K4RLC’s December 2022 Adventure at Stone Mountain State Park

Many thanks to Bob (K4RLC) who shares the following POTA field report from December 2022:

K4RLC’s December 2022 Adventure: Stone Mountain State Park North Carolina

by Bob (K4RLC)

As 2022 was coming to an end, I wanted one last Summits on the Air/Parks on the Air (SOTA/POTA) activation. Stone Mountain North Carolina is around 3 hours away in Northwestern North Carolina, near the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a huge state park of over 14,000 acres and some wilderness areas.

A little background about this year might be helpful.

Earlier last year, both Alanna K4AAC and I were diagnosed with COVID, which turned into long serious COVID, lasting almost 3 months of acute illness, followed by several months of recovery. We are both healthcare professionals, and were vaxed and boosted and being very cautious, so it’s somewhat of a mystery what happened. One of us does have multiple medical risk factors which may have added to the complexity.

Nevertheless, we did what a lot of Americans did last winter and spring, with buying RVs and campers, and bought a Winnebago Solis camper van.

The Solis is Winnebago’s smallest van, built on a Dodge Pro Master commercial chassis. What appealed to me is that you can be completely self-sufficient, boon-docking with it. It has a 140 Watt solar panel on the roof which charges two 100 amp hour AGM batteries.

Off the grid, this powers a small refrigerator, house LED lights, water pump,  and a ceiling fan.

The Solis also has a 20-gallon propane tank, which runs a two-burner stove and a really nice furnace for cold nights. It sleeps two comfortably with a Murphy bed. Also has a sitting area with a table for dining, which can be used as a desk or an operating position for the radio.

Since getting the Solis, we have really enjoyed making trips to the beaches and mountains of Virginia,  North Carolina and South Carolina. In addition to enjoying exciting POTA/SOTA activations, we have been replenished by nature’s beauty and feeling safe in the fresh air.

Returning to my Stone Mountain adventure, I guess not many people camp in the middle of the week in December in the mountains. Initially, I was the only person in the large campgrounds. Eventually, a couple with their dog and a trailer set up at the far end. We never had any contact. It was really eerie, especially with the pea soup fog that hung around.

The most prominent feature of Stone Mountain State Park is Stone Mountain itself.

It is known as a “Dome Monadnock,” as it is a large dome of granite/quartz still standing from the Devonian Age about 400 million years ago, while the earth around it has eroded over thousands of years. (Stone Mountain Georgia is the same geologic feature).

This is not to be confused with the Pitons in St. Lucia, where we also operated. The Pitons are hardened magma cones, essentially volcanoes that stopped exploding, hardened into a cone shape, and the soft earth around them eroded.  Stone Mountain, NC is so striking, it was named an official US “National Natural Landmark” in 1974.

The hike up Stone Mountain is considered “strenuous.” They have the usual signs warning you of death and serious bodily injury. But as a seasoned wilderness backpacker, I didn’t think much about it, even though I’m pushing 73 now. (In fact, I learned to rock climb here 45 years ago.)

Going toward the top one encounters the usual type of trail in western North Carolina, with too many steps made of timbers or etched into the stone. However, toward the top, there is no trail and you simply walk across the exposed rock face toward the peak. There is a single cable which can guide you, if you want to make use of it. Going up was no problem at all. I really enjoyed the views of clouds and fog in the distance, making it seem mystic and ethereal.

There was no cell service and no one else was around, which made it feel very peaceful. It was like the old song “Lost in the fog on such a gray day…

After drinking a bottle of Gatorade and eating a protein bar, I operated for a while, then decided to go back down before the rain picked up again. I didn’t think much about going down as potentially being difficult, when I really should have.

I was wearing state-of-the-art Vasque hiking boots – that is, state-of-the-art for 15 years ago. The technical Vibram soles had hardened, such that there was no traction on the wet rock face.

Right when I consciously thought that things were going really well, I totally wiped out, falling hard and sliding down the rock. I guess I tried to break the fall with my left hand, as it ended up underneath me, getting cut and a mild crush injury, but basically hurt like hell. I either hyperextended or dislocated a couple of fingers and lacerated the distal phalange of my ring finger. My initial reaction was to be  ticked at myself for falling, then wanting to stop the bleeding quickly. With a handkerchief, arm elevation, and pressure, the bleeding stopped in a few minutes. Nothing else seemed to be broken and, most importantly, the radios were fine. I found the cable over the rock face, and inched down in the rain, till I found the trail again.

I decided that was enough mountaineering for the day. I went back to the campsite and felt lucky we upgraded to the Solis, as we felt too old for tent camping. To operate from the campsite, I set up an inverted V for 40 M on a push-up pole, lashed with bungee cords to the lantern stand next to the picnic table. Then, ran the coax through the back window of the Solis and up to the radio, which I placed on the table inside. It was the usual configuration of the old IC – 706MKII, a MFJ  portable tuner, and a Walmart lawn mower battery. This worked great, as I was soon running up pile up on 40 CW. Feeling a little tired and sore, I decided to eat some chili, then sleep on the nice soft Murphy bed the Solis.

