015 – A QRP micro-mission in Montagu (2km / 150m elevation)

The wife took part in a crazy 155km gravel race in Montagu that almost everyone dropped out of due to the 42 degree heat, but her and three others finished. #machine

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I took the morning after as an opportunity to run up the little mountain behind the place we were staying (actually my parent’s new house) and try out my new QRP radio.

The radio is the Xiegu X5105. It’s small, solid and feels like it was built by nerds who love engineering. You can literally fit this radio into a large pocket, and it is fully featured: Built-in battery, built-in antenna tuner, it even has a built-in mic so that you don’t have to carry the handheld mic.

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I’d only ever used it once before, very briefly in a forest with a hastily strung up antenna in some trees, and that worked amazingly so I had high hopes.

QRP refers to transmitting at low power while attempting to maximise your effective range. “Normal” ham radios are 100 watts, QRP radios are usually (traditionally) 5 watts or less. That definition has become a bit blurry over the last few years with 15 watt radios being considered QRP. The purists will say 5 watts is the only true QRP. On the other end of the spectrum, there are quite a few hams with 3000 watt amplifiers.

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On the way up the hill

Back to Montagu, there isn’t really a path to the “summit” but I’ve explored the area before and knew a route. Follow the fence-line up the hill and then when you reach the top, turn left and traverse the spine of the mountain up to the highest point. In total it’s probably a 20 minute hike with no real paths, but easy terrain.

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At the top is a small rock cairn and a relatively large area to set up antennas etc. It’s quite exposed as winds blow through the valley behind, get compressed and explode over the cliff and into your face.

I’ve been learning some tricks for setting up in high winds. The two most important ones are:

  1. Keep the mast bent a little in one direction so that it doesn’t flap around.
  2. Rake your dipole legs back into the wind to give your mast extra protection/rigidity in the wind.
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Note how the mast and dipole legs are raked back into the wind.

So, how did my 5 watts perform?

Firstly, I was in a rush. If I had more time I would have set up a little shady spot and probably made a lot more contacts. That said, I did make multiple 5/9 contacts with stations in Johannesburg and Pretoria, over 1100km (680 miles) away. To achieve this with 5 watts (the power your average phone charger puts out) is incredible.

5/9 is an “RST report” (Readability, Strength and Tone). For voice communications we only report the R and S part, as Tone is important only to Morse code operators. 5/9 is pretty much the best report you can get. There is also 5/9+ and 5/9++ but that’s really just saying “Your signal is so strong my radio can’t measure it accurately”.

So 5/9 means:

  • 5 out of 5 for Readability. (ie. They can make out what I’m saying with no problems)
  • 9 out of 9 for Strength means a very strong signal.

The fact that RST reports are often written in way that makes them look like a fraction (eg. 5/9) is not helpful to people who are just learning about this stuff. It’s not a fraction.

So in summary, I’m a huge fan of this little radio. I will do another more in depth review on it at a later date, specifically with regards to its shortcomings for portable operations on digital modes (which might be fixable with firmware updates from Xiegu).

This does also reconfirm the age old tenet that “It’s all about the antenna“, which should really be: “It’s all about the location and the antenna“. The combination of a great antenna and good location will outperform the most expensive radio every day of the week.

I really do look forward to camping out somewhere in the mountains with my little Xiegu and a tent!

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Tip for the home gamers: you can use these winders as adjustable guy fasteners, but this only stays tight under pressure. If you drop your mast to change a link dipole this will likely come completely loose.
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There are HUYGE ants up there.

Summary

Date: 17 March 2019
Distance and Elevation: 2km and 150m Elevation Gain.
Coordinates: Starting point is on a gravel road just behind some houses. Head up the fence line to where you’re at the base of the spine and then head straight up to the rock cairn.
Conditions: Windy but warm and exposed. Wear sunscreen!
Radio Stuff: This is a great spot for testing out kit if you’re new to portable ops and don’t want to hike too far only to discover that you forgot a random connector. If you’re in Montagu for a weekend etc, take Sunday morning to disappear into the mountains.

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The route up. As you can see, you’re not too far from houses but it’s relatively RF quiet up here.

Bonus photos from my previous mission with the X5105 in Newlands Forest

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And a picture of the wife after finishing the race on her semi-vintage gravel monster.

One thought on “015 – A QRP micro-mission in Montagu (2km / 150m elevation)

  1. Wonderful story! I am at awe with your achievements!
    Thank you for promoting the hobby!
    I’m already looking out for chapter 3.

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