Mt Pleasant and surrounds

Hi all,

My final day of activations on my May 2014 US trip was in Virginia. There are a series of Summits on the Air 10 point summits around Mt Pleasant, so that is where I was to go.

Mount Pleasant W4V/BR-005

The first summit of the day was Mt Pleasant itself. I proceeded along Wiggins Spring Rd from the west. The road is a little rough, but can be driven in a 2wd in the dry with some care. I drove through to to the Mt Pleasant car park. From here, I proceeded by foot along the the old Jeep Trail. The alignment of the tracks these days has been changed from when the USGS maps I was using was surveyed. It’s pretty easy to follow, and after a little while a stream is crossed and the track begins to climb up to a point to the north, not far from the summit. Some people camped here overnight, and there was a sign pointing to a water source. I proceeded up to the summit area. I found that a number of people had been camping near the west summit. I had a look from the west, where there are nice views:

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

I setup a little bit back from the path, with the wire over the track (but about 10 feet up so it would have not affected anybody.

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

Things were a little slower than yesterday afternoon, but I still easily and quickly got the points here. After packing up and having a look at Mt Pleasant East summit, I headed back the way that I came to the car. I thought about giving Pompey Mountain a look on the way back, but thought it more important to get the four planned summits in today.

Cole Mountain W4V/BR-006

I had passed the car park for this summit on the way into Mt Pleasant. It’s only a few hundred yards back the road. The walking trail (the Appalachian Trail) from here zig-zags up on a mostly gentile gradient, but sometimes it’s a bit too gentle. There is a vehicular track also heading up, which they used to mow the lawn up at the summit. It proceeds up to the east of the walking trail where it crosses it on the climb. The vehicular track is faster getting up.

Once on top, there are great views because much of the ridgeline going across towards the highest point is cleared:

Views from Cole Mountain

Views from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

I operated just below the summit, behind a tree. There were lots of people out on the hill, so I went there for a little bit more peace for the activation.

Bald Knob W4V/BR-004

The Appalachian Trail continues down to CowCamp Gap and then up to Bald Knob. The gradient is quite pleasant with zig zaging reducing the workload. Bald Knob is not cleared, so no views from the summit here. I set up at the highest point, about 10 feet off the track. The number of hikers here was far lower than at Cole Mountain, but I did get someone asking what I was up to – the typical “what are you doing going fishing here?” I tell them that I am fishing for radio contacts.

At the end of the activation, I retraced my steps back down to CowCamp Gap, up to Cole Mountain and back to the car.

Rocky Mountain W4V/BR-001

The final summit of the trip was Rocky Mountain. I drove west back down Wiggins Spring Rd, turning right onto Coffeytown Rd. This rejoins Wiggins Spring Rd much closer to the summit. Wiggins Spring Rd is rougher here, and the humps to help the road drain must be taken with care to avoid bottoming out the car. A bit of practice with these back in Australia proved useful here in getting the 2wd car up to the top of the mountain, along with avoiding the rocks. You simply need to be able to drive using the whole road, left and right hand side.

This summit has a bit of comms gear on site:

Rocky Mountain summit

Rocky Mountain summit

It was a quieter activation here. I was running a little ahead of schedule, but I was keen to wrap things up quickly. The NiZn batteries performed like a charm, maybe just maybe I might even start leaving the LiPOs at home on Victorian activations?!

After wrapping up, I headed back home – literally! I carefully drove the car back down Wiggins Spring Rd, onto Coffeytown Rd, out to US60, onto the I81, up to Charles Town WV, onto the I70, I695, I95 up to Media PA, sleep for 5 hours, drive to Philadelphia airport, catch a plane to Dallas Fort Worth, another to LA, another to Melbourne, Australia (with broken sleep in economy class) and finally home in a daze.

All worth it, and going and activating places like Mt Pleasant and other SOTA adventures seems far more interesting than the usual tourist traps! For one, there were not any typical tourists that I saw on these travels.

