Sunday, January 3, 2016

W6/SC-352 Mt Helix

This was an easy activation, but one we enjoyed alot. We've lived in San Diego for over 20 years and have never visited this spot, even during our Geocaching days. I'm not sure how we missed it. I am grateful for SOTA for bringing me here.

W6/SC-352 Mt Helix

Mt Heli Park Calendar

We rode our motorcycles here and parking would have been a problem had we not. I would recommend not arriving in the middle of the day on Saturday or Sunday in case it is busy and parking is tight, also check the park calendar in case it is closed for a wedding or other event. Parking is limited to 30 minutes according to the signage so you will need to be quick, we spent about 45 minutes total. I hadn't planned on this one today, too much work to do, but the XYL wanted to get out there so off we went.

I made one QSO on VHF 146.520 FM using my Baofeng UV-8HP with a 16 inch antenna, the first FM QSO I have made on it without the portable slim jim antenna. Six more QSO's on 40 and 20 meters wrapped up a quick activation. Even with the parking lot full (it is small) the park was not busy and we had a small corner to ourselves near the top of the outdoor theatre.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

W6/SC-282 Jamul Mountains HP

This was a two mile hike with very steep sections. Since I'm out of shape, I took a few breaks on the way up, making it an almost 2 hour hike. My XYL came along once more, but this time voluteered to carry some gear reducing my load by half, I can't thank her enough for putting up with and taking part in my hobbies.

W6/SC-282 Jamul Mountains HP

There appear to be are a few places to start this hike along Proctor Valley road, our route started  here, dropped down into a grove of trees, then up to the summit:

Proctor Valley Rd north of Summit Start

There are some ecological preserve boundries here but you can get in and out to the summit  without crossing into them, more info can be found here:

Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve

I had some trouble again with my radio, lack of noise making it hard again to tune the magnetic loop. There were a few NPOTA activators and SOTA/NPOTA activators on 20 meters and the band was busy. Thank you to the chasers who worked me, those who tried, and those who pointed me in the right direction.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My SOTA gear up days

With it raining regularly here I had some extra time to dedicate to my radio gear. My QTH HOA restricts my antenna options to a small magnetic loop antenna so I chose to use one for portable use as well. I built a simple remote tuner using an Arduino Nano, a 5V stepper motor, RJ45 connectors, and flat ethernet cable. The main loop is made of a 10ft RG214 cable, and RG213/U for the feed loop. The QTH version is 3/8 copper tubing for main loop and RG213/U for the feeder. The QTH one uses an MFJ 282-2005 variable capacitor. The QTH setup gets me 40-17 meters and the portable setup 40-15 meters using a combination of a variable and fixed capacitor, 4.5-102 pF and 100 pF respectively. From my research and experience it seems two loops would provide optimal coverage of the bands so I will likely add a smaller loop of 6 feet to both setups.

The strange looking tupperware to the left of my X1M in the photos is my franken-tuner. Along with the remote tuner it has stuck or stuffed into it a SWR meter and digital interface for my PC and Androids. One of these days when I have time I'll design a circruit card to reduce this down to a much smaller size and likely fit it into a extender case for the X1M. I'm currently tinkering with a small Arduino based waterfall, band pass filter for CW, auto-tuner logic for the remote tuner, and a few other things I'd like the X1M to have. The end result will look something like this:

Getting back to the 'gear up', here's what I came up with to help me in my SOTA adventures:
A simple 3D printed CW straight key, handles for the X1M, just to help protect the knobs and things plugged into it when working from not so friendly terrain, T-fittings for the main loop to make attaching the speader dowel and flag pole easier, and a set of paracord, cinches, and a round pole mounting point to guy the pole. Checkout my Thingiverse page for more info in the 3D prints.

The pole is a 16 foot extendable flag pole with just the two lower sections in place, I removed all the other sections. The resulting height it is 8ft.

Hopefully I'll be able to try all this out tomorrow on a new years day summit.

View All Photos.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

DroidPSK SOTA PSK31 Digital Mode

It does not often rain here in San Diego, when it does things get messy, but we really need it so I am grateful for it.

My plans to activate two summits near home this weekend are scrapped, the way in and up will be muddy and slippery so I may opt for a night in the desert and a southern desert summit activation tomorrow.

With a little extra time on my hands I managed to build a digital mode interface for my X1M and Android Tablet. In the process I found my X1M mic jack needed replacing, the wires were nearly falling off so I soldered on a new one and expoxied it for strength.

I really like using digital modes that operate and work well on low power, having this ability in case SSB or CW is not optimal is good insurance though it adds the weight of the Tablet (about 1lb). I'll be adding PSK31 mode to my next activation alerts.

I'll be using my old and trusty Pantech Element tablet, its is supposedly waterproof but I've never tested it. It does have great battery life and I've run DroidPSK for over 2 hours and still had 50% of battery life left. I'll do a post dedicated to this setup in the near future, after I work all the bugs out. One thing I did learn from this project is tablets and phones use a number of different headset wiring schemes, the scheme for my Pantech does not work for any of my other tablets or phones.

