Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sheep Mountain (W7M/LM-074) SOTA

Horrible Selfie! I had to get a photo with the SOTA flag so
here it is hanging on my Arrow Beam Antenna.
Peyton and I traveled to Montana on Friday, June 10th. I had hoped to do a lot of SOTA on the way, during and on the trip home. The weather did not cooperate on Friday and family and friends kept me occupied on Saturday. I did make it to Sheep Mountain (W7M/LM-074) on Sunday though. The weather was perfect. I set my alarm to get up at 4 but did not get out of the house until a little after 5; arriving at the trailhead and starting my hike at 6:38. It took me approximately 1 hour to drive to the trail head. See below for driving directions. My parking coordinates were 46.989753, -113.751113. The hike up was 5.15 miles and took me 2 hours and 14 minutes at an easy and steady pace. The first three miles of the hike were easy but the last 1.5 miles is where most of the 2,200 ft of elevation is gained. It had me breathing hard at the top. During the trip I was transmitting APRS and was getting confirmation that my packets were being received. I took a short break at the summit and then began to set up my radio. Today I used the Yaesu FT-817nd, 41' random wire, Elecraft T1 Tuner, and my Palm mini key.

Trip Data for the Hike to the Summit

My trip data on the way up. You can find my GPS tracks at Peak Bagger http://www.peakbagger.com/climber/ascent.aspx?aid=664624 or Everytrail http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=3432600 All of these tracks are recorded by my FitBit Surge. I have found it to be very accurate and gives me a very detailed map when I return home.

SOTA Log

I have went back and forth with ideas for what I would use for my permanent SOTA equipment but that is still to be determined and will likely not be decided in the near future. I love the fact that I can use the 817 for all modes/bands and it has a external speaker. The weight is a little more at 40 oz (I think) but it is not too bad for a day trip. I do not have a CW filter in the 817 but I am still able to make it work. I think that the only time that I would have an issue is if there was a contest going on but then I would just have to settle with other bands and
probably would not have issues. I have many SOTA radios, tuners, keys, and batteries for different conditions, distances etc.

After getting the equipment set up I turned the GoPro on and started to call CQ. I used my Kenwood TH-D72 to send an APRS to SOTA to spot me. I did have full 3G signal from my Verizon cell phone at the top of the peak and could have used SOTA Goat to spot but I always like to stay fresh on different ways to spot myself. The APRS packets were going out well and I was getting confirmations back that my spots had been posted to SOTA watch. I had a total of 17 contacts, 15 of them were on 20m SSB and CW, and 2 of them were VHF contacts. I did try 7mhz but did not have any luck after calling CQ for about 20 minutes. My CW skills were a little rusty and I learned that I need to get back into doing a little more practicing when I am not on the summits. The CW helped though as the conditions were not good enough to pull in N4EX on SSB but was able to make the contact on CW. See the video below to hear the difference.

Summit to Summit Contacts

On Version 1 of the Blog I neglected to mention my Summit to Summit Contacts. These contacts are awesome and no better feeling then working from one Summit to another. Eric (KG7STN) let me know that I had neglected to mention them. Thanks Eric! Where AE7AP was a great contact on VHF, KG7STN was a great 817 to 817 contact with 5 watts SSB! Michael (N1IDN) It was also great working you on CW. See you all on the next one and I look forward to many more S2Ss!

Photo of Rob, AE7AP, near the summit of W7M/HB-039
Rob is a very active SOTA activator in and around Helena,
MT. You can read his blogs at http://www.pnwsota.org/users/ae7ap
The highlight of my day happened just as I was packed up and starting to leave the summit. I had all my equipment packed up and myYaesu VX6 on my belt when I heard AE7AP, Rob, call CQ. I was very surprised to hear him on VHF as I knew that he was planning on being on a summit near Helena. We made the nearly full quieting summit to summit contact and later found that it was 104.3 miles from our locations. I was pretty amazed as I only had the rubber duck on my VX6. I talked with Rob for about 10 minutes and then began to make my way off the mountain.



