Saturday, January 4, 2020

SOTA '19 Accomplishments & 2020 Goals

At the beginning of 2019, I layed out some goals for my Summits On The Air (SOTA) activities.  Let’s see how I did on those and discuss what’s to come in 2020.  
(note: click on image for larger)

2019 Goals:

     I set out to break my 2018 SOTA stats
     Number of peaks summited in 2018 - 56
     Eevation gained in 2018 - 57,539
     SOTA points in 2018 - 303

     Learn morse code so that I could hike with a lighter rig up to mountain tops and communicate with other SOTA dudes on other peaks that ran morse only.

     Setup a portable winlink station in a backpack so that I could send email via radio during a disaster at a remote site in support of our ARES primary mission.

     Setup FT8Call, also known as JS8 Call to experiment with this mode.

OK, let’s see how I did.

First, SOTA summit activity. 
The stats below don’t count the summit if I couldn’t make it.  In 2018, I had 3 failed attempts.  I do count all of the miles hiking SOTA even though I didn’t summit :)
Miles Hiked
Number of
243.6 miles
58,115 ft.
748 SOTA
1,051 Total
207.2 miles
1,139 SOTA
1,194 Total

As you can see, I set the bar pretty high in 2018.  I beat my stat on total summits but failed on miles and elevation gained.  I’m not sure why that is.  I checked my data and there were some longer hikes in 2018 and a few that I had to do twice because of a failure, or I had to go back to pickup equipment that I left behind.  Elevation gain wasn’t as much either.  El Cajon is part of the reason, I’m didn’t do that 3000’ climb (and don’t plan on it but who knows).  I did find some shorter ways to the top this year.  Points were definitely on the increase which is a little harder to screw up.  AlthoughI didn’t set a total contacts goal,  I thought it would be interesting to track.  I did a quick count of the total Ham contacts also since I do some from my home shack.  For SOTA, I’m going to have to figure out how to parse the logs to get a SOTA count for last year.  I can do it because they are tagged, it’ll just take some time.

I did learn morse code (CW) in 2019.  I’m pretty stoked about that since I think I’m a bit brain damaged.  Sure, I still have a ways to go copy speed wise, but I know morse code.  I started practicing early in 2019 and took an online class at Code Academy in April.  The biggest thing the class does is force you to do your homework every night.  The class met twice a week via video conference to answer questions and do a little practice.  Man!  I really felt brain damaged but much less so when I realized I wasn’t the only one.  Learning the basics isn’t enough to actually use it though so I spent more months just practicing using to improve my copy speed.  You blow it if you have to think about the letter, number or punctuation at all.  The time you spend doing that causes you to miss the net several characters coming to you (very frustrating).  Other hams understand and will put bigger spaces in there for me when I ask.

I started out by using CW just to chase guys on other summits who only do CW and, as it turns out, it’s pretty fun.  I think the fun part is mainly because it’s such a hard thing to train the brain to do, so success feels sweet.  It’s a lot easier to chase others stations because I know the call sign to listen for since I know who is where by looking at   All I need to do is send my call sign, listen for it to be sent back as acknowledgement, and then provide a signal report. 

I recently graduated to spotting myself on CW and working a pileup.  To me, this is a big deal.  Spotting on is scary because you have to be able to copy morse code fast enough to recognize a call signs.  So far, I’ve found hams to be very patient with me, slowing down when they realized I was having issues.  They can tell when I’m having issues because I keep sending “?”.   It’s fun and you can go a lot further with CW on 5 or 10 watts using CW.  As part of this effort, I’ve switched to a much lighter rig, a Elecraft KX2 that I bought used.  It was sort of a reward for investing so much fucking time trying to learn morse.  It’s a 10 watt radio and has all the filtering capability needed for CW.  (Read more about my equipment).  Changing to the KX2 over the FT-891 saved me a LOT of weight, about 5.5 lbs).  The pack has never felt better on my back. 

