Category Archives: Morse Code

The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 3

Day 3 of my spring-break Florida POTA trip began well. Those of you who read my “A Confession from the POTA Babe” article know my personal life has been anything but settled as of late. Two weeks prior to the trip, I experienced a traumatic break with a close friend and partner. I hoped this trip would help me move past that event and began putting my life back together.  This was the first morning I woke in two and a half weeks feeling like myself and ready for whatever POTA adventures lay ahead of me.

Day 3 of my spring-break 2024 Florida trip

Participating in the pilot session of CW Innovation’s Comprehensive ICR course in October 2022 introduced me to the concept of a code buddy. A code buddy is someone with  whom you have regular CW QSOs, a trusted friend who keeps you active on the air and with whom you grow your skills. I have two code buddies currently – Caryn KD2GUT and Charles W4CLW. Charles and I usually meet Tuesday mornings at 8 AM EDT and I thought why not try to meet up during the trip.

As noted in my article about the first day of this trip, I had to take down the EFRW at my campsite as per park regulations. I pulled out the Chelegance MC-750 as I thought it might stand a better chance than the AX1 with any noise in the campground. As Charles’ QTH was only 232 miles from my campsite, I figured 40 meters would be the only option for us.

I turned on the KX2 and the noise was horrible. However, Charles cleared a frequency and called QRL. He was a 599 on my end but when it was my turn, he could not hear me at all. Oh well. We at least tried.

I figured since I already had my equipment up and running, why not have an impromptu activation?

I spotted myself on the POTA website and began calling CQ. Within 40 minutes, I had a valid activation. Thirty meters gave me four contacts and 20 meters eight contacts including Manuel WP4TZ in Puerto Rico, another member of the Comprehensive ICR course I am currently facilitating with CW Innovations.

I also had one park-to-park QSO with Dave KQ4CW who was activating US-0567 in Virginia. At this point, it was time to pack up my equipment and head south to Cedar Key Scrub Preserve (US-3611).

QSO Map for Manatee Springs 4-2-24 Activation Source: http://tools.adventureradio.de/analyzer/

On the drive southward, I noticed lots of yellow flowers (I think dandelions) along the road as well as wild verbena. I enjoyed the encounters with the natural world I had on this trip. The previous day, I had several different caterpillar species visit me during my activations. They ended up on my clothes as well as my equipment.

During today’s impromptu activation at the campsite, three deer walked  through the area. Nature galore!

a tussock moth caterpillar
a Tent caterpillar
possibly a salt marsh moth caterpillar

Daisy and I arrived at Cedar Key Scrub Preserve (US-3611) around 11:30 AM. It was fairly warm at this hour of the day so I set up in the shade generated by Kai and some overhead trees. I chose to work with the Chelegance MC-750 again.

This activation proved to be a busy one, all on twenty meters. Over the course of 50 minutes, I logged 32 contacts including one DX with Chris F6EAZ in France, a QSO with another team member in my class – Pat K2SCH, and one park-to-park QSO with Jeff KF4VE at US-4857 in Virginia.

At this point, the sun had overtaken Daisy and I. We were beginning to roast so it was time to call QRT.

QSO Map for Cedar Key Scrub Preserve Source: http://tools.adventureradio.de/analyzer/
USA Only QSO Map for Cedar Key Scrub Preserve Source: http://tools.adventureradio.de/analyzer/

I had planned to take a walk at Cedar Key Scrub Preserve but due to the warm temperatures and foliage that would not provide much shade, I scrubbed (yes, you can groan) that plan, packed up, and headed further south to Cedar Key.

The town of Cedar Key is made of small islands (called keys) linked together by bridges. We navigated over them to Cedar Key Museum State Park (US-3610).

Unfortunately, the museum was closed for maintenance. But, as I surveyed the site, I saw a shady bench beckoning me.

A QTH with potential!

I set up the Chelegance MC-750, Daisy sprawled out for a nap, and I got down to business.

This activation ran slower than the previous one. I ended up with 25 QSOs on 20 meters in an hour. However, it was pleasant to relax in the shade, enjoy the breeze, and not be in a rush. In fact, after the activation and everything was packed up, Daisy and I relaxed at this spot for a good thirty minutes, soaking in the experience.

On the drive back to my campsite, I received an unexpected call. It was the close friend and partner I thought I had lost several weeks ago.  I pulled off to the side of the road. The conversation was a heart-felt and cathartic one.

I had a choice to make. There were three days remaining in my trip and potentially four more parks I could activate toward my 60 new-to-me activation goal.  Or I could choose to step through the door that just opened. It didn’t take me long to decide.

This spring-break Florida trip was a productive one. I activated six parks toward my goal, used two antennas with which I was not very familiar, and camped on my own. I also did what I set out to do in my “A Confession from the POTA Babe” article – savor the beauty around me, think, reflect, and be. I cancelled the remainder of the trip to visit this cherished person with the joy of reconciliation.

It doesn’t matter if it is POTA or your personal life; relationships are what matter. This POTA Babe has learned her lesson and has her priorities in the correct order now. Thanks to all of you who continue to share my adventures. They are far from over.

Equipment Used

[Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.]

