I wrote this over a year ago, but never got around to posting it. I am not sure why. Perhaps I set it aside to look for a photograph for the header. Or, perhaps I simply forgot about it. Nonetheless, it is not a bad story so I think I will tell it.
This weekend was a study in contrasts. Saturday, a friend and I drove up to the activation zone of Prison Hill, at the south side of Carson City. The trail to the top is no challenge for the 4Runner and I’m not a hard driver.
So I had the luxury of computer logging, full output power from the KX3, a table to work from, and a nice chair. The antenna was a kit-built EFHW in inverted-L using a SOTAbeams 10m travel mast. It was a fun afternoon with a friend and my dog, although neither of them participated in the radio fun (the friend is licensed; the dog is not).
This morning I decided I had so much fun yesterday that I would do it again, this time Hot Springs Mountain. It was just doggo and me. I attempted an approach from the west side, but the last half-mile was a rough trail of scrabble and I did not think the 4Runner would traverse it.
So I drove around to the south side and up a sand wash. The sand had a little moisture from the last snow and I was able to stay on top of the sand by keeping up my speed.
I expected the sand ravine near the top and there it was. I was sure I could get down to the bottom of the ravine, but figured that’s where I would stay.
So, I got out my KX1 kit (shack in a small Pelican box), a bottle of water, a 3Ah LFP battery (gives just a little more output power from the little KX1 and will run forever), and the SOTAbeams mast.
Doggo has four-paw drive, but not so this old man. She sprinted back and forth urging me on while I trudged up the remaining quartile mile of trail, pausing now and again to catch my breath.
There was a cairn in the activation zone and I found a way to stabilize the mast against the cairn with a Voile strap I brought along, just in case. I stretched the wire I carry in the kit along the mast and threw the second bundle of wires I use for a counterpoise on the rocks.
The radio matched the antenna readily and the 40m noon net (7.2835MHz) NCO heard me. So I knew I had a working station.
Over the next hour and a half I worked 17 stations on 40m, 30m, and 20m, including a couple of summit-to-summit operators. Doggo sat patiently next to me, enjoying the sun and the view.
I was on 20m when the antenna was blown over by the wind a second time. It had come up near the end of my operation.
I finished landing the fish I had on the line and announced my QRT, followed by a post to the SOTAwatch portal. It only took me a few minutes to tear down and head back down the hill.
I should mention that I used the backup key for this activation. The key I had been using failed during the first part of my activation. Fortunately, I keep the factory key in the kit as a backup. It’s not my favorite key, but it is a working key.
The contrast in the two ops is striking. Saturday was what I’ll GLOTA (glam-SOTA), with all the luxuries one could want in the field. Today I earned my contacts the hard way — by humping up the last, steepest, part of the hill.
Both days were good. Today was better. I’m whupped!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
“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.
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.[/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.[/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.
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.
Late last week I decided that I wanted some time outdoors and wanted some radio play. The previous weekend I was recovering from travel and testimony and just did not feel like doing much. This weekend I did not want to stay indoors all weekend.
So I sent an email to the usual suspects who like to spend time outdoors and like radio. I thought that an Summits On the Air (SOTA) activation of Fairview Peak (W7N/PC-032) would be fun. It is a familiar place (we activated it last year, I think), is high enough to be cool on a hot day, and is not too far from home. Of our group, I had three takers. So it was a go.
We drove out Saturday morning, then worked our way up the steep trail to the activation zone. I setup the radio while the others setup shade and a table to work from. I used the KX3 with the KXPA100 for this outing. I knew that the phone operators would need more power to get out. I also setup the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in the vertical configuration. I put out a couple of solar panels to keep the battery topped off.
We were ready to go before my scheduled time, so I chased another operator activating a summit on phone and logged him. Then I handed off the mike to another operator.
