Sunday, June 28, 2020

2020-06-28 Turner Pk. & Road to Mountain Goat


I’d been trying to figure out what summit I wanted to do this week that would push me over the 1,000 point mark.  In Summits On The Air (SOTA), at 1000 you make “Mountain Goat”.  It’s a cool award and a tough one to get.  So my selection had to involve getting my goat on.  Turner peak does require a bit of goat skill and it’s 8 points would push me over the 1000 I need to be “Mountain Goat”.  In this post I’ll cover today’s summit but also the road to Mountain Goat, 1000 “activator points”.  (click on image for larter)

I started doing SOTA on October 31st, 2017.  I was a pretty new ham with a general license but my home station kinda sucked.  It was really hard to get the home station performing well given that I didn’t have a lot of room for antenna wire and suburbia has a lot of radio frequency interference (RFI).  I somehow stumbled upon “Summits on the Air”, a part of the ham radio hobby where you take a radio to the top of a mountain, get a minimum of 4 contacts with your radio and and log the points for the summit.  These contacts have to be radio to radio so you can’t use repeaters.  

As I was researching SOTA, I came across Steve Galchutt’s YouTube Channel. Steve, WG0AT, had been doing this for quite some time and his channel was a lot of fun to watch.  Steve hiked with his two goats and would always add comment balloons to the goats where they are making some sarcastic remark about the expedition. I was hooked.  I picked up a Yaesu 817 5 watt radio, the workhorse of SOTA at the time, and a MFJ 1910 pushup pole.  I was a pretty new ham and had purchased a end-fed antenna for a 100 watt station with a large heavy unan on it.  I had been researching but was pretty sans clue.  I packed all this into a simple military style backpack that you get at sporting goods stores, strapped the pushup pole on it, and got to work. 

First Activation
It was October 31st.  My wife wanted to go check out a cool Halloween event later in the day so I thought I would do this early in the morning.  I walked the 2 miles up to the summit and began setting up.  I was pretty clueless and in the process of lifting the antenna and matching unit up, and I snapped my pole.  It was so broken it was unusable.  I picked up another pushup pole from HRO and would use the old one for spare parts (which I did need later).  I also realized that using this particular end-fed was a really stupid idea so I picked up a $20 MFJ 20 meter dipole wire antenna.  I went back to the mountain to try again the same day.  As I was half-way up, I realized I had left the pole in the car.  I didn’t have time to go back, get the pole, head back up the mountain setup and make contacts and get home in time for the Halloween event.  So I went home.  We went to the event and had quite a bit of fun.  I realized that when we got home, I had a chance to try one more time before the sun set, so off I went.  Have I told you I’m very goal oriented?  (The image just above is from that first activation)

On this third attempt, I setup the mast with the dipole on top using the two ends of it as guy wires hooked to paracord to keep them high and hooked another rope to the top to counter the force of the ends to pull it over forming a triangle at the top.  I thought I was pretty clever but I’d never seen anyone actually setup before.  I just dove in and assumed I could get something working. 

I didn’t know anything about spotting on the SOTA watch web page so that “chasers”, the guys that try to contact you for points, would know you were there and call you.  I just started calling CQ (short for calling any station) which didn’t go well.  I then tried to contact other stations that I found on the air, which is slow going because you have to wait for their current conversation to end.  I think my first couple of contacts were in Texas and another possibly in Utah or something.  Some guys walked by, chuckled and asked if I was trying to talk to Japan.  I laughed it off and they eventually left.  Five minutes later I hear a station calling CQ that had a “JA” call sign.  Could that be Japan? (remember, I was pretty sans clue).  I figured what the hell, and answered his call.  He came back to me and was indeed in Japan.  I was floored!  I was using a 5 watt station and talking to Japan.  I was coming in so well the other operator couldn’t believe it either.  I was pretty stoked and was now completely sold on this SOTA thing. 

