7/22/09 - Mountaintopping Beginnings

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k7ip Tue, 07/21/2009 - 07:09

I've caught the VHF mountaintopping bug big time. This all started with a QST article a couple of years ago about an EME contact that was accidentally made by a low power/small antenna station in Nevada with K1JT's wsjt software. That morphed into an episode with weak signal meteor scatter (before my relocation back to paradise), and several unsatisfactory attempts to do EME on my own. It was probably inevitable given that I'm something of a nut for Field Day and contesting too.

Mountaintopping is a logical extension of all of the above (well, maybe NOT so good for EME...). After the usual year of procrastination, I finally broke down and made the effort to get SOMETHING going that I could drag up to a high spot and make some noise with. Hence the Ranger acquisition. Now, the Ranger is a very basic 6 meter radio. It is simple and runs enough power (100 watts) to make a decent rover station. It does have a couple of drawbacks. I'm not really happy with the receiver sensitivity, but I think putting an internal pre-amp in it will help that. We'll see.. The other minor problem with it for meteor scatter is that there's no way to turn off the RIT without tinkering in the guts. If anyone out there has a schematic for the RCI 5054DX100, I'd sure like to buy, beg, or borrow a copy for a bit. I'm guessing that this thing is a clone of the Ranger 10/12 meter radio, which there IS some documentation on, but without the actual drawing it's hard to tell.

The first outing was this year's June VHF QSO party. I managed to work about 2 hours of the contest, six was in pretty good shape, and had a lot of fun even if the score wasn't very good. The only band worked was six meters, with the 2 el moxon about 13 feet up, and the whole show powered from the vehicle battery. The logging laptop (N3FJP logging software) was powered with a small 100 watt inverter. Everything worked...sort of...there's a photo of the location in the album.

The real problem, aside from not wanting to run the Durango battery completely flat, was that the inverter/laptop charger combination made a hellacious racket when it was plugged in. That was not satisfactory at all. It was a good experience, though, and the next effort was a little bit better.

Last weekend (July 19), I went up Sauk Mt in CN98 to work the CQ WW VHF contest. There's a nice little pullout at about 1900' with good views to the SE, S, W and NW. I also bought a small two-stroke 1200w genny and took 2m along as well. Working on the generator the evening before the trip, it was illustrated clearly to RTFM!!!!! I poured a few oz of fuel in the tank and proceeded to exhaust myself trying to get this brand new beast to stay running. It would run for a few seconds, then die. Of course, when I went back and read the instructions during the recovery period, it said clearly, "FILL THE TANK". Duh.

With a full tank, the little one-cubic-foot 40 lb genny fired right up and ran. Go figure.

What a pleasant outing! What a gross VHF disappointment! I'm not sure yet whether six was just crummy, or the location is not that great, or if the Ranger is a tad deaf. 11 contacts and 4 grid squares in four hours wasn't so hot. Maybe there wasn't much activity for that particular contest. Let's not talk about 2 meters. The trusty Icom IC-251 did a good job even though I wasn't using anything but a whip. It heard repeaters fine. Just nobody out there working contest.

Positive aspects were that the generator was great, purred along as needed. The computer worked fine, and without the hash that the inverter generates, the only issues were other noise sources hearable from that location. I even heard a couple of stations on meteor burst and tropo on six on wsjt. Of course, Murphy was there, too. When I grabbed all the junk to toss in the car, I conveniently forgot to throw in the Signalink USB. So much for digital modes...the wsjt experience was from a direct connect from the rx audio to the laptop without an interface. I tried for a while to use audio coupling with the computer speakers and mic, but that sucked.

All in all, it was a good trip. The weather was as good as it can get...72 degrees, cloudless sky, and a slight breeze. The road is gravel all the way to the parking lot at the top, with some SERIOUS ruts in places. Doable with care in a sedan, better in a 4wd.

Improvement list:

Better operating position arrangements. This balancing radio on the console-sitting in the back seat thing isn't optimal.

Screen tent with a table/chair, or some internal mounting arrangement is going to be required to get serious about this.

Pictures will be/are in the album.