KX3 in Terminal Mode

I started tinkering with talking to my KX3 via the ACC1 port, a KXUSB cable, and a serial terminal pr`ogram. I was perplexed because the Elecraft KX3 Utility and the KX3 Companion program for Android could both display CW and PSK31 text decoded by the KX3, but plain old terminal programs on either my Macbook or my Android phone saw nothing from the KX3. Everything was using 38400 baud, 1 stop bit, and no parity, so it wasn’t a settings problem.

It turns out that you have to send the KX3 a command to cause it to start sending decoded text to the serial port. “TT1;” enables decoded text output and “TT0;” disables it. But it isn’t that easy!

If you turn on your KX3 and you send “TT1;” then text will start sending. If you send “TT0;” it will stop sending. So far so good.

Note that there is no terminating CR after those commands. If you’re used to something like the “Hayes Command Set” for modems, this is NOT quite the same. Here’s where I got in trouble. If you send “TT1;" and then you send "TT0;" you will not like the results. It will ignore your TT0 because it does not consume the trailing CR from the TT1. It treats CR as an invalid command.

So if you’re in the habit (from your modem days) of sending before you send a command, just to be sure the command buffer is empty, you will confuse your KX3 by filling the command buffer with CR. You might consider wrapping commands with semicolons. e.g. Send ";TT1;" or ";TT2;".

I Always Activate Mount Stupid

Mt Everest

Practice makes perfect… but operating from a summit makes me stupid. I thought I’d made every possible error on an activation by now, but I nearly ruined yesterday’s activation with a new one. Let’s take a look at why mistakes are so common on an activation, and how to avoid them or recover when they occur.

Whence Foul-ups?

Activations are complex undertakings. There are hundreds of micro-activities in an activation. Human beings cope with complex activities by developing systems. (Habits are a special kind of system.) You can’t possibly think of every detail for an activation, so you rely on habits, checklists, and rules of thumb.

…but there’s a high degree of randomness and fatigue when you operate outdoors, from a pack, at the end of an uphill hike. Depending on schedule/weather/daylight, you may be in a hurry. It’s as if you were cleaning house, on deadline, while your dog chases the cat, after you stayed up all night. You’re tired and distracted, so you need systems to help you cope. Every activation is different, so you need to be flexible.

Smart Me and Stupid Me

When I’m packing/planning, I like to think of the “hill-me” who is on the summit as if he were a separate person. I think of him as well-intentioned, but forgetful and not too bright. It helps to externalize it in this way, so I can consider, “What clever thing can I do now to make him successful then?”

Of course, getting up at oh dark thirty, driving three hours, hiking up the side of a hill, getting dehydrated, and sensory overload from operating in the cold/heat/wind/bugs/passers-by pretty well ensures that hill-me will be forgetful and not too bright!

Checklists and Habits

The first step in error prevention is the humble checklist. Every time you find yourself skipping/forgetting an item, add it to your checklist. The checklist is your brain supplement.

  • I use a printed checklist for planning a trip, another checklist for packing, and yet another for operating.
  • I pack some of my gear in three one-gallon baggies. Each baggie has a list of its contents written on it.

Some checklists are tangible - such as my printed lists; other checklists are more like habits. After an activation, as I’m packing up, I always count, “1, 2, 3,” as I stuff my three baggies into the pack, to ensure I don’t leave one behind.

Another habit is tracing connections. Once I think I’m set up, I trace the signal path from my mic/paddle through the radio and out to the far end of my antenna. Then I trace the imaginary signal from the far tip of the antenna all the way back to my earbuds. This ensures that I don’t do something stupid like trying to operate without an antenna.

Labels

Label everything, unambiguously.

My latest foul-up came from operating a radio with a switch marked “Band 1 2 3.” This radio operates on 20, 30, and 40 meters. Except it really operates on 40, 30, and 20. Band 1 is 40, not 20. It announces the band when you power it on, but if you’re distracted at that moment, or you aren’t wearing earbuds yet, it is awfully easy to operate on the wrong band. It is operator error, but I’m going to get out my label maker this afternoon, and print a label which says, “40, 30, 20.”