After an hour or so the other two operators almost had their quota. It takes four contacts to make a SOTA activation. Both operators had three contacts and a couple of summit-to-summit contacts as well. Those count extra because one receives both points as an activator and as a hunter. They were ready for a break, so I sat at the radio, listened on 15m, and then spotted myself on the SOTA website.
I was running CW Mode (Morse Code) and started sending my CQ so chasers would see/hear my signal. It did not take long until I had my first contact. I continued to work stations and also chased a few other SOTA activators during my turn.
After an hour or so I had a dozen contacts, more than enough for my activation. I handed over the radio to another operator so she could finish her quota.
Both other operators made their activation of Fairview Peak. It is more difficult when running phone than running code. It is one of the primary reasons I elected to learn Morse Code.
Sunday morning I decided I wanted to be outside. The weather was to be cooler, if more windy. I thought about doing another summit, but decided that the wind would be worse at elevation. Therefore I elected to do a park activation.
The Girl and I had breakfast, I finished cleaning up the dishes, and I put a load of laundry in. I grabbed the Discovery TX-500 transceiver and PA500 amplifier and carried them out to the rig. The Girl and I headed out and I noticed the wind was already up. I knew it was going to be windy at the lake.
I decided to activate Washoe Lake State Park again. I intended to do some testing of a new off-center fed dipole, but decided that it was too windy. So I used the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in vertical configuration again. It is one of my go-to antennas.
Before setting up the station, The Girl and I had a nice walk along the shore of Washoe Lake. There were lots of pretty flowers. A very pretty Girl posed for me in the flowers, and then went on a crazy roll to demonstrate she is no lady.
On return to the rig, I put down her mat so she could be comfortable while I deployed the station. I put up the antenna near the water and brought the coaxial cable back to my table. I got out the Discovery TX-500 and the PA500 and assembled them. I also put out a solar panel to keep the 4.5Ah Bioenno battery charged.
I staked the solar panel down. The wind was rising! After getting everything assembled (a few minutes), I put The Girl in the rig as it was just too windy.
I checked in to the 40m Noon Net (7.2835MHz) to confirm the station was working. Then I chased a few POTA activators on phone. When I tried CW mode, the monitor level from the TX-500 was too low for me to hear my sidetone. That meant I could not be sure I was sending correctly, having no audible feedback.
So, after futzing with that for awhile, I put the TX-500 away and got out the Elecraft KX2. I know this radio and was able to run my frequency easily. I completed my quota with a couple of stations to spare.
I was freakin’ miserable. The wind was strong enough to make me cold, even in the lee behind my rig. I was sandblasted. I was worried the antenna might fail. My hands were cold so sending was difficult.
When other operators stopped answering my call, I paused for a few minutes to see if there would be any stragglers. Then I posted myself QRT (done) and started putting away my station. Again, this took only a few minutes.
I then got The Girl out of the rig for a final walk (very short) and made an image of the lake shore. The wind was strong enough that the lake retreated from the western shore by about ten feet. That meant there was enough setup of the lake surface to lower it on my side by three or four inches. (It would be three or four inches higher on the lee side of the lake as well.)
I knew that this is an observable physical phenomena. It is one reason why dams have freeboard required (extra height from the nominal water surface elevation to the dam crest). Winds can push the water around and by more than one might think. This was a perfect example, in real life, of something I have known was possible my entire professional career.
How cool is that?
In any event, I came away with a few lessons:
Setting up and operating in marginal conditions is an important part of training for operations when conditions are poor.
I have a guying kit for the MPAS 2.0 vertical. I should get it out and test it. It would have been a good addition to Sunday’s deployment.
Be prepared to stake things down. I staked the solar panel Sunday. If I had not, then it would have blown away.
Even if the weather looks good, always have a cover to keep warm. It is possible to get cold even when the temperature is 70°F.
I must figure out how to adjust the monitor volume on the TX-500. If I cannot hear the sidetone, I cannot reliably send code.
Always have an alternative setup planned. Redundancy is the key to making an operation work. In this case, it was having an alternative antenna (the vertical) and a backup radio (the KX2).
