Windbeam Mountain (listed in SOTA as the Stonetown High Point, W2/NJ-012) is a peak in northern NJ, overlooking the Wanaque reservoir. This was the choice for my xyl and I for a hike and some radio on the Saturday of the 2013 NA SOTA weekend.
There’s a clearly-marked trail which leaves from close to the large parking area on Mary Roth Drive. The trail is indicated on the NY-NJ trail association map 115. After crossing the Stonetown Road, the trail heads into an occasionally-boggy boulder field at the foot of Little Windbeam. The trail is well-marked with red triangles. To begin with it deviates from the trail indicated on map 115, running closer to the road and along the flat rather than cutting across the hillside. Eventually, it turns left and starts climbing, intersecting the NJ Highlands trail, after which the red triangles are joined by blue diamonds. Then it’s a steep, rocky hike up Little Windbeam. The trail is partly wooded but there are quite a few open areas, both where the forest had burned years ago, as well as some large rock outcrops. Consequently, there are some good views from the top.
There’s still a bit of a walk after Little Windbeam, with a series of short descents followed by ascents to subsidiary peaks, before arriving at the relatively flat top of Windbeam Mountain. We were puffing a bit at times on the way up (too much fine dining, not enough fine hiking). However, the description of Windbeam on the NJ1K website made us feel a little less guilty: “At only 1040′, Windbeam is the fifth lowest mountain on our NJ1K list, but Windbeam actually takes more vertical climbing to summit than nearly any other mountain in New Jersey… The Highlands trail’s ascent up Windbeam from the south is one of the longest sustained steeps in New Jersey”. Ok, so that’s not saying much, but it helped dissipate some of the negative vibes from our rather slow ascent.
The top of Windbeam is very pleasant, a small plateau with open woods, and the occasional rock outcrop providing a somewhat comfortable operating position.
For my last couple of SOTA trips I’d taken a 31-foot vertical with a Z11-pro tuner used at the base. Although it seemed to work reasonably well, this isn’t a particularly lightweight setup. So this time I tried something different, a 54-foot inverted vee dipole fed with 300 ohm ribbon. This was connected to the KX3 via a few inches of coax and a 4:1 balun. The pole was set up on a rock outcrop, on the NE side of the summit. The ground in the immediate vicinity of the antenna was pretty flat, but within 100 yards or so it started dropping away. Looked like it should be a promising site, and the morning started off well-enough with a decent little pileup on 20 m. However, there were few callers from EU all day. Given that conditions seemed ok (indeed, bands were hopping when I got home in the evening), the lack of DX was a bit disappointing, and this prompted some comparison with my last two SOTA trips where the vertical was used.
|date||antenna||SFI||SSN||A-index||# qsos||# EU||# RBN||# RBN EU|
|9th June||31′ vert||96||41||9||46||8||45||6|
|11th Aug||31′ vert||110||90||6||41||7||72||19|
|7th Sept||54′ dipole||99||35||4||45||5||55||0|
SFI = solar flux; SSN = sunspot number; #EU = number of EU QSOS; #RBN = total number of RBN spots; #RBN EU = number of RBN spots from EU.
On each trip, bands used were mostly 40, 20 and 17. Looking at the number of EU qsos, it doesn’t seem too different between the various operations. However, this time, I’d mixed CQing with an effort to actively hunt out DX summit-to-summit qsos, whilst on the two earlier trips I’d just been CQing. The RBN results are perhaps more telling; zero EU spots this time! Puzzling, since you wouldn’t expect a huge difference between the two antennas. I’ve previously made A/B comparisons in my garden between the 31-foot vertical and the inv-vee (apex at about 27 feet). Switching between them resulted in a very similar or slightly better performance off the sides of the dipole on 30/20/17, whilst the vertical was better for signals coming from the direction of the ends of the dipole – all pretty much as expected. So, were conditions just not as good as expected this weekend, or what? Thinking about it some more, perhaps the dipole was compromised by the way it was put up on the hilltop. The wires got caught up in low tree branches, which bent the top of the pole down sharply, and forced the top of the dipole elements together. Modeling the resulting configurations in EZNEC, you get the following. First, the inv vee configured as in the back garden, apex at 27 feet, ends about 12 feet up:
Next, a configuration similar to that on the hilltop, with the feed point at 22 feet, with a sharply pointed apex to the vee, and then the lower part of the wires gently sloping and closer to the ground:
The radiation pattern has shifted upwards. Not so good for DX. Finally, here’s the 31-foot vertical. All antennas were modeled over average ground. The vertical has 30 ohms load resistance to ground, to mimic significant ground losses.
So although the peak gain for the half-wave vertical is lower than for the dipoles, the gain at useful DX radiation angles is competitive, especially when compared to the the compromised vee configuration. Sure, band conditions probably had a lot to do with the results from atop Windbeam Mt., but still, next time I’ll pay a bit more attention to how the dipole is actually strung up!