The random.random() Joseph Wilbrand Weblog

The random.random() Joseph Wilbrand Weblog

Category: Storytelling


Letter from Adrian Perkins (83) from Ely, England


1956. Aged 17. School friend Ben and I were having a Spring holiday in Borrowdale in the English Lake District for the second year running. This year Rodney came too and we were camping rather than youth-hostelling. We felt that hostelling had been too restrictive because of the need to pre-book the hostels, and thus our exact route for the whole week.

Following day one’s bus and scramble to the top of Helvellyn via the wonderful and hair-raising Striding Edge, we were trudging down the road towards the field where our tents were pitched:

“Hi! I thought I might run into you lot. Where’d you go today?”

It was a boy from our school two years above us. We hardly knew him beyond knowing his name was Warwick Wilkinson.

“Hi Warwick!” Ben said. “How did you know where we were camping?”

“I overheard you planning, back at school.”

“In other words you were eavesdropping,” Rodney challenged.

“Keep your hair on, Rodney. I’m offering to help you chaps out. Would you like me to take you rock climbing tomorrow? I’ve got all the kit we’ll need.”

“Golly! I’d love that,” I said.

“Me too,” Ben agreed.

“Hang on! Will you …. Are you qualified for this?”

“You’re quite right to ask, Rodney,” Warwick replied. “Yes I am. My dad’s a professional climber. He’s been teaching me intensively since I was ten. So I know more or less all there is to know about rock climbing. Bugger all else, mind! I’m about to fail all my A-level exams next term, but I couldn’t give a damn.” He grinned cheerfully.

For my part I was starting to think we were in the presence of a god.

“So, can we meet at nine o’clock tomorrow at the entrance to Seathwaite car-park?” Warwick asked.

Ben and I reached the rendezvous ten minutes early (Rodney had cried off, and Ben lent him his map for the day). Warwick soon arrived. We took off along the bridleway following the River Derwent upstream to Stockley Bridge. The bridleway turned right across the river, and we continued steeply uphill to reach Sty Head. Here, Warwick turned west along a narrow footpath. We reached a tall, slender pinnacle of rock (680 meters high), with a huge chunk of rock balanced on top of it.

“That,” Warwick said, “is called Napes Needle, and worry you not, we’re not going to climb it. We will be going that way.” He pointed to the massive heave of mountain known as Great Gable, of which the Needle was an outcrop. He showed us how to tie the rope round our waists. He would lead at the top of the rope, I was to be number two in the middle, and Ben number three at the end. He explained that there would never be more than one person climbing at a time. Warwick had planned it in three pitches. At the end of each pitch it was always the first task for the person above the current climber to belay the rope between them with three turns around a suitable pinnacle of rock. As the climber below climbs, the one above will wind the rope around the belay. Thus the person climbing is always protected if he should fall, with, of course, the exception of number one. “That’s why he’s called the leader and knows what he’s doing,” as Warwick put it.

The memory of this climb, beyond the fact that it was wildly exciting, I have largely lost – with the exception of the second pitch. This was along a narrow ledge, about two centimetres wide for the most part, running diagonally up a rock-face at an angle of about 45°. There were a few handholds at a usable height along the way. I had watched Warwick step along the ledge with apparent ease until he reached a small rock platform at the end of the pitch. He belayed the rope and called me on up.

Jesus, I can’t do that! But I must. I’ve just got to. I very slowly stepped along the ledge, face pressed against the rock, desperately grasping at hand-holds in the rock when I could – often no more than swellings in the cliff. About half-way along I took another small step. My foot slipped off. I fell. I continued dropping. Help! At last the rope went tight. But it was stretching. I fell another couple of feet – and I was swinging like a pendulum across the cliff – from side to side about a foot from the rock-face. I pushed my boots forward to drag on the cliff and stop the pendulum. Slowly, slowly with the help of knobs and cracks in the rock I pulled myself up the cliff, with Warwick keeping the rope tightly belayed. I have no memory – none at all – of the rest of that day. Not surprising, I suppose.”


Costa Rica SOTA Expedition After Action Report

From January 3 to January 9, I visited Costa Rica to go “play radio.” This article will summarize my experience, share some lessons learned, and highlight the success resulting from CW Academy training.

Around January of 2020, I researched a few options for international travel. My criteria required either reciprocal licensing or a pathway for foreign travelers to obtain an amateur radio license. My criteria also included a need for the destination to participate in the Summits on the Air (SOTA) award program. For those who don’t know, SOTA is an award program that grants points to “activators” who climb summits and make QSOs using portable equipment as well as to the “chasers” who contact the “activator.” For an activator, the program’s ultimate award is “Mountain Goat,” which requires 1000 points and typically takes several years to accomplish.