Spotting
I think I was on my 14th activation before I learned about “spotting yourself”.  I didn’t get points for several of my summits because I had less than 4 contacts.  I thought the minimum was three and some summits I just couldn’t get a contact easily.  I had purchased a used Yaesu 891, 100 watt portable radio on eBay so that I could have a better chance and bust through the pileups.  Also I learned that you need 4, not 3 contacts to get points.  Imagine my displeasure when I learned this after having a very difficult time trying to bushwhack to the top of Poser Mtn which had never been activated, got 3 contacts and had to get going to pick up my daughter from school.  I took the wrong way down which turned a difficult hike into a sufferfest.

It wasn’t until I watched a video by Jerry, KG6HQD, where he talked about this thing called “self spotting”.  What?  You can do that?  He used an app on his phone and talked about how important it is to do that, especially when you are running QRP (low power, like 5 watts or less).  Sotawatch.org is a website that shows who is on what summit and what frequency they are on.  Any ham can spot you but you can do it yourself so that others know you are out there.  So I tried this on my next summit.  Holy shit!  I had a huge pileup because a) I had spotted, and b) I had so much activity going on,  a lot of other hams wanted to get in on the action.  OK that was cool.  Getting on the sotawatch website changes everything.  It’s almost a guarantee that you can activate for points if you are spotted.  I shouldn't say guarantee since days like today I couldn't get one SSB contact (read on to find out why).  I later purchased a Garmin Inreach so that my wife can find me if I get injured but also so that I could use it to send a SMS and get myself spotted. The unit uses satellite for communication and has the emergency button it too (hope I never need that).

After a I had a hell of a time in high winds where my mast came down multiple times partly because of the way I set my stuff up,  I purchased a vertical multi-band antenna that I could put up in gail force winds in just a few minutes.  With the multi-band antenna, the 100w radio, and spotting, I was guaranteed no summit would go without a full activation (I’m very mission oriented).  I used that setup for probably a year.  People were trying to convince me to lighten my load with a smaller radio but I was hooked on 100w but there were days when I wished I had listened to them as I hauled my 35 lb pack up the hill.

I was on a mountain called Sheephead just setting up when another ham in the valley called me on my hand-held radio (by this time I learned it was good to monitor the national calling frequency, 146.52).  I was Adam, KJ6HOT (now K6ARK) wanting to know if I was up there yet.  I had posted an “alert” on sotawatch so he knew I was headed up there.  I told him I was and he mentioned that he was planning on activating that one the next day because it hadn’t been activated yet.  I got the first activation honor this time :).  We vowed to get together sometime and talk radio and SOTA.  Adam later invited me to hike and activate with him and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s been a huge help and driving force of my SOTA passion.  I learned about chasing other summits while on a summit from him and subsequently learned that most SOTA activators use morse code (we call it CW for continuous wave).  One of the main reasons SOTA operators learn CW (you thought morse was dead, didn’t you?) is that you can get very long rang contacts with just a few watts, and all your gear is lighter (radio and battery).  Obviously, a hobby that involves a lot of hiking this would make sense.

Adam was learning CW and it was clear that if I wanted to chase all summits, which I really get a kick out of doing,  I would need to learn too.  I started learning CW in January 2019 and signed up for CW academy which was an online class to help me get going in April.  CW is mostly self-study with the core objective of instant recognition of letters, then later, words.  I won’t go into it here but you can read about my CW learning journey and tips in this article.  Suffice it to say, it’s a lot harder to get to a decent copy speed than you think. 

By this time I had really started to enjoy the adventure of hiking new summits as part of this geeky hobby.  I loved the exercise, adventure, planning, and radio.  It gave me a goal / objective to get to the summit, ones that I would have never thought to go to.

My first CW contact while activating Monserate was to N0Oi on 5/19/2019.  Scott convinced me to give it a try.  I met Scott while on a joint activation and overnight with Adam.  I used the wine cork paddles that Adam had made for me as a gift which were the only ones I had.  I still use them.

