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The Wet Weather Won - Wilderness Pk, WA

KE4HET's picture
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Today's attempted activation of Wilderness Peak W7W/KG-132 was my second attempt at my first SOTA activation. My cousin and I have been hiking all summer on various trails between Lake Washington and Snoqualmie Pass. In the last few weeks I've decided that I'd give SOTA a try. We made it up to the top of Wilderness Peak today where I was stymied by steady rain and radio problems. I called it a bust and will try again in a few weeks.

All summer I've been carrying my Baofeng UV-5R with a Nagoya NA-771 antenna in a external mesh pocket on the side of my day pack. SOTA was one of those activities I had heard of, but didn't really know much about. That said, getting into SOTA has been on my someday list.  As an equestrian, I hope to get into the backcountry someday and take some radios with me. 

My first ever attempt at activating was last weekend (2019-09-14) up on Squak Mtn. (W7W/KS-122). That was kind of a last minute thing and I hadn't yet figured out Alerts and Spotting. When my cousin and I got to the top of Squak Mtn. I made a few CQ SOTA calls, but didn't make any contacts in the 5 or 10 minutes we were up at the summit next to the radio towers.

This week I got a little more prepwork in. I dug out a small, half letter size, clip board and printed off a log sheet with information about the peak, what I was going to say, and place to write down QSO information. I made what I thought was a reasonable estimate of when I would get to the summit, 4:15 PM PDT. And posted an alert about my planned activation attempt.

The plan was to start about 2:30 PM from the Jim Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trailhead and follow the Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trail as described on All Trails. When I had hiked this route back in April, it took me about an hour and 50 minutes to reach the summit. I'm in a little better shape now (having been hiking almost every weekend this summer). So, with some time for messing around at the trailhead, I estimated a summit time of around 4:15 PM PDT (2215 UTC).

The weather wasn't nearly as nice today (9/22) as it was yesterday (9/21). Lines of showers were rolling through the Puget Sound lowlands from the SSW towards the NNE. So I took some extra precautions packing various things (like wallet, phone, HT radio, etc.) into ziplock bags. Also made sure my rain shell was easily accessible from my day pack.

I met my cousin (not a ham) at the trailhead a little after 2:30. We got a pretty quick start and were on the trial by 2:36. There was a light but steady rain falling and it had been falling long enough that it had soaked through the canopy. So every tree was dropping large drops of rain. Thus the rain shell went on almost immediately.

Once we had started up the trail I made a quick contact on the K7LED repeater, mostly to check that the radio was working fine. But I was already breathing hard from hiking the steep trail and ended up fumbling for the frequencies I planned to use when I reached the summit. Together with getting further into the gully the trail follows, it wasn't a high quality contact.

While the Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trail is at the steeper end of what my cousin and I have been hiking we made very good time. We reached the junction with the Shy Bear trail, ~900' in elevation gain over about 1.7 miles in a little under an hour. When we reached the summit we were at least 30 minutes ahead of my estimate and the rain had picked up a bit.

Before shifting to simplex, I made another contact on the K7LED repeater. Because the rain was making it hard to use my smartphone, I was hoping to get someone to post spot report to SOTAwatch. But I was having trouble communicating the frequencies I planned to use, 439.00 & 146.50. The read back I was getting was 146.25.

I think it was at this point that I started having issues with my radio. First it was hard to see through the ziplock bag. The fogging up and rain drip covered glasses didn't help that. Second I think the radio got switched from channel mode to VFO mode without my realizing it. Third, I was confused about which channel numbers I had programmed specifically for SOTA simplex work. Lastly when I removed the radio from its protective baggie so I could get a better look at the display, I think i got a drip of water under one of the keys.

Given that the main objective of the day had been the hike and that the SOTA activation was secondary I decided that I wasn't having fun trying to troubleshoot in the rain on top of a mountain. So I called it a bust and packed things up to try again another day.

Hike down was uneventful and, of course, the rain let up some as we got back to the trailhead.

Lessons learned / to do next time:

  1. Do the radio checks before leaving home or on the drive to the trailhead.
  2. Hike in dryer weather.
  3. Given that we live in the PNW and #2 isn't always an option, put more effort into usable waterproof gear. Especially for the smartphone which I also tend to use for navigation.
  4. Figure out some kind of day packable shelter to get the operating position out of the rain.
  5. Prearrange with a chaser. Specifically I want to get someone that can follow my progress, file a spot report and help coordinate others, with minimal repeater work from me. That way I can focus on the actual simplex QSOs and limit summit time.
  6. Disable, or plan to turn off, "Dual Watch" on my HT. In retrospect, I think one of the problems I was running into was that when I switched to side B of my UV-5R to work simplex, it was switching back to the A side automatically when it picked up a signal from the repeater. (When I first went to switch from repeater to simplex, my radio would keep switching back as soon it received a signal on the repeater's frequency.)

Couple of questions for SOTA Elmers:

  • What frequencies tend to get used in the PNW for SOTA QSOs? 
  • Is there a good forum (facebook group, mailing list, on air net, etc.) to connect with potential local chasers? 
  • What sort of expectations to chasers have around planned summit times in alerts? How well are others predicting their summit times?

Anyway I plan to keep trying until I start making some QSO.