So crazy, that I wasn’t able to fit in one single POTA or SOTA activation for a nearly 4 week period. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that long without an activation since I started POTA in earnest.
Between home projects, wacky weather, timing/logistics, and even a brush with Covid, I had my hands full.
Thankfully, on Friday, March 19, 2022, the stars aligned and I was able to fit in an activation of Bakers Mountain for the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.
It was so nice hitting the field again!
Pale Blue AA Battery Field Test
I like shaking up my activations and trying new transceiver/antenna pairings. On this particular activation, I had a special test in mind.
A few months ago–almost as an impulse purchase–I ordered a set of eight Pale Blue AA Li-Ion rechargeable batteries. I didn’t check the specifications, but I did watch this somewhat promising assessment on The Tech Prepper YouTube channel.
My hope was that these little Li-Ion cells might power my Elecraft KX1 long enough to complete a field activation.
The KX1 is a marvel of QRP engineering, in my humble opinion, and it was the first super portable transceiver I owned that could be powered by internal batteries.
When the KX1 was first introduced, Elecraft recommended using non-rechargeable Advanced Lithium AA cells from Energizer and Duracell. These batteries sported a rather flat discharge curve and could power the KX1 for quite a while. Of course, the downside is they’re single-use and expensive. Six of those cells would often set me back nearly $9 or $10. Before I started doing POTA and SOTA, I kept a set of advanced lithium cells in my KX1 for casual, impromptu QRP in the field.
Doing frequent field activations–which tend to have much more transmitting time than casual Qs–it’s just not sustainable to purchase these cells, so I tend to power the KX1 with an external battery.
I couldn’t resist the thought that I could use USB rechargeable batteries in the KX1, so I forked out $60 (mild gasp!) for a set of eight AA batteries (these are purchased in packages of 4).
The cool thing about the Pale Blue batteries is that they can be directly charged from any 5V USB power source. Each battery sports a Micro USB port and its own internal battery/charge management system.
The only way to really find out was to do a real-life field test. A SOTA activation would be ideal!
Bakers Mountain (W4C/WP-007)
The last time I activated Bakers Mountain was in 2021. If you’re interested in the history of the mountain and why I think it’s a pretty special SOTA one-pointer, I’d encourage you to read this field report.
I packed all of my radio gear in my Spec-Ops Brand EDC pack and hit the trails at Bakers Mountain Park.
The weather was beautiful and I was in short sleeves for the first time in months!
Temperatures were hovering around 70F/21C and it was breezy along the trails at the base of Bakers Mountain.
As I hiked up to the summit of Bakers Mountain, the wind gusts increased significantly. Evidently, there were strong wind currents just above surface level–not at all surprising for March and April in western North Carolina.
As I approached the true summit (not the observation deck which is well outside the activation zone) I searched for a good spot to set up, avoiding trees with dead branches overhead.
I found a nice spot on the trail that encircles the summit and set up there.
- Pelican 1060 Weatherproof Case (affiliate link)
- Elecraft KX1
- Pale Blue AA Lio-Ion Batteries (affiliate link)
- Koh-I-Noor .9 mm Mechanical Pencil (affiliate link)
- Moleskine Cahier Journal (affiliate link)
- MW0SAW end-fed half-wave
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Bioenno 3 aH LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-1203AB)
- Mini Arborist throw line kit: Tom Bihn Small Travel Tray, Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, and Weaver 8 or 10oz weight
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera (affiliate link)
I should note here that I include a lot of extra info about my set-up and thoughts about the Pale Blue batteries in my activation video below; please check it out if you’re interested.
On The Air
I had already scheduled my activation via SOTA Watch, so I started calling CQ SOTA on 20 meters and was auto-spotted using the Reverse Beacon Network.
Using the internal AA batteries, I was pushing a max of 1.5 watts, nonetheless, I was quickly able to validate this SOTA activation with 4 contacts in 6 minutes thanks to W3DDS, WA2JMG, WA1RKS, and AI5DD.
Next, I moved to 40 meters to collect a few more stations.
The SOTA page auto-spotted me on the new band after a few CQs and I logged K8RAT, W5GDW, K8ITU, and K8DRT.
I also logged AC1Z and K2JB (you might remember Dean and Dolly from this field report) as Summit-To-Summit (S2S) contacts. Thanks so much for the S2Ss, chaps!
Pale Blue AA Battery Field Results
So it turns out the Pale Blue AA batteries lasted about 19 minutes.
I chatted with my buddy Ara (N6ARA) after this activation and we both believe that while the capacity of the batteries is respectable (each cell @ 1500mAh), connected in series they’re producing 9V which is close to the 8V minimum supply voltage of the KX1.
As Ara pointed out, these Pale Blue batteries are likely geared for lower-current/large-capacity applications. With a higher internal resistance–with current demands on transmit–the output voltage of the battery combo drops significantly.
These batteries are so lightweight, I believe I will keep them in the KX1 as a backup only and try not to use them for longer than 15 minutes. That’s enough time to complete a typical SOTA activation in a pinch.
If you have a better solution for a KX1 internal rechargeable battery setup, I’m all ears! The big limiting factor is the real estate inside the KX1 chassis–one part of the KX1 board divides the usable area in two.
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation. If you’ve been looking for a good insomnia cure, you’ve found it!
One thing you’ll notice in the video: near the end–shortly after I plugged in the 12V battery–my output power dropped significantly according to the KX1 internal power meter. I’m not entirely sure why this happened.
Since this activation, I performed two more activations and did notice the power output diminishing after about 20-25 minutes on the air.
I’ve yet to test the little rig in the shack on my variable power supply, watt meter, and dummy load to see if the power is, indeed, diminishing or if it’s just the KX1 power meter reading. I certainly want to sort this out!
It was so incredibly nice to hit the field, the trails, and the airwaves once again! Thank you for reading this report.
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. It makes videos and reports like this one possible.
Here’s wishing y’all good health and good propagation!
Cheers & 72,