Activating my first summit using CW was really hard.  The first time I had to the courage to spot myself CW was on 12/28/2019.  Coincidentally this was exactly two years to the day since I had been on Poser so I had a thing to teach that mountain.  As a new CW operator, you aren’t normally tossed into the deep end of the pool like a contest, but in SOTA, when you are spotted on a summit using CW you have a seemingly indecipherable pileup.  And, when you can’t copy fast, there are a lot of “?” sent to try to get the call sign correct.  Some call signs I had to have him send it as many times as he had letters in the call sign.  LOL!  I was avoiding this disaster for a while and was only using CW to chase.  Once I got over the craziness of first two summits, I was hooked.  As a reward for learning CW well enough to activate, I found a used Elecraft KX2 radio, a fantastic magic radio that is all the rage in this hobby.  It weighed less than half of my 100w radio, has a built in battery (but I carry a small spare).  To top it off, Adam gifted me one of his magic two ounce antennas.  By changing radios, going to a lot smaller battery, and the new antenna, I shed 9+ lbs off my load.  WOW!!!  That WAS AWESOME!!!

Learning CW is a life long chore but I will say that when I did my 20 summit attack in 9 days of hiking last month, I was a lot better at the end.  CW changes everything. When you can’t get through using voice over single side band (ssb), CW will almost always get you the contacts.  For a while, I’d only activate with CW to force myself to learn.  I’m trying to do SSB a little more on activation because there are a lot of hams that enjoy chasing activators like me but don’t know CW.  Without hams that enjoy making contacts with people on summits, this would be a lot harder.  As it is, it’s a blast to activate CW and chase CW.  I can now chase from my home with CW because the signal to noise ratio is so much higher.  CW is normally the only thing that works from my home stations since I have so much RF noise.

The Stats
As of today, I’ve activated 181 summits (you need one contact to activate).  There were several of those I didn’t get enough contacts to get points.  There are an additional 5 to 7 summits that were never activated because of technical issues, or I couldn’t get to the summit due to terrain difficulty or other reasons.  Some of these summits were simple drive to the top, some were a real bitch of a bushwhack that I’ll never do again, and others were fantastic hikes in beautiful countryside.  To get to the summit, I’ve logged 697 miles of hiking, and climbed 168,525 vertical feet.  Mileage wise I think that’s pretty small since a lot of them were between 4 and 6 miles round trip from the car.  And the amazing thing is, it only included one trip to the emergency room for stitches.

I started this blog to journal my travels and help others learn (I’m more of a writer).  Sometimes I think I do SOTA so that I'll have something to write about :)  I’ve created a presentation on SOTA and presented that to at least five different ham clubs and the Lakeside Hamfest to generate interest.  I recently created a YouTube channel as a fun way to push my creative skill.  Also on my YouTube channel, I produced a series called SOTA 360, that shows others how to do SOTA.  I’ve received a lot of feedback from others saying that it really helped them get going.  I am a neophyte when it comes to radio however but there is a huge cadre of hams always willing to help me. So I figured I should give something back.

Turner Peak
So today, activation 181 was logged, pushing me up to 1004 points, and I can now print out a certificate that says I have achieved the award of Mountain Goat.  I’m sure my family will be proud.  Not really, they probably don’t get why I even do this much less the mountain goat thing.  To me though it’s an accomplishment and involved a lot of work.  Think about that.  I’ve setup a portable station over 181 times in less than three years.  I’ve worked over 1,000 unique operators and I’ve seen some beautiful country that I would not have ordinarily seen.

I was on this summit not too far from my summer home, last year.  On that activation, I did a simple trip and sit.  The only problem was that where I came down, there was a very sharp stabby thing sticking out of the fallen tree where a branch snapped off.  I had impaled myself on the darn thing.  It went into the back of my thigh and it hurt like hell.  After patching the hole in my leg to stop the bleeding, I activated that damm summit (I didn’t want to come back up there again until 2020).  I then hobbled the mile and a half back down to the car, and after I got home had my wife take me to the emergency room where I was sown up.  You can read about it HERE if you want.  Needless to say, I was extra careful this time. You have to be, there are tons of fallen trees and lots of loose rock and areas to slide off the side and get some good mountain rash.  Most of the rock is volcanic and sharp so sliding down the side would be like going down a cheese grader.