It would be good to have the ability to make hot drinks and hot chow in the rig. If I (or someone else) gets cold, then hot chow will help get me warm again. I have a spare campstove and kettle. I just need to put them into the rig.
Always have a few spare parts at hand. I needed an coaxial cable adapter and had to scrounge one from another radio kit. I should assemble a small kit of adapters and jumpers.
I suppose there are more lessons learned this couple of trips. I need to start a new list in my notebook.
In the end, it was a very good weekend. I spent time outdoors. I spent time with The Girl. We spent time with friends. I operated the radio.
So much has happened over the last couple of weeks. I changed my mind about dragging the camper to Missouri. I made the repairs the camper needed. I prepared everything for my trip out here, including enough projects to keep me busy for a month. Then, a day late, I made the trip out here, attended my 50th high school reunion, and returned to Springfield to recover.
There were three repairs to the camper.
Swap out the left tire with the spare, check the bearings, and move the worn tire to the spare.
Troubleshoot the electrical problem with the ceiling lights and the Fantastic fan.
Remove the microwave from its cubbyhole and repurpose the area for storage.
I think my tire problem was from chronic underinflation. On reading the sidewall, I think the tires are about at maximum load. Therefore, I need to keep them at 50psi unless I am on-trail and need to air down for ride and flotation.
The electrical problem was not the converter; it was a loose spade connector on the interrupt switch at the front of the camper. There is a switch that disconnects the ceiling lights and Fantastic fan when the lid is down. I was lucky to find it. It is the kind of problem that can be maddening.
I do not use the camper’s microwave. In fact, I do not use a microwave that much at all. I will use it to warm soup, stew, or chili at home. But I generally reheat food in a pan and just watch my fire so I do not burn my dinner. The same is true in the camper. I reheat food in a pot or pan and monitor it so I do not ruin it (or make a mess in the pan).
Removing the microwave increased my storage space by about 30 percent. That was a huge gain and means I can keep more things put away.
All that took me a couple of days. With the smoke, both my health and my energy level were affected. I had a hard time being motivated and feeling well enough to do this work. But it had to be done and I pressed forward.
Then I assembled everything I wanted to bring with me. I have several radio projects that need some attention, including a repair of the PX3 panadapter for my Elecraft KX3 system. The main encoder is worn out. I have a replacement and the tools to make the repair. I just have not had time or motivation at home.
There are several small antenna projects I want to work on. Older Son is a good candidate to help with those because he is both a ham and is interested. Those are good builds for both of us.
I also brought some work with me. I still have work to do on a couple of reports and am guiding work on a new project in the Tahoe basin. I am spending time each day on that work.
Sera, AKA The Girl, also needs attention and exercise. Both of those are good for me as well.
In any event, I got through the preparation, got the camper and the rig loaded, and we left Sunday morning after a walk and a shower. I dry-camped the first night (and that was absolutely gorgeous) west from Ely, Nevada. The second night I planned to camp just north from Delta, Colorado. But when I approached the campsite, I saw that there was work on US 50 east from Montrose. When I checked the website, I learned that the road was open for the weekend, but open only three hours each day during the week.
I knew I would not get through and did not want to backtrack, so we pressed on through Delta and Montrose to Gunnison. There I was too tired to camp so I rented a hotel (Rodeway) for too much money, got a shower, and slept. At least the breakfast was decent.
I used municipal campgrounds the remainder of the way to Missouri. I find many small towns have a small campground where one can rend a space, usually with electricity and often with water, for ten bucks a night. This is good for the community because campers will spend a little money in town and the cost to the town is minimal.
Sera and I spent one night in Springfield, Missouri, with my kids. Then I headed to St. James for my 50th reunion. My best high school buddy and his wife camped at the Meramac Springs campground, so that is where I stayed. It is a gorgeous campground and the camper was comfortable with shore power to run the air conditioner.
