Thursday, April 24, 2014

Nice SOTA Trip to New Mexico

I took a long weekend trip, Thursday - Monday over the Easter holidays, to travel to Santa Fe, NM to accomplish two things. The first, get a break from the day job and secondly to activate as many Summits as possible. It has been a while since I took a serious SOTA trip, way back in February to be exact and I was getting Summit fever. So I caught a plane on Wednesday night so I could hit the ground running, or climbing, on Thursday morning.

As the days passed, I activated 6 summits. Two each on Thursday and Friday and one each on Saturday and Sunday. Three of the peaks are mountains I had done before, Ortiz, Montoso and 7472 while the other three were new ones for me, Tetilla, Palomas and Escobas. Including the winter bonus I was able to collect 58 points to bring my total activator points to 349 or a little more than a third of the way to my goal of 1,000 points. On this trip I used the FT-817, pico paddle, Elecraft T-1 tuner and an LNR 40-20-10 EFHW mounted on my carbon fiber extendable 21' fishing pole. I operated 30 meters through 12 meters on most summits.

Operating on Palomas W5N/SI-010

Considering that I am a third of the way, what have I learned along the way. As I gave that notion some thought it brought to mind the following.

1. My activating process is much more efficient, i.e., pack weight, antenna configuration, set-up time.
2. I am much more confident in my previously rusty orientation skills. I don't need a trail to get to a summit and back.
3. I'm in much better shape than when I started. I've dropped pounds and added endurance.
4. I've explored much more of this country, getting to summits off the beaten path, than I would have ever done otherwise.
5. I've met a fantastic community of activators and chasers who share a common bond of a love a radio and the outdoors.

It is exciting when two of your hobbies converge into one activity and that is what SOTA is to me.

To add a star to this trip, my XYL Cris, KC5HZQ, was able to activate four of the summits on a combination of 2 meter and 10 meter QSO's. She now has 38 points. So she is off an running. I'm glad I got a 300 point headstart on her.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ham Radio and Fitness

Unfortunately, to many, ham radio and fitness are mutually exclusive. We are all passionate about a hobby whose major milestones can be accomplished setting in a comfortable chair in front of our radios. Our major competitions include 24 - 48 hours of sitting. We've even developed software that eliminates the need to even operate a CW paddle or press the button on a microphone. Needless to say our hobby or at least many facets of it promote physical inactivity. You will never mistake a Hamfest for a Triathalete convention.

There are notable exceptions, within the hobby, that will get you out. Expeditioning, fox hunting (outside), Summits on the Air and I'm sure there are a few others. In fact, and I may be a little biased, I think that the SOTA Goat award is one of the toughest awards in amateur radio. The SOTA Goat is an activator award, you must earn 1,000 activator points with the highest value summit worth 10 points. There are some bonus points available during extreme weather conditions, but suffice it to say you will have to summit at least 100 peaks and operate to earn the award. Normally it takes several years to earn this award and you have to do it on your feet.

However, if you aren't into Summits or other outdoor forms of radio there is device that you can wear on your wrist to motivate you to get up and around. These devices count your steps in a day and depending on the device will nudge you to get up when you have been sitting too long. All of these devices have accompanying apps that will sync with the device to give you statistics on your day including steps and the quality of your sleep. I currently use a device made by Jawbone and although I have a somewhat regular exercise regimen, it reminds and motivates me to keep it up. An extra walk around the block or around the office, if done regularly can make a difference in your overall fitness.

I blogged here several months back about the backpacker mentality of saving ounces in our packs while we were carrying extra pounds on our bodies. Since that blog I have lost ten pounds and signficantly improved my stamina. The higher fitness level we can achieve improves our odds to live long enough to achieve some of our sedentary goals.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The First Activation of a South Texas SOTA Summit - Peak 2002

The SOTA Management Team recently authorized a group of qualifying summits in South Texas. These summits are located generally west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. The elevation of these summits range from ~1700 - 2200 feet ASL. All of these new summits are only 1 point summits, however, they are new and have never been activated which begs for someone to do them for the first time. So today, I was the first to activate a South Texas Summit.

I have only done limited research and actually stopped looking when I found the first accessible summit. The summit, named "2002" for it's elevation because it is otherwise unnamed. The summit is an escarpment, which is defined as, "a long precipitous, cliff-like ridge of land, rock, or the like, commonly formed by faulting or fracturing of the earths crust".  Peak 2002 is just that with a summit ridge that runs for nearly a mile. Accordingly it has a large activation zone. (In SOTA, the operator doesn't necessarily need to transmit from the actual summit, in Texas the activation zone is anywhere within 150 vertical feet of the summit). The majority of the summit ridge is on private land, however the eastern third of the summit lies within the boundries of the Texas Hill Country State Natural Area. So an easy, state park hike, should be easy.

View from the Trail

Looking at the layout of the park, the ranger told me which trail would get me to the summit ridge, trail 4B. I downloaded the map and the trail was in the middle of the park, but I would be able to drive to the trail head right, wrong. The Ranger informed me that because this is a Natural Area I would have to walk. What I thought was, at most, a 2 mile round-trip was now a 6 mile round-trip. Wait a minute this is just a 1 point summit. But I was there, but I knew I didn't have enough water for 6 miles, so I bought a bottle of water at the Park Office, got directions and took off.
South Texas Fauna

So what was a 2 mile round-trip which had now become a 6 mile round-trip, turned out to be nearly 8 miles. I missed a trail due to a poorly marked trail sign and was almost a mile down that trail when I realized my error. So I had to back track and get on the right trail. Finally 1 hour and 40 minutes after leaving the trail-head I reached the summit ridge.

From that point, it was a fairly normal activation. I used my MTR and a 20/40m EFHW and my Pico Paddle. I managed 22 QSO's with the first being AE4FZ and the last being KD5KC, Mike who did the bulk of the work to get the additional Texas Summits approved. Thanks Mike. I was also able to work a little DX with OK1CZ calling in on 20m.
A Selfie from the Trail

So this was another SOTA first and I'm glad I was able to be the first to activate a South Texas Summit. I will have to say though, this was the toughest SOTA point I ever earned. Eight miles of hiking for 1 point, the miles per point is pretty high. If you extrapolated that ratio to a 10 point summit a person would have to walk 80 miles. Well as they say, everything is bigger in Texas.

Thanks to all the chasers and thanks again to Mike KD5KC who was a catalyst in getting these summits approved.

I'm Back

Recent weeks have been extremely busy from both a professional and personal perspective. However, I seem to be getting back to a little more sane schedule that will allow me to blog a little more, which is very therapeutic for me. So some radio things that I am involved in.

I couple of weeks ago I hosted the annual IOTA Bash in Boerne, Texas. If you are into IOTA at all, it was a great gathering. Presentations from EA3NT, K6VVA, K9AJ and AB5EB. It was the 10th annual event and it's always a good time. Monitor for updates on next years BASH.

I  bought a K3. I needed to reclaim some real estate on my desk in the shack. I had an FT5000, which is a fantastic rig, but it is big. I will move it to my ranch station to upgrade my equipment there. So, far the K3 has lived up to all I've heard about it. It is a very flexible rig with a great receiver.

The SOTA powers that be have recently established more qualifying summits in Texas, some only 40 minutes from my QTH. While only 1 point summits, it is fun to activate any summit as the chasers are there and pile-ups are what we like. I plan to activate the first South Texas summit this afternoon. Maybe I will write it up after I'm done.

So, it's good to be at the keyboard again, thanks for reading this stuff.