My wire-winder for my 20 meter EFHW antenna is marked “20m EFHW”; the winder for the 30 foot wire I use with an EARCHI 6-40 UNUN is marked “EARCHI 6-40”. Those wires are awfully easy to mix up otherwise. (I’ve also started using different colored wire for different antennas, to make them easier to recognize.)

Systems

The underlying principle behind checklists, habits, and labels is similar to Six Sigma. Put systems in place that make it impossible to repeat a mistake or, where that’s not possible, to detect mistakes early.

Activating always requires about 20 IQ points more than what’s available. When you do something bone-headed, ask yourself, “How can I prevent this next time?” It may be as simple as, “Add ‘power cable’ to my packing list.” (Been there. Done that.) It may be a rule such as, “Never put anything down unless you put it on your ground cloth.” (Lost lots of stuff before I started doing that.)

Quck tip: Brightly colored earbuds are harder to lose on the forest floor than black ones and Amazon often sells pink colored products at a discount.

Wrap-up

Be prepared to improvise when necessary. (There’s an activator who used the twist tie from his sandwich bag, when he needed a jumper!) Don’t give up on an activation until you’ve sat and considered your options for a good 30 minutes. Then, figure out how to make sure it isn’t a problem on your next summit. Remember, it isn’t an adventure if you succeed every time.

SOTA Favorites Lists

Home-runs (4 summits in one day)

  • Cohutta Wilderness: Dyer Mountain, Flat Top Mountain (4WD required), Cowpen Mountain, Bald Mountain - 36 points
  • Richland, Steestachee, Barnett-or-Bunches, Waterrock. I’m convinced you could make this a 5-way with Bunches Bald, but you’d need to be a superman and move fast. I have to admit that I don’t much like Steestachee, so the “favorite” here is just that a 4 or 5 summit day is amazing.

Favorite Triple-headers

  • Black Balsam Knob, Green Knob (W4C/CM-023), Mt Pisgah
    • Blue Ridge Parkway SW of Asheville. The Blue Ridge Parkway is always beautiful. Best to do Black Balsam early in the morning, before parking gets awful. 28 points.
  • Dyer, Cowpen, Bald
  • Brasstown Bald, Bell Knob, Ravencliff Knob
    • Brief enough for all but mid-winter; back at the car by 5:45 PM. 26 points.
  • Glassy, Brasstown, Ravencliff
    • Brief enough for all but mid-winter; back at the car by 5:45 PM. 26 points.
  • Clingman’s Dome, Nettle Creek Bald, Barnett Knob
  • Clingman’s Dome, Nettle Creek Bald, Cowee
  • Hemlock, Huckleberry, Cowee or Winespring
  • Rabun Bald, Blackrock Mtn, Bell Knob
  • Richland, Waterrock, Bunches or Barnett
  • Max Patch, Walnut Mtn, Round Mtn or Snowbird Mtn
  • Siler Bald, Winespring Bald, Wesser Bald
  • Rocky Mountain (W4G/NG-011), Blue Mountain, Wildcat
  • Shortoff Mtn, Yellow Mtn, Whiteside Mtn
  • Springer Mountain, Sassafras, Gooch
  • Huckleberry, Stratton, Hemlock
  • Brasstown, Ravencliff, Bell Knob or Glassy Mtn

Favorite Double-headers

  • Max Patch, Walnut Mtn
  • Siler Bald, Wesser Bald
  • Grassy Ridge Bald, Roan High Knob (W4C_EM-001, W4T_SU-005)
  • Mt Mitchell, Green Knob (W4C/CM-020)
    • I used to do Craggy Dome with this, but I decided Craggy Dome was too miserable.
  • Rabun Bald, Blackrock Mtn
  • Standing Indian, Yellow Mtn (W4C_WM-014, W4C_WM-034)
  • Standing Indian, Ravencliff
  • Rich, Mt Hardy
  • Rocky Mtn (W4G_HC-008), Springer Mtn
  • Levelland Mountain, Blood Mtn
    • Tough, but they share the same trailhead.
  • Sassafras Knob, Grassy Mountain (W4T_SU-061, W4G_HC-007)
  • Bald Mountain (HC-003), Grassy Mountain (HC-007) (Bald is part of a triple and a quad)
  • Big Cedar (NG-023), Black Mountain (NG-022)
  • Clingman’s Dome, Nettle Creek Bald. Nettle isn’t great, but it combines nicely with Clingman’s.
  • Gooch, Sassafras

