Sunday, January 23, 2022

A 2021 Ham / SOTA Recap

 2021 was a busy year for me, “hike mountain, work radio”, also known as Summit On The Air (SOTA).  I generally start out the year with some goals in mind.  For 2021, my goal was to NOT exceed my 2020 stats for summits and points.  I felt trying to do that would take some of the joy out of the SOTA for me since 2020 was a huge year.  In 2020 I was working to get to 1,000 points and the associated mountain goat award, so I had “goat fever”.  This year I just wanted to stay above the 2019 stats for summits, points, miles, elevation gain and first activations.  I also wanted to build at-least one radio and an antenna, play with JS8call and improve my CW copy speed.  So how did I do? 

(Click on images for larger)

Let’s start with the stats:

I didn’t blog here as much, but rather focused my time on creating videos that are published on my Youtube channel, check them out.  As you can see, I stayed above the 2019 stats and stayed below the 2020 stats and I had a LOT OF FUN.  My first summit of the 2021 UTC year was from a small hill called Mt. Helix near my house.  I got up there at 23:30 UTC on 12/31/20.  I received the points for activating in 2020, and as soon as the time flipped over to midnight (UTC), I activated that little hill again.  It was a lot of fun contacting friends from up there doing the same thing as me.  It’s a geeky once in a year shot since mountains can only be activated once per calendar UTC year for points, so if you stay up there for the UTC year roll over, you get points twice.  In this case it was only one point but still fun to be out there talking with friends.


We got a new SOTA dog, Rey, who is a fantastic trail dog.  She’s a bit higher energy than the previous one and can leap up and stand on high pointy rocks like a goat (she’s pure muscle).  She carries her own water in her pack, which gives her a little more exercise and lightens my pack.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog experience pure joy just from just running up and down a mountain.  When I say run, she can hold 23 mph through deep grass and probably close to that running straight up a mountain.  She accompanied me on most of my Arizona, New Mexico hikes and quite a few in CA.  As a side note, Rey was running down a hill in San Diego and hit Jeanette in November.  Jeanette was not a happy camper when she called for a pickup and we later found out that she had several fractures, one just above the ankle requiring two screws.  You can drive a nail with that dog's head and, if she hits you at speed, it turns out that speed (squared) X 51 lbs packs a hell of a punch. She is a lot of fun on the trail, and minds well.  If I can just get a couple more like her, the pack could carry all my gear.

Lots Of Hiking And Playing Radio

As you can see from the stats above, I summited 85 peaks with the radio, got 528 points plus 9 winter bonus points.  I hiked almost 300 miles with a pack (actually more than that) in 2021.  I had a blast with my buddy Dale, AA7OY, hiking some new to me New Mexico summits and Arizona summits.  The hike up Baldy, over 11,000 was a lot of fun and we spent some time soaking our feet in the ice cold streams on the way down the West Baldy trail.  Rey, my energetic trail dog, had an absolute blast on this hike, running straight up the side of a mountain, running through streams, etc.  She literally passed out when she got to the car, it was hilarious.  Our trip also included a hike through a banging thunderstorm on a New Mexico expedition, and some fun mountain biking trails to another New Mexico summit.  Jeanette and I did another expedition that used a bit of the Continental Divide Trail on the way up, so we got our CDT badge too. :)

I’ll definitely remember the hike up Pole Knoll, one of my favorites in the area in Arizona.  When I got back to the car, I found that my keys had fallen out of my pocket through a hole.  I’m always careful to put my keys in a zippered pocket but that doesn’t help you if it has a hole in it.  Got some water from some people in the parking lot, hid my gear, then headed up the mountain.  I had called my friend in Alpine on the radio and he jumped in his pickup and headed over in case I couldn’t find my keys.  As luck would have it, I found them just a few feet from where I was sitting on the summit!  Fade to a huge smile.

Another notable experience was my trip to Yosemite Valley with the Ham Youtubers bunch.  Initially I thought our plans would be completely squashed by the fires.  Although most forests were close, the national park was open, as well as the Toiyabe National Forest.  I arrived before everyone else so my first two hikes were by myself. 

The hike to Indian rock in the Yosemite National Park was fantastic.  I was the first one on the trail at dawn.  It was cool, quiet, and just a joy to be out.  I went by Indian Arch on the way to the summit which was awesome.  The trail was lined with thick forest all the way and was a pretty easy class 1 hike to the activation zone.  I wanted to work the radio from the rock at the top which involved a tad of class 2 scrambling.  I’m not sure getting up there was worth it but you don’t know unless you try.  After this hike, I visited the Yosemite valley for the usual views of Half Dome and some other epic landscapes in the area.

The next day I summited Mount Dana, my first summit at 13,000 feet.  I was wondering how I would perform at this altitude and was quite surprised.  It’s a steep hike, with 1,000 feet of gain per mile. I slowed my pace to match my oxygenation abilities at altitude and powered up the trail like a boss, passing quite a few people on the way up.  The view from the summit was epic.  I laughed when I realized I had forgotten to detach my chair from the pack to reduce my load before I left. This guy saw me relaxing on the summit in my chair with the radio, commenting “You are my hero!”.  How many people haul a chair up to 13,000 feet?  I worked quite a few stations on the radio and then headed down.  I had visions of getting a double summit that day by hiking over to Mount Gibbs, which is just across from there but I bailed on that idea.  The top third of Dana is covered in large talus, all of it loose.  So traversing that was mentaly exhausting.   I didn’t want to twist an ankle or something worse, so every single step has to be calculated with a backup plan in case the rock moves and then each step is tested before you fully commit.  It became automatic after a while but gets old.  The hike was worth the views and sense of accomplishment for sure.