So at the end of it all, the KX1 worked really well. I missed out on any VK stations, but it may have really been only my first activation back in W6 that had any real chance. Got a bit of EU action, and started to become familiar with various US SOTA chasers. Some have been in my log on VK summits. Hopefully I hear a few more from VK summits in future. Until the next activation….

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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Monongahela Ranges, West Virginia

Hi all,

My second last day of SOTA’ing in the US was in West Virginia. My plan was to go to four summits near the Highlands Scenic Highway.

Red Spruce Knob W8V/PH-007

The first summit of the day can be accessed from the Highlands Scenic Highway via a walking trail that comes in from the north. There is a car parking lot for this purpose at the north end of the ridge leading to the summit. The walk is about 3/4 of a mile. It initially climbs and then levels off for a while before a mild climb to the summit.

Walking trail to Red Spruce Knob

Walking trail to Red Spruce Knob

I operated from the high point, which is in the middle of a loop made by the walking trail:

Operating location at Red Spruce Knob

Operating location at Red Spruce Knob

Activity was a bit quieter than previous activations. I spent a fair amount of time CQing.

Gay Knob W8V/PH-017

The next summit was a previously unactivated summit, Gay Knob. There is a unpaved road heading off from near the junction of WV150 and US219. This road is closed to public vehicles, but is fine for foot traffic. I headed along this to just after entering the forest underneath the summit, and then left the road, walking off-trail approaching the summit from the south west. I whistled a lot to let any bears in the area know I was around. I didn’t see any.

On the climb to Gay Knob

On the climb to Gay Knob

Activity on this summit was more animated than on the previous one, and it was nice to pick up a summit 2 summit with Dennis wa2usa on w8m/lp-009.

Looking out from the road near Gay Knob

Looking out from the road near Gay Knob

I then proceeded back along the Highlands Scenic Highway. Lots of good views from this road:

Views from the Highlands Scenic Highway

Views from the Highlands Scenic Highway

Kennison Mountains HP W8V/PH-021

The third summit of the day was the previously unactivated Kennison Mountains. I used Pub Rd 232 to approach it. It gets within 3/4 of a mile. From there, I proceeded along Frosty Gap Rd, but this did not follow the alignment on the USGS map that I was using. I left it and proceeded up through the pines until I was well within the activation zone and then operated on a small clearing. The pines meant that the forest was much more closed in here.

Operating location at Kennison Mountains

Operating location at Kennison Mountains

Activity was picking up more towards levels that I experienced previously on this trip, no significantly long time spent CQing.

Black Mountain W8V/PH-013

The final summit of the day was Black Mountian. I retraced my steps along the Highlands Scenic Highway to approach this summit. The road gets within about 800 feet. It’s a pretty straight-foward walk off trail northeast to the summit from where I parked, which is one of the small parking areas – made almost like provision for a future road to lead off from. There are many of these along the track. The actually is a trail leading off from where I parked, but away west from the summit.

This was again a straight-foward activation. My jury-rigging from the previous day was holding up well. Another thing performing well were the NiZn batteries. I was charging these up every day, but I must have been using only a fraction of their operating cycle. They still developed 1.75V per cell at the end of each day. The wattage developed by the KX1 is still about 75% of what it is with a 12.5V external source, so these are a great internal rechargeable option. I note also that KX3 can take 8 AA cells. Using eight of these NiZn batteries would develop about 14.5V fully charged.

With that, it was time to finish the day and prepare for the final day of my US trip, which would be four summits in Virginia.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Three summits near Ballarat

Hi all,

To ensure that the brownie point balance was kept in check, I did not plan a multi-day SOTA adventure this Easter. I did, however, get leave to activate three summits near Ballarat, all which I had activated before.

