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SOTA Antenna for Really Windy Summits

On Sep 13, 2018, I activated an alpine peak on the Continental Divide, W0C/PR-022 Grizzly Peak, 4093M, 13,427’. This summit was so windy that I had some difficulty ascending the steep, rocky northwest ridge. I was being pushed around by the wind. At times I was on all fours. While it was a dry day, with a temperature near 10 degrees C, the wind was violent and gusty. I carried a telescoping fishing pole, but I decided not to use it - the wind gusts might have broken it. At a minimum I would have had to guy it, something I regularly do when required, but it was extremely unpleasant to try to do anything on that exposed summit! The only practical spot for my activation was a small wind shelter built out of rocks, right on the peak. This shelter is about 4 feet high, and barely large enough for 2 or 3 people – it’s just a semi-circular pile of rocks. I decided to see if I could make some SOTA contacts without using my pole.

I had a 52-foot #24 teflon wire and a 12-foot counterpoise wire. I worked with the wind to lay the 52-foot wire on the rocks, upwind of the shelter. This was difficult - the wind was trying to take the wire away from me – I had to be very careful! First I got the far end at the right place, into the wind, and I tied it down to a good rock, using a long string on the end of the wire.

Next I ran the “feed end” up over the rock shelter and down into the cavity, where I could set up and not lose my gear. I had to improvise to put some tension on that wire, so part of it would be above the ground. The highest point of the wire was about 4 feet above the peak. At least half of the 52-foot wire was on the rocks, and much less than half was elevated by more than a foot. Next I laid the 12-foot counterpoise wire out across the summit rocks in the other direction, put several rocks on it, and got into the shelter. I wondered if I could make even four contacts – I had never used such a ridiculous-looking antenna! It seemed like a silly stunt, up in the thin, roaring air!

It was amazing how well the simple rock shelter stopped the worst of the wind! I plugged the two wires into my homebrew tuner, put on my small headphones, and added a fleece hat to reduce the wind noise. Then I listened with my KX2. On 20M there were CW stations and normal-sounding band noise! My tuner settings were only a little different from normal. I got a good match immediately! With the 52 foot wire and the 12 foot counterpoise, and the wire at normal height on a pole, the impedance at 14 MHz is low. A tuner designed to match a low Z is required - my tuner did a good job. The “elevated part” of the wire – the part not actually lying on the rocks – was the low Z part, where the RF current was highest. This antenna was an off-center-fed full-wave doublet on 20M.

I started calling CQ on 20M CW, the RBN spotted me quickly, and I was off to the races! My first contact was Bob W0BV, over in Buena Vista, about 57 miles, 92 KM, not skip, across other mountains to the southwest. N4EX in NC was my fourth contact, and when I got him, I realized that I was enjoying an almost normal activation. I had 4 contacts in just minutes! K0RS was #5 – he’s about 64 miles, 103 km, away near Guffey, in South Park, and not skip! Before I knew it, I had logged 18 contacts on 20M – they were from all over the USA. The last one on 20M was N7EDK in FL. My signal reports were OK, and I was giving out many good reports as well. The whole thing seemed miraculous…I wondered what 30M would be like.

30M went just like 20, except that the match was less ideal – but my tuner took care of it. The 52’ main wire is close to a half wave at 10.1 MHz, so the feed is high-Z. Despite lying across rocks for much of its length, the “system” worked pretty well! In a short time I had 18 more contacts in the log on 30M. They were my regular chasers all around the USA. Surely this was some kind of big joke!

After doing 30M CW, I decided to tune around – I found N9XG on 20M on W1/DI-001 – worked him S2S! He was on Cadillac Mountain, on Mount Desert Island, in Acadia National Park, Maine! That peak is 3125 KM away from Grizzly Peak - about 1938 miles.

Next I went to 40M and tuned up. The match was moderately low-Z, to be expected, since the total wire length was about a half wave, and the feed was off center. The LED bridge indicated a perfect null. I called CQ and got spotted by the RBN – before long I worked K5DEZ in NM and WB7ULD in UT. That was it – no more calls - but I had worked many of my regular chasers already on 20 and 30M. I suspect that performance on 40 was down from normal, but the band noise didn’t seem a whole lot lower than usual.

I tuned around for a long time, and on 30 CW I found K7PX, Steve, on W0C/SR-003 – far to the west on Mount Antero – for 10 points – and I worked him S2S ! That’s about 70 miles, 113 km, a long way - but Steve was at 4349M, and I was at 4093M, so no problem! A short time later I found WG0AT on 20M, also on Mount Antero with K7PX, and I got him S2S too. Both contacts were 599-599! That was a nice finish.

In all there were 38 contacts on the three bands, including 3 S2S! Most of those were in the first 40 minutes. Not long before, I had doubted whether I could do the activation successfully - it was quite a surprise.

Later, I looked at my saved RBN spots, and while some may have been a few db below normal, I still had plenty of good spots. The solar flux was 70, and the K index was 3: near-solar-minimum band conditions.

