This is a state-of-the-shack update. I’ve finally got a few temporary antennas up and am beginning to make contacts from the home station including a tiny bit of contesting.
The first antenna I tried from home was the Buddipole. Before taking it into the field for SOTA operations, I practiced with it one afternoon on the roof. It happened to be the weekend of the Ukranian DX contest, so I did a quick spin through 20m and worked about five stations one after the other with my FT817. I was happy to make any contacts, particularly on a crowded band. No doubt some of the credit goes to the Ukranian operators and their ability to pick out weak signals.
I intentionally activated Cushetank Mountain in the late Spring: the Round Valley Recreation Area charges no admission before Memorial Day, it was not too hot, and most importantly, the number of bugs in the air was tolerable.
The set up is kind of odd: you need to enter the Round Valley Recreation Area off Stanton Lebanon Road, park in the South Parking Lot, and then follow a trail that wraps around the western and southern edges of the Round Valley Reservoir. The trail goes through a dam facility, a summer camp, and past a few houses before it turns towards a campground and the summit.
Hazeltop is another summit on the “not too hard” list within Shenandoah National Park. If you park at the Milam Gap parking lot (38.4784N, 78.4517W), it’s about a 3.3 km hike along the Mill Prong trail to the summit, with a net vertical rise of about 170m. There are some flat stretches to this trail, but also some hilly bits.
This was the first of a series of summits I am hoping to activate within Shenandoah National Park, and proved to be very straightforward. The only twist was avoiding operating next to the government installation at the end of a road leading to the summit. Instead, I operated just a little to the side, but still on the summit.
Last weekend was one of the highlights of my ham radio experience even though I spent most of it shivering and hunched over a pair of paddles on a frigid mountaintop.
Mike, KA4CDN, and I decided to mount an expedition with the goal of activating rare counties for the 2019 Virginia QSO Party. We poured over spreadsheets of prior year activity and looked for places where we might camp on the intersection of two or more counties. We came up with a few possibilities, but ultimately decided to check out Rocky Mountain, which lies at the intersection of Nelson, Rockbridge, and Amherst counties. Additionally, it is centrally located in Virginia, which we thought would give us the best chance of picking up the many multipliers (95 counties and 38 independent cities) in the state.
The Bottom Line
To cut to the chase, despite poor propagation, we did better than we thought we would: more than 850 QSOs and broad coverage of multipliers throughout both Virginia and North America. Best of all, we worked a bunch of people we knew including at least ten members of our home club, the Vienna Wireless Society.
Last week, I put up a new HF antenna and this week, I set the station up to operate in FT8 mode. Below, I describe a minimalist implementation using an Elecraft K3, a computer and two audio patch cords. I am focusing only on items specific to the radio and not found in the WSJT-X documentation.
I have a few days of meetings in Paris before returning to Madagascar and before arriving, I mapped out a couple SOTA peaks near Paris. I was not sure when I would work them in since my only free time will probably be in the evenings, but I have already operated from one: FL/NO-120.
I had some confusion about the name and designation. There area references on the sotawatch website that list F/NO-120 as “Buttes de Parisis”, and Google points to older versions of the sota.uk website that also referenced that peak. The French SOTA website indicates that as of February 1, 2017, there was a reorganization of France into the FL and F associations, so these websites just need to catch up. I had planned the trip back in January 2017, hence my use of the older term. For logging purposes, since the Nord-Ouest summits now fall under FL rather than F, I used the FL/NO-120 designation. Oddly, the name seems to have changed to “Fort de Cormeilles”, which is a historical building in the area. In any event, the GPS coordinates are the same.
This past weekend was the CQ WW SSB contest — one of the big ones. I usually have a vague idea about the approach of a contest and decide whether to take part on Friday of the contest weekend, but I had marked this one on the calendar ahead of time and was prepared. Aside from setting up everything and working a bit of SSB earlier in the week, I spent some time looking at propagation and figuring out where to point the antenna at different times of day to hit both areas with high densities of hams (NA, EU, Japan), but also beam heading that would cover the most DXCC entities, the multiplier for this contest.