The one thing about doing POTA activations in the winter is being aware of just how short the days are. It seems like, lately, I’ve had a number of activations that have spilled over well beyond sunset.
With POTA, running out of sunlight really isn’t a big deal. As long as I have a headlamp (I always do) and/or a lantern, I can continue operating as long as the park is still open to guests.
With SOTA, running out of sunlight can develop into a serious situation, especially if you’ve bushwhacked to a summit in unfamiliar territory. Even with a headlamp, it can be difficult finding your way back to an established trail. I’ve never scheduled a SOTA activation that pushed sunset unless I’m comfortable with the path to the summit.
If I’m being honest, I think a part of me actually enjoys doing POTA activations after sunset. It feels a lot like camping.
On Sunday, December 4, 2022, I was on the road once again and could not help but squeeze in a POTA activation at Lake James State Park.
It was late afternoon and I knew I’d be pushing sunset, but I had my little LED lantern just in case I ran out of sunlight (hint: I did!) and I was ready to play some radio: both CW and SSB!
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
I chose a picnic table by the lake, putting some distance between me and the visitor’s center which has been known to spew radio interference (QRM) in the past.
I brought along my Elecraft KX3 for this activation.
The KX3 is one of my top field portable radios, but I rarely take it to the field these days for a couple reasons:
- It’s my main shack radio and is hooked up to my KXPA100 amplifier 100% of the time (although I rarely run enough power that the amplifier engages). I do much of my park/summit hunting from home with the KX3.
- Since I purchased my KX2 in 2016, I tend to take it to the field instead since it’s *that* much more portable. It’s like a smaller version of the KX3 with nearly the performance and only lacking 160 and 6 meters.
But I do love my KX3. It’s a benchmark radio–and one of the best field transceivers on the market. You will see a few field reports with it each year since I try to give all of my radios a regular dose of fresh air!
I debated which antenna to use at the site. I decided upon the super easy-to-deploy 28.5′ “no transformer” random wire antenna by Tufteln (see link in the Gear section below). I first demoed this super simple antenna on Mount Mitchell during a SOTA activation. It’s basically two lengths of 28.5 foot 26 AWG wire connected to a BNC connector on a small 3D printed mount which provides strain relief.
This antenna is basically my super simple speaker wire antenna, just in a more compact form factor. Since there’s no transformer, the antenna relies on an ATU to do all of the heavy work of sorting out impedance matches.
Since this antenna is so short, it’s a breeze to deploy.
Speaking of deploying antennas…in the activation video, I do speak at some length about the bare-bones throw line kit I used for this activation.
- Sony SRS-XB12 portable wireless speaker (no longer produced–eBay search)
- Elecraft KX3
- Tufteln Portable EFRW No Transformer QRP Antenna
- Key cable: Cable Matters 2-Pack Gold-Plated Retractable Aux Cable – 2.5 Feet
- CW Morse CNC Machined Aluminum Paddle
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Bioenno 3 aH LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-1203AB)
- Ham Radio Workbench DC Distribution Panel Model HRWB101
- Basic Mini Arborist throw line kit: Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, and Weaver 8 or 10oz weight
- Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch
- Moleskine Cahier Journal
- GraphGear 0.9mm 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera with Joby tripod (affiliate links)
- Goal Zero Lighthouse 600 Camping Lantern
On The Air
I started calling CQ on the 20 meter band in CW, pushing 5 watts. I quickly noticed that the noise level was elevated. Whatever the local source of QRM was, it had pushed the noise floor high enough that it was a struggle to identify any station less than S6/7 or so. If you tried to work me that evening and I couldn’t hear you, that’s why.
Still, within 18 minutes I worked thirteen stations on 20 meters. I then decided to QSY and test the waters on 40 meters.
Fortunately, 40 meters had a notably lower noise floor. In SSB, it sounded fantastic, actually.
I spotted myself and started calling CQ POTA pushing 10 watts. I worked about 16 stations in twelve minutes with no problems at all.
I would loved to have kept calling CQ POTA, but frankly, I needed to pack up and leave the park before they closed. Also? I was looking forward to grabbing some dinner.
I announced a final call and hopped off the air. It wasn’t easy to do, in truth, because I felt like there were so many stations yet to work.
Here’s what this activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map. Note that the green lines are CW contacts and red lines SSB contacts:
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation. As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.
Packing up in the dark
I believe that field radio operators should know their field kit so well that they could literally unpack and repack their main field kit blindfolded. I can do this with all of my dedicated field kits because everything in the kit has its own dedicated space and it’s conspicuous when something is missing.
In this case, I was using the KX3 which doesn’t have a dedicated field field kit because it typically lives in the shack. Still, I have a routine for how I pack up and I don’t deviate from that routine because it insures I account for the antenna, throw line, feed line, radio, battery, key, other accessories, and the radio itself.
I’m not a creature of habit with other parts of my life, but I self-enforce routine in the field. I feel like being methodical about packing up saves me from leaving critical components in the field especially at night when lighting is poor.
If you don’t have a routine for setting up and packing up your field gear, I’d suggest you give it a go. Start by making a check list, then commit it to memory by physically doing it.
Seriously, try to pack and unpack your main field bag in your home with your eyes closed. It’s the best way to build a mental map of your field kit.
Our radio gear isn’t cheap, so it’s worth the investment in time, I say!
I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them.
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.
As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo make it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free, but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.
Thanks for spending part of your day with me!
Here’s wishing you an amazing weekend
Cheers & 72,