I did post a link to the full write-up including photos/videos etc. in some other topics:
It’s here: http://va3sie.blogsite.org/?p=75
But I thought I should post the text of that update here too in case my web server crashes or you prefer just a plain old text write-up It’s quite long winded, I guess I’m just really excited about SOTA, and the write-up turned out a good tool for me to capture some of the lessons learned which I will take forward to the next activation.
So here’s what I added to my blog, without the pictures & videos:
The Hike Up & Setting Up
I arrived at the base of the mountain at 1420Z, donned my pack, updated my APRS beacon text to say I was hiking up and proceeded to set off down the trail… the wrong trail! Oops. So my first 15 minutes at Mont Ste. Marie was spent hiking a 1km loop which I didn’t have to. It was a good warm-up though!
Once I got my bearings and headed up the correct trail (more of a road really), I put a call out on the VE2REH repeater, and Michael VA2NB was there. Michael is a QRP polar bear (Number 19) He was preparing to head out for Lac Phillipe to work polar bear and summit stations. I chatted with Michael a bit as I was hiking up the trail. About half-way up, I stopped to give my shoulders a rest and take a drink of water. Two thirds of the way up and my leg muscles were thanking me for the climb :-?
I reached the summit after 1-½ hours, having covered 5.6km and climbed 1,036ft (316m). There were two very large radio masts up there as well as a fire tower. I looked around and found a couple of trees to support my antenna masts. There were plenty of trees there though, some of them big enough to support a 31’ vertical, so next time I may not bother bringing fiberglass poles, I may just use the trees as antenna supports.
My pack was pretty heavy, I was carrying: A chair, a 31’ fiberglass mast, a 20’ fiberglass fishing pole, 4 bungee cords, a tarp, a tent fly, a fleece, a wool sweater, a tuque, a thermal blanket, a first aid kit, a compass, 50’ of RG-58/U coax, 50’ of RG-174/U coax, 80ft of #24AWG and 208ft of teflon-coated silver-plated wire, a clipboard, some electrical tape, small tools, and string, 3 spare single-wire antennas, a micropore towel and paper towels in a ziplock bag, waterproof matches in a ziplock bag, two headlamps, spare batteries for the HF radio, VHF H/T and GPS, main batteries for the HF radio, a ziplock back full of samosas, 3 cliff bars, 3 canteens of water, a themarest pad, bright orange marker tape, an Elecraft KX-1 in a padded box, a dummy load, a spare VHF/UHF duckie, a spare straight key, a set of paddles, a set of earphones, a rite-in-the-rain logbook, 2 pens and a pencil.
I reset my beacon text and sent a message through a home brew APRS-to-twitter gateway that I was at the summit then I started setting up the antennas 1600Z. I put the 40m/80m vertical up first followed by the 20m vertical. That went smoother than I expected since the rain had not yet arrived (Tropical depression Ida was on the way!). In the past I used to twist the pole a few times so that the wire was wrapped around it, to keep it from flapping around in the breeze, but with the new linear loading design for 80m, I couldn’t do that, so instead I used 4 little velcro straps every 2 pole segments, to keep the wire nice and tight to the pole. That worked out quite well. I also had to figure out how to keep the wire attached at the top of the mast while raising it vertically since it’s through the eyeloop in this design and not attached to it.
Before I left the house, I attached a small piece of electrical tape stuck to itself mid-way along the 62’ section of wire. I can roll it up to squeeze it through the loop and then let it unroll so it won’t pass back through the hole. Worked great! In order to pass the end of the wire through, I had to remove the solder-less banana plug and re-attach it. This could wear out the wire after a few uses so I need to re-think this aspect of the design. I’m pretty happy though with the result, the radio tuned on 80m just great and it’s a lot easier than any other 80m antenna I’ve played with in the past. In theory it should perform better than a design with inductive loading in the center, but I didn’t have time to confirm that. I was able to elevate all four of the 20m radials at around 6ft and one of the 40m/80m radials (the extra-long one) thanks to well placed trees and bushes.
As I was setting up, I was chatting to Michael on the repeater and another station called me – it was WG0AT Steve, Rooster and Peanut. Looking to set up a sked I think. But when I called Steve back, nothing happened. Michael was also trying to call Steve, we enjoy contacting Steve during Polar Bear Moonlight Madness events and hearing about the latest escapades of Rooster & Peanut (Steve’s Mountain Goats).
I set up my chair, took my KX-1 out of its protective case (a cottonelle container stuffed with latex foam), popped the paddles and earbuds in, attached the batteries (8 energizer lithium primary AA-sized batteries in a radio shack battery holder), strapped it to the clipboard with rubber bands, attached my logbook, updated my APRS beacon text, and tuned to 14.285MHz using the KX-1 cross-mode feature as I remembered many stations saying they would be there.
