SOTA at Philmont

There are thirteen summits inside Philmont Scout Ranch that are listed in the Summits on the Air (SOTA) amateur radio program. There are another three within the Valle Vidal region to the north of the ranch. Only two of these sixteen peaks have been activated by SOTA operators, Baldy Mountain and Shaefers Peak.

SOTA is an award scheme for radio amateurs that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas. I think it is a great match for Scouting, combining the outdoors, technology, and world fellowship. Grab a radio, hike to the top of a mountain, and talk to people.

Here is a map of the Philmont South Country, which has most of the SOTA summits.

Philmont SOTA South

Starting at the north and moving south, these are the SOTA summits. If the summit does not have an official name, SOTA uses the altitude. An unnamed summit that is 8820 feet tall will be “Point 8820”.

Philmont Region Summit Name SOTA Reference Number of Activations
Valle Vidal Little Costilla Peak W5N/CM-001 0
Valle Vidal Ash Mountain South W5N/CM-005 0
Valle Vidal Point 11100 W5N/CM-007 0
North Country Baldy Mountain W5N/CM-002 2
North Country Point 8820 W5N/CM-023 0
South Country Point 8988 W5N/CM-018 0
South Country Phillips Mount W5N/CM-004 0
South Country Bear Mountain W5N/CM-011 0
South Country Schaefers Peak W5N/CM-016 3
South Country Black Mountain W5N/CM-010 0
South Country Garcia Peak W5N/CM-009 0
South Country Point 8881 W5N/CM-021 0
South Country Mesa Urraca W5N/CM-026 0
South Country Train Peak W5N/CM-013 0
South Country Burn Peak W5N/CM-014 0
South Country Lookout Peak W5N/CM-015 0

I used CalTopo.com to make maps with the Philmont boundaries and the SOTA peaks overlaid. CalTopo is a fantastic, free tool for making custom maps. For a modest subscription ($20/year), you can unlock more features. But the free version is still very useful.

The PDF maps are geospatial PDFs, so you can use them with a mapping app like Avenza Maps (free).

  • Map of all of Philmont with SOTA peaks, in PDF, JPEG, and on CalTopo.
  • Map of the Valle Vidal with SOTA peaks, in PDF and JPEG.
  • Map of Philmont North Country with SOTA peaks, in PDF and JPEG.
  • Map of Philmont South Country with SOTA peaks, in PDF and JPEG.

I don’t have a ride this year, but I want to go back to Philmont, with a radio!

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Lentil-Bulgur Chili

I’ve made this on a few backpacking trips and it has always been delicious. It is several cuts above the normal dehydrated meal. It is simple to assemble at home and needs only a few dehydrated vegetables. On an overnight, it is worth carrying some fresh sourdough bread to accompany the chili.

This is from my favorite outdoor cookbook, The Back-Country Kitchen: Cooking for Canoeists, Anglers, and Hikers by Teresa Marrone, page 125. I’m reprinting it here with her kind permission.

Here we are, enjoying the chili with friends at Eagle Spring trail camp, near Mission Peak.

MG 5014

And here is her recipe.


Lentils, bulgur, and shredded cheese combine to make a complete protein in this delicious vegetarian chili. The sunflower seeds add great texture.

Serves 3-4.

Combine in quart plastic zipper bag:

1/2 cup lentils
1/3 cup bulgur
1/3 cup dried shredded carrot
2 tablespoons chopped celery (preferably de-stringed)
2 tablespoons husked, salted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon crumbled dried parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried garlic chips
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
4 sun-dried tomato halves cut in half-inch pieces (I used oil-packed)
half of the leather from an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce (I used some sun-dried tomato paste)

Carry separately:

1/2 cup cheddar cheese (I use pre-shredded cheese)

In medium pot, boil 2 1/2 cups of water. Add mix; stir thoroughly. Cover and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Stir well and return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes; add additional water (1/2 cup) if the chili begins sticking during cooking. While the chili cooks, shred or coarsely chop the cheese. Sprinkle each serving with cheese.


I’ve also made this at home, using fresh ingredients for the dried vegetables. It was just as tasty at home, something that isn’t always true for trail meals.

The cookbook has a handy chapter of equivalents for dried and fresh ingredients. I replaced the dehydrated vegetables with fresh and sautéed them before cooking the lentils and bulgur.

1 cup diced carrot
1 cup chopped celery (I add chopped celery leaves because I like celery)
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (I use poblano because my wife doesn’t like bell pepper)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped parsley (or to taste)
olive oil

Sauté the onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper in one or two tablespoons of olive oil until the onion is translucent.

