Deck Rail SOTA on Mount Pisgah and Improvising my Wire Antenna Deployment!

On the morning of Tuesday, June 27, 2023, a rare occasion happened in my otherwise hectic summer schedule: both a weather window and a wide activation window opened!

As the French say, “Il faut en profiter!

I always try to take advantage of any opportunities like this.

That morning, I checked in with my daughter, Geneva (K4TLI), to see if she might wish to do a SOTA activation. She was game, so I told her to grab her backpack.

My other daughter was at a one-week writer’s camp at UNC Asheville and my wife had other plans for the day, so it was also a great opportunity for some father/daughter time.

Oh, and another member of the family saw the hiking boots come out and immediately stopped what she was doing (tearing up a plush toy) to join us.

Hazel never, ever passes up a hike–! She gets more excited than anyone else in the family.

Mount Pisgah (W4C/CM-011)

We arrived at the trailhead of Mount Pisgah around 9:45 AM local.

Hazel, quite literally, bounced out of the car and towards the trailhead. She, no doubt, remembered the last time we played SOTA on Mount Pisgah.

There were much fewer hikers parked at the trailhead than I expected–then again, it was a Tuesday morning.

About thirty minutes into our hike we passed a couple who mentioned they’d spotted bears on the trail closer to the summit.

Not terribly surprising because (like my QTH) Pisgah is very much in bear territory. Since bears at this particular part of the parkway are used to human activity (and tourists feeding them), I pack bear spray. Those are the worst bears.

Black bears, in general, are fearful of humans and usually bolt the other way when they see you.  Bears used to being fed by tourists are not and are known to get aggressive. I don’t take my chances.

The hike to the summit of Pisgah is actually quite moderate. The first half of it is very relaxed with little elevation change. It’s the second half of the hike that packs it in!

We reached the summit in no time and without any bear delays.

Setting up

Although I packed one of my bare-bones arborist throw lines (I mean, never leave home without one, right–?) I had no intention of using it. It was so quiet on the trail that day, I decided I’d try a super simple antenna deployment and operate from the summit observation deck railing.

I used a bit of the bungee cord from my Tufteln/N0RNM knee board to secure my KX2 to the deck railing. It was breezy that day, but I was worried less about the wind and more about my clumsy hands knocking the KX2 off the railing.

My antenna of choice was the Tufteln no-transformer 28.5′ random wire antenna (seen pre-deployment in my KX2 pack above).

This antenna is simply two 28.5 foot wires (one a radiator, the other a counterpoise) attached to a BNC connector. There is no transformer–the ATU does all of the matching work.

It’s an insanely simple antenna and identical to my über-cheap Speaker Wire antenna, just lower-profile.

It’s difficult to see in the photo above because the wire simply disappears, but I show the full antenna deployment in the activation video below.

Basically, I simply tossed the radiator into the top of one tree, then laid the counterpoise wire along the lower trees and bushes next to the deck.

Keep in mind: this wasn’t an “ideal” deployment–and I could have used my throw line to do a proper install–but I was too curious to see how well it might work. Why not, right?

In my experience? Almost any antenna will perform well enough to snag a SOTA activation when you’re on a summit.

Like my buddy Kirk (NT0Z) says, “RF gotta’ go somewhere.”

Time to hop on the air and see where the RF would take me!


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On The Air

So how well did this “string an antenna out” plan work?

I decided to start the activation on 20 meters. The Elecraft KX2’s internal ATU made a good match, so I started calling CQ SOTA.

Within two minutes, I validated my SOTA activation with four contacts. Woo hoo!

I continued operating on 20 meters for six more minutes, snagging an an additional six chasers for a total of 10 logged which validated the POTA activations of K-4510 and K-6937 (I did mention this was also a POTA two-fer, right?).

With 10 logged, I though I might move up to the 17M band.

The KX2 ATU struggled and, in fact, couldn’t find an acceptable match. When the KX2 ATU can’t find a match, it’s just not matchable.

I hopped up to 10 meters and found an acceptable match so called CQ SOTA for a while. I ended up only working one more contact (NE4TN). Ten meters was properly dead, though.

I couldn’t help it–I wanted to give 17 meters another go, so I re-deployed the counterpoise a couple of times and eventually found a position that the KX2 ATU could tune. Had I deployed the antenna in its normal vertical orientation, none of this would have been a problem–but hey, experimentation, right-!?!

