W7GJ Montana summer 2020

6m Grid DXpeditions


Thursday, August 13, 2020
DN37aa on Point Six

at 7750'
Horizon Profile from DN37aa

Below is the view to the southeast when I checked out this site in 2019 with a rotatable dipole and 100w.  Horizon is under 5 degrees elevation from 45 degrees azimuth around through south to 340 degrees, providing a clear shot at the entire continental US plus KH6 and KL7. As you can see in the above profile, much of the horizon is below 0 degrees.


For the tail end of the Perseids meteor shower on August 13, 2020, I went up again to activate DN37aa for people within meteor scatter range who still needed that grid. It took me 5 hours to drive up there and get set up, but I was able to operate MSK144 on 6m for 6 hours before I had to tear down. I did manage to work 22 stations, even though the afternoon is not an ideal time to work meteor scatter.  The setup is shown below.  I used 1kw output from my 6M1K2 amplifier, 50' of LMR600UF feedline to my 6M5XHG yagi up on a 24' high mast. As you can see from the photo and the horizon profile above, the antenna was at the edge of an extremely sharp cliff, and the horizon many directions was below 1 or even 0 degrees elevation. All contacts were uploaded to LOTW.




June 13-14, 2020
DN37uc at 6525' on Sunset Mountain
Horizon Profile from DN37tc site


6M5XHG installed on top of Sunset Mountain
The highest point on the horizon is 3.3 degrees elevation toward central California. As you can see from the above profile, much of the horizon is below 0 degrees. The plan was to activate it this year with a kw and 6M5XHG during the ARRL June VHF Contest. Unfortunately, the amp failed at the start of the contest, and bad weather coming in forced a hasty teardown and retreat on Saturday afternoon June 13.


Working MSK144 meteor scatter from the front seat of the car on June 13




June 19-22, 2020
Confluence of
DN55xx, DN56xa, DN65ax, and DN66aa at 46 N and 108 W, at an elevation of 3005' ASL
Horizon Profile from the Confluence of DN55, DN56, DN65 and DN66


As you can see from the above profile, the highest point on the horizon is below 2.3 degrees elevation, and that is toward KL7. Most of the rest of the horizon is below 1 degree elevation.  KB7Q and I were both 6m operators on this activation, although we used my call for all the 6m operation. KB7Q's 2m activity is described HERE


THE OPERATION

There were a number of stations who still needed one of more of these four grids for the FFMA and 6m, so I decided to investigate the feasibility of operating from the "confluence" (where all four grids meet).  I identified the rancher who owned the property and began a dialogue with him at the end of 2019.  Terms were agreed to, liability releases sent to him, and he agreed to let KB7Q and I operate there for a few prime days around the Summer Solstice. KB7Q operated 2m meteor scatter from DN65 and the DN56/66 line, and helped me pull off the 6m operation from the actual confluence.



I drove to KB7Q's QTH in Bozeman on Thursday June 18,  On Friday June 19, we set out for the Confluence, and arrived on the site around 11 am MDT.  We spent the rest of the day setting up the operating tent, assembling and raising the antenna, unpacking and setting up the equipment. Saturday morning June 20, I began making 6m meteor scatter contacts before 6 am (1200 Z). When the MSK144 contacts turned to Es, I switched to FT8. Most of the Es was single hop. Because of the higher ground immediately to the northwest, most of the contacts into the Pacific Northwest were made by using Es backscatter while I was aiming toward the southeast.



Sunday, rain came and went several times, requiring the equipment and operator to be covered. However, we were able to continue operating until the band faded out Sunday night, with double hop down to southern Mexico.


