What to do when where is a scheduled power outage in your neighborhood? Get yourself to the mountains and have some fun contacting your amateur radio friends. That's what I did today and I went to New Taipei City to climb Mount Erge, a one hour drive by car. Not a very strenuous mountain to climb, but it was my first summit since mid-September so I was not in the best of shape.
After a quick reminder of the perils of Taiwanese nature we headed off.
A sharp right turn after 130 meters.
There are two pavilions at the top. This was the first one I encountered, but the views from it were dismal.
This is the second one.
You can see the first pavilion when you are at the second one.
Quickly setting up the station and getting 7 QSOs in the log.
Had a coffee and lunch which consisted of instant porridge.
The Feicui water reservoir which feeds Taipei its drinking water.
A bit hazy, but you can still see Taipei 101.
Met some nice people from Ilan and had a long chat with them until I packed up and headed home at one.
I didn't have time to make a full video report, so I made a short one instead.
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Milestone today: after five and a half years of riding my 2003 Sanyang Titan 三陽悍將 I hit the 30,000 km mark.
Sotl.as has a nice activators page where you can see which summits you have conquered sofar and other interesting stats. This is a snapshot of today's map.
Activation of BV/HS-015 and BV/MI-032
Today a second try to activate Mt. Datun (BV/NT-013) and Mt. Miantian (BV/NT-019) in one day. I had already discussed to do a simultaneous activation with BX2AKP and via the BV-SOTA Line group we got some others on board as well. I made a YouTube video of this activation that sums it all up, so here only some additional notes.
The Yangming National Park area just north of Taipei is really quite different from the rest of Taiwan, not in the least because it is a volcano belt, so these two activations were also Volcanoes on the Air!!!
This early morning shot was taken not even 1000 meters ASL, but I was already amongst and above the clouds.
From Mount Datun you can see Mount Miantian and if you look closely you can see the microwave reflectors on top. Watch the video and you’ll see them up close.
The area is so nice the city government build a family recreation park in between the mountains. You can’t get there by car, only on foot.
The next hump over from Mount Miantian is called Mount Xiangtian and in the distance, across the Danshui rivier you can spot Mount Guanyin (BV/NT-036), which I activated last May.
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SOTA activation of BV/YI-034
Link to the YouTube video I made of this activation.
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Sunday morning, the last day of July and my "dad" duty for this morning was dropping off my son for an exam in a Taipei suburb. I had done my homework and the closest mountain I could activate after getting off duty was BV/NT-043, also known locally as Tianshang Mountain. This one is located in Tucheng - where I used to live in the 90s - and being familiar with the area meant I had no troubles getting there. Back in the day work was more important, so I never climbed Tianshang Mountain, but this was the day to do it. I was lucky to find a parking spot right away, so not the same misery I had when I wanted to activate Datun mountain. These urban mountains can be quite popular, so I'd rather like to do activations riding my scooter to avoid parking problems. It's cheaper, too.
The parking spot I found was right at the one of the entrances and the 500 meter (154 meter elevation difference) hike up only took 24 minutes. It was stairs all the way up.
The area around and behind Tianshang mountain is quite big and a heaven for hikers. Not difficult to walk and everything is very well indicated with signs.
Before arriving at the summit there were already some beautiful views, like this one of Guanyin mountain.
BV/NT-043 is only a 1-pointer at 430m ASL, but to my surprise the views at the (very small) summit were magnificent. You could see the whole of Taipei, Guanyin Mountain (which I activated on May 29) and also the back country.
The obligatory photo of me at the trig point.
I found a shady spot and set up my station. It took a bit of effort to get the first three QSOs in the log, so I called CQ on 2 meters and got two locals in the log. Activation successful! It was also the weekend of the IOTA contest, so maybe that had some influence.
I took a lot of time to shoot some photos and videos with my new phone and just enjoy the view. Then I had a second round of calling CQ on 20 meters and got one S2S QSO in the log.
Always looking out for Taipei 101.
Close to midday it was getting hot and I packed up and headed down the other way, completing the circular route. On the way down I passed this pavilion with some people cooking their lunch. There are many such pavilions in the area.
Because of the heat I usually don't have much of an appetite, so the one sandwich was quickly consumed and then back home via an alternative mountain road. That took way more time than going back via the highway, but it was worth it. A Sunday well spent and one more SOTA activation added to my list.
Brought the three Ultimate3S sets to BV2BJ who will hand them over to BV2AP. Project finished.
Larry also gave me one of his oscilloscopes as a permanent loaner. It's got a slight LCD issue, but I can live with that. Great to finally have one to play around with.
During the last week I did a burn-in test of the three Ultimate3S sets. The results were encouraging. I feel confident enough that they can go to BV2AP now.
Since my attempt to activate my first 4-point SOTA summit (Datung Mountain) on June 5 was thwarted, I had to find another one to try. It became Dongyan Mountain (BV/TA-008), or East Eye mountain, located in the national park of the same name. Knowing that this is a very popular one-day family outing and that the daytime temperature would go up to 36 degrees Celsius I decided to head out early: 6 a.m to be precise. After some 50 minutes on my trusty 125 cc Sanyang scooter I arrived with the gates still closed and the first bunch of people already lined up to buy tickets. Yes, this was the first time I had to pay to get on a mountain: US$3.35 to get into the park and because I put my scooter outside the gate I saved the extra 65 cents parking fee. You might call me stingy, but it was only a short walk to the visitors center and the parking lot in the park itself was not far from the entrance at all, so why not get the extra exercise?
When I arrived at the visitors center it was already 27 degrees Celsius, with 77% humidity, the UV index still 0 and at 913 meters elevation I had to go up 300 meters to the top.
I chose to walk the circular route, clockwise, so I first took the path on the upper left to the green dot at the top. The entrance was here and it said a 1770m to go to the top.
I had started a new alternative treatment for my chronic sinusitis earlier in the week and the effects were noticeable because I felt great. From what I gathered from others the hike (1770 meters) up should take between 70 and 80 minutes, but with a steady, slow pace I did it in 56 minutes. Woohoo, no souring up my legs, no panting, no extended breaks: it was awesome! It did help that most of the way the path was paved, or had stairs and that helped in gaining some speed.