Radio path for Summit to Summit with AE7AP

We had amazing line of sight for this S2S!

104.3 miles on a rubber duck. Awesome.
I use "HEYWHATSTHAT profiler" for
this information.









I left the summit at 11:50 a.m and made it back to the truck in one hour and fifty minutes which made a faster trip than on the way up. Even on the way back to the trailhead I still had an elevation gain of nearly 500 ft to get up and over a small ridge. For you mountain bike enthusiasts this hike is a also a very popular biking route starting at the Rattlesnake recreation area and on the woods gulch trailhead. There was sign of some bikers making the trip but there was still a little bit of snow and 30-40 blowdowns that would make it a little difficult. One of these days I plan to make the trip in from Rattlesnake and have someone pick me up on the Gold Creek side.

Trip Data for Hike Down

Driving Directions: 

Take I90 east from Missoula for approximately 4-5 miles to exit 109 (MT200). Stay on Montana 200 for approximately10 miles and look for a road sign for Gold Creek. Turn Left on Gold Creek Road. Watch for mountain goats in this area! There is signs for them but keep your eye out because you will see them quite often. Drive approximately 3.5 miles and watch for an un-named left turn. As soon as you make this left you will see a sign "Private Property for 1.3 miles, stay on road." Continue on this road for approximately 7.3 miles until you arrive at a marked trailhead from sheep mountain. 


Equipment Used: 

41 ft random wire antenna
Kenwood TH-D72
Arrow 146/437-10 WBP 

I did setup the Arrow antenna and tried to make a few contacts but did not have any luck on 146.52. I put this information here because I think that it is a great antenna and was part of a 61 mile QSO that I had with Doug (KY7S) from an unnamed peak in Capital Forest to Mount Zion. The Antenna weighs 19 oz. complete but I have been leaving the 440 elements at home and just using it as a 146mhz 3 element beam. It is a great antenna. You could also use it to do satellite contacts which I have been told count for SOTA now. It is a lot of fun. (You can see my Arrow antenna with the SOTA flag hanging off of it on the top picture).

Cell Signal (Verizon)

I had full 3G cell reception at the summit but none shortly after descending or on the drive up to the trail head.

APRS - (Automatic Packet Reporting System)

My Kenwood TH-D72 was working great all the way up the trail. I was hitting APRS nodes in Gold Creek, on Patrick's Knob, and on University Mountain at different times during the hike.

For those who have not used APRS to send a packet to "SOTA" it is a great function to have when there is a possibility that you will not have cell signal at a summit. APRS has worked on about every summit that I have been on. It is a great primary tool and only use a cell as the backup for familiarity. In the video sometimes you can hear a lot of beeping...this is my Kenwood receiving packets from the APRS digipeaters.  The other good thing about using APRS is that family members can use it to track you when they are at home and could be used as a location element in case of an emergency.

Other Miscellaneous Information

A pass is not required at the trailhead.  The trail was in pretty decent conditions after the winter. There were a few places where the trail was difficult to see but with some minor trail finding experience you should have no issues. There were 30-40 blowdowns along the trail but they were easy to bypass by either going over or around.

Activation Video


This is my first attempt at a video on the summit. This one is kind of long but does have a recording of all the chasers that I worked. The only ones that it does not record are the two VHF contacts which is a shame, it would be awesome to see how excited I was to talk to Rob (AE7AP) at 104 miles on VHF! I learned a lot about video blogging by messing with this raw video. I do need some work on editing videos.

As always thanks to all the chasers that work hard about hearing my tiny signal from mountain tops. Without you all I would just be hiking, only about 10 pounds lighter! Thanks again.


73,

Matt (KF7PXT)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

"Bug Hill" (W7W/SO-106) SOTA



Kimber was excited to get a picture with the SOTA flag.
Kimber and I decided to head out of the house and give my wife a chance to get some work done without kids in the house, the others were in school.  She is also venturing into online writing.

