Introduction: The middle of last week, our fearless leader sent out an email that our intended SOTA activation, Fred’s Peak, was not going to work. Another team member had scouted the area and found a locked gate blocking access to the area.
Therefore, an alternate site, Genoa Peak (W7N/TR-007 and an eight-pointer) would be the target if the group agreed.
I am generally agreeable and am interested more in the activity and the fellowship than the particulars of the event. I knew we would have fun. I knew it would be refreshingly different from my normal routine. I knew the sights would be beautiful. (Now can they not be with Lake Tahoe visible from the site???)
I already had most of my radio gear ready to go, if not well organized. I intended to use the Elecraft KX2, the MiniPackerHF linear amplifier, the Bioenno 12Ah LFP battery and Genasun GV10 charge controller, and a Bioenno foldable 28w panel as the station equipment. I would log my contacts on paper.
What needed to be done was figure out provisions and water for The Girl and myself, get everything staged (so as not to forget something), and gather the last minute needs on departure.
I decided to take a small sandwich, the snacks that are always in my pack, plenty of water, and some iced tea. I would use the Yeti cooler to keep the cold-things cold and figured I would be able to hike back down to the 4Runner at the staging area to retrieve food and drink.
It has been hot here during the day and the west side of my unit is warm until at least 2200h local. So I do not go to bed until sometime between 2200h and 0000h. I knew that getting up early would be a challenge and that I would not get as much sleep, nor would I get an afternoon nap.
But, I got what sleep I could, woke about 0600h, and figured I would be good if I met the rest of the group at the departure area by 0800h. I puttered around a little, drinking some coffee, gathering up a few last things, and generally waking.
The Trip Out: Then I realized suddenly that it was 0700h and it was time to go! The Girl knew I was hustling about, so she woke and her energy level immediately came up. On these kinds of mornings, she will generally avoid food because our routine is that we are back home by noon and she eats a late breakfast. Well, not so this day…
I schlepped the remaining things to the 4Runner, loaded up The Girl, and made a last pass through the house to ensure I did not miss something. Then we headed for the fuel depot to refuel, get some ice for the cooler, and buy a sandwich and drinks for the day.
The cooler filled and secured, I used the iPhone McD’s app to order a couple of biscuits and another coffee. I was still running about a quart low. After I placed my order, I realized that the app put in my order at the north McD’s, not the south store, which took me out of my way. Poop!
So I drove to the north store and checked in for curbside pickup. Of course, it was my day for the s.l.o.w. service. The phone rang… it was Greg…
“How’s things? Are you still planning to come along to Genoa Peak?”
“Yep. I’m picking up a bite and should be there in about ten minutes.”
“Good, see you then.”
About that time, a server brought my goodies. I thanked her and we were off. The drive south through Carson City was a little slow. Carson Street is all torn up for construction. But at least there was little traffic. So I caught up to the group about on time.
We chatted for a few minutes and then were off. The Girl was doing her excited-bouncing-on-the-seat-and-back-seat-and-front-seat thing. I am hopeful that will wear off a little as she gains experience on our trips and gains a little age. But, we will see.
The trip up the hill to the trail was short and uneventful. Once on the trail, the dust was awful. Nevada is normally a dusty place; this powdery dust was worse than usual and my 4Runner looks like it. I think I blew dust from my nose for several days. But the trip was not bad except for a wrong turn that took us up a reasonably sketchy bit of trail. Mike’s pickup had a little trouble traversing one portion, but it was just rough, steep, and rocky other than that.
Setup and Operation: We arrived at the staging area. The hike was about what I expected, something short but fairly rough and steep. I hoped The Girl would not get into trouble on the way up. But there is only one way to learn to be a trail dog and that is to hike trails.
I grabbed my radio pack and then stuffed the battery and solar panel into it. I did not take time to repack the bag nor to examine what was in it before we headed up the trail. I learned an important lesson from this.
Most of our group was already on the trail to the peak by the time The Girl and I headed up. We readily caught up with Subrina and Sharon. Sharon was particularly struggling to get up the trail. I stayed with her a good part of the way to help her with some of the big steps that were required. As we walked together, I thought “It would not be good for her to fall.” The trail was rocky with plenty of scree and a fall (for any of us) would be a bad thing.
Sharon apologized for being slow so many times I finally had to tell her “Stop! I don’t mind walking with you and I’m not in a hurry.”
We laughed about that fact I might have to grab-a-handful-and-push several times on the hike up. We are both old enough and good enough friends that I would have immediately grabbed her had she slipped or failed to make the step. But, eventually she sent me on and I permitted it. She has a right to do things her way without an old man hovering.
When I hit the summit, I took a moment to take it in. I was facing south. To my left was Carson Valley and to my right was Lake Tahoe and its basin. Both were stunning and well worth the trip, even if no radio happened.
I set myself to setting up my station. I found a relatively flat rock not far from a large boulder that I thought would support my telescoping antenna mast. I got out the linked dipole (20-30-40m bands) and started unspooling the wire and coaxial cable from the wire winders. I then affixed the center support and balun to the top of the mast and ran it up. I secured the mast by wedging it next to the large boulder with some smaller rock and walked out the antenna. It was easy to find brush or boulders to secure the ends.
I assembled the KX2 and linear amplifier, added the battery, DC distribution block (fused), and the solar panel. With everything connected, I tested the station and everything was working. I was ready to operate.
In the meantime, the other part of the crew were busy assembling Greg’s DX Commander, an all-band vertical antenna that does not (when properly constructed) require an antenna matching unit, or tuner.
I puttered with the radio a little, sending some Morse Code to determine if a frequency was in use. I checked into the 40m noontime net (via phone). The other station was coming together and they did not need my help.
