a shower and listened to the radio a bit. Then I hit the rack, knowing I would be up as soon as the morning twilight came.

This is my galley. I was working up my second cup of coffee and cooking some bacon. The Girl gets the bacon fat and then I make some eggs. She generally gets a nibble of my bacon and maybe a bite of egg as well.
Sure enough, I was up as the sky brightened in the east. I rolled out of bed, stepped outside to relieve myself and enjoy the sky, then returned to the camper to make a cup of coffee. While I worked through my first cup, I turned on the radio to listen for any stations. The upper part of the 40m band was full of Asian broadcast stations, as usual. There were some other stations working in the phone portion of the band below that. I heard nothing I was interested in working, so I just enjoyed listening to the stations.

I made another mug of coffee and started breakfast. It was my usual camp fare — bacon and eggs. I can tell that I am my father’s son. I think he ate bacon and eggs almost every morning, at least as long as I knew him.

Of course, I pour the bacon fat over The Girl’s kibbles. That is her treat and once it cools a bit, she eats it. Then she wanders over to see what I have and if I will share.

After breakfast I wandered through the adjacent camps, in part to visit and check on folks and in part to get in a walk for both of us. Tom was just finishing his breakfast and gave a bite to Sera. It was not long before Greg wandered over and all chatted (yes, the bull was shot) for awhile.

As starting time approached, I headed back to my rig. I moved the station outdoors, thinking I would operate outside under the shade of the 4Runner’s hatch. I really prefer being outdoors.

Greg organized a local net, knowing the craziness that occurs during the first hour of an international event (like Field Day). I do not recall why, but after making the circuit on the two-meter band (simplex), Greg excused himself and handed off “net control” to me. So we worked 70cm, then turned to 10m, and then those of us who know Morse Code exchanged information on 10m CW mode.

I had an issue with my logging program when we moved to the 10m band (which was the KX3). (The VHF/UHF exchanges were on the FT-897D, which was not connected to the computer and logging software.) So it took me a couple of minutes to solve the problem. This was good, because I would be logging with this software for the duration of Field Day.

Not long after Field Day 2022 started, a small shower approached and drove me indoors. I saw it coming, so I had plenty of time to move the equipment. What I didn’t know is what happened to others in our expedition.
As we concluded, I noticed a shower moving in from the south, so I tore down my outside deployment and moved the equipment indoors. As I was finishing putting away the folding table and chair, the wind gusted and a few drops of rain fell. Everything outdoors that could be impacted by rain was moved indoors or to cover.

I moved indoors.

I sat down at my station and listened for calling station and chased a few of the runners. I was listening to our shared frequency on 2m and heard a call.

“Are you alright?” came the call.

“Yes, I’m in the camper running the radio.”

“I was just checking. Tom’s tent and EZ-up folded up in the wind.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

After the rain drove me indoors, this was my station for Field Day 2022, including the Yaesu FT-897D used for local communications on 2m.
As it turned out, our group lost two EZ-ups and a tent. I had no problems at my camp and neither did the other group. But it was the end of the road for one of our group, who showed up at my camp to wish me well. He had a wadded up mess in the back of his pickup. I could only shake my head.

“At least this gives me a chance at a new tent,” he said. I nodded.

Another part of our group reported sparking of equipment in their trailer. They took down their antennas and sheltered inside.

At my place, I had some light “ticking” heard on the radio and could feel some static electricity. I was getting some static buildup from the wind blowing on the wire.

About suppertime Greg pulled up outside on his bike. “You have any supper plans?”

“Not really.”

“You’re welcome to bring supper up and eat with us. I’m going to grill a steak. I’d offer you one, but we only brought enough for ourselves.”

“I have a couple of hamburger patties that need to be cooked. Would you mind?”

“Of course not, bring them over.”

He headed back to camp and I grabbed some food. Sera and I walked over to their camp. The grill was about ready to receive our dinner meat and Greg graciously cooked my hamburger patties. It was certainly good to get away from the radio for a bit.