After my troubles with antennas on the March long weekend, I decided that I would repair the random wire with high grade wire near the BNC adapter. The antenna had failed by the wire simply tearing at the adapter. My solution was to solder about 1cm of the wire on, and use tape to try and give greater physical support to the wire, so that the load is not borne at one particular spot. I also reinforced the counterpoise wires in a similar fashion. The photo below (if you click on it), shows the changes to the random wire (you may need to zoom in on the KX1).

Mt Buninyong VK3/VC-018

I had not activated this summit since 2012. My previous activation used my original setup of the 8 segment aluminium pole vertical. I had not used verticals for a while now, but when I do, I rely on a squid pole to give physical support to a wire going up – a squid pole is more convenient. For this activation, it was the random wire. Here is a look at the setup I used here:

Station at Mt Buninyong

Station at Mt Buninyong

I headed up the road and parked in the activation zone. There is a walking track heading down the hill from the carpark near the lookout tower. I used this to leave the activation zone and reenter it for my final nonmotorised access to the summit.

For these activations, I used the shorter 4.7m squid pole. For local contacts, it makes little difference between using the shorter squid pole or the longer 7m one. I was keen to give the shorter pole a bit of a workout, as I have a trip upcoming to the states. The shorter pole fits in the luggage I plan to take. The larger pole does not, so the shorter pole looks like it will go. I also had an eye on what I might do at the end of the year on the Lord Howe Island trip.

Another eye on the US trip/Lord Howe Island was not to use an external power supply on these three activations. I used only the NiZn internal AA cells, with no LiPOs in the car or anywhere else to go grab if something went cold. My station is simply the KX1 box, the wire and the squid pole. The whole lot is under 1kg. This is my planned US station.

The KX1 has little difficulty tuning the antenna on 20/30/40. The pattern remains that the most amount of power is developed on 20, then 30 then 40, with 40 being generally around 1 watts on a 10.5V supply. The typical report I receive is 559. 40 remains a reliable band for close in contacts. If I can self spot, then getting 4 CW contacts quickly on 40 is just about guaranteed these days.

Getting the good reports on the NiZn batteries shows that this minimal setup works.

As for my broken end-fed, it would appear that the problem there is that the toroid inside has physically broken due to the rumble tumble of many activations (eg hitting the ground when being quickly uncoiled). The matchbox is closed, but looking at people on the internet who sawed it open, the only thing that could make the rattling noise that I experienced is broken pieces of the toroid. I am still working out how to repair it. Considerations are:

  • For CW activations on the KX1, I think the random wire does as well or better than a EFHW in an inverted V formation with a 7m squid pole in the middle. The EFHW might perform better on a bigger squid pole, but here I am using a 4.7m squid pole with the random wire. The key advantage of the random wire is that there is no feedline – the antenna itself connects directly onto the BNC connector of the KX1. There will be no feedline losses.
  • For the FT-817, I lose the inbuilt KX1 tuner and that is losing a whole lot of convenience. My options are either the EFHW (at least on a 7m pole), or use a vertical if I am after DX. I think dipole based antennas (doublets, etc) are going to be cloud warmers, just like the EFHW, unless I can genuinely get them up higher – eg putting a doublet on two 10m squid poles, one at each end. Ian, VK5CZ introduced me to the SOTAbeams EFHW tuner for 5 watts. I think I would base a new end fed on this matchbox. It gives the option of a counterpoise, which my old end fed did not have. Matchboxes like this are really a convenience thing, as the matchbox itself can be homebrewed without much difficulty.

So, I think I’ll leave the old end-fed for now, and hopefully get around to building a new one based on the SOTAbeams end fed matchbox.

Mt Warrenheip VK3/VC-019

Mt Warrenheip was more of the same. A sealed road goes to the summit area. I parked in the activation zone, but at the eastern end of the road (final turn before the summit) and then walked down the ridge to exit the activation zone, turned around and reentered it.

This activation was again on the short 4.7m squid pole and the random wire. One thing about this setup is that it is quick to put up and tear down.

