28 October 2016

Everything's Big in Texas - Except the Summit! Newton County HP, SOTA W5T/NT-039

My recent experience activating a peak in California made me want to do more activations while traveling.  Arizona has plenty of wonderful peaks and I'm looking forward to activating many more, but part of the fun of portable operations is, well, the “portable” aspect – which includes bringing gear along to many different places.  I had arranged to make a trip to Houston, Texas to visit my parents, so I decided to check the SOTA mapping project website and my SOTA Spotter App to see if there were any peaks nearby for a quick activation.

Much to my dismay, I discovered that the entire Houston area is basically a flatland.  I mean, really, really flat!  The closest peak I could find was about 145 miles away!

But hey, I'm trying to be a good SOTA op, so that means I need to embrace the challenge, right?  So I set to work on planning how to make this activation happen.  First, I located a ham in the Houston area who appeared to be an active SOTA guy, and emailed him to make sure I wasn't somehow missing something (was there a huge peak nearby that wasn't showing up in my search?)  His answer confirmed my fears; in fact he said that he drives over to NM and AZ to get peaks because it's so flat in Texas!  So, my only option appeared to be a one-pointer summit called “Newton County HP”, W5T/NT-039.  As an aside, I don't understand how this falls into the “North Texas” region, given its southerly locale, but that's not too important).  It took quite a bit of work to use MapQuest to find the best driving route, but eventually I got one that appeared to be near enough to get me in the area.

I was visiting primarily to care for my parents so being away for a long time would be a problem.  My solution was to leave very early, do the activation, and return later that morning.  With a 145 mile or so drive, this meant that I'd be on the air earlier than most US activations that are posted on SOTAWatch these days, but I didn't really have a choice.  On Friday, October 28th, I left their home for a long, dark drive.  It was foggy and dark but somehow I managed to get myself in the area just around sunrise.

I was driving East on Route 255, but had no exact directions from there.  So I pulled up the summit on the SOTAWatch App on my cell phone, which gave me a distance and direction.  As I approached it, I realized that the summit was not going to be on Route 255, but rather to the left.  There were occasional dirt roads leading off, but I had no idea where they led.  Eventually, as I drove, the app began to show me that the direction to the summit was now slightly behind me to the left; so I decided I'd better take a dirt road.

As it turned out, I was very lucky, because the dirt road I took (County Road #1105) did in fact lead me to the summit, which was on CR 1106!

 The summit was pretty obvious, because a few large commercial tower structures were present.

I pulled up alongside them on the dirt road and quickly set up my gear, as close as I could without trespassing beyond the Posted signs.  Actually I didn’t really want to be so close to the towers anyway.

I initially hoped to just sit on the ground, but almost immediately, a swarm of ants was marching all over my gear and myself!  So, I just decided to do the operation in a standing position.

It was a little challenging tapping the paddle but I managed to pull out 6 QSO’s on 40m, 6 on 30m, and 7 on 20m (including a phone Summit-to-Summit QSO with KK4OSG.  The bands seemed pretty good and I was having fun, but I had to shut down in less than an hour and head back to my take care of my folks.  Was it worth all that driving just for a very short 1-pointer QSO?  The answer is yes, it really was a fun time and I was happy to add another Association to my list.  Traveling with amateur radio has become much easier with the advent of the KX2 (although airport security did take it out of my bag and wipe it down with some sort of test strip on the way to TX).  I’m learning more about setting up a very quick multi-band system as well.  All in all, I’d say it was worth it!

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