I guess I was hungry because I ate both patties. After supper we visited for a bit before Sera and I headed back to our camp. I continued working stations until about midnight, when I called it a day. I took Sera outside to relieve herself and looked up at the sky while she sniffed about. It is dark out at Smith Creek Dry Lake and the stars are gorgeous. I heard coyotes calling and they did not sound too far away. Sera looked intently in the direction of the sound. “Leave it!” I demanded and decided it would be better to retreat to the camper.

Here is my rig and a morning crescent Moon.
As the eastern sky brightened, I woke. I made a cup of coffee and enjoyed the sunrise.

After getting The Girl out for a short walk, I returned to the radio and worked stations until about 1000h. By that time I had enough and decided to shut down. The Girl and I walked down to Greg’s Place and checked in with our friends.

As the day wore on, I took a break and caught a nap. Sera is (almost) always willing to nap with me. It is one of the things I love about dogs. They are such wonderful companions.

After Field Day 2022 ended, we celebrated the weekend and the fellowship. The remainder of our group had already departed. We stayed over.
After Field Day 2022 ended, we celebrated the weekend and the fellowship. The remainder of our group had already departed. We stayed over.[/caption]It was time to gather for our Field Day 2022 celebration. When we are on expedition, we always gather for a close-out party of some kind. Greg and Subrina graciously provided hamburgers. I brought what I had (at least a bottle of wine). And we visited, laughed, and shared a meal.

It was just the three of us plus Sera. The remainder of our group had left. That is alright — it is often the four of who do things together. Others come and go from our circle, but the four of us are a constant.

We decided to drive around the playa. We intended to use the hot spring. When we arrived at the hot spring, someone had drained the tank. The water was too hot to get in without it having time to cool. So, our Nevada hot spring bath would have to wait.

Greg wanted to check out the smaller dry lake north of the larger one, so we headed out that way. It would also make a good operating spot and would not have any land sailors to deal with. (Although they have never been a problem.)

We split and headed to camp. I began to put away the doublet I had setup and the J-pole I was using for local 2-meter communications. I put away the Yaesu FT-897D as well. But I left the Elecraft KX3 out and left the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 setup so I could play a little more radio before calling it an expedition.

It was break time for me. I wandered over to Greg’s Place, brought my supper along, and then we relaxed with a campfire before The Girl and I headed home.
It was break time for me. I wandered over to Greg’s Place, brought my supper along, and then we relaxed with a campfire before The Girl and I headed home.[/caption]As dusk approached, I needed a cover and wanted to feed Sera. So I fed her and then we headed over to Greg’s Place to complete our celebration of Field Day 2022. Greg built a campfire in his burn barrel. The wind was cooperative (for a change) and did not blow smoke at us (most of the time). I kept Sera close because it is very dark.

I woke early, again, made some coffee (while Sera looked at me for a moment, sleepily), and stepped outside. The morning horizon was so beautiful. As I finished my coffee, I got the small drone out to see if I could get some video or stills.

Once again, the DJI Mini refused to fly reliably. There was little wind, but it just would not maintain altitude. I cannot figure out what I am doing wrong, but I was disappointed to leave without some aerial images.

So I made another coffee, played a little radio (mostly just listened), and prepared for the final tear down of camp and loading up of everything. It only took me about an hour to get done and I was just finishing up when Greg/Subrina pulled up.

It was mid-morning, or a bit later. We were not in a hurry. We headed out, but I noticed the vent hatch on their trailer was flopping. It needed to be secured, so I called them (radios are great) and we stopped so they could secure it.

As we climbed over the hill, Subrina called… “Is it too soon for lunch? I was thinking we should stop at Middlegate.”

“I’m always up for some Middlegate.”

“Very good… let’s do it.”

“Roger, roger!” I smiled. One of my favorite places in Nevada is the Middlegate Station bar/grill. It is a favorite stop for all sorts of travelers through central Nevada. I stop there whenever I am out that way and it is about lunchtime.

