SOTA Field Report: Activating Lane Pinnacle with the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Don’t tell anyone, but I held off making my first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation  until the stars aligned and I could activate one particular summit completely on foot from my QTH.

Last Thursday (February 25, 2021), my daughter and I hiked to Lane Pinnacle (W4C/CM-018) and performed my first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation.

Why did I wait so long?

We live in the mountains of western North Carolina where (obviously) there are numerous SOTA summits to activate.

But I wanted Lane Pinnacle to be the first.

Why? Well, it’s the one summit I can hike to directly from my house with my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and enjoy a proper father/daughter day hike.

I had planned to do this hike last year, but I injured my ankle and let’s just say that the hike to Pinnacle isn’t a beginner’s run.  I knew my ankle would need to properly heal before the journey.

This is also more of a late fall to very early spring hike due to the amount of thick foliage we knew we would have to mitigate. It’s so much easier to keep your bearings when there are no leaves on the trees nor on the green briar!

Last Thursday, I felt confident that my ankle was up to the task. We had a break in the weather as well with moderate temps and lots of sunshine (this, after several days of rain). We knew things could be muddy and slippery, but we also knew that with my busy schedule this might be our last chance to hit the summit before the mountains green up.

So we packed a lunch, plenty of water, radio gear, and (of course) emergency/first-aid kits while trying to keep our backpacks as light as possible.

Hitting the trail!

The first part of the hike requires trailblazing to a ridge line. The distance is short, but the ascent is steep (about 800 feet).  We hike this portion regularly, so knew how to pick our path and avoid the steeper, slippery bits.

K4TLI lead the way!

On the ridge line, we intersected an established single track trail and enjoyed the hike across a couple of smaller summits until we intersected the Blue Ridge Parkway.

If I’m being honest, I had some serious concerns that the trailhead to Lane Pinnacle would be closed. This portion of Blue Ridge Parkway is currently closed to motor vehicles (for the winter season) and I had noticed a number of “trail closed” signs on other portions of the parkway.

Guessing this may be a type of shelf fungus?

If the trail was closed, I planned to simply activate the parkway and Pisgah National Forest for the POTA program. I never hike on trails that have been closed by the park service because I like to obey the rules and I certainly don’t want to paint SOTA activators in a bad light.

When we crossed the parkway, we were incredibly pleased to see that the trailhead was open.

The ascent from the parkway to Lane Pinnacle is about 1,000 feet (305 meters) of elevation gain over a pretty short distance. The trail we were taking–turns out–was primitive. It basically lead us straight up the slope (no switch backs following lines of elevation, for example) and simply fizzled out about one third of the way up.  We could tell it isn’t traveled often at all (although we did find a massive fresh bear track in the mud on the trail!).

Obligatory SOTA report “foot in snow” photo. 🙂

I bushwhacked our way to the top–at times, the slope was about 45 degrees and slippery, but we easily found our way to the summit where our goat path intersected the Mountains To Sea trail.

We found an amazing overlook and took in views of the Bee Tree Reservoir as we ate our lunches.

Geneva grabbed her dual-band HT and made the first summit contact with our friend, Vlado (N3CZ) on 2 meters FM.

On the Air

I knew there would be short trees on the summit of Lane Pinnacle, but I also knew that I wanted to get on the air as soon as possible to allow extra time for our hike home.

I did pack a super compact wire antenna, but opted instead for the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical. I paired it with my Elecraft KX2.

Gear:

The great thing about the CHA MPAS Lite is how quick it is to deploy–it might have taken me all of three minutes.

Since it was noon, I decided to start on the 20 meter band. I found a clear frequency, started calling “CQ SOTA” with the KX2 memory keyer, and spotted myself to the SOTA network via the excellent SOTA Goat app on my phone.

I had also scheduled my activation on the POTA website in advance because Lane Pinnacle is in Pisgah National Forest (K-4510). My buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) were also helping to spot me in the unlikely event I wouldn’t have cell phone service on the summit.

Within 20 seconds of submitting the spot to the SOTA network I had a CW pileup.

In all of my hundreds of field activations, I can’t think of a single time that I generated a CW pileup on 20 meters in such short order with five watts and a vertical.

The first station I logged was N1AIA in Maine. The second station was F4WBN in France.  The race was on!

It took every bit of CW skill I had to pull apart the stations on 20 meters. It was so much fun!

I eventually worked Spain and all of the west coast states (WA, OR, and CA) and numerous stations throughout the Rockies and Midwest.

I then moved to 40 meters where I worked stations in the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and in the Southeast.

In the end, I had to keep my total time on the air short because I wanted to take my time finding a path from the summit back down to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In 30 minutes I worked 30 stations. I’m not a seasoned CW operator, so this was quite the accomplishment.

Here’s a QSOmap of my contacts:

I was chuffed! What a fabulous activation to kick off my SOTA adventures.

Video

This time, I did not make a video of the actual activation. For one thing, I didn’t want to carry a folding tripod for the camera and I didn’t want to ask my daughter to film it either. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible to make the most of the airtime I had.

