Tag Archives: Leo (DL2COM)

Learning from the best – a perfect SOTA morning with K6EL

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 2

by Leo (DL2COM)

I can’t remember if I have ever walked through a eucalyptus forest before but I am pretty sure I have not as I would have instantly remembered the intense and pleasant smell.

eucalyptus trees
High eucalyptus trees on the north side of Mount Davidson (W6/NC-423)

The morning sunlight and a few scattered low clouds created a rather mystical atmosphere as I was hiking up a narrow and slippery trail on the north-east side of Mt. Davidson in Central San Francisco (W6/NC-423).

sun, fog and trees
This here? Yes please.

My research regarding the trail system of this compact urban mountain was barely existent so I did not end up using the south entrance (Landsdale Ave. & Dalewood Way) which would have taken me to the summit in only a few minutes on a dry and tidy path – but then sans the nice forest panorama. Not worth the tradeoff I’d say.

Mount Davidson Cross
Mount Davidson Cross – memorial to the Armenian genocide in 1915

Due to its proximity to the city center, Mt. Davidson is as easily accessible as pretty much anything in SF for visitors who don’t want to travel further than say a 30 min bus/Uber ride or so. Activators will be rewarded with stunning views of the bay area and the city’s skyline as well as a majestic cross, apparently a well-known SF landmark.

plateau on the summit of mount davidson
The big plateau on the summit of Mount Davidson

I had contacted Elliott (K6EL) prior to my trip to the U.S. who according to the SOTA database has been on Mt. Davidson many times (and on many other summits as I only learned later). This morning I got up early, texted him and was very happy that he agreed to join me spontaneously for my first U.S. activation. Elliott arrived only a few minutes after me as I was struggling to tie a rope to a stone slightly squinting from jetlag. Neither did I bring a throw weight nor a mast due to cabin luggage restrictions. I now know why I cherish these things so much but Elliott assured me that we’d get that wire up eventually and we started to chat.

It turned out that Elliott has done a lot of work for the SOTA and ham radio community. For example, as part of the SOTA management team and being a super active activator (only scratching the surface here): e.g. no.4 Honor Roll Summit-2-Summit (S2S) world-wide pushing almost 10k S2S QSOs. Wait what? That’s a hell of a lot of mountain-top radio experience, so his reassuring words instilled a high degree of confidence for my improvised antenna setup. Not only did we manage to get the 31’ random wire up in a high tree but he also brought a 2m HT which I had (I admit) forgotten in Germany.

While I was still busy setting up the station he had already bagged a handful of FM S2S QSOs. That’s how it’s done.

wire antenna in high trees
31′ random wire to 1:9 unun & 17′ counterpoise in a sorta inv. v-to-l’ish-shape

Suddenly two police officers showed up on motorcycles and I started gathering a number of arguments in my head as to why our activation is a completely legitimate thing (strange reflex or comprehensible?). They approached us in a very kind way and after we greeted each other Elliott pointed to our wire antenna and let them know that “We are ham radio operators and this will be our antenna for the next hour.” Full stop. Ha.

In fact the two officers didn’t need any arguments from us, instead they showed genuine technical interest and at some point we were all joking around together. I believe they were just happy to find everything in good order and maybe also catch a few warming sun rays. Still I loved the way Elliott presented our activity as the most natural and non-optional thing. I guess I just didn’t know how local police would react at first. A good reminder that mutual respect goes a long way.

By now the fog had cleared and blue skies showed all around. I was itching to get on the air! To break the ice I logged a quick S2S contact with WD4CFN on Max Patch, a mountain on the NC/Tennessee border. Off to a great start! Elliott suggested starting on 10m so that’s what I did.

ham radio operation from mountain top
Random rock – the best shack

CQ SOTA DE W6/DL2COM K…uff I needed a few attempts to get that W6/ prefix into a somewhat natural CW flow but then first contacts started rolling in.

