Chabot 2 Benchmark, W6/NC-432 – 2018

Activation Date: 8 July 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 1.8 miles
Elev. gain: 300 feet Time: 40 minutes
Rig(s): MTR-3B Band(s): 40/20m (cw)
Antenna(s): End-Fed Half-Wave
Cell Service: Excellent (T-Mobile)
ParkingSmall lot at trailhead, or side of road
Trailhead: Fairmont Ridge Staging Area
Fees/Permits: None
RouteFairmont Ridge, stay right of eucalyptus trees
Dogs: Yes (off-leash OK) Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Lots of trees and fences RF Noise: Low

Named “Chabot 2 Benchmark” for SOTA, this is actually “Fairmont Ridge.” I’m sure there’s a benchmark with that name somewhere inside the fenced area, but I haven’t been there.  This is one of the easiest local peaks and this year I’d been saving activating it for when Austin, K6ABM aka “DietSOTA” and I were able to meet up.  We finally made it happen!

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W6/NC-353, Burdell Mountain – 2018

Activation Date: 17 June 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 4.8 miles
Elev. gain: 1225 feet Hiking Time: 2.5 hours
Rig(s): FT-817, VX-2R Band(s): 20m, 40m (cw + ssb), 2m fm
Antenna(s): End-Fed Half-Wave with QRPGuys Tuner
Cell Service: Moderate (T-Mobile)
ParkingSan Andreas Drive
Trailhead: San Andreas Drive
Fees/Permits: None
RouteMiddle Burdell, Cobblestone fire roads
Dogs: Yes – off-leash on fire roads Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Some trees RF Noise: Low

I did this summit late last year as my first morse code activation. Last time it was a combo POTA/SOTA activation. This time would be only SOTA.  And it was a heck of a lot warmer too!

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W6/SC-261, Pinyon Peak – Success!

Activation Date: 28 May 2018
Transport: Hike/Run Distance: 7.8 miles
Elev. gain: 2,200 feet Time: 2.25 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3B Band(s): 30m (cw)
Antenna(s): QRPGuys Tri-Band Vertical
Cell Service: Marginal (T-Mobile)
Parking: Free
TrailheadCarmel Valley Ranch, Oak Pl Ln
Fees/Permits: None
RouteHuff n’ Puff, Snively’s Ridge trails
Dogs: Yes Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Bring your own RF Noise: Low (HF), Very high (VHF)

Almost exactly a year after first attempting this summit, I came back. This time, I had an HF radio with me, so the excessive VHF RF and isolation on the summit would not be an issue.  Last time, I ran with one friend. This time, I brought along 3! And more dogs, too!  So I’d have less time for the activation as a result. Oh, and it was hotter, as well!  In the time since I’d last attempted the activation, my SOTA friend Jeff AA6XA had managed to get out there and get first activation on this somewhat obscure peak. Now it would be my turn!

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HF Ham Radio on a Budget: QRP Labs, QRPGuys, CW Academy

When I started my amateur radio life as KK6VSI in August of 2015, I wish I could have had the information I’m about to lay out here.  Of course, most of the equipment didn’t yet exist.  So another way of looking at it is that my entry into amateur radio was perfectly timed for a modern Golden Age of Ham Radio.  Part of this Golden Age means you can get a QRP Labs QCX or BITX40, and a QRPGuys Antenna, plus a few other components, and you’re on the air!  Stick with me here, and we’ll get to the details.

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CW Academy Level 2: Listen, listen, listen!

I haven’t written a post in a while, so I figured I’d write a quick update on my progress with learning Morse code for CW operation. I’d completed CW Academy Level 1 at the end of October 2017 and I’ve been doing CW SOTA activations since. CW Academy Level 1 got me from sort of knowing the characters to actually being able to use Morse code to communicate.  I still wasn’t comfortable actually having a conversation, but simple contacts were actually possible and, dare I say it, enjoyable! I had initially gone ahead and signed up for the very next Level 2 class (running Jan-Feb 2018), but soon decided I wasn’t quite ready for it.  I requested to bumped to the next one (running Apr-May 2018).