I did, however, make a short video before and after. You can check it out on my YouTube channel:

Hiking home

I really wish we could have stayed on the summit for an hour longer making contacts, but I knew it would be wise to allow extra time to descend Lane Pinnacle especially since I knew a front was moving through later that day.

I decided it would be easier to do my own bushwhacking back down the mountain rather than try to retrace our previous steps. We took our time and I followed elevation lines to make it slightly less steep. Since I took a more south westerly descent, when we reached the parkway, we had to hike north to reach the original trailhead.

The rest of the hike was totally uneventful and incredibly fun. The weather held and we took in the views, the wildlife, and invaluable father/daughter time.

That was the first strenuous hike I had done in months due to my ankle, so let’s just say I was feeling “spent” after our 6.5 hour adventure taking in 2,000 feet (610 meters) of elevation to the summit.

I knew it was bad when I even dreaded walking upstairs to take a shower.  I think I remember telling my wife, “I’m never building a house with stairs again!”

More SOTA!

Now  that I’ve got Lane Pinnacle in the books, I’m ready to start hitting the summits! I’ve got a lot of pent up SOTA energy!

My goal is to activate a total of ten this year. That may sound like a modest number, but since at this point I’m less interested in “drive-up” summits, it’s more difficult to fit SOTA summits into my schedule than, say, typical POTA/WWFF parks.

In fact, I’ve already plotted my next SOTA activation and hope to do it within the next couple of weeks. It’s also a meaningful (to me) summit.

How about you?

Are you a SOTA activator or are you planning your first SOTA activation soon? Please comment!

5 thoughts on “SOTA Field Report: Activating Lane Pinnacle with the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite”

  1. While I can’t say that I’ve been using the MPAS since the beginning, I have been using it for about 3 years now. It’s expensive but probably the best kept secret until recently. I have thousands of contact with mine, many QRP and many with 100w.

    Two years ago at our Field Day meeting a week before Field Day I proposed that I would run a 15m station with the Mil Whip and Mil Whip Extension, I would also bring the Cap Hat. I received a few smirks from a couple of seasoned hams as if I lost my mind but they would humor the new guy and let me do it.

    They ended up having problems with the 20m setup so I worked 15, 20 & 10m with a single antenna. I made 335 contacts which accounted for one third of our clubs contacts which were just North or 1000.

    I see a lot of people using an antenna from across the pond which I have no doubt works well but appears to take forever to setup. I don’t know what that antenna sells for but I feel that I have no doubt got my money’s worth from the MPAS setup that I can deploy in 6-8 minutes.

  2. Good job, good day and good article! Hope to meet you soon S2S as we can move all around the Basque Country (from next Tuesday) and I will start serious activations again that very day.
    73, Mikel EA2CW

  3. Hi Tom…as usual, I love the blog and videos…thank you for them!

    I am a SOTA op in the W3 region…primarily Pennsylvania, but also Maryland and this week will be in W4 region activating along the Shenandoah Skyline drive with a fellow HF operator.

    I am envious that you can walk to such a beautiful summit from your home….for me to get to the beautiful Pennsylvania summits requires a 2-4 hour drive (one way!)….which calls for very early wake up times if we want to then maximize the SOTA points for such a long drive by doing multiple summits in one outing (usually 3-, sometimes 4-summits in one day). Yes…we could camp-out and make it a multiple day trip…but family activities usually take priority, so it is an “out and back” day. Nevertheless…it is such a rush….very addicting.

    On our last outing (Mar 3) we planned 3 summits, but I only could activate 1 of them due to 8-inch snow/ice mountain roads and an embarrassing inadequate vehicle to go up them. The result…I got stuck (due to ice on the road and spinning tires) and thankfully the other operator was able to push me out of the predicament and I was able to BACK-DOWN the mountain road…about 1/2-mile going in reverse…that was not fun with ditches on either side just daring me to come and visit them!!

    For antennas we use wire…my ‘ole reliable’ has been LNR’s (now Virbroplex) 20/40 Parfitt EFHW…netting me many EU and cross USA/Canada SSB contacts running 10-15-watts (KX3). However…thanks to your blog/vids….an MPAS lite is on order, and I look forward to the vertical as well as 60′ random wire configurations.

    My goal is to switch to CW mode by summer 2021….pushing my way thru the initial learning stages from the Long Island CW Club (an absolute wonderful club for learning Morse Code..from basics to head-copy and from 5wpm to 20wpm)….which is always another value from your videos as I try to pick out the call-signs of your chasers…

    73, Jim / AC3B

  4. Love the report Tom. It has been a while since I did Lane Pinnacle but we (KW4JM and I) did the short route from the BRP. I wrote about Lane Pinnacle in my book which documented my first 100 unique summits.

    73, Ariel NY4G

  5. Thank you, Ariel! I had no idea you wrote a book! And I also had no idea you were selling antennas on your website, too. I love the wooden winders and enclosures. Admittedly, I think it’s been ages since I’ve seen you in person.

    Perhaps the starts will align and we can do a joint SOTA activation someday!

    Cheers,
    Thomas
    K4SWL

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