"Bug Hill" is a small one point summit that is right off of Highway 8, no more then 10 miles from Olympia. Parking can be found at 47.0345, -1230968. If you park at this location the hike would be about 1.5 miles mostly road, but the last 1/4 mile or so is on a trail through the woods. From doing a little bit of research by using the Geocaches website, I found there is an alternate parking area at 47.0565, -123.0821 that would make the hike a little less than 3/4 of a mile that is all on the road.

This is not the greatest summit as there is really no view from the top except for the tower. If you walk over the Northside of the hill there is a great view of the Olympic Mountains and Summit Lake. 

I think that the band conditions were a little rough today with only 8 logged contacts and fairly poor reports across the board. It seams that radio conditions on QRZ.com have everything below 40m at either "fair" or "poor" for the last few days.  Even so, I am satisfied with the contacts I did get. 

It was great to be back on SSB with the FT-817nd. I also got my first two SOTA contacts on 18MHz today using the 817, it is the first time that I actually had this band as an option. I also tried 15 meters but had no luck getting contacts.



Today, I used the FT-817nd with the Super Antenna MP1. I like this antenna because I can manually tune all bands with the coil and no tuner. It is a little heavier but also works on summits with no supports or trees. I have went back and forth with whether to carry the Super Antenna as I always have a 41ft random wire in my bag and have never found a summit that I was not able to deploy the wire. I have the Elecraft T1 tuner to use with the 41 ft wire. I am sure that I can tune all bands with it. I am going to try and get the T1 to FT-817 remote wire here soon which would make changing bands easier when using the Yaesu. 

I recently purchased a Palm Pico Paddle that is used and it has become my favorite key. I also have a American Morse Porta Paddle II that I really like the feel of, however, it does not like the rain! Now that I live in Washington, in the rainy Northwest as opposed to sunny California, so it has to stay at home indoors.

Kimber had a great time on the summit and spent the time playing with different items in my radio bag and "looking" for geocaches in the area.




Cell Signal
I had decent cell signal from the summit and was able to spot myself with SOTA goat on my Iphone for all of my band changes. (Verizon)

Trail Conditions
Most of the "trails" that I took were gravel roads. Once you get to the tree line there is a small area that has a faint trail and requires some minor bush whacking. Once you are in the trees there is a nice defined trail all the way to the summit. If you use the alternate parking area then you will use gravel roads all the way to the summit. 

Fees:
No Fee required

APRS:
I did not use APRS today so I am not sure if it would have worked. I do suspect it would work fine, since it is in fairly close proximity to good repeaters.













A few more pictures from the trip
A glimpse of Mount Rainier on the way us. Amazing day.
This is on the Northside coming down the mountain. We went this way to find a Geocache and then made our way back to the truck using logging roads. This is a much longer way around. 




Thanks to all the chasers who made this an enjoyable activation. We hope for more SOTA trips in the future and for better band conditions. I hope to have my oldest daughter Lily get her license before the end of the summer. Until then, listen for the kids to call "CQ SOTA" using my call under my supervision in the next couple weeks.

Thanks again,

73,

Matt (KF7PXT)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Beckler Peak (W7W/KG-086) SOTA



Tim (KG7EJT) and I (KF7PXT) on the Summit of Beckler Peak (Photo credit
Tim Nair)



Normally this would be a great view...not much today. (Photo credit Tim Nair)
Tim Nair (KG7EJT) and I summited Beckler Peak (W7W/KG-086) on 21 May 2016. There is no info on SOTA on this summit so I decided to do a quick blog and share my info gained. I traveled to Tim's house and then we took his vehicle to the TH. We started hiking at approximately 1100 and it took us about 1:37 minutes until we were standing on the summit. My FitBit marks our elevation gain at 2,592 ft. as seen below. Our first contact was shortly after 1300 local which was about 30 min later then our planned activation time. Tim started on 146.52 using a VX-6r and I started on 20m with the FT817. Tim started out having to contend with a local contest station but the station was gone quickly and opened up the call frequency. My SSB contacts were very strong but the rain started coming in so I packed up the 817 and switched to the Elecraft KX1 on CW. Strangely enough I did not have many contacts before I decided to pack up the radio and try some VHF. Mainly I just observed Tim on VHF and chatted with Doug (KY7S) on the Gold Mountain repeater 146.62 PL103.5. We tried to work Doug down in Seattle but had no luck on 146.52. Tim has always impressed Doug and I with the success that he has on VHF on the summits! According to SOTA Watch Tim has activated 66 summits, all on VHF. I believe Tim told me that he only had 1 summit that he only worked 3 of 4 stations for the activation. He still gets the first to activate achievement on the summit.

