Today I headed up to Monserate Mountain (W6/CT-235 - Monserate Mountain) to do a little hiking and play radio. It’s been several weeks since I’ve been able to get out and I haven’t been riding my bike so it felt good to hit the trail. I was originally planning on a hike in the same area to W6/SC-445. I did 445 last year and remembered it to be a real thigh burner as well as having a couple of spots where the weeds were so thick across the road it was a real bear... I did a search after sleeping in this morning and found Monserate very close to that one. It has been activated quite a few times and has a published trail so I figured it would be a better choice given my current fitness.
My departure was further delayed because I needed to repair my Chameleon antenna. If you read my last hiking post, I somewhat broke my antenna. One of the section-connection joints got jammed down into the rod and I couldn’t extract it. I had a backup section in the back yard that I was using for my home setup so I thought I would use that. The section connectors were corroded and therefore welded the pieces together, keeping me from breaking it down. It took some effort to pull them all apart and then clean the corrosion off the aluminium connectors. I broke the shock-cord so I have some more repair to do to it tonight. I really like the antenna because of the easy setup but I will start using a standard inverted V dipole more often.
The hike wasn’t very long (3.8 mi round trip but more probable 3.5 mi) with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. It’s a pretty good incline but not bad. Because my departure was delayed, it was a little warm. I converted my pants to shorts and rolled up my sleeves. Yup, summer is here.
I setup the radio and found that there were a couple of contests going on. I made a couple of contacts by answering their CQ and then spotted myself. My first Contact was N0OI, Scott in Perris, CA. I asked him if he would drop down to the CW band so I could take a shot at sending CW (stands for continuous wave using morse code).
Yup, this is radio being super geeky now. Most people thought morse code went the way of the steam engine but it's actually still very popular. Part of the resurgence is from guys like me that do summits on the air. It allows us to carry smaller radios with lower power and go farther.
Sott was kind and let me know he’d go as slow as I needed. He’s part of a group of fellow SOTA friends that are always willing to help you out. I just finished learning morse code and I really suck at it. I can send because it’s somewhat muscle memory using my paddles but my decode sucks so incredibly bad. This is very common for people that are learning, decoding is harder than sending. I got the exchange done (callsign and signal report) and I was able to log my first SOTA CW. I can decode well enough to hear my call sign, get my signal report and the “73”. If people put a lot of spacing between the letters, I can decode them but most people aren’t going to do that. The funny thing is that they can send the characters at 18 to 20 words per minute but I need really big spacing otherwise I get behind and it’s game over. Even stranger, if I slow my keyer down below 15, I get screwed up because the sound or musicality changes. In CW you learn by hearing the single letter as a sound. I sent Scott a message via slack and thanked him. Some other guys using slack.com were all encouraging me. Thanks Scott for helping me get my first SOTA CW activator.
The reason I learned CW is that I wanted to “chase” other SOTA operators while they are on a summit somewhere around the world. Many of the operators that I’d like to contact on a mountain top are using CW, forcing me to learn it. The other reason is that 5 watt on CW goes a lot farther than using voice, so I’ll eventually drop a lot of weight by going to a smaller radio and do CW from a summit.
If I had put my spot out telling people to call me via CW, I would have been buried with high-speed callers.. My CW sucks but what I could do was call other SOTA operators on other summits. Although I could program a few phrases into my radio to make it sound like I had my stuff together, by sending it by hand they realize that they need to go slow. I’m good enough to hear my call sign and signal report. Unless they put a lot of spacing in, I’m going to be lost. So I decided to chase some stations that had posted a spot indicating they were using CW. My first was ZL1BYZ, in New Zealand. I was kinda sure i could hear John so I thought I would give it a try. It was a difficult copy but I heard my signal report in there and I logged it. I’ll have to email John to see if we really did connect. (UPDATE: John emailed me and we did NOT connect). And a final note, I was using my custom wine cork paddle by Adam, K6ARK and it worked great for all 5 CW contacts.
I hung out for a while chasing operators on other peaks. It was fun but I got a little sun burned as the sun moved across the sky and my shade disappeared. The sky was clear but the marine layer left it sort of hazy so I couldn’t really see the ocean.
I’m going to continue to work on my morse decoding speed. Right now it just seems impossible but 1000s of hams do it like it’s nothing.
● Yaesu FT-891D HF Radio at 100 watts
● 30’ of coax feed line
● 3 L of water (8 lb)
● iPhone with All Trails, MotionX GPS and sota goat
● MFJ-939Y auto antenna tuner for 891
● Trekking poles
● Extra LiFePO Battery
● AnyTone AT-868UV DMR radio for testing.
● Custom wine bottle cork paddles for CW (Crafted by K6ARK)
● Delorme Inreach satellite tracker and communicator.
● Delorme Inreach satellite tracker and communicator.
● JetBoil for the hot tea :)
(aka Chris Claborne)