Middlegate Station, a favorite place for a respite in the “middle of nowhere.”

What was even better is that Subrina was buying! Instead of my usual cheeseburger (very good), I ordered a pastrami melt. It was super good and the home fries were excellent. I do not eat as many potatoes now as I used to, but I get them and share them with Sera.

Too soon, once again, it was time to go. We headed out to the rigs and then on down the road, west on U.S. 50 to Fallon and then on to Carson City.

I called and told Greg/Subrina that I needed to refuel. Greg suggested the Speedway in Fallon but indicated that there was now a Maverick store there. He did not know where.

As we entered Fallon, the Maverick store is near the Speedway location. So I stopped there to refuel. I cleaned up the windows as well. And, I noticed an RV dump there that I could use. So I took a few minutes to empty the blackwater tank and then wash my hands.

Greg/Subrina had continued on. They were going to refuel and dump in Carson City. On my way west, I called them a couple of times and we could hilltop. They were a few miles ahead of me. I did catch them at the Maverick in Carson City, where I stopped to say my goodbyes and thanks for the weekend.

I really, really did not want it to end. These people are family to me. They might as well be blood.

It was only a short final hop to the house. I backed the camper into my driveway, unhooked, parked the rig, and raised the camper. With Sera secured in the house, it took only about a half-hour to unload those things necessary to unload. I then got myself a glass of wine, let the swamp cooler do its thing, and relaxed.

Field Day 2022 was over. It was time to think about cleaning up after the trip and to think about finished the work in front of me.

As I always do, I learned a few things during Field Day 2022. Here are a few of them:

  • The Yaesu FT-897D is a great radio. It is also a big radio. It takes up too much space on my work table (the dinette) for use as only a two-meter radio.
  • Using an external antenna for two-meters (the J-pole) is an excellent idea. The camper is almost a Faraday cage, especially for the two-meter band. My HT will just not get out. Given the FT-897D is too big for what I want, a smaller, dedicated two-meter rig in the camper would be a great addition to my portable station.
  • I have a Kenwood TM-V71A in my 4Runner as my mobile 2m/70cm FM radio. It is a winner in my view. While it is only FM mode, it has excellent audio, adequate power (50w), and is very easy to program from the front panel. In fact, I like the radio so much that I bought another for use at home in my workroom. I should put one of these radios in the camper and then either put a permanent mount on top of the dormer (above the galley), or use a J-pole on a telescoping mast like I did for Field Day.
  • The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is excellent as a portable logging computer. It is small enough to be easy to carry but large enough to be able to read. It also has a smallish but workable keyboard/cover. It does not use a lot of power. It is powerful enough for some light photographic editing and will probably serve well enough for digital modes.
  • The home built doublet continues to be a solid performer for portable operations. I lengthened the cordage at the end of the legs to get them a bit higher off the ground for this deployment. The best I could tell, there was no difference on receive between the doublet and the vertical antennas. I think some additional experimentation is in order. /li
  • The current doublet is built with 16ga THHN I bought at the local hardware. Although it is stranded wire, it is very stiff and difficult to stow on the line-winder without kinking it. Plus, the home built ladder line (made of the same wire) is difficult to wrangle in the field. It would be a lot easier to manage with some 16ga flexweave wire for the elements and some window line for the feed. I have a design in mind that I want to try. The THHN elements and home built ladder line would be fine for a semi-permanent installation; but not so much for a field deployment.
  • Weather will always be a potential issue. I now have a ground rod for my camper station. I need to finish preparation of a place to ground the rod to the camper chassis and provide a ground for the station. That would eliminate any static collection and is likely to improve station performance.
  • I am satisfied with my Field Day 2022 deployment. My equipment worked as planned. I had plenty to eat. I had great fellowship with my friends. It was a good deployment despite the fact that we lost two easy-ups and a tent.

I am looking forward to our next expedition. I do not know when it might be or where. But I know that I am ready and looking forward to spending time in the field with my friends.

Life is good. I am grateful.