At the top I met some nice ladies and they took this photo of me at the trig point...
A quick look from the observation deck and I decided to go down in the activation zone a little, because - as is usual in Taiwan - the summit was very small. I found a bench close by, set up my gear and started calling CQ. No GSM coverage, so I couldn't spot myself, but I guessed the regulars would find me anyway. I was wrong: nobody answered and when I started calling stations from Japan I could heard loud and clear, they never came back. Hmmm, maybe not such a good spot after all. So I packed up, climbed back up to the observation platform and set myself up in a corner so not to bother anyone.
It did the trick and within half an hour I had 8 QSOs in the log: JH7IOT, 7N1FRE, JA1VRY, JH1MXV, VK5CZ, JH7XRG, JA9MJR, and ZL1TM, all in CW and all on 15 meters. There was one Chinese station who called me, but despite him being very strong he never came back to me. A pity, it would have been my first Chinese SOTA QSO. No SOTA snakes were seen this time, but a very big SOTA fly kept me company, quietly sitting on my leg and just refusing to leave when nudged it off.
From the platform you had some nice views all the way to Taipei. It was a bit hazy, but you could faintly see Taipei 101 in the distance.
At 11 o'clock it already became so busy I decided to head down. With this much people at the top it's not much fun.
I went down the other part of the circular route, which was as easy to walk as the way up, but with a leisurely pace it took me 67 minutes. There were beautiful trees and some art work made with wood gathered from the forest.
Back at the visitors center. A bit more crowded than when I was there at 07:30 a.m.
Back to the entrance and my bike then, with some beautiful flowers on the way.
My scooter was still in the same place and the reason I rode it instead of driving became apparent very soon: slow traffic. Fuxing district is a very popular destination on the weekends, but there is only a two lane road, with many people parking at the side of it. So even riding a two-wheeler it was slow going, but I made it home safe and sound.
Some beautiful views on the way back home.
The APRS plot, with my HG-UV98 acting as a beacon transmitter.
The BS170 MOSFETs came in and they are all from Motorola. After replacing the ones from set C with these - hopefully a bit better matched - ones the set put a lot more power in the dummy load, but not merely as much as set B, which put out 1.2 Watts on 80 and 40 meters!!! That is also an anomaly, but one that I can live with. Now for the burn-in test.
Finished assembling all the Ultimate3S sets and troubleshooting set C, which didn't put out merely enough power as it should. I ordered a bunch of BS170 MOSFETs because I think the problem is that the three BS170 MOSFET currents are not balanced enough, so that they don't switch at the same time. I ordered some new BS170s from a local source.
The second Ultimate3S has been assembled:
And it's working, too.
The enclosures for the Ultimate3S sets have finally come in. It took longer than expected and the Chinese postal system is partly to blame for that, just letting the package sitting somewhere for a week and then doing three security checks on it. Clearly a case of bullying the "fellow countrymen" in Taiwan.
Assembled one set, but it took such a lot of tinkering that I didn't test it. Had to make some special plates to cover up the RS232 hole in the back of the case and use them to fit the SMA connector for the GPS.
The LPFs are all wound and tested.
[Insert video here later when upload limit has been raised]
On June 28 I had an impromptu activation of BV/TA-012, Shimen Mountain (551 meters high, a SOTA 2-pointer), a very popular local hiking spot. Exactly for that reason I had avoided activating it on the weekends, but this Tuesday we had a scheduled power outage the entire day, and with the weather hot and humid (29C, 67% respectively) there was no incentive to stay at home without A/C or a fan. Shimen Mountain, here I come!
After a short scooter ride I was in Longtan and found the entrance to the Xiao-cu-keng (小粗坑) historic trail.
I walked some historic trails before and they can be quite fun to walk. This one has some interesting history to it and is easy to walk, but because of the Plum rain season the amount of vegetation had exploded and the ground was very slippery. Sometimes the path I was walking on was a literal stream of water running down.
In the middle of the trail was the entrance to Shimen Mountain and going up there also took me longer than expected. What would have taken 45 minutes on a normal day took me almost twice as much today.
But at 11:20 I arrived at the summit and set up my station on a stone bench. ZL1TM was the fist to come back to my CQs, then JA1VRY, JH1MXV, JR8SGE and JA9MJR. All QSOs were on 15 meters and because I hardly ever work other bands I forced myself to call CQ on 20 meters for a while. It wasn't a success until Steve (JS6TMW) answered. I know Steve from our satellite QSOs and he doesn't live that far away in Okinawa, hence 20 meters is a better band for us to communicate than 15 meters. So we had our first HF QSO and as Steve is also into SOTA I hope that one day we'll have a S2S one as well.
After a short lunch (a single sandwich) I was on the way back down, but then my phone's screen started acting up. Xiaomi makes phones with nice specs and excellent prices, but after a year or two you better watch out, because they can suddenly fail on you (he said from experience). Not to get into more trouble I headed down to the official entrance and walked a paved road back down to my scooter. Better to walk, but a longer distance, constantly going downhill and therefore not great for my calves. They were hurting for the rest of the week.
The scooter ride back home was quick and easy and nice too: I could see Taipei 101 towering over the mountains in the distance. I was home at 2 o'clock and after a shower and an ice cream cone the power came back up. I didn't notice because I was taking a nap on the couch, tired from a longer than expected activation and getting some rest before heading to work later that afternoon. SOTA is fun, but you can't let it interfere with your job, can you?
Spend a weekend working on the three Ultimate3S sets. Got all the boards assembled and had to troubleshoot one display which was not showing anything, or only intermittently.
Got the main part of the Ultimate3S order in.
I got a request to build three Ultimate3S sets for BV2AP. He wants to set up a propagation monitoring network and since I already have one set I am considered an expert on the matter. The best thing is that I'm going to get paid for it, so some extra money in the ham chest. Made the order today:
After doing 9 SOTA activations of 1 and 2 point summits, I felt I was ready for my first 4 point SOTA summit, going over 1000 meter ASL. When I activated Guanyin Mountain (BV/NT-036) last week I could see Datun Mountain (BV/NT-013) on the other side of the Danshui river and it seemed a not too difficult mountain to conquer. So plans were made, maps studied and routes planned.