I enjoyed a meal with my friends and with another friend from high school. Some of my classmates treated me well when I was in high school. A few were openly hostile. Most just ignored me. It was all good.
We participated in the St. James Grape and Fall Festival parade. Yes, I rode the float with my class t-shirt on. I laughed with a few of my compatriots and waved at a few folks that I recognized along the route. It was worth the effort.
The reunion supper gathering was what I expected. Most of the class have mates and the couples gathered with their respective friends. I sat with my buddy, his wife, and another friend for supper. We talked and told stories and laughed through the meal. I visited with a couple of my classmates that I specifically wanted to see after 50 years. It was good.
Now I am back in Springfield, working a little, enjoying my kids, and enjoying my dog. I am waiting for a contract to be executed so I can make a field visit in south Texas before I think about heading home. Actually, I can stay here for a few weeks if I want to. There is no pressing obligation back home at the moment. I have plenty to do and I have what I need to do it.
For the last couple of days, I have been recovering. It was a lot to get ready and get here. The weekend was pretty intense.
I am really satisfied that I decided to come to the reunion. It was a good thing.
The NJQRP Club hosts an annual event for low-power (QRP) radio amateurs. The event lasts four hours and the objective is to make as many contacts with other low-power operators as possible.
QRP generally means five watts or less for CW Mode (Morse Code) operators and 10w or less for voice (phone) operators. Operations can be home or portable.
With only a few watts to work with, signals can be very weak and operating in a low noise environment with a good antenna becomes important to making contacts. Because of the noise at my home, I usually operate portable. I have some favorite places to set up my portable station and play radio.
This morning I woke about my normal time, rose, made a cup of coffee, and working through my morning routine. I decided to get out and walk Sera, then go up in the Pinion Hills and set up a station and play a little.
It was smoky this morning, but not as bad as it has been. The day promised to be smoky and hot, with afternoon temperatures near 100F. We got in a good walk and then headed for the operating point just after 0930h local.
On the way, I decided to deploy my kit-built EFHW in an inverted “L” configuration using a 10m telescopic mast. I found a anchor point for the mast (an old juniper tree that was cut off at about 4ft. I ran the wire from the wire winder along the mast, tied it off near the top of the mast, and then lashed the mast (and vertical portion of the wire) to the juniper. I tied a bit of cordage to the end of the wire and used that to tie off on another juniper, forming the leg of the inverted “L.”
This is a good antenna and is reasonably tuned to resonate on 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m. The 30m band was not in the band plan for the event, so there was no loss not having access to the 30m band.
I deployed my Elecraft KX2 with power from a 4.5Ah Bioenno LFP battery and a PowerFilm foldable solar panel. (I was not sure of the state of charge of the battery.) Given I was going to run only 5w, I knew that power usage would be minimal. My station was set up in the shade of the open hatch of my 4Runner.
Doggo was tired and hot, so she laid in the dust out of the sun. I moved an old furniture blanket to give her some relief from the dust. I also retrieved water and her bowl from the rig and both of us got a drink.
I was about an hour late getting started. I am not a serious contester anyway. I just like to play some radio. I started by searching for a few SOTA (Summits on the Air) activators, but quickly noticed two things: First, some kind of contest was ongoing and there were a lot of stations on the air. Second, I heard a couple of stations calling “CQ BZZ” and that meant I could hear Skeeters!
So I abandoned the SOTA chase and focused on the skeeters! I had not prepared a digital log, so paper would have to do. I worked the runners steadily, looking for the loudest first since they were easier to copy. The operators were patient with me as my code skills are still developing. I noticed that a few operators were running slowly, so I added some space between characters to give them a chance to copy my callsign and information. Good operators accommodate slower operators. It is the right thing to do.
Over the course of the next three hours, I logged a dozen contacts. The farthest was in Florida, which is not bad for five watts. I spent most of my time on the 20m band as that is where I heard them. I checked 40m and 15m, but heard no skeeters calling.