Sunset, Field Day 2022, Smith’s Creek Dry Lake, Austin, Nevada.

Flight of the Bumblebees 2022 — AAR

My station and operation position for the 2022 Flight of the Bumblebees contest. Yep, that’s a dog’s tail in the bottom of the frame.

This year, 2022, was my first Flight of the Bumblebees contest. This is a QRP (low power, usually 5w for CW mode) and has been going on for a number of years.

I planned to work the contest for the last few weeks. I decided to operate in the field (of course) from Washoe Lake State Park, which is also a Parks-on-the-Air park (K-2640). I often activate the park as it is only a short drive from my home and The Girl and I love to walk there. It is a win-win for both of us.

I picked up my friend, Diana (KJ7GVY) about 0900h and we made the short drive up to Washoe Lake. I prefer to operate on the west side because the take-off angles are better and there are a lot fewer people. We picked a spot and started setting up the equipment.

I elected to hang a tarp over the back of the 4Runner to provide extra shade as it has been very hot in the afternoons here. Although there was overcast, the wind was down and the humidity was up. By the time we got the station set up, I was quite soaked in sweat. This is unusual for me.

The station was my Elecraft KX3 at five watts to an end-fed half wave antenna. The antenna is built on a Balun Designs 49:1 matching transformer, but I cut the wire and counterpoise for the antenna and tuned them.

Aside: I have in mind another design for an EFHW. After reading a paper on these antennas, it seems that a 36:1 matching transformer with a 200pf capacitor about a third of the way from the feed point will make a 40m EFHW work better on the upper bands. I am going to try one. I just about have everything I need to build the transformer and radiating elements.

I think I started operating about 1030h local. I heard nothing on 40m. I was hoping for some California and close-in Oregon stations, but nothing heard. The 20m band had quite a few operators around 14.060MHz. I chased a couple of them and then looked over at my friend.

“I’m going to run a frequency. I think I’ll do better if I just pick and place and go.”

So I found a place about 14.062MHz and started calling CQ CQ BB de AG7TX AG7TX/BB AR. After a few calls I started picking up some callers and worked them as I could. I am still learning CW and CW operating practice. This was the first time I ran a frequency in a CW contest.

But all the practice running a frequency for POTA and SOTA activations paid off. I picked off call signs or fragments and worked the callers. It is such good brain work and I had a blast.

Each time the well ran dry, I would check another band. I worked a friend on 40m, but I’m confident he was running more than five watts. I also worked him on 20m, but he never got below 20w. So he does not count for the contest (but will get a POTA credit).

The 20m band was the band to work here in western Nevada. I made a total of 35 contacts, dropping those that I did not get a power from or that I new were operating more than five watts. This included 19 Bumblebees.

After the contest ended, we walked The Girl a bit. Then we headed back to Carson City and made a stop at the Sonic. The chili dog and shake just topped off the day. The Girl got a few tater tots for her contributions as well.

I had a blast. It was a good day. Life is good.

Mormon Station SP POTA

Here is the operating position for my activation of Mormon Station SP.
On Thursday, 30 June 2022, The Girl and I visited to Parks On the Air parks — Mormon Station SP in Genoa, Nevada and Washoe Lake SP in Washoe Valley. After the intensity of the last several months, I did not get enough of other-than-work time on Field Day. My Field Day AAR still needs to be written. I will get to it, probably over the weekend.

I find Mormon Station difficult to activate. It is a small park. There is a lot of traffic at the park. There is a lot of traffic through Genoa. So there is not a good place for a good antenna and there is lots of audio noise from all the traffic.

For this activation, I set up on the south side of the park, just outside the timber wall. A handy timber in said wall provided an excellent anchor for a 10m telescopic mast. The random wire antenna I keep in my kit was the right length to connect directly to the Elecraft KX2 via a binding post to BNC adapter. The counterpoise wire was laid on the ground out of the way of any potential foot traffic.