Right away I noted two things. One was a loud buzzing/hash noise which was present on all bands but which rose and fell in strength as I tuned up the band. I guess that was coming from the communication towers, more likely the power infrastructure which was feeding them juice. I considered walking to the edge of the activation zone, but doing that would place mountain between me and other stations and probably wouldn’t help much because the SOTA organization has defined the activation zone as a 20m elevation below the highest peak, and that would have only gotten me about 100yds away from the towers rather than 20yds, so I decided just to push through it. The other thing I noticed was KI6NN summit station working a pile-up on SSB from Teutonia Peak W6/CD-013. I sent my callsign in CW several times when John called QRZ, but he didn’t hear me. I sent a disheartening twitter update through APRS shortly thereafter.
The APRS tracking worked really well, several SOTA folks commented on my position and status on the reflector which was really cool, I’ll be following up that reflector thread once I get this blog entry done. But I have a big ‘lessons learned’ here: If you’re going to beacon your operating frequency, then you had better keep your beacon text up to date… several times I went QSY’ing up or down the band and forgot to update my beacon text.
Following the failed CW-to-USB S2S attempt I then updated my beacon status to indicate that I was trying 14.060MHz. I did listen around and I didn’t hear any stations on or around 14.060MHz, but I was getting some strong QRM, ( have noticed that other SOTA activators & chasers reported QRM too, maybe it wasn’t just the cellphone towers but I suspect that they were contributing a lot to the interference.
So I sent a couple of QRL? and then went ahead with a CQ call. At this point, two interesting things happened… One was that when your callsign is VA3SIE/VE2/P that doesn’t leave much room in the memory keyer for the rest of the CQ call. What I discovered (but not for a while) was that I was not sending a ‘K’ signal at the end, it hadn’t fit in the message and I didn’t notice it was missing. That must have been confusing to anyone listening! The other interesting thing was that a couple of times I thought I heard some CW but it was very very fast speed, and I’m not sure what it was saying, but just in case it was saying ‘QRL’ I decided to stop CQ’ing there. Recognizing that my noise floor was high, I didn’t want to interfere with any QSO which was already underway, it made me a bit hesitant to transmit.
Anyway no one came back to my 30 minutes or so of trying CQ on various 20m frequencies and I wasn’t hearing any other SOTA or polar bear stations on 20m around 1700Z so I decided to flip over to 40m (the noise was not as bad on 40) and get the requisite minimum four QSOs to legitimize my activation attempt.
I was just watching J.P.’s excellent video and wow! 20m sounded a lot different at the summit of Mont Apica VE2/SG-005 than it did at the summit of VE2/OU-001!!… hmm, thanks cell phone towers :-o (Congratulations J.P. on all those FB contacts !!!)
Around 1730Z, after my 20m activity, Michael VA2NB called me on the repeater. Michael had arrived at Lac Phillipe so I suggested we try a simplex 2m contact, which we did. We had to play around with the antenna orientation a little to be fully quieting and I had to overcome inter-modulation interference from the towers, but we did complete the exchange of summit number and polar bear numbers, so Michael was my 1st contact from the summit.
On 40m I focussed on the strongest stations I could find calling CQ around 7030kHz to 7040kHz, I wanted to get my four contacts! At 1745Z I found Bob, KB3TJS in Lanham and completed a QSO with him. I told him all about SOTA and got an FB.
I then called KZ4G, the Wireless Outback DX Crew in Kentucky who were calling CQ up on 7062kHz, around 1815Z and we exchanged information, I sent them the summit number.
The next contact, I don’t know what happened though, K3IQ was nice and strong at 1830Z from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and I copied the exchange well, but when I came back and sent them all the SOTA summit information etc, there was then just dead air after my ‘K’ signal. No confirmation if they got all that, so I’m not counting that one.
Around 1845Z I received a call from VA3QV (he mentioned me in his blog a few days beforehand – thanks Bob!), Bob was looking to setup a sked for a VHF simplex contact, so I skooted over to a tall boulder stood atop it and tried to catch Bob’s waves out of the ether I heard him really weakly but he was using 50W (?) maybe more, so I knew he couldn’t be hearing my 5W to my rubber ducky antenna. Thanks for trying Bob!
Our simplex attempt was however heard by Pete, VE3YYY (I’m glad we chose to do so on the officially recognized 2m FM calling frequency) and he fired up his radio and made contact with me. I passed the summit number to Pete who was a good 5×9 and a rare grid-square to boot – Glasgow Station, Ontario is in FN15.
So with that, four contacts are in the log and it’s a legitimate activation , so I took a break and ate some samosas and drank some water.