The Youtubers bunch showed up on Thursday and we did some parks on the air in the Yosemite  National Park and then on Saturday, a few of us hiked up Gaylor Peak just inside the park, just across the highway from Mt. Dana.  I was joined by Charlie, NJ7V, and Javier, K6TNT.  We had an absolute ball.  The hike is short but 1,000 feet of elevation gain per mile and the views were epic.  After that adventure, we headed over to Masonic Mtn in the Toiyabe National Forest which turned out to be a “drive up”.  We then headed to the ghost town of Bode and kicked around there.  I was more interested in checking out the town rather than getting some POTA (parks on the air) points and found it very interesting.  The trip included relaxing with the guys in Bridgeport with some beer and something to eat and I saw my first wild bear as she sauntered over to my hotel to dumpster dive.  It was an epic trip!

The last memorable trip of 2021 was up to Big Bear for the SoCal SOTAFest.  There were at-least 12 other hams there.  It was fun trading stories, tips, tricks and hiking to various summits in the area, trading summit-to-summit points.  It was a fun two night camping trip that included some mountain biking with a harry descent, which, amazingly, didn’t involve spilling any blood on the trail.

I closed out the year by taking my ebike up to Cowles Mtn on December 31st and activated through to the new year (UTC).  It was a bit misty and cold but a lot of fun.


Built A Radio

I managed to build my first radio last summer, a QCX Mini single band radio for CW.  It’s ultra light and a LOT of fun.  I had a great time building it as well.  I will say the instructions for the build are fantastic.  It’s basically “paint by numbers” but with a soldering iron.  I was actually surprised it booted up when I hit it with power.  I did have to go back and boil the magnet wire a bit, as I don’t think it was stripped well enough.  I plugged it into a multi-band wire antenna that I had set up at my summer home and made my first contact to a friend in Seattle. 

I took the radio on it’s first activation to Coyote Peak near Springerville AZ and it worked like a charm.  It does have a tendency to get RF back into the radio and screw up the electronic keyer but, I’ve solved that with the ulta-portable paddles from N6ARA.  On one of my outings I worked Canada and France with that little radio.

Lots of Antenna Building

Well, I accomplished my goal and then some to build some antennas.  The first one was a barbed wire antenna to see if I could make it work.  I’d been picking up barbed wire that was left in the forest behind my house for the past 40+ years.  The fence was taken down years ago but they left wire all over the place and  I’m sure it ensnared wildlife and cows that graze up there.  It was meant to be a simple and fun exercise of “will it antenna?”.  It turned out to be a pain in the ass.  It’s super springy and because of the weight, it fought my attempts to put it on a pole.  I did finally get it hooked up and worked stations coast to coast with it on side-band (voice).

I built a K6ARK 20m end-fed antenna to go with my QCX mini.  It’s a match made in radio heaven.  My first time out with the setup netted quite a few contacts and I think the radio was probably putting out about 4 watts.  I now have a tiny go anywhere station that even Rey can carry in her pack!

A new ham that lives in the LA area needed help with an antenna build.  He is new to the hobby and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a light antenna for SOTA and I’ve learned that all you need are some wires, connectors and pieces of plastic to make some awesome antennas.  He came down and we built a 20 / 40m linked dipole antenna.  It came out great and we had fun building it. 

CW and JS8

My morse code (hams call it CW)  copy speed has improved a little bit but I didn’t invest the time to get good at head copy.  The only thing that’s going to help me improve is to spend more time training and running CW from home.  My biggest issue is that after working all day, I don’t have much gas left in the tank to practice and right now, I’m walking the dogs in the morning and evening, so there’s that.  I do chase SOTA from home but that’s the extent of it.


I still haven’t played with the digital mode, JS8 so we’ll see what life brings in 2022.


Bigger DX

Part of the fun in this hobby is seeing how far you can go at 100 watts or 5 watts.  Working stations in another country is called “DX”.  I put a few more new countries in the log book.  Most of them came from my home station which is a little 100w Icom 7300 radio going into a vertical antenna in my back yard.  I enjoy trying to work stations during the voice (we call it SSB) contest.  I worked stations in the Galapagos Islands, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Chile, Japan, Bonaire, US Virgin islands, Poland, Asiatic Russia Canada, Western Sahara, Sweden, Uruguay, and two different stations in China.  I think China is probably the biggest DX I’ve made.  That was a fun time.  It was right after a solar storm and for some reason 17 meters was on fire. 

From a mountain top, I’ve worked a station in Slovenia using 10 watts into a wire antenna.  I exchanged email with the operator just to make sure.  I’ve also worked stations in the United Arab Emirates, Guinea-Bissau, Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, and Guam all from a mountain top with my little 10w radio.

When I started this hobby, the sun was at the bottom of it’s 11 year cycle, the worst. The sun is waking up again.  We’ll be getting more solar storms that produce some very bad conditions but I’m looking forward to days where the solar flux is up around 200.  We are currently at around 100 so I expect my DXability is going to go way up.  I’m hope that working Spain and other European countries will become a regular part of my SOTA outings in the future.  

Goals for 2022

My goals haven’t really changed for 2022.  I want to beat my 2019 stats, build another radio and some antennas, and have fun.  Hopefully I’ll get back to the JS8 Call this year.  I’d really like to get back to Yosemite and possibly go on an adventure in Colorado.  Jeanette has the boot off and is slowly bringing the leg back online, so hopefully she can join me on a few summits as well.    I still want to improve my CW skills so I’m going to try to do more from home.  One of my long term goals is to eventually work 100 countries, all from a mountain top.  I probably have 15 countries in the logbook so far, but as the solar conditions improve, I might be able to do it.  This cumulative goal may take a few more years however.

As always, the real and only goal should be “have fun”.  If you’re a ham, on a mountaintop, look for my spot and reach out.




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