SOTA After Action Report - Sheridan Peak

Thanks to the efforts of Etienne Scott, K7ATN, we who live in the Pacific Northwest have a couple of nice SOTA summit-to-summit activity days each year. One that happens in early spring and if I remember correctly the other which occurs later in the summer. I participated in the spring S2S Party two years ago, but haven't had a SOTA activation since.

As mentioned in a previous post, things have been kind of crazy here lately, and Jennifer has been encouraging me to get out to do something I enjoy, so I decided to take this Saturday to participate in the S2S Party. I was considering Bald Peak, which is just on the outskirts of the Beaverton-Hillsboro area, and makes for a quick and easy trip, but by the time that I went to Sotawatch to claim it, I noticed that K7ATN had already done so. Thanks to SOTA Maps, I was able to easily browse some other peaks relatively close, and settled on Sheridan Peak, especially since a previous trip report tagged it as a fairly easy drive and hike.

I needed a travelling companion, so I asked my 5-year-old son Noah if he wanted to go, and he eagerly agreed. I wasn't sure if that enthusiasm would hold up during the trip, but at least because of the short hike to the summit, it would be easy to bail out if necessary. So we departed the house at around 9 AM, stopped by McDonalds for a light breakfast and a large coffee for me, then took the backroads of Washington and Yamhill Counties out to Sheridan Peak.

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The drive was uneventful, other than my phone's GPS getting a bit lost at the very end of the trip. However, the driving directions from the two previous write-ups of this peak on pnwsota.org were great and got me right to the parking lot. Actually, the gate to the parking lot was closed, but that was OK because there is a nice big turnout on the road immediately below it, so we just parked there and walked around the closed gate.

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The hike up to the summit was quite easy, and Noah did well for one of his first actual hikes. Unsurprisingly for a peak in the Oregon Coast Range, the weather was damp and showery. Although we didn't have much of a view from the top due to the forest, one big advantage of that was the canopy over our heads providing a bit of a break from the rain.

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Fortunately, I was prepared for the rain, and I quickly erected a tarp shelter for us to use to take cover from the elements. It was actually fairly cozy under the shelter, as another advantage of the tree cover was that it was acting as a nice wind break from the usual chilly blast you get on a peak.

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I don't currently own any HF portable gear, but thanks to the generosity of W8NF, I was able to borrow a Yaesu FT-817 and Elecraft T1 tuner. A few days prior to the activation, I cut a random wire and counterpoise that would at least work on 40 and 20 meters, and tested it in my backyard. That turned out to be a good thing, as I was able to get my wire in the tree and get the 817 QRV with no problems at all. I also brought along my Baofeng UV-5R with rubber duck/tiger tail combo for 2 meter FM ops, with the 817 as the designated backup if that didn't work.

At the designated time of noon local, I heard K7ATN full quieting on 2 meters (which wasn't a huge shock, as his peak was only about 20 miles away from mine). There wasn't a huge turnout for this activity day like there was a few years ago when I did it on Cooper Mountain, but I did manage to make four S2S QSOs on 2 meter FM with the UV-5R in order to officially activate the peak. Woo! After that, I switched to 40 meters LSB on the 817 and made a couple of S2S QSOs with stations that I had already talked to on 2 meters and one with a local chaser. Finally, I had K7ATN spot me on 20 meters and managed to squeak out a couple more SSB QRP QSOs, both with stations in Arizona. By then, Noah was getting a bit cold and wanted to get going, but I was pretty happy with the results. From the sounds of things on 2 meters, a few of the other activators had some pretty crummy weather conditions to deal with, especially NS7P on Mary's Peak.

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So after about an hour on the peak, Noah and I packed everything up and headed back down the half mile or so to the pickup. I was very proud of Noah, as he did great for a 5-year-old; never really complaining and obviously really enjoying being out in nature, plus I think he liked the radio activity as well.

I'm really happy to have made this activation, especially since I was able to get Noah involved in both an activity out in nature plus radio fun! Thanks again to K7ATN for all of the hard work that you put into the PNW SOTA community and the rest of the activators for getting out there in this wet spring Oregon day. Stay tuned for hopefully one or two more SOTA activations this year, hopefully with more family members coming along on future trips.

Edit: Here's a recap of the event from K7ATN.

SOTA After Action Report - Cooper Mountain

About a week and a half ago, I received an email from Etienne K7ATN, asking me if would be able to participate in an event he organized called the Portland Urban S2S Party. In a nutshell, this was an effort to get activators on as many of the "urban" SOTA summits in the Portland area so that we could all work each other on 2 meter FM simplex. That sounded like a lot of fun, and as it turned out, the nearest peak to me (Cooper Mountain W7O/WV-099) was unclaimed. It also worked out nicely that this is a very easy summit to access due to the fact it is essentially in a suburb and would require only a short hike.

(I injured my left knee/quadricep with a tear a bit over a year ago, and I'm currently in physical therapy to work on improving it. I can walk, but ascending and descending anything is difficult for me. Fortunately, I can now do a bit of easier hiking)

The event time was set for 26 April 2014 at 2000 UTC. I grabbed my dusty IC-T7H with quarter-wave whip, notepad, and waterproof windbreaker and made the short 15 minute drive to the road near the summit. That was easy to find thanks to a nicely documented summit report from K7ATN.