W7GJ under an umbrella in the operating tent


Working FT8 mode during the rainstorms

A huge thunderstorm passed over on Sunday night, with very close lightning and heavy rain. Fortunately, the equipment was safely covered under the tarp and the only problem on Monday morning was the re-infused mud ("gumbo") that stuck to everything.  During the early morning meteor scatter session on Monday, I remembered that I DID have elevation on the yagi, and in fact WSJT-X was suggesting that I needed to elevate if I wanted to work the short meteor scatter (around 500 miles) to the Pacific Northwest.  So, I elevated and was able to work a number of west coast stations on meteor scatter before switching over to FT8 again for Es. Much of the Es was very spotty and intermittent at our location, although the West Coast was having an incredible opening all across Europe.  We did copy a few Europeans and were copied by MM0AMW, but the propagation was just too marginal at our location to complete any European contacts.  I turned the antenna back east in an attempt to work more USA stations, since the main goal was to provide these grids for people working toward FFMA. The contact rate was slow and it was difficult getting the propagation to hold long enough to complete contacts.  After mid-day, we did have our first double hop to New England, but it was a very narrow footprint and we only worked a few stations back there.

By 1:30 MDT, the mud was beginning to dry out, and we decided it was a good time to tear down before more rain moved in. As it turned out, the afternoon cleared, and I was able to pull out of the site at 6 pm MDT (2400Z) on Monday June 22. With the proximity to the Summer Solstice, and the clear weather to the west, I was encouraged to drive the whole way home. I made it home by around midnight, and had sunlight and twilight for all but the last couple of hours.
 
View of the Confluence operating site from the higher ground immediately to the northwest. The Yellowstone River, 200' below the operating posiion, is shown to the south.

SITE LOCATION

To qualify as a Confluence operation, parts of the station must be in all four grids.  As you can see in the site map below, the actual antenna mast was a couple feet into DN66, the northwest guy anchor for the mast was in DN56, the equipment and operating tent was in DN65, and the generator was on the "cattle path" in DN55. Of course, the 6M8GJ elements hung over all four grid squares wherever the beam was pointed!


EQUIPMENT

I ran a single TE Systems 350w amplifier on transmit. The antenna was my 6M8GJ yagi on a 24' high mast, fed with 75' of LMR-600 low loss coax feedline.  For receive, I used a modified ARR preamplifier into an RTL Dongle. 220 VAC was provided by a 4 kw generator. I used 50' of heavy extension cord to reach the operating tent. One of the reasons I had bothered to take the big 6M8GJ yagi was to try out the lightweight hinged elevation mount I had built for use on EME DXpeditions. As it turned out, the lightweight version held up fine, and actually helped with some of the closer meteor scatter contacts!


Ready to raise 6M8GJ - photo courtesy of KB7Q

RESULTS

Over 300 contacts were put in the log on 6m using MSK144 and FT8. I was not able to upload the WSJT-X files to LOTW, but fortunately, all but a few of the contacts were also logged in TRX-Manager, and that was successfully uploaded to LOTW for all four grids. If you need a QSL card, please send me an SASE direct. If you want to contribute to the gas fund, my PayPal address is simply my email address as listed on QRZ.com. Thanks for all the contacts!

CONCLUSION

We were diligent to clean up everything and leave the site as we found it. We survived without injury, although Gene barely avoided stepping on a rattlesnake! The rancher was pleased with our operation and financial contribution for the use of his property, and is receptive to discussions with other conscientious and responsible hams who are interested in gaining access to activate this Confluence. His contact information is:

Kent Oblender, 3041 Bundy Road, Worden, MT  59088-9604, Telephone: 406 967-3070







July 25-26, 2020
DN25xu/DN35au Line at 6203' on
Sula Peak

Horizon profile from the antenna on Sula Peak. The azimuth of the two peaks 70 miles away in the Pintler Mountains
were used to calibrate the antenna aiming circle at the bottom of the mast
.