DroidPSK is works very well, able to decode as well as FLDIGI 99% of the time but that is not necessarily a fair comparison since FLDIGI has more computing resources at it's disposal. I will likely only use this for SOTA activations and have most of the macros setup to make QSO's reasonably easy.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

W6/SC-128 Otay Mountain

After yesterdays first activation with it's 8 mile hike, this one was much easier. I've been lucky on the many times I've been up Otay Mountain to have clear skies and nice temperatures, today was no exception and we didn't encounter anyone on the way up or down.

SOTA Peak W6/SC-128

My notes on this peak

Activated on 12/05/2015 2000-2200 UTC.

There are three roads that go up to the summit but the one that leads off Alta Rd is usually closed by a locked gate. I believe the first 1/4 mile of this road is on private property hence the locked gate. The other two roads on the North and East side of the mountain are always open. The road today was in good shape, passable by any 2WD SUV but a few high spots that might scrape a normal height car. You can park at the summit, or just below and hike the 1/4 mile to the top on the 'paved' road. This last 1/4 mile of paved road is actually the worst of the road up, with deep pot holes that may cause damage even to a 2WD SUV. Also on the way to the summit, near Dog House Junction, are some WW II bunkers.

This Adventure


My XYL decided to come along on another activation and and we took our time riding up,  enjoying the views and great weather. We took the Pio Pico entrance to the mountain, the ride this way provides the best views in my opinion with many photographic opportunities and geocaches. 
We parked just below the summit and explored the area and views. I'd been by the summit many times but never ventured up to it. We chose a spot overlooking Otay Lake to setup the gear and immediately picked up W6W on 146.520 FM, the event at FT Rosecrans who we spoke with yesterday. They had 10 or 12 Ham operators running all weekend on most bands, very cool. I hope an event counts towards a QSO credit.
After hearing no one else on FM we setup the HF rig for SSB on 15 and 20 meters and managed 5 more QSO's, thanks in most part to the great Summit Chasers some of whom worked me yesterday as well. Thank you W0MNA, W0ERI, K8TE, KH2TJ, and WA2USA for trying.


W6/SC-296 My First Activation

I've lived in San Diego for over 20 years, yes I'm old (and slow), and have ridden by this summit and frequently looked up and said to myself I'd like to hike up there one of these days. Since living less than a few miles from it for the last 2 years I've said that too many times. SOTA gave me the reason to finally go do it!

SOTA Peak W6/SC-296

My notes on this peak

Activated on 12/05/2015 2000-2200 UTC.

There are numerous starting points for this hike along Proctor Valley Rd or Otay lakes Rd, you could choose a route to get the other summit (W6/SC-282) which is nearby as well. We chose to park off Otay Lakes Rd between the Upper or Lower Lake (North end of the Lower Lake).  The distance to the summit is longer from this starting point (about 4 miles one way)  but the grade less steep overall. This route suited me since I also wanted to check out the Upper Otay Lake and Horseshoe Summit. The shortest route is probably from near Skydive San Diego Inc or Proctor Valley Rd on the North side of the summit.

This Adventure


Being my first activation I wasn't well prepared to say the least. My QRP HF Radio (X1M), homebrew small magentic loop antenna, remote tuner, SWR meter, and 3000mah LiPo, two HT's (wasn't sure if either worked), a slim jim VHF antenna, fiberglass expandable flag pole,  along with other stuff totalled 14 lbs. I figured this summit was a 1 pointer so how hard could it be.

The plan was to leave early, take my time and maybe even have a portable breakfast on the way up, sort of make a day of it and hit both peaks. Well laid plans as the say.....

I got out the door at 1030, the XYL wanted to come along so we rode the motorcycle to the parking spot and headed up. No time to waste as I didn't want to be too far past my 1200 alert time.

Stopped and took a break at Horeshoe Summit, a nice spot but plenty of bees. We met a few people coming up from another direction. We head to the SOTA summit about a mile to the east, hiking along the ridges. It is a beautiful San Diego day, clear skies, and nice temperatures. The air is dry and we drink two quarts of water by the time we hit the summit, only one quart left for the trip down. Must remember to take more water.

Once at the summit we rest, I make a quick try on the HT and make two QSO's, W6W (an event at the FT Rosecrans cemetary about 20 miles away), and W6NXS who was monitoring 146.520 near the 15/94 highway. Getting up and working HF SSB on 15 and 20 meters was another story, my hastily gathered pieces were frustrating to use, and I was baffled by the total lack of noise up there, my QTH has so much RF noise that tuning the magnetic loop is easy, but without noise it was not so easy, and my hastily configured SWR meter wasn't easy to read. Once we were on the air we found 20m busy with the SKYWARN event, no holes in the band anywhere. I tried getting in a pile up but I think my QRP signal wasn't making any dents, so I switched to 15m and the QSO's came quick though most were giving me 3/3's. Being a new Ham hopefully didn't show too much to those who heard and worked me.

Thank you summit chasers for putting up with me; N4EX, N1GB, WA2USA, NE4TN, AC1Z, W0MNA, and anyone else who tried.

The sun was dropping and we were anxious to head back as it took two hours to get up and we didn't want to be caught in the dark without a flashlight. Plus we were getting dehydrated and wanted to make the last quart last the hike down. So we packed up and headed down the way we came. I'll try the peak nearby (W6/SC-282) another day, and take a shorter route.