SOTA in the Clouds: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and MPAS Lite for brilliant QRP fun on Craggy Dome!

Although I live in the mountains of North Carolina and am surrounded by SOTA summits, it’s much easier for me to activate a park rather than a summit.

Parks can be quite easy: find the park on a map, drive through their main entrance, find a good picnic table to set up, and next thing you know you’re on the air! Of course, wildlife management areas and game lands can be more tricky, but typically you can drive to the activation site.

Summits–speaking as someone who activates in North Carolina–take much more planning. If it’s a new-to-me summit, I typically need to:

  1. find the GPS coordinates of the true summit
  2. map out the drive to the trail head
  3. read through previous activation notes (if they exist) to find out
    • what type of antenna/gear I might pack
    • and any notes I might need to find the trail or bushwhack to the true summit (quite often published, well-worn trails don’t lead to the actual summit)
  4. look up the trail map and make sure I have a paper and/or electronic copy
  5. pack all needed gear for the hike, activation, and emergencies
  6. sort out the time it will take to travel to the site, hike the full trail to the summit, activate, and return home

If you ask most any SOTA activator, they’ll tell you that the planning is part of the fun.

It really is.

One summit I’ve had on my activation list for ages is Craggy Dome (W4C/CM-007). Out of the higher summits in this region, it’s one of the easier ones for me to reach from the QTH. In fact, as with Lane Pinnacle, I could simply hike from my house directly to the summit (although one way to Craggy might take the better part of a day). The trailhead is about a 50 minute drive, and the hike about 30 minutes.

SOTA notes and All Trails indicated that Craggy Dome’s trail isn’t always easy to follow and that it’s steep and slippery.

Craggy has been activated loads of times, though, so I wasn’t concerned at all.

Living here and knowing how much brush there was on the manway to the summit, I knew that Craggy would be a pretty easy summit if I could activate it after the parkway re-opened for the spring and before the mountain “greened-up”; about a five week window.

Meeting Bruce

My schedule opened up for an activation of Craggy Dome on the morning of April 21, 2022 and I was very much looking forward to it.

I wouldn’t be alone on this hike either. Bruce (KO4ZRN), a newly-minted ham, contacted me and asked if he could join me on a hike and simply be an observer during a SOTA activation.

Fortunately, timing worked for him to join me on this particular SOTA activation.

Bruce, turns out, has always been fascinated with ham radio but he isn’t an indoor kind of guy (understatement) and never felt terribly motivated to get his ticket until he discovered POTA and SOTA. Combining the great outdoors and radio was all the motivation he needed to sort out his ham ticket in short order!

Craggy Dome (W4C/CM-007)

The foggy view from Craggy Dome

We agreed to meet at the trailhead of Craggy Dome at the Graybeard Mountain View Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had to drive at very slow speeds through incredibly thick fog to get there.

We met, grabbed our packs, and walked to the south end of the parking area to hop on the Mountains To Sea Trail (MST). We walked only about 30 meters or so down the trail and then turned left onto the manway that lead to the summit of Craggy Dome.

Even in the fog, the manway turned out to be very well-defined. There was never a point of trying to guess where the trail continued. It was very well established albeit a bit narrow and I could see that in the summer it might nearly grow shut in places where the vegetation was thick.

The hike was pretty steep and even slippery at times, but not that bad at all and quite short. I think we made it to the summit within an easy 30 minutes. I see why so many have activated it before. Most enjoyable.

Setting up

There’s an amazing view out there if you could only see through the clouds and fog! Still: it felt spectacular up there.

Once on the summit I set up my gear which basically consisted of the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite. Here’s the full gear list:

Gear:

The benefit of pairing the KX2 and MPAS Lite is that setup is incredibly quick. I also find the combination incredibly effective for SOTA and POTA.

Another luxury on this trip? Bruce kindly agreed to log my contacts in the HAMRS app on my phone. (Thanks, Bruce!)