What probably made this low antenna work so well is that the summit was mostly dry crystalline rock, which is similar to ceramic dielectric material. The “ground” wasn’t really ground at all. Clearly the antenna functioned in an acceptable manner, partly because my tuner can correct for changes in impedance caused by the proximity of a rocky surface. That summit is also rather small and prominent, really the high point of a long, narrow alpine ridge, so the antenna was positioned well to radiate, despite being close to the rocks. The photos tell the rest of the story.



Often we see SOTA spots that say “just need two more”, or something like that. With my experience in mind, please consider how incredibly easy it was to get 38 contacts using a quasi-resonant wire, mostly lying on the rocks. If I had taken a magnetic loop up there, it probably would have flown to Kansas, or dragged me over the precipice on the east side of the Divide. All you need is a wire or two, and a good tuner!

This story may prove useful, should you find yourself in difficult conditions, perhaps with a broken pole, or no pole at all. At 4000M, in high winds, you may not have many options! Just knowing that an activation like this is possible may lessen the stress that comes with climbing a really windy summit.

I’m sure some of you have done unusual SOTA activations, under difficult conditions, using seemingly absurd antennas. Perhaps other major problems have occurred, but you have prevailed. Please share some of your experiences here! I know I’m not the first to make contacts with an antenna on the “ground”, or on snow.

73

George
KX0R

24 Likes

Inspiring stuff George.

We had similar challenges on Lanzarote summits last year - high wind and impenetrable ground.

This is my favourite antenna for Really Windy Summits:

5 Likes

Last year I was in the Vosges. On a mountain, I fixed my pole and spanned the wire as a sloper behind me. I put on the headphones and let the antenna through the KX2 tune.
It was laborious on the bands, but i got contacts all over eu.
Only when packing I realized that the pole had slipped together and the wire was lying on the heather.

SOTA works

73 Armin

1 Like

Sometimes the better part of valor is abandoning a summit hike when the conditions are cold and high winds. Recently I was on Grassy Ridge Bald when a gust of wind knocked us down off the trail. (We found out later that a speed of 124 mph from a wind gust was recorded on nearby Grandfather Mountain). I can’t imagine setting up a mast under those conditions. High winds may be tolerable if temperatures were warmer but wind chills in the low negatives risk hypothermia, or frostbite. Fortunately, we had a backup hike on the same trailhead more sheltered from the wind. Your post is still very encouraging in that even in the compromised antenna set-up, QSO’s can still be had. I will have to remember this when confronted with the conditions you encountered. Thanks for posting.

Ariel NY4G

I operated with my endfed wire on the ground on 2 summits: Whiteface in NY and Mt Mansfield in VT, because there were no trees and it was cold and raining and i wanted to get it done. So I laid my scruffy wire on the mossy rocky ground in both places…and I got many qso’s. I was surprised but very happy. Scott kw4jm

1 Like

Ariel,

I completely agree. Even at 50 F, perhaps the temperature when I activated Grizzly Peak, such high winds may cause gradual hypothermia without adequate clothing and/or shelter. This is especially true at high altitude, where less oxygen is available for the body to burn, or if you get wet. The little wind shelter was the key to my activation. When I was laying down those wires, it was obvious that I had to get it done quickly.

High winds push your body between steps, and then your feet come down in the wrong places. This is especially tricky on rocky terrain. You can compensate somewhat, but a sudden gust can cause a fall.

Since my hike that day started at 12,000 feet and went up to Grizzly, all on the top of the Continental Divide, I was out in the wind for a long time. I started at about 8 AM and returned to the trailhead at about 3 PM; the hike was about 2-1/2 miles each way. Most of the way was just windy - only the summit ridge and summit had really strong winds. It’s a spectacular hike, accessible from a paved highway, and most of it was fun!




It was my first time up there, and I didn’t know about the rock shelter until I saw it! I met a woman there, who told me she was going to continue on up to Torreys Peak, W0C/PR-013, one of the twin 14-ers visible in the background at 14,267 feet. She must have had quite a day!

73

George
KX0R

4 Likes

As in arriving at the summit and finding that your pole is missing… indeed it is later found to be still in the car!

This got me a reasonable number of contacts and gave me the opportunity to test out the ground mounted dipole. :smile:

73, Gerald

2 Likes

George, Nice report and great photos… I miss the high mountains of CO.
I have had similar experiences at the much lower elevations found in PA, VA and WV. My antenna of choice is a link dipole for 20m, 30m, 40, and 60m. I rarely have it much higher than just what I can reach. The lowest I have employed is resting across low scrub.
Since we’re already working with compromised antenna installs a few feet of elevation seems to be of little further trouble.

Richard // N2GBR

Good stuff George. I remember the QSO. Interestingly, I find that my vertical often produces stronger signals into that particular area than my 3 element tribander. I would write that off as cross-polarization loss, but there are so many mountain reflections between my QTH and the Continental Divide that it’s surprising that a signal would retain any distinctive polarization at all by the time it travels that path!

I’ve always had good luck with GP verticals with the radials on the ground. K9BWI and I speculated that the Colorado ground is so poor that, given the lack of conductivity, ground radials actually operated as elevated radials, increasing rather than decreasing efficiency! The radials of my two current verticals lay on decomposed granite. Hard to imagine any ground conductivity whatsoever in that material.