Sunday June 5 came and after dropping off my daughter, who had to be in Taipei, I drove up Yangmingshan National Park towards Datun Mountain. The weather was nice on this Sunday morning and the ride easy......until I arrived at the parking lot. Only some 20 cars could park there and it was packed, with a queue in front of the entrance, and no road side parking possible at all.
The Yangmingshan National Park entrance
Okay, plan B then: go to the nearby Erziping Visitors Center, park there and activate Miantian Mountain (BV/NT-019). Problem was the road leading there was completely blocked with heavy traffic as half of Taipei apparently wanted to go there. So forget plan B, quickly think of plan C.
A quick search on SOTL.as and I decided to see if Xiao (Little) Guanyin Mountain (BV/NT-015) was reachable. It seemed it was, but unfortunately Plan C also didn't work because the road going up to there was private property (lots of TV stations have there transmitters there). Exasperated I almost decided to head back home to call it a day.
I checked SOTL.as one more time and decided that Shamao Mountain (BV/TP-002) in Taipei City proper was going to be Plan D: my last attempt. I drove there, found a roadside parking spot and located the entrance. Only a 2-pointer at 645 meter ASL, but better than nothing and at least it was to be my first Taipei mountain to conquer.
There are three ways to get up Shamao Mountain, two climbing stone stairs, one a forest trail. I parked closest to the forest trail and, with rests, it took me an hour and a half to get up there. It wasn't an easy climb, with dense vegetation and lots of ropes in various places to help you hoist yourself up. Almost at the top there were some remains of an old pavilion built for a visiting Japanese prince.
Found the trig point
A few meters from the trig point I found a well maintained panoramic viewing platform at the top and that compensated for the ruggedness of the ascent.
I fumbled a bit with the antenna, because until now I always used a ground stake to mount it on, but on this platform I had to use straps to mount the antenna to the barrier. That was a first! But I got it done and could finally start my activation.
I wasn't disappointed with many Japanese chasers present and two S2S contacts. F4WBN and ZL1TM were also showing up and I made my first SOTA QSO on 6 meters with Japan. To round it off one FM QSO on 2 meters with BU2CC and then it was time to head back home.
A friendly fellow hiker advised me to take the stairs down as it was easier to walk, and after a look on the map I liked the idea of walking a circular route. It was easier, and then it wasn't. The forest route up was varied, with parts to climb and parts to walk, which I like. The stairs were just that, non-stop, no variation, no resting places, just steps all the way down.
Back on the street I found the connecting street that would bring me back to my car, only to find it was private property, so I couldn't pass. Bummer, but close by I found a third, older flight of stairs, not on the map, which I guessed would connect to the forest trail, which I could then take to go down. Older, in this case, meant not being used and maintained, and for another first I had to bushwack my way up, which was very slow going. But my guess was right and I did connect to the forest trail and made it back to the car. Completely knackered, but happy to have found this abandoned trail and walked it.
So plan D did work out in the end, although not in the way I had hoped it would. Still, I netted another 2 points, activated my first Taipei City mountain, had a first 6m SOTA QSO, and traversed through some wild forest on an undocumented trail for the first time as well. That's enough firsts for one day.
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It almost didn't happen. My goal for 2022 was to do at least one activation every month. But with the Plum Rain Season hitting Taiwan in force, every weekend in May was a no-go. That was, until the last one. With the ground soaked with water I had to choose an easy summit to climb, so BV/NT-036 it became. It is also known as Mount Guanyin (觀音山), named after the feminine Bodhisattva of compassion Guanyin. Apparently it looks like this goddess is lying on her back when you view it from afar. You can judge for yourself with this photo.
It's a SOTA 2-pointer and I have climbed before.......this day 28 years, 6 months and 17 days ago. Then it was with my Chinese language teacher, her husband and a fellow student from Indonesia. I wasn't a ham then, but a very fanatical shortwave DXer. Even then not much hair on my head.
I got there early and it was all stairs up to the top. Still slippery with all the wet leaves covering the steps. For me it wasn't a fun walk up. The temperature had already reached 28°C and the humidity was 98%. I worked out during the weeks I couldn't get out, and that was a good thing, because my legs felt much stronger. But I was panting like mad, most likely due to the sinusitis I had two weeks ago and the subsequent use of anti-biotics, which always has a use impact on my bowels. (But let me stop here, otherwise I sound like I'm on 80 meters).
From top to bottom: clouds, mountains, clouds, mountains.
1450 meters to Yinhanling
Yinhanlin is where the antennas are.
Statue of Guanyin.
Beautiful flower displays while walking up.
Guanyin is a very popular area to walk and hand out.
Still slippery because of all the leaves.
I made the 250 meter elevation difference in less than an hour, and once you're on the top all the hardship from climbing up disappears instantly. Beautiful clear views to be had there.
Danshui with the entrance to the Danshui river.
A good overview of how Taipei is situated in a large basin.
View towards Taoyuan.
The sorry looking sign that says we're at Guanyin Mountain in Bali District.
At the Yinghanlong memorial.
It was already getting crowded and I quickly found a spot to do my activation. Five minutes to set up, putting out two spots (one on SOTAwatch, the other on our local SOTA chat group), and then calling CQ. Witht the WPX underway I chose 17 meters and got the attention of a few OMs from Japan. But I also got a lot of attention from bugs. I never encountered these creatures before, but they were crawling all over you. In the beginning I simply brushed them off, but after 15 minutes they covered me all over and even crawled into my mouth and ears. Other people around me were also complaining about them, but no bug spray helped.
These are the tiny little bugs that crawled all over me.
There were also other true bugs in all sorts of colors and sizes, but they were just harmless and fun to play with. But these small buggers made continuing the activation impossible, so I packed up and went for another round of making some photos.
The only photo I took of my activation: there were so many bugs there in all colors and sizes
Only a small place to hang out on top, so naturally very crowded, especially on a Sunday.