When I turned on the radio, there was some noise. A quick look around revealed overhead power lines across the street. I already had noticed the electrical equipment 20 feet from my operating position.

I decided to try anyway. I ran the KX2 barefoot at ten watts. After a bit more than an hour, I made my required ten contacts. But I noticed the radio frequency noise and used earbuds to mitigate the audio noise (a bit).

The choice of operating position was not optimal. I need to find another place to activate Mormon Station.

The Girl and I drove up to Washoe Lake SP to activate that park too. I prefer the west side of the lake/park as there is less congestion there. For this activation, I set up the Elecraft KX3 and the KXPA100 amplifier. The antenna was the Wolf River Coils vertical with my own ground field.

Not long after I bought the WRC antenna, I read Rudy Severns’ series of articles about verticals and ground fields. So I built a set of 18 radials from cheap lamp cord for my ground field. They connect six into one and then to the base of the antenna via Anderson powerpoles. The entire systems is quick to deploy and quick to tune.

The antenna is not band agile. But if one is running a frequency (like activating a park), then agility is not the most important feature of the antenna. The antenna is resonant on the selected band, so no matching transformer is needed and there is no transformer loss. It will make SWRs of 1.5:1 or less in my location.

I used my 15Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery with a 30w PowerFilm solar panel and Genasun charge controller to keep the battery topped off. I planned to run phone first, then CW mode on each band. For phone I run 100w; for CW mode I typically run 50w or less.

The setup took me about 20 minutes. I then checked the solar conditions and decided to start on 40m to see if I could get some California contacts and then move up the bands.

I had a handful of 40m contacts not long into my activation. After I received no more calls in phone mode, I switched to CW and worked a few more stations.

I then moved up to the 30m band and made a few more contacts. Then it was on to 20m where I continued working stations until the well ran dry, or the hole was fished out. You can choose your preferred metaphor.

My buddy Dick texted me and ask “Should I call 911?” He was concerned when he saw me spotted using sideband.

“Not everyone knows Morse Code and phone operators might want to hunt this park. So I decided I might catch more fish if I also run phone.”

Yes, it felt odd calling CQ using my voice. But I got into the rhythm before long and I know there are hunters out there who only do voice comms. I think it was the right decision.

I was about to move up to 17m when I noticed it was about 1500h. I had an exam session last night to give a new operator a chance to earn her Technician class license. I wanted a shower before heading to the exam site. So I packed up the station and we returned home.

I forgot to make an image of my deployment at Washoe Lake. That is too bad as it was another simple setup. It would have made a nice image.

As usual, I learned a few things:

  • I still have work to do to find the best operating point at Mormon Station. There has to be at least one good place to run the radio.
  • It is better to activate Mormon Station away from the weekends. Genoa has a lot more traffic on the weekends when tourists come to town. The park is busier. Genoa is busier. There is a lot more audio noise as a result.
  • I have to remember to make an image of my deployment. There is something elegant about a simple radio setup with the park or surrounding landscape in the background. Washoe Lake was really pretty Thursday. My bad…
  • Including phone operation in my activation is a good idea. Although more and more amateur operators are learning Morse Code (it is part of being a well-rounded operator), there are a lot of POTA hunters that do not know code. That means there are missed opportunities for contacts if I only activate CW mode.
  • I should allow more time to activate more bands. Thursday I did three bands — 40m, 30m, and 20m. While it is true that propagation is not as good on the higher bands right now, it was better and will get better as we move farther into Solar Cycle 25. The higher bands offer good opportunities for DX (long distance) radio contacts.
  • Logging on my iPhone is a Pain-In-The-Ass. But so is setting up a logging computer, even if it is the little Surface Go 2.
  • HAMRS is a useful logging software. It has a template for Parks On the Air (as well as SOTA). That mitigates, to some extent, the PITA nature of logging on my iPhone. (Yes, I know it runs on my Surface Go 2.)

I know there will be more lessons as I learn more about portable operations. Now I think I want to get The Girl out and go play radio for a few hours up at Washoe Lake.