June 2007 – 10 years on Spruce Knob

ARRL June 2007 VHF contest

June 9-11, 2007

K8GP Spruce Knob, WV (FM08fq) 4,863′

K8GP panoramic from SE parking lot

June 2007 crew

50 MHz – K1HTV Rich & NW5E Gary

144 MHz – K1RA Andy & K3MM Ty

222 Mhz – W3ZZ Gene & N2NAR Mike

432 MHz – K1TR Ed

902_1296 MHz – K8ISK Terry

2304_up MHz – K3CB Owen

K8GP June 2007 crew

This years contest put the first operators on the knob Wed. June 6, with Terry, Mike and Gary transporting the 3 buses up the hill, followed by Owen in his vehicle towing the 15KW generator. Comments from the crew indicate the newly built Route 55 through WV, as well as the new pavement covering 80% of what used to be a gravel, dirt, pothole and wash board, mountain road saved more than an hour off the bus commute.

Nonetheless, the almost $3/gal. gas prices still dug deep into our pockets. Having decent but cool weather into Wed. eve and dry and clear conditions for Thurs. allowed this crew to deploy almost all antennas and towers by the time Andy and Rich arrive Thurs. eve around 10:30pm. Andy, the photographer, was therefore unable to capture any good photos or videos during the setup process for the contest.

Many man hours of preparation work has been expended by the group over this past year to stream line the setup and tear down process. As well as having swivel and tilt based towers affixed directly to the buses, with pre-installed cables, coax and rotators, we recently were successful in deploying collapsible and mating mast systems that alleviate us from having to lug around masts and insert them in the towers. Now its pull the masts out of the tower on site and push them into the tower on tear down.

K3CB at uwave tower 50 and 432 MHz towers titled over 144 MHz towers titled over

Pre-affixed u-bolts to tower legs for fixed arrays and other support masting all made for less antenna raising work than any year in the past ten. On the PC side of the house, memory upgrades were made to 384MB, new dual PCI sourd cards for all. A new Windows image was created and deployed on all the PCs. It employed the latest WSJT, as well as a handful of other useful ham programs, including the latest Roverlog and a new homegrown Super Lookup database file. This was the second time we used Roverlog (we had been CT users prior). We are still getting used to the program and working with Tom N1MU, its creator, to ensure he gets the proper feedback on its multi-operator capabilities. Overall, the fact is it offers more to a multi-op VHF contest group than other software we’ve considered.

Given we’ve also switched over to Windows in the last few years, that has given us the opportunity to multi-task other applications while logging. So we added NTP synchronization to a centralized GPS clock and MP3 recording at every station. The later allowed us to record many of the 33 hours of operation at each of our 8 separate stations 50 Mhz through 10 GHz.

Friday we spent our time running coax and cables, aligning systems, debugging and occasionally repairing a system. A 3.4 GHz power supply issue that has plagued us for awhile was solved. A new duo-band feed was also implemented on the six foot dish to handle 2.3 & 3.4 GHz and that required tweaking. The 222 MHz I/F radio developed an ALC issue, requiring replacement with a backup. The 144 MHz solid state meteor scatter amp developed an issue that drove it into shutdown. That was identified and fixed, as well there were more additions and modifications to the 144 Mhz multi-array system. And finally miscellaneous audio feedback and voice keyer settings were tackled. As with every contest, there is always something requiring attention prior to contest start. And if we are unlucky, sometimes right up to and during the contest. All towers are up, antennas are connected and testing is under way by Friday afternoon.

K8GP site from lookout tower

Late afternoon on Friday Ty K3MM shows up and soon after into the early evening a swift moving storm and wall cloud pass over the site. That eventually brought with it some heavy rain, moderate winds, thunder and lightning within about 5 miles of us. See the panoramic picture of the K8GP site above taken from the lookout tower just before the storm. Do we clear the trees and are we the highest thing on the mountain? Below pictures of the wall cloud as it passes by.

144 MHz arrays Wall cloud passing over K8GP Friday afternoon 902_1296 loopers, 5.7 & 10 GHz, 2.3 & 3.4 GHz dish and 222 MHz

After the storm blew through Matt KC3WD/R and John W1RT/R and his partner Christof ON4IY show up for a visit. Also, we were treated to a fantastic sunset that peaked well after the sun fell behind the hills. This editor felt sorry for the poor fellow who drove from Baltimore to take pictures and used all his film up before the real show began. Who uses film anymore? Below are several pictures attempting to capture the beauty of our sunsets on Spruce Knob.

Sunset Friday eve after storm Sunset Friday eve after storm K8GP at sunset

Saturday morning, still more last minute adjustments and minor repairs to 144 MHz and final tuning of PC settings. Ed K1TR shows up and we attempt to get everyone ready for a 2pm start. Rich starts on 50 MHz, Andy on 144, Gene starts on 222 with Mike listening in to get a few hours in op’ing and to learn the ropes before he has to leave at 5pm. Ed on 432, Terry 902_1296 and Owen handling the microwaves. Other than 50 & 144 Mhz ops who had shifts with Gary/Rich and Ty/Andy tag teaming respectively in RB1 (6&2 bus), ops in RB2, the microwave bus, were spread thin with no back up ops.