As part of the CW goal, I built two kits to support that effort.  The first, a QRP guys practice keyer, and the second a Morsearino.  The practice keyer was pretty easy and it reignited my soldering abilities.  The Morsearino was a lot more soldering and quite a bit of fun.  It’s probably the most difficult build I’ve ever had.  I hadn’t done any real component soldering since I was in high school.  I still got the touch baby.

I setup a Winlink station in a backpack.  I’ve much to learn on this front but it’s operational.  I wrote about it here if you are interested.  I mainly use it as part of my support mission for the county hospitals during my role of backup communications during their drills and in the event of a disaster, they will be hosed without us hams since in the early stages of post-earthquake, they will have zero comms.  It’s a little known fact, but you’ll find a large number of hams supporting disasters around the world. 

I failed my last goal, setup FT8Call but that’s easily accomplished at the home shack. 

Although not a stated goal last year, I did want to build a rigid dipole antenna.  Learning by doing is a large part of this hobby.  Building an antenna isn’t just measure and cut wire per a formula.  Although the formula is sound, there are a lot of other factors that come into play.  I used my antenna analyzer to “tune” the length and get it on the air.  When I completed the project, the analyzer said it was “resonant”, but the real test is to see if I could get some contacts... and it worked great.  I had contacts from Hawaii to the east coast and down into Argentina.... Yup, it works. :)  The rigid part of the antenna turned out to be a fun exercise in engineering as I had to choose materials, figure out how to mount it and keep it rigid.  Once I had the poles, a trip to Home Depot and an afternoon goofing around fabricating some stuff, setting it up, and testing / tuning was all I needed.

Something else that I did that wasn’t really planned was putting together a presentation on SOTA for other hams.  I presented this at-least five times in the last year to ham clubs in the area and at the San Diego Hamfest.  You can see the materials here.

Finally, there was the unexpected injury on a mountain top.  I’ll let you read about that here, and learn how I mitigate my risks in this hobby.  Let's be safe out there people!

OK.  2019 was a fun year so what's next???

2020 Goals

An easy one to put down is to improve my CW copy speed.  What’s amazing is that I still suck so bad after all this practice.  Learning this has really focused me on how I learn, what causes me to give up, and what causes me to keep going. (I’ll write about this more in a separate article)  If I can’t improve, I’m gonna have to pick a different hobby.  CW is all about instant recognition of the sounds that are coming in (not the individual dits and dahs).  If I have to think about it at all, I’m going to miss the following letters.  The next phase is recognizing whole words.  I’m starting to do that now for things like CQ, 73, and TU (thank you).  Also, head copy (copy without having to write it down) will be important. 

I think I can make it to 1,000 total SOTA points this year (and then some).  I’m currently have 685 points.  Getting to 1,000 will make me a “SOTA Goat”.  This has actually been a goal for a while.  But, I do this hobby for more than just the points.  There are times when I hit a summit more than once in a year just to get the hike in (you can only get the points from a summit once per year). 

I should be able to install the software and play around with the new digital mode called FT8Call, aka JS8. 

I’ll see if I can build a different antenna from scratch this year.  I'll make a tape measure yagi for VHF.

I’m not sure if I’ll exceed the number of summits, miles, elevation gained and total points that I achieved in 2019 so this will be an aspirational goal.

Not so aspirational, I'll make it a no emergency room visit year.
πŸ˜… πŸ˜… πŸ˜…

OK, so that’s my wrap-up.  As I write this, I’ve already completed a peak and am setting out on another tomorrow with a friend.  Also, being able to focus on CW practice during the winter break has allowed me to improve my call-sign copy speed so I’ve kicked off 2020 with a banging start.  And to those of you that I've butchered you call-sign, I'm so sorry.... Hopefully you will be hearing fewer ..--.. from me in 2020.

Happy New Year & 73,

Christian Claborne
(aka chris claborne)

1 comment:

  1. Nice recap, Chris, as well as nice SOTA results! Thanks for blogging! Gl in 2020! 73 de Rumen /LZ2AF