VK3/VC-032

My final activation for the weekend was at this unnamed summit. Bush Search and Rescue Victoria are having a training day the following month just down the hill from here. My part is to operate a GPS based rogaine training exercise, so I met up with the organisers to do a reccy of the proposed course. After finishing up with them, I headed up the summit, and basically did the same thing as at Mt Warrenheip.

All three of these summits are nice easy summits to get started for those nervous about taking the SOTA activation plunge. Even CW activations on 40m are straightforward these days if you can self spot. If you can’t, its getting a lot easier as well.

I tested the voltage of the NiZn AA cells after the three activations. They started at 1.8V per cell, and were about 1.77V at the end of the day. They can clearly handle these activations and have plenty of left over capacity. Given that NiZn batteries prefer shallow cycles rather than deeper cycles, I would be using them as recommended. Running on these NiZn AA cells gives me most of the developed power I get when I operate using external LiPOs. It would be far ahead of using 1.5V non rechargables – the 1.5V is only when they are full – when they are about 50%, it’s 1.3V (that would be 7.8V total). Stories on the internet about the KX1 suggest that at around 7.5V, the KX1 is typically only generating 300 to 500mW. If I used NiMH, they quickly settle to 1.2V for 7.2V total for 6 cells. This is close to the KX1 low voltage cutoff – Elecraft don’t recommend running the KX1 on 6 NiMH cells, but if I did – it would be true QRPp activating. QRP does interest me, but I perhaps are not so much into the QRPp thing. As it currently stands, the NiZn cells are an excellent internal power solution for the KX1.

So, not too bad getting 3 summits in, although none of them are new uniques for me. Still, it had been a month since my last activation, so you have to take them when they come.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

KX1 internal battery using NiZn cells

Hi all,

Nickel Zinc rechargeable batteries are not common, however HobbyKing sell them. I decided to get a batch and have a look at them in the KX1.

NiZn batteries are not for everyone. Firstly, the capacity is lower at 1500mAh than the typical NiMH battery at 2400mAh. The plus side is that the NiZN carry a higher voltage. It is at 1.85V at the top of the cycle and then slowly decreases throughout the cycle, but remaining well above NiMH, and even Alkaline batteries that start at just under 1.6V and decline to 1.1V over the cycle. NiMH spend most of their cycle flat at 1.2V.

For a radio like a FT-817 that linearly regulates the voltage, there is no point using AA cells with higher voltage, as the regulator literally burns the excess voltage as heat. The 1.2V of NiMH are fine in that application. The KX1 is a different matter.

The KX1 has a capacity for 6 internal AA cells. Using NiMH cells, these would deliver only about 7.2V for most of the cycle, which is below the recommended minimum voltage required by Elecraft. The rig still works – although I have not extensively tested it. The power levels generated are very low – perhaps only good for QRPp levels of 500mW or less. I am quite happy with QRP operating, but I don’t see a pressing need to go to QRPp at this stage.

The NiZn cells represent an opportunity to mix things up with a higher voltage that the KX1 can then use to generate more RF power. It won’t give me more operating time, but it will give me more punch. Here’s a look at 6 NiZn cells installed inside the KX1 AA battery holder:

Turnigy AA NiZn cells in the KX1 internal battery holder

Turnigy AA NiZn cells in the KX1 internal battery holder

The cells come charged, and showed 1.85V per cell and a total of 11.1V installed. I used the cells for several hours in the field, and I came back with the six cells developing 10.4V across them. The KX1 would develop low 1W to 2.5W depending on the band and (reasonable) antenna configuration. This was only a little down from what power it was developing with a 12.2V external supply.

The 1500mAh capacity would mean that these NiZn cells will deliver many hours, perhaps more than 20 hours, of operating time in the field. The low RX current draw of the KX1 is certainly a great factor here, especially compared to a all mode rig like the FT-817. This kind of setup would be really useful for multiday remote area activations, where the radio part of the gear needs to be kept to an absolute minimum for weight reasons – for example when South West Tasmania or Fiordland in New Zealand are part of the Summits on the Air program.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM