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Ham Radio

Hilltop Trips

Mirrormont Country Club, CN97al01, 7/24/2011

Lat 47.464054, Long -121.999676, Alt 780'
Dist from home: 11 miles, 30 minutes driving directions

Pullman, Washington Pullman, Washington Pullman, Washington Pullman, Washington
On the south side of Tiger Mt is a nice hill with good exposure. The country club parking area by the tennis courts are the extreme edge of CN97. The grid square CN87-CN97 dividing line runs between the two courts.

For my first time ever I had solid contact in Portland, Oregon (K7SMA, KC7I). This residential area is loaded with tall trees and a warm southern exposure toward Mt Rainier. I met Kathy a neighbor of my good friend WE7X, and Linda a local pea patch gardener.

Pullman, DN16jr, 7/16/2011

Lat 46.7432, Long -117.18009, Alt 2600'
Dist from mother-in-law: 3 blocks, driving directions

Pullman, Washington Pullman, Washington Pullman, Washington Pullman, Washington
This was a great location for the CQ WW VHF contest on July 16-17, 2011. I parked on the north side of the water tower for good propogation into Spokane (60mi) and Tri-Cities (90mi). Then I parked on the southwest side of the tower for good path into Seattle (200mi)and Portland (300mi).

This was my first VHF contest and provided points and a grid to the people who stuck around on 2m. I have 50 watts 2m SSB and a 3el beam.

I had some nice contacts with K7HPT in two grids; wow he must have done a lot of driving, thanks! Great signal from Dale. I heard a few stations W7GLF, W7MEM, K7SMA, VE7DXG that didn't quite hear me but that was fun and exciting anyway.

I'm new to VHF and just getting equipped and didn't know what to expect. But I didn't really expect 2m to empty out after the first half hour. Did 2m go dead or did everyone abandon it after they thought they worked everyone else? I was disappointed after the first hour to be calling CQ for two more hours with no answer. I was hoping to get lots of Spokane contacts from what seemed like my favorable location 60 miles to their south. And hoping to get someone in the Tri-Cities but, no. It was nice to hear lots of activity when the contest started but then it seemed like nobody wanted to bother with the band. Is this typical? Just curious.

There was a flurry of 2m activity Sunday morning after the PNWVHF weak signal net. That was great fun and I doubled my score.

My hilltop had a water tower bristling with cellphone antennas. This was actually rather handy. In a fit of boredom I used my cellphone and ordered a 6m antenna from HRO for my next contest. I wish I'd planned ahead and borrowed one for this trip.

Operating time 3 hours Saturday and 2 hours Sunday, 2m only, 6 contacts, 5 grids, 60 points.

One nice thing about hilltopping is at least I'm parked in a lovely scenic location!

Pine Lake Estates, Sammamish, CN87xn49hi, 4/3/2011

Hilltopping at home Hilltopping at home

Lat 47.580694, Long -122.043798, Alt 475'
Dist from coffee pot: 60 feet W

I wonder how things sound from my driveway? The results are in: Things sound not quite as good as other places; I made a marginal contact to Stanwood and I was not heard in Portland. Today's propagation was fluctuating and Portland stations briefly rose above the noise floor but not enough to complete a contact.

Interestingly, another local station coming in weakly was using vertical polarization so I swiveled my beam from horizontal to vertical but got no improvement. However, conventional wisdom suggests a large improvement, 30 dB, can be obtained by matching receive and transmit polarization. It didn't do much for me, so perhaps the signal rotates through the path, or my beam was too close to the car and other objects.

I want to try this location again with my new roof-mounted beam and see what happens. Also I'm still having trouble with my cheapo mast stand on anything but level pavement. Note to self: build a drive-on mast stand base.

Visit Highland Drive, Issaquah, CN97an10gx, 3/27/2011

Overlooking Bellevue and Seattle Highland Drive, Issaquah antenna "tripod" VHF operating position
My goal this trip is to get out of CN87. It so happens the border with CN97 is about two miles east. What can we find nearby?

I think I found the highest public roadway on the Sammamish Plateau at 1,022 feet (317m) among the new million-dollar homes above Highland Drive. It has a stunning panorama of Mt Baker to the north and Mt Rainier on the south. At least, it would when it's not raining and dripping everywhere.

I made five contacts including some new hams, all with good reports in the region. I heard some stations in Portland but they were buried in the noise floor and they could not copy me. Net Control said the conditions were quite bad, so I was pleased to do hear Portland at all.

The eastward path was dead. Nobody could hear from Spokane at all. But I had some trees and a bit more hill behind me to the east, so I wasn't expecting anything that direction.

More things for my checklist:

  • Use the iPhone's Compass app to find magnetic North.
  • My lamppost tripod is unreliable on the slightest slope away from horizontal. Worse yet, it's round and rolls easily given the slightest chance.
  • Look into building a mast platform that goes under the front wheel.
  • It's nice to run coax through the door jamb instead of the window. Then I can close the window completely and stay warm and dry. Maybe. A drip loop is required or else the water follows the coax inside.
  • There is a PNW VHF S spreadsheet online as a Google doc. It provides a useful summary of the usual suspects:
  • I met G4AMD/7 on the air and we had a great chat about VHF propagation. There are a lot of interesting things that can happen to VHF / UHF signals, and there is a lot of fun stuff to learn.
Skyline HS

Visit Skyline HS, CN87xo53ut, 3/20/2011

Finally, a very successful trip to a nearby hilltop. The transmitter strength was excellent and several people had no problem hearing me.

My antenna tuning yesterday was very helpful. The 3-element beam was very sensitive to the exact adjustment to the gamma match. The final placement for 144.240 MHz was 54mm (2-1/8 inch).

Rod WE7X joined me in the parking lot and setup his 3-watt 817 transceiver, battery, tripod, 2m 3-elt beam. He could receive well but others could barely hear him. Perhaps his equipment needs adjustment, or possibly the nearby cyclone fence was affecting performance.

Things for my checklist:

  • No bathrooms on most hilltops. Esp along a busy road by a popular high school. Don't load up at Starbucks along the way.
  • Tune gamma match for maximum forward power. This may or may not coincide with minimum SWR.
  • My transmitter's power output (Yaesu FT-480R) is very sensitive to antennu tuning. It varies from 5w to 15w across small adjustments of gamma match.
  • My transmitter's frequency display reads too low by 400 Hz. For example, the proper dial readout is 144.240.4.
  • Get a magnetic door sign to look official. Rod WE7X suggests "Amateur Radio Bear Tracking".
  • It would sure be nice to have a callsign lookup available.
Cougar Mountain view of horizon

Visit Cougar Mtn Park, CN87wm89iu, 3/13/2011

I parked at the old anti-aircraft site on the peak of Cougar Mountain, altitude 1,600 ft (487m), a part of the city of Bellevue. In 45 minutes of trying, no contacts were made on SSB and the regular weak-sign net was not heard. As far as I can tell, everyone (wisely) slept in this morning as a result of advancing the clocks today for Daylight Savings Time.

But my time was not wasted. I tested the SWR using a "new" VHF swr meter purchased at the Puyallup hamfest yesterday. The Cushcraft 3-element beam measured 10:1 while the 5/8 magmount whip measured 1.2:1. This would explain why I can hear people better than they can hear me. Now I know what to work on next!

Cougar Mtn Park, 1950s anti-aircraft site

Here are notes of the visit:

  • Park gates are apparently open 24-hours, even though the sign posts 8am to dusk.
  • Ranger house is occupied full time.
  • A nice ranger guy came over to ask what I had going on, under the pretext of emptying the garbage can next to my car.
  • Ranger suggested hiking from the parking lot a very short distance west to the "Million Dollar Overlook" for direct line-of-sight communication.
  • Curiously, the peak is in a cellphone radio hole. Almost no signal strength.
  • Simplex contacts on FM had very poor coverage in the nearby valley or flatlands. But I had good signal into Shoreline area of Seattle.

My white PVC antenna mast leaves room for improvement:

  1. It is raining heavily outside
  2. Water runs downhill
  3. My car window is open
  4. I'm holding a plastic water pipe vertically up through the open driver's window
  5. Water runs down the outside of a water pipe as easily as the inside
  6. Water sticks to a pipe until it's diverted
  7. I'm holding a plastic water pipe

Visit Skyline HS, CN87xo53ut, 3/6/2011

I parked at Skyline High School in the city of Sammamish, with an open view in most directions. I checked into the PNW Weak Signal Net on the regular Sunday morning schedule at 8am. Made three contacts: Kirkland (12mi), Monroe (CN97au, 21 mi) and Woodinville (CN87ws, 15 mi).

Here are notes and to-do list of the visit:

  • It worked very well to have an antenna switch to easily compare the 2m beam with the two little mag mount whip antennas.
  • Figure out ergonomic mounting of FT-480R radio on passenger seat. The front panel needs be tilted up, and the radio was precariously balanced.
  • Find a better antenna mast mount then the driver's window.
  • Measure radio current draw; estimate car battery life.
  • Fix powerpole connectors, they were prone to intermittent connection.
  • If you sign as "mobile" then Net Control assumes you are moving and puts you first in net rotation. You should say "portable" if you're parked and stationary.
  • Get databse on the laptop to look up antenna bearings.
  • Make list of hams to look for at Puyallup Hamfest this weekend.
  • Buy one more antenna switch so it can be dedicated to portable use.

Grand Ridge North, Issaquah, CN97an41qt (canceled)

Lat 47.549189, Long -121.960902, Alt 1,400'
Dist from home: 13.3 mi/31 min drive, 4.5 miles SE

Grand Ridge North, and its sister Grand Ridge South, are the steep hills on the north side of I-90 halfway between Issaquah and Preston, WA. The map shows a one-lane road to the top and a few houses among the dense forest. At 1400 feet (426 meters) it should have a better view in most directions than the Sammamish Plateau. Also there are fewer hams in CN97.

Unfortunately, a scouting trip found the mountain peak is heavily carpeted with "no trespassing" and "keep out" signs. I will respect their wishes.

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