Photo of the Sula Peak antenna location and operating position in the car, taken while standing on the grid line

Station setup on July 26, 2020
 

As you can see from the Google Earth photo on the left, the longitude line of 114 degrees west separating the two grids runs very close to the summit of Sula Peak. The most level place for me to park the car and operate was just west of the grid line, so I set up the antenna just to the east of the grid line. That way the station spanned the grid line and FFMA contacts would count for both grids.  The generator was set up 40' southwest of the car, so it was also in DN25xu. In the center photo taken in the car in front of  my laptop computer, you can see my longitude was slightly more than 114 degrees west, so I was operating in DN25xu.

The photo to the right shows the position of the antenna mast, at slightly less than 114 degrees west longitude, clearly in DN35au. The antenna was an M2 6M5XHG on a 24' mast, fed with 50' of LMR600UF coaxial cable. The transmitter was a Yaesu FT-857 into a TE SYSTEMS solid state amplifier providing 300 watts output. The receiver was an ARR preamplifer ahead of an RTL Dongle using SDR-Console connected to WSJT-X Version 2.2.2 via a Virtual Audio Cable. Computer was a DELL XPS 13 64 bit laptop.

Although frightfully late in the season for Es out here in Montana, I responded to pleas from several W5's who said they were down to their last bunch of grids and would appreciate me activating the DN25/DN35 grid line. Since the weather forecast indicated an unusual absence of afternoon thunderstorms for the weekend, I made a last minute decision to pack up and head down there Saturday morning.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find good Es on FT8 mode Saturday afternoon - I think I had just missed a good opening by the time I finally got on the air around 2100Z. I did copy Cuba, and was copied in Florida, but most of my contacts were single hop. Of course the eastern stations complained of QRM from all the East Coast and South American stations filling up the band on their end. Fortunately, I had an internet connection via my cell phone hotspot so I was able to QSY to clear frequencies for them.

The Es continued well into the evening, with very spotty and short openings into various locations in the upper midwest. I ended the evening by working W0JW in IA at 0349Z Sunday morning.

I was up running MSK144 skeds at 1200Z Sunday, although most of the stations who needed DN25 and/or DN35 were outside meteor scatter range. There were still quite a few good random meteors Sunday morning, but most who waited until Sunday afternoon to try their hand at a meteor scatter contact were disappointed. The lesson to be learned from this is that if you want to work a 6m grid DXpedition on Es, be prepared to hang in there until late at night. And if you want to work them on meteor scatter, be sure to be at the rig no later than sunrise.

As most of the other successful grid DXpeditions, I ran FT8 contest mode the entire time. The advantage of this is that the contacts are quick and the grid squares are always being displayed, so people can see that you are in a rare grid. I did run into problems with some stations who apparently were not able to run WSJT-X Contest Mode, and when the contacts stalled on their end because of that, I had to move on to the next caller. Sorry to have missed contacts with those stations, but hopefully by the next Es season, the word will have gotten around on how to work a DXpedition to a rare grid on FT8. We also may well have some other mode by then called "DXpedition mode" or "Grid mode" or something that will work like the current WSJT-X Contest Mode but will be more compatible with stations using other types of programs. I know some people simply stay away when the see someone calling "CQ TEST" because they aren't involved in any contest and figure the guy must be a LID for using Contest Mode outside a contest period.  Maybe there will be a better convention to call CQ by next summer to indicate you are activating a rare grid and not competing in a contest ("CQ GRID", "CQ RARE", "CQ FFMA", "CQ DEDX" or something).

Anyway, I ended up uploading 119 contacts to LOTW from this grid DXpedition. If you need a physical QSL, please send me an SASE. Many thanks to everyone who did show up to work me and congratulations to you if you got a new grid or two over the weekend!

I have already had requests to activate some grids next summer. I think after my two DXpeditions to DN37tc, the demand for that one has dropped down substantially. It has been 5 years since I activated DN34gx above Lemhi Pass (http://www.bigskyspaces.com/w7gj/DN34.htm), and there seem to be a number of people interested in that one again. I also would like to activate Sula Peak again to be able to give out DN25 and DN35 during an optimum period for Es with a better chance of some double hop.







This page last revised on 14 August, 2020