F4WBN, Chris, with a strong signal from France. So cool to hear him on the other side of the planet as well. He was shortly followed by LW2DO from Argentina and then a bunch of US operators including four more S2S QSOs before S57S (Slovenia) and JG0AWE (Japan) topped off the log with a warm DX rain. WOW!

Today’s QSO Map

I could have called CQ forever but decided to call it a day after 27 QSOs and rather enjoy the sun, view and good company. After all, I also needed to get back to the city in time.

ham radio operators on a summit
Good times atop la montagna

Elliott kindly offered to give me a ride so we had some time to discuss – how could we not – the KH1, current DXpeditions, and various topics around SOTA, U.S. ham radio and the city of San Francisco.

san francisco park rules sign

I am thankful for this perfect SOTA morning.

Gear used:

vy 73 de Leo W6/DL2COM

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

by Leo (DL2COM)

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 1

“No way!” I said to myself when I saw that Alcatraz Island is an official Parks-on-the-air (POTA) reference which has only been activated four times by two operators.

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island / POTA reference K-7888 & 2fer K-0647

It surprised me that such a historically relevant site hasn’t seen more ham radio activity in the past – or maybe it has, just not for POTA. I then got super excited as I was packing my bags for San Francisco.

I have missed this foggy beauty so much and it has been many years since I visited the city. I won’t bore you with the ordeal of our travel but it included canceled flights, multiple delays and rescheduling via Berlin and London the next day due to a hostage situation at Hamburg airport. So our already super short trip of 4.5 days shrunk into a good 3 days in SF. So which things to cross off the schedule now? It was clear that this unfortunate situation was certainly not going to eat into my activation budget. Hell no!

I admit since watching “The Rock” (1996) Alcatraz has always been a place of mystery and fascination to me. Those who are interested in reading more about the former fort, military prison and federal penitentiary can do so here.

After I learned that it was also a CW ATNO I instantly said: “Done deal. The ink is dry. I will activate with morse code in the shadows of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris”. Of course I would do it plain vanilla style throwing good ol’ wires in trees and staking pointy things in the ground. Yeah right. Sometimes passion does tend to carry you away a wee bit so a little later I gathered myself and started doing some research.

K-7888 log so far

Apparently the first POTA pioneer on Alcatraz was KC1MIJ who managed to get 5 QSOs in with an FM HT in July 2021. I’d say that’s pretty awesome for a location almost as low as sea level. The first successful activation was done on December 3rd 2021 by Elizabeth “Liz” N6LY and her husband Kevin K6YD. Since then both of them had only been back one time in December 2022 for another day to achieve a whopping cumulative 761 phone QSOs in only two days of total operation. Wow! What an achievement. No other hams have tried to activate Alcatraz since.

National Park Service Badge
The entire island is under management of the National Park Service (NPS)

I didn’t hesitate to write Liz an email and ask about her experience operating from the island as I knew it would probably require some preparation. The POTA website also stated that a permit from the National Park Service (NPS) is required. Luckily Liz replied swiftly with a lot of helpful information and I am very thankful for the email exchange. She specifically pointed out that it is in fact necessary to get a permit (even for simple HT activity) and that she had already applied in July for another day activity this coming December. They are still waiting to hear back from NPS’s office so it does seem quite hard to get approval for a “proper” activation. It is understandable that folks there want to have control over an organized operation where antennas, 100w radios, chairs etc. might need to be set up. With so many tourists visiting each day they also want to make sure that any activity doesn’t interfere with their core business especially on weekends.

Since I really didn’t want to spoil any of the hard preparatory work with NPS that Liz and Kevin had done for the ham radio community as well as respect local processes I wrote an email to the Alcatraz Rangers Office asking for a permit only a few days before my arrival. I knew it was a long shot and highly unlikely that they’d get back to me in time. So I called them every morning and afternoon the days after to follow up but was unsuccessful reaching them on any channel. By that point I had almost given up. However there were plenty of other options for activations so I had a blast in/on several SOTA/POTA references in SF which I will report on later.

