They won me over with their customer service!

I’m a pretty tough guy to satisfy.  I am especially picky with online businesses that are new to me.  So I was initially a little skeptical when I placed an order with Bioenno Power out of Southern California.  I liked their product offerings on their website but I had never done business with them before.  To my absolute surprise, they turned out to be fantastic!!  Not only are their products outstanding but their customer service is off the charts superbl.  Take a look to find out the details!

Why my antenna failed during my recent SOTA Activation

This past Sunday on April 30th, I attempted to activate Mount Arab (W2/GA-095) but due to the weather and the failure of my antenna I was unsuccessful.  Since I posted my video, I have received a number of questions regarding why the failure occurred and what actually happened.  So I decided to post another video on YouTube to explain what happened that caused my antenna to fail.  Please feel to leave a comment or better yet subscribe to my YouTube Channel to get notified of new videos that I will be posting in the future.

Adapting my pack for SOTA

After my last failed attempt to activate the St. Regis Mountain Firetower, I did a lot of thinking about how to improve the experience and help my chances for success. As I learned, there were multiple issues that were related to me having a very heavy backpack (approx. 42 lbs). So my focus over the past few weeks has been to find ways to rethink the items that are relevant for SOTA and the hike and trim the fat out of my pack. I also took a look at how I could change items to reduce weight for these required items.
The very first thing I did was completely change my antenna system. Although I love my Buddipole, it is just too heavy and bulky for me to carry up a steep summit. So I switched out my Buddipole for a Packtenna system that includes a Packtenna Mini 9:1 and a Packtenna fiberglass pole along with some accessories. Bottom line on this, I was able to reduce the weight by over 6 lbs. by moving to the Packtenna system.
The second big change was getting rid of the stuff that was really not needed. For example, I brought two large tarps, 6 caribiners, 4 days of food (for an afternoon hike), 4 liters of water (again for an afternoon hike), and a bunch of other items that were just not needed.
So I purchased two scales, a small kitchen scale that can handle up to 5kg and a luggage pull scale that can handle up to 50lbs. I also found a website called lighterpack.com (thank you to a You Tuber named Sintax77) and started weighing and categorizing everything that is going into my pack. Here is the output from my lighterpack list:

I weighed the bag to verify and it is very close to the lighterpack weight so I am very hopeful that this will help me hike up the summits a bit easier and therefore give me more time at the summit to complete my activation. I have two SOTA activations planned for April 23rd, Mount Arab and Azure Mountain!

First Bench Test of the Yaesu FT-817ND with Digital

I finally decided on a radio for my SOTA and ADK Fire Tower Challenge activations that will be starting soon.  Based off of many reviews, some consideration to budget, and a lot of consideration on simplicity and usability, I decided on the Yaesu FT-817ND.

Coming from a having owned all Kenwood’s, I am taking a very deliberate approach to learning how to operate my new 817.  With a little practice, I should be proficient on the rig and ready for the field within a few weeks.

However, I had one concern about the 817, that is, until I completed my first bench test today.  The Yaesu FT-817Nd has a maximum transmit power of 5 watts and if you are using the internal rechargeable battery pack, it defaults to 2.5 watts of output. So today, I decided to do a bench test to see how well it would perform with a TX power of 2.5 watts. My first test was to see how far I could log a report on PSK Automatic Propagation Reporter using JT65. So I hooked my radio up my Buckmaster OCF 7 band through a Z817 Antenna Tuner. Using my SignaLink, my linux laptop running WSJT-x and FLRIG I started the bench test of my radio.

I started on 20 meters with JT65 by calling CQ a few times and by answering a few CQ’s from various places around the US.  After about 15 minutes, I was not able to make a contact but I was quite happy to see the reports on PSK Reporter.  I got reports across the US and Canada into Western Europe and into the lower part of the South America!!  I conducted this test with only 2.5 Watts of power and with band conditions that were definitely sub optimal.  I also conducted the same test on 40 meters and got very similar results.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make a contact on that band either.

Overall I consider this a successful first test of my new radio.  As long as the weather is acceptable this weekend, I plan to take it out in the field, perhaps up to Thompson Park and do some additional tests on this radio along with my buddipole.

 

Delorme InReach SE – Activation Fail! – update

Very excited today to get the Delorme (now owned by Garmin) InReach SE.  The plan is to use this on my hikes for SOTA/ADK Fire Tower Challenge, track my progress, share my tracks, and have an way to make an emergency contact or SOS if the need arises.

Although there is a new version of the InReach coming out any day now called the SE +, I decided that I did not need the upgraded features of the new + model since I have also purchased a new GPS, which is on its way.

I just got home from my ARES/RACES Meeting and could not wait to open the package from Amazon that was waiting for me.

I unboxed the InReach SE and it looks great.  Read the instructions and turned the device on to start the activation.  I fill out the online form, pick the subscription, and then click the “Activate” button…..

TOTAL FAIL!!!!

 

Try looking at this screen for an hour!!  While standing outside in 15 degree weather at 10pm at night.  Did I have a clear view of the sky?  Absolutely!

As of 10:40 tonight.  I have decided to turn the device off via a soft boot and start again.

 

 

This is what I call the InReach Screen of Death.

My next step will be to call support and see what the problem is but it is getting late and it will probably have to wait until morning.

What a complete disappointment.  Hopefully the guys at Garmin or Delorme will get me up and running tomorrow.

Very disappointed.

UPDATE:  This morning I received a notification via email that my InReach support ticket had been resolved.  However, I never submitted any ticket.  This tells me that the Support Folks and Delorme/Garmin became aware of my problem and got to work fixing it.

Sure enough, I brought the SE outside, turned it on and within about 5 min the device was fully activated.  And it works like a charm.  I will plan to do a full review this weekend.

Thank you Delorme/Garmin!

New Radio for SOTA/ADK Fire Tower Challenge

My current HF is a fantastic radio!  My Kenwood TS-480SAT is extremely capable and has all the capabilites that I need.  I love the detachable head and the audio is warm and clear.  However, I do not believe that this radio will work for my planned ADK Fire Tower Challenge and SOTA activations this year.

Yaesu FT-817

So I started looking at a new radio for this use case.  Very quickly, I came upon the well known Yaesu FT-817ND.  This radio is a QRP, 5w radio that covers HF up 10 to 160m along with vhf and uhf bands, 2m and 70cm respectively.  It is extremely compact at 5.3″x 1.5″x6.5″ and only 2.6lbs.  This radio seems perfect for hiking/backpacking for SOTA and the ADK Fire Tower Challenge.  But….

 

With the 817ND being a 5 watt radio, this could be very limiting with QSO’s via SSB.  This leads me to wonder if I should consider Yaesu’s FT-857D or newer FT-891.

 

Here is an excellent introduction to the FT-891 from Universal Radio.

But from the conversation that I started on the SOTA group in Facebook, the consensus seems to be leaning towards running a full power radio on reduced power but not as low at a KX or FT-817ND.

Bottom line for now.  I need to do more research.  I also need to get a handle on the best modes for SOTA as this will also play a key decision in the type of radio I end up buying and using.