Favorite Summits

  • Big Bald Mountain (W4G_HC-002) - Beautiful walk; long walk; carry waders.
  • Black Balsam - Beautiful summit. Scatter my ashes here when I die.
  • Coosa Bald - short, steep trail. Always cold.
  • Huckleberry Knob (W4C_WM-011) - beautiful alpine field, with a relatively short hike.
  • Max Patch (W4C_CM-036) - beautiful alpine field, with a short hike.
  • Mount Mitchell (W4C_CM-001) - observation deck on Blue Ridge Parkway; highest point in NC; almost drive-up.
  • Mt Hardy (W4C_WM-006) - a bit long hike, with a beautiful summit on Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Mt Pisgah (W4C_CM-011) - observation deck on Blue Ridge Parkway (with TV tower)
  • Rabun Bald (W4G_NG-002) - observation deck
  • Richland Balsam Mountain (W4C_WM-003) - Blue Ridge Parkway; no view, but pretty balsam summit
  • Roan High Knob - trailhead feels like the top of the world; beautiful sunsets from trailhead.
  • Siler Bald (W4C_WM-024) - beautiful views from summit just off AT
  • Standing Indian (W4C_WM-014) - beautiful view
  • Waterrock Knob (W4C_WM-004) - Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Wesser Bald (W4C_WM-058) - beautiful views from 30’ fire tower
  • Yellow Mountain (W4C_WM-028) - tidy little fire tower on top

On or Near the Blue Ridge Parkway

  • Clingmans Dome
  • Barnett Knob
  • Waterrock Knob
  • Richland Balsam
  • Black Balsam Knob
  • Mount Pisgah
  • Mount Mitchell
  • I avoid Greentop due to QRM. I don’t often go to Bunches Bald because it belongs to the Cherokee and one really ought to seek permission from the campground operator.

Special Events

For some chasers and activators, ordinary SOTA isn’t enough. (I know… Tough to believe!) There are many special events which are related to or impact SOTA. Here are some of them.

Annual North America SOTA Events

  • January: NA SOTA Winter Activity Weekend + ARRL Jan VHF Contest
    • Each winter, NA SOTA holds a Winter Activity Weekend. This is a weekend when we try to get as many activators out as possible. It is sometimes combined with the ARRL VHF contest. This can be a great opportunity for Technician chasers to chase and for Technician activators to score some summit-to-summit (S2S) points.
  • April: NA SOTA Spring Activity Weekend
    • Each spring, NA SOTA holds a Spring Activity Weekend. This is a weekend when we try to get as many activators out as possible. It is a great opportunity to collect many chaser points and a great chance for activators to score summit-to-summit (S2S) points.
  • April: QRPTTF
    • “QRPTTF is an annual operating event to encourage QRPers and SOTA stations to get out of the house and operate portable “from the field,” and of course, have fun.” Chasers can operate picnic-portable. http://www.zianet.com/qrp/
  • June: NA SOTA Summer Activity Weekend
    • Each summer, NA SOTA holds a Summer Activity Weekend. This is a weekend when we try to get as many activators out as possible. It is sometimes combined with the ARRL VHF contest. This can be a great opportunity for Technician chasers to chase and for Technician activators to score some summit-to-summit (S2S) points.
  • June: Atlanta SOTA Seminar
    • Each summer, I (K4KPK) host an online, interactive seminar one evening for new activators and chasers. The activators head out for a joint activation of a north Georgia summit on a following weekend.
  • August (first weekend): Colorado 14er Event and Rocky Mountain Rendezvous
    • Announced in May via www.ham14er.org. This event focuses on the 54 summits above 14,000 feet in Colorado. (Not all of the 14ers qualify as SOTA summits.) Beginning in 2012, SOTA Goats began joint activations on this weekend. Since that time, way too many activators have achieved Goat status to get them all in one place at one time. Each year since, the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous has been an unplanned, unscheduled meet-up of SOTA activators concurrent with the 14er event.
  • September: NA SOTA Fall Activity Weekend + ARRL Sept VHF Contest
    • Each fall, NA SOTA holds a Fall Activity Weekend. This is a weekend when we try to get as many activators out as possible. It is sometimes combined with the ARRL VHF contest. This can be a great opportunity for Technician chasers to chase and for Technician activators to score some summit-to-summit (S2S) points.