Alcatraz Island Ferry
Alcatraz Island Ferry @ Pier 33

On our last day I woke up and thought “Man, I can’t just leave the Bay Area and not activate Alcatraz.” Since one of my appointments got canceled short-term I didn’t think long, jumped on an Uber to Pier 33 and off I was (yeeeees, online tickets were still available).  Continue reading DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

A Nifty Internal Battery Mod for the Elecraft KX1

A Nifty Internal Battery Mod for the Elecraft KX1

by Leo (DL2COM)

I was very happy to learn more about an interesting internal battery solution that came with my recently purchased Elecraft KX1. The original owner, Rolf DF2FK, built this KX1 himself and has a background in electrical engineering. He wanted an internal solution that is safe and delivers the full power output with this transceiver.

elecraft kx-1 internal lipo battery pack
KX1 with custom balanced 4S Lipo battery pack

Disclaimer: Working on custom battery solutions can be very dangerous, esp. with Lipo batteries (possible fire, explosion when handled improperly etc.). Please take safety precautions when attempting to build the following solutions and make sure you stick to the safety instructions of the batteries you work on. Everything happens at your own risk – just like always in Ham Radio 🙂

So he developed an idea around a 4S Lipo pack consisting of 4×3.7V Lipo cells each with a capacity of 820 mAh and each with an own battery management system (BMS). Of course all four are connected in series. The individual BMSs help a great deal in keeping the Lipo cells safe such as avoiding deep discharge, excess charge etc. Continue reading A Nifty Internal Battery Mod for the Elecraft KX1

CQ From Latvia with Love

CQ From Latvia with Love

by Leo (DL2COM)

A completely under-prepped SOTA & WWFF activation which turned out to be perfect

In preparation for a tough conversation a good friend once told me: “You know what, just walk into the fire. If you have bad news to deliver, don’t sugar coat it and do it right away. You’ll be fine.” 

“Just walk into the fire.” I believe this can be applied to many other situations in life. While I would consider myself to be well-prepared on most trips, hikes and activations and getting a lot of joy out of optimizing my kits I try to stay open-minded. Imagine the things you would miss out on if you wouldn’t be spontaneous or only do things while fully prepared and 100% safe – even if it means taking risks.

On the road back to Riga
The QCX-Mini silently drying after a successful activation

Last Wednesday, I kind of walked into the fire. Not fire as in fire-fire but fire as in Latvian winter storm. In general this wouldn’t be such a big deal had I brought the right clothes, gear and shoes to my short business trip to Riga.

Due to very strict luggage restrictions I could only bring one small backpack for three days. Inside I had enough room for a laptop, washbag, spare clothes and the compact QCX-Mini Kit I built for exactly these occasions. I was wearing sneakers and jeans. At this point I had not planned a specific activation but I wanted at least to be able to operate YL/ & /p maybe 30 minutes from a nearby park – not a problem if you can jump right back into the warm hotel afterwards.

My rental car rocking summer tires in Winter (yes, I was driving veeeeeeery slowly)

During our stay, my schedule for Wednesday morning freed up so I decided to try activating one out of only three SOTA summits in Latvia: YL/YL-003. It turns out this summit is also located within WWFF territory YLFF-0007 about a 1,5h drive from Riga. Big Thanks to Val (YL2SW), Latvia’s WWFF manager, for assisting me with local rules and processing my log. A quick look at the weather forecast showed freezing temperatures, 90% chance of snow, heavy winds and overcast. Many of you will understand why a SOTA&WWFF combo in a rare country could be a small reason not to use the hotel’s sauna on a day like that. Sometimes things just need to get done.