Tired, hot, and hungry, I shut down about 1350h local. There was only another ten minutes and I was ready to be out of the heat. So was The Girl.
I took my time packing the station, gave The Girl some more water and drank some myself. The smoke had worsened as the day wore on.
I put the transfer case in 4L and we eased back down the trail to the pavement. Then I switched back to AWD and we drove over to DQ for a bite and a treat. Of course, I ate dessert first (love me some Blizzard) and shared with The Girl. (I always share with her.) Then I nibbled at some chicken strips and shared those with her as well.
It was a good day, despite the heat and smoke. Some of the contacts were difficult, requiring multiple repeats. The signal would fade into the noise and I could only copy part of the exchange. But we worked the radio waves and made the exchange.
One operator called me over the runner’s frequency just as I finished working the station. I thought “how rude!” (oh my, that sounded like Jar Jar Binks!) and did not answer the call. I am not quite sure how I should have handled that call. Perhaps I should have sent “up one” and changed the frequency. I do not know but will ask one of my more experienced operator friends.
In all, I made 12 contacts in 10 different states/provinces. The KX2 performed. I practiced my code. I had fun, even if some of the exchanges were a challenge. I think that is part of the fun or radio and QRP (low power).
After walkies on Friday morning I met Tom for a radio demonstration. He wanted to see my RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) setup and see my Elecraft KX3 in action.
Tom is interested in portable operations and that is about all I do. Lately I setup my little radio, the Elecraft KX1 (a four-band CW-only transceiver), with a random wire antenna to a 6m mast. I use the counterpoise wires from the Elecraft AX1/AXE portable antenna as the radiator (40m counterpoise) and counterpoise (20m counterpoise) to form the random wire antenna.
So I used this approach with the KX3 setup. When I checked into the 40m Noon Net (7.2835MHz), I noticed the KX3 threw a “High Current” warning and rolled the power back to 5w. That sent me on a hunting expedition later in the day.
I think the 40m counterpoise from the AXE is too close to 10m long, which is one-quarter wavelength at 40m and a half-wavelength at 20m. That’s not going to work because a half wavelength will be resonant and the impedance will be too high at the end of the wire.
I remembered seeing some work on random wire antennas (which really are not so random in length) so I retraced my path through the Internet. Mike, AB3AP (https://udel.edu/~mm/ham/randomWire/), wrote a small C program and a Matlab/Octave script to calculate the wire lengths NOT near a half wavelength.
I tried to get the Octave code working once before, but failed. This morning was too smoky to be outdoors, so I worked on it some more. I was able to get the code working and calculated the wire lengths that will work for my application. I decided on a 17ft counterpoise and a 42ft radiating element. That should work for 10m–40m on the ham bands.
With the target length of wire, I gathered up my materials (wire, open terminals, shrink tube, mast ring, and link) and tools (diagonal cutters, pliers, wire stripper, crimper, soldering gun and solder) and laid my 100ft tape measure on the floor of the garage. The counterpoise (17ft long) was easy and readily completed.
The radiating element required a little more engineering. I wanted to affix a tab that will fit on the top section of my telescoping masts. I also wanted to affix a link and leave a leader so I can add another 42ft of wire if I want an 80m antenna.
I decided to use a larkshead knot with shrink tube to make the antenna-to-mast connection and also a larkshead knot and shrink tube to fasten the tag to the link. If I add another section of wire for 80m, then I can use the link for strain relieve and an Anderson Powerpole connector or a pair of alligator clips to connect the two segments. I think the 80m add-on radiator will be something I deploy occasionally so I want the ability to attach and detach it when needed.
After a couple of hours of work, I had the antenna assembled and ready to test. It was too hot and smoky this afternoon, so I will probably test it in the morning after we walk.
It was a fun little project to build. I have a couple more of these planned, including a lightweight end-fed halfwave antenna. I have the matching transformer for that antenna. I just have to work out how I want to engineer the remaining parts.
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.
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 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.