Until now I've had a "first" on every activation I did. What about this time? Sure, there was, because just before I went down I saw a gentlemen wearing a CTARL shirt, with CTARL being a local amateur radio club. I asked him if he was a ham and indeed he was: BU2DB. He was there just scouting the area and didn't bring any equipment. We had a talk and I called CQ on our local SOTA frequency. Lo-and-behold some people were listening in and after logging three more QSOs I handed my HT to BU2DB and he also had three QSOs. Not enough for a successful activation, but still the beginning is there.
And while we were having QSOs another ham showed up as well: BX4AL. Long time no see, because it was over 6 years ago that we last met and we didn't even recognize each other. Oops! Guess we both aged a bit too much.
So after my "first" of randomly meeting some fellow hams on an activation I headed down to the car to brew some Vietnamese coffee and have lunch.
Feeling refreshed again I headed down to the beach to relax a bit and smell the salty air before heading home.
Got some nice comments and tips from my post on Stack Exchange and I experimented with the coupling capacitor C5 a bit. I actually used a 0.68p capacitor and changing it into a 1p one brought up the insertion loss to -12 dB, but nothing more. The return loss improved to -50dB, so that is a major step forward. Still not good enough, that is if I can trust the measurements of the nanoVNA.
A busy day and in the morning I first made another bandpass filter, because I wasn't happy with the one I made before. I changed the design a little from inductive coupling to capacitive and the result was this design.
The finished filter looked like this....
And connected to the nanoVNA....
The plots shown here gave me a insertion loss of -14dB and a return loss of almost -32dB which is not great. I posted a question on Stack Exchange and let's see what tip they come up with.
The rest of the day I kept building Manhattan-style and by night the VRX-1 was finished. No smoke coming out of any components and after putting in the crystal and attaching an antenna and loudspeaker I got noise coming out of it.
AMAZING!!! It worked the first time. That must be a first for me, such a complex build and it works the first time I fire it up. Still a lot of rough edges to deal with, but first success is mine.
Work on the VRX-1 is slowly progressing. I made a working oscillator using the Manhattan method on a bare piece of PCB stock, with a 175 pF varicap in series with the crystal so I have a 9 kHz tunable band now around 14.060 MHz.
Next was the filter. The original VRX-1 was designed for 40 meters and since I want a receiver for 20 meters I had to recalculate the values. I simply took them from QRP labs bandpass filters but they are different in that they are inductively coupled and not capacitive. After I built one I used the NanoVNA I got from BX2AB to measure the shape.
To say it still needs a bit of work is an understatement. The center frequency is more or less where it should be, but the filter is hugely undercoupled. I found an online calculator and got some different values to experiment with, so that's a job for the coming week.
Doing 15 km in 50 minutes already. Tired the next day, but not overly.
With the plum rain season underway and no way to go out I started researching QRP rigs as an alternative for my KX3. Buying it out of the question now, but I have all the parts in house to build my own rig, and as a real ham you have to build your own transceiver at least once in your ham career. I started looking for receiver designs and stumbled upon the VRX-1 from the 4 State QRP group. This is a retired kit they once sold, but the schematics were still available.
I started out by lifting the crystal oscillator (a Colpitts one) from the schematics and building it on a breadboard with a 14.060 MHz crystal I had in my stock of crystals.
I never used my DMM as a frequency counter, so I tried it instead of using my transceiver to see if the contraption was oscillating and indeed it was. Not on 14.060 MHz, though, but two kiloHertz lower. When I removed C4 from the breadboard it did oscillate on 14.060 MHz, so why is this? First mystery that has to be solved.
Experimenting with off-setting the crystal: I put three different inductors in between the crystal and ground. It did indeed pull down the frequency.
2μH 🠚 14.056 MHz
5μH 🠚 14.054 MHz
11 μH 🠚14.045 MHz
Then I substituted the inductor for a variable capacitor (6-175 pF) and got a whopping 8 kHz of bandwidth around 14.060 MHz.
I did some experimenting with a double crystal and that pulled the frequency up to 14.071 MHz, but it also pulled up the lower frequency, so it didn't seem worth the extra crystal.
Next step is to build this Manhattan style.
With the plum rain season underway not much possibility to go out. Still, I need to exercise so I bought this.
Only NT$3000, but already more than ten years old. Hardly used and a Takasima, so quality stuff and I am sure it will last another ten years.
First try: 5 km in 15 minutes. (Was knackered afterwards).
Already the eight SOTA activation for me.
Wait! What happened to number 7?
That was done on Saturday night. BX2AI was going to activate BV/TA-013 Da Dong mountain for the Trans-Atlantic S2S party and I decided to join him, just for fun. I had already activated this one (it was my first ever activation), so no points for me, but I promised a local ham that I would do a VHF activation so he could score his first SOTA chaser point. We drove up and enjoyed a view of Taipei at night, then I called CQ on 2 meters and had some fun QSOs.
On Sunday (April 24) I had already planned to activate BV/TA-010 a.k.a. Pillow Mountain, named because of its steep sides and shape that looks like a pillow. This mountain has quite some history to it, because it was the site of fierce battles between the Japanese occupational army and Taiwanese aboriginals some 113 years ago. Hence, the sign says “Ancient Battery Trail.”
A half hour trip by motor took me to the entrance and it became clear very soon that this summit wasn’t a popular one and it wasn’t a going to be an easy hike, either. There wasn’t anything at the entrance, apart from a lonely house, no signs along the track, only some newly built but already overgrown stairs.
These were the nicest views I got. The second photo is the summit I needed to go to.
Then I saw the first rope, which usually means a treacherous section or a very steep one. It was the latter and there were many ropes to follow the initial one, because you needed them badly: inclines were steep, the ground was dirt with small rocks, with very few dents to put your feet in, so slippery. It took me over half an hour of pulling and struggling, and by then I wasn’t even half way through. The second half was a little easier and 20 minutes later I was there, at the top.
I was greeted by a observation platform without any view, some solar panels and a buzzing cabinet attached to one with a mast and antenna sticking into the sky. That installation was for a satellite positioning system and there was a sign nearby explaining it.
