Activating Apple Orchard Mountain (W4V/RA-001)

On Saturday, 16 July 2016, Dave KB3RAN, Steve N3IPN, and I hiked up Apple Orchard Mountain (SOTA W4V/RA-001) to activate it for the Appalachian Trail Golden Packet event.  While we were there we took advantage of the altitude and activated the summit for Summits on the Air (SOTA), National Parks on the Air (NPOTA), and the CQ WW VHF Contest.

Getting to the summit

Steve N3IPN and Eric WG3K hauling their gear.

Steve N3IPN and Eric WG3K hauling their gear.  Photo by Dave Hardy KB3RAN

Wow, getting to the top isn’t easy.  First we took way too much stuff.  We were, however, prepared for most anything.  Suffice it to say we’ll be better prepared for hiking and less prepared for anything next time we activate a summit.

We were originally hoping that one of the existing tenants on the mountain could have allowed us access by vehicle to the top but everyone was otherwise engaged and so we were left to drag everything up the service road to the top on foot.

The service road is a nice, paved road of approximately six-tenths of a mile in length.  It is grueling carrying a bunch of stuff to the top, however, and it took us around 45 minutes to traverse the distance hauling our wagons.

Convenient vehicle parking is available just north of the service road along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Setting up the gear

Eric gets the APRS digipeater on the air.

Eric gets the APRS digipeater on the air. Photo by Steve Hempling N3IPN

Our first priority was setting up the APRS digipeater for the AT Golden Packet event (as AOMTN-5).  We were running late so we wasted no time putting the antenna up ~12 feet in the air and powering on the radio.  We were rewarded by hearing packets coming through from both Northern Virginia to our north and Comers Rock to our south.

Because we had setup the station quickly we didn’t get an opportunity to look around and determine if there was a better location for our station.  Turns out we were close to the summit but needed to continue a few hundred yards further to reach it.  After catching our breath and regaining a little strength we picked up the APRS digipeater, feedline, and antenna and moved it to the summit.  I don’t think the performance of our setup improved but the views certainly did!

Panaramic shot towards the northwest from Apple Orchard summit.

Panoramic shot towards the northwest from Apple Orchard summit.  Antennas are up and rain is approaching!  Photo by Eric Christensen WG3K

There isn’t much shade on the summit so it’s important to either bring some sort of shelter or move off the summit a bit.  Just to the north is a rock pile with several trees growing that could offer some shelter if needed.

Other users of the summit

There is no shortage of antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain.  As this is the highest summit in the area, at 4215 feet, so many people want their radio systems up there.

Many antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain

Some of the antennas on Apple Orchard Mountain.  Photo by Eric Christensen WG3K

One user of concern for SOTA activators is the WA1ZMS 2m beacon on 144.285MHz.  Due to the proximity of this auxiliary station the weak-signal portion of the 2m band is likely unusable.  We were lucky that WA1ZMS was able to turn off the beacon for the AT Golden Packet event since the frequency used was close to the beacon’s frequency.

Contacts

AT Golden Packet Event

The mission was to link up the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Using fifteen digipeaters, we pass messages along the Trail to prove that we can setup an ad-hoc network on short notice.  We were successful in seeing sites 3 through 12 this year.  We also tested 9600 baud which also worked well.  Simplex voice communications were used to help coordinate the event on UHF.

SOTA/NPOTA/CQ WW VHF

We also activated for SOTA, NPOTA, and CQ WW VHF Contest.  Conditions weren’t great and most of my contacts on 6m and 2m were limited to a few grid squares around.  I did manage one contact out to the Midwest but most of my contacts were very much local.

It was fun giving out W4V/RA-001 for SOTA and TR01 for NPOTA.  I also worked a station that had 432MHz capabilities even though it wasn’t for the contest; I’m all about putting the contacts in the log.

The antennas used were a Buddipole 2-element 6m yagi and horizontal loops for 2m and 70cm.  The radio was a Yaesu FT-857D.

Contact Summary

  • Six Meters – 10 Contacts
  • Two Meters – 9 Contacts
  • 70 Centimeters – 1 Contact
  • Voice – 18 Contacts
  • CW – 2 Contacts

Other missions

Another mission that I was successful in was updating OpenStreetMap data for the area.  Updating this information will hopefully provide others wishing to activate the summit with better cartographic information.


View Larger Map

Summary

I haven’t talked about Dave and Steve’s attempts at activating the summit.  In spite of good radios and antennas the contact count wasn’t great.  Part of the problem was that we didn’t have any way of self-spotting on the SOTAwatch2 site meaning that their QRP signals just couldn’t be found easily.  Hopefully we won’t have this problem next time.

Posted in 2m, 6m, 70cm, APRS, Contesting, CW, Summits on the Air (SOTA), Voice Operations | Comments Off on Activating Apple Orchard Mountain (W4V/RA-001)

Oh, did I mention six meters was open?