Summit watchtower
The majestic watchtower on YL/YL-003

I got up early the next morning and was very happy to be able to grab a Bolt rental car from the street and get going quickly. The drive went by without issues up to a point just about 3km away from the mountain (well, 1-pointer hill I should say). The roads were completely covered in snow so I could barely see where I was driving. Latvia is a rather flat country but here it started to get a bit hilly and the tires were certainly not cut out for that. Continue reading CQ From Latvia with Love

7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

A SOTA road trip from Berlin to Tuscany via the Alps and back

sota-flag-mountain-panorama
On the summit of Kellerjoch OE/TI-311

by Leo (DL2COM)

Flashback March 2021: I am sitting on a couch in the countryside 2h north of Berlin, Germany. It’s a rainy day and my 1-year-old kid just fell asleep on my chest. I am watching Youtube and enjoying the feeling of just having maintained the chainsaw after a productive run preparing firewood.

Then suddenly something special got washed into my feed: Adam K6ARK activating a summit in CW somewhere on the U.S. West Coast. I thought: I have no idea what this wizardry is but this is exactly what I want to do. Right here, right now. Well I have a child to take care of, the next mountain with a prominence of >150m (~500 feet, min. requirement to be a valid SOTA summit) is 3h away, I don’t know what ham radio is, I have no license and what the heck is CW. 

sota-backpack
Complete SOTA kit incl. 6m mast

Jump to July 2022: I am sitting in my car commencing a vacation road trip to the south of Tuscany, Italy. Due to the chaotic luggage situation at EU airports and unreal prices for rental cars my family and I had decided that we would be better off if I drove down while my wife and kids took the plane without having to check in any bags (btw: best decision ever).

alps-panorama
Innsbruck embedded in the Inn valley

Our schedule allowed for me to leave a few days early so I could make room to do a little bit of hiking and throw in a few casual SOTA activations because why not. On top I saw that there were a few never activated summits in close proximity to where we planned to stay. I could feel my heart pumping already followed by a strong reassuring feeling radiating from the well-thought-through contents of my backpack in the trunk. Am I ready? Who cares. I am on my own now. I had completed a quick 1-pointer activation in May and a few POTAs but what was planned now was a different level.

sota-road-trip
From Berlin to Cortona (Tuscany) via Brenner pass (Alps) (Source: Sotl.as)

Going into detail about every summit would go beyond the scope of this article so here are just a few highlights: The first leg down to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area went by in a wink (7h drive). I passed most of the time rehearsing CW by singing license plates out loud. The fun peaked with plates along the lines of M-OT-9990 or E-SI-5545. It’s all about melody and timing, remember. I met up with my buddy Chris whom I hadn’t seen in a long time and who agreed to join me on the first hike up Zirbelkopf (8-points summit) to witness the cult activity I had tried and failed to explain to him beforehand.

Continue reading 7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

Leo’s first SOTA activation included impressive SSB QRP DX and a CW pile-up!

Many thanks to Leo (DL2COM) who writes:

Hey Thomas,

[…]I just wanted to give you a quick update on my 1st SOTA activation (May 18th). We spent a few days in the south of France with the extended family. From the garden of the house we rented we were constantly looking towards a beautiful mountain front and it turned out to be SOTA summit FR/CR-205 (726m, 2382ft). So I decided to try and activate it since we had enough people around who offered to watch out for our kids.

Next morning: 6am my dear XYL and I started our ascent.

What a wonderful scenery with morning mist covering most of the mountain landscape and the sun in perfect shape for an early hike.

At around 7:45am we arrived at the summit and I started throwing up my arborist weight into pretty much the only suitable tree available. Continue reading Leo’s first SOTA activation included impressive SSB QRP DX and a CW pile-up!

CW saves Leo’s POTA activation during a low battery warning!

Many thanks to Leo (DL2COM) who writes:

Thomas,

Today was crazy: when I woke up I thought it would be a good idea to attempt a first activation of DA-0171 in central Berlin after dropping off the kids at day care. So I grabbed my KX2 bag and jumped on my bike.

Shortly later I arrived at the park and pulled up my 40-10m EFHW and started calling CQ on SSB 40m.