This was the view from the observation platform
But all-in-all a rather dreary looking summit and I decided to make it a quick activation. My mood was not improving when I noticed that the weather was turning for the worse and half an hour later I already heard the first thunder in the distance and soon after saw the first raindrops on my KX3.
The trig point.
I called CQ, put a spot on SOTAwatch and worked mostly Japanese stations (Thank you, chasers!), all on 17 meters. I also tried 20 meters, but some noise was found there and all the VK and ZL stations that were active on the SSB portions were not heard. There was also a JA contest going on, so not much chance to get through anyway. I tried 12 meters, but only found one station there (VK9NT) and worked him in a lull.
Then I looked up from the rig and my eyes were drawn to the left of me. There, at a distance of about 3 meters, was a huge snake lying on the stairs, curled up without a care in the world, looking at me with its mouth wide open. Apparently a SOTA snake, interested in joining my activation! It didn’t hiss, but nevertheless I was scared as hell, not being used to snakes. I quickly got up, hid behind the fence of the observation platform and grabbed my glasses and camera. With me gone the snake decided to leave as well and for me it was luckily in the opposite direction. This was the only photo I could snap of it.
With the help of BV3US it was identified as a Taiwan Beauty Snake 3 (黑眉錦蛇), a Taiwanese native snake with the Latin name Elaphe taeniurus friesei, the largest snake that can be found in Taiwan. It can become 280 cm long, but the one I saw was more like 150 cm or so. It’s non-venomous and its tail looks like a train track and that is what sets it aside from the more common King Rat snake.
After the encounter with SOTA snake I got another scare from a huge, sudden thunderclap nearby, so I decided to pack up and head down. Better be safe than sorry. It only took me 27 minutes to cover the 1.14 km distance and 200 meter elevation difference and luckily I had gloves to protect my hands from burns caused by the rope.
So not a very fun activation and Pillow Mountain is not one I will easily visit again. But it gained me 2 SOTA points and another good story to tell my students tomorrow. On to activation number 9.
Another couple of firsts today for our activation of BV/NT-025, Lion's Head Mountain, a SOTA 2-pointer in Xindian District, New Taipei City. I wrote "our" because my daughter accompanied me for the first time doing SOTA. At 16 years of age she has more experience with mountain hiking than her old man because of the numerous school outings she has had. But today's goal was to experience doing something together, a time-out from our regular lives, away from all the hustle and bustle.
The weather wasn't great to start with, this Sunday morning and the rain had made the ground soggy, with the many fallen leaves making it slippery as well. Temperature only 17 C and foggy, too. I was hoping that by noon the weather would have improved a bit, but it actually became a somewhat worse and colder, so that was a first as well. BV/NT-025 is actually not the main peak called Lion's Head, but the one in front, so aptly named "In Front of the Lion's Head". If you enter from the south it is really pronounced.
You have to climb a wooden fixed ladder and this is quite steep.
At the top not much there, just the trig point and not much of a view.
I quickly used a rock and a fallen sign post to set up my station and in 20 minutes I had six QSOs in the log. It could have been even quicker, but cell coverage was mediocre and I couldn't get a spot out at first. But when I did the Kiwi with the best ears in all of New Zealand came back to my CQ: Andrei, ZL1TM. There were also JA1VRY, JH1MXV (he has chased me 5 out of 6 activations), YB1TIA (first time being chased from Indonesia), JF7RJM and JH7IOT.
I was getting really cold and we were both covered by fog droplets now, so time to pack up and get warm by hiking. We walked the ridge and got to Lion's Head. By then we wanted to get back to the car (also a first; my previous activations were all done by riding my scooter), but my daughter didn't want to climb down the wooden ladder because it was so slippery. Safety first and I agreed with her, but that meant that we had to find an alternative way down. So we walked down all the way to the Lion's Tail mountain entrance and then took an ancient hiking trail back to the car.
All-in-all we walked three hours without much rest and it was heavy on both of us. We didn't encounter any picnic or resting place, so we skipped our planned lunch of hot porridge. Instead we drove down the mountain into Xindian to find the first McDonald's Drive-thru we could find after which we chomped on hot french fries and corn soup in the car.
Not the most fun activation, or climb, but very interesting indeed and another good learning experience. My new backpack worked really well, although it is not the most comfortable pack to wear I found out. It is narrower than my previous pack, with a stiffer frame. It doesn't hurt or cut into body parts, but you feel it's there. For a day hike it's fine, for a multi-day through hike it's not. But hey, that's why they call it tactical backpacks.
But the experience of hiking with my daughter was priceless. I'm really proud of her, because given the choice she would obviously not have gone out with me. But she did, because I told her it would be good for both of us...........and it was.
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Until now I have using my son's 42 liter Rhino trekking backpack. I never found it a very handy packpack, with all the dangling straps, difficult access and too few compartments. It resulted in the loss of my HT on my second activation (and that still hurts, I can tell you) so I started searching for a handier solution.
Many hours of googling later it resulted in this....
.....the purchase of a Helikon-Tex Ratel Mk2 cordura fabric, YKK zippered, MOLLE/PALS compatible tactical backpack in Multicam color pattern, designed in Poland, crafted in Vietnam.
As with many things in Taiwan: there is choice, but limited. I could have gone for a cheap Chinese pack (nah, you'll regret it), a Taiwanese branded one (expensive), or order one from abroad and wait an eternity (.....). So when I found a store close by that sells Helikon-Tex and at a good price I decided to go for it. Online reviews of Helikon-Tex are usually positive, with quality almost always scoring high. The only thing that held me back was the volume: only 25 liters.
So I went to the store with all my gear in the Rhino backpack and they gave me a Helikon-Tex Ratel Mk2 to try it out.
I had room left in the Rhino when I was packed up, but amazingly I also had plenty of room left in the Helikon-Tex Ratel. So much so that I decided to buy one on the spot. The two boxes with radio gear fit in snug and so does the orange cooking kit. In the lower front pockets there are spare clothes and rain gear with room to spare, and in the upper one essentials that you need to grab in an instant: mosquito repellent, sunscreen, spare battery, etc. Exactly the way I want it.
