Handheld SOTA DX and Testing K6ARK’s New KH1 Pressure Paddles!

On Tuesday, March 12, 2024, I woke up with SOTA (Summits on the Air) on my mind.

That morning, I plotted to activate a local drive-up summit I’ve basically ignored the past few years.

Peach Knob (W4C/CM-097) is one of the most popular summits in the Asheville area no doubt because it’s so accessible. That said, it’s also a cell phone and water tank site with limited parking. When I first drove up a few years ago, there was a crew working and I would have only been in the way had I opted to activate. Also, to truly be within the activation zone on Peach Knob, there’s really only one small portion of the site where you can set up. Most of the summit is on private land.

I do SOTA primarily for the hikes. I’m not aggressively chasing activation points (ahem…obviously!) so I tend to ignore drive-up sites that are cramped and a bit awkward. Someday, I’m sure I’ll eventually hit Peach Knob just to do it, but that Tuesday? Yeah, I quickly decided I wanted a hike too.

I had a window of about three hours to fit in a SOTA activation. For POTA (Parks on the Air), that’s a generous number–I could easily hit three POTA sites in that amount of time, but SOTA takes more time. Typically there’s a longer drive to a trailhead, then a round-trip hike to figure into the planning as well. I immediately thought of one summit that would fit the bill.

Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)

Bearwallow isn’t a long drive from downtown Asheville–maybe 20-25 minutes one-way. The hike to the summit is also fairly short and most enjoyable. The activation zone is the opposite of Peach Knob; it’s massive!

I arrived at the trailhead around 12:30 local and found that there were very few people parked there–-after all, it was a random Tuesday mid-day!

I’d packed my Elecraft KH1 field kit with the intention of doing a fully pedestrian mobile activation. I also had another goal: to test a prototype KH1 pressure paddle Adam (K6ARK) sent me to thoroughly test. I felt there was no better way than to SOTA with it!

Funny, but when operating pedestrian mobile with the KH1, you need so little extra kit. In fact, I could just grab my Pelican M40 case containing the full kit and be ready to go. But I always carry a first aid kit, headlamp, water, and other emergency supplies even if the hike is short and easy. Even if I have no need of those supplies on a short hike, someone else may. Twice, I’ve given other hikers first aid supplies from my pack.

Also, since I planned to film this activation, I needed to carry my camera, mics, and a tripod. I chose one of my favorite day packs: The GoRuck GR1!

My activation video, below, includes a bit of the hike and the contents of my backpack as I set up the KH1.


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On The Air

I decided to start this activation on the highest band the KH1 can serve up: 15 meters. After a delayed start (due to phone calls), I began calling CQ SOTA and the contacts started rolling in. It was funny–my first two contacts mirrored a previous Bearwallow activation: Christian (F4WBN) and Michael (N7CCD) in the same order! Within three minutes, I’d logged the four contacts necessary to validate the activation.

I continued working stations on 15 meters until I’d logged a total of ten contacts. Next, I QSY’d to the 17-meter band which was also productive. I added 14 more contacts to my logs in 15 minutes. Woo hoo!

It’s hard to describe just how much fun it is to work all of these SOTA friends and DX with a handheld radio pumping out a mere 5 watts of QRP goodness.

My shack, in this case, has one of the best views in the world!


Here’s what this five-watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:

Full QSO Map (Click to enlarge)
North America Detail
Europe Detail

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.

NOTE: In the video, you hear some audio splattering. That’s not the KH1, it’s my Zoom H1n recorder trying to cope with audio peaks.

Click here to view on YouTube.

K6ARK Pressure Paddles

Adam has a winner here!

Pressure paddles make a lot of sense on a handheld radio because they won’t accidentally key with radio movement or bumps. They do require that the op use the middle of the pressure pad instead of the edge. The one time I had trouble keying a callsign, I believe it was because I wasn’t using the middle of the pads.The K6ARK paddles are small enough that they fit in my Pelican Micro M40 case just like the OEM KH1 paddles!

Adam told me that he will be selling kits and some pre-built units very soon and plans to have a batch at Dayton. Per Adam: “Exact price TBD, but under $50.

I think he’ll struggle to keep them in stock.

Thank you so much!

Thank you for joining me during 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 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 makes 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! I hope you have an opportunity to play a little radio today!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

5 thoughts on “Handheld SOTA DX and Testing K6ARK’s New KH1 Pressure Paddles!”

  1. Great video Thomas! Hey those K6ARK keys work great! Would they work in other transceivers? It seems they might.

    72 de W7UDT

  2. Thomas, thanks as always for the great video reviews. The pressure paddles in the video appear slightly canted to the left. How stable are they once installed in the jack? Any flex or adjustability in the design?


  3. Thomas, i watched the video, it was nice, but you still didn’t reply to my previous post. Why don’t you enter in the log the received RST and the transmitted RST. I know you’re recording with a tape recorder, but the QSOs are real. If you want to send a QSL to a hunter, what kind of RST do you enter in the QSL?.
    72′ Peter.

    1. Hi Peter,

      While I cannot speak for Thomas, I can say that an RST exchange is not a requirement of either the POTA or SOTA operating programs. Really the only requirements are callsigns, time, and frequency band.

      That said, RST and QTH can be helpful to the activator in the field to judge relative propagation characteristics. The exchange of RST lends a nice cadence to the CW contact but doesn’t really serve much purpose to me afterwards, which is why don’t bother to log it.

      I log QTH if the other op sends it, because sometimes it can be a useful crosscheck if you think you might have a busted call. It’s not perfect because people move between call areas without reflecting their current QTH in their call. The is mainly a U.S. thing.

      I hope that helps your understanding.

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