Turning on the radio this morning I was surprised to hear Puerto Rico coming in loud and clear on 50.125MHz. Once I had KP4EIT and HI3TEJ (Dominican Republic) in the logs I checked the DX Cluster to check the activity. There appeared to be many other stations from the Southeastern United States working towards the Caribbean. A few hours later the Sporatic-E opening moved towards the west and soon I was working into the Midwest and into Eastern Canada.

I did check two-meters but never heard any activity.

Image represents contacts made from FM18rq.  Station locations represent grid locator (grid square) center.  C=CW, S=SSB, J=J65A or J9

The twenty-three contacts, representing twenty-one grids, I put in the log were made using mostly CW with SSB, JT65A, and JT9 rounding out the rest of the modes.

Beacons

During a lull in activity I rolled down to the bottom of the band to check for beacons:

DX de WG3K: 50007.7 VA2ZFN/B FM18<EM92 1845Z 2016-07-12 18:45:00
DX de WG3K: 50059.0 VE3UBL/B FM18<FN03 1839Z 2016-07-12 18:39:00
DX de WG3K: 50067.5 N8PUM/B FM18<EN66 1827Z 2016-07-12 18:27:00
DX de WG3K: 50073.0 K0KP/B FM18<EN36 1825Z 2016-07-12 18:25:00

Reverse Beacons

I also took a look at the Reverse Beacon Network and found that I had been heard a few times:

DX de K9IMM-#: 50098.0 WG3K CW 25 dB 16 WPM CQ 1717Z 2016-07-12 17:17:42
DX de WE7L-#: 50097.90 WG3K CW 16 dB 16 WPM CQ 1707Z 2016-07-12 17:07:47

Posted in 6m, CW, Digital Operations, DXing, Voice Operations | Comments Off on Oh, did I mention six meters was open?

Operating Portable from Apple Orchard Mountain

During the weekend of July 16th I plan on being atop Apple Orchard Mountain, in Virginia, operating in the AT Golden Packet event as well as doing some VHF+ work while I’m there.  I’ll be accompanied by Dave, KB3RAN, and Steve, N3IPN, who are planning to operate QRP HF voice and digital.  This should be a fun adventure…

Supported Events

Expected Operating Frequencies

AT Golden Packet

  • 144.340MHz – AT APRS
  • 444.925MHz – Coordination
  • 144.390MHz – US APRS

General Operating

  • 50.185MHz USB +/- or 50.096MHz CW +/-
  • 144.285MHz USB +/- or 144.060MHz CW +/-
  • 432.100MHz and up
  • 14.060MHz PSK? +/- (KB3RAN)
  • Another HF frequency (N3IPN)
  • 144.390MHz – APRS (WG3K or WG3K-6 and/or WG3K-7)

 

Posted in 2m, 6m, 70cm, APRS, CW, Voice Operations | Comments Off on Operating Portable from Apple Orchard Mountain

An interesting add-on for a HSMM network

This would be an interesting addition to a HSMM network…

IP radios that use the TCP/IP stack to communicate.

Posted in High Speed Multimedia Network (HSMM) | Comments Off on An interesting add-on for a HSMM network

Managing resources during Public Service events using APRS

Picture of Mark Freeze shadowing Zoe during 2016 Raleigh Tour de Cure

Mark, WD4KSE, shadowing Zoe during the 2016 Raleigh Tour de Cure. – photo by MotoPhotoMe.

Over the weekend I helped support the American Diabetes Association‘s Raleigh Tour de Cure – a two-day charity bicycle ride that allows riders to choose between 80 and 100-mile courses each day.  I’ve been supporting this ride for many years, and, thankfully, we’ve been using the same route for the last few years which makes it easier to come up with a communications plan each year.

Over the years I’ve watched other people’s techniques for managing resources.  One guy kept his notes on a knee board and used some sort of shorthand notation that no one could figure out during the brief glances we were allowed.  In years past I’ve enjoyed using a small whiteboard to keep track of where my Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles were.  This year, however, I decided to do something a little different.

The Goal

2016 Raleigh Tour de Cure course map with rest stop objects.

Raleigh Tour de Cure course map with rest stop objects.

The goal of my madness is to make sure I had SAG vehicles “patrolling” between rest stops where we knew bicyclists were located.  The Raleigh Tour de Cure has six rest stops with those doing 100 miles doing a loop that takes them back through rest stops five and six before heading to the finish.  Altogether, there are eight segments of race course that need to be covered.  Each SAG is assigned a segment to run in a particular direction.  In this way, it is hoped that a SAG will go past a certain point every ten to fifteen minutes (we don’t want a rider to have to wait a long time for a SAG).  Luckily not all eight segments are occupied at the same time which reduces the overall need.  This year we managed to do it with five SAGs, one doctor, one motorcycle SAG (who also had a photographer riding backwards taking pictures of the riders for MotoPhotoMe), and two shadows.  We could have used more but this is a great crew, and everyone worked together as a team flawlessly.