But as I said, in Taiwan you have choice, but only limited: I could either choose between a very foul brown looking one or the camouflage version. The latter one was US$10 more expensive, but one sigh later it became mine.
Tactical backpacks usually don't come with side pockets, but since the Helikon-Tex Ratel Mk2 has MOLLE webbing I bought two additional water bottle pouches and a pouch for my HT. One water bottle pouch acts as a pocket to strap the antenna and walking stick to the pack, the other is for an actual bottle. I really wanted to buy a shoulder strap pocket for the HT, but they didn't have one that could clamp around the strap, so I went for a regular MOLLE one. Not ideal, but at least the HT has a fixed place and hopefully won't get lost again.
One hundred and two US dollars lighter I walked out the store, but happy that I found the pack I like. And since the weather is looking good enough this Sunday, I can try it out for the first time and I'm really looking forward to it. Stay tuned.
Already my fifth activation and another couple of firsts: first time I climbed 溪洲山（Xi Zhou Mountain), BV/TA-011. First time this summit was activated and also the first time I had the luxury of a table and bench to make my QSOs even more enjoyable.
BV/TA-011 is one of my two "home town" summits, so it only took 20 minutes on my scooter to get to the entrance near the old hiking trail called 大艽芎古道 (Dà Jiāo Qiōng).
Usually people take the longer route, starting in Longtan, passing 新溪洲山（New Xi Zhou Mountain, but I was running late on this Saturday afternoon. Afterwards I was glad that I took the shorter trail, because the 2 kilometers up took me a little more than an hour. But it was a great hike, alternating between walking and climbing, with some parts a little treacherous.
At the top views from both sides, one being Taoyuan City, the other Shimen Reservoir. In Taoyuan and Hsinchu we rely on this reservoir for our water supply and without rain or typhoons we will get into trouble, with water rationing as a result. Last year it didn't rain all spring, so rationing was imminent, then it started to rain in earnest in June and we were saved at the last minute.
View of Taoyuan City.
At the trig point.
Setting up was a breeze and by 0830 UTC I gave my first CQ. Half an hour later 9 QSOs in the log, one of which an S2S and two calls from Europe (with vaguely familiar call signs like F4WBN and OK2PDT; thank you both for the first contacts ;-). All on 21 MHz, but for the last QSO I switched to 14 MHz, because I wanted to give Gene (BX8AAD), an old friend from down south in Taiwan, a couple of chaser points and 21 MHz was just skipping over him.
I also wanted to do some local 2 meter FM contacts, but knowing that going down would also take an hour and with dusk rapidly approaching I packed up and was back at the trail's entrance just in time before it became dark. A pity, because I really liked 溪洲山（Xi Zhou Mountain), both the climb as well as the views on top and the relaxed way in which I could activate it. I'll be back there next year, without a doubt.
But the last surprise I had was when I looked at my APRS beacons and found that I had received one from BV6YA-2, all the way from Tainan. So there were some conditions that afternoon.
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The JA SOTA QSO party on Sunday March 20th was my fourth SOTA activation. A week before the event the weather forecast didn't look very promising, with lots of rain coming in. After consulting with BU2EQ I decided to activate BV/HS-017(大山背山), not far from my third activation in Hsinchu. BU2EQ would be camping at the nearby summit BV/HS-013(向天湖山), and BX2AI would be camping a bit further down south at BV-HS-012(梅山頂). So in Taiwan we had a real SOTA triangle, but don't worry: nobody vanished in this one. During the week the forecast started getting better and better and by Friday partly sunny skies and 28° Celsius were predicted!!! The SOTA gods were clearly in our favour.
Learning from my past SOTA activations I scouted the route to my summit on Saturday and found that BV/HS-017 was basically a drive-up with a big pagoda acting as a resting area. Many locals come here to enjoy the view of Hsinchu, have lunch or afternoon tea. There is a possibility to walk up from the other side, but for this time I decided to take it easy and ride up and park my scooter close by.
So on Sunday I got up at 05:30 and after packing some sandwiches I mounted my scooter, which covered the 37 kilometers to the summit in 55 minutes. When I arrived I had a bit of a surprise: an army jeep was parked behind the pagoda. Two green masts with vertical antennas mounted to it and two men in green fatigues keeping watch. Being afraid that I there was a possibility that I had to blow off my activation I inquired if they would mind me doing my thing and if there was a change we could interfere with each other. Luckily they were just a portable air force VHF repeater system set up for the day and they only used the lower part of the VHF band, so no conflicts there.
Setting up after that was quick and easy and by 07:30 I made my first QSO, which was my first S2S one of the day. Many more S2S QSOs followed. 15 meters was the hot band and I stayed there most of the morning. I had some problems with BU2EQ being only 5 kilometers and a few kiloHertz away, but he luckily he didn't operate CW all the time, dividing his attention between CW, SSB and FT8. BX2AI, who was a bit farther away, was coming in very strong but not wreaking any havoc to the front-end of my KX3. I alternated between calling CQ and chasing other SOTA stations, mostly staying on 15 meters. When calling CQ I did experience some pile-ups and didn't really know how to handle them. I might have missed some nice DX calls because of my inexperience, but that's life.
I also brought my new HT - a LanchonLH HG-UV98 with build in GPS, Bluetooth and APRS - and an Arrow 3-element yagi and I had 8 QSOs on 2 meters FM with local OMs. With the Arrow, 5 Watts and being 705 meters ASL it was easy to cover the 55 kilometers to Taipei. I got some nice reactions in our local chat group later on and it is good to see that a SOTA activation can bring people back to VHF, which is largely underused here in Taiwan, except for unlicenced taxis and truckers.
In the end the military guys turned out to be really nice. They were army, but deployed to the air force to handle communications. One knew a lot about amateur radio and we all agreed that the local situation in Taiwan is messy, to say the least. They gave me some army food which was pretty good and I brewed coffee for them. Advantage of riding up most of a mountain is that you can bring your Bialetti Moka Express and a small camping stove. For me SOTA is about being outdoors and enjoying life and this fitted right in. Nothing better than enjoying a fresh brew while enjoying some nice scenery.
