Summer 2006 Issue


Mountaintop Operating with FM VHF

By Bob Witte, KØNR

The warm summer months are upon us, so it is a good time to get outdoors with the FM VHF gear. One fun activity is to find a local high spot for some mountaintop VHF simplex.


We generally think of the VHF and higher bands as having “line of sight” propagation. Sure, there are exceptions such as sporadic-E propagation, but on a day-to-day basis, VHF is all about line of sight. This naturally drives us to improving our line-of-sight distance by increasing our HAAT, or height above average terrain (photo A).

One of the most well-known and easily accessible mountains in North America, Pikes Peak, is practically in my back yard. At 14,110 feet above sea level, it is not the tallest mountain in North America, but it is one of the most well-known peaks. It is relatively easy to access, since there is a maintained road that allows you to drive to the top. If you don’t want to drive up, you can always ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. For the physically strong, the Barr Trail provides a not-so-easy hiking route to the summit (10.7 miles and 7400 feet in elevation gain).

Whenever visiting hams find their way to the summit, their next move is entirely predictable—turn on the rig and give a call. During the summer months it is common to hear radio operators call CQ on 146.52 MHz FM from Pikes Peak, testing out their temporary but dramatic improvement in HAAT. This type of mountaintop operating is loads of fun. (Not only is VHF FM the utility mode, it is also the fun mode.) You never know who will come back to you . . . someone in nearby Colorado Springs or a station over 100 miles away.

Another popular mountain in Colorado with a road to the top is Mount Evans, at 14,264 feet. The road up Evans is the highest paved road in North America and is in better condition than the Pikes Peak Highway, so we often hear mountaintopping hams calling CQ from that peak. Evans is about 55 miles from my house, and I can easily hear anyone transmitting from that summit.

There are 54 peaks in Colorado with summits that are 14,000 feet or higher in elevation. A popular recreational activity is climbing to the summits of these peaks, commonly referred to as the “fourteeners.” These fourteeners range in difficulty from those that can be driven up (Pikes and Evans) to ones that are a serious technical climb. Radio amateurs who also like to climb these peaks usually carry with them a handheld VHF radio.

Photo A. Bob, KØNR, operating VHF FM from a mountain pass near Comanche Peak in Colorado.

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