I started calling CQ on 17 meters and worked Christian (F4WBN) which symbolically validated this SOTA activation. As with many SOTA activators, Christian is my most reliable chaser. (Merci bien, Christian!)

At the end of the activation, I’d logged 12 contacts and was very pleased. Had I also announced this on the POTA website (which I planned to do) I would have logged many more, but frankly? I was out of time.

As you’ll hear in the video, quite a few people asked me about what I was doing, who could hear my signals, etc. By the end of the activation, quite a few hikers had made their way to the summit. Geneva did a great job speaking with them while I was operating, too.


Here’s what this 5 watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map.

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.

What fun!

Other than losing my Rite in the Rain metal pen on the summit (yes, we looked for it)  this was an absolutely brilliant SOTA activation.

My daughter and I enjoyed the hike and a nice lunch in Asheville afterwards. Hazel enjoyed exploring the trail and all of the (I assume) amazing smells along the way. She even got to hang with a few other dogs on the summit.

Next time, I’ll likely go back to the spot where I’ve set up in the past, on the other side of the comms towers. That, or I might bring my SOTAbeams Tactical Mini  fiberglass pole and simply attach it to the deck. I’m sure that’s what the bulk of the SOTA activators do on Pisgah when the summit isn’t too busy.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this SOTA 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! Have an amazing weekend!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

10 thoughts on “Deck Rail SOTA on Mount Pisgah and Improvising my Wire Antenna Deployment!”

  1. Thomas,

    Another great activation & report. You make it look too easy!

    The KX2 is truly amazing. So simple, so elegant, amazingly so.

    Antennas, are a subject, which merits a thorough understanding and prolonged discussion. Every Ham has an opinion, and a preference, and they’re all right. Especially when it comes to the KX2.

    They all seem to work well, Dipoles, Doublets, Yagi, Verticals, the various and sundry wires antennas… that little Elecraft marvel could probably tune up the Statue of Liberty, and probably has.

    I enjoyed the video, mostly due to it’s irreverant disregard to anything overly complicated. 28.5′ of haphazardly strewn wire makes for alot of fun.

    TU 72 de W7UDT (dit dit)

    1. Thank you, Rand,

      I like trying stuff like this from time-to-time just to see what happens. Frankly, I think that’s one of the side benefits of POTA and SOTA: it gives you an opportunity to experiment and test the theory, “What would happen if I didn’t have an ideal antenna?”

      Thanks for the kind comment, OM!

  2. Here for PRIME HAZEL CONTENT!! <3 <3 <3

    Please tell her I love her please please!

    Wigs KQ4EHE
    President and #1 Fan
    Hazel Fan Club of USA

    1. Your message has been delivered to Hazel and she is most flattered! 🙂
      She’s such a wonderful doggy. 🙂

  3. Thomas – Thanks for sharing your activation.

    My family and I have hiked up Mt. Pisgah several times (before I was a ham). And yes, the view you had that day was gorgeous. Watching your video, I finally figured out how to use the message function on my KX2. I have tried programming a message in the utility software and downloading it but it never seems to work. (Most likely it is something I am doing incorrectly as a new user.) However, I pulled “Craig” out and recorded my POTA CQ message so I will be set next time I activate! I am curious as to why you choose the antenna you did as opposed to the EFRW QRP antenna.

    72, Teri KO4WFP

    1. Hi, Teri,

      You’ll love using the CW message memories on the KX2. It’s a real time-saver when propagation is poor and you need to send a lot of CQs. You almost never are able to input the message correctly on the first go–it’s very picky–but eventually you’ll get it. Of course, using the cable and utility tool makes it much easier to simply type in your message and store it.

      Great question about why I chose this particular antenna. Basically? I just wanted to experiment and play with a “non optimal” deployment. The thought got in my head and I couldn’t shake it. 🙂 You can get away with so much when you’re on a mountain and calling CQ SOTA. A 9:1 random wire with proper support would have worked much better.

      Next time you’re up here in Pisgah territory, give me a shout and we’ll join you on the hike!

      Thomas K4SWL

  4. The pocket clip on my black metal Rite in the Rain pen is magnetic. Take along a pocket telescoping magnet with you next time you are up there.

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