Sunday, February 24, 2013

Activating Max Patch, Bald is Beautiful!

What a wonderful day for a SOTA activation.  Today my fiance and I Kendall hiked to the Summit of Max Patch W4C/CM-036.

Max Patch is a bit of an oddity for the Smokey Mountains.  The summit is completely bald.  Because of this there are excellent 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.  Max Patch is a major landmark along the Tennessee/North Carolina section of the Appalachian Trail.  It is not uncommon in the summer months to find the top of the Patch dotted with tents.

 As you can see Coleman has even immortalized this popular summit.  The summit is so popular in part because of the ease of assent for day hikers.  The hike from the parking lot is less than a mile, and although it is steep it is not difficult.

Kendall and I were joined on our trek by our two dogs Max a 17lb Yorkie, and Gus the 17lb Shih Tzu.  While they are not as useful as goats to help pack gear to the summit they did provide some humor on the way up.

For this trip I decided to try my hand at a little bit of video.  I hope to get a little more practice and plan to include more of my videos in the future.

On a side note while doing research on my assent I came across an interesting article about Max Patch.  It is found here Vehicles Tear up Max Patch Its a sad state of affairs when idiots out "having fun" feel the need to tear up these beautiful parks and mountains.

 I would remind everyone to always practice Zero Footprint Activating.  Police up all your trash and try to leave the mountain in better shape than you left it.    /RANT OFF

73's And Keep Climbing!

Friday, February 22, 2013

English Mountain Activation

What a day.  As Murphys Laws of War say, No plan survives the first contact intact.  Well today followed that law.  Like most SOTA Activators I try to plan ahead.  I really do!  I picked my summit, planned my route, and packed my gear.  I even checked Google Earth to make sure I had a good route to the summit.  Well Google Earth didn't show the big ass locked metal gate and big no trespassing sign.  Satellites are a pain like that.

So I decided to throw caution to the wind and see if I could find another way around.  An hour later, glad I left a little early to cover these little mishaps, I found my back door.  I found that my new secondary route was a bit more of a hike than my initial plan but oh well. It was a great hike with some great views.
 I made the summit and set up my KX3.  I love this little radio.  Today I was finally able to deploy my 8400mAh LifePo4 battery.  I worked the 10m band for over an hour without much drop in voltage from this little gem.  I made contacts with W6UB nearby in Friendsville, TN thanks Larry.  10m opened up pretty good and I was able to make contact with Hal N6JZT, Andy 9Y4LAS in Trinidad and Tobango, and John YS1/NO7B in EL Salvador.  I was pushing 10 watts with my Buddipole antenna and got great signal reports back from everyone.

I am also very happy with my pack setup.  I think I will do a video showing my pack setup in detail as I have had good feedback from it so far.

Thanks for stopping by and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to post a comment.

73's and keep climbing!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Learn Morse Code the ARMY Way!

While doing some research while learning Morse I found these great army videos!

While they may not be the best way to learn they are a great watch!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

National Weather Service Spotter

Just received my National Weather Service Spotter Card today.  I attended the training a few weeks ago.  It was great training and well worth the 2 hours.  It is a great way for any Operator to serve their community.

Equipment you need in your Backpack

I learned early while serving in the Army that your backpack is your home away from home.  It carries all of your mission critical equipment and anything that can make a rough time in the woods a little bit better.  While serving with the 3rd Ranger Battalion I carried a Large Alice pack.

  It was stuffed to seam popping capacity with ammunition, MRE's, and water.  I learned that every ounce in your backpack feels like a pound on your legs.  We learned there were items you need and items you didn't need.  There are a few items that are requirements for fun and safe backpacking operations.   I will begin with the basics, items that are required for survival.

We will start with the big three Water, Food, and Shelter.  You must have these items in your pack no exceptions.  Water is first on the list because it is the most important.  You can survive 3 to 5 days without water in a survival situation.  But remember we are out on the trail moving and sweating.  Your body will expel sweat at a scary rate when you are exerting yourself.  There is a great Army study on hydration here... In essence this study says the more you exert yourself or the hotter the climate the more water you need to drink.  We were always told at lease a quart of water per hour.  That is a lot of weight in your pack.  You can get to feeling like this poor guy.

Back in the day we carried everything in the trusty canteen both the one and two quart variety.  They did the job, but while I was in we were issued a new product called the Camel Back.  These things are great.  The container is much lighter allowing you to carry a larger volume of water with less weight.  Today these hydration systems are the standard.  I carry a 3L on most of my afternoon hikes.  They make bladders as large as 10L so you can tailor the size of your water supply to the mission at hand.