It’s a challenging summit mainly because of the loose dirt and rock and the navigation around a rocky ridge connecting two summits.  Add to that, having to watch your step with all the fallen trees, it took 50% longer than planned.  The first 3/4 of the hike is beautiful.  The forest and meadow with pine and aspen is just stunning. 

When I summited, field day had just completed for the most part.  I’ve activated before when a contest had just finished and it’s always a little hard to get contacts because I think most hams just finished overdosing on radio.   Because K6ARK had helped and inspired this trek to Mountain Goat greatness, I wanted to try to get him in the log within the first 4 contacts.  He was the first.  I’m not sure where Adam was but he was using a 5 watt radio on what he said was a poorly tuned antenna. 

I logged 24 contacts but they didn’t come fast.  I tried for a couple of summit-to-summits but they couldn’t hear me.  Also, I couldn't get one SSB contact, which was surprising.  I guess most hams turned off their radio and went to bed since this contest is a 24 hour affair.  CW rocks!  I may have heard John, ZL1BYZ, in New Zealand but he was in the noise and I just couldn’t pull him or whomever that was out. 

After getting home, I took a long hot shower... Oh that felt good.  I’m looking forward to a hike up Baldy when my wife gets here.  It’s up past 11,000 feet and is about a 12 mile round trip. 

Thank you to all the chasers and other hams that have helped me over this 2.5 years.

Contacts
Date:28/06/2020 | Summit:W5N/AP-004 (Turner Peak) | Call Used: N1CLC | Points: 8
Time
Callsign
Band
Mode
18:06
K6ARK
7MHz
CW
18:09
K6LDQ
7MHz
CW
18:10
NW7E
7MHz
CW
18:10
W5BOS
7MHz
CW
18:12
W7SO
7MHz
CW
18:20
N4EX
14MHz
CW
18:21
K6KM
14MHz
CW
18:22
K6YK
14MHz
CW
18:22
WW7D
14MHz
CW
18:23
K7MK
14MHz
CW
18:24
N4LAG
14MHz
CW
18:25
K4MF
14MHz
CW
18:27
N1RBD
14MHz
CW
18:28
K3TCU
14MHz
CW
18:29
W8TZA
14MHz
CW
18:29
K0LAF
14MHz
CW
18:38
AD0YM
18MHz
CW
18:40
WC0Y
18MHz
CW
18:46
W6JMP
10MHz
CW
18:47
AI6XG
10MHz
CW
18:48
K6QCB
10MHz
CW
18:49
N0MTN
10MHz
CW
18:51
NA6MG
10MHz
CW
19:16
K9OZ
14MHz
CW

Loadout:
      GoPro Hero8
      First aid kit.  Make sure it’s a good one... like ability to patch up an impalement wound. 
      Elecraft KX2 10 watt HF Radio
   30’ of coax feed line (not needed
      3 L of water (8 lb)
      iPhone with All Trails, MotionX GPS and sota goat
      Trekking poles (not today)
     LNR End Fed multi-band antenna
   AnyTone AT-868UV DMR radio for testing.
   Custom wine bottle cork paddles for CW (crafted by K6ARK)
   Delorme Inreach satellite tracker and communicator.
      Jetboil MicroMo cooking system (left at the car this trip)
      Yaesu FT-2DR HT (backup left in the car)
     Packtenna. (did not take)
      Yaesu FT-891D HF Radio at 100 watts  (left this in the car :) )
    Extra LiFePO Battery (not needed)

73,
N1CLC
Christian Claborne
(aka chris claborne)

5 comments:

  1. Congrats, Chris! Well earned MG! Welcome to the heard!

    73, Steve/wGOAT

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congrats Chris! I wish I had been one of the chasers but I was on HAM radio overload with Field Day! Very inspiring to read!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Glad I was able to work you on your big day. Congratulations on learning CW and adding that to your SOTA tool kit. K9OZ

    ReplyDelete
  4. Congratulations! Glad I worked you on your goat summit. I am only a third of the way there.
    Mark
    N0MTN

    ReplyDelete