Add the garlic and sauté another minute (until fragrant).

Add water and all remaining ingredients except the parsley and cheese. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Different lentils cook for different times, so check the package.
Stir in the parsley.

Serve topped with cheese.

Back country kitchen The Back-Country Kitchen is available at Amazon.

75 Books

I read 75 books in 2016. I started 78 books, but gave up on three of them. I signed up in the Goodreads challenge to read 75 books, because I thought I read roughly a book and a half each week. Well, I needed to read a lot of short books to hit that goal.

These are the best books I read last year.

Cover Dispatches Dispatches by Michael Herr, 1977. Reporting from Vietnam was mostly about hills taken and body counts, parroted from press briefings. Michael Herr skipped those briefings and went out into the jungles with the Marines. He reported the emotions, the mud, and the blood. Not an easy read, but an essential one.

 

Cover Sector General Sector General Series by James White (1957 through 1999). If you were a pacifist living in Belfast during The Troubles, what sort of science fiction would you write? James White decided to write stories of a city-sized hospital in space, where races are truly different, humans are not special or better, and the only goal is healing, no matter how difficult. It is easy to see the flaws in these books, but there is something rare and special in them. It is a twelve-book series and I read six of them last year.

 

Cover Influence Influence by Robert Cialdini, 1984 (new edition 2006). Don’t get conned again! Cialdini studied the mechanics of persuasion and describes them with great stories. There are two editions of this book. You want the cheaper, non-textbook edition without the exercises.

 

Cover Our Souls at Night Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, 2015. Haruf’s last book is a gentle story about two people finding a bit of happiness in their old age, for a little while.

 

Cover The Food Lab The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by Kenji Lopez-Alt, 2015. A week after I was given this book, I made Eggs Benedict for the family. I used Kenji’s straightforward method for hollandaise and it was perfect. When I made it the next Christmas, it was just as good. Every recipe in this book is like that, because science. Yes, it is over 900 pages and I read the whole thing. Buy this for that engineer in your life who cooks.

 

Cover Scout Field Book Scout Field Book by James E. West and Daniel Hillcourt, 1948. Short chapters, lots of pictures, something to do on every page, just the thing for the boy who spends his time glued to that new, addictive device, the radio. The current BSA Fieldbook manages to make the outdoors boring. Let’s start over using this and the 2nd edition Fieldbook (1967) as models. For a good example of that approach, get the Outdoor Adventure Manual from the Scout Association in the UK.

 

Cover Just Mercy Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, 2014. It is time to stop reading To Kill a Mockingbird in school and start reading this. “Mockingbird” is fiction about white people, but this is a true story about a black man, a good man, who was accused, convicted, and broken for something he didn’t do. The book weaves together that story and Bryan Stevenson’s personal story about working to free people wrongly convicted. You won’t be able to put it down and you won’t be able to forget it.

 

Cover Brooklyn Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, 2009. This is the only book I’ve read by Tóibín, maybe his others are better. But this was very good. The movie is equally good and follows the book very closely. Both are quietly rewarding, though I might give the edge to the movie for Saoirse Ronan’s fine performance.

 

Cover What s Cooking on the PCT Whats Cooking on the PCT by Martin “Rainman” Leghart, Jr., 2015-2016. A backpacking cookbook with a wide range of cooking and eating styles. If you are not satisfied with your current trail food or just starting out, you should get this book and read how 40+ PCT hikers eat, with one recipe from each. There is a new edition every fall and half the profits go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

 

The full list of my 75 books is on line at Goodreads. This year I signed up to read 52 books, so I can read some longer ones. I’ve already finished Moby Dick.

Short Podcasts for the Beginning Ham

Since 2011, Onno (VK6FLAB) has been producing weekly podcasts for beginning Australian amateur radio operators. The podcasts are short, from one to three minutes long. I’m no longer a beginner, but I really enjoy the podcasts. They are full of curiosity, advice, and encouragement. They make me want to get on the air.

The first series of podcasts, What use is an F-call? ran from 2011 through June 2015. These were about operating with with the Australian Foundation Licence, the entry-level license there.

The second series, Foundations of Amateur Radio, is still for Foundation Licence holders, but has a name that makes a bit more sense to non-Australian hams.

Each podcast has a text transcription, which helps with handicapped accessibility. Those are available on the website and I can see them in my iOS Podcasts app.

There are a few terms unique to Australia and amateur radio there, so I’ve compiled a short glossary.

