QRP DX: A beautiful day for SOTA on Flat Top Mountain!

The weather on the morning of April 4, 2023, was absolutely outstanding!

I woke up that morning, drank a cup of coffee, looked outside and knew what would be in store the day: a SOTA activation!

My schedule was actually open that fine Tuesday because my daughters were on spring break from school, so the only problem was deciding which summit to activate. A good problem, in other words!

After staring at the SOTL.AS map for a while, I decided to activate Flat Top Mountain (W4C/EM-026) near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. One of the main reasons I chose Flat Top was because the roughly five mile round-trip hike is such a pleasant, casual one. My left ankle was recuperating from a bit of a strain, so I knew Flat Top’s flat, wide carriage trails would fulfill my need for exercise without straining my ankle (which, by the way, is doing much better now).

The drive to Flat Top is a beautiful one–a good third of it is on the Blue Ridge Parkway including the Linn Cove Viaduct which offers up stunning long-range views. I made my way to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, at BRP milepost 294, where I parked the car and put on my hiking boots.

The park was pretty active for early April, no doubt because the weather was so stunning.

I checked out the beautiful Flat Top Manor to see if renovations had been completed.

It looks very close to completion, I have to assume they’ll be open again soon. The old manor was looking beautiful against clear skies!

Flat Top Manor was built by in 1901 by Moses Cone who was a very successful local textile entrepreneur, conservationist and philanthropist. It’s so fitting that this beautiful bit of architecture and these expansive grounds (which includes no less than two SOTA summits) are now protected by the National Park Service for all to enjoy.

I started my hike by following one of the carriage trails in front of the manor. It leads past a farm building, then crosses under the Blue Ridge Parkway two-lane road.

Again, this hike is such a pleasant one.

The hike is effortless, really: no guesswork about where the trail is, no bushwhacking, and the elevation change is gradual. I appreciate these easy hikes from time to time.

And the views along the way are spectacular!

This was also the first time I’d taken my new backpack, a Mystery Ranch Scree 32, on a SOTA outing.

It worked a charm! The suspension system makes it so that I forget I’m even carrying a backpack.

I was enjoying the hike so much, time passed too quickly!

In fact, if you watch my activation video below, you can enjoy a bit of that casual hike and some of the views.

I should add, it was nice seeing some little signs of spring along the way as well.

Before I knew it, I was standing on the summit of Flat Top next to the watch tower.

Before I set up, of course I had to take in the views from the tower (I also include this in my video):

From the tower, I picked out the spot where I’d set up; essentially, the same spot I chose last time I was here.

Speaking of which, it was time to get back on the ground and deploy an antenna!

Setting up

My entire SOTA station–less my throw line on this particular occasion–fit in my Elecraft KX2 pack.

I chose my trusty PackTenna random wire antenna for this activation because I wanted a bit of frequency agility.

I also captured the antenna deployment in my activation video as well.

As you’ll see in the video, I did have to fumble with where to place my folding chair because the ground was so (unexpectedly) soft.

I always say that I include pretty much everything in my videos and this will certainly be proof of that–!


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On The Air

My approach during this activation was to work the higher HF bands starting on 10 meters then work my way down to 17 meters.

I made another decision on that morning: even though Flat Top Mountain is also a POTA and WWFF entity (the Blue Ridge Parkway K-3378/KFF-3378), I didn’t schedule or spot myself to those networks this particular time. Sounds crazy, but my reasoning was that I activate this particular park entity very regularity–almost weekly–but this summit maybe only once a year. I wanted SOTA chasers to have a chance to collect this summit. I worried that if I scheduled the activation with both POTA and WWFF, it might make it difficult for some of the weaker SOTA chasers to punch through any potential pileups. The POTA and WWFF communities are orders of magnitude larger than SOTA.

I started calling CQ on 10 meters and was instantly rewarded with stations on the west coast of the US and into France and Slovenia in Europe.

I then moved down to 12 meters where I worked S57S who I also worked on 10M.

Next, I moved to 15 meters where I worked eight more stations including S57S in Slovenia for the third time! A path was obviously open to the Balkans!

Next, I moved to the 17 meter band which was the most productive; I logged 16 chasers.

Finally, I decided to hit 10 meters one more time. I ended up adding three more stations for a grand total of 33 logged. Brilliant!


Here’s what this 5 watt activation into the PackTenna random wire looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map (click to enlarge).

Activation Video

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.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.


My goal that morning was to put a signal into Europe and see how those higher bands might perform. I was very pleased with the results having logged stations in: Slovenia, Spain, France, and Northern Ireland.