The Girl and I headed back down the hill to get a bite to eat and some water. The others were kind enough to give her some water from their supply, but I needed water and the bottle I mooched was not sufficient.
So down the hill we went. The Girl scampered ahead, looking for lizards and the chipmunks that live on the summit. I called her back several times because I am so much slower than she is. All-wheel drive is a thing.
We took time to rest a little, or rather I rested while she hunted lizards around the staging area. I made sure she got plenty of water while we were there and decided to carry a liter back up the hill with me.
So we humped it back up the hill, this time with water.
The remainder of the group was ready to go. They got started while Greg headed back for lunch while others activated the mountain.
The Girl was hungry. As usual, she ignored breakfast in her excitement to get on with the day. Sharon is an animal-lover, so she asked “Can she have some cheese?”
“Of course, just make her behave.”
Being hungry, Sera was a little grabby, so I told Sharon how to handle that. “Just palm it if she’s grabby. She knows how to behave, but sometimes needs some instruction.”
The Girl does not get a lot of people food, but she gets a lot of little bits as a treat. I think this also bonds her to her people because we share our food with her. She understands.
When my turn came to operate the radio, I fired up my KX2 and got started calling CQ SOTA. I made several contacts after Greg spotted me on the SOTA network (we had cell service). All of my contacts were phone. I am still too chicken to call CQ with Morse Code. I made my quota quickly and even had a couple of summit-to-summit contacts. Those are fun, even if sometimes difficult to work, and give double points.
After I turned operation over to the next operator, I realized that my linear amplifier was in bypass mode. I could not see the front panel well and missed it. So my contacts were made with five watts — I was in QRP mode. Hah!
Mike got into a rag chew with an operator in San Diego. Most SOTA operators do not get into rag chews, preferring to make the exchange and move on. Not Mike, though. They talked about all kinds of things, especially about vehicles. I was amused.
I got a second shot at operating and this time made sure the linear was inline. That gave me 35 watts and made it a lot easier for other stations to hear me. I made a few more contacts and one more summit-to-summit and then the well went dry.
Teardown and Return: So I turned off the rig, satisfied with the day. It did not take me long to tear down and prepare to repack my pack. This time I took everything out and packed it properly. That made the trip down the summit easier because my load was balanced and the weight low and close to my back.
At the bottom of the hill and at the staging area, for the last time this trip, I paused, wanting a photograph of The Girl and myself at the end of the trip. Another group were standing around visiting and enjoying the day. So I asked.
“Would one of you please take a couple of pictures of my dog and me?”
A large man smiled and stepped over to us, “Sure.”
“I assume you know how to run one of these,” I asked as I passed my iPhone over to him. He smiled and nodded. Then he proceeded to make a few images of my dog and me. She was still in patrol mode, but we got one good one of her looking at the camera.
He handed back my iPhone and The Girl immediately began greeting the group. They asked me all about her, what breed was she, where she came from. So I told her story, at least what part of it I know, while she absorbed all the attention and affection.
[Soapbox] People think pit bulls, and all the bully breeds, are nothing but aggressive dogs who should be banned and destroyed. Those who know the breeds understand their breed traits and work with those traits to help these dogs become the wonderful companions that they can be. [End soapbox]
They went back to their visiting. A couple of other groups drove in, stayed a bit, and wandered off. I waited.
Before much time passed, I saw the rest of the group heading over the summit and back down the trail. The two female members of the group struggled with the steepness of the trail. I was particularly concerned about Sharon. But she had help, took her time, and made it just fine.
They stowed their gear and we headed back down the trail, this time avoiding the sketchy portion for the better trail. Once down in the trees, Greg found a wide spot in the trail and pulled off.
“Who wants wine?” I had to laugh. I have not been known to turn down a glass of red wine. Greg likes red wine, too. I pulled out a folding chair from the back of the rig and plopped into it. The Girl immediately took to hunting. So I watched to make sure she did not wander off too far. She is doing really well.
We talked and laughed and drank a little wine and enjoyed the coolness of the forest after all the sun of the day. My knees were a little sunburned given they do not get much sun on my daily outings. Well, they did this day.
The wine bottle empty, the snacks gone, and everyone tired we saddled up for the short drive (for some of us) home. I stopped by the Aloha liquor store and bought a sixpack of Coronas and a bottle of Cognac. I intended to celebrate the day a little after I got home, stowed the equipment, and showered.
Lessons Learned: I learned a few things on this activation. They are:
- Always, always, always carry some water. Even for a short trip from the rig.
- The pack carried a lot better on the way down, after I unloaded and repacked everything. I need to mind my pack and how it is loaded.
- I can probably do these activations with a lot less radio. I think I should try working with just the KX2 and a wire antenna. I could do an end-fed half wave or just a random wire. I would still need a mast for many locations, but it would lighten my load a lot.
- Operating a SOTA activation with more than one radio is difficult. We could not both operate at the same time. My KX2 would bypass the receiver to protect the itself.
- I should put some orange tape on the cap of the telescoping mast. A black cap is easily lost in the shadows of gray rocks.
- I should wrap the bottom section of the telescoping mast with something protective. I have a roll of orange Gorilla Tape that would work and would make the mast easy to see if I put it on the ground.
- I need some kind of platform to work on. I could not see the front panel of the linear, so I made a few mistakes along the way. A working platform would also mean I could have a low chair to work from.
- I need water bottle carriers on the sides of my radio pack. I should carry at least a couple of liters of water and a foldable dog bowl… always.
- I should have completed my activation while the others were assembling the second station. I could easily have filled my quota for the day and then torn down my station and just played. DoH!
It was a great day, a good activation, and I am grateful. I leave the story with a view of Carson Valley from my operating position.