Grand Ridge North, Issaquah (canceled)

Grid square CN97an41qt
Lat 47.549189, Long -121.960902, Alt 1,400′
Dist from home: 13.3 mi/31 min drive, 4.5 miles SE

Grand Ridge North, and its sister Grand Ridge South, are the steep hills on the north side of I-90 halfway between Issaquah and Preston, WA. The map shows a one-lane road to the top and a few houses among the dense forest. At 1400 feet (426 meters) it should have a better view in most directions than the Sammamish Plateau. Also there are fewer hams in CN97.

Unfortunately, a scouting trip found the mountain peak is heavily carpeted with “no trespassing” and “keep out” signs. I will respect their wishes.

Visit Highland Drive, Issaquah

Visited 2011-03-27
Grid square CN97an10gx

IMG_2539 IMG_2536 IMG_2538 IMG_2543
My goal this trip is to get out of CN87. It so happens the border with CN97 is about two miles east. What can we find nearby?

I think I found the highest public roadway on the Sammamish Plateau at 1,022 feet (317m) among the new million-dollar homes above Highland Drive. It has a stunning panorama of Mt Baker to the north and Mt Rainier on the south. At least, it would when it’s not raining and dripping everywhere.

I made five contacts including some new hams, all with good reports in the region. I heard some stations in Portland but they were buried in the noise floor and they could not copy me. Net Control said the conditions were quite bad, so I was pleased to do hear Portland at all.

The eastward path was dead. Nobody could hear from Spokane at all. But I had some trees and a bit more hill behind me to the east, so I wasn’t expecting anything that direction.

More things for my checklist:

  • Use the iPhone’s Compass app to find magnetic North.
  • My lamppost tripod is unreliable on the slightest slope away from horizontal. Worse yet, it’s round and rolls easily given the slightest chance.
  • Look into building a mast platform that goes under the front wheel.
  • It’s nice to run coax through the door jamb instead of the window. Then I can close the window completely and stay warm and dry. Maybe. A drip loop is required or else the water follows the coax inside.
  • There is a PNW VHF S spreadsheet online as a Google doc. It provides a useful summary of the usual suspects:
    http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=0AohgbnNuj9MscDRQdkRhRGNSazFwX0thYnpzV29lRkE&gid=0
  • I met G4AMD/7 on the air and we had a great chat about VHF propagation. There are a lot of interesting things that can happen to VHF / UHF signals, and there is a lot of fun stuff to learn.

Visit Skyline HS (again)

2011-03-20
Grid square CN87xo53ut

Finally, this was a very successful trip to a nearby hilltop. The transmitted signal strength was good and several people had no problem hearing me.

My antenna tuning yesterday was very helpful. The 3-element beam was very sensitive to the exact adjustment to the gamma match. The final placement for 144.240 MHz was 54mm (2-1/8 inch).

Rod WE7X joined me in the parking lot and setup his 3-watt 817 transceiver, battery, tripod, 2m 3-elt beam. He could receive well but others could barely hear him. Perhaps his equipment needs adjustment, or possibly the nearby cyclone fence was affecting performance.

Things for my checklist:

  • No bathrooms on most hilltops. Esp along a busy road by a popular high school. Don’t load up at Starbucks along the way.
  • Tune gamma match for maximum forward power. This may or may not coincide with minimum SWR.
  • My transmitter’s power output (Yaesu FT-480R) is very sensitive to antennu tuning. It varies from 5w to 15w across small adjustments of gamma match.
  • My transmitter’s frequency display reads too low by 400 Hz. For example, the proper dial readout is 144.240.4.
  • Get a magnetic door sign to look official. Rod WE7X suggests “Amateur Radio Bear Tracking”.
  • It would sure be nice to have a callsign lookup available.

Visit Cougar Mtn Park

2011-03-13
Grid square CN87wm89iu

I parked at the old anti-aircraft site on the peak of Cougar Mountain, altitude 1,600 ft (487m), a part of the city of Bellevue. In 45 minutes of trying, no contacts were made on SSB and the regular weak-sign net was not heard. As far as I can tell, everyone (wisely) slept in this morning as a result of advancing the clocks today for Daylight Savings Time.

But my time was not wasted. I tested the SWR using a “new” VHF swr meter purchased at the Puyallup hamfest yesterday. The Cushcraft 3-element beam measured 10:1 while the 5/8 magmount whip measured 1.2:1. This would explain why I can hear people better than they can hear me. Now I know what to work on next!

Cougar Mtn Park, 1950s anti-aircraft site

Here are notes of the visit:

  • Park gates are apparently open 24-hours, even though the sign posts 8am to dusk.
  • Ranger house is occupied full time.
  • A nice ranger guy came over to ask what I had going on, under the pretext of emptying the garbage can next to my car.
  • Ranger suggested hiking from the parking lot a very short distance west to the “Million Dollar Overlook” for direct line-of-sight communication.
  • Curiously, the peak is in a cellphone radio hole. Almost no signal strength.
  • Simplex contacts on FM had very poor coverage in the nearby valley or flatlands. But I had good signal into Shoreline area of Seattle.

My white PVC antenna mast leaves room for improvement:

  1. It is raining heavily outside
  2. Water runs downhill
  3. My car window is open
  4. I’m holding a plastic water pipe vertically up through the open driver’s window
  5. Water runs down the outside of a water pipe as easily as the inside
  6. Water sticks to a pipe until it’s diverted
  7. I’m holding a plastic water pipe

Visit Skyline HS, Sammamish

2011-03-6
Grid square CN87xo53ut

I parked at Skyline High School in the city of Sammamish, with an open vie in most directions. I checked into the PNW Weak Signal Net on the regular Sunday morning schedule at 8am. Made three contacts: Kirkland (12mi), Monroe (CN97au, 21 mi) and Woodinville (CN87ws, 15 mi).

Here are notes and to-do list from the visit:

  • It worked very well to have an antenna switch to easily compare the 2m beam with the two little mag mount whip antennas.
  • Figure out ergonomic mounting of FT-480R radio on passenger seat. The front panel needs be tilted up, and the radio was precariously balanced.
  • Find a better antenna mast mount then the driver’s window.
  • Measure radio current draw; estimate car battery life.
  • Fix powerpole connectors, they were prone to intermittent connection.
  • If you sign as “mobile” then Net Control assumes you are moving and puts you first in net rotation. You should say “portable” if you’re parked and stationary.
  • Get QRZ.com databse on the laptop to look up antenna bearings.
  • Make list of hams to look for at Puyallup Hamfest this weekend.
  • Buy one more antenna switch so it can be dedicated to portable use.

Barry's Ham Radio and Motorcycle Hobbies

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