Notes:

  • “NA” means “North America.”
  • All of these events are announced on the NASOTA mailing list.
  • The timeline for some of these events can vary by several weeks from one year to the next

Other Special Events

  • NPOTA
    • In 2016, the ARRL is sponsoring National Parks On the Air. “Hams from across the country will activate NPS units, promote the National Park Service and showcase Amateur Radio to the public.” Many SOTA summits lie within NPOTA sites. You can score a NPOTA activation and a SOTA activation at the same time. For more information, see http://www.arrl.org/NPOTA.
  • ARRL Field Day
    • ARRL Field Day is a natural opportunity to combine an event with SOTA. The goal of Field Day is, “To work as many stations as possible on any and all amateur bands… and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions.” Just set up a qualifying Field Day station on a SOTA summit and go to town as an activator. For more information, see http://www.arrl.org/field-day.
  • Winter Bonus Shoulder Days
    • This is not an ‘event’ per se, but a special opportunity. SOTA offers 3 winter bonus points for many summits. Dates vary by geography. Many areas set their bonus period from sometime in December through sometime in March. The winter bonus is intended to encourage activity when the weather is discouraging. For some summits, getting there in mid-winter can be almost impossible. However, the first and last couple of weeks of the winter bonus offer an opportunity to score extra points, so some activators/chasers make an extra effort in these weeks.

Wrap-up

  • Be sure to subscribe to the NA SOTA mailing list at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/nasota/info, in order to get the dates each year.
  • If you have a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column, please send me an email. I’m running out of ideas for columns.

See you on the summits!

73 DE K4KPK / Kevin

Where can I find out more?

Bio

K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. He has completed more than 175 activations.

This story is Copyright 2016 Kevin P. Kleinfelter. A non-exclusive right to redistribute in electronic or printed form is granted to amateur radio clubs operating in the metro Atlanta area. All other rights reserved.

2016 Atlanta SOTA Seminar

The second annual Atlanta SOTA Seminar will take place on June 9 and 11.

The seminar is designed to help aspiring SOTA activators and chasers get started. On June 9, we will hold an online training session from 7:30 to 9:30 to prepare and plan for our activation. On June 11, we will activate Black Mountain W4G/NG-022. The training is open to hams interested in activating (operating from the summit) and chasing (contacting activators from the comfort of the shack).

Topics

  • How to register for SOTA
  • How to post an activation alert
  • How to plan an activation
  • Collecting your SOTA points
  • The typical SOTA QSO
  • Tracking your SOTA progress
  • What to pack
  • Setting up and tearing down

Requirements

  • The training call is open to all ham radio operators, whether you are interested in activating or chasing.
  • If you want to attend the training call but not the field trip, that is OK.
  • Activators: You must be able to hike about a mile up-hill. (We’ll go slowly!)
    • If you are handicapped, please contact the seminar organizer. We will arrange an accessible activation at another summit.
  • You must be able carry your own supplies for a half-day outdoors. (e.g. sunscreen, water, snack)
  • You do NOT need to have a radio. Bring your own or share a mic/paddle with another seminar participant.
  • You must be a licensed ham radio operator.
  • You must have a computer with an internet connection. (We’re holding our training session via a Google Groups meeting.)

How to Register

Email: seminar2016 [at] k4kpk.com no later than Sunday, June 5, 2016. If you do not want your email address shared with the other participants, please say so when you register.

See you on the summits! 73 DE K4KPK / Kevin

Where can I find out more?

Bio: K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. He has completed more than 175 activations.

SOTA Combos

Here are some ideas for combining SOTA summits. Maybe you’d like to activate multiple hills. Maybe you’d like to combine an activation with some other activity. (Yes, there are other activities!)

