Mega Ham Licensing Session at Cal!

This year I had the great pleasure to teach UC Berkeley’s “Hands-on Ham Radio” seminar. We covered the basics of radio theory and operation and had a mega-licensing exam session in the Wozniak Lounge to cap things off! This exam session is held semesterly and was started by Prof. Miki Lustig a few years ago. It is without a doubt my favorite campus tradition at Cal.

55 Technician, 6 General, and 4 Extra licenses were awarded at this mega-session. Special thanks to the superb VE team for getting everybody in and out in just about 2 hours! Extra-special thanks go to Sharon Primbsch AA6XZ who organized the VE session (and has done so for at least 8 semesters running…)!!

 

Failed Activations are still fun! – W6/NS-062 – Red Lake Peak

My graduate lab took a group retreat to the South Lake Tahoe area and the festivities included snowshoeing. We didn’t have a destination in mind, so I suggested why not go up a nearby peak and bring the radio along? We ended up at Carson Pass where we had easy access to Red Lake Peak (10063 feet!), which has the distinction of being the subject of the first recorded ascent of a peak in the Sierras. The ever-present Lt. John C. Fremont was involved, and from the summit he first spotted Lake Tahoe.

Our expedition was ultimately not so successful. It was relatively easy snowshoeing up the first 2000 feet, after which four of us broke off from the main group to take a stab at the remaining 1000 feet. After about 500 more feet of climing, we reached a lower summit. Up here winds were over 40 mph, which made the final summit approach along an exposed ridge much less appealing. On top of that, the prospect of eventually putting up a fiberglass mast without it sailing away was daunting. We decided to huddle behind a boulder to escape the winds, eat a few Nilla wafers, and then mosey on back.

Lessons learned:

  • Snowshoes are amazing!
  • Wind is… a force of nature
  • John C. Fremont’s been everywhere, man

We’ll have to return to conquer this peak another time. 3/4 of the successful SOTA activations were done during the summertime, so a change in timing may make things easier.

W6/NC-030 – Mount St. Helena

Another weekend, another SOTA activation. This time I went up to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park to scale Mount St. Helena. It was a long and somehwat boring hike, with lots of meandering switchbacks spreading 2000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles or so.

I got to try out my new 31 foot fiberglass antenna mast, which held my end fed up well. I laser-cut a piece of acrylic to use as a guy ring and it worked well, though I think I was guying the pole a bit too low to the ground to be super effective and there were some frightening wobbles accompanying the stiffer breezes. I could probably improve the setup by staking the center of the mast, but all in all this wasn’t too bad for the first field test!

Lots of folks called in this time and the activation was very fast. Good thing, because it was rather cold and windy at the summit. Thanks to all the chasers!

sthelena_qsos

W6/NC-417 – Reactivating Abrott Benchmark and Hiking Kennedy Grove

On February 11, I returned to Kennedy Grove Park for my first hike for the East Bay Trails Challenge to get to know the regional parks a bit better. Of course, the radio came along so my group could make a SOTA excursion to Abrott Benchmark (here’s the first time I went with KJ6GLR’s company).

After one week of solid rain, this Saturday was a beautiful day with clear skies and a great time to return to this peak! Overflow from the reservoir was pouring down a spillway and the trail was quite muddy in places. The hills were a beautiful green this time around.

Our East Bay Trails Challenge started on the Laurel Loop Trail. We then went up the eastern Lower Sea Foam Trail to the Upper Sea Foam Trail to the Black Oak Loop Trail. We then came back down on the Kennedy Creek Trail to finish the loop.

kennedy_grove_hike.png

In order to get to Abrott Benchmark, we had to do a little bit of backtracking. This time we took the north leg of the Lower Sea Foam Trail and turned onto Upper Sea Foam Trail, but once we reached the high point on Upper Sea Foam Trail, we broke towards a fire trail on the east edge of the park that heads toward the peak. There’s a green swing near the entrance to the fire trail. You have to cross a fence to get to the trail, walking along a bit of grass in between. Take the fire trail to your left and you’ll make your way to the meandering fire trail that eventually takes you to the benchmark.

