W5 Summit Activation Report.
North Franklin Mountain.
3 July 2010.
The first W5-SOTA activation a complete success !!!
You can view photos of the entire SOTA operation (with music – so turn on the speakers and use full-screen mode) at: (CLICK HERE). About 8 minutes of photos – I think you will like it.
On 3 July 2010, only 3
days after the W5-SOTA program was officially launched, a team of 5 individuals
hiked W5/FR-001, North Franklin Mountain in El Paso, Texas. The hikers were:
Mike Olbrisch - KD9KC - in the desert cammo shorts. (W5 Assn Mgr).
Monika (Moni) Olbrisch - N5NHC. The lady in blue.
Jeff Sykes - K5VU – in the bright red shirt. (AR Regional Manager).
Ron Zerr - WT5RZ – tan shirt and blue jeans..
Larry Kimpell - no call (yet) – OD green T-shirt and jeans.
The 5 hikers met at the trailhead at 0600 (1200 UTC), about 30 minutes before sunrise. The temperature was in the mid-70ºs (21º to 25º C) and the sky was partly overcast, but the potential for a hot day was very real. This is the West Texas desert, it is always hot in July. There was also a potential for rain showers and lightening later in the day, always dangerous on the high summits. North Franklin Mountain is the highest summit in the Franklin Mountains chain, at 7192 feet ASL, or about 3200 feet above the desert floor.
The easiest approach to North Franklin Mountain is through the Franklin Mountains State Park, Tom Mays Unit. The entrance fee is $4 per person. Moni and I are park volunteers, so we have the gate combination for early entrance and we get free entrance. Larry, Ron and Jeff, while not official park volunteers, have all volunteered in the park previously, so we all got free entrance. We drove through the park, and stopped our vehicles at the trailhead for Mundy's Gap. I was carrying all of my station, a Yaesu FT-817 and accessories, plus 1-1/2 gallons of water. I also had some survival gear including a shelter canopy, plus a 31 foot Jackite Pole. My pack weighed over 40 pounds, but nearly 1/3 of that was water. Monika was carrying a medium CamelBak with a gallon of water, a few magazines and some knitting. She did not intend to do any operating, just along for the hike. Jeff was visiting El Paso on business from Mississippi where he currently lives, so he had no radio gear and was only carrying two borrowed canteens for a gallon of water total. Ron had an older backpack, with his FT-817 and accessories, a dipole and some water. Larry had a CamelBak exactly like Moni's.
I was slightly worried about my hiking partners. Moni and I were supposed to hike this trail for our 25th anniversary about 7 years ago. Due to an accident, Moni was in a wheelchair and they were talking about replacing her knees. She refused them and bought a gym membership. She hasn't looked back. Jeff lives near sea-level in Mississippi. A week previous to this hike he was up in the central New Mexico mountains and experienced some altitude sickness. While we were not going that high this day, we were going to be doing some strenuous hiking. Ron has hiked with me before. He is slow but steady. However, this would be the most strenuous hike we had done together yet. Larry had some leg troubles some time ago, and this would be his first strenuous hike since recovering from that event. I was hoping my son James (a former scout-sniper-EMT in the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment) would come along with his EMT training, but he and his girlfriend couldn't make it.
North Franklin Mountain has several approaches. The classic approach is to follow the graded jeep trail up the west side of the summit to Mundy's Gap, and then follow the trail to the right at the fork for North Franklin Mountain. A left turn will take you down the east side of the summit toward the Tin Mines. This route to the summit is about 4 miles, and has a slow but steady climb. Imagine a 3-hour workout on a stair-master while wearing a pack. The less classic but faster route is to take the fork for West Cottonwood Spring, climb a steep slope from the spring to the ridgeline, then turn right and follow the ridgeline directly to the summit. This is a more difficult climb, but it is about a mile shorter. While steeper, it isn't dangerous, and most hikers agree that it is the quicker trail to the summit. This is the path we took. See the map. Green is the start, pink is Cottonwood Springs, yellow is the summit, blue is Mundy’s Gap. The red/yellow trail was used going up, and only the red trail was used going down.
