Activation Report: W7O/CE-219 – Cline Buttes, OR | February 2023

This was my first mountain bike activation of the year. Tim [N7KOM] and another friend joined me for a ride/joint activation of Cline Butte after my last failed attempt in November of 2022. I wanted to do some exploring of a new trail system based out of the Cascade View Trail head that opened in the spring of 2022 and try to connect that system to the Cline Buttes trail via some old double track that looked passable on the map. I used OnX Backcountry app to build a route and we headed out.

OnX Offroad Planned Route

After making a wrong turn and correcting, we made it to the abandoned double track and began grinding through the soft sand. Fortunately another intrepid rider must have had the same idea and we were able to build upon the track already laid down in the soft earth and stayed aboard our bikes as long as we could, eventually forced to dismount and push up the steepest section of about 1/4 mile nearly straight up the hill. I opted to push through the brush, making impromptu switchbacks up the steep hill. We crested that last bit of shale and basalt onto the final road climb up to the summit.

Actual track from Garmin Connect

We quickly got started setting up, Tim with his Elecraft KX2 and AX1 had his 4 contacts before I could get myself spotted. I continually struggle with the MFA tokens when logging in from Sota Goat and was unable to get the timing of copying and pasting the token from my MFA app. Tim offered to spot me so I could get on with it. We had a non-ham along and the wind was picking up so I was trying to be sensitive to how long we were on the air. I’m a lot slower at setup than Tim, so once I got the Penntek 35R on the air and spotted I quickly had a pileup to work through.

One thing I keep forgetting about the Penntek is that the audio out jack is mono only, and I have a stereo headset so I can only hear in one ear. With wind picking up and other hikers walking around, I had some troubles. Those patient enough with my bad copy all got in the log. I’ve made a mental note that I need to apply the modification to the output audio jack before my next outing so I can hear in both ears.

After about 20 mins, the wind was starting to penetrate my thin shell, and my wool base layer was soaked from the work of the climb so once I had 6 in the log, I tore down and we discussed how to get back to the vehicles. There was a lot of unexpected mud and ice on the trails on our way out and trying to be a good steward, I suggested we take a less muddy route back. Unfortunately, a lot of the property surrounding the Buttes is private land so we chose to descend along the Cline Buttes XC trail to a point were we could access the Eagle Crest subdivision and wound our way back on paved paths and roads.

Our last stop was at one of the local brew pubs in Redmond, appropriately name Wild Ride Brewing, for a cold beer and some warm fish and chips. While the thermometer said it was 50 degrees, the chill we developed on the summit took a while to relent.

Cline Buttes is a moderate hike/ride, depending on your approach. The traditional mtb route is to start off the quarry road on the east side and climb the Cline Butte XC Trail around the west side interconnecting with FAA access road to the summit. There is a short cut near the summit that keeps you on the west side of the butte and drops you out right at several big rocks that are in the AZ and can provide some wind protection. 2M can work well but having had one failed activation for lack of 2M contacts, I highly suggest bringing and HF rig as well.

Activation Report: W7O/CE-188 – Lava Butte, OR | January 2023

Lava Butte Summit

For the February Polar Bear /  FYOB combined event, Tim N7KOM, and I wanted to get out and do another joint activation. Since we both had limited time a quick approach summit would give us the best opportunity to make the most of the day so we choose to return to Lava Butte. We activate Lava Butte together back in April of 2022 on our first meeting and outing. He documented the adventure in this youtube video.

Tim picked me up and we drove the short 10 minutes from my house to the base of the butte, pulling off US 97 just at the base of the access road, saving us about 1/4 mile of walking on pavement. We made quick work of the 1.2M paved walk to the top. Upon arrival at the summit we decided that I would take up a working position on the deck of the fire lookout, while Tim setup his station at the base of the lookout. He would setup his K6ARK EFHW in an inverted L configuration, whilst I setup my same antenna in Inverted V, but first we did a quick 2M call on 146.58 and each had our required 4 contacts in less than 10 minutes.

N7KOM Working 2M FM

We decided that I would start on 10M and he on 40M working around each other in case of interference. 10 and 15 meters were both ripe with contacts as soon as I spotted myself. I wanted to do the entire activation CW but being a bit rusty, I turned my WPM down to 13.  Having only worked 10M voice and never worked 15M in the field, I was surprised by who I was hearing. NC, AL, ME, TN, MS and one VK5 station… that’s Australia!!! Needless to say it was a busy 45 minutes on the higher bands. I attempted to work 17M but with Tim on 20, there was enough interference that I decided to jump down to 40M and work the locals. I worked an S2S with WU7H, WW7D and got N7LFO plus a couple of Canadian stations. 

