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Saturday, January 4, 2014

A fun morning and lessons learned.

For the first Saturday of this month, for the regular RaDAR on air meetup from 1600-1800h UTC, I decided to activate Little Rock's only SOTA mountain, Shinall Mountain (W5A/OA-015), in the hope that it would result in plenty contacts due to it's high location.

I had read the cautionary words of the mountains prior activator as listed on the SOTA website, warning about the significant RF noise level, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway. Temperature was around freezing and wind chill at top of mountain gnawed at me as well... You will notice hat and thick jacket in picture :)

Plans were to erect at least my 10m vertical wire with a Spiderpole, or maybe even my dipole, but I never got that far. Why a 10m vertical? Until now my success in making contacts with my whip in flat land were minimal at best, so I considered it as my last option.

How does the saying go? Doing the same thing time and time again and expecting a different outcome, is a sign of madness? Well, I once again tried to erect my pole with guy wires, but trying this in a relatively dense Arkansan forest with rocky ground, hindering guy stakes from entering the ground for even a few inches, is no easy one man task - and especially daunting when aiming for rapid redeployment as needed for a RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) station. So I tried my pole setup once again and finally gave up on it after 50 minutes. Guy wires and antenna wire were hopelessly tangled, what a mess! If you can't insert a stake into the ground (since the ground is so hard from many rocks) as Greg N4KGL does (he gave us the link on the RaDAR Google+ forum), to initially stabilize the pole while one is placing the guys, then the pole keeps tilting and falling over when you don't have a second pair of hands to hold the pole in place... 

After that experience, around 1650Z, I was finally done with untangling wire from guy ropes. Only option I had left was to use my whip antenna, which in the past yielded practically no contacts when trying it in flat land. So I went to the HFPack 20m calling frequency, did not hear any stations after listening for a while and then began calling CQ. Calling CQ for about 3 minutes or so, when an OM came on and politely said that frequency was in use and I might like to change to 14388, since another HAM calling CQ RaDAR was down there. So I QSY to 14388 and heard some HAMs which seemed to be running a net, but I heard no mention of CQ RaDAR. After listening for a minute, I changed to the alternate HFPack 20m calling frequency and put out my CQ for several minutes, but no replies heard. So I went back to 14388 and I heard Greg N4KGL, what a pleasant surprise! RaDAR to RaDAR :)  We managed a QSO, but QRN from the numerous transmission towers on my mountain was just an enormously limiting factor, so I regretted to have had to wrap up the QSO quickly.
Went back to 20m HFPack QSY freq, but heard no one.

So went up to 17m and heard a fellow HFPacker calling CQ from Jamaica! Did not think I'd be able to catch him on 30W SSB into a whip, but I caught him with my 3rd QSO call! It was Lester W8YCM/6Y5 from Jamaica! My first Jamaican contact :)  He then encouraged me heavily to stick around to make more QSOs, but I was freezing, QRN was significant and XYL was waiting for me to return soon for lunch since noon hour had passed... He helped me along to make another 2 QSOs, thank you Les! One from the mountain top and one after I drove down a little (upon his suggestion), boy did that decrease QRN! But still, reception reports on my signal from others that he could hear, but I was unable to hear, baffled us both. 

My setup:
Barrett 2090, 30W, Arlan Communications Radiosport headset kept my ears nice and warm (!), whip, counterpoise with length as gleaned from an HFPackers website, have to look up his link again, pre- amplifier turned off (because I had expected the QRN on the mountain top). Will have it switched on in the future, which should help my receive. Les suggested a different counterpoise length, will catch up with him in a separate email...

So, a fun freezing morning! Rekindled my interest in just working with my whip! However guess that I will go and get the AlexLoop sometime very soon...

73 de Marcus NX5MK

PS: I am using the following counterpoise lengths, as written up by K0EMT: http://www.dbbear.com/k0emt/projant/hfpack/






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