Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Month: November, 2014

W4C/EM-058 Unnamed Summit (Mt Jefferson Overlook)

With my meetings finished, and plans to catch up with friends in DC, I hatched a plan to encounter a bunch of different US associations on my way up to Washington. In one day, I could go from Raleigh to W4C/EM-058, detour by W4T/SU-022, have lunch, stop at W4V/GC-018, and finish the day at W4K/EC-022, before heading up to West Virginia to spend the night, before grabbing a W8V and a W3 summit on the way into Washington. It would require leaving Raleigh at 5 in the morning, but that was easy.

Instead, everything was foiled by three beers, two scotches and two alarms that were both slept through. That left me three hours late out of Raleigh – not insurmountable, but it mean W4K/EC-022 (Flatwoods) was probably out of the question. The others were still candidates, so I headed off. I dropped in on a Home Depot to grab some PVC tubing to fashion up a taller mast as well, and headed off, following the GPS to W4C/EM-058.

This unnamed summit is located on the opposite side of the road to the Mt Jefferson Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trip there is easy enough, and I made it at almost exactly the time I would have intended, but for the 3 hour delay bit. I hadn’t reckoned on the Polar Vortex that descended early and left the entire US freezing through the cold.

I parked in the overlook, grabbed my gear and cross the road, and tried to set up on that side of the road. The wind was unbelievable. The car was saying the outside temperature was barely above freezing, but with the wind, it was easily below that. I raised the PVC mast, antenna at the top, and watched the wind snatch each section off and send it down the road. In the process, it broke the 20m link, meaning I couldn’t put tension on the antenna in any way on one side. The landing onto the ground also smashed the balun enclosure. I tried again, with duct tape holding joints, and the tape just collapsed. The wind was just incredible.

I tried to put up the Frankenpole, and got about the same distance. Without tension on the antenna, and in the wind, the mast was detelescoping, and at one point, the wind acting on the wires alone was enough to rip the top section off the mast.

I gave up, strung out the dipole across two signs back on the overlook side, and tried to salvage the situation. I got nowhere. I could hear W4PH on a nearby summit, and tried to call him, but I could not get a signal across to him. I called CQ for a while, but the cold was bitter, and I wasn’t enjoying the situation at all. With a few conversations by SOTAWatch spots, I tried 12m, including accidentally setting up in the CW section of the band plan by mistake, and over W1AW whom I could not hear. I tried a few more minutes, but after an hour on the top, I realised it was a lost cause.

The next mountains were higher than the one I was one, I was way behind schedule now, and there was nothing for it but to give up, cancel the alerts and head off to my non-refundable hotel booking up in West Virginia.

The truly sad bit was that the Blue Ridge Parkway, on the drive out, was beautiful. With autumn leaves on the trees, ice on the side of the road from the cold, it was pretty. I was just too annoyed to try to take a photo. The next day I headed to DC and caught up with my friends, but this summit was a representative microcosm of my entire US trip this time around. I did get the third continent in the log courtesy of my one QSO on Shaupeneak Ridge, but I am still disappointed. I may have to fly down to Tasmania to get VK7 in the log, and maybe South Korea for the fourth continent 😉

The antenna rested on the sign.

The antenna rested on the sign.

Mount Jefferson Overlook

Mount Jefferson Overlook

Mount Jefferson Overlook

Mount Jefferson Overlook

W2/GC-122 Shaupeneak Ridge

There are many truths and certainties in life like Death, Taxes, Wookies shedding fur all over the carpet and of course that Massachusetts’ roads suck the proverbial oversized, hirsute gonads of a member of the species Equus Africanus Asinus. A colleague once told me it was because during winter, the water would seep through small cracks in the asphalt, freeze, expand (as ice does), and make the small cracks larger cracks. In any case, I had about 200 miles of these roads to cover, and I wasn’t going to cover them by sleeping.

But sleeping I needed to do, as I’d arrived in the previous night at 11:30pm, done the honourable thing in calling the wife at a decent hour for her, and taken the sleeping tablet about 12:30 as I crawled into bed, 32 hours since I’d left Adelaide. For the record, the routing ADL->MEL->SYD->LAX->BOS is a stupid idea. Adding the fact that the entertainment units for ADL->MEL, MEL-SYD and a good three hours of the SYD->LAX legs were faulty, plus an over-officious dude at the Qantas Club in Adelaide, and you get a fun-filled flying experience.

I awoke as my alarm was due to go off. I promptly fell back to sleep because in fact the alarm didn’t go off – I’d set it for 7:45pm, not am. Luckily, I’d set my second alarm (I’m not stupid – just careless!), and I was awoken again 15 minutes later. Shower, breakfast, packing up of the gear, and I headed off. I swapped my work SIM from my phone and replaced it with my data SIM that gives me 1GB of data for $10 when overseas (the work one would cost about $3000 for that amount!). I jumped in the car, and realised I had left my phone upstairs. I got on the road shortly before 10am, which wasn’t a good thing.

