Between my busy schedule, family life, and the weather, it’s been difficult to make the stars align. Activating a summit, in general, requires much more time than activating a park. At least, where I live.
Summits tend to be much less accessible and time-consuming than, say, a state or national park. Besides getting to the summit trailhead and hiking it, there can be quite a bit more research in advance including reading previous activator notes and mapping out the true summit location.
SOTA (Summits On The Air) activators (depending on their location) often have extra incentive to do activations during the winter because many of us can accumulate “bonus points” for summits above a certain height during the winter months.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a numbers guy and honestly couldn’t tell you, for example, how many parks I’ve activated this year. But it would be awfully fun to eventually achieve “Mountain Goat” status in the SOTA program. It requires 1000 (!!!) points. Many of the summits where I live range from 1 to 10 points each. Each summit can only count once per year, so if I activate Mount Mitchell (our highest summit) the 10 points only count once in 2022 toward Mountain Goat status. The program is designed to encourage activators to activate a wide variety of unique summits each year. It’s a brilliant motivator.
I will be happy if I achieve Mountain Goat status in 5 years. I simply don’t have the free time to hit summits as often as I’d like. It is a really cool goal though.
Now where was I–?
Oh yes, on the afternoon of Monday, January 24, 2022, I decided I could squeeze in a quick SOTA activation if I was strategic with my planning. With the Blue Ridge Parkway closed, it limited my options. There are a couple of drive-up summits nearby that are pretty effortless, but I really wanted to fit in a hike.
Bearwallow Mountain was the most accessible choice that could fit in my 3.5 hour window. I plotted the drive, the hike, estimated the time on the air and, indeed, it looked like it would work out. On paper it looked like I could arrive back home in time to make dinner for the family.
Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)
I arrived at the Bearwallow trailhead around 19:30 UTC (14:30 local). It was at this point it dawned on me that the hike up Bearwallow is on the north side of the slope, so the path was still covered in snow and ice.
Since I had accidentally left my hiking poles on the porch at the QTH (Doh! Of all days!) I knew better than to take the hiking trail. Last thing I want to do is slip and twist an ankle again.
Fortunately, Bearwallow also has a road that leads to the summit. Unfortunately, it was also snow and ice-covered.
It was still a much better option, though, because the road is wide enough to provide options for avoiding the ice.
Due to snow melt/re-freezing and the vehicles that attempted to go up the summit earlier in the week, the road was incredibly icy in some shaded sections. The few hikers I met on the ascent all cautioned me about the ice.
Slippery as it was, it was also beautiful.
Being careful with each step, it took much longer to make it to the summit, but I did without incident.
The summit has much better sun exposure, so was mostly void of snow.
I found a nice spot to set up near the fenced-in tower area.
Dean & Dolly
As I started setting up, a hiker and his dog approached. Turned out to be Dean (K2JB) and his dog, Dolly.
Dean is, without a doubt, one of the best-known SOTA activators in western North Carolina. Remember the Mountain Goat status I mentioned above? Yeah, he’s achieved that several times over.
Last I saw Dean was at the W4 SOTA campout last year. The guy is a wizard with Dutch Ovens–the meal he prepared was superb–especially the cherry cobbler.
Dean and I enjoyed catching up and trading notes about summits (by “trading”, I mean he was giving me some sage advice).
We enjoyed catching up, then he and Dolly made their way back down the mountain.
I finished setting up.
- Elecraft KX2 and KXPD2 Paddles
- Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite
- Elecraft AX1 packed in a Maxpedition Fatty Pouch (used as a backup antenna)
- Muji A6 Notepad and Koh-I-Noor 2.0 mm Mechanical Pencil (affiliate links)
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- 3D-printed Knee Board (loving this thing, Carolanne!)
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch (affiliate link)
- HEROCLIP Carabiner Clip (attached to my backpack–affiliate link)
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera with Joby tripod (affiliate links)
- My fingerless gloves (affiliate link)
I mention in the activation video below that when I have a tight schedule to fit in a SOTA activation, I gravitate toward my Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite antenna combo.
The CHA MPAS Lite takes all of one minute to set up and I’ve yet to find a summit in North Carolina that’s too rocky for its stainless steel support spike.
My Spec-Ops Brand EDC Pack has become my go-to pack for SOTA. One of the reasons is because it so perfectly accommodates the MPAS Lite whip.
In fact, the Spec-Ops pack has two dedicated antenna ports on top, so I could also very easily pack two whips and deploy the CHA Tactical Delta Loop.
The KX2 is also super easy to setup. Since the paddles attach to the front of the radio and both the battery and ATU are internal, there’s just not a lot of set up. Connect the antenna, press the ATU button and you’re good to go!
On The Air
I worked a number of active SOTA hunters, but something really stood out in my first few contacts…
Good ole Christian (F4WBN) in France was my third contact: a solid 599.
My fifth contact was Darryl (WW7D) in Washington State; also 599.
It blows my mind that I’m able to work two stations some 5100 miles (8369 km) apart from each other with 5 watts of power. Herein lies the magic of SOTA and QRP. This stuff really gives me a thrill.
This particular activation yielded a wide spread of contacts across 20 and 17 meters.
I was particularly pleased to work Thaire (VP2MDX)–I believe this is the first time I’ve logged Montserrat during a SOTA activation.
I logged a total of 18 stations.
In short? It was a freaking brilliant short activation!
Here’s what 5 watts and a vertical can do on Bearwallow Mountain in 21 minutes:
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation. As always, my videos have no pop-up video ads as I’ve turned off monetization on my channel.
Note that there is quite a bit of wind noise causing a bit of audio distortion at times. Also, the contrast was very high that day, so the logging pad can be difficult to read at times.
I took my time hiking back down the mountain. Due to the icy sections, it took more time to hike back down than it did to hike up. My hiking poles would have made a huge difference–that’s the last time I leave them on the porch!
As always, I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.
My hope is that I’ll be able to squeeze a few SOTA activations in during the month of February. We’ll see how that goes, though, as it is quite a busy month in other respects.
I hope you get an opportunity to play radio this week. Stay healthy and safe out there!
Cheers & 72/73!
Congratulations! You made it to the end of my field report! As my way of thanking you, here are a few extra photos I took on the Bearwallow activation (click on the photos to enlarge):