  • The ACMA is the government agency that issues amateur radio licenses.
  • An F-call is an Australian call sign with a four-letter suffix starting with “F”, like “VK6FLAB”. All Foundation Licence holders have F-calls.
  • The Foundation Licence is the entry level amateur radio license. Unlike the US Technician license, it allows operating on HF bands (80, 40, 15, and 10) with voice and Morse at 10 Watts. It does not permit data modes, homebuilt transmitters, or automatically controlled transmitters. Other license classes are Standard and Advanced.
  • Holden is the Australian arm of General Motors, so a “Holden vs Ford discussion” is like a Chevy vs Ford discussion.
  • The LCD (Licence Conditions Determination) is the set of rules and regulations for amateur radio operators.
  • The WIA (Wireless Institute of Australia) is the national association for amateur radio, similar to the ARRL in the US.

Whenever I start one of Onno’s podcasts, I listen to three or four. I’ve listened to over eighty so far and I think I’ll be sad when I finish the backlog and have to wait a whole week for the next one.

An Easy Way to Attach Tags to Dog Collars

Loken has a dog collar for the Christmas season, for other seasons, and his regulation CCI blue collar. I used to break nails on the split rings while moving the tags until I realized I could use a locking S-biner to attach them.

IMG 0184 crop

Put all the dog tags on one loop of the S-biner, then connect the other side to the collar. The lock bar is turned to prevent the S-biner from accidentally falling off.

To switch to another collar, turn the bar to unlock, remove the S-biner, and attach to the new collar.

IMG 0185 crop

Locking S-biners are two for five dollars. I expect you can find a use for the second one. I got my locking S-biners at REI.

Within the Context of No Context

I first read this as an essay in the New Yorker in 1980, then read the book. I’m not at all sure that I have absorbed the wisdom. From the first page: “The most powerful men were those who most effectively used the power of adult competence to enforce childish agreements.”

That is a really creepy observation from 37 years ago when applied to Donald Trump in 2017.

The New Yorker has the first page of the original essay on their website. Check it out: “Within the Context of No Context“.

This book might not be for you. It is written in a strange, oracular style. But for “television” read “the Internet” and you see this.

[The Internet] is the force of no-history, and it holds the archives of the history of no-history. […] The trivial is raised up to the place where this scale has its home; the powerful is lowered there. In the place where this scale has its home, childish agreements can be arrived at and enforced effectively—childish agreements, and agreements wearing the mask of childhood.

If that doesn’t work for you, then you can skip the book. But if it makes you want to read one more paragraph, then go for it. And dang it, it makes me want to read the whole crazy thing again.

His critique of celebrity is unsurpassed. He contrasts the various “grids” (I would say “networks”) of social connections, with gradation from close friends to people you read about in the news. Only celebrities exist in the smallest and largest grids. We make celebrities part of our close friend groups, whether they be Oprah, Ellen, Beyonce, or Tomi Lahren.

The middle distance fell away…Two grids remained. The grid of two hundred million and the grid of intimacy.

The book has been described as “Baffling, cranky, elusive, brilliant.” Not sure I could be more precise than that.

Start with Goodreads and you can get to Amazon or libraries to find Within the Context of No Context.

Building a Dummy Load

If you plan to transmit on your radio, you need a way to test your transmitter without radiating a signal. You do that by transmitting into a “dummy load”. I had a 20 Watt dummy load, but I needed one to handle 100 Watts, so I built a $40 kit in June. This was the first serious soldering I had done in years, maybe decades.

I built the Oak Hills Research RFL-100 kit. A pre-built 100 W dummy load is usually $150-200. This kit is $40.

The dummy load is twenty 5 W resistors in parallel. Here are the first two resistors, ready to be soldered.

Dummy load 1

And here we are, with half of the resistors soldered onto the board.

Dummy load 2

Here we see all the resistors soldered, the board installed in the nice enclosure, and soldered to the the input connector. I chose a BNC connector instead of the standard UHF connector. My ham shack is cabled with BNC. The enclosure is marked up under the connector mounting nuts because I ground off the paint with a Dremel tool. That was much easier than sanding the paint off.

Dummy load 3

Is it 50 Ω? Well, let’s see. Hmm 49.9 Ω is within 0.1%. My Ohmmeter is accurate to +/-0.5%, so I’ll take that as a solid 50 Ω.

Dummy load 4

Finally, let’s connect it to my new 100 Watt power amplifier on the ANT 2 port. Looks great, handling 100 Watts continuous with a 1:1 SWR.

Dummy load 5

If you have a transmitter and need a dummy load, I highly recommend building the Oak Hills Research RFL-100.