Triple-headers and More

  • Bell Knob, Cowee Mountain, Huckleberry Knob
  • Big Cedar Mountain (W4G/NG-023), Black Mountain (W4G/NG-022) and Gooch Mountain (W4G/NG-041). Tough, but do-able. I’ve done it.
  • Big Cedar Mountain (W4G/NG-023), Black Mountain (W4G/NG-022) and Rocky Mountain (W4G/NG-050). I haven’t tried this one yet.
  • Blue Mountain (W4G/NG-010), Rocky Mountain (W4G/NG-011) and Tray Mountain (W4G/NG-005). Tough, but do-able. I’ve done it. Three trailheads, not thru-hiking.
  • Dyer Mountain, Flat Top, Copwen, Bald, Grassy. I’ve never been able to fit them all into one day. I’m convinced it could be done. The Flat Top drive really requires 4WD, but I did it once in my Corolla.

Double-headers

  • Bald Mountain (W4G_HC-003), Grassy Mountain (HC-007). This is a logical combo. You drive right past Bald on the way to Grassy.

Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail

I’m trying to section hike the AT in Georgia. I’m not including segments I’ve already hiked.

  • Big Cedar Mountain (W4G/NG-023)
    • Arrange transportation (e.g. Appalachian trail shuttle) and hike from Woody Gap to Neels Gap, activating Blood Mountain (W4G/NG-004) too. 11 miles 1-way.
    • Activate, then hike half-way to Blood Mountain (W4G/NG-004) and back. Another day, activate Blood Mountain and hike half-way to Big Cedar and back.
  • Rocky Mountain (W4G/NG-011) to Tray Mountain (W4G/NG-005) - Hike from Indian Grave Gap to Tray Mountain. 1.7 miles 1-way between trailheads. Add round trip for each summit-hike. Total round trip = 7.2 (plus a lot of vertical).
  • Blue Mountain (W4G/NG-010) to Horsetrough Mountain (W4G/NG-009) 6.5 miles 1-way.
  • Blue Mountain via Hogpen Gap at Richard B. Russell Hwy. 7.4 miles 1-way.
  • Levelland Mountain, from the “north.” 4.2 miles 1-way.

Winter Activations

A colleague recently asked, “As winter sets in, I guess you’ll be putting your activating on hold until spring, huh? No chance! We’ll take a look at the virtues of cold-weather activations.

Disclaimers

  1. I’m discussing southeastern winter weather – not winter at 14,000 feet!
  2. You are responsible for ensuring that you don’t freeze to death - not me.

Bonus

In winter months, some SOTA regions offer a 3-point bonus on 8 and 10 point summits. The rationalle is to provide extra incentive when ice and cold temperature set in. In the southeast:

  • Tennessee (W4T) give a winter bonus from December 1 - March 31.
  • Georgia (W4G) gives a winter bonus from December 1 - March 15.
  • Virginia (W4) offers a winter bonus from December 1 - March 15.
  • North and South Carolina (W4C) offer no winter bonus.
  • Alabama (W4A) offers no winter bonus.

Why the differences? SOTA associations are local within guidelines set by the SOTA Management Team. The volunteer who authored the association reference manual for W4C chose “not applicable” for the weather bonus, so there is none; the author of the W4G manual felt that a winter bonus was desirable. W4A doesn’t have summits above 2500 feet.

Chasers are assumed to have heat in the shack, so there’s no bonus for chasers.

Bushwhacking

Many summits require off-trail travel in order to reach them. Bushwhacking is easier when trees are bare and ground vegetation has died back. There’s less brush to push through, you can see where you’re going, and you can see the sun (which is helpful in maintaining your course). As a result, there are many summits which are easier from mid-November through March.

Weather

You may have to contend with ice and snow. While ice and snow make for a treacherous drive, winter views can be breathtaking. There is a particular peace that sets in when snow is falling and yours are the only footprints. Some activators like “postman’s spikes” to provide better traction on an icy trail. Trekking poles help to some extent. Fortunately, in the south we seldom have enough snow to warrant snowshoes.

Warm clothing is essential, particularly when the wind is blowing (and the wind is almost always blowing “up top.”) Keep in mind that you’ll work up a sweat when hiking, and then you’ll be sitting on a mountaintop. WG0AT has commented on the irony of working up a sweat, walking uphill, only to sit still in a freezing wind once you get there. You’ll need to add layers when you stop climbing. Sometimes I wind up with 3 shirts, 3 jackets, and 2 pair of pants.

