Summits On The Air: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite on Bearwallow Mountain!

So far this winter has been a challenge in terms of activating summits. For me, at least.

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 (K2JB)
Dolly helped me determine the best take-off angle for my vertical.

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.

We gathered at Dean’s campsite for the 2021 W4 SOTA Potluck (Dean’s in the background, third from left).

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.

Gear:

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

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.

There are two antenna ports on the top of the pack. Simply pull up on the Velcro strapping to reveal the opening.

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 hopped on the air, started calling CQ SOTA, and was not disappointed.

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!

QSO Map

Here’s what 5 watts and a vertical can do on Bearwallow Mountain in 21 minutes:

Activation video

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.

Click here to view on YouTube.

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!

Thank you

Thanks so much for reading this report and for joining me on this SOTA activation.

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!

Thomas (K4SWL)

Bonus photos!

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):

18 thoughts on “Summits On The Air: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite on Bearwallow Mountain!”

  1. Beautiful, thanks.
    I am so looking forward to using my KX2 someday, up someplace.
    I was ar a store looking for a gud pair of hiking shoes so I can work at getting up to a few summits here in SNP.

    Thanks again for your blog and advice.
    73
    Wb8yxf

      1. Carolanne (N0RNM) made it for me. I’m not sure if she’s producing them for others or not. I think it was just a one-off. There’s certainly a lot of interest in it. I love it.

        Cheers,
        Thomas

  2. Thomas,

    Have you experimented with adding more radials to the MPAS Lite? So far I have only used the single wire that comes with the setup, but I wondered if there is enough gain to be had to carry and add more on a SOTA or POTA activation? I have also had pretty good results with just the basic setup, and the speed of activation is great.

    Douglas
    K1GC

    1. Good question, Douglas!

      I have not added extra counterpoise radials, but the more you add, the better. That is for sure.

      Thing is, it’s just unnecessary for me because the one single counterpoise is more than enough to accomplish the goal of completing an activation. Adding more radials would only equate to more weight, more set-up/pack-up, and a more complicated antenna system. It would be more efficient and, perhaps, if I were on a remote summit or a particularly rare site, I might do that just to increase accessibility for hunters. I also deploy more efficient antenna systems if I’m staying in one spot for multiple hours (like field day). It’s worth it then–for me, at least!

      Cheers,
      Thomas
      K4SWL

      1. Thanks for those thoughts,

        I have also had good and reliable results with the single wire, and I certainly would not want more stuff to setup or weight to carry most of the time. Just for testing sake, when warm weather returns maybe I will try it at an easy access spot just to see if I am able to detect any difference on RBN.

        I also had really good luck on one activation using just the wire hung as an inverted V and into the matching unit. It is basically an expensive end fed at that point, but it handled SSB and CW well. Nice flexibility.

  3. Thomas, great activation and photos! I strongly recommend using “Ice Trekkers” on your boots when walking on snow/ice … along with the treking poles. Makes a huge difference!

    1. I need to keep a pair for situations like this. Honestly, around here snow/ice on trails is not the rule, but the exception.

      You’re right, though: I think I’ll grab something I can slip on my boots when conditions warrant it.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  4. I noticed that you were using a Bic pen for logging. What happened with the normal mechanical pencil you normally use?

    Great video.

    1. I had taken the mechanical pencil out of the pack to put more lead in it back at the QTH. Was a bit bummed when I arrived on site to find I’d forgotten to put it back in. Time to keep spare lead in the pack, of course!

      In cold temps, the ballpoint pen is less than desirable.

  5. Enjoyed the video and write up . Amazing views, looked up the elevation on google maps to find you were at 4,200ft. Higher than any mountain here, what was amazing was there were trees at that height, being Scottish who knew! All our peaks are barren, guess due to grazing.

    That KX2 and the MPAS certainly a successful combination.

    cheers,
    Gavin
    GM0WDD

    1. So funny, Gavin. Having grown up in/around the mountains of North Carolina, the first time I drove through the Highlands of Scotland, my wife and I both were amazed that there were no trees! We felt we could see everything for miles. It was very surreal for us. I’ve lived in the Alps and never expected trees there, but was really surprised in Scotland. That said, it made for some amazing scenery. “Bushwhacking” to a SOTA summit in Scotland would be relatively easy since you can see where you’re going. 🙂

      I do miss Scotland.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

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