SOTA Bald Hill W2/NJ-006 (11 Aug 2013)

Bald Hill (or Mountain) is a summit in the far north of New Jersey, just a mile or so from the New York state line. Scott, WB2REI and I set up two stations (both using the callsign K3EL), for a first SOTA activation of this summit. Although there’s not been much SOTA activity from here, there is plenty of other RF floating around…

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We chose locations for our stations a couple of hundred yards away from the radio tower, on a trail running to the south from the summit. There was no rf interference from the summit tower on the amateur bands – the audible noise from the roaring fans of the HVAC systems in the radio room at the base of the tower was more troubling.

Scott was using his K2 with a LNR Precision 40/20/10 m “trail-friendly” end-fed wire. There are clearings off the track with some conveniently-placed trees and Scott made full use of his abilities with a throwing line (note the collapsible nylon bucket – no tangles as the line heads up in the air). Once up in the trees, wire was pretty much horizontal, one end of the was close to 40 feet up, the other around 30. Got out pretty well.

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My antenna was a 31 foot vertical supported by a dxwires pole, with a dozen radials and a tuner at the base, with a KX3 running 5 – 10 W. This time, I used a piglet and iPad to log. Luxury! Still had a pad and paper in the pack, though, just in case. compressed-0418-2

We compared RBN spots afterwards, and just based on the spots it looks like the station running the 31 ft vertical was getting out better. The number of spots was dissimilar, about 25 for the station with the horizontal end-fed, about 70 for the station running the 31 foot vertical. The latter had many more EU spots, but perhaps that was because I spent more time on 17 m which was pretty open across the pond. This was a bit of a contrast to our last trip, to W2/NJ-010, when we used similar setups. On that occasion, the end-fed wire (approx horizontal, at about 25 feet)  resulted in about 120 out of 160 RBN spots (although 40 of these were from one station which was reporting spots every minute!). Stil, also on that occasion the vertical seemed to be better for DX; all EU spots were for the station running the vertical, none on the horizontal end-fed. However, most of these were on 17 or 15, bands which were not used on the end-fed horizontal wire. Overall, it’s difficult to say one of the antennas strongly outperformed the other. The greater number of DX spots on both of our recent SOTA trips seems to give the 31-foot vertical (w/12 radials) the edge. On the other hand, the vertical is heavier (the pole alone is nearly three pounds) and even with 22-gauge wire the radials add a couple of pounds. Then there’s the tuner at the base, another couple of pounds (LDG Z11pro with batteries).

Bald Hill does not seem to be a popular hiking destination (there are no really good views), although there are a few trip reports describing visits at peakbagger.com and a description and pictures at the NJ1K website. We accessed the peak via Mountain Road. Shortly after the junction with Stag Hill Road, the blacktop ends; there are a few spots to pull off and park near the junction of Mountain Road and Stag Hill road. Mountain Road becomes an increasingly rough dirt road suitable only for high-clearance 4×4 vehicles. Power lines (for the radio tower) lead all the way to the summit. Following these, you cross a utility easement and follow the track which leads to several ruined farm buildings (a local hang-out, judging from the hundreds of beer cans and bottles – we arrived early on a Sunday morning and smoke was still rising from the remains of the previous night’s bonfire). At the ruins, the power lines and the track turn sharp right to head steeply up to the top. We saw no-one in the morning. Coming back in the afternoon it was much busier with several high-speed dirt bikes and ATVs.

There is a cross and well-maintained memorial near the ruins. I wasn’t aware of for whom or why this memorial was there, but a little research upon returning revealed this interesting article in the New Yorker.

Next planned activation somewhere in NJ – NA SOTA weekend 7/8 Sept.

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SOTA W2/NJ-010, Cushetunk Mountain (9th June, 2013)

In casual conversation with Scott, WB2REI, we discovered a mutual interest in doing a SOTA trip. “Summits on the Air (SOTA) is an award scheme for radio amateurs and shortwave listeners that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas.” Originating in the UK, and still most popular in Europe, there is a growing interest on this side of the Atlantic also. The W2 SOTA association lists many peaks in New York, and a dozen or so in New Jersey which meet the SOTA critera. The nearest SOTA summit to us is Cushetunk Mountain, SOTA reference W2/NJ-010, in the Round Valley reservoir state park. Since it is just next door, it seemed a good place to start.

Cushetunk Mountain, SOTA W2/NJ-010

Cushetunk Mountain, SOTA W2/NJ-010

The picture above was taken from near the trailhead; the hike goes around the reservoir to the right, first climbing and then descending far below the water level, as it drops into a deep valley below the earthen dam visible to the right of Cushetunk Mt. The trail then climbs back up to the peak of Cushetunk. W2VV posted a GPX file of the trail, from which the trail profile below was obtained.

Cushtehunk elevation

Cushtehunk trail elevation profile

It’s a well-maintained trail, with a mostly-easy dirt/stony surface and generally-gentle slopes (except for the section dropping down below the dam). The broad path and frequent red blazes or markers make it practically impossible to get lost. Although it had poured with rain just a couple of days before our trip, there were only a couple of muddy spots. We saw more mountain-bikers than hikers.

We left the trailhead at 9.05 am and were at the summit by 11. It’s a broad summit, and we probably could have stopped a little earlier near a clearing which would have been an excellent operating spot, and still within the SOTA-required 25 m altitude of the top. Instead, we went on further and ended up in a somewhat overgrown spot a little way off the trail, pretty much at the actual height of land.

Radio equipment consisted of: Station 1 – KX3 with a 3.3 Ah LiFePO4 battery and a 5 W solar panel (Dayton swag), with an S9 31′ vertical with 4:1 unun and tuner at the base and a dozen or so radials.

Station 1 with K3EL.

Station 1 with K3EL

Station 2 – K2 with a 7 Ah SLA battery and an LNR end-fed “trail-friendly” wire (more Dayton swag). Scott had brought his throwing weight and line, and quickly had the LNR wire up in the trees.

Station 2

Station 2 with WB2REI

The two stations were set up about 100′ from each other. Running about 5 – 10 w on each radio there were no significant problems of inter-station interference. The only hardware problem we had was a touch-sensitive paddle which became possessed by demons, but a flick of the off-switch put it out of its misery and the spare mechanical paddle was connected up instead.  After around half an hour of setup, both stations were on the air on 40 m and 20 m, with a steady stream of callers. 17 and 15 also provided some activity, but 12 m netted no qsos despite cqing for 15 min or so (this was spotted on SOTAwatch, so I was surprised to not have any calls on 12 m). The RBN spotting was impressively effective; usually within a couple of calls on a new band, a spot would appear. Overall we made nearly 50 qsos, more than doubling the SOTA qso total from this peak. Most contacts were with US and Canadian stations, and eight were with EU.

Special thanks go to the support team (my XYL, Anne). In celebration of the UK origins of the SOTA program she cooked Cornish pasties for our trail lunch, supplemented with banana-nut muffins for a multicultural summit feast. Even better, she hauled them up the mountain! I suggested she might start a “SOTA-sherpa” business, but she wasn’t impressed.

Are we hooked? Yes! When and where is the next trip? We’ll see – to be announced on the SOTAwatch alerts. In the meantime, more pics from SOTA W2/NJ-010, Cushetunk Mountain (9th June, 2013) here.