First SOTA - Elk Rock W7W/LC-060
This was my first attempt to activate a summit and all of this is a first attempt in terms of planning, tools used, the template I used to write this, etc. Let me know if there are other things you want to know about for future summits.
First SOTA - Elk Rock W7W/LC-060
Elk Rock is an easy 3 mile hike on logging roads. There are some sections, maybe a half-mile that are steep and will get your heart rate up, but for the most part the hike is an easy grade. Once you reach the end of the the road the actual summit is on top of a rock outcrop which can be accessed by walking around the other side (from the road) and scrambling up a grassy\rocky hill. I found this all to be easy and safe, Dawn felt we were a little exposed. She is our trip safety officer though so that is her job. ;-)
Once on top the, if the weather is clear, you will be rewarded with amazing views of Mt. St Helens, Rainier, Adams and Hood. These views are WAY better than the ones from the highway pullouts or the visitor centers.
This was my first SOTA attempt and right now I'm planning these trips as trip first, SOTA second. We wanted to go to Mt. St. Helens and then I found Elk Rock which had easy of access and proximity to what we were already going to do.
I brought along my mag mount base and Diamond NRB770HAB dual-band mobile antenna. It's the only antenna I have at the moment other than the stock rubber duck on the Baofeng F8HP (2m\70cm). I also ran APRS on the drive up using APRSDroid and a Mobilinkd TNC2. I love this setup for APRS.
My plan based totally on ignorance was to get on 2M Simplex and CQ away. Before I did that, I hit MON to check the FREQ was clear and K7NIT was calling CQ on the summit of Mt. St. Helens. My first SOTA contact was summit to summit. WOW! She was loud and clear, but not breaking my SQL.
Hmm... why was I having to hit monitor to hear K7NIT when her signal was loud clear and full quieting...
Holding open MON, I heard her make a couple of contacts and then I called CQ and worked AE7BT/M who was in his truck on I-=5 due west of me. Still, I had to use MON...
Check the radio... change the squelch from 1 to 0. Call CQ, nothing heard. Check with MON open, no replies. AH... there's a tone set on channel I programmed into the radio on the PC. I spent 15 minutes trying to change that and couldn't figure it out (common Baofeng complaint). I then changed over to VFO mode on the HT (which I should have done earlier) and dialed up 146.520. I called CQ a few times; nothing heard. Dawn isn't a HAM and I didn't want to bore her, so I switch over to APRS for my other two contacts. There are no rules about modes, but to be honest, I am not sure these two contacts count. Still looking into that. :-/
Despite my EXTRA class license and that I've had my license since the 90's, I'm really a beginner HAM. All of my recent HAM ops were maritime mobile using an ICOM M810 on HF for maritime nets, a little bit of PSK and ton of Pactor-III for WINLINK. I also have done a fair amount of APRS on road trips. I'm not used to doing contests\voice or backpack mobile. Almost everything I did today was a first try. </Disclaimer>
I used Evernote to keep links, notes, plans, etc for this SOTA. And I am working on a template note format to use for each planning effort. This involves finding a summit, planning a route and an operation plan and write up this summary even so I have everything in one place before publishing. To plan, I checked Peakbagger, AllTrails, SOTAMap, SOTAWatch and on top of that, I also have all the USFS roads loaded into QGIS or Google Earth. I used all that to pick this SOTA summit which was near the St. Helens visitor center as well as one I felt would be a doable hike. These all proved to be awesome tools. I will be a good netizen, update them when they need it and log my adventures. In this instance Elk Rock was not in AllTrails. It is now.
SOTALogger by W5SMD
I did not like W5SMD's SOTALogger at all. There's nothing wrong with the APP, it worked fine. I just didn't like using the phone to write-down callsigns. I found it slow to navigate the keyboard, change from ABC to 123 to type it in. The fields don't save previous values which you click next, that was a missing feature. I'll use paper next time and log digitally later.
I did self-spot from SOTALogger, that worked, but we were lucky we had cell coverage on this summit. I won't rely on this.
I have used APRS a lot for plotting my road trips online for friends and family, but I don't use APRS messaging and I was not familiar with how to do it. In the end, I really liked using APRS2SOTA to self-spot. To do this you send a well formatted APRS message to SOTA. The syntax is a little wonky so I had the message pre-typed and saved in Evernote. I had to do then was cut N paste that message into APRSDroid and hit send. EASY PEASY and it will work where cell phones will not. Might not always work in the extreme outback but in Washington, I think it will work most places. There is HF APRS too, but I've never tried that.
You need to be enabled for APRS2SOTA before you head out. You just have to email G0LGS. More info on:
Future SOTA Plans
The Baofeng is great for APRS and FM. I only brought the mag mount because it was a simple stand I already had on-hand and I used it in the car on their way there too. I will get a 8 foot piece of COAX and use my backpack or a Gorilla camera mount as a stand for my next SOTA. This will be be my setup for a bit. Long-term, I am planning to get a FT-817ND so I can work all modes\bands. I'm actively watching EBAY for a rig at a good price, but some folks seem willing to pay full retail for used gear. :-/
SOTA is a great combination of hobbies and a fun way to get back into the mountains after being on the ocean for a few years. This is a great activity for couples or groups who like the outdoors but where not everyone is into HAM Radio. As Dawn put it, "I'm willing to put up with the radio stuff if it gets you out hiking." She's pretty good. ;-)