W7MTB Working 15M Pileup

Tim brought a small cup of Sake along to take the bite out of the cold. While it was 43 F, there was a brisk breeze out of the SE, and it was hitting me directly on the side as I had to change my position when I extended my wire to 40M. I could tell I was getting brain fried after an hour of operating and decided it was time to call QRT, drink the sake and begin tearing down. 

ICOM IC-705 and Sake, the Japanese know what’s Up

Tim was in the middle of a huge pileup so I took shelter behind the lookout to let him work through the herd. He wanted to work S2S with WU7H and WW7D on 30m but had to wait for their pileups to cool down first. Once he got them both in the log he packed his Elecraft KX2, K6ARK paddles and EFHW up and we trotted down the hill for an after action beer and burger at The Brown Owl in what is now called the Box Factory plaza in the Old Mill of Bend. 

Tim, N7KOM, working 20M Pileup

Later, after a nap and some down time with our doggos, I tallied my day: 4 2M FM, 5, 10M CW, 7 15M CW and 7 40M CW, for a total of 23 contacts; not too bad for a guy who spent the past six weeks studying for the Extra exam, not practicing copying CW.

Alternate Winter Parking

Lava Butte is an easy walk up in just about any season. It can be accessed via US 97 S, about 4 miles south of Bend, OR. There is a parking lot that is usually open all winter but unmaintained. Optionally, there is a pull out on the side of the highway I’ve circled on the map avoe. 

2022 Central Oregon Summit to Summit Party

S2S Ops at Worthy Brewing

It all started in July at the W7O SOTA Campout hosted by Amy AG7GP down at the beautiful Hyatt Lake Recreation Area in Southern Oregon. It was my first gathering of ham minded folks and I was looking forward to meeting and chatting with other operators, being a relatively new ham myself. I had done a handful of activations around Central Oregon with my wife and dogs and was excited to learn how others get things done. Additionally, my wife Randi, who had just that previous Wednesday taken and passed her Technician’s exam and was looking forward to making her first contacts, with her newly issued callsign (arriving literally hours before we go to camp).

Not long after we arrived, K7ATN came over to check us in and introduce himself, referring to me as “that new guy from Bend” and gave us a quick rundown of the “plan” for the weekend. We had a lot of fun that weekend. Saturday night as we chatted and drank some of Jeff’s, KJ7VDP, delicious home brew, ATN pitched the idea of a Central Oregon Summit to Summit party later in the summer. Tim, N7KOM, had plans to do a bigger summit and he  thought it would be nice to coordinate some operators to chase as the area can be difficult to work. I agreed to help as best I could.

Not very long after we arrived home from the campout weekend I received an email from ATN describing previous S2S parties hosted in the Willamette valley and I got excited about the prospect. We settled on a date and started sending out communications to the local hams and clubs to raise some awareness and try to gather a few more locals into the fray.

Interest started slowly but we ultimately gathered 14 operators on 10 Summits, with a last minute entry, bringing the total to 15 Operators on 11 Summits. Operators included, ⅔ of Oregon’s SOTA Mountain Goat population, a famous Mountain Climbing-YouTuber, 3 YL’s and 2 brand new to SOTA operators with 5 of the total from the Central Oregon Area.

Net Control Station on W70/CM-038

Since we had so many folks and to make the party move along at a reasonable pace, I acted as Net Control on 146.58. Starting at 1800 UTC, I took check in’s and gave my signal report to get myself out of the fray. Once we had everyone checked in, we went down the list, letting each subsequent operator make calls to summits that they could hear but had not yet talked to. The idea being that by the end, there shouldn’t be many other operators the last person on the list need contact. It was a little confusing for newer folks but in the end it worked great. After about 40 minutes, I shut down the net and we all descended our summits to meet up for some cold drinks and food at Worthy Brewing Company in Bend.

At lunch, Tim N7KOM and Bill N7WXW decided to summit S. Sister the next morning since they didn’t have time to do it for the Party. We coordinated enough folks to get them both S2S and S2 Rooftop contacts early on Sunday morning so as to get them back to their vehicles at a reasonable time.

Summit to Rooftop with N7KOM and K7WXW

Thanks to all the operators who participated: W6PZA, WJ7WJ, NW7CQ, W7SCY, NE7ET, KG7JQY, N7FOP, K7WXW, N7KOM, KJ7VDP, KK6CN and especially KK7HJL for supporting me in this strange and nerdy sport. A special thanks to K7ATN for planting the seed and helping coordinate.