16th Floor QRP: Coffee break portable at the office

Many thanks to Bill (KG4FXG) who shares the following guest post:


Return to the Office:  Operating portable during coffee breaks (Atlanta to England)

by Bill Carter (KG4FXG)

Have you ever thought about operating from your work location?  Perhaps during lunch or a coffee break?  What if that location was downtown in a big city?

In my case, I work in a 17 floor Skyscraper.

The building has several large outside balconies on the 5th, 10th, and 17 floors.  There is also a green space on the 5th floor that is a grassy area with a lawn and trees.  What are all the possibilities here for portable operation? Let’s find out!

Amateur Radio is about learning, and to that end we may build antennas, perhaps QRP Rigs, and other things.  I’ve been building many QRPGuys and Tufteln antennas.  I also use a few that I’ve purchased, such as the Chelegance MC-750, AX1, Gabil Vertical Antenna GRA-7350TC [gear links below].

Sometimes, the weather does not play nice and I’m forced to try operating indoors.  Here I am using the Chelegance MC-750 on the 16th floor where I have clearance all the way to the top of the 17th floor.

The antenna almost touches the ceiling on the 17th floor.  I was able to make a contact in England: John G4RCG.  His location was in Kirkhamgate, Wakefield–about 11 miles from Leeds. We were able to exchange names but that was about it on 20M.

This antenna is amazing, I can’t wait to try it outside in our green space.

I was using the Elecraft KX2 but I have several QRP Rigs that I have brought to the office.  Such as the Norcal 40, Elecraft K1, both of which were kits I built.  I started QRP back in 1999 before there was POTA.  Back then, you had to build your radio.  Most did back then.

Learning about propagation has been interesting.  It is not ideal to operate indoors.  One simple way I test conditions is to see if I can hit the reverse beacon network.

Here’s a screenshot of the Reverse Beacon (below) while I was using the Chelegance MC-750 on 20 meters:

(Click to enlarge)

Simple Office Setup

I work for the railroad.  You will notice my mug says Taggart.  Some humor here, but that is from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  Story about a railroad and so much more.

Here is the Green Space on the 5th floor.  Could you use this space for portable operations?

Here is pictured where I operated off the 10th floor balcony.  The view is amazing!

For the balcony, I just throw a wire over the glass railing.  The balcony is huge with many tables and chairs for lunch.  I have used K4SWL’s Speaker Wire antenna build here.

My hours are very unusual.  I normally work from 2AM to 5PM and I leave to drive home at 11AM.  I love telecommuting for work these days.  So, when I operate, it is around 3AM or 4AM.  Not ideal times for POTA, but a great time of day to work DX!

I have so much more to try.  I have a Spiderbeam Pole and SOTABEAMS Pole that I am playing with as well.  I also have the Alex Loop Antenna that I will try from work.

Another operating position: here I am inside running RG-316 through the door to the 10th Floor Balcony.  I am using Thomas’s Speaker Wire antenna here.

One of the challenges that I face at 3AM is cold temperatures and wind.  There can be wind around these large buildings that can make operating difficult.  In cases of cold weather, I just opt for the little table and chair next to the door.  Besides, the coffee stays warmer longer inside!

New buildings make it very difficult if not impossible to get an RF signal out.  Getting an antenna outside is key.  And even then, that does not guarantee success.  The building’s corners have glass conference rooms.  You feel like you are outside, but I haven’t found a really good location for QRP.  That said, there are many more options to try.

Have you tried operating from your work location, perhaps at lunch?  Maybe as a POTA chaser?  What is your go-to method and set up?  Check out more of my shack on QRZ.

Bill KG4FXG

Gear:

Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 1

In pursuit of my 60 new-to-me park activations, I headed back to Florida for six days the first week of April. The weather forecast looked promising – high temps in the upper 70s falling to the upper 60s by the end of the week. Rain might dampen my spirits on Wednesday but otherwise, the sun was likely to shine during my journey.

Day 1 of my April 2024 Florida Trip

Daisy and I packed up the car and headed out early Sunday, May 31st. It was an easy journey – three and a half hours south down I-95 and then southwest across Florida. Of course, we stopped at the Florida welcome center and got our picture snapped, this time just the two of us.

Here we again in Florida!

We arrived in Branford which actually did look like a nice place to live. Lafayette Forest Wildlife & Environmental Area (US-6315) is just outside the town. Unlike the wildlife management areas in Georgia I’ve visited, this one looked more manicured. The road into the park could have been the entrance into some genteel Southern plantation.

Not far inside, we found a fenced-in parking area and kiosk. I figured this would be the easiest place to set up. Checking the kiosk, I confirmed we were out of hunting season though we would still wear our blaze orange items for our walk after the activation. (Before we arrived at the park, we actually saw a turkey crossing the road.)

Map of Lafayette WMA

I opted to use the Chelegance MC-750 on the tripod mount because I need more practice with it. That proved to be a good choice as I had to re-read the instructions to set it up – hi hi. This is what happens when you don’t use equipment on a regular basis.  Continue reading The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 1

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.

Gear:

Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

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

KX2 and TR-45L: Alan measures actual vs selected keyer speeds

Many thanks to Paul (W7CPP) who writes:

If you haven’t seen this it is worth watching. Alan does a great job calculating the actual versus selected keyer speed on the KX2 and TR-45:

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Brilliant video! Thanks for sharing this, Paul. 

Alan’s YouTube channel is one of my favorites. If