Reasons to Learn CW

CW Brings Certain Advantages to SOTA

You can be a fine SOTA operator using voice modes and you can achieve Mountain Goat or Shack Sloth status using SSB or FM. Shucks, you could succeed using RTTY or JT65 if you were determined, but SOTA has some powerful motivators for learning CW.

Chasers

You can work CW-only activators.

As a chaser, you have all the equipment in your shack at your disposal. The activators have only what they carry. Many activators do not carry a microphone. (Some activators entire go-kit weighs less than 2 pounds!) You aren’t going to work these activators on SSB.

You can work some of them using your computer to recognize/send CW. (CW is just a digital mode which can be digitized by the operator.) Some decoders are pretty good, but when the activator’s signal is too weak for software decoding, you’ll miss out. Signal strength can be an issue, particularly for DX, but some lightweight trail radios send at about 3 watts.

If you’re working toward your Shack Sloth award, you’ll want to be able to work both CW and SSB activations, in order to get your award faster.

Activators and Spotting

One of the coolest pieces of software on Earth is RBNGate. RBNGate is available solely to CW operators. RBNGate will hear you calling CQ and it will post a spot to SOTAWatch on your behalf.

As a reminder, you do not have to be spotted in order to activate a summit. All you have to do to earn your points is to work 4 hams who are not on the hill with you. However, you can get your contacts easier and have the fun of working the pile-up if you get spotted.

RBNGate joins two other mavelous pieces of software – RBN and SOTAWatch. RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) is out there, day in and day out, spotting CW CQs. SOTA chasers are posting spots for SOTA activators to SOTAWatch. SOTA activators post alerts, stating when they intend to activate, to SOTAWatch. What RBNGate does is to take RBN spots, match them up with SOTA alerts, and when they match, it posts a spot to SOTAWatch.

What this means is that all you have to do once you are set up on a summit is to start calling CQ via CW, and about a minute later you have a pile-up.

There are other ways to get spotted.

But with RBNGate, you just sit down, start calling CQ using CW, and you get spotted.

Very cool.

Radios

I love my KX3. The Yaesu FT-817 has many fans. KD1JV’s Mountain Topper (a.k.a. Mountain Top Radio or MTR) series of radios are absolute brilliance. Roughly the size of an Altoid tin (some models are double-size), weighing approximately 1/4 pound, runnable from a single 9-volt battery, they are the paragon of what you want to carry when you’re hiking up the side of a mountain. (i.e. Almost nothing.)

If configured correctly, and your default frequency is free, all you do is plug in your battery, paddle, antenna and earbuds and start calling. Volume level is automatic. Most models don’t even have a power switch. Just plug and call.

Some hams adapt their MTR with a built-in touch paddle, for one less thing to carry and one less thing to plug in.

It only supports CW.

Shortly after I started activating, I bought one of these and put it on a shelf at eye level in my shack, to motivate me to practice CW.

LNR Precision Mountain Topper Radio

The Usual

As CW fans will tell you, CW gets through when voice can’t:

  • When the signal is faint, CW is more likely to get through.
  • When you’re operating next to a mountain-top cell tower and QRM is at S8, CW is more likely to get through.
  • CW doesn’t have a foreign accent you can’t understand.
  • When there’s an SSB contest and the voice frequencies are full, you can move down to CW and find a space to operate.

Crusty old CW operators from back when CW was required in order to get your license sometimes complain that the no-code license spoiled ham radio. SOTA is an example of how the no-code license works well. You get on the air with SSB; you are active with SSB; then you notice advantages of learning CW. Instead of learning it to get your ticket and forgetting it, you learn it because you want to, and you keep using it because it brings you benefits you want.

CW isn’t necessary for SOTA. There are many successful activators and chasers who don’t use it. There are Mountain Goats who got there without a single CW QSO. But CW brings some mighty fine advantages.

Disclaimer: I am not a CW hotshot. I can manage a slow exchange of call signs and RST from a summit… most of the time.

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. His first QSO (ever) was on a backpacking trip to a 5300’ summit. He has completed more than 140 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.