Consider carrying a closed-cell pad to sit on – sitting on a cold rock will suck the heat right out of you. Rain gear is particularly important. If you are wet in the winter, you’re in trouble. Rain gear can also be used as a wind break, so long as you don’t let yourself get soaked from perspiration. Good gloves can be a challenge. I often wear Thinsulate-insulated gloves or mittens as I set up. I haven’t figured out how to operate CW or to log contacts legibly with gloves on. In bitter cold, you may find that using a digital recorder attached to your headphone jack allows you to dispense with making a written record and you can operate voice-only with gloves. Some people throw a small blanket over their paddle and paddle-hand.

Do take care when driving up a frozen road that you’ll be able to get out when it thaws. Activators have been known to get stuck when the road melts!

Wrap Up

Don’t forget that daylight ends earlier in the winter. You don’t want to get stuck on Mt. Nowhere after dark.

Check Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps to be sure that the road to the trailhead is open. Many USFS roads are closed in January and February; some are closed even longer.

See you on the summits!

73 DE K4KPK / Kevin

Where can I find out more?

  • Official site: http://sotadata.org.uk/
  • Mailing list: https://groups.yahoo.com/groups/summits
  • K4KPK’s site: http://k4kpk.com/content/sota-menu
  • Email me (K4KPK). My email address is available via http://www.qrz.com/db/K4KPK.

Bio

K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. He has completed more than 165 activations.

This story is Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Kleinfelter. A non-exclusive right to redistribute in electronic or printed form is granted to amateur radio clubs operating in the metro Atlanta area. All other rights reserved.

Travelling Light

Some activators carry everything but the kitchen sink. Others travel light. In this month’s column, we’ll take a look at virtues and techniques for travelling light.

The Wrong Way

I used to think, “If I might need it, I’d best carry it.” On my first activation, I carried a 65 pound pack. In addition to camping gear, I carried:

  • An Elecraft KX3
  • A way-too-big Pelican case.
  • A slingshot, fishing line, and heavy sinker - in case I wanted suspend my antenna from a tree.
  • A Jackite mast.
  • 31’ of antenna wire
  • 4 x 31’ radials
  • An HT
  • Internal batteries, external batteries, and a battery cable
  • A feed line and a BNC-to-binding post connector
  • Extra food and water
  • A big first aid kit
  • etc.

My pack was so heavy that when I fell over, I was like an overturned turtle. I needed help to stand up!

Light Begets Fast Begets Light

The less weight you carry, the faster you can move. The faster you can move, the less time you spend on the trail. The less time on the trail, the less you need to carry. It’s a virtuous cycle.

It isn’t a disaster if you get to the summit and something doesn’t work. Improvise. One activator arrived at a summit without a short wire, critical to his setup. He used a twist tie from his sandwich.

It isn’t a problem if you’re hungry and thirsty when you return to your car. It means you didn’t carry more weight than you needed. (Don’t overdo this one.)

A couple of index cards and a pocken pen are all you need to log your contacts and they weigh much, much less than a netbook or tablet computer (and a waterproof case to carry it).

Carry less radio; carry less antenna; carry fewer provisions. Ask yourself whether you really, really need an item. You need to carry an adequate radio and an adequate antenna. If dry weather is predicted, a large ziplock bag is all you need to keep your gear dry.

A Minimal Pack

Total weight, excluding pack is less than 4 pounds.

(Tie a rock to the string and throw it over a branch. Tie the other end to your antenna wire and haul it up.)

WS0TA doesn’t even carry a pack. He stuffs everything into the pockets of his clothes and wears a water belt.

Wrap-up

I usually carry a few more items such as a cell phone and an HT, but these are non-essential and I’m a wimp. As I revisit summits with a lighter pack, I’m finding them much easier than I did 3 years ago, and I’m finding that I can often visit multiple summits in one day because I can move faster.

See you on the summits!

73 DE K4KPK / Kevin

Where can I find out more?

Bio

K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. He has completed more than 150 activations.

This story is Copyright 2016 Kevin P. Kleinfelter. A non-exclusive right to redistribute in electronic or printed form is granted to amateur radio clubs operating in the metro Atlanta area. All other rights reserved.