Past Management Tool

Like I pointed out earlier, I used to use a whiteboard to keep track of who was where and to make assignments when a SAG made it to their next rest stop.  My chart looked something like this:

 RS  | SAG
--------
S->1 | 1↑, 2↓, Last Rider
1->2 | 3↓
2->3 | 4↓, First Rider

This means that between the Start and Rest Stop 1 I have SAGs 1 (running backwards from 1 to the Start) and 2 (running forwards from the Start to 1), between Rest Stops 1 and 2 I have SAG 3, and between Rest Stops 2 and 3 I have SAG 4.  I try to stagger SAGs going between the same rest stops to add patrol coverage.  When SAG 1 reaches Rest Stop 1 the expectation is that they will call me on the radio and let me know they’ve arrived.  I will then give them a new assignment (it could be patrolling back towards the Start line or moving on to Rest Stop 2).  A whiteboard makes it easy to make these updates and keep everything in order.

The benefits of using such a system is that it’s simple and easy to manage, allows a quick look to see your needs for coverage, and allows you to make other notes (e.g. who has already had lunch, special assignments, where is the lead and last riders).  The drawback is that there is no record keeping with this system.  You can’t go back and see who was where when.  Keeping up with this information would require a completely separate form and would likely slow you down.  Also, because all this information lives locally on a whiteboard there is no way to share this information with anyone else if, for example, you need to step away from the radio for a few minutes.

Using APRS to manage the resources

This year I decided to use my APRS client, Xastir, to manage my resources.  Some of the SAGs ran APRS trackers (thanks to the Raleigh Amateur Radio Society (RARS) for letting us use their trackers!) in their vehicles which meant I didn’t have to update their locations and I always knew where they were.  The other resources I had I simply used objects on the map to track where they were located (approximately) and moved those objects when they provided an update.  It looked something like this:

APRS map showing SAG objects

APRS map showing SAG objects in motion between rest stops.

I could also put requests for service on the map (e.g. bicyclists that had contacted us via phone or SMS to say they needed assistance) and be reasonably sure I was sending the closest SAG to them.

Because I was the only consumer of this data (this year) none of the objects I created were actually sent over the air or to the Internet.  I could have easily shared this information over the air or the Internet to others and I hope to do so in the future.

Oh, I should point out that one of the SAGs, Moto 1, used APRSDroid on his cellphone to provide his location.  This was problematic as there were many places along the route that didn’t have any cellular connectivity much less sufficient data connectivity.

We also didn’t have sufficient APRS infrastructure to cover the entire route.  This was mostly remedied by the addition of a tactical digipeater.  I’m hoping to establish a new permanent digipeater along the route in the future.

What other benefits can APRS bring to the table?

Beyond keeping track of everyone’s location, either in semi-real-time or by moving objects around the map, APRS can provide information sharing to other stations that need to know what’s happening.  By pushing objects to the network, one can inform all participants of resources and needs (this requires some sort of display to consume this information).  Also, the voice frequency can be kept clear of routine requests by using the text messaging capabilities of APRS.

Record keeping can be done in a not-so-detailed way by having the APRS client record all traffic to disk.  This means that every movement, addition or deletion of an object, and every message would be recorded.  While not as detailed as formal messages, or even keeping a detailed log, it does provide some tracking that, if needed, might be helpful.

Conclusion

Using APRS to manage public service events could prove to be helpful.  It doesn’t necessarily require buy-in from everyone involved but would benefit from others participating.  I didn’t go into all the features that APRS could bring to the table but, rather, touched on the ones that I felt were important.  I’m hoping to extend this article in the coming months to bring more thoughts on the subject.

Thanks

I’d like to thank the volunteer hams that came out and participated in this two-day event:

  • Photo of Doctor Playford roaming the rest stops.

    Doctor Playford, KM4NWC, roaming the rest stops.

    John Snellen, AI4RT – SAG 1 (RARS Public Service Coordinator)

  • Wallace Smith, KJ4UKV – SAG 2
  • David Krum, NW3U – SAG 3
  • Joe Sheets, KJ4LZM – SAG 4
  • Bruce Buck, KC4UQN – SAG 5
  • Tom Byrum, N3TCB – Moto 1
  • Lubov Byrum, N3BOV – Photo 1
  • Dr. Scott Playford, KM4NWC – Doc
  • Bill Cole, KG4CXY – “Jim” (founder of Carolina Helping Hams)
  • Mark Freeze, WD4KSE – “Zoe”

Notes

  • Yes, I realize all the maps used in this article don’t contain roads and such.  While this information was available to me I really didn’t need it as I had the route and rest stop data staring at me.  If I needed the road-level maps they were just a couple of clicks away.
  • The APRS network frequency, 144.390MHz, is quite busy and I wonder if building a separate network on a different frequency would benefit the event.  Think ALOHA.
Photo of SAG vehicle at finish line

FIN

Posted in APRS, Public Service | Tagged | 1 Comment