How to Read a Repeater Listing

I do most of my operating on 20 and 40 meters. I have an HT that I use occasionally for simplex and for APRS. Whenever I try to use it on a repeater, I have to remember how to read a repeater listing.

Here’s a sample repeater listing:

Location Call Freq Offset PL
Ellijay W4HHH 145.170 - 100.0
Dalton N4BZJ 147.135 + 141.3
  • Frequency: The frequency the repeater transmits on.
  • Offset: The repeater listens for your HT a standard offset above/below its transmit frequency. For 2 meters, the offset is 600 kHz.
  • PL: Sometimes called CTCSS. Your HT must transmit this sub-audible tone continuously, while you transmit, in order to open the repeater squelch. It “unlocks” the repeater.

As a rule, if the output frequency (transmit) of the repeater is below 147 mHz, then the input frequency (listening) is 600 kilohertz lower. This is referred to as a negative offset. If the output is 147 Mhz or above, then the input is 600 kilohertz above. This is referred to as a positive offset. Most HTs handle this automatically, using the rule below. The only time you have to mess with this directly is when someone has an oddball repeater. Of the 255 repeaters near me, 9 of them do not follow the convention.

Announce your presence with: “This is K4xxx listening on 146.84” (using your call sign and the repeater frequency). If I were looking for SOTA contacts I might say, “This is K4KPK on the 146.84 repeater. I’m operating from the top of Mount Whatever. Is there anyone who could meet me for a simplex contact?”

W4T Beginner Summits

These are summits I recommend for beginners (or just when you want a low-effort activation) in Tennessee.

W4G Beginner Summits

These are summits I recommend for beginners (or just when you want a low-effort activation) in Georgia.

W4C/WM-042, Whiteside Mountain

Drive Guide - Whiteside Mtn FROM Yellow Mtn Gap

  • Duration: 0:20, 6 miles
  • Google Maps URL: http://goo.gl/maps/TBNCn
  • Seasonal/Limited Access:
  • Directions:
    • Head out (east) on dirt Ponderock Dr
    • R onto paved Ponderock Dr / Ponderosa / Jodytown Dr and go 1.4
    • R on Yellow Mtn Rd and go 400’
    • R on NC-1144 / Norton Rd and go 2.0
    • R on US-64 W and go 1.4
    • L on Whiteside Mtn Rd and go 1.0
    • Bear L on Deville Dr and go 0.1
    • Parking lot - $2 parking fee
  • Food: None

Drive Guide - Whiteside Mtn FROM Cole Gap

  • Duration: 0:15, 6 miles
  • Google Maps URL: http://goo.gl/maps/azU1v
  • Seasonal/Limited Access:
  • Directions:
    • S/W on Buck Creek Rd (as you exit the trail, turn L on the road) and go 2.2
    • L on US-64 E and go 2.8
    • R on Whiteside Mtn Rd and go 1.0
    • Bear L on Deville Dr and go 0.1
    • Parking lot - $2 parking fee
  • Food: None

Drive Guide - back to Highlands NC (where you briefly get 3G cell)

  • Bear R ond Whiteside Mtn Rd out of the lot and go 1
  • L on US-64 W and go 5.5

Trail Guide

  • Duration:
    • Up via flat route: 1.2 miles, 500’ climb, 0:50 hurrying, but tired.
    • Down via flat route: 0:30 running
  • Navigation
    • Head up the stairs near the sign-board
    • At the top of the stairs, turn L
    • After about 200’, there are some stairs on the R. You can take the stairs for the steep route, or continue on the road for the shallow, longer climb. I took the road both ways.
  • Trailhead altitude: ???
  • Summit altitude: ???
  • GPS tracks/waypoints:
    • Trailhead: 35.08044,-83.14419
    • Summit: 35.0813,-83.138

Summit Guide

  • Hang antenna from tree: Yes
  • Space to guy mast: Yes
  • Cell coverage: VZN fail; AT&T fail; APRS sent but unreliable ACK
  • Unique features: Nice views.