I also experimented with APRS location reporting. Nearly all the packets that I sent while on the Black Oak Loop were lost to the ether, but I managed to get a halfway decent track towards the peak. I was able to spot myself with the APRS2SOTA service, so everything was done on RF this trip.

abrott_aprs.PNG

The contacts went by quickly, and I got a number of summit-to-summits this time. Of particular note was KE6MT who was just across the bay on Richardson East Benchmark, which I had activated a few months ago. It must have been a wonderful view that day! Thanks to all the chasers!

abrott_qsos

 

Re-activating Vollmer Peak (again!)

Another year, another trip to Vollmer Peak. Today (Jan 29) I took the KX2 with an MFJ-1899T whip to try a pedestrian mobile-style activation. Since it was a Sunday afternoon, the steam trains were running and made a nice background noise for the hike. My sideband signals seemed to make it out, reaching AC1Z in NH and AA0BV on Mount Caroline Livermore on Angel Island. For the rest, I had to crack out the CW paddle. W0MNA and W0ERI were quick to respond, as always. After a few more contacts, it was time to call it a day.

Thanks to all the chasers!

vollmer3_results

W6/CC-045 Mount Diablo (1173m) and W6/CC-051 North Peak (1084m)

I was very lucky to receive a KX2 recently as a gift from KK6MRI. I took the radio out on January 14 to two peaks for its maiden voyage: Mount Diablo and North Peak, and it was a joy to use. After this pair of activations, I made it to the milestone of 25 activator points. Slow and steady progress…

When we arrived at the summit parking lot for Diablo, it was still a bit early (just after 9 am) and we were not prepared for the cold, windy weather! We huddled in a small patch of woods on the summit trail near the parking lot to set up and stay out of the wind. I slacked a bit on finding a good spot for the antenna, so there were some difficulties getting out, but I did manage the four required QSOs.

The hike to Black Point was about 5 miles round trip from the Mt. Diablo summit lot, and the last little bit to the summit of North Peak was very steep. The surrounding area was beautifully green due to the large amount of rainfall this winter. It had warmed up substantially by the time we got to the summit, so we stuck around for an hour, racking up 18 QSOs, which is a new high for me. I learned that my pileup-managing skills on CW (and my CW copy in general) could use work, and the increased activity from the North American QSO Party did not help, but fortunately the chasers were patient.

Thanks to all the chasers! Special shout-out to WBØUSI, WØMNA, and WØERI for catching me on both peaks this time. Looking forward to more activations this year!

Mount Diablo:diablo_results

North Peak:northpeak_results

W8O/SW-012 Hamilton County HP (294m)

I was in Cincinnati, Ohio on Christmas Eve’s Eve and decided to get in one more SOTA activation in Ohio. Even though Cincinnati itself is quite hilly, nearly the entire state north of the city was pressed flat by large glaciers during the last ice age. As a result, the majority of Ohio does not have much in the way of dramatic topography. In spite of these crushing efforts, the high point of Hamilton County is still about 12 km north of downtown Cincinnati near the neighborhood of Mount Airy, and is worth one activator point.

There are a number of radio antennas that take advantage of the region’s prominence, many of which are seated on top of a castlelike pair of water tanks nearby. A church parking lot next to the water pumping facility was within the activation zone, so I tossed a wire up into a nearby tree to get started on the most urban of my SOTA shenanigans.

This parking lot is near a busy street, so it should have been no surprise that a couple of people walking by were suspicious of the guy huddled in the grass with a wire in a tree sketching gibberish on a yellow notepad. I made sure to explain that nothing nefarious was going on here – just some good old-fashioned amateur radio. They seemed impressed that I managed to contact stations in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, and Florida.

This was a fast activation for me. The required four QSOs were finished within the first five minutes on the air. Thanks to the chasers (and some of the usual suspects) who put up with my rushed QRP CW!

hamilton_hp