About the time we reached the ridgeline above West Cottonwood
Spring the clouds burned off and we were in full sun. So now the climbing would
be hot. At least there was a nice breeze blowing to help cool us. Along the
trail we began to split into two groups. Moni, Jeff and myself were moving
ahead, Larry and Ron were dropping back. We stayed in sight of each other for a
while, until the rougher climbing began. And we would meet for breaks at
various points along the trail. At one point, Moni and I stopped to wait for Ron
and Larry to come over the rise behind us while Jeff continued to climb. After
a few minutes we still didn't see them, so I grounded my gear and went back
looking for them. I found them a few hundred yards back. They were both fine,
Ron's backpack had blown out the main zipper, and they were trying to repair it
on the trail. They got it fixed just about the time I got there, so we started
up together. When we reached Monika, Ron and Larry needed a break. We quickly
discussed our progress, and it was decided that Moni, Jeff and I would press on
to the summit and set up the canopy while Ron and Larry made their own best
Monika and I soon caught up with Jeff. We met some other hikers on the trail, and we took a break while talking to them about trail conditions etc. While doing this, Ron and Larry caught up with us. Shortly there-after, we all started out again. We reached a point where the ridgeline trail intersects the jeep trail at the corner of a switchback. Ron and Larry decided to follow the longer but less steep jeep trail. Moni, Jeff and I continued up the ridgeline. We reached the summit at about 0900 hours (1500 UTC). After a quick drink of water, I began setting up the shelter, a 12' x 12' nylon canopy. Jeff and Moni jumped in to help. There is a 2m repeater on this summit. It is built into a very strong steel cabinet and runs on solar power. This was the first-ever solar-power repeater in the USA, and was featured on the cover of the January 1978 QST, page 11. Since it was still early, the sun was still in the eastern sky. So I used the repeater as the north-west anchor point of the canopy, making that the highest point. I used Moni's extended hiking poles for the north-east and south-west corners, and I used a low bush for the south-west corner. There were plenty of large rocks to use for anchor-points. Soon we had a nice shady shelter to block the sun.
About the time we were finishing up the shelter Ron and Larry
made the summit. They sat down in the shade for a rest, and I didn't blame
them. Moni began circling the summit taking photos. Jeff and I began
assembling my antenna. This was the first deployment of this antenna, a 120
foot inverted-V fed with very light-weight 300 ohm twin-lead, a 4:1 balun, and
some coax to the radio. The antenna wire is very thin silver-plated copper with
Teflon insulation. It is rolled in two Coleman camping clothesline reels. The
center insulator is a small piece of Bakelite with two brass screws. The
antenna wires attach to the twin-lead at the screws. The twin-lead is about 30
feet long, and just about reaches the bottom of the Jackite pole. There the
twin-lead connects to a 4:1 balun Velcro-strapped to the pole. The output of
the balun is a BNC connector, and a 25 foot piece of RG-58 runs along the ground
to the operating point. the operating point under the canopy was the Yaesu
FT-817 and an Elecraft T-1 tuner. The 4 guy-lines are connected to the Jackite
pole at about 18 feet above ground, and again anchored to some big rocks.
Finally, the antenna wires were unreeled and each side was stretched out about
60 feet. It probably took longer to write about it than it did to assemble it.
While Jeff and I finished up my antenna, Ron and Larry began assembling Ron's station. Ron had a fan-dipole for 40 and 20m, but no support. So he tossed a rope over the repeater and pulled the antenna up that way. While Ron and Larry finished that antenna, I assembled my station and was ready to activate W5 for the very first time. At about 1000 hours (1600 UTC) I turned on the FT-817 and began calling CQ SOTA on 17m.
My first contact was with KA5RHK, Ken in Arkansas. After 9
months of work cataloging 1692 summits, I made the first W5-SOTA contact. It
was a real thrill. I passed the mic around so Jeff and Ron could also count the
contact. Conditions on 17m were not really good yet, so I went to 20m and
called CQ. 20m was just too busy for calling CQ with a QRP-SSB signal, so I
gave 6m a try. BINGO - 6m was open. There I contacted KA0PQW, Matt in
Minnesota for contact number 2. Again I passed the mic around so Jeff and Ron
could also count the contact. Another quick CQ got us contact number 3 with
K4YA, Myron in Tennessee. Jeff and Ron again got a turn at the mic to count the
contact. As I finished that contact I was called by KD5QHV, Bernie in East El
Paso. Bernie was about 15 miles away. This was contact number 4, so we now had
enough contacts for a valid activation. Jeff and Ron again got a turn at the mic
so they would have their 4 contacts too. In the previous week I had tried to
get my cell phone to make spots for me on QRPSPOTS.COM, but I never got it to
work. Bernie volunteered to send some spots for us. Thanks Bernie.
