Well THAT was interesting! Since the weather was being cooperative, it seemed like a good idea to get out and field test some of the SOTA gear I had been assembling. I’d set aside the winter months to get things pulled together to start doing activations, and it looked like all was ready for a trial. Mt Agamenticus is doubtless the easiest summit available near me that is open during the winter, so it got the nod for today.
Rig is Yaesu FT857D, turned down to 5 watts, an inverted Vee linked dipole (10,17,20,30,40M) made of DX wire on a 31 foot Jackite extensible pole. Straight key (navy flameproof on a base) and upgraded mic (put in electret element), all powered by a Battery Tender 18A/hr LiFePO battery.
Summit was in good shape, with only patches of snow, and I found a spot about 100 meters from the visitor center at the peak, facing toward the inland US. It will be interesting to try the other side for Euro DX next time. The operating position was just enough below the summit to be blocked toward Europe, so it’s not surprising that no DX was heard. Temps were around 7C with mild breeze. Nice enough when Mr Sun was out, but sapping heat pretty quickly when the clouds moved in.
Some 20 contacts made on 40 and 20 meters, most SSB, some CW. Looks like I goofed on a couple of my manual log entries, as my double checks for callsigns turned up 2 that didn’t seem to match. Need to be more careful and watch legibility. It was tricky juggling the key on a knee and a scratchpad at the same time. Maybe a key/clipboard combo is in my future! Apologies to any who didn’t make the official log.
So… my first activation! What an eye-opener in terms of antenna performance when you have some altitude and line of sight. 5 watts was getting great reports in neighboring states and decent reports further out. Band conditions seemed to be a bit odd, which might have contributed to the difficulty in getting to the western states today. Might have needed to shift bands. It was a shakedown run and I didn’t want to do too much running back and forth, so I stuck with 40 and 20 today. XYL got cold (and so did I - my CW sending was suffering from it by the end), so the day ended after about an hour of actual operation.
Setup was easy, and my practice in the back yard with the fiberglass pole paid dividends. Antenna matching seemed unchanged from home - I had added some aluminum side extenders to protect the knobs on the 857 after seeing some of the KX3 add ons. This worked well and added very little weight. They will get cleaned up and painted to look a bit less ghetto. The electret element replacement appears to work well, with fine reports on the audio.
The battery was possibly the biggest new variable. I’ve worked with SLABs in the past, and understand them well. This LiFePO battery feels like a joke, it’s so light. Is it truly 18 Amp Hours? Well… based on watt/hours, looks somewhat less, but still ran the rig like a champ and had a ton of juice by the end of the activation. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts when the weather is better and I stay out longer. Home tests have been very encouraging. I would say, provisionally, that if you are still using a SLAB, you should probably modernize. This battery has a case, as it is intended for vehicular use, so it’s rugged. I bolted on some heavy wire with fusing and PowerPole connectors on the end, then covered the battery terminals with something called “Friendly Plastic”. If you don’t know about this stuff, look into it. It is a VERY tough plastic material that softens in boiling water to become very pliable and moldable. It’s also very sticky when soft, so fuses well to other plastics. Those terminal coverings are probably tougher than the case itself. No worries about shorts! Friendly Plastic can be used for all kinds of things around the shop and in the field. It has limitations when it comes to things that get really hot, but is great where appropriate. I’ve made plastic hammer faces with it and they last and last. It’s just that tough.
Overall, the first activation went well. Not much hiking involved this time around, but that will be coming soon enough. Equipment worked well, and only minor tweaks are needed to make it better. Success!