25 November 2016

Thankful for Amateur Radio

Lately I've been on a streak with doing SOTA activations on Fridays.  This week I was in Phoenix, because my YL and I ran a Turkey Day 10k race to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, so I wasn't able to plan a local hike in Tucson.  But, thanks to the SOTA Mapping Project, I was easily able to search for summits closer to Phoenix.  My search criteria also included finding a peak that was easily accessible, preferably a drive-up.  It didn't take long to discover that the South Mountain range was my best bet.  Suappoa Mountain, W7A/MS-048, was only about 20 miles away from our downtown hotel, and there is a paved road all the way to the top.  It's only a 2-pointer, but it would easily provide my SOTA fix.

I left around 9:00 am, and I only had a few hours maximum because I had to get back to my YL and check out of our hotel.  The drive up was uneventful, other than dodging numerous bicyclists who were out enjoying some fresh air on a post-holiday Friday.

Mt. Suappoa is perfectly located to provide wide-range broadcast coverage to the Phoenix metro area, so not surprisingly, it is absolutely covered with commercial antennas.  As I drew nearer to the peak, these antennas dominated the view.

The actual summit is closed to the public.  Apparently the FCC requires registration of any antennas on this site!

However, right next to the summit is a nice large parking area called the Gila Valley Lookout.  The elevation of this area is only about 35 feet below the true summit, so it's within the SOTA Rules Activation Zone.  It was only when I reached the Lookout that I realized I had forgotten to bring along my push-up mast!  I panicked for a few minutes until I realized that in my car's trunk, I had an old 20 meter vertical portable antenna that I had purchased at the local hamfest for $10.  The reason I bought it was that it used a fiberglass push-up pole to support the antenna wire...so bingo, I had a mast available by pure luck!  I set up as quickly as possible, knowing that my YL was waiting for me and time was of the essence.

My little OCF dipole looked a bit out of place amongs the giants in the background.  But it performed nicely for me.  I operated mostly CW, as the heavy RF overpowered the wider bandwidth on phone.  I did, however, make a couple of SSB contact on 10 meters, when I realized that the timing of my operation coincided with the daily 10-10 International Net on 28.380 MHz.  I was able to work my friend, 10-10 Director Bob N6OPR, and another local Phoenix op.  Other QSO's included CW on 10 and 20 meters.  I only made 18 contacts total, once again I would have loved to continue operating for hours but was on-air for only about 30 minutes.  This time it wasn't the pending hike, rather I needed to get back to check-out from our hotel before the deadline.  But I did have fun while there.

As I was packing up, a local law enforcement officer stopped by to make sure I wasn't doing anything illegal, and I had yet another chance to share the hobby with the police.  Another guy stopped by and introduced himself as a fellow SOTA enthusiast; NJ7V wasn't there to activate that day, but it was nice to meet him in person as he has been recorded in my log a few times.

On my way down, I stopped to snap a pic of this interesting structure which is at the base of the mountain.  This certainly is a low desert environment, so I suspect there are plenty of scorpions, as well as snakes and other scaly, spiky creatures, but fortunately I didn't make any contacts with them on this day!