Activation Report : Horse Ridge – W7O/CE-176

I wasn’t sure if I was going to get out to activate this weekend due to the rain in the forecast but things cleared up and it began to warm up so I decided to check out the Horse Ridge activation. I’ve ridden mountain bikes in the area quite a bit but mostly on the Northern slope of the area. The activation zone is on the southern most ridge, on the opposite side of the Golden Valley as its knows to the local riders. Looking at Google maps I planned to approach from the east via a double track that looked accessible from road 2015 but as I turned onto the double track I noticed the Private Property signs.  I continued up the road until I got to a gate and a lot of shelled out old RV’s and decided it was a good turn around point. 

Planned route (red) wasn’t accessible due to private property

I pulled up the SOTA Goat App and found a spot to park off of Ford Rd. that was about a 1/2 mile below the activation zone and decided to use my GPS to guide me to the summit.

The hike up started out pretty loose and soft sand, but become more stable but rocky at the tree line.  It took me about 30 mins to get to the top and another 15 to find a spot and setup.

I found an old fence post that made a perfect hitching post for my telescopic pole so I hung the 20 meter wire, assembled my chair and assembled the kit.  

The contacts came slowly and I struggled a bit copying callsigns but brought a new tool with me this week, a Sony digital recorder with the idea that if I didn’t copy the calls after a couple of attempts I could review once at home. This turned out to be a great idea and helped me relax a bit.

I made a total of 5 contacts, 4 on 20 and 1 on 40. I tried my hand on 17 but nothing heard. 

After about 90 minutes I decided to pack it in and head back down the hill to the truck. The hike down only took about 17 minutes. Watch you step, there is plenty of opportunity to trip on a rock.

Activation Report: Pistol Butte W7O/CM-091 : First CW SOTA Activation

After an aggravating day at the J O B, I decided on an impromptu SOTA attempt with my newly built Penntek TR-35. I spent part of my morning building a Google map of an area near Sunriver, OR for a future Moto-SOTA adventure. Most of the summits in the area are drive/ride-ups but there are two that require a short hike, Pistol Butte and Bates Butte. I’ve been up Bates Butte on foot and mountain bike before, so I decided to try Pistol Butte. 

Pistol Butte from the West

Its about a 3 mile drive on good gravel/dirt after turning off the pavement off South Century Drive ~ 10 miles SW of Sunriver. The access road is rough so I parked the van at the intersection of FS-600 (43.82181, -121.55954) and walked up the road. The road goes up quickly but wasn’t too steep until the last 200 yards or so, where it pitched up dramatically and I was happy I brought my hiking poles. I think the road could be done with a Jeep or motorcycle, I saw evidence of moto and UTV tracks. There is a really nice camp spot just below the summit, where the pitch increases,  if so inclined.

Parking spot and access track

Once at the top I found a nice spot to setup on the west facing side of what appears to be the remnants of an old fire lookout. Temperatures were in the low 70’s but there was a light breeze so I donned my jacket and sat down to try my hand on 20M. Using the built in memory on the TR-35, I keyed my CQ a couple of times until I had it just right and let’r rip. Crickets. More CQ. More Crickets. After about 35 minutes of nothing hearing anything, I decided to try 40M before packing up and heading out. That is when I noticed the ticks all over the place. I guess the wet spring was good for them, I’m not used to seeing so many ticks in our part of the world and was glad I was wearing long pants, a hat and shirt sleeves (not to self to do a thorough look-see when I get home). 

After about 10 minutes of calling CQ on 7.061 I started to get a few responses. Between my nervousness and some QRM, I had to ask for lots of repeats but I managed to confidently copy several QSO’s. I had planned to pack up and 6:45PM to be sure to have light enough to get down and home in time for dinner. I was still short one QSO for the points so I hit the memory key one last time at 6:44:30 and started to pack up my chair. NT6E came back and after only one ..–.. I had my final QSO so it was time to pull the antenna down and get back to the van. 

It took me about 15 minutes to descend to the van and call it a successful activation. Thanks to 
  • WB6POT
  • NN7M
  • NT6E
  • KG7WOT
for the patience as I stumbled along. 

73 ..

Penntek TR-35 4 Band CW Transceiver – First Transceiver Build

WA3RNC Penntek TR-35 4 Band, 5 Watt Transceiver

One of the things that drew me to amateur radio is the kit building aspect. Only weeks into the hobby, and before I had my hands on an HF rig I was ordering parts for an End fed random wire build I found on the AARL site. The first build went well but I haven’t been very impressed with the performance from the QTH. Since it’s a random wire antenna, it requires a tuner in the field, which I don’t have with me normally so it hasn’t seen much use.

