First of all, thank you so much Thomas Witherspoon (K4SWL) for allowing me the space to tell my recent story from my trip to Virginia. I hope you find it interesting. I certainly do not have Tom’s writing skills so I’ll do my best.
A quick introduction. I was licensed in 1983, call KA3LUW, as a Novice mostly a CW operator. I upgraded in 1992 to Extra with the 20 WPM code. I was mostly interested in DX and around 1996 went through some life changes and became inactive for several years until about 2003 when my Dad (N3FWI – now SK) gave me his Kenwood TS 450 to sell. I put up a temporary antenna and discovered PSK31. That actually got me back into ham radio as Dad let me keep the radio. At that point I changed my Extra call from WY3X to KN3A. Over the years my interest is still chasing DX and contesting. In 2015, I was chasing the W1AW year long event for the ARRL Centennial so I could confirm as many states on as many bands and modes as possible. When 2016 started, my ham friend, Mark, K3MRK told me I should get involved with NPOTA (National Parks on the Air) which was also celebrating their 100th anniversary. I was just so burned out from ARRL the prior year that I did not get involved. My interest in the hobby also started to wane as well, as I got into fitness due to health issues.
Fast forward to 2020. Mark continued to praise the now POTA program and all the fun he was having with it. It seemed to be something I would also enjoy as I could walk, hike and exercise as well as discover portable operations. On March 14, 2020, Mark convinced me to do a POTA activation with him at the local Sam Lewis State Park (K-1418) near my QTH. It was very cold and windy but we had a successful activation and I was hooked. Since then I’ve done 75 activations from 9 unique parks in 3 states. To say I am hooked is an understatement!
I have another good friend Mark, NK8Q, who is an avid Summits on the Air activator and chaser (SOTA). Mark lives about 2.5 hours west of me, and last summer we met and activated two Summits together. The first was a drive up summit and the second one required a little bit of hiking to reach the summit. I like the idea of walking, hiking and backpacking so SOTA is also something I enjoyed doing last year.
Two years in a row K3MRK and I have tried to get to Dayton, only to have them cancel due to the pandemic. I had scheduled a week off of work and decided to keep the time off and contacted Mark – NK8Q about possibly doing a backpacking SOTA adventure.
We talked about different places we could go to activate, and ultimately we decided to do several 10 point summits along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive and along the Appalachian Trail. For me, this was going to be not only a SOTA activation, but in some instances the activation also counts for POTA. We both left our homes early morning on May 20 and meet in Natural Bridge, VA and we would spend the next 4 days heading north, while activating different summits. We actually realized about 100 miles north of Natural Bridge that Mark and I were only about a mile apart heading south on I-81, so we took advantage of 146.52 simplex the rest of the way to our starting point and we used FM simplex driving from summit to summit.
We arrived at Natural Bridge just before 10:00 a.m. and Mark asked if I wanted to activate K-3972 (Natural Bridge National Park). Sure, why not, it would be fun to do a quick activation. We found a nice spot to set up the antenna and radio. My equipment for this journey was a Sotabeams Bandspringer Midi and my ICOM 705. I put 11 QSO’s into the log the short time we were there and was a nice warm-up for what was ahead.
After the quick POTA activation, we started heading to our first summit, which was Apple Orchard Mountain (W4V/RA-001). This was along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the views heading there were spectacular. Once at the summit we explored the area and then found our operating spots. I made 20 QSO’s and 3 S2S (summit to summit).
Second summit was Cole Mountain. The parking area was about 700 feet below the summit of 4,020 ft. Most of this climb was along a private road that goes up to several towers and they were cutting the grass. They waved as we walked up and were also very close to the Appalachian Trail (AT). Cole Mountain yielded 27 QSO’s in a very short period of time.
We hiked back to the parking lot and proceeded to our next summit of the day at Petites Gap Trailhead where we went to Highcock Knob (W4V/RA-014) where we hiked about 700 feet in just over a mile. This was a fairly rocky and difficult climb and being tired from other summits and the drive down first thing in the morning, it was nice to be the last summit of the day. The elevation at the peak is 3,073. Mark and I had some issues getting our antennas through the trees at this summit and wasted a lot of time. Once the issue was resolved, I made 8 QSO’s. Mark and I decided it was time to start heading back to the parking area and call it a day. Since we were on the Appalachian Trail, we met many thru hikers heading from Georgia to their final destinations in May. Every one of them were really nice and eager to find out what we were doing at the summits and we made sure we had “trail magic” as they call it on the A.T. We carried extra water and snacks, and they were always much appreciated by the hikers. Just before we got back to the car, we met up with a hiker from Minnesota who was hanging his bear bag in a tree and he was preparing to camp for the night. When Mark and I got back to the car I thought, here I am with a cooler full of ice cold beer, I bet this man would appreciate a beer or two. I went back and he couldn’t get to the car fast enough! If you are ever hiking on the A.T. make sure you bring some trail magic as well. In the picture below, Mark was using my rig and we were right at the summit.
We left and went looking for a place to camp for the night. There were no campsites available so we stayed in a very old motel that I was afraid was going to be full of bed bugs or something. We survived and day 2 of the SOTA adventure was ready to begin.
(Part 2 is next)
Scott Lithgow (KN3A) is a contributor on QRPer.com. Click here to check out his previous posts.