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The footpath between the houses was easy enough for me, but the final ascent to the recommended operating spot was a bit tough because of how wet the ground was. In the above photo it looks like there is lots of wild grass, but the roots were very shallow, as every step up the hill resulted in a bit of a muddy slide backwards. However, I managed to slowly make my way up the hill without injuring myself further and found a dry spot under a tree to set up shop.

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I arrived a bit early, so I turned on the HT and heard K7ATN on the designated frequency holding some QSOs. A quick call to Etienne confirmed that I was getting out OK, so I sat down and waited for the net to start.

Cooper Mt - Op Position In Red
Cooper Mt - Op Position In Red

At 2000, K7ATN kicked off the net and had a total of 13 check-ins from local summits. I was able to hear everyone else except for the station on Mary's Peak, which wasn't a total surprise, as that summit was directly south of my QTH, while I was on the north side of Cooper Mountain. Below is a map of the summit-to-summit QSOs that I made in the event.

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I'll let K7ATN's summary speak for the results, but I had a great time getting out for my first real SOTA activation, even if it was a bit of weaksauce in the adventure department. It was great to get back out and do a bit of hiking and ham radio in the outdoors. Thanks to Etienne for the invitation and the rest of the participants and chasers for a damn fine afternoon of SOTA fun.

Wideband Transmission #3

Polyvaricons Now For Sale

I've decided to try a small experiment and see if there's any interest in selling a small selection of components that would be handy for RF experimenters. The first product I have up for sale (in limited quantities at this time) are four-packs of the somewhat-hard-to-find polyvaricon variable capacitor for only $10. Please head on over to the Etherkit store to get the details and to purchase a pack. If this is successful, I may keep selling them and branch out into some other RF rarities.

Behind the Scenes in Kitbiz

Think that your local small-time kit business is raking in the dough? Probably not. This blog post from ch00ftech does a wonderful job of explaining the economics behind small-batch kitting and will probably give you a new perspective on all of the expenses incurred in such an endeavor, including many which may not be obvious to you at first. Although in this particular instance, the author was not particularly trying to make a profit, the post still captures the process involved, even for those who wish to earn a few bucks from their toil, brilliantly.

World's First Mt. Hood SOTA Activation

Here's a really neat write-up (with photos) of the very first SOTA activation of Mt. Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon (11,249 ft [3,429 m] tall). Well done, KB3QEW!

Lower Prices on the For Sale Page

I've lowered the prices on most of the items on my For Sale page, so please get over there and take a look at some good ham gear and test equipment!

SOTA Fail on Clatskanie Mountain

PC030148.JPG This post is a bit late, but I wanted to be sure to document my first attempt at a SOTA activation and what I learned from it. The title is probably a bit harsh, but the eternal pessimist in me couldn't help it. I decided to attempt a SOTA activation after seeing a lot of increased activity from my esteemed ham colleagues such as KK7DS, KD0BIK, and of course the guy who probably introduced most of us Americans to the activity: WG0AT. I've always loved outdoor hikes and have done my share of outdoor operating from parks and campgrounds, so the idea of packing a portable station up to the top of a local peak has been sounding appealing for quite a while now.

The plan was put together with much haste, as I wanted to get up in the mountains before any bad storms hit. I used the tools at SOTAWatch to find some candidate peaks that were within reasonable driving distance and not very high, then digitally scouted them using Google Earth. The initial research yielded a list of about 5 candidate peaks which fit my criteria. After more studying, I decided to try for Clatskanie Moutain W7/NC-039. It's roughly 60 miles from my house, which translates to a one-way drive time of about 1.5 hours. The logging road from the highway to the peak was only about 3 miles, and it looked like I could drive all the way to the peak if I wanted to. The plan that I had in mind was to park at the cutoff to the little spur road that branched off to the peak. The distance from this intersection to the peak is only about 500 meters, an easy hike, but one that would fit within the spirit of the SOTA rules.

After deciding on a peak, I managed to rope Dave W8NF into going on the trip with me, a decision that I would be very grateful for later. Since I recently sold my FT-817, the only portable radio that I currently have is my CC-20 beta unit, and it was in a bit of a torn-up state since I've been making corrections that will be implemented in the final version. I also wanted to do some 10 meter operation, so I thought it would be fun to slap together a VXO-tuned DSB rig that might allow me to snag a few voice QSOs. Without getting into the painful details, I worked furiously to build the DSB rig and get the CC-20 back into working condition (without a proper enclosure!). In a homage to my school days, I didn't finish until late night just before the day we were to go on our little expedition, and even then I wasn't sure that my 10 meter DSB rig was working correctly.