Around 1900Z, with my four activations in the bag, I was able to relax and send CQ for a while, so I sent out one CQ call on 40m and right away I got a call back from Pierre, VE2PID. Excellent, I knew that Pierre would appreciate the summit contact as he is an active member of the VE2 SOTA organization and region manager for the Estrie region in VE2 SOTA. In fact, the last entry in the VA3SIE log with Pierre was also made on a mountaintop – I was hiking Mount Minsi in Pennsylvania and I was resting at the summit when I made that contact too! Pierre I hope your leg is feeling better!!
I made contact with Michael at Lac Phillipe again on the repeater and he was warming himself up with a thermos of soup. It had started raining at Lac Phillipe, so I knew Ida was on the way. Michael mentioned that he had made contact with one of the two VE2 SOTA summits – yipee! – it was Jean at the summit of Mont Habitat in the Laurentides. He also reported having worked a couple of polar bears. So armed with the ’spots’ Michael gave me during our QSO, off I went in search of summits and bears on 40m. It was not to be though, I didn’t hear the stations Michael reported, I did search around a bit and stop and CQ on a couple of different frequencies.
Pierre mentioned he was hearing a lot of QRN, and I knew where it was coming from! With the imminent arrival of Tropical depression Ida the clouds were thickening and the skies were darkening.
I flipped over to 20m and listened around again and I heard the Teutonia Peak W6/CD-013 in Southern California again this time in CW, so with my heart rate increasing and sitting forward in my chair, it was time to try for an S2S (Summit-to-Summit) contact. The first couple of times I sent my callsign, Jim didn’t pick me up but then I heard VE2? and we were off to the races.
Summit to Summit – Great!
With the interference from the cell phone towers and their associated equipment and the QRN from Ida, it was tough going. Jim reduced his speed which helped a lot and finally we were each able to piece together a contact a few characters at a time. The good thing about running 1.5W is the size and weight of the transceiver and batteries. But it has its down side! After much back & forth, I had all the information I needed and Jim didn’t ask for additional repeats, so my first S2S QSO at 1923Z was in the bag too, what a hoot!!
I spent the next 30 minutes alternating between a few minutes of CQ and searching for more stations on 40m, I was particularly trying to find the other 2 VE2 summits but with no luck. I felt a few drops of rain, and realized that Ida had finally arrived, and it was time to leave I wanted to complete the hike out in daylight, so I ran over and gave the 80m configuration of my antenna quick try, I was curious to see if it would tune up – it did!
So with the arrival if inclement weather and with reduced visibility and the onset of dusk, realizing it was going to take a while to get packed up, I got started. Why is it that I keep losing the rubber ends from my Jackite poles? I have lost four of these so far. They seem to evaporate when used for outdoor amateur radio activities Oh, well… It was a challenge to get everything back into the pack without filling it with rain water!
In my haste I accidentally got my VHF H/T into a strange mode where it was changing the volume simultaneously on both bands and I knocked it off frequency, when I tried to tune it back to the repeater, it would change the volume level not the channel, and my pack was sitting open hungrily sucking down raindrops, so I ignored the radio and concentrated on getting packed up, which ended up taking about 45 minutes.
As I started on the hike back down the mountain at 2100Z, I figured out that holding down the volume button allowed me to change the channels and when I got it back to the repeater, Jim VE3XID was closing the Colorado link. Jim had been monitoring APRS traffic and also mentioned that there were some messages from WG0AT to me but I hadn’t received any.
In fact now that I check aprs.fi there were several messages which were sent to me, none of which I actually received :-? , including from several from Maurice André at the VE3JW station located at the Canada Science & Technology museum in Ottawa.
I wish I had received those, Maurice André was kind enough to spot VE2JCW (I see now) on 40m shortly after my QSO with Pierre. In fact, aprs.fi shows that particular message was digipeated by VE3REH-3 which was on one of the cellphone towers nearby, so I must have messed up some setting in the radio causing me to not receive messages. Oops :oops: … many thanks to those stations who did try to send me messages.
As I continued to hike down the mountain, Jim VE3XID kept me company, we chatted about many subjects, and then Michael VA2NB called in, and we kept in touch while we both hiked out. It was a great security to be in touch with two others who knoew exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing! In fact we discussed the the topic of planning for the worst case scenario, it was an interesting discussion. I realize that while having a compass along is a good idea, not having a paper map in a waterproof map carrier would have made GPS-free navigation a challenge.
The hike out took 50 minutes and it was getting really dark as I arrived at the car, so my timing was spot on (although it’s a wide road so it would probably have been okay to hike in the dark).
I had a blast with this Summits on the air activation! Now I need to go and submit my log to the SOTA website and prepare some QSL cards.
Wow! I had tons of fun, thanks to all.