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Laguna Mountain, W6/CC-029

Activation Date: 21 April 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 8 miles
Elev. gain: 2300 feet Hiking Time: 4 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3B, VX-2R Band(s): 20m, 40m (cw)
Antenna(s): End-Fed Half-Wave with QRPGuys Tuner
Cell Service: Very marginal (T-Mobile)
Parking: Laguna Mountain Campground
Trailhead: Laguna Mountain Rd
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Laguna Mountain Road, followed by use trails
Dogs: Yes Toilet: Yes
Antenna Support: Some trees RF Noise: Very Low

This summit hadn’t yet been on the air, and I’ve been wanting to activate it for quite a while. I made this summit quite a bit harder than it needed to be. It’s an 8-mile round-trip if you’re just going to the summit and back. However, I was here to do some backpacking with my older son, Miles, so I had a 50-pound pack on. Also, I decided to take a shortcut that ended up making things harder. And we had a rattlesnake encounter! Still, we had a good time overall and got it done.

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Briones Hills, W6/NC-371

Activation Date: 11 March 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 4.8 miles
Elev. gain: 1600 feet Hiking Time: 2.5 hours
Rig(s): Yaesu FT-817ND, Radioddity GD-77 Band(s): 2m (fm), 30m (cw), 40/20m (ssb)
Antenna(s): QRPGuys Tri-Band Vertical
Cell Service: Acceptable (T-Mobile)
Parking: Reliez Valley Trail Head
Trailhead: Blue Oak Trail
Fees/Permits: None at this lot
Route: Blue Oak Trail, Blue Oak Shortcut, Spengler, Table Top
Dogs: Yes Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Some trees, short fence RF Noise: Low (HF & VHF)

It took me a while to write this one up! It’s been over a month since we did it. But here we go. I wanted a fun hike with my sons and the dogs, and Briones Hills seemed like just the ticket. Not too long, not too short, and with a nice bench at the top! The elevation was a little bit difficult for the boys, but everyone had a great time.

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Santa Rosalia Mountain, W6/CC-062 – 2018

Activation Date: 17 February 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 3.7 miles
Elev. gain: 650 feet Hiking Time: 1.2 hours
Rig(s): Yaesu FT-817ND Band(s): 30m (cw)
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave (40/30/20m)
Cell Service: None (T-Mobile)
Parking: Side of the road (be sure plenty of room)
Trailhead: Buzzard Lagoon Road
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Buzzard Lagoon Road to Aptos Creek Fire Road
Dogs: Probably  Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Lots of high trees RF Noise: Low (HF)

I did this summit last year, in August. It was hot but a fun trip anyway. This year, doing it in February, the weather was quite agreeable.   Last year, I brought my sons along for the trip but they would not be joining me this time around.  Things I was looking to improve this time included getting my antenna up even higher, and sloping east if possible.  The ARRL DX CW contest was going on, so I primarily planned to operate on 30 meters for SOTA, then see if I could pick up any new DX on the other bands.

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New Equipment – QRPGuys Portable Tri-Band Vertical Antenna

Even though I’m in the middle of figuring out the build of a shortened end-fed half-wave antenna, an improvement on my current EFHW setup, I’d had my eyes on various vertical antenna solutions for a while, even though they’re not as efficient as a full-size antenna. Recently, QRPGuys released a new vertical antenna kit for portable ops, and I couldn’t resist trying it out.

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Black Mountain, W6/NC-150 with New Antenna!

Activation Date: 11 February 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 5 miles
Elev. gain: 900 feet Hiking Time: 1.75 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3B, GD-77 Band(s): 30m, 20m, 40m (cw), 2m (fm)
Antenna(s): QRPGuys Portable Vertical
Cell Service: Fair (T-Mobile)
Parking: Monte Bello Open Space Parking Lot
Trailhead: South end of parking lot
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Canyon Trail, Bella Vista Trail, Monte Bello Road
Dogs: No  Toilet: Yes, TH and near summit
Antenna Support: Rocks, low trees RF Noise: Medium-low (HF), Very High (VHF/UHF)

I recently put together a new antenna, the QRPGuys Portable Tri-band Vertical.  I’ll be writing another post about this antenna specifically, but it’s a new product based on Joe Everhart N2CX’s design, published in a recent QRP Quarterly.  It’s a quarter-wave vertical on 20 meters, and uses switched inductors to work 30 and 40 meters.  It’s pretty lightweight and compact, and seemed like it might work well on summits without space for a full-size antenna.

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