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So the designated day, Saturday, 3 December came around and I was running on about four hours of sleep, but still excited to get up around 8 AM to get going. By 9:30 AM, I was out the door, able to grab my coffee, and get to Dave's house. We quickly made way to the peak, and had little difficulty finding the logging road off of the highway that would take us up to the peak. There was only one small problem. The gate was locked. I should have done better due diligence (such as experienced SOTA expeditioner KK7DS explains here) and picked up a proper topo map from the local forestry office. I was planning on a short hike to the peak, but I really didn't want to turn around and drive back 1.5 hours having not even tried. I knew we were about 3 miles from the peak, which was a bit of a hike for some one as out of conditioning as me, but I felt I could probably hack it. Graciously, Dave agreed to hike it, so we grabbed our packs and I lugged the bulky, oversized sack with the Buddipole and we made way for Clatskanie Mountain. Fortunately for us, the weather couldn't be any better for a December trek in the Oregon Coastal Range. The skies were mostly clear, with just a bit of high clouds and some patches of fog below us.

PC030160.JPGWe had a pleasant hike up to the peak, and while I (the guy who is mostly sedentary and fat) had to stop for frequent breathers, Dave (the guy who runs half-marathons) didn't seem to have too much difficulty with the 3 mile hike and 700 foot elevation gain. When we reached the peak at sometime around 1:30 PM, we were greeted with a very spiffy microwave tower and wonderful view of the Columbia River below us to the north. The temperature was chilly (I'm guessing around 35° F) but the wind was slight.

There was a large earthen berm behind the microwave facility that gave us a point to operate with the mountain sloping away west, north, and east. I brought along my EFHW antennas, but decided not to deploy them at first since there weren't any trees at this location. I deployed the Buddipole in L-configuration with Dave's help and he broke out his FT-817 and started listening on 10 meters. As expected, the bands were ultra quiet up here far away from any big RF noise generators (save that big microwave tower right behind us!).

PC030156.JPG While Dave sent out some CQs on 28.060 MHz, I unpacked my DSB radio and the CC-20 beta. Dave didn't have any luck getting responses, which struck me as a bit odd. We could hear plenty of signals, and we had his Elecraft T-1 in-line and tuned-up. So I decided to try the DSB radio. A few quick cable changes and it was ready to go. Only one small problem. It was completely deaf. Well, that's what I get for trying to get a radio on the air in such a hasty fashion. I felt bad because I knew that there were people listening for me on my pre-spotted frequency of 28.650 MHz, but somewhat surprisingly I was wasn't successful in getting cell service on the peak, so I couldn't spot a new notification. Sometime around these events, the wind started picking up, making the temperature feel wicked cold with the wind chill factor.

So next up was the CC-20. Again, dead as a doornail (I later found out that it was a bad solder joint in the VFO circuitry that popped loose on the hike). Dave was kind enough to let me use his FT-817 to try to get my four required QSOs to count for a proper SOTA activation. The 10 meter QRP watering hole was awfully quiet, but I figured that some CQing should bring people out. Turns out that I didn't have much luck. I managed to work a weak WA8REI, then a booming JA1KGW (this guy is an awesome QRPer). By this time, both Dave and I were getting awfully cold. The wind seemed to be getting stronger and the temperature felt like it kept dropping. My further CQs were going unanswered, so I thought that 10 meters might be starting to close up and that we should move to 20.

We quickly re-resonated the Buddipole for 20 meters and re-tuned the T-1. I tried calling CQ on a few different frequencies near the QRP watering hole, but never did get any calls on 20 meters. I'm not sure how long I tried calling, but I didn't have a memory keyer to use, so I was manually sending the CQ each time, and it was getting sloppier and sloppier due to my numb hands. Poor Dave was pacing around to keep warm by this point. As much as it killed me to leave before activating the summit, we we both very uncomfortable and needed to leave soon regardless, because we only had about 1.5 hours of sunlight left at this point.

PC030146.JPGAll of our stuff got packed up in record time and we started downhill at a brisk pace. But only a few hundred meters from the peak, my leg started cramping up bad from the cold weather. A bit of stretching worked it out, but then it kept recurring every few hundred meters! We both wanted to get back to the warmth of my pickup as fast as possible, but my leg was not cooperating very well. Dave patiently waited as I stopped each time to try to work out the leg cramps. Although it took longer than expected, we did reach the gate right when the dark was really starting to set in. Getting back in the truck and heating up my body mercifully ended the awful leg cramps.

I'm a perfectionist by nature, so it still bothers me that I didn't get my activation of Clataskanie Mountain. And it's tough to try to demonstrate the fun and effectiveness of QRP to a non-QRPer like  Dave when you have such a lousy radio day as I did. I am very glad that Dave was there, as I might have stayed on the peak too late to get back before dark if I was only thinking of myself and of trying to complete my activation. I also realized that a nearly 7 mile round trip hike for a unconditioned hiker such as myself would have been incredibly foolish. If my leg cramps had been worse, I could have been stuck up there in the dark over night. I used to hike like this with no problems, but I have to remind myself that this was 10+ years ago and that I was in much better shape then.

It's a cliché, but I did learn a lot from the trip, regardless of the radio results. I do intend to try it again in the spring, once the bad winter storms have passed and I have my radios really ready to go. Stay tuned for further adventures!

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