Summary of our assent. Download GPS Tracks at http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=3425455
Summary of our Decent. Download GPS Tracks at http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=3425455

Tim's (KG7EJT) log
Matts (KF7PXT) log
   Cell Signal: 
Both of us had great cell signal from the summit and were able to make a call home prior to departing. I was able to spot using SOTA Goat app on my Iphone. 

Trail Conditions
The trail was in good condition. There was one deep washout about half way up the trail and a couple of blowdowns to maneuver over along the way. We probably had a total of 1/4 mile of snow near the top that was hard packed and easy to walk on.

Fees:
I believe a National Forest Pass? may be required. Tim had the pass in the window so I did not have to worry about it.

APRS:
I did not get any APRS hits on the way up the summit. I was transmitting APRS using my Kenwood TH-D72. I did not try and use it for spotting but I should in the future. I need to continue to use all options for spotting to keep it fresh in my mind.


Driving Directions:
For driving directions it is best to go to WTA at http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/beckler-peak



I had some new chasers today and appreciate everyone. I think I may have had a weird propagation situation with the transition from SSB to CW. Having strong SSB and then weak CW was strange to me. The only thing that changed was the radio. I was using 2 1/2 watts on SSB and almost 3 watts on CW....strange! Thanks Tim for the great trip to an area that I had not gone before. This was my second W7W/KG summit. More to follow as I get up to Snoqualmie pass during my last summer in Washington State and make the move to the East Coast this winter.

I have some vacation time coming up early June and hope to get out on some more summits during my spare time. A trip across the state to Montana from 10-14 June will probably be a big push.

Thanks to all the Chasers that worked Tim and I!

73,

Matt (KF7PXT)




Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hamilton Buttes (W7W/PL-023) SOTA


Peyton and I had decided the night prior to head out and do SOTA with our new FT-817nd. I crammed everything I could think of in the bag in order to try out the new radio with different configurations. In hind site there was two things that I forgot; the six inch cable to connect the Elecraft T1 tuner to the radio, and the 817 instruction manual. Neither of these things would prove to be a deal breaker but they both would have come in handy. Peyton decided not to come with me so I grabbed Charlie and we headed out. About 30 miles down the road I had to turn around realizing that I forgot my wallet; a 1/4 tank of gas was not going to get the job done! Back on the road. I put up a quick alert and headed out. Once on the summit I decided to start with the 817 and the SuperAntenna (since I could not use the T1). Somehow I managed to tune the superantenna perfect with no measurements. As soon as I turned on the 817 I remembered that it was the CA CQP. The bands were flooded with contesters. I decided to head to the top of the band and found that 14.346 was not in use. Before starting to call CQ I thought that I would find a contester and just see if I could work one. I worked K6R with no problems. I spotted with APRS without any issue and started calling CQ. Immediately I heard AC1Z come back to me but I could not seem to get my signal to him...Sorry Bob. I noticed that my meter was not moving much and in the bottom of the radio it only said L1. Time to start digging into the menues. As soon as I figured out how to get the radio putting out 5 watts Tommy (W7RV) was right there waiting. I also asked if he could respot me since I had the trouble. I got a few contacts but the CQP made it tough. I decided to try CW with the KX1 and the longwire adding another 5 contacts to the log. I continued to call CQ but had no takers so I thought that I would pack up and see if I could get to another summit. Road closures kept this from happening but I was able to scout out a couple more possibilities for the next time.

Google Earth Track assesment




Cell Signal: 
Like most of this area you should not count on cell signal. I have verizon and when I was on the summit I had extended analog signal. It was very unreliable though.