The next morning, I wanted to hike back to the base of Stone Mountain and get a photograph of the mountain, especially the trails I had rock climbed at Stone Mountain many years prior. When you look at the photograph, in the middle of the dome, you can see a difference in the height of the rock, left of the gray area. The dome was sort of like an onion with layers, and part of the onion on the right peeled off leaving a higher area on the left. At the base was a crack going all the way up. My friend Terry was an experienced climber who was happy to get me on the mountain and into rock-climbing, which is a real joy. You jam your fingers into the crack and press your butt up against the higher wall and do “crack climbing” all the way to the top. It was a rush.

Back then, there were no cell phones for photographs and even cameras were burdensome. This time, I really wanted a picture of the dome from the bottom. That hike to the base is part of the path to the top, then goes off for a nice hike of about a mile. When I got to the field in front of the dome, where an old farm had been in the 1860s, I noticed that my left hand had swollen like sausages, especially the ring finger still with my wedding ring on it. The swelling increase was triggered by my  exertion and increased heart rate. It also had started throbbing like hell and had turned purple, not a good sign. It was at this point, and only after I got some good photos of the dome, that I decided to hike back and pack up camp, even though I had the site for a few more days.

My emergency medicine training suggested I probably should have someone look at my hand. I was in the boonies with no cell service, and had to drive a while to find cell service and Google the nearest Emergency Room. Fortunately, that was only about 20 miles away in Elkin, North Carolina. Google got me to the parking lot fine.

This a small hospital and there were only a few shady characters in the waiting room that looked in pretty bad shape. However, when I showed my hand to the receptionist, it got her attention and they got me back into a treatment room pretty quickly. The ER doc and her nurse came in very cheerful. When I let them know my medical background, things were pretty collegial. She definitely wanted the ring off, and said I could lose the finger if she didn’t get it off. She first tried a technique of putting a rubber tourniquet under the ring with lots of KY jelly, trying to slide it off. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work. She then got the Gem saw and carefully and slowly cut through the wedding band. It took longer and was more difficult than either of us thought it would. I held a tongue depressor under the ring so the Gem saw wouldn’t cut into my finger, although it did slightly. After sawing through the ring, the ER doc took two hemostats, and clipped them on either side and worked with all her might to open the band enough to get it off, as my finger was so swollen.

Her nurse started joking about doing an amputation to cheer me up. Anyway, the Doc was successful and swelling soon began to go down, with good color returning to the finger. We decided that nothing else was broken, just soft tissue injuries, and no x-rays were needed. She told me to keep the cut open and clean, and it should heal without sutures.

After my ER visit, I drove about three hours home. My wife Alanna K4AAC was in her home office doing TeleHealth when I got home. I went in the den and got in the recliner, which felt great. I hadn’t told Alanna any of this, even when we had enough cell phone coverage to talk. So, she was a bit surprised when she saw my bruised, purple, swollen and cut hand. And the cut wedding band, which I presented to her. Well, she actually was pretty ticked that I hadn’t let her know what had happened. The original plan had been for us to be together for the activation, but she was sick. Alanna did the usual semi-hysteric wife stuff, wanting to fuss over and take care of me. Oh, and expressing the obligatory conclusion that she “can’t trust me to go off on my own anymore.”

So, several weeks later, most of the soreness is gone in the back and hips, the infection has healed, but the blooming hand is still swollen and sensitive. All I can say is that I’m glad it wasn’t my CW sending hand, as my “fist” is bad enough to begin with!!  Overall, it was a great activation and a fun adventure which I would do it all over again.

So, the next activation this winter probably will be in a beautiful flat place at sea level near the ocean called the Great Dismal Swamp. [Indeed, Bob already shared this field report–click here to read it!] It is between North Carolina and Virginia and originally was surveyed by George Washington to set the boundary for the two states. You really want to do this activation in the middle of winter, as the plentiful snakes and alligators are snoozing then, and in warmer seasons the mosquitoes are as big as birds.

Not sure what I would do differently, other than just not falling. I’ve since bought a brand-new pair of Merrill boots at REI. Of note, the Merrill brand of boots was first recommended to me by two Army Rangers at a Wilderness Medicine conference I was attending in the Rockies. I always carry a minimal amount of emergency stuff, even for a day hike, including a first-aid kit, snacks and drinks, a fire starter, an old fashioned compass, and an emergency bivouac tent from a company aptly named “Don’t Die In The Woods!” There was no cell service where I fell, so you can’t depend on cell phones. I guess I could’ve set the KX2 back up, if needed. The HT, even with a longer antenna, couldn’t raise any of the local repeaters. But this was nothing compared to my past backpacking trips in the Idaho and Montana Wilderness, the Rockies, and on the Appalachian Trail. I guess my lesson learned was that I shouldn’t take anything for granted, including the relative safety of a day hike and thinking the way I did 45 years ago when I rock climbed and felt young and invincible.

Still, it was a fun activation in a beautiful setting, and I look forward to going back to Stone Mountain State Park, NC.

73 de K4RLC Bob

January 2023

2 thoughts on “K4RLC’s December 2022 Adventure at Stone Mountain State Park”

  1. First, sorry for your mishap and hope you are fully recovered. A very exciting read and, of course, glad the radios were OK!. Thanks for the information about the park. BTW, my wife would of reacted in the same manner as we are both 75 with over 50 years of marriage…”par for the course”!

  2. Those Vibram’s need to be replaced with some 5.10’s. A nasty fall can put us over 70’s in the hospital. We don’t heal so fast either….

    Glad it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

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