Ultralight Masts for SOTA and Portable Operations

How do you quickly, easily, and inexpensively get your antenna wire up in the air? This is one of the first things I wanted to solve when I first set out to do portable operations.

There were several options that were easy to find, but didn’t quite fully fit what I had in mind — most notably from SOTABeams. They have some great masts, but the weight and cost weren’t quite in the range I had in mind.

SOTA Mast Solution Found

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New Equipment! QRPGuys EZ-WSPR Pi

Back in January of this year (2019), QRPGuys announced a new kit: the EZ-WSPR Pi, based on a public-domain circuit by HA7DCD. TAPR also has a fully-assembled surface-mount version. Both are “simply” a combo LPF (low-pass filter) and BPF (band-pass filter) with a buffer (and amplifier) for the clock output of the Raspberry Pi, which is what creates the WSPR signal.

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New Equipment! QRPGuys Mini 80m-10m No Tune End Fed Half Wave Antenna

Yeah, that title is a mouthful! And for something with such a long name, it sure is a tiny little kit. Several weeks ago, Doug Hendricks from QRPGuys handed me a prototype kit to try. It’s now available for sale on their site. The QRPGuys Mini 80m-10m No-Tune End Fed Half Wave Antenna.

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Maury Island, W7W/KG-143

Quick info:

Activation Date: 13 April 2019
Transport: HikeDistance: 2.4 miles
Elev. Gain: 300 feetTime: 30 minutes
Rig(s): FT-891Bands: 20m, (cw/ssb), 40m (cw)
Antenna(s): EFHWAntenna Support: Good trees
RF Noise: LowCell Service: Good (T-Mobile)

While visiting family in Gig Harbor, Washington, I wanted to get a summit activation done. Ideally, it would be with the whole family (including my sister’s family). So it had to be a relatively easy outing. To top that off, we had plans later in the day. Maury Island fit the bill pretty perfectly, since the park contains not only a summit, but a beach, too! And the added bonus of a ferry ride. The weather wasn’t looking very favorable, but we went for it!

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Waterhouse Peak, W6/NS-092

Quick info:

Activation Date: 6 April 2019
Transport: Hike/snowshoeDistance: 4 miles
Elev. Gain: 1,750 feetTime: 3 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3BBands: 40m, 20m (cw)
Antenna(s): EFHWAntenna Support: Good trees
RF Noise: LowCell Service: Marginal (T-Mobile)

I’ve been wanting to do this one for a long time!  I’d been camping/backpacking in the snow nearby, three times in the past three years. Each time, I’d loosely intended to climb and activate this summit, approaching from the southwest. It never quite worked out.  So I decided to make a trip up to the South Lake Tahoe area just to get Waterhouse Peak.

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BayCon 2019 Presentation: Successful SOTA Strategies

I was recently invited to do a SOTA presentation at the annual Bay-Net conference (BayCon).  This was my first SOTA presentation, so I had to create it from scratch and (hopefully) refine it on my own prior to the conference.  Fortunately, planning for this started several months ago, so I had plenty of time to get it together. It went well!

I’m not sure of the exact count of attendees, but it seemed like it was somewhere between 100-200 people.  It was held at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, in their dedicated event space.  It was a very professional setup, with two projectors, good sound, and a good layout.  This was actually the first BayCon I was able to attend.  It usually happens right on or around me and my wife’s anniversary and I’m not able to go!

The Presentations

There were several presentations, starting with an opening/welcome by George, KJ6VU.  He updated everyone on the status of the Bay-Net repeater system and activities.  He also did some light-hearted pressing the crowd for cash, since the club had to invest in a lot of equipment last year.

Following George’s intro part, Reilly K6YAP did a very informative Intro to DMR presentation.  It was followed by a great Q&A period.  George did some raffle giveaways after that, then it was my turn to speak!

My Presentation

Here are the presentation slides: Successful SOTA Strategies – BayCon2019 – KE6MT.  Now, I don’t do a lot of public speaking.  In fact, this may have been my first time doing a big presentation.  With the exception of trying to cram 60 minutes worth of info into 40 minutes, I think it went fairly well!  I was hoping to have time for Q&A and a little bit of show-and-tell of my equipment afterwards, but I ran right up to (and possibly past) the clock.  Nonetheless, it seemed well-received, with several people coming up to me afterwards, wanting to know more.  Works for me!

