My name is Brandon, and I just moved here to the Anchorage, Alaska area from California. I was wondering if anyone can give me advice, anecdotes, or experiences with contacts this far north? Are you in the lower 48 and have made contacts into AK? Or are you here in AK (or nearby in Canada) and regularly make contacts further south? Which bands work, which ones don’t, what can I expect transmitting with 5 W . . . etc.?
What I’m trying to figure out is what my activation strategies should be when I get back on the air in the spring. (In operating from California I knew that, for example, I could work from Arizona to Oregon on 40, Kansas and the midwest on 20, and occasionally the east coast very faintly on 20.) I don’t have any experience with activating from this are yet though, so any advice you can give is appreciated.
My HF activating gear is a Yaesu 817ND, fiberglass mast, and wire dipoles. I build all my own antennas, so I can cut for any band needed. I don’t operate CW, but I did just get a WophiLink so I should soon be able to run psk31 and RTTY from the field.
It’s never easy to find Alaska from a SOTA summit here in Europe. I’ve worked it from a summit in the UK, about four, maybe five times. Best time from Europe seems to be about 0700z. Done it on 20m and 17m all ssb.
Hi Brandon, from the little state of Delaware. My very first summit activation was from a tiny hill in Pennsylvania (we have no summits in Delaware) and included NL7V in Alaska on 14MHz. This was at the end of 2016 and was also my first contact on HF. I didn’t know any other Hams, so I was just stumbling through, figuring things out on my own - so, no great skills on my side - but the Alaskan contact was clear & strong.
I do most of my activating in southern Alberta and I am chased by Alaskans only occasionally. A quick look at my records found:
AL4Y Jan 2015 on 10m ssb,
AL7KC Feb 2017 on 20m ssb,
KL2YV Nov 2014 on 10m ssb,
KL7YK Nov 2014 on 10m and
NL7V Dec 2016 on 20m ssb
I think the 10m contacts were the result of the SOTA challenge on 6 and 10m when I was running 25 watts to a Moxon mounted 12’ above the ground.
Nowadays I am usually on 20m running 30 watts to an end-fed half-wave dipole.
I think that there was someone in Alaska activating peaks by satellite, but I can’t remember his call-sign.
I look forward to some SOTA contacts with you.
For identical setups in California and Alsaka you will notice significant changes in propagation. This is because 1) you are so much further North now (much like GM propagation is different to EA propagation) and 2) Alaska is very near the magnetic North Pole.
On the plus side, if you start activating regularly from Alaska then, boy oh boy, are you going to be popular. The down side is you will have a harder time being heard especially you have 5W SSB only.
You can be louder by using antennas with gain. That becomes hard when mountain portable, easy from a beach!
Invest in a small PA. Something about 25-30W gives the best bang per kilo as you have to carry it and a bigger battery to power it.
Use more effective TX modes. You mention PSK31 and RTTY. These will help but really if you are to benefit full you want to be looking at modern super-DX modes like FT8. Despite lots of discussions on here about data modes and SOTA they remain stubbornly unpopular.
Learn and use CW. 5W CW has about the same “ooomph” as 80W of SSB and you it doesn’t weigh anything.
Thanks for the responses. It sounds like it will definitely be a challenge activating SOTA here, but that’s what I was expecting. (What would SOTA be without challenges anyway?)
It looks like high efficiency is going to be the way to go. What I may do is set up in a park here some weekend and see who I can contact with different bands and modes. Basically, announce my “test day” on here ahead of time and then go on air to see what works. Wouldn’t count for SOTA points but would be great fun to hand out contacts and try out modes.
Learning CW is out for me (unless I operate it as a digital mode) but FT8 isn’t a bad idea. Is that available to run on an android tablet yet? I know some of the other WSJT modes are.
One reply suggested an amplifier. What kind of amplifier would I be able to bring up to the top of a peak?