Also, anyone who worked me will also get POTA and WWFF credit.

I was also very pleased with my Mystery Ranch Scree 32 backpack. It was comfortable and seems to hold everything I need for a SOTA activation. I like the organization in the lid and the main compartment is pretty large.

I still love my Spec-Ops Brand Pack EDC and will continue to use it regularly, but when I know I’m going to have a longer and more technical hike, I will turn to the Scree 32 because its suspension system is superior.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this activation!

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 and here’s wishing you an amazing weekend!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

23 thoughts on “QRP DX: A beautiful day for SOTA on Flat Top Mountain!”

  1. Great video and write up Thomas.

    Do hunters really care about how many points a SOTA summit is or is that just an activator thing?

    I’m asking because there is a 1 pointer near my new house that has only been activated once and that was back in 2012. With my bad knee I need an easy summit to activate.


    1. Chasers maybe care a bit about how many points a summit is worth, but in my experience it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

      They DO care more about rarely activated summits, so I reckon you will be popular on your local summit. Especially if you advertise ahead of time with an alert and maybe on SOTA forums.

    2. Hi, Marshall,

      As Tony mentioned, I think the summit points have little to do with how tasty a summit might be for a chaser. That’s certainly been my experience as an activator because I activate low and higher point summits and can’t seem to tell a difference.

      Chasers are interested in collecting new and unique-to-them summits above all, I think.

      Definitely activate the one-pointer!


    1. I know, right? I might do that sometime, but on a day when I think I might be the only guy up there. You can’t tell from the photos, but the top of that tower isn’t big and it gets crowded because each and every hiker goes up.
      I once deployed a wire off of a big tower like this, but found that the metal played merry havoc with my resonant antenna! 🙂
      Someday, though I may mag mount it!

  2. or a clamp on antenna.. or throw the rope out to a tree with the wire… just a thought. as always top notch report. de ne7ts

    1. Someday, perhaps! 🙂 I like the idea of a mag mount up there. When 10 is open, that could make for some serious fun.

  3. Great activation! Thanks for the hint about the filtering. I am planning my first SOTA in about two weeks in Northern AR. Will be doing a few POTA Parks also. Will be a new State for me.

  4. As always and excellent presentation. I do agree with John AE5X though. LOL Perhaps attaching the end of a dipole or a sloper to the tower might have been a good alternative. Run it out to a tree. Guess I just like to take the lazy easy approach. LOL Excellent presentation.

    1. I should add: Many of my deployment decisions have to do with how practically I can film an activation. It would be challenging on the platform of that tower because it’s small and sometimes crowded with people. As I activated that day, two large groups visited the tower (you can hear them in the background). Setting up the camera would have been tricky with the winds and the mounts I have.

      Then again, when not filming, I have way more flexibility! 🙂

      1. Thanks my friend for your response. I was just speculating and I do understand the time constraints and other people in the area concerns. You are the best. I like your presentations. I wish other ham radio operators would step up to the plate as you do sir! Great job

  5. Well done Thomas! Your trusty KX2 and PackTenna Random… and agile.

    I keep checking for that brief window whereby I can buy a Random Wire…. I regret not buying one several years back, when I bought a EFλ/2, given it’s proven performance. But for the features of the KX2, a random wire would perfect my kit.

    I read the post, and will watch the video. Thanks again, 72

    de W7UDT

        1. I should have added that I have the Tufteln EFRW and I’m
          I’ve it. Works well with my 705 and MAT-705 tuner on all bands

    1. Hi, Rand!
      So I think KJ6VU is planning to put more PackTennas out there soon. It’s taking him time to catch up after his move.
      Marshall is correct: I also use and love the Tufteln EFRW antenna and it’s also excellent.

  6. That tower is crying out for a satellite activation and I remember you have talked about sats before. You do have two or is it three FT818’s?! With that horizon you’d have great fun with your FT-1636ND set up. 🙂

    North Carolina would be a new state for me and Satmatch.com says there are many opportunities 😉

  7. Your folding chair that was sinking into the gnd at this location. I had the same problem and started looking for a fix. This is what i bought and it works great and rolls in the same bag as the chair so things stay together. Amazon link below. I will past the title header here as well if the link doesn’t work.
    I have the REI chair and it fits great. There are other sizes if this one is not a fit.
    Hope this helps you get more out of your chair as it has for my hikes using the chair.
    TREKOLOGY YIZI-LITE Anti-Sinking Sand Cover & Ground Sheet for Camping Chairs, Fit YIZILITE Camping Backpacking Chairs

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