If you have a local water supply and don't want to carry all the water you need with you there are also some great water purification devices  ranging from drops, tablets, filters, and UV lights.  These can be pricy, but can save you a lot of weight.

Food, I love my food.  It is the fuel that keeps us going.  While you can survive for days with out it I don't suggest it.  In the Army we had MRE's. Many guys didnt like the MRE's but I did.  They were a great package they had everything including toilet paper!  One or two of these can keep you going for all day.  MRE's can be expensive, around 60 to 70 dollars a case of 12.  I tend to build my own MRE's.  They are simple food items that are easy to prepare on the trail and stuffed into a a zip-lock bag.  They can include freeze dried foods, fruits, nuts, cookies, Ramen Noodles, drink packets, or snack packs.  Pack foods that will keep your energy up and pack enough to keep you going in case of an emergency.

When it starts to get cold wet and nasty you need to shelter your body from the elements.  Shelter can be as simple as a poncho, or as elaborate as a 4 season backpack tent.  You need to have enough equipment to keep you dry and warm.  Being cold and wet not only makes you feel miserable but you are inviting hypothermia or other cold weather injuries.  I always carry at the bare minimum a poncho, and a tarp.  You can use both of these items for a field expedient shelter.  While in the Rangers we did not carry tents, too much weight.  We erected poncho hooches like the one to the right.   While not the best they did the job to help keep you warm and dry.  Along with your poncho remember a good pair of gloves, a good jacket or sweater, and an extra pair of warm socks.  Dry warm socks keep your feet very happy.

Although this is a short list it is important.  Water, Food, and Shelter help to keep you comfortable and safe.  Make sure they are in your pack!  I will continue later with other important items that are great to have in your pack.

73's and keep climbing!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Contact with PJ2/N0VD

So, I wanted to try out my new home-brew wire antenna.  I had some speaker wire lying around that I  cut to 28ft and 16ft.  I found the lengths in a KX3 post on Elecraft's reflector. The 28 is my antenna and the 16 is for a counterpoise. I attached one end of the wire antenna to a GPS friction mount and hurled it onto the roof like a Frisbee.
I attached the other end to the connector on my KX3 along with the 16 ft counterpoise running out the back door onto the grass in the back yard. 

I kicked on my KX3 hit the Auto Tune and it tuned down to 1.3-1.  I checked the 10m band and found a station transmitting on 28.425.   Loud and clear I could hear N0VD in Curacao transmitting as PJ2/N0vd.  He was working a good pileup and I had my doubts but I set my KX3 to 5watts.  To my surprise he came back with my call and we were able to confirm the contact.  Its amazing that you can do so much with so little.  The KX3 is truly an amazing little machine!

My All Purpose KX3 Go Bag

When I began to look into SOTA I was having trouble deciding what rucksack I would use.  So choosing one took some time.  I have a few ALICE packs like what I used in the military but I was convinced that there was a better option.  I settled on the Marine Corps ILBE system.  

The Marines are phasing these out so they can be purchased for under 150 dollars.  This is a picture of the main pack.  It is a well built pack  capable of carrying up to 120 lbs.  It is a great all purpose long haul Go Bag.  It has a cavernous main compartment that could easily pack all the gear required for a multi day excursion.    

These packs were designed to carry 2 mortars on the left and right side of the pack.  These are a great place to strap in antenna accessories or any long hardware such as tripods or poles.  

The big reason the Marines are phasing out the ILBE is because of the complaints that this pack is uncomfortable.  The issue is that when a soldier is wearing body armor this pack is extremely uncomfortable.  Since I don't have to wear body armor I don't have that problem.  I have used this pack on the summits I have activated so far and found it to be perfect for my needs.

As you can see I have set up the top pack cover as a field desk for my KX3.  

When packed my KX3 sits inside the rucksacks purpose built radio compartment.  I have a Rubbermaid container that fits inside the pouch nicely and protects my KX3 from moisture and any bumps.

The ILBE system also comes with a detachable day pack.  The day pack is perfect for those fast afternoon activations.  It has the same radio compartment as the larger pack so it is very easy to adapt your radio gear to the smaller pack. 

Both packs are covered in Molle webbing.  This webbing  allows the user to change the pack for the mission at hand.  You can find every imaginable accessory from radio pouches to magazine holders.  My "Field Desk" is a Molle pouch from Condor.

 I don't have the hydration bladder that comes with the set but I have found that any bladder will work.  I use my Osprey pack bladder inside the recon pack.

All in all this is a great pack with all the options a ham could need in a Go Bag.  And right now they can be purchased on Amazon or Ebay for a song.  I would recommend them to anyone.