Okay, cool. Checking eBay for “backpack-portable 1.5 kW amplifier” . . . lol.
That’s actually not a bad idea. I always forget that ebay sells new merchandise and kits, so I’ll see what I can find on there. Something that would work for SSB would also work for SSB-based digital modes too. Hmmnn . . . .
That’s something to think about. I’ve been wanting to get y hands on an 857D or an 891 for a while now, and with a slightly bigger battery than I usually carry I could easily run 10W, or maybe even a little more depending on the current draw.
Another option is to maybe look into activating FT8. I usually use FT8 to do propagation testing with antenna changes and there’s at least one station up in AK that always comes in #2 or #3 here from SW Washington.
I’ve had great success using a MiniPA50 amplifier with my FT-817, both powered with a 5000mAH 4 cell Lipo via a Buck Converter to stabilise the voltage to 13.8v. When running the FT-817 at 5 watts it puts out around 45 watts and apparently this combination weighs around 1kg less than an FT-857 although there are lots more wires to contend with.
An FT-857 is probably the best bang for your buck available. Okay, heavy, however, with a lithium battery, manageable. Probably one of the most reliable rigs out there, with the added advantage of VHF/UHF thrown in.
BTW, don’t worry too much about CW, but look towards your antenna, it’s by far the most important bit of kit in your SOTA armoury.
KL7EST: I like the idea of using a super-efficient mode like FT8. Do you know if it is available on an android tablet yet? I’ve read of guys running the other WSJT modes on tablets, but I haven’t tried it yet.
M0NOM: Thanks for the link to the amplifier. I didn’t know they made smaller amplifiers like that. Do you have any figures on what the current draw is at different output levels? That would be really handy for comparison purposes.
2EOYYY: That’s also a good point about just using an 857. I have a pretty good LiFePo battery I could use to power either an 857 or an amplifier, so the question comes down to efficiency, run time, and complexity/reliability of the setup. Either option (amplifier or an 857) decreases my potential run time, but SOTA activations are usually pretty short anyway - I don’t think I’ve ever been on air for more than 1.5 hours, and I’ve never run a battery down yet.
M1BUU: the receive current draw is definitely a consideration, as is the efficiency - thanks for mentioning that. I’ll do some research on the various options and then put together some solid figures for current draw (Tx and Rx) as well as efficiency. With that info and some assumptions on Tx and Rx time I can put together a decent excel sheet comparing various setups.
Nope, not yet. I actually looked into it pretty extensively a few months ago since I do Android dev for a living. It’s pretty complicated, the core algo is in Fortran which is a royal pain to port/crosscompile and the qt app doesn’t split out nicely. I didn’t want to burn ~6 months on it so I dropped it.
I know that there’s some cheap win/Linux laptops(rpi runs it for instance) so you may have some luck there. Another option is PSK31 which I’ve had work at s1-2(and kx series support native decoding which opens up more chasers then other digital modes).
Also use a small linear- here is a review MX-P50M HF AMPLIFIER REVIEW. | VK2QR Adventures in Ham Radio I use one with an 817 and a 4s lipo with a very low tech series of diodes to drop the voltage slightly. It seems to make a difference. The amp and rig sit together in a peli - like case so the wiring stays connected. Personally after the hike and antenna unknitting I’m not sure I would cope with too many more wires!
Hi Brandon, I have a variety of setups that get used for different summit.
For the summits that require a nasty walk in I usually take my FT-817 and run it barefoot. On summits which are not too bad a walkin or when I really do not want to chance QRP, I take my FT857 with a couple of 8400mAh LiFePO4 batteries. For the drive on summits I will often take the IC-7300 and larger LiFePO4 and/or SLAB batteries.
Unfortunately my LiFePO4 8400mAh batteries exceed the 100WH rating for airline travel, so either I need some of the smaller 4200mAh batteries or I get a small amp for the FT-817 which in terms of weight and power consumption is the better option albeit with additional cabling and the like.