See Also

  • http://www.hikewnc.info/besthikes/nantahala-ranger-district/whiteside-mountain
  • http://www.hikewnc.info/trails/nantahala-ranger-district/whiteside-mountain

W4C Beginner Summits

These are summits I recommend for beginners (or just when you want a low-effort activation) in North Carolina.

Beginner Summits

Getting started is sometimes the hardest part. I’m collecting lists of beginner / low-effort SOTA summits here. Whether you are a tyro or just looking for an easy activation, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re looking at a summit and wondering whether it is easy, look to see how many times it has been activated. If it has been activated more times than nearby summits with similar points, it is probably easy. If it has been activated once or twice by a crazy man, it may be only marginally do-able!

Note: My definition of a beginner summit is that it should:

  • Be reachable in most weather by a 2WD passenger sedan
  • Have a hike of a 1.5 miles or less on an apparent trail
  • Have no bushwhacking
  • Have no complicating factors on the summit.
  • Be on public land or have documented all-ham permission from the land owner.
  • Have well-documented drive/hike information.
  • Pass the ‘red face’ test – Would you send a first-timer up this hill?
  • Have some characteristic(s) which justify sending a beginner (e.g. particularly easy, something to see, all paved roads to the trailhead, VHF activity nearby, etc.)

This is a list of lists page. Click on any of the links below to find lists of beginner summits by association.

Beginner Summits Near Atlanta

I’d like to try a SOTA activation; can I start with an easy hill?   This month’s column will cover some north Georgia summits which are particularly suitable for tyro activators or for an experienced activator who is looking for a relatively easy activation.

I make it a point to identify summits with restrooms; this is important if you take your family along for the activation. (One ham’s XYL sheltered in a privy while he activated in sub-zero weather!)

  • W4G/HC-003, Stone Mountain

    Stone Mountain is near Atlanta. If you don’t want to walk up, you can ride the tram to the top. Due to terrain, it is a great location for a magnetic loop or other tripod-based antenna. There is a tree in the activation zone, if you want to throw a wire into it, and you can always bungee a mast to a fence.

    This is a very reachable trailhead. There are paved roads all the way to the trailhead. You can get there via MARTA or Uber, if you’re determined.

    There are lots of tourists on top, but with some care, you can pick a spot that is not too busy. If you can, take a partner. He/she can answer questions from gawkers while you’re on the air. Remember that you are an ambassador for SOTA, and that you will provide the first impression of SOTA to many onlookers.

    There are restrooms on the summit.

    Technicians: You should have plenty of VHF activity, given the proximity to Atlanta. Remember that you cannot make contacts via repeater for SOTA, but you can call up the repeater and ask hams to meet you on simplex for SOTA credit.

  • W4G/HC-005, Springer Mountain

    Springer Mountain is famous for being the start of the Appalachian Trail. While it would be a long walk from Amicalola Falls State Park, there is a “back route” to the summit which is about a mile. Since it is on the Appalachian Trail, the trail is well marked.

    There is a privy in the camping area, just prior to the summit.

    The road to the “back route” trailhead is dirt and some of it is bumpy. It is drivable in most weather in a passenger sedan.

  • W4G/HC-036 Pine Mountain

    This Pine Mountain is near Atlanta, with a modest hike. It is very close to I-75, so it isn’t hard to find. The trailhead is reachable via paved roads; the parking lot is gravel.

    Its chief selling point is that it is convenient to Atlanta and that the summit isn’t overrun with tourists, like Stone Mountain. There are trees in the activation zone, so that makes “wire in a tree” antennas feasible.

    Technicians: You should have plenty of VHF activity, given the proximity to Atlanta. Remember that you cannot make contacts via repeater for SOTA, but you can call up the repeater and ask hams to meet you on simplex for SOTA credit.

  • W4G/HC-043 Vineyard Mountain

    Its chief selling point is that it is convenient to Atlanta and that the summit isn’t overrun with tourists, like Stone Mountain. There are trees in the activation zone, so that makes “wire in a tree” antennas feasible.