My Radio the Elecraft KX3

I guess all hams remember their first radio.  I'm lucky my first radio happens to be the Elecraft KX3.  

As I began my journey into ham radio I was looking for a good all purpose multi-band radio.  It had to be light weight, easy to use, and a good all in one package.  

I believe that the KX3 is all that and a bag of chips.  Its light weight under 1.5 pounds, covers the 160-60 bands, and has a low current drain to save on the batteries.

My KX3 has the KXFL3 Roofing Dual Bandwidth Filter, the KXAT3 Internal, Wide-Range 20-W Automatic Antenna Tuner, and the KXBC3 NiMH Charger.  I ordered my KX3 as a Christmas present.  In January my KX3 serial number 3136 arrived in the mail.

I ordered the kit version and learned a great deal about the interior of the radio as I assembled it.  Having built computers the assembly was straight forward and completed in an afternoon.  I was excited to get on the air, but I couldn't.  One thing was standing in my way.  My Technician license.  So I started out just listening and trying to learn as much as I could.  I studied for the exam and in no time I had my ticket.

Having activated three summits so far I am starting to realize  what gear I need to be effective.  I have been using a Buddipole with great success. I am also working on  a light weight wire antenna to lighten up the rucksack a bit.

I am still learning how to get the most out of my KX3 and I plan on sharing what I learn with all of you.  So thanks for reading and stay tuned.

73's and  keep climbing!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Welcome!  Come on in and pull up a chair.  This is my blog.  All about me and my new passion for amateur radio.  More specifically a sect of amateur radio called Summits on the Air

What is this you ask?  Well Summits on the Air, or SOTA for short, is an award scheme for radio amateurs and shortwave listeners that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas.  There are awards for activators (those who ascend to the summits) and chasers (who either operate from home, a local hilltop or are even Activators on other summits).  It is an excellent organization.

So a little about me.  My name is John Doogan.  I was born and raised in north central Illinois in the small town of Ottawa. I joined the Army right out of high school and went to Airborne School and the Ranger Indoctrination Program.  I served with the 3rd Ranger Battalion and the 101st Airborne division.  I attended Southern Illinois University and studied Aviation.  After school I worked for several years with the Carbondale Police Department as a Police Officer and Detective.

I moved to Tennessee a few years ago and am currently back in school for Nursing.  I caught the ham radio bug late in 2012 and earned my Technician license  in January of 2013.  So far I have activated 3 summits. 

My first was House Mountain W4T/RV-035  just outside Knoxville, Tennessee.  House Mountain's summit sits at 2100 feet and is a good short climb for an afternoon.

The view is excellent and I made some great contacts on 10 meters.  "The only band I am authorized on SSB for."  That is until I pass my General license exam.

One of my contacts was Phil, NS7P,  he made Super Sloth with 10,000 chaser points on 18 Jan!! That is quite the accomplishment.

My second summit was Greentop Mountain W4T/SU-076 .  I made my furthest contact to date PY3KN in Brasil.  I was surprised he heard my Elecraft KX3 at 5 watts.  5 watts is considered QRP. QRP is the art of sending the weakest signal as possible and seeing just how far you can make a contact.  Its amazing the science that is involved, I don't fully understand it yet.

My third summit was Cove Mountain W4T/SU-042.  Cove Mountain is within the Smokey Mountain National Park.  I hit Cove Mountain about noon on Friday.  It was pretty nice weather.  The trail to the summit starts at the Laurel Falls trail head.  The hike passes the falls and continues about another 3 miles. There is an old fire tower at the summit with a weather monitoring station.  I set up about 30 yards away and was able to get my contacts in.  As I was doing so the weather started to turn.  I got rain, sleet, and then some more rain and sleet.  I huddled under a tarp to finish.  As I was doing this a couple walked by.  I can just imagine what they thought about this weird guy talking to himself under a tarp.  But they were nice enough to take my picture. 

The way back down got cold, wet and real smokey.  The viability dropped to about 20 yards for a good portion of the way down.  It felt real good to get into my warm car.  I had a great time and would have got more contacts if I could work 20 and 40.  Guess I will have to get it in gear and pass the General test.

I had some great spots on this summit such as 
Bill Gerth W4RK the SOTA USA W0M-Missouri
Association Manager, Mike VA6FUN, and Steve WG0AT with Rooster & Peanut.  WG0AT has some great videos.  Check a few out here.

So far I am really enjoying the SOTA program and am meeting some great ham radio operators.  I will continue soon with some great info on my equipment and any further summits.

So I hope to see you back soon.

73's and keep climbing!