But in the beginning of the afternoon I was getting tired and it was getting busy as well, so time to break up and head for home. It was kind of disappointing that I didn't work any VK stations and only two chasers from north America, but with 31 QSOs in total, of which 15 were S2S, I was still very much satisfied.
Another 37 kilometers back on my scooter, but this time it took a little longer due to a short stop at a McDonald's to enjoy a well deserved ice cream. What a wonderful, enjoyable and relaxing day. And all because of the excellent idea to hold a JA SOTA QSO party. I hope we can do it again, soon.
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I got myself a new toy to replace my lost toy. Thanks to BX2AB who ordered it for a factory price, directly from Quanzhou.
The weather bureau promised fine weather last Sunday, but it was also a Sunday I had to work. So why not a Saturday late afternoon activation? Maybe a good chance to work some Europeans when they wake up on Saturday morning. So I chose the only 1-point summit in Hsinchu county, BV/HS-019, a.k.a. Xiahengkeng mountain (下橫坑山).
I set off at 2 p.m. and I rode my old but trusty 125 cc Sanyang scooter to the township of Guanxi, in Hsinchu county. I had calculated a route to a local temple and from there I would traverse one 468 m mountain to go to the one needed for my activation. The name of the temple also happened to be the name of the local scenic area, so Google decided to send me in a totally different direction. Lesson learned: don't trust Google maps and double check your input. But it being the mountains it took me over an hour and a 25 kilometer detour to finally get to another starting point where I could get to Xiahengkeng mountain.
Photo 1: the entry point.
Photo 2: mountaineering clubs usually put ribbons at various points to indicate the correct path.
Photo 3: this was an easy part of the climb, with typical vegetation on either side of the path.
Photo 4: the best view I could get on this climb.
The route from there was actually better than the one I originally planned to go on, because it only took seven minutes to go the 60 meters in elevation and reach the triangular marker. But it was in quite a secluded spot. Really nobody around, far from civilization and I didn't see or speak anybody, not even in the distance. Quite a contrast to my first and second activations. No view at the top, either, only vegetation. But being far away from people and buildings was actually a good thing, because even with the preamp turned on my KX3 was whisper quiet. That was one of the reasons for me to start doing SOTA: I can never ever get this at home. Pure joy!
Photo 5: not much room to move at the top.
Photo 6: the triangulation point; number 88.
First QSO was with OH1MM on 15 meters, so reaching Europe was a success. Then some Japanese chasers and one S2S QSO with JP3PPL/3 who was on JA/HG-052. Another OH station and then VK6NU to round it off. I took a little break to eat and drink something and then packed up.
Photo 7: the GP extended for 15 meter operation.
Of course I made a wrong turn going down and wasted a couple of minutes going in the opposite direction (lesson leaned: don't trust your sense of direction), but by five-thirty I was back where I left my scooter. Another hour and 25 kilometers later I was home in time for dinner.
So a successful third activation. I didn't lose anything this time, except an hour to get to the right spot. I could have spend that hour relaxing on the summit and having some more QSOs, but it wasn't to be. On the other hand, my now finished SOTA antenna performed really well and it only took a minute to set up and take down. The rest of the setup is also working fine, so that part is sorted now. The new thing I tried was logging with VK3ZPF's VK port-a-log app for Android. That worked a charm and saved me a lot of stress and time. I haven't done a lot of CW for a while and I was never good at it. But I find that by not using pen and paper to write down what you hear (that's what I do at home) and only enter the essentials in the VK port-a-log app you concentrate more on the code and that makes decoding easier and much more enjoyable, at least for me.
So now the next thing to improve is navigation. I already found that Open Street Map's maps are much better when it comes to hiking trails. They are more complete and detailed than any other offering. The OSM Android app is really good for checking where you are on the trail, but not so much for taking directions. On my phone the combination of the OSM app and my GPS is really slow, especially then you change directions. The Google Maps app performs much better and also has a much better interface. OSM also always wants me to take the highways, which have restricted access for motorcycles here in Taiwan. (Not that I want to go on the highway with a 125cc scooter, but even larger bikes are forbidden to use the highways. I know, Taiwan is sometimes very weird).
Next weekend is the JA SOTA QSO party weekend and I'll be in Hsinchu again for my first 2 point summit activation. Let's hope the weather stays as warm, friendly and especially dry as the last few days. Looking forward to it.
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First time that I can hear the IBP beacon KH6RS on 28200 kHz around 0300 UTC. VK6RBP also came in, but nothing else.
28.262 kHz VK2RSY beacon from the Sydney area coming in at 0344. 28260 kHz VK5WI from Adelaide also coming in around that time.
On the IBP frequency of 28200 JA2IGY came in strong and at times VK6RBP as well.
Interesting propagation again on 10 meters. JA2IGY and 5Z4B from Kenya were the only two beacons that came in on 28200 kHz, but nothing else heard. No VK, no ZL, no UA.
Cleaning and organizing the shack and having the TS-2000 on at 10 meters. Signals are booming and already two beacons heard.
VK5WI on 28259.5 (but listed at 28260) kHz from Adelaide
VK8VF on 28268 kHz from Darwin
Both heard at 0520.
Some IPB beacons on 28200 kHz were also coming in just after 0530: KH6RS and 5Z4B respectively.
On 28228 kHz ZL3TEN came in briefly at 0535.
On 28263 kHz VK3RRU at 0538 very weak, but 10 minutes later S4.
Not something I say often, but I was a bit bored this weekend. I finalized the SOTA setup, fixing up a connector box for the antenna and getting a mike to play nice with the KX3. I worked on the SOTA database, but I wanted to do some radio stuff and turned on the TS-2000 for some HF ops. 15 meters is the best here right now, with the least amount of noise. I worked HS0ZJF and OK2LA Saturday afternoon and later that night I even got a new DXCC entry in my log: 8Q7WM from the Maldives.
Sunday morning I wanted to update this website, but got caught up when I found that there was SOTA activity from Japan. I couldn't work them, but worked HL5BLF instead. Then YC0RNC/1 for a new SKCC number and finally another SKCC QSO with JJ1FXF. Worked him on three bands now, so that is awesome.