Antennas for Summits

An adequate antenna is a requirement for a successful activation. In this month’s column we’ll look at some popular options for SOTA antennas.

Requirements

  • Lightweight - You’ll have to carry it to the summit.
  • Rapid deploy - You’ll not have time to wait for concrete to cure!
  • Adequate signal - You need to reach 4+ chasers.

Down in the flatlands, you want a really good antenna and you can afford to put a lot of effort into achieving optimum signal. When you’re on a mountain, there’s a different set of trade-offs. There may be a limited weather window or darkness may be closing in and a rapid deploy can make the difference between a successful activation and a scrub.

VHF

If you set off with a 5 watt HT and a rubber duck, you’ll need chasers nearby. Most of the time, you’ll need something better.

You don’t need a 7-element Yagi-Uda atop a 30’ mast for a SOTA activation, although that is certainly an option if you have one and can carry it. A quarter-wave whip will make some contacts. It can be improved with the addition of a “tiger tail.” A tiger tail is just a 1/4 length of light, insulated wire with a ring terminal on the end. You put it over the antenna connector on your HT, screw on the antenna, and you convert your 1/4 wave antenna into a vertical dipole. I work contacts at 100+ miles with 5 watts using one of these. A roll-up slim jim is another popular option.

Line of sight is much, much better from the top of a summit than around town. A rubber duck will work just fine to reach metro Atlanta from Stone Mountain or Kennesaw Mountain. With a quarter wave vertical dipole, you can reach Atlanta from many summits in north Georgia. (Be sure to line up some local chasers in advance, and don’t forget that only simplex contacts count.)

HF

Due to the light weight, most SOTA activators use wire antennas. You can hang your wire vertically from a tree, string your wire horizontally through branches you can reach, or use a lightweight mast. Many activators tie a string to a found rock, throw it over a branch, and hoist up a wire. I’ve got a terrible throwing arm and I like a consistent deploy process, so I carry a carbon fiber mast.

The classic dipole gets good results, and some activators swear by it. This antenna is particularly popular with activators who do not carry an antenna tuner, due to the ability to rig it for low SWR. The most common configuration is an inverted V. If you suspend the center from a mast, you’ll need to carry a mast stiff enough to support it, and that’s generally somewhat heavy. If there are trees on the summit, you can suspend the center and the ends from the trees, but setting up three support points takes longer than I generally like. If the center is up high, you’ll also need to carry a long feed line, which increases your pack weight.

An end-fed is generally the most popular antenna for most activators due to the ease with which it can be deployed. If your radio has an ATU, you can throw one end of a 35.5’ wire over a tree, attach the other end directly to your radio, string a similar length counterpoise through the bushes, and you’re on the air in minutes.

My personal favorite is to zip tie 32’ of wire to a 35’ carbon fiber fishing pole, and to lean the pole against a suitable tree branch. If it’s windy, you’ll need to guy it or to tie it off to the tree. On a treeless summit, three aluminum stakes and three lengths of string will guy it with a few minutes of effort. If you run it through a ‘matchbox’, it’s an end-fed half-wave for 20 meters. (I routinely work the UK and Spain with this.) To switch to 40 meters, run 32’ of wire through the bushes and attach it to the ground terminal on your radio and you have a dipole (or you can think of it as a single-radial vertical, if you prefer).

Wrap-up

  • Start with what you have. If you can get it to the summit, it is good enough to get started. You’ve got elevation working in your favor, and many summits are free of RFI. RF in the shack is not something you have to worry about. (There’s no shack and you’re running low power.) Keep in mind that you only need it to stay up for about an hour; this is not a 20-year antenna!

See you on the summits!

73 DE K4KPK / Kevin

Where can I find out more?

  • A popular EFHW: http://www.lnrprecision.com/endfedz/trail-friendly/
  • EFHW Central: http://www.aa5tb.com/efha.html
  • K4KPK’s site: http://k4kpk.com/content/sota-menu
  • Email me (K4KPK). My email address is available via http://www.qrz.com/db/K4KPK.

Bio

K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. He has completed more than 150 activations.

This story is Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Kleinfelter. A non-exclusive right to redistribute in electronic or printed form is granted to amateur radio clubs operating in the metro Atlanta area. All other rights reserved.