    The trailhead is accessible via paved roads. It is in a recreation area, so there should be restrooms somewhere nearby, but I’ve never found them.

    Technicians: You should have plenty of VHF activity, given the proximity to Atlanta. Remember that you cannot make contacts via repeater for SOTA, but you can call up the repeater and ask hams to meet you on simplex for SOTA credit.

  • W4G/NG-001 Brasstown Bald

    Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia. There is a visitor center on top and an observation deck. The parking lot is reachable via paved road and there is a shuttle van from the lot to the summit.

    There are restrooms on the summit and at the parking lot.

    You could use an HT from the observation deck, but I wouldn’t recommend trying HF from the deck. Someone is bound to object to your antenna. There is a trail from the parking lot to the summit. 20 feet before this trail reaches the summit, there is a small, grassy lawn to the right (as you ascend). You can guy a mast here, or throw a wire into the trees along the side of the lawn.

    There are lots of tourists on top. If you can, take a partner. He/she can answer questions from gawkers while you’re on the air. Remember that you are an ambassador for SOTA, and that you will provide the first impression of SOTA to many onlookers.

    The shuttle and the center are run by a contractor (Cradle of Forestry). Its personnel were inquisitive when I was last there. They wanted to be sure I was amateur and not commercial, but they weren’t a problem. Please be nice to them so they’ll be nice to future hams.

  • W4G/NG-020, Wildcat Mountain

    Wildcat Mountain is one of the non-urban summits nearest to Atlanta. It is good for 8 points, and there’s a nice view near the summit. The trailhead is accessible via paved road.

    With a modest drive and a modest hike, you can activate this one and get back to Atlanta is a half-day outing. The trail is easy to follow, but parts are steep.

  • W4G/NG-022, Black Mountain

    Black Mountain is a modest drive from Dahlonega. The ’trail’ is a gravel road that’s easy to follow. There’s a fire tower on top, with a small grassy area that makes a good activation spot.

    Do NOT believe Google Maps about the location of the trailhead. Google Maps mistakes a power line for a dirt road. For the real trailhead, see my trail guide at the link for Black Mountain (above).

    There is a privy at the trailhead.

    Note that when the wind shifts, there’s a loose antenna on the tower that moves. It creaks loudly. This can be startling if you think you’re the only person on the summit and then you hear a loud creak.

    There’s a good barbecue place in Dahlonega, for your post-activation meal.

  • W4G/NG-027, Black Rock Mountain

    Black Rock Mountain (sometimes spelled Blackrock Mountain) is north of Clayton, Georgia. It is Georgia’s highest state park. The trailhead is accessible via paved roads. The trail is steep, but it is less than a mile to the activation zone.

    You can go all the way to the summit, but Tennessee Rock, shortly before the summit, is in the activation zone and it has a nicer view.

    The trail can be confusing. During peak tourist season, there is sometimes a park employee at the parking area, handing out trail maps. Take one! Also, see my trail guide at the Black Rock Mountain link (above).

    There are restrooms near the trailhead, but they’re a bit far to walk.

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. His first QSO was on a backpacking trip to a 5300’ summit with his 12 year-old son. He has completed more than 135 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.

Car Washes in North Georgia

When I head out for SOTA and the trip includes dirt roads, I take my wife’s car, because it has higher ground clearance. I need a good car wash on the way home!

There are three primary arteries to north Georgia:

  • I-575
    • Canton GA - 301 Adams Jenkins Memorial Dr, Canton, GA 30115
  • GA-400
    • GA-141: Head west on GA-141 and it is on the right after a few hundred yards. It is called “Wave”, and it is next to the daycare.
  • GA-985
    • Clayton: Ingles, across from Chic-fil-a and next to BP, on East side of 441, just north of hwy 76West turn-off, has a very nice car wash at its gas station.
    • Gainesville: 3 miles off I-985 = 1238 Jesse Jewell Pkwy SW, Gainesville, GA. Exit on GA-60 North, turning L at end of ramp. Go L at Jesse Jewell Pky and “Extreme Car Wash” is on R in 0.6 miles.