More Great Presentations

After my presentation, there were some more raffle giveaways.  Then Paul KM6LH gave his “The Origins of Silicon Valley: Roots in Ham Radio” presentation – definitely not one to be missed. Following that, we broke for lunch.

There were several more excellent presentations, including:

Doug’s talk was a very entertaining and informative finale, with a high-level overview of current QRP activities as well as a pretty hard sell for people to take up SOTA chasing as a favored QRP activity.  Doug’s recently been quite active doing SOTA chasing with mostly portable operations.  He recently hit the SOTA Shack Sloth award (1000 points) and kept on cruising.  So he’s really loving SOTA and it shows.   He didn’t have enough good things to say about it.

After Doug’s talk, he did some raffle giveaways of some QRPGuys kits, then auctioned off two of his radios—proceeds generously going to Bay-Net.  After seeing his amazing auctioneer skills, George KJ6VU decided to have Doug auction a couple of other items for Bay-Net.  This was absolutely entertaining and fun—a great finish to the day.


Chalk Mountain, W6/NC-521

Quick info

Activation Date: 7 November 2018
Transport: Trail RunDistance: 5.5 miles
Elev. Gain: 1850 feetTime: 1.5 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3BBands: 30m, 20m, 40m (cw)
Antenna(s): EFHWAntenna Support: Trees
RF Noise: LowCell Service: Marginal (T-Mobile)

I got this mid-week run done while staying in Santa Cruz for a week. I took the day off in the middle of the week for other reasons, and did this little trail run bright and early. Chalk Mountain used to have a fire lookout and now lies within the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It’s beautiful!

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Peak 8580, W6/ND-028

Quick info:

Activation Date: 14 October 2018
Transport: Hike (off-trail)Distance: 1.7 miles
Elev. Gain: 870 feetTime: 1.75 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3BBands: 30m (cw)
Antenna(s): EFHWAntenna Support: Bring your own
RF Noise: Very LowCell Service: Marginal (T-Mobile)

This summit was on the way back from the mini SOTA expedition Jamie N6JFD and I did mid-October of 2018. I’m writing this in April 2019 and back-posting it since I realized I never got around to writing it up last year, so some of the detail may be missing. The summit hadn’t yet been activated, and it was directly on our route back from Nevada, right off the highway. Research showed there wouldn’t be any hinderances to access, other than it being in the middle of nowhere.

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Mustang Mountain, W7N/EM-005

Quick info:

Activation Date: 14 October 2018
Transport: Hike (off-trail)Distance: 2 miles
Elev. Gain: 900 feetTime: 2 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3BBands: 30m (cw)
Antenna(s): EFHWAntenna Support: Good trees
RF Noise: Very LowCell Service: Marginal (T-Mobile)

This summit was part of the mini SOTA expedition Jame N6JFD and I did mid-October of 2018. I’m writing this in April 2019 and back-posting it since I realized I never got around to writing it up last year, so some of the detail may be missing. It’s a fairly insignificant summit, in the middle of nowhere. It’s hard to even get to the place where we started hiking. But there are some fairly nice views to be had.

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Photo of Trail Canyon Peak and Boundary Peak by Rex KE6MT

Boundary Peak, W7N/EM-001 and Trail Canyon Peak, W7N/EM-002

Activation Date: 13 October 2018
Transport: Hike Distance: 9 miles
Elev. gain: 4,200 feet Time: 8 hours
Rig(s): MTR-3B Band(s): 40m, 20m, 30m (cw)
Antenna(s): End-fed half-wave
Cell Service: None (T-Mobile)
Parking: Kennedy Point Saddle
Trailhead: Kennedy Saddle
Fees/Permits: None
Route: Use trail past Trail Canyon Peak, route-finding to Boundary Peak
Dogs: Not sure Toilet: No
Antenna Support: Bring your own RF Noise: Very Low

This was originally planned to be a three-summit multi-state hike. We’d be summiting Montgomery Peak, Boundary Peak (Nevada state high point) and Trail Canyon Peak. Due to various challenges, it turned into just two summits. With high elevation, snow, exposed ridge lines and freezing temps, this became an adventure not soon to be forgotten.  On this trip, I was joined by Jamie N6JFD. We had talked about this trip for months and it was finally happening!

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