Jeff and I continued calling CQ and making contacts on 6m. Ron was having some problems with his FT-817, so he stopped sharing the contacts on my radio to concentrate on his equipment. Moni and Larry walked around the summit taking photos. After a number of 6m contacts, I switched to 10m, and made two contacts, both in Texas. Now, before you think skip was that short, they were both more than 650 miles (1050 km) from me. Yup – Texas is that big. For my last contact I was again on 6m, with NG4C, Connie in North Carolina. This was a special treat, I knew Connie in the Army. I had not heard from him since I retired in 1995. It was good to have a quick contact with him. At noon I stopped making contacts and tried to help Ron get his equipment working. There wasn't anything really wrong, it was just Ron's first real field operation, and a lot of little details needed to be worked out.
By now it was just BLAZING HOT! The nice morning breeze had
quit, and it seemed like the sun was focusing on us, trying to burn through the
canopy. The thin air did nothing to attenuate the solar radiation. It was
crowded and warm under the canopy with 5 people and gear all trying to stay in
the shade. Worse, heavy clouds were building all around us. Well, we were
neither mad dogs nor Englishmen, but we were certainly out in the noon-day sun.
At about 1230 (1830 UTC) Moni decided it was time for us to think about
packing it up. No one argued. So at 1300 (1900 UTC) we began breaking down the
equipment in reverse order. First the radios were packed safely in the
backpacks. Then the packs were put in the shade of the canopy while the
antennas were disassembled and packed away. Finally, the canopy was struck and
packed. With a careful final check and some trash clean-up, we were off the
summit at 1400 hours (2000 UTC).
The journey from the summit to our vehicles was long and hot. We later learned that the temperature reached 103º F (40º C) while we were hiking down. While there were storm clouds all around us, the sun kept it's focus on us the entire trip down. Larry was feeling pretty good going down, so he and Jeff scouted the trail ahead while Moni and Ron worked their way down slowly. Moni is cautious about slipping on a downhill slope and blowing out one or both knees, so she was moving very carefully. I brought up the rear, making sure no one and nothing was left behind. We took several breaks on the way down. Hiking by myself with light-weight gear, I have made the summit in about 2 hours and 10 minutes, and I can make it down in 1 hour and 30 minutes. But Moni and Ron were not up to that pace. About half-way down the zipper on Ron's backpack tore open again, so we halted our progress to work on the zipper. While we couldn't get it to zip up again, we did get the slide to move enough to at least keep his gear from falling out. Ron will need a new backpack. Jeff and Larry waited for us at Mundy's Gap. The breeze started coming up again, and we took a long rest there getting plenty to drink. The final descent is 5 long switchbacks from the gap to the parking lot. At the start of the final stretch we passed the point where we left this trail earlier in the morning to head to West Cottonwood Spring. So it took us about 3 hours to reach our vehicles. We were all hot and tired, but as we broke up we decided to meet at a local restaurant for dinner.
A total of 26 contacts were made from the summit. I have not been able to decide what part I enjoyed most. Being out hiking is always fun. Hiking with good friends is fun too. Making a number of radio contacts on the summit was also fun. Doing it all safely was especially good. Other than a little sunburn and sore muscles, there were no serious difficulties. Lessons learned..... check your equipment well before starting out. Ron had a broken antenna connection that contributed to his troubles. I learned that an ELECRAFT T-1 will not tune an 80m inverted-V on 40m. But it WILL tune it just about everywhere other than 40m.
When I arrived home, I made an Excel spreadsheet of every item in my pack as I unpacked it. Over time, this list will evolve into a truly meaningful packing list for SOTA outings. We have started planning to activate a summit in New Mexico soon - we have not chosen a summit yet. But soon I hope. Without question, the W5-SOTA program had a very successful first outing. It will not be our last.