SOTA Activation: Richland Balsam with the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite

Two weeks ago, my buddy Monty and I went on a camping trip near Mount Pisgah off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was amazing.

Monty is one of my best friends and like a brother to me.  We were roommates during my undergraduate years at Western Carolina University. In those days, we were both into mountain biking, hiking, trail running, backpacking, and camping. WCU was the perfect launching point for all of those activities.

These days, we both still do hiking and a little mountain biking, but at–what we might generously call–a more “relaxed” pace.

Although Monty’s family also live in western North Carolina and we keep in touch pretty regularly, we hadn’t seen each other in person for years, so we knew a camping trip would sort all of that out and give us a chance to reconnect while disconnecting from our busy schedules.

Mount Pisgah

You can’t see it in the photo, but my 25 year old four person dome tent about pushed Monty’s two person dome tent off of the camping pad! And, yes, I brought a butane torch to light the campfire–not exactly bushcraft.

We chose Mount Pisgah campground off of the Blue Ridge parkway for a few reasons: it’s roughly halfway between our homes, it’s at a high altitude which equates to cooler nights during the hottest part of the summer, and–you guessed it–it’s on no less than two POTA sites and close to a number of SOTA summits as well!

Another fun fact about the Mount Pisgah campground? It’s also black bear habitat. I believe I mentioned that when I activated Mount Pisgah earlier this summer, I spotted a number of bears in this area.  But hey! Check out the park’s bear traps:

And to be honest? My QTH is also just as much in black bear territory, so this isn’t exactly unfamiliar.

Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003)

I was up earlier than Monty, so I brewed some coffee, read a bit of my book, and fit in a little early morning POTA!

The weather was ideal on the morning of Monday, August 2, 2021.

Monty actually mentioned in advance that he’d like to accompany me on a SOTA activation or two. He’s an engineer at WCU and I’ve been nudging him for years to get his ham ticket, so how in the world could I pass up a little SOTA/POTA proselytizing?

While Monty cooked up some breakfast burritos, we hatched a plan to activate Richland Balsam first.

Richland Balsam is a very accessible 6,410′ (1954M) summit and is actually the highest peak on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.

Richland Balsam is a great “beginners” SOTA summit because the loop trail is only 1.5 miles long, well-marked, doesn’t require an experienced hiker, and passes through a spruce-fir forest which not only provides shade, but also ample trees for wire antennas. The trailhead is easy to find as well; it’s at the north end of the Haywood/Jackson overlook parking area.

Only one word of caution: being such an accessible loop trail right there on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it can get very busy during the summer and fall–in fact, you might struggle to find a spot to park.  Monty and I arrived early enough that there were only a handful of cars parked at the overlook.

Richland Balsam reminds me of some of the trails in/around Mount Mitchell:  lots of ferns, mosses, and and the smell of spruce-fir. Bliss!

On The Air

I’d forgotten that there are actually a couple of benches on the summit of Richland Balsam which is a proper luxury for any SOTA activator!

Monty had no issue at all setting up the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical on his own as I prepared my clipboard, Elecraft KX2, and log book.

Gear:

I actually had decent mobile phone service on the summit, so spotting myself was quite easy via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, I assumed I might not have access to spot myself, so I did schedule the activation before leaving the campsite on both the SOTA and POTA platforms knowing both would auto-spot me from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

I started calling CQ on 20 meters CW and my first contact was fellow POTA activator Steve (KC5F) who was, no doubt, working me via ground wave from his home. Always good to have Steve in the logs.

In thirteen minutes, I worked nine stations on 20 meters–lots of familiar calls. I actually validated the SOTA activation (logging four contacts) in no less than five minutes!

I then moved to 17 meters where I worked K6MW in Washington state.

Finally, I moved down to the 40 meter band in hopes of picking up Mike (K8RAT)–success!–and also worked good ole’ Bill (WB1LLY) in Georgia.

Here’s my full log sheet:

Near the end of the activation (you might note this in the video), Monty and I hear a loud animal noise in the forest–very likely a black bear making itself known. We took that as a cue to pack up and move on.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you’ve been seeking a cure for insomnia, you’ve found it:

Click here to view on YouTube.

A perfect day for hiking

The view from Black Balsam.

After leaving Richland Balsam, we decided to also take in W4C/CM-005 (Black Balsam Knob) which is another 10 point summit on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tried making a video of this activation, but for some reason the camera shut down after nine minutes. I’m uncertain yet if I’ll publish that video with a post. We’ll see! It, too, was a fun activation.

After Black Balsam, Monty and I prepared a late lunch back at the campsite and decided that there was still enough of the day left to take in the Mount Pisgah summit trail. Frankly, it was simply too tempting! There was a trail not even 25 feet from our tents which lead us to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. Since I had already activated Mount Pisgah only recently, I didn’t take radio gear this time.

Turk’s-cap lilies were in bloom along the Mount Pisgah trail.

Funny, but we both underestimated the hike from our campsite to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. In my head, I assumed it was perhaps half a mile or so. Turns out, it was more like 1.5 miles one way!

The Mount Pisgah tower

Combined with the actual Mount Pisgah trail, it made for a decent amount of hiking. I believe we left the campsite around 16:00 local and were  back by 19:00 or so.

That Monday turned out to be a day full of hiking, radio, and hanging with Monty. It was amazing fun.

Thank you

As always, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

Here’s wishing everyone good health and maybe even a little outdoor radio fun this week!

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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4 thoughts on “SOTA Activation: Richland Balsam with the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite”

  1. With so many great radios in your livery, how do you decide which one to take with you on an activation? I mean, outings other than when you are reviewing a particular radio. Do you just grab them in a rotation to keep operating features fresh in your mind? Or do the radios have “personalities” that you match to the type of trip you are taking them on?

    1. You know, I think I’ll reply to your question in a post. I started to reply here and realize I’ve been asked this before. I’ll admit: I’m spoiled for choice and am well aware of it.

      Look for a post soon and thank you for your comment.

      Best,
      Thomas

    1. Ha ha! We get used to it here, but when I camp it’s always in the back of my mind. Of course, we kept all food in the provided bear-proof lockers, but still! I thought about simply using my hammock tent, but the only spot that would have worked would have been next to the food locker and luckily I had enough sense to know that would be a (really, *really*) bad idea! 🙂

      Best,
      Thomas
      K4SWL/M0CYI

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