I stopped for lunch almost 2 hours later at a service plaza near the MA/NY border, having been jolted around by the Massachussetts’ roads. I continued onwards into NY, following the GPS’ melodious instructions, and headed up Popletown Rd, which leads to Shaupeneak Ridge. I had studied this approach many times on Google Maps, but hadn’t considered I’d be directed to approach from the south, rather than the north. I drove past the car park I needed to stop in, and started to descend again. Realising I’d gone too far, and seeing the towers at the summit behind me, I turned around, pulled into a parking area near a locked gate, and started to try to work my phone.

In the process, a gentleman pulled over and asked if I needed help. He pointed me to the right location, pointed out I was supposed to have a parking permit, but that the ranger didn’t come by until dusk and I’d be OK, and that the high-vis inside of my jacket would be better on the outside, given it was deer hunting season.

From the Shaupeneak Ridge car park, follow the Red Trail east (across the road). Go past the first false summit, and you will reach another high area which is well within the activation zone, which stretches south from the summit. I set up on a high spot off the trail. It was at this point I realised I wasn’t able to get a data signal, despite the almost full-strength mobile signal. Why? Because I’d entered an ‘n’ instead of an ‘m’ in my APN for the mobile data, and when testing it in the car before I set off, I must’ve still been in wireless range – hence not testing the actual data roaming. So, I was unable to spot, but I jumped on 12m and listened around.

My activation area.  The white stuff in the background is snow on the ground.

My activation area, looking roughly north-west towards the summit towers. The white stuff in the background is snow on the ground, and you can see the spur that follows the activation zone south-east

I found CU7MD on 24.940MHz, but he was working a steady group of NA chasers, at about a 5 and 1 level, so I tuned around. I found a clear spot at 24.925MHz, and called CQ for a while, but got no reply. I believe the Frankenpole, travel worthy as it is, is probably a little too short and therefore my antenna is too close to the ground.

I switched to 15m, and then 20m, finding them pretty full of contest stations. I heard W1NG, WE2VJL, W8EH, K0OM, K2DRH and N4WZ, but couldn’t break through the contest wall to work them. I came close with K2DRH, but when he called “Alpha India Romeo?” someone else jumped over the top of me. I even tried 40m briefly, but that was a bust too. Without a spot, it is difficult for people to find you.

I went back to 12m, somewhat despondent at this point. I could choose to leave the mountain and head to my alerted W1 summit, or try work through until I made a contact, so at least the summit was activated, unqualified or not. I went back to 24.940MHz, and called in to CU7MD. I received a 59 report to Jos’ 55 report, and added the Azores to my DXCC list. More importantly for me, I had activated the mountain. I hung around for another twenty minutes or so trying to find another three contacts, but without success.

I walked quickly back to the car, and fought with the GPS for the next coordinates for Mt Wilcox, W1/MB-009. About 20 minutes later, with the arrival time being about sunset, and noting the large amount of snow I’d seen on the Berkshires on my way through the area earlier, I decided discretion was the better part of valour, cancelled the GPS, and set course for the hotel. It was the right decision, as it was very overcast and dark before sunset, and the sun went down very quickly (at about 4:45pm).

Back at the hotel, I found my error in APN, and hopefully I’ll be fine for later in the week. I tested it without the wireless active, and it worked fine. The SOTA Gods cannot tease me further this week. I require two more associations for Mountain Explorer – Silver now, which is the primary aim, but the failure to qualify two summits for points – even for a total of 5 points – is annoying.

VK5/SE-005 Mt Lofty

A cousin getting married in Adelaide presented an opportunity to add a new association to the belt, VK5.  The easiest summit being Mt Lofty, I hired a car, picked up my parents, and drove on up.  I followed Paul VK5PAS’ instructions about setting up on the eastern side of the summit, finding a nice spot to set up.

I was carrying the FT-857, 4.2Ah LiFePo and the Frankenpole, using a 40/20/15/12 linked dipole.  Set up was quick and easy, and I turned on the radio, got the usual noise floor, put out a call, and received an answer from John VK5BJE.  One in the log was all I needed to activate the summit, although 4 would be nice to get the points too.  Those other three proved elusive.

I had all manner of antenna problems, the first noticing I had a link undone, which I figured was contributing to high SWR.  The fixing of that showed more intermittent faults.  Things seemed deaf on receive, and in the end, I figured I wasn’t actually receiving anything at all.  A quick troubleshooting showed it was most likely feedline related.

A trip to Jaycar on the way back for a multimeter and some replacement coax showed I was correct in my assumption.  This officially makes me (or the baggage handlers) terrible abusers of coax.

Conan the Feedline Destroyer

Conan the Feedline Destroyer

Hopefully I should now be fine for the US trip – I didn’t have time to test the replacement cable – but I have a day or so on Sunday, and plans to activate W1 and W2 summits.  We shall see.