21 October 2016

October OVARC Meeting - APRS

The October meeting of the Oro Valley Amateur Radio Club (OVARC) had an informative presentation on APRS by Bob, AF9W.  I began using APRS way back in the 1990's and had a lot of fun using various types of TNC's, GPS units, and displays.  For a while I had a nice weather station that beaconed APRS from my home QTH, and lately I've used it to beacon out my position along my SOTA hikes.

Technology has improved APRS a lot.  For example, many radios now have built-in TNC's and GPS units (like my Yaesu FT-2DR handheld).  Mapping back in the early days used DOS-driven software with rudimentary character-drawn maps, whereas now we have high-resolution mapping, satellite images, and super-fast colorful displays that draw very little power.  Websites like http://www.aprs.fi give near-real time aprs data via the internet.

As usual, the OVARC meeting had other interesting stuff including a demo of his Lindenblad Satellite Antenna project by Ron, W7HD, and a short Handyman's Corner talk by Tom, W8TK on how to build a $5 antenna tuner.

Green Mountain - Scrambling for SOTA W7A/PE-002

It's a nice time of year for hiking in Southern Arizona.  The mild Fall weather is a welcome change from the hot days of Summer.  After a couple of high-stress weeks at work, I was ready to hit the trails.  My oldest son, Ryan, was going to be available as well so we decided to do an easy hike in the Catalina mountain range on Friday, October 21st.

Ryan is also a licensed amateur radio operator, having earned his Technician class ticket at age 12.  His call sign is KR7YAN, and although he's not active on the bands, he enjoys hearing about my radio exploits.  So I thought this might be a good opportunity to do a SOTA activation and give him a chance to see the OM in action.

We chose Green Mountain, W7A/PE-002 as our target summit.  At about 2400m, this is a 10-pointer peak.  It’s close to the Mt. Lemmon Highway so it's possible to drive up to a starting point that is already at fairly high elevation.  Our goal was to hike a few miles, so we thought we would try the Green Mountain Trail.   The Green Mountain Trail winds around the mountain, but does not actually approach the summit.  It connects to the highway at two different points; we chose to start at the Upper trailhead.  Based on reviews of topo maps, as well as a few writeups from other hikers, we realized that to reach the summit, we would need to do some off-trail “scrambling”.

The start of the trail was easy hiking.  But it wasn't long before we had a bit of trail confusion.  There were unmarked trail junctions, and even the GPS (which has a very current mapset) seemed ambiguous.  Eventually we found a marker and confirmed that we were still on the correct trail, and by that time we were on the East side of the mountain and headed downhill.  The views were amazing, but looking up toward the summit, we realized that the terrain was nearly impossible for scrambling up on that side without some serious rock-climbing hardware.  So we turned back.  A couple of day-hikers wandered by and they were also terribly confused; their USGS topo map didn't match up to all the unmarked trails either.  On our way back we missed a turnoff but figured it out shortly thereafter.  Eventually we were back on the North side, only about a tenth of a mile from our original start point, and found a spot that we decided was worth a try for a summit scramble.

I was lugging my 40 pounds of stuff, because I thought it was going to be a short easy hike.  This included the daypack containing radio gear, water, food, emergency kit, etc, as well as the Buddipole bag with tripod, two antenna setups, analyzer etc.  Now that it's over, I'm happy that I brought all that, but at the time it was quite a challenge, because almost as soon as we started the off-trail climb, we were on very steep, loose rock terrain.

It was challenging but also the kind of challenge that makes you feel some pride.  There were parts of the climb that were overgrown as well.  But we pushed our way up and eventually reached a point below the summit that provided some spectacular views.

After a short break to enjoy the scenery, we trekked just a bit further to the summit.

Green Mountain has a large, grassy summit area and despite the high elevation there are plenty of trees, which we appreciated for shade.  We were fortunate to have perfect temperatures up there, not too cool or too hot.  Short walks to the edges provided views of Tucson, Mt. Bigelow, and Mt. Lemmon.  I set up the Buddipole in standard dipole configuration for 20 meters, and the Aerial 51 404-UL OCF dipole for use on other bands.

I began with 20 meters and made a bunch of CW QSO's.  The band was doing quite well and I almost felt spoiled with the nice big log to sit on.  I used my Elecraft  KX2 with internal batteries, so my power was only 5 watts, but the signals were getting out.  In addition to many stateside QSO's, I worked Canada, the Czech Republic, and France!  While I was making contacts, Ryan was relaxing.  I had hoped he might be willing to try a few 10m SSB, or 2m FM QSO's but he preferred to leave the operating to me.  I really did hope to operate on 10 meters, so after a while I moved over to the OCF which I had set up inverted V style, using my broken-but-still-useful SOTABeams push-up mast.

I did manage to make 4 10 meter QSO's, all local with the help of my friend Quinton, NU7Y and a few other guys who were following my progress on a local 2m repeater.  One funny QSO occurred when I tried to QSO with a guy who wanted a 10m SSB contact (it was all CW until then).  For some reason my KX2 was in lower sideband mode when I changed to phone, and I could not figure out how to change it to upper!  There's really no major reason for using USB instead of LSB, other than it's standard ham radio convention to use USB for 20m and higher.  So, we ended up making our QSO using LSB instead, which wasn't really an issue since the band was otherwise quiet anyway.  (I did check the manual later and learned that it's a simple menu option).  After a while on 10, I moved over to 40 meters and had some fun there.  It was nice to be able to switch bands on the wire antenna without any issues; I hit the ATU on the KX2 to bring the SWR to near-perfect, but it was pretty close anyway.  I could have changed bands on the Buddipole with only a few minutes work as well, but it was fun to be able to use both antennas.  Hopefully I will get a chance on a longer activation  sometime to do some comparisons between the two.  I suspect the Buddipole will be the better antenna overall for most purposes but the inverted V might have an advantage for closer stations using NVIS.

I went back to 20 meters eventually and worked some more stations there.  I added some great contacts to my log.  In addition to the DX mentioned earlier, one nice surprise was working my friend Karen, W4KRN, who I've known for many years as a result of our mutual interest in 10-10 International Net (wish our contact had been on 10 but it was still fun!)

This was a great activation on so many levels.  Lots of good QSO's with ham friends around the world; a challenging but short hike; perfect weather;  a 10-point summit;  a day off from work;  and time spent with Ryan.  Green Mountain was definitely a success!