I’ve built a couple of other antennas since with the K6ARK EFHW being my favorite but I wanted to up the challenge. I love the Icom IC-705 but its a bit heavy for SOTA Ops so I decided I wanted to build something smaller. I’ve been learning CW so I shopped for a really small, simple CW only kit. I looked at several packages and settled on the QCX Mini from QRPLabs. I ordered the package with the aluminum case and ACG module at a total of $84 before shipping, seemed like a good deal except for the 2 month wait.

Not long after I ordered the first radio I saw a video from Thomas, K4SWL, on the Penntek TR-35. I had looked at the radio previously but thought it a lot of money for a CW only radio that didn’t have any memory. One thing I love about my IC-705 is that is has 10 recorded memories for both voice and CW, which is almost a requirement for calling CQ lest one get a hand cramp in the field. Everything else about the radio looked fantastic, 4-Band, 5 Watt transceiver in a nice plastic case to reduce weight. There are a lot of features packed into this little radio and you can even have it assembled by pro’s at the factory if building isn’t your thing.  WA3RNC continually adds to the software and the latest update includes two memory channels that Thomas demonstrated during and activation and I was sold. I ordered a kit before finishing the video and it arrived in less that a week.

The kits is really, really well put together. The instructions are very clear and verbose. The parts are packed in sealed strips, with each step’s parts in a separate little “bubble”, so as long as you only open the current steps parts and complete that step prior to opening the next, you will never loose parts. I found this very, very helpful as this was the most complex kit I have assembled to date. 

The instructions are broken into four discrete parts:

  2. TR-35 Upper Board Assembly Instructions
  3. TR-35 Lower Board Assembly Instructions
  4. TR-35 Preliminary Checks, Tests and Final Assembly
Also included are a schematic and Operating Guide. 

This being a rather expensive kit, $279 USD, I didn’t want to screw anything up soI read through the entire assembly instructions and highlighted things that seemed important or would be easily missed. This is something I learned after a couple failed builds due to missing a detail because I misread or was in a hurry… doh! 

The entire build took me ~ 5 hours, though that was spread out across a couple of weeks as I had a trip and lots of work to do during that time. Usually when I build a kit I want to sit down and complete it start to finish so I don’t loose anything but as I mentioned previously, the way this is packaged made it easy to complete a step when I had 10-15 minutes of free time over the course of the build.  Since the toroids are pre-wound, it is mostly a soldering build. Having a good quality, heat controlled iron, good solder (Kester 60/40 lead) and flux (not a requirement) and side clippers are a must. The only other tool I used was my multimeter during initial testing. 

Once completed, I let it set for a few days so as not to rush the testing. I re-read the Preliminary Checks guide and made a checklist of each of the tests so I didn’t miss anything. Testing took me an hour or so, other than having to wait for new fuses for my Multimeter’s ampere testing circuit so I could do the Final RF amplifier bias adjustment. Everything checked out, so I decided to power it on and make the final adjustments before testing it on the air. With those final steps completed and the final assembly of the case, knobs, buttons, switch covers done, I hooked it up to the 20 M dipole I have on the roof and listened. I was astonished that it worked and I managed to not screw anything up. 

I’ve now had it out in the field a couple of times and used it in the backyard several times and am very impressed. My only gripe right now is that the output volume of the keyer and the overall output are linked, so when listening to faint signals I have to remember to turn the volume down before I key lest I blow out my eardrums. This may be something I can adjust but I haven’t investigated yet. I have made a couple of contacts on 20M and intend to do several SOTA activations in my neighborhood in the near future as well as build the QCX Mini and do a comparison. 

K6ARK End Fed Half Wave (EFHW) build and test

 I watched a video on the Ham Radio Crash Course about this very tiny and relatively easy-to-build antenna a few months ago and bought one right away from Amazon. It only took about 30 minutes start to finish, the hardest part being attaching the surface mount capacitor as the video describes. I have since use it pretty much exclusively when activating the in the field. I even had a SOTA SSB QSO with Adam, K6ARK, himself during a SOTA activation at Smith Rock State Park! 

I am using 18 gauge wire cut for 20M. I used my NanoVNA to tune and marked 10-20M on the wire with various colors of shrink wrap to differentiate the bands. I have a second length of wire that I added banana clips to connect so I can get up to 40M if I want to. If I want to use a new band I unroll from the Buddipole wire holder to the marking and check the SWR function on the IC-705 in the field and so far have had pretty good success. I’ve done several POTA and SOTA activations using SSB with the antenna. I love how simple and portable this setup is.

This is a great DIY antenna project, it simple to build and easy to use and I’d suggest it for anyone interested in field QRP activating.

K6ARK End Fed Half Wave QRP antenna with wire on Buddipole winder