Although I initially planned on traveling to Japan, the country closed its borders to all foreign travelers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, I selected Costa Rica, which had measures for foreign visitors (including mandatory additional health insurance, health screening, rapid testing, and a few others). From June 2020 to January 2021, I closely monitored the US Embassy website and Costa Rican government messages about immigration, and surprisingly restrictions slightly relaxed over time. I simultaneously submitted the required paperwork to Sutel, the Costa Rican FCC, for callsign designators TI2, TI3, and TI5. The paperwork was very specific and required that I list each planned operating location, radio type, power, and antenna type, polarization, and gain. As a note for anyone planning on operating in Costa Rica or Costa Rican territories: submit your paperwork to Sutel as early as possible – 6 months is “cutting it close.” I’d recommend submission a year in advance to assist in navigating additional questions, corrections, and resubmission.

After my paperwork was submitted and my flight was booked, I contacted the Radio Club of Costa Rica (TI0RC) and the Asociacion Radioaficionados Cartago (TI0ARC). Both groups were familiar with SOTA and provided me with insights and a list of a few possible summits to explore. They graciously created a “What’s App” messaging group and contacted me regularly throughout my planning process. Using their recommendations, I visited (the SOTA Atlas) and plotted my ​trip through the country. I concluded I could probably activate 2 summits per day, which would be feasible while fac-toring in drive time, available battery time, weather, and daylight hours.

In January 3, 2021, I landed in San Jose and met Luis Arias, and we immediately set out to activate two summits. This plan required a few modifications because of closed gates, area closures due to COVID-19, and access issues; however, we activated both Alto Indias and Cerro Frio within several hours. While Luis utilized a VHF HT, I used my Yaesu FT 891 and wire dipole to work CW on HF. As stations stacked up (Argentina, France, Maine, California, etc.) I called them out to Luis, who told me he would set up FT8 for some DX on his Icom 705. Our conversation quickly switched to the topic of CW.

The following day was definitely a trip highlight. I discovered the Turrialba Volcano was open for climbing with a guide. I was excited because Turrialba had been closed to all exploration for approximately 10 years due to volcanic activity. The only downside to climbing the volcano was that I was only authorized to transmit using an HT rather than a complete HF setup due to time restrictions at the summit. Regardless the hike up to 11,000 ft was literally breathtaking due to the scenery and lack of oxygen. I am proud to say that TI3LSK and I were the first to activate this particular summit, which would not have been possible even two weeks prior. After Turrialba, I summited Volcano Irazu, which was equally beautiful and a bit higher in elevation.

My true “DX” station CW learning experience happened on day 3. Conditions were excellent, and I began calling CQ on 20m atop Cerro Espiritu Santo. I received an avalanche of calls. The only time I remember being more mentally flooded was on my first attempt at activating a summit using CW. Fortunately, I practiced by using Morse Runner before my trip, and I was able to pick out pieces of callsigns. I discovered a few things that helped me.

Before I share my lessons learned, I need to point out that I made my first CW QSO around September 2019 and earned my CWops number in June of 2020. Although I know CW, I am not experienced in running as a station, let alone a DX station. While I have run a station on various SOTA summits, the last solar minimum helped create smaller pileups that were more manageable. Additionally, fewer stations are interested in working California than they would be working Costa Rica.

Given the above, here are my observations. First, managing a pileup with rhythmic and standardized responses makes things flow more smoothly. When chasers know what to expect from me on each transmission, the pileup naturally becomes more organized. I also found that when I used a “?” combined with a partial call, the situation would become worse vs. just returning a partial call. I concluded that a “?” sent in combination with anything leads some to send their callsign despite the question not applying to them; whereas, sending a partial call almost always restrained those I didn’t intend to work at the moment and allowed me to focus on the intended station. I also found that I needed to try and work the loudest stations first. I learned working a pileup is similar to peeling layers off an onion – and often, the more rare callsigns were hidden at the innermost layers. Most importantly, though, I realized that a DXpedition doesn’t require any-thing beyond the radio you bring with you because the best radio is the one you use. For me, 100w and a wire worked out just fine.

I lastly decided that next time I travel, I will probably not plan on activating a large number of summits; rather, I will choose one or two and spend more time on the summit working all bands and making contacts. My purpose for this trip was a SOTA DXpedition to earn points toward the Mountain Goat award. I met that goal at the expense of rushing through the actual QSO phase. I earned points but made fewer contacts than I could have. By my next trip, I will have the Mountain Goat award, and making points will be secondary to making QSOs and generating a full logbook.

On my final day in Costa Rica, I met with the TI0ARC at a local bar. I was surprised when they presented me with an award they created, congratulating me on a successful SOTA Expedition. I was additionally told that TI3LSK registered for the next available CW Academy Basic course and encouraged fellow club members to do the same.