50 & 432 MHz arrays 222, 902_1296 and uWave towers 144 MHz H-frame

As the contest gets under way into the first hour or two Ed comments from 432 Mhz that he isn’t seeing all the 144 MHz QSOs over the network. Gene and Ed both comment that they are having good results CQ’ing in the first several hours with many responses. Little did they know that it wasn’t that they weren’t seeing the 144 MHz QSOs over the network, but they just weren’t contacting many stations on 144. As it turns out the most detrimental issue of the weekend was 144 MHz transmitting into the vertical array for the first 5 hours of the contest, though they were receiving normally on the horizontal arrays. Why were we hearing stations fine in places like FN20/30 and EN70&80 but they weren’t coming back to us?

We plugged along until about 7pm when the issue was finally resolved, just in time for something that hasn’t happened in 10 years of VHF contesting on Spruce Knob. And that was a fantastic tropospheric opening into the mid west and southwest. Now that our core band was running full force, the stations started calling us and we began working out more than a few grids out from FM08. 144 MHz starts to log EN80,1,2, EM86,5 ah finally! Then EN70,1,2,3, and EM68. Soon it was EN50’s then by the end of the 23Z hour, K2DRH in EN41 (636mi) and we began passing the DX up the bands and hoped that the tropo duct would hang in there long enough to compensate for the worst start on 144 MHz in 10 years. K2DRH worked across the bottom 4 bands by 0001Z, WOW, what else would the evening bring?

As the 00Z hour crawls on, some northern FN grids begin to call in. VE3NPB/R in FN14 (420mi), through 432, VE3CVG in FN25 (517mi). Then its back to the west with K9OIM in EM56 (541mi) on 144 and 432 MHz. It stretches out farther to AB0RX in EM47 (630mi) and we work him across the bottom 4. We can tell the rovers are out in force. Its not just the usual 3&4 land rovers, but the VE3’s, 8’s, and then its K9JK/R in EN50 (520mi). Boy this is great, what could top that? Well, a step outside the bus also yields a visual opening to enjoy. A look at the night sky shows clear and calm conditions. A few shots of the site from under a very dark, but star filled sky are below.

Venus, 50 Mhz & 432 MHz K8GP under a starry sky 144 MHz back and 222 and up front under a starry sky

Well, its a new hour, 02Z and time for something new. Its back to the north with N2LBT/R in FN46 (689mi) on 144 and 222, and he seems as surprised as us. Unfortunately New England FN31,2’s and 41,2,3’s are hard to find if at all. The bands extends out to the west even more, N0PB in EM39 (676mi) on 144 & 432 MHz, K0CQ in EN32 (776mi) on 144. 9’s and 0’s continue to fill the logs. By 0230Z the band starts opening into the southwest, K4QH EM66 (437mi), AG4V EM55 (620mi) through 2.3 GHz! How long will the opening extend and how long will it last? KC0CFB and KB0VSL/R in EM29 (831mi) on 144.

Its 03Z and we think the band has stretched out as about as far as its going to go. KG5MD from EM36 (726mi) through 432. And on 144 we’re now working some other 5’s in EM54 and 44 and there’s K5OMC rover in EM44, 45, 55. By 04Z its a combination of 4’s, 5’s, 8’s, 9’s and 0’s. We pass who we can and try not to drop anyone. That’s tough since the 222 and up bus is short on ops. A few FN42’s are caught to the northeast, but its more like K5UR in EM35 (775mi) through 432 throughout the early morning hours. Pre-dawn 50 MHz starts to work some scheduled and random scatter contacts to the south and southwest with success and then it moves around to the west and northwest.

k8gp-jun07.log.144 k8gp-jun07.log.50 k8gp-jun07.log.432

Its coming up on 12Z. We work K5QE EM31 (948mi) for our longest DX on 144, 222 and 432 MHz ! And then its W5RCI EM44 (669mi), who is crushing loud on 144 MHz and we work all the way up to 2.3 GHz!! That will be about as good as it gets for the weekend. 50 MHz then starts working some scatter to the north, VO1TJM GN08 followed closely by K5JL in EM12. As the DX 4’s, 5’s, 8’s, 9’s and 0’s begin to fade on 144 MHz, we still grab an occasional VE2,3 until about 1330Z and at about that time 1.2 GHz worked one of its last DX QSOs, K4XR in EM64 (507mi). What a ride!

Morning looking southwest from Whisper Trail

As the sun rose and the day began to warmed up the great propagation subsided to fair to good to the south, west and north, but New England and the FN3x/4x grids never came to light in any large numbers. The rovers were awake and running again and we did our best to keep track of them. We encouraged them to try and work us on all the bands as the morning wore into early afternoon. 50 MHz kept plugging away at SSB scatter QSOs and the occasional short Eskip openings to EN1x,2x,3x, and EL9x,8x. Now and then they would pick up a DN0x,1x,5x,7x, or 8x grid. We would even catch a few CN grids out near the west coast throughout the day. Unfortunately those openings were very short lived. 50 MHz propagation was way down from last year and our grid total showed it. It surely wasn’t horrible, but it wouldn’t break any records for the weekend. Fortunately for the last 1.5 hours of the contest, 50 MHz got into a fairly good Eskip opening covering EM1x,2x,3x, EL1x,2x, as well as a few straggler DM and DN grids, though it wouldn’t be enough to get us to 200 grids on that band. 144 MHz gets a call in the last few minutes of the contest from KB9CEQ EM49 (618mi) and that’s all propagation gods grant us for the weekend.