Today was a national holiday here in Taiwan and the end of a sunny weekend, the first in over a month. It was time for my second SOTA activation. I haven’t been mountain hiking in Taiwan for over 25 years, and being out of shape I chose an easy one: BV/NT-045, Yuan Shan, a one pointer. At first I wanted to do an FM 2 meter activation only, but since it was a national holiday I suspected that there would not be many people at home to answer my CQ. The Taiwanese really like to go out and about, that’s one of their many traits. So I also packed my not-quite-finished-but-usable DIY HF antenna and my KX3 plus paraphernalia. I aim was for just a quick test to learn the ropes of setting up my portable station.
Yuan Shan turned out to be a lot harder to climb than I thought, the path up being steep and not well paved. It took me over an hour in the end. At the top I first tried 2 meters and indeed not many people around and the ones that were didn’t come in well or at all. So I set up my HF station and had a difficult SSB QSO with BU2EQ on 20 meters. But I knew from asking JG0AWE that 15 meters towards Japan would be open around noon and so I switched to there. First two local QSOs with BU2EP and BU2EQ and then I finally had my first international SOTA QSO with JH1MXV.
Having fun makes you hungry and it was already after 1 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten yet. But unbeknown to me BU2EQ had spotted me on SOTAwatch and he IMed me that New Zealand was calling me. Luckily you can do CW with your mouth full, so I had a sandwich during my QSO with ZL1TM. I was ill prepared, because I didn’t have paper and pen ready, so I had to do all the CW in my head anyway. So my second SOTA QSO was with another continent. Could it get any better?
Oh yes, it did get better. After two QSOs with Japanese chasers JA5QJX/0 and JF1NDT, my first S2S QSO with JS1IFK/1 who was activating JA/KN-020. Quite something to have your first SOTA HF activation and working a DX station plus an S2S station in one go.
I finished my lunch and had two more local 15m ground wave QSOs with BX2AG and BX2AN before packing up an heading home. I was happy with the test, finding a lot of things to improve so that next time I can operate even more relaxed than this first time.
It was only after I got home when the anticlimax came: I couldn’t find my trusty Kenwood TH-F7e HT. Gone! The only HT I had, my first ever transceiver that I got when I passed my novice licence in 2009. My workhorse, always by my side. I must have put it on the ground or placed it in the grass and forgot to pack it up when I left. My own fault, nobody to blame but me, and the heartbreak hurts extra because of that.
I went back the next day, via an alternative shorter path and it took me 45 minutes to get to the top then. The Taiwanese are friendly people and my hope was that they would have just left the HT where it was, or put it in a safer place. Unfortunately that was not the case. I have already been to the local police and no found items have been reported in the last few days, so I now have to live with the realization that I have forever parted with my beloved Kenwood. But you live and learn and after this second SOTA activation I have a whole list of things to improve not related to the radio ops. First thing on my list: get sturdy stickers with my telephone number on it to put on everything I take with me.
To end on a positive note: I climbed the same mountain twice in two days, improved my health with that and met a lot of nice people on the way.
There we go!
Three passes of Falconsat-3 and 444 frames received. Especially the pass just before midnight was excellent. Reached 218.245 on the Falconsat-3 leader board. Still 5th place, only 11 frames to go till 4th. Tomorrow then? The bird will probably have quit by then. Low current and voltage already dropping to 8.5 Volts for the last pass.
Today I activated my first SOTA summit: BV/TA-013, also known as DaDong Mountain (大棟山).
Here I am, still fresh after a 50 minute scooter ride from my house to Shulin.
Only 3 kilometers, but it took a little over an hour (not the hour and 48 minutes on the screenshot).
The second entrance to DaDong Mountain.
My walking partner for the day. Just a guy who I met and we started talking and walking and one hour later we were at the top.
View of Taipei.
An intermediate summit.
A microwave tower at the top.
Some signs explaining the triangular point.
No idea what this is.
Another walker took this very cool picture of me.
But I also did it with my selfie stick.
This was after I made 5 QSOs with my trusty Kenwood TH-F7 handheld. Here is the SOTA log.
V2 BX2ABT BV/TA-013 16/01/2022 03:50 144MHz FM BV3UV 1st ever SOTA Activator QSO for me.
V2 BX2ABT BV/TA-013 16/01/2022 04:01 144MHz FM BU2BV
V2 BX2ABT BV/TA-013 16/01/2022 04:02 144MHz FM BX2AB
V2 BX2ABT BV/TA-013 16/01/2022 04:06 144MHz FM BU2FF
V2 BX2ABT BV/TA-013 16/01/2022 05:06 144MHz FM BV3CE With 43 km the longest distance of this activation.
Taipei getting a bit dark.Time to go down the mountain.
On my way back down the mountain.
Not many people in the afternoon.
Nice contrast in this picture.
Still 1 kilometer to go.
Which way to go? Left or right?
Another signpost. Only 600 meters to go.
A weather observatory station across the valley.
I parked my scooter under this broadcast tower: 89.7 MHz, Danshui River Broadcasting Station. After another 50 minutes on the scooter I was back home. A day well spent.
SOTA point scored: BU2EQ was QRV from BV-HS-017 on 144.920 MHz and he came in weak at 32, but he gave me a 59. Time (local) 11.52 or 03:52 UTC.
Always jealous of folk on Twitter who show off with their photos of nice walks in nature. Took a 45 min motorcycle ride today and found some nature. The airport and the civilized world in the background. Pity it isn't a SOTA summit.
2022 flies by like there's no tomorrow. Spent all morning sorting and testing my humidity sensors. Got some address conflicts, so need to get software I2C going.
But by the end of the day I got the Arduino code ready for writing data to an SD card, then added two BME280 sensors and the HTU21d. As you can see there is a considerable deviation between the three sensors. Still two to add, then we can have a shoot-out to see which ones behave best.
And I don't know if this counts as a first QSO of 2022, but I uploaded a HNY wish to Falconsat-3 today. Glad to see the bird alive again, although not performing as it used to be. Ah well, neither am I.