Another SOTA Activation Attempt — Mount Arab W2/GA-095

A wonderful hike to the top of Mount Arab.  The weather started out a bit cloudy with a few sprinkles and the temp was in the low 40’s.  Not too bad for this time of year. However everything changed once we got to the summit.  The rain and the wind kicked up and caused my antenna to fail and then have a small break.  The break is easily fixable but it ended my SOTA Activation Attempt.  I am disappointed but not discouraged.  I will be back!!

My First SOTA Activation — W2/GA-212!!!

What a day yesterday was. My son, his girlfriend, and I, hiked up Azure Mountain and I had the goal of activating this summit while we were up there. The hike was pretty short at 1.1 miles but it was a pretty steep climb. There was quite a bit of mud, as you can imagine after all that snow, which slowed us down a little.
Once we got to the top, I dropped off my rock (wait for the video), took in the marvelous views, and then started setting up my rig. I was able to find a dead standing tree, which I strapped my Packtenna pole to, connected the wire of the Packtenna Mini (9:1) and raised it up and then connected to my antenna tuner and radio. This took me 7 minutes. I noticed that there was some wind, so I spent an extra 3 minutes to tie off a couple guy lines to make the sure the antenna didn’t blow over.

I was on the air in 10 min flat after I sat down and made myself comfortable. The first thing I did was use my HT to sent an alert to SOTAWatch via APRS. I started out on 40m but could not make any contacts, so after about 15 min. I moved to 20 m (14.285), sent another SOTAWatch alert, started calling CQ, then voila my very first SOTA contact K4MF. I was actually a little tongue tied but I got through it. I made contact with W0MNA then KI4SVM and then silence. For about 3 minutes nobody answered back my CQ’s. I thought just one more, please. Then the call sign came NG6R from Los Angeles came back. I received him at 59  but he could only receive me at 33 (not bad for 5 watts and a wire), but regardless the contact was made and I met the 4 minimum contacts for my first summit activation!!

I am totally hooked on this now. I can’t wait to do it again!!

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!

Hiking St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower and First SOTA Attempt (fail)

On April 1st, my son Cooper and I decided to hike St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower as part of the ADK Fire Tower Challenge.  St. Regis is also a Summit On The Air Summit, W2/GA-061 so I also decided to make this my first attempt at a SOTA Summit Activation.

A good buddy of mine, who is a soccer coach, tells his players, “You either win or you learn”.  Well that is exactly what I ended up doing on this trip… a lot of learning.  I will let my video give you all the details but bottom line, I was not prepared for the SOTA Activation and ultimately failed at that part.  However not all was lost.  I got to hike a gorgeous mountain and spend some time with my son Cooper.  And…I was able to complete my first Fire Tower Hike in the ADK Fire Tower Challenge.  One down, Twenty-Two to go!!!

 

Hiking the Inman Gulf Loop – Good Prep for SOTA

Been a while since my last post.  Work has been crazy and I have had to travel to Minnesota, DC, and Milan over the past few weeks.  So I was so excited when my son and his girlfriend agreed to go on a snowshoe hike with me to a nearby trail called the Inman Gulf Loop.

The full Inman Gulf Loop is an easy 6.9 mile hike that is a combination of trail along the ridge of the Inman Gulf that includes a walk along William’s Road.

We chose a slightly shorter version of the loop because we were going to have to snowshoe the entire hike.  Me being a first time snowshoer, my son and his girlfriend felt it would be better to take a shorter hike.  It just so happens that it was a good call because we started late and almost ran out of daylight.  Another reason that it was a good call was because I wanted to carry a 35lbs backpack with me to help me prepare for my plans to start activating the ADK Fire Towers with SOTA.  The typical Fire Tower is about a 5 mile in and out trail and I will probably have between 30 and 40lbs on in my pack.  As it turns out, we snowshoed  5.1 miles in moderate snow.

The scenery is really beautiful.  The gorge has is made up of sedimentary rock and over time the river has carve into the rock and created a mini Grand Canyon!  You can see all of the various layers and we agreed that sometime in the near future, we will try to find a way to the bottom of the gorge so we can better examine the lower land and look for fossils.

For those who get vertigo, this may not be the trail for you.  We had a few technical areas with the snowshoes where if you lost your footing, you could end up falling a long way down into the gorge.  But overall the views were spectacular.

One characteristic of the area is that the land is not flat.  My GPX file does not show the topographic lines clearly enough but much of the trail is up and down, which really gave me a workout.

After following Oak Rim for quite a ways we came across the John Young Trail.  Since the day was starting to move along, we wanted to get back to the car before we lost daylight.

Although, motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail, we happened to come across a snowmobile trail which made our hike quite easy and a blast to walk.  I became mesmerized by the sound of our snowshoes crunching through the snow.  It was a very peaceful walk.

After about a mile on the John Young, we came to the end of the trail.  We had a good laugh at the condition of the trail sign, which has definitely seen better days!!

You could argue that this sign has more than its fair share of character!  We are thinking that maybe this summer we will come out for a day to help build some signs and make the trail a little easier to follow.

Overall this was a great hike.  It was my first snowshoe hike and I am already disappointed that winter is coming to a quick end and I may have to wait until next year before I can snowshoe again.  I was very pleased that all the walking I have been doing helped me handle this trail.  So I think I am ready for the physical aspect of the hiking that will be required for SOTA.

The biggest benefit from this hike??  Getting to spend time with one of my boys and his girlfriend.  My son Cooper got accepted into the University of Buffalo and will be heading off before I know it so it was great to spend a fantastic Saturday hiking in the woods with them.  Hope to a lot more of this when I kick in high gear in the spring for the ADK Fire Tower Challenge and SOTA.

 

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.

 

Hiking the Black River Trail to prep for SOTA/ADK Firetower Challenge

It was 52 degrees here in Watertown, NY today.  For the middle of February, this is down right balmy. A great day to be outside.

I have been adding miles by walking the streets of Watertown multiple times a week, averaging about 12 miles a week.  I am now changing my training and looking to add miles, and to start carrying a backpack to add load for strength and endurance.

So with the beautiful weather, my wife and I decided to hike the Black River Trail in Black River NY.

The trail head starts on Woodard Road directly off of RT 3.  The trail follows the Black River for about 4 miles.  We have never been on this trail before so we did not know what to expect.

Once we got past the trail head we quickly realized that the trail had been walked on extensively during the day and the snow was slushy and really difficult to walk on.  We had to deal with this slush for about a mile.  Because not many people had gone past a mile, the trail quickly changed to deep, heavy, and wet snow.

Regardless of how difficult the trail was to walk, we saw some beautiful scenery which made it completely worth the trip.

The river had only a little ice on the banks and was absolutely beautiful.  We could hear the runoff from the hill flowing into the river.

About 2 miles on the trail, we stopped for a few minutes to take a rest.  Then decided to turn around and head back.

Carrying the 30lb back pack really made the hike a challenge.  Especially in the slush and the deep snow.

All in all the hike was an excellent workout.  We hope to add additional trails in the coming weeks hopefully with a little climbing.

Since the trail is a “there and back” trail, we did not walk the full length.  Next time we plan to hike the entire trail.

 

 

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.