Sunday, December 3, 2017

SOTA Trip Report: My Goat Activation of Blue Mounds (W9/WI-010)

It's been quite a long journey to Goat, a quest I set out for back in the summer of 2013.  Maybe the longest portion was these past few months.  I had been sitting at 999 points, literally one single point away from reaching Mountain Goat status.  I had plans to potentially reach Mountain Goat this past summer during an attempted thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail, a trail which has a handful of K0M SOTA peaks.  (As some people can probably vouch for, it was an exceptionally wet year on the North Shore of Lake Superior, which made travel on the trail much more challenging.  I didn't complete the trail, but I did hike well over 100 miles of it, as well as activate a few peaks along it, bringing me to 999 points).

So I returned to Virginia, but, here, too, I had problems, as I had already activated basically every peak in Shenandoah National Park this past year.  I suppose I could have gone out further afield in the state, but I didn't.

I also wanted a way to conduct this activation with my intrepid hiking partner and XYL, Marit, and if available, her friend, Christine, both of whom have accompanied me on several activations.  Marit and Christine are awesome hikers in their own rights, having completed several challenging hikes around the country:
  • The Southern California Three Peak Challenge, where you summit San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and San Antonio (aka "Baldy") in under 24 hours.
  • The Four State Challenge (48-ish miles), hiking from Pennsylvania, through Maryland, West Virginia, and into Virginia along the Appalachian Trail in under 24 hours.
  • The Connecticut Challenge, hiking between New York and Massachusetts along the AT in Connecticut (approximately 56 miles) in under 24 hours.
  • Many other day and thru-hiking adventures.
These ladies are serious hikers, and they have accompanied me on many hikes.  No--neither of them has any interest in radio, but they put up with my antics nonetheless.  It would be nice to have them around for the Goat activation.

A few weeks back I found that Christine was visiting her family in Wisconsin over Thanksgiving, while my wife and I were visiting my family in the same state.  I had also never activated any peaks in Wisconsin before, so this was my chance to get Goat, in a new association, with my XYL and Christine.

I selected Blue Mounds (W9/WI-010), which is southwest of Madison, WI.  It is located within Blue Mound State Park (not to be confused with Blue Mounds State Park in Minnesota).  Blue Mound was the name given to the large hill by the original French traders who inhabited the area in the early 18th century.  The "peak" itself is a large, steep hill with an elevation of over 1700 feet.  It's geologically interesting because it's made of dolomite, a limestone which used to cover the Great Lakes from Wisconsin to Niagara Falls.  Indeed, the Niagara Escarpment was caused by unequal erosion of various types of rocks, one of which was dolomite.  In any case, much of the dolomite was removed by erosion over the eons, excepting Blue Mound and other similar formations, but more importantly, the area of southern Wisconsin was the only area that was not covered in glaciers during the last ice age.  Glacial ice covered Minnesota, most of Wisconsin, and all of the Midwestern states as far south as Kansas, but this piece of Wisconsin, called the Driftless Area, escaped glaciation, allowing Blue Mound, as well as several other similar formations to continue to exist.

Blue Mounds is fundamentally a drive-up peak, with a large parking area at the top of the peak, and two observation towers on the east and west sides of the peak.  There is a small fee to access the park, payable to attendant or via envelop.  To make this peak SOTA-legal, the three of us did a circuit of the park, beginning and terminating at the parking area.

We agreed that the Friday post-Thanksgiving would be the best time to attempt this.  The weather was chilly, in the upper 30s Fahrenheit, with very stiff winds.  We climbed the Western Observation Tower.  I began the activation at around 0800 local time (1400 UTC), first by attempting VHF and UHF FM contacts.  I was able to self-spot with SMS and with the SOTAGoat iPhone app.  APRS coverage is also abundant.  But no joy on any of my calls, which was a bit surprising.  While not a metropolis, Madison, wasn't too far away.  I expected to maybe roust somebody on 146.52.  I also attempted contacts on 223.5 and 446.0, all with negative results.  While I was working on this, the ladies continued on their hike, and I climbed down to get set up on HF.

N0PCL sitting at the top of the tower, trying to stay out of the wind.
N0PCL working the HT with a view to the west.
Photo looking down the center of the tower, with the circling landings and staircases.
I found a picnic table not far from the western observation tower, with a few nearby trees to sling a wire antenna into.  I bungeed my homemade EARCHI UNUN to a tree trunk, ran radials along the ground, and slung the radiating wire into a neighboring tree.  A length of RG-174 coax fed the antenna.  On the table, I set up my FT-817ND, my LDG autotuner, and my Palm Mini key.  I cracked open the logbook, put the earbuds in the ear, and tried to think warm thoughts as I called CQ SOTA on 14.063 MHz.

My HF station:  Ft-817ND with numerous aftermarket modifications, LDG Z-817 autotuner, mic, and my Palm Mini key. Pen, earbuds, a small notepad, and my ARRL minilog round out the station.
Base of my antenna:  Homemade EARCHI matchbox bungeed to a tree, with radials and a radiating wire.  RG-174 Coax can be barely seen.  My operating position to the right of the photo, about 25 feet away.

Body of a deceased snowman near my operating position.  Wisconsin had received some snowfall in the weeks before my activation, but it had mostly melted.  The matchbox can be barely seen on the tree in the upper right.

N4EX, Rich, was the first to answer my call with a 569 report.  I worked a total of six stations on 20, and then shifted to 7.043 MHz, where I worked twelve more stations.  Total time activating was 27 minutes.  By this time I was getting quite cold.  I put away my station (mostly), and returned to the Jeep to where I awaited the return of the XYL and Christine.
My logbook as it was updated to SOTAData.

Goat was Achieved.

After completing this activation, I realized that I had forgotten something.  I left my EARCHI matchbox bungeed to the tree.  So, if you're hiking up on Blue Mounds, help yourself to an UNUN.  And if it's not there any longer, I'll consider it poetic.  The mountains gave me much pleasure.  I may as well leave a piece of homebrew radio gear in return.

This journey to Goat wasn't always easy.  While I have been licensed for many decades, I wasn't an active ham for much of that time, and SOTA was my reintroduction to the hobby.  I had to learn the ins and outs of QRP operation, relearn morse code, learn how to manage pileups, and learn how to build and optimize antennas. I also learned much about myself in the process, like how to hike, manage expectations for my hiking/SOTA success, and, probably most importantly, to make sure I persevere and just not give up.

Many deserve thanks and recognition for this milestone.  My XYL accompanied me on many of these SOTA activations.  Christine also put up with a great deal of waiting around on peaks while I got my contacts.  I also did some hikes with several hams in the Southern California SOTA community, including Gary, K6YOA, and Tim, K6TW.  The SoCal SOTA group--you know who you are--also deserves some mention.  And there are number of fellow Marines whom I have had the pleasure of making Summit to Summit contacts with (Dan, NA6MG and Mike NS1TA/ex-W6AH, and others.)  And, of course, many thanks belong to the numerous chasers.

Many thanks are due for helping me to this achievement!



  1. Congrats Nate and welcome to the club! de K6TW

  2. Congrats again. It was good to join you hiking Mt Woodson in the early days, but it was clear then you were far quicker up a peak.
    Mountain Goat is going to be an even longer journey for me. Perhaps, two or three more years out.

  3. Complimenti per essere una capra de montagna . I think the offerings to the gods was an unconcious decision and a worthy one. I am glad HF worked for you as I am not surprised that vhf/uhf was dead due to the calling channels not being monitored that much in different areas. 73s ve3ips My first SOTA summits were in NorCal not Ontario