On The Air

As I mention in the activation video (below) I was careful to set up on a part of the summit that was also within the boundaries of the Blue Ridge Parkway (POTA K-3378 NC). This way, the activation would be both a POTA and SOTA activation.

The Craggy Dome summit sits on the the dividing line between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Asheville Watershed.

I started calling CQ on 20 meters CW and quickly racked up contacts. In eleven minutes, I logged 12 stations.

Next, I switched to singe sideband. Since I had a bit of mobile phone service, I was able to spot myself on the SOTA spots network.

In four minutes, I logged 6 contacts.

Finally, I moved to the 17 meter band and worked 13 stations in 13 minutes.

I called QRT at 1300 UTC because I really needed to pack up and move on. My schedule only allowed for about 45 minutes on the summit, so it was time to go!

QSO Map

Here’s how my QRP signals travelled that day on Craggy Dome:

Activation Video

Here’s my video of the entire activation. If you’re new to my videos, you’ll note that I don’t edit them during the activation and there are no ads:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Post-activation, the clouds started to break up a bit, revealing some beautiful views across the Blue Ridge mountains.

As I mention in the video, it actually felt amazing there on the summit in the clouds.


It was great getting to know Bruce. We certainly have a lot in common. He’s incredibly motivated to start HF activations at parks and summits, so you’re certain to find  KO4ZRN on the air soon!

Thank you

Thank you for joining us on this SOTA activation and reading through the field report.

Of course, I’d also 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 which allows me to open up my work life to write more field reports and film more activation videos.

I hope you get a chance to play radio this week.

Those of you learning CW? Keep up the good work. CW takes patience, persistence, time, and practice, but I promise you can learn it. You’ve got this!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

6 thoughts on “SOTA in the Clouds: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and MPAS Lite for brilliant QRP fun on Craggy Dome!”

  1. Great post Thomas. I’ll watch the video later today.

    My trip to the area didn’t work out as planned. it was raining the morning I had set aside to activate the BRP Folk Center. Carl Sanford turned out to be a bust with only one contact. Next I hiked to 2 of the 3 waterfalls in Dupont but after the huke I was too tired and hot to mess around with activating.

    We almost leased a furnished condo in Laurel Park which would give me a lot more POTA opportunities. My wife has had some health issues since Christmas and we want to get her well before we commit so we passed. Made some progress on getting her well this week so if it is still available we may sign the lease in the next few weeks if she gets better.

    Anyway, I will keep plodding on and living vicariously through your POTA/SOTA escapades until we can get up there.

    W4MKH
    https://w4mkh-qrp.com/

    1. Sorry I missed you on this trip, OM.

      Yes, sometimes the best plans can be thwarted by weather, propagation, and the stars simply not aligning.

      Sorry about your wife’s health issues, but I hope they improve in the coming weeks.

      Parks are always out there just waiting to be activated, so never let disrupted plans get you down, I say. 🙂 Just keep on keepin’ on!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  2. Nice post. Thanks. Yesterday I went to Shenandoah National Park K-0064 next to the Appalachian Trail K-4556, along Skyline Drive and found Dundo picnic area. It was as cloudy and foggy as you had. I first did a short hike on the AT, then setup my Silvertip vertical connected to my KX2 and a straight key and started my CQ. It took awhile though I finally got 11 contacts on 20m. 40m was not good to me. A lesson for me, spot myself before leaving home, as I had no phone service up there. Thank you for the encouragement to get out there.

    1. Ah the Silvertip vertical is a potent antenna! I have one and it serves me well, though I need to take it to the field soon!

      Yes, I kick myself those few times I forget to announce my activation in advance!

      Well done on your activation, OM.

  3. Fantastic video. Always enjoy the SOTA activations. I have never been to NC but see I need to put that on my bucket list. Such a beautiful State.
    Thanks for sharing
    Dennis
    W0HL

  4. Thirteen points for a thirty minute hike is a pretty sweet return on investment! Your reports have helped me keep my nose to the grindstone with the code. I’m in CW Academy right now preparing to start activating peaks here in the Cascades.

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