It took me about 30 mins to realize that the KX2 was regulating the power down to 5W since both the internal and the external 4Ah battery I took with me were nearly dead.

I had one QSO with a German station and felt I wasn’t really heard anywhere. Then my KX2 started showing “low batt”.

It’s funny because attempting an activation isn’t really what one would call a very important thing, but I do develop quite an ambition if I have decided to get it done. So my only chance was using CW even though I am all but ready for that.

Having read your article about auto-spotting and watched many of your videos including POTA QSO style I didn’t think long and started calling CQ POTA on 20m.

OMG what followed was just amazing!

Fortunately I didn’t run into a classic pileup which would have been super overwhelming for me, but instead about every 2 minutes someone would reply to my call and in a very patient fashion – including one P2P QSO with an operator from Italy.

So all in all I completed 13 QSOs on a “low batt” warning of my KX2.

CW literally saved by butt and I am a very happy person. Without your work for the ham radio community this would not have been possible. So many thanks again.

On a different note: Last weekend (kit building seminar with the club) I had my first DX QSO. It was K3LU who picked up my call from my KX2 and a random wire 9:1 Unun antenna (L-Shape on a mast) with 28 and 17ft legs. I had to sit down and open a beer not able to do anything for about an hour but smile. Such a motivating event and I am happy he was such a great operator instantly QRSing with me and repeating his call. I am in touch with him and looking forward to receive his QSL card which will probably go in a frame.

I also finished the TR-35 and must say I am super impressed. It runs very quietly and the reduced concept is something I really appreciate. When will you take it into the field?

All the best & 73s de Leo (DL2COM)

Oh wow, Leo! I love this–thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience.

First of all, thank you for the kind comments–I’m honored to have even played a minor role in your CW activation. In truth, this is all chalked up to your determination and bravery! I’m guessing what you discovered is what I discovered during my first CW activation: not only is it not as bad as I had imagined, but it was actually fun and got the adrenaline pumping! 🙂 

I’m now happy to know that when I hit the Low Battery warning on my KX2, I still have some time left! In truth, the KX2 is so efficient, I’ve made six individual CW 5 watt activations on one charge of the internal battery without even hitting the low battery warning. 

Again, this story just makes my day. CW is such a fabulous, efficient, and magical mode! Good on you for diving in, OM!

I also think it’s brilliant that you worked Ulis (K3LU). You couldn’t have worked a better op for your first CW contact–he’s the real deal and a wonderful fellow. Not only that, but he has some amazing QSL cards!

And the TR-35? I couldn’t agree with you more. I did an activation with the TR-35 last Friday so a video and field report is forthcoming!

Thank you again, Leo! I hope others share their experience hitting CW for the first time (hint, hint!). 

Leo’s complete QCX-mini field kit and ZM-4 manual tuner kit

Many thanks to Leo (DL2COM) who recently reached out after watching my livestream with Josh at HRCC on the topic of QRP/CW portable. 

Leo shared some photos of a complete radio kit he built around the QCX-mini along with a ZM-4 ATU kit he also recently built. Leo has kindly agreed to share these on QRPer.com.

Leo notes:

Attached is a photo of my ultra light kit.

It consists of a QCX-Mini 20m version (self-built), K6ARK EFHW, Palm Radio Pico Paddle, Eremit 2Ah LiFePo battery, headphones and a few cables.

I usually also carry a small arborist kit and if there is still room also the 6m mast from Sotabeams, depending on what I think will work best.

I chose a hard case and went for the Peli 1060 Micro. It has room for everything I need and it could easily hold a bit of RG316 coax in addition (even more if I chose to shorten the 30m arborist line).

The main benefit for me is that I really don’t have to worry at all about what’s inside – compared to a soft pouch. So I can just shove it into my backpack or glove box and forget about it since this configuration is a lot more rugged and water proof – while being slightly heavier. Continue reading Leo’s complete QCX-mini field kit and ZM-4 manual tuner kit