Trail Conditions
1 mile trip. Nice wide trail. This trail is shared with ATVs, though none were around today.


Fees:
Pass may be required. This is national forest so a use pass is required I believe. I have a Annual National Park pass that works for all National Fee Areas.

APRS:
APRS was successful at getting my spots out but it did not seem to update my location well when I looked at the site when I got back home.

GPS Tracks:

A short log. Partially due to me learning the radio and partially due to the CA CQP that was just wiping me out. I activated pretty late in the day also.

You can see the 16 minutes between when I spotted and I got my act together with the Radio Power Issue. 




Geocache on the Summit. 

Thanks for coming out and making this a successful activation. Thanks Mike (KE5AKL) for giving me great information on the FT817nd. The next summit I have should be a lot smoother without so many issues. Look for my kids on the air when we are up there. They love hiking, Geocaching, and Radio!


73,




Saturday, September 12, 2015

Kelly Butte (W7W/KG-060) SOTA



Our first view of the Lookout.
I went out with Doug (KY7S) and did a joint activation for NA SOTA weekend to Kelly Butte. We met up at the Bonny Lake Park at 0800 and ride and then Doug drove to the Trailhead. We were at the lookout by approximately 1030. We talked with the lookout attendants and then set up our stations. We did some work deconflicting our working habits but after that everything went well. We were surprised by the amount of Washington activators that we were able to pull in on 146.52 FM. I did not expect there to be this much local activity. Thanks to all the chasers and other activators!



Here is our GPS tracks to the summit. As you notice we had to start a little farther to the south on the road. The forest service has put up a post to stop you from driving up any further. The road portion is an easy walk. After that you hit the switchbacks which will get you winded. Then the short easy stretch to the lookout. 

Cell Signal: 
Cell signal (Verizon) was very spotty on the summit. Sometimes I would have nothing and then I would have some analog. At one time I looked at my phone and saw 4 bars 3G. Crazy cell signal don't rely on it.

Repeaters:
Did not try any repeaters up here. I did make a few contacts on 146.52 FM.





Trail Conditions
1.5 miles great trail. Steep  with a lot of switchbacks.

Fees:
Pass may be required. We put them all on the dash just in case.

APRS:
Worked great from the summit but not so much on the way up


Mount Rainier behind the Lookout

A peek inside

Benchmark

Mount Rainier

20 Total contacts today; 14 of the Summit to Summit.

Check out my points per activation (2.40) If I ever do make it to Mountain Goat I am pretty sure that I am going to have the most summits activated when I make it. I was talking to Doug and saying that some of my 1-2 point summits have been more difficult then my 6-8 point summits. I love just getting onto the Summits!

My summit to summit log for today

Thanks to all the great chasers that make it so much fun out there....and to my wife for giving me a pass!

I realized that this was my first W7W/KG summit that I activated!

Summit information and resources used for planning

I use this app to estimate distances of new trails.

Here is one of my secrets!!! Even if you don't do geocaching take a look at the map. If you manipulate it right up can see every summit out there. If there is a geocache at the top, there is a way to get there. Sometimes if you click on the cache it will even give detailed directions to get there and some good pictures.

Here is an example of some decent directions learned from a geocache. The information was out dated but much of the time it is not.

I link to this site from my blog and from my blog to this site. This site is great because it posts the necessary information straight to the Summit Page.

http://www.cqgma.net/mvs/index.php
Adventure Radio Map View - I like this map as a way to see the summits. It seems more user friendly with filters then the SOTA mapping software.

http://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/interactive/html/map.html
NOHRSC Interactive Snow Information - This is a great tool to see where the snow levels are and what they have looked like in the past on certain dates.

http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/draw/
Put in a route in this site and it will give you a gps file for the information you provide. This works if you want to draw and upload a route into your GPS for use on the trail.

This website will have a ton of information on Washington summits. I use this site often.

Another site with a lot of information. This works great for summits without official trails. Sometimes you can even get GPS tracks off of here.