Lately, when I hit a park or summit to do an activation, I allow a little extra time.
We’re truly in the doldrums of the solar cycle at present, but we’re heading into Solar Cycle 25 with the promise of more sun spots and better propagation. (At least, the ARRL is banking on it!)
If you’ve been doing field activations these past few years, you know how to cope when there are few or no sun spots. You might get less DX contacts, but you can still validate an activation easily enough.
But some days, propagation is unstable or wiped out altogether based on the particles, winds, and CMEs our local star might decide to hurl our way.
Last week (April 12, 2021), I stopped by a new-to-me site: Table Rock State Fish Hatchery.
It was very much an impromptu activation as I decided to visit the site on my way back home after spending time with my parents. Max (WG4Z) mentioned that he had recently visited the site and it had easy access–I checked the map and saw that it was, perhaps, a 30 minute detour.
Table Rock State Fish Hatchery (K-8012)
Before I deploy an antenna–a wire or vertical–I always check for power lines or cables in the vicinity. This site did have them so I deployed my antenna in such a way that there would be no possible way they could touch.
My buddy Mike (K8RAT) told me in advance that this would be a challenging activation because band conditions were so rough, so I decided to deploy my Chameleon CHA MPAS 2.0 antenna as a random wire instead of a vertical.
I didn’t have my instruction sheet for the MPAS 2.0 so forgot to use the strain relieve at the base of the antenna (not a big deal) and I added a counterpoise wire. I knew it would radiate well.
I paired the Icom IC-705 with my mAT-705 Plus ATU knowing this would give me frequency options across the bands. Setup was actually very simple.
- Icom IC-705
- Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus
- Chameleon CHA MPAS 2.0
- CW Morse “Pocket Paddle”
- Arborist throw line
I hopped on the air assuming 40 meters might be somewhat fruitful.
Turns out, it was not.
Contacts were slow coming and I could tell conditions were very unstable. In the span of 30 minutes, I had only worked five stations. That’s a very slow rate compared with a typical activation.
I eventually made my way to the 60 meter band and was very happy to rack up an additional three contacts in fairly short order. (I often forget about 60 meters, but it’s a brilliant band and proper blend of 80 and 40 meter characteristics.
When I felt like I’d worked all available stations on 60 meters, I went back up to 40 meters and finally added three more contacts in 20 minutes.
If I’m being honest, this activation felt like a proper struggle. I was fully prepared to call it quits without having logged 10 stations to validate my activation simply due to my schedule. This activation took me to the threshold of my available time.
In fact, I recorded one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation, but decided I wouldn’t even bother posting it because…well…it would be too long and had so few stations calling in.
In the end, though, and against my better judgement, I uploaded the video to YouTube because, frankly, activations like this are a reality in 2021.
In fact, once I returned home, I looked at the POTA and SOTA discussion groups and there were numerous reports of failed and troublesome activations that afternoon with ops running much more than QRP power.
I even read a report of one unlucky operator who was attempting his first ever POTA activation during that same span of time. He was not able to gather his 10 needed contacts and felt somewhat deflated. I shared my story with him because I think he feared either his gear or his technique were to blame. He was running SSB which would have put him at even more of a disadvantage that day.
Still…I had fun!
While I might have been frustrated with the poor propagation, it didn’t stop me from enjoying this outing. The weather was beautiful, and I even had a canine welcoming committee pop by for a visit (you can see that in the video). I also worked a number of friends that day on the air including (I later found out) one very new CW operator.
Although you can’t see it in the photos or video, the Fish Hatchery is close to Table Rock which is a beautiful mountain here in western North Carolina. The drive to the site is quite scenic.
I don’t do POTA, SOTA, or WWFF for the numbers–I do it because I love playing radio outdoors.
Time is your friend
My activations are normally very short because I squeeze them into my weekly schedule. Keep in mind that, regardless of propagation, you can almost always get your 10 contacts with enough time. It also helps if you’re activating a site that is either rare, or if it counts for multiple programs (I’ll often find SOTA summits that are on state or national park land). Chasers from multiple programs are a good thing!
I’d encourage you to check band conditions before leaving home and simply plan to spend more time on the air if conditions are poor. Bring a book with you and put your CW or voice memory keyer to work while you dive into your favorite novel. 🙂
Keep in mind that sometimes our local star will surprise us with amazing band openings. The activation after Table Rock was a case in point. Stay tuned!
Have you struggled to complete an activation recently? Or have you struggled as a hinter/chaser? Please comment!