I did exactly the same thing myself when I went Kinder Scout (G/SP-001) on Sunday afternoon, so I know that sinking feeling well!

Not quite the same as screwing up on the much larger mountains that our American counterparts get to play on, but it’s still not a good feeling.

It’s soul destroying when you’ve driven nearly 4 hours to get there, it’s taken almost 1.5 hours to walk to the top, it’s blowing a gale, chucking with rain, you’re extremely cold & wet. Just to top it all off, the light is starting to fade & you know that you need to get a move on & get back down the hill to the car before it gets dark because you’ve also forgotten your torch!!!

I’ll admit it wasn’t my proudest moment!

I thought about laying the antenna on the ground or trying to use the summit cairn to elevate the antenna at least a couple of feet but came to the conclusion that I had so little daylight left that I really didn’t have any time to mess about.

I decided that if I couldn’t qualify the summit within 15 minutes on the handheld I would have to abandon.

I did manage to qualify on the 2m handheld with the stock antenna, but only just.

Wow, George, what an experience! I’m amazed you could take as many pictures as you did. Your story inspires everyone to stay with the program (provided safety isn’t jeopardized), as you never know what will end up in the log.

The 3rd summit I ever operated from was a first-time activation of W9/WI-007 in February 2017. The undergrowth discouraged me from using my portable mast (I’ve since figured out how to deal with those circumstances better–experience helps!). I ended up stringing my PAR end fed out on top of the undergrowth. Just 7 Qs that day at around 1825’ but mission accomplished.

I forgot my mast in the car when activating W8M/LP-002 last year. Since I was planning on using the mast, I also didn’t have the weight I toss over a branch. I managed to extract a small piece of broken branch buried in the snow, tie my line around that and toss it over a tree limb for 29 Qs.

In addition to ground conditions, I think just simply being up higher than the immediately surrounding area forgives a lot of antenna “sins.” Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

73 Paula k9ir

1 Like

In my pre-SOTA days I was blown over and airborne for about 3m on Cat Bells in the Lakes. ( It isn’t big and its not a SOTA Summit ). I crawled along the ridge before descending ) I am not light - So at what wind speed does a fairly heavy person become airborne??? I am guessing 100MPH??
Paul

I had a pocket anenometer once. I can recall it reading 55mph on a prolonged gust on Meal nan Tarmachan on the way down and I had to stand my ground and lean into the wind or it would have blown me over. I weighed nearly 100kg without bag in those days. Now a leaner 87kg (thank you SOTA)

I measured 47mph on the summit of Moel y Gamelin yesterday. Similarly I had to lean into the wind and wait for the gust to abate before I could safely turn around and walk downhill again.

From what I remember I was doing the leaning bit, but this was followed by my feet leaving the ground, which I hit about 3 m away. Thankfully not on a ledge!

Wow - you people have some great stories! Hopefully more activators will comment - there must be lots of tales about tricky activations.

I’ve never even been close to airborn. However, I’ve been on several summits with wind so strong that:

  1. It roars like jet engines - very deep and serious, way beyond just hissing
  2. You hear it a long way from the summit, so you know how bad it is
  3. I usually avoid the top of such a summit, or near any exposed edges, to avoid possible injury

One surprising feature of high winds is that they sometimes make really incredible dead zones, especially when the wind is coming up a steep cliff on the windward side of the mountain. The wind shoots straight up above the cliff, and the summit is no problem to be on! If you get too close to the cliff, it will knock you back!

There are a few local summit around here where I’ve seen this effect, and I can activate them on windy days, because I know that they have dead zones.

On most SOTA peaks it’s not hard to find a wind shadow or “dead zone” somewhere in the Activation Zone. Setting up in such a place has made all the difference to me on many peaks. Perhaps a few db are lost, and surely some chasers hear a weaker signal because the peak blocks certain directions. These effects are often small - many times I’ve worked stations on HF “right through the mountain”, seemingly. On a few occasions my entire antenna wire was well below the summit, sometimes 40 or 50 feet below - but I’m still in the zone.

VHF and UHF are much less forgiving - but often quicker to use! Just keep hold of the radio!

73

George
KX0R

2 Likes

Hi George,

Good recovery from a difficult situation.

I think your analysis of what allowed the antenna to work is quite reasonable. I would think that repeating that spacing above (or on) better quality conducting earth, or swampy land, would have quite a different outcome.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH

In Germany it’s called: Im Lee ist’s schee (schön) (It’s nicer at the leeside) :wink:

These effects are well knows by all sailers and paragliders (what i did for many years)

But you have to take care, because there can be some heavy turbulences and gusts, if you are not direct in the slipstream. Especially if you try to move your antenna pole up. The wind 5 m above you can be another one.

73 Armin

1 Like

Hi George
I don’t know if you was using walking sticks during your W0C/PR-022 Grizzly Peak activation ?
I had this idea on your photos !

73 Eric

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I was on a local SOTA eak last year running a pile up. The guyed pole blew over in a fierce gust of wind but the pile up kept calling and I kept working them with my vertical on the ground! amazing stuff.

73 Rob GM3YTS