Although I could write a detailed log describing each day, in summary, I activated 9 different summits, including 2 volcanoes. I made contacts with stations across the United States, Germany, Spain, France, England, Czech Republic, Cuba, Sweden, Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, and a few others. In total, I added 76 points to my SOTA score, bringing my total up to 908 (as of the day I write this). I drove several hundred miles and met many incredible people. I walked away with many new experiences, great memories, and excitement to do something similar in the future. I also realized my trip was a testament to the CW Academy program. I will forever be grateful for the time NN7M and K6RB put into teaching me proper code. It has made all the difference for me.

Before I close, I wanted to share one point of comedy during my trip. Costa Rica has a saying, “Pura Vida,” which means “pure life” but is more of a way of life than anything. The term can apply to bad situations you can’t help equally to the beautiful and amazing. On one of the last days of my trip, I was driving from a summit I had just activated toward the next village. Roads in Costa Rica are mediocre at best and terrible at worst, but I rented a 4×4 for that reason. While driving down a hill, the road transitioned from paved to dirt, to overgrown, and finally to muddy. Needless to say, I quickly became stuck to the point that I had my back right tire suspended in the air. Given the situation and my inability to self-recover, I hiked approximately 3 miles back into the town came from. Thankfully my Spanish helped me find someone who owned a tow truck, and we returned to my vehicle. While we were at work recovering my vehicle, a local who was walking by stopped and lectured me in Spanish, saying, “We have a hard time walking down this road; what makes you think you can drive down this!?” Pura Vida? Pura Vida.



On May 24, 2019 my friend and I decided to hike to the top of Throop Peak and Mt Baden Powell. This hike follows a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail for a majority of the hike. The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles of trail that stretches from the Mexican to the Canadian border. Hikers that journey the entire distance are called “thru hikers.” Here are some statistics on the entire PCT:

  • 2,650 – Approximate length in miles
  • 3 – Number of states the PCT traverses through (California, Oregon, and Washington)
  • 6 – Number of National Parks the PCT passes through
  • 35 – Number of National Forests the PCT passes through
  • 48 – Number of Wilderness areas the PCT passes through
  • 60- Number of major mountain passes the PCT climbs and descends
  • 150 – Average number of days it takes to complete a PCT thru-hike (4.5-5.5 months)
  • 489,418 – Approximate elevation gain and loss in feet of the PCT
  • 16 – Amount of times a PCT hiker would have climbed Mt. Everest after finishing a thru-hike
  • $4000-8000+ – Average on-trail expenses, plan to spend $2 – $3 per mile
  • 4-5 – Average pairs of shoes a PCT hiker will go through
  • 60% – Percentage of people who complete a thru-hike on the PCT out of those that attempt it

May 2019 was unusually cold and snow still covered the PCT. Here is a photo that captured the weather:

After reaching the summit of Baden Powell, an individual in a white bathrobe introduced himself to me as “Sloth.” Sloth explained thru-hikers are given names and that was his. He proceeded to produce a box of drumstick ice cream and offered me one. I happily took one and thanked him. I was slightly amazed that Sloth produced the box of drumsticks not unlike a magic trick – the box materialized seemingly from nowhere. The ice cream was still frozen and was delicious.

I don’t remember much of the conversation with Sloth, but I do remember he materialized a weed pipe and took several hits before boxing everything up. As my friend and I started the return route, Sloth, wearing sandals, traveled past at such a high rate of speed that his bathrobe flew behind him like the cape of a superhero.

Approximately one year after this event, I thought about Sloth and conducted an internet search for him. I used Google and pieced together a query of “PCT” and “Sloth.” Sure enough an old Reddit forum discussed Mr. Sloth and had a photo.

Met this cat Sloth in the Cali Sierras while attending Wavespell in August. Wavespell is a 4 day music festival featuring my favorite band STS9 and held in Beldentown on the banks of the feather river. I’ve always loved Beldentown as a venue and in no small way because it is along the PCT so we always meet a bunch of awesome hikers. I had a ton of fun meeting this years crop a trail warriors and it felt good to be the beer fairy passing out cold ones to every hiker that was thirsty. You all are amazing! Sloth is hard to miss being that he hikes in a white robe and has mega Lebowski Dude vibes. Hope he crushes out the rest of trail. It’s def gonna start getting chilly. Something tells me this Sloth keeps a rather furious pace…


Thanks RipCityGringo, that is exactly the Sloth that I was looking for. Thankfully another Reddit user “adamffgghh” posted a photo of Sloth, which was actually quite majestic. I am also thankful the photo captured Sloth in the bathrobe and wearing his unusual footwear.

Sloth – 2019, Photo By: adamffgghh