Below, the Hepburn tropospheric map predictions for the weekend pretty much tell it all with respect to the enhanced conditions we experienced on most of the bands. Likewise, a weather map for the weekend shows a large high pressure area extending from VE in Canada out to the mid and southwest, with Spruce Knob close to the eastern edge of the high.

Hepburn Tropo Map 2007-06-09 Wx Front for 2007-06-10-1230 Hepburn Tropo Map 2007-06-10

Also captured over the weekend were several sets of images. One set from GOES East IR satellite, another of NOAA radar and one of the real-time 2m APRS propagation maps. These were strung together to form movies loops to allow viewing of the various weather and propagation patterns over the period of the contest. Again they tend to reiterate the good weather and good conditions we experienced throughout Sat. eve into Sun. morn. Follow the “click here” links at the bottom of this page for full resolution pictures and animated maps.

GOES East Satellite IR maps NOAA US radar 2m APRS propagation

Did we win? Time will tell as we await the scores from the other multi-ops. Did they get into the openings as good as us? Did they manage to work more rovers to compensate if they didn’t? What we do know is that we beat our all time June record from Spruce Knob with almost 2,650 QSOs and 600 grids for ~2.4 million points before log checking. WOW! We broke our old 144 MHz Grid record with 112 grids. Good job Andy and Ty! We even set some all time grid records for 222 & 432 Mhz at 84 and 94 respectively. Way to go Gene and Ed!! And for the entire team, achievement of a 10 band VUCC in a contest weekend. Go Pirates!!! It was another hour or so up after the contest for some folks to discuss the weekends events, both the good and the bad and what we would do different for Sept. By 0430Z all would be asleep for a 10Z wakeup call, which came all too early, to begin tearing down the station. Ed is off the hill at sunrise to catch a plane back to N.H. The rest attend to the many functions of the disassembly process.

As it was mentioned earlier, much time and effort has been put into planning the assembly and disassembly of the station. Given on average K8GP deploys only 9 folks per contest, with of that usually only 4-5 for setup and 6-7 for tear down, streamlining the raising and lowering of towers and antennas has become a top priority. None of us are getting any younger and few will actually climb towers. Follow the “click here” links at the bottom of this article to our June 2007 VHF picture and video album that contains several Flash movies of the lowering of the towers and then swinging them into their final resting positions.

50 & 144 MHz bus loaded and ready to travel Recreation white bus loaded and ready to travel 222 MHz & up bus loaded and ready to travel

We load the antennas, dishes, coax and cables into the various buses and perform a final walk through to ensure everything is strapped into place. We perform our usual shoulder to shoulder walk across the site to pick up any scrap tape, ties and miscellaneous garbage we may have dropped. All in all its a good 5 hours of continuous work to disassemble and pack up the station, but it goes relatively smoothly. We all grab a quick sandwich, a drink for the road and then saddle up to take K8GP off the hill. It will be Terry, Ty and Gary driving the buses, Rich and Gene taking the lead to watch for oncoming traffic up the hill and Andy tailing the group to pick up anything that falls off along the way. Its noon local and the weather is fine and it will be enjoyable day for the ride home.

Heading down the hill All buses make it down the hill safely Moorefield, WV Pit Stop

The trip home takes us up Route 28 to 55 through Moorefield and Petersburg, WV. A stop for gas in the later and cell phone coverage once again to catch up with voice mail and family. Then onto the new 4 lane Route 55 heading east back towards northern Virginia, Maryland and D.C. We make it to I-81, head north 1 exit and its Route 66 back home. The buses make it to their resting place by 5pm and then the group breaks away in their separate directions to call it a contest. 73!

Buses make it home in one piece Buses make it home in one piece Buses make it home in one piece

For more media behind this article, including high resolution pictures and videos see the June 2007 album in our gallery by clicking here. See how our June 2007 score compares on a band by band breakdown to years past by clicking here. See contest analysis grid maps for each M/GHz band by clicking here. The first page of the album contains grid totals for the entire weekend and the second page contains animated grid maps for all 33 hours for each band. Also be sure to check out our June 2007 Contest Audio page by clicking here. There you will find QSO audio highlights and the ability to search our log and hear what we heard over the period of the weekend using streaming MP3 technology. Finally, visit our Spruce Knob scenic pages by clicking here. Within you will find 180 and 360 degree panoramic views taken from the top of the mountain, the lookout tower and from the various trails that wind the summit.

73 and hope to hear you in the ARRL Sept. 2007 VHF contest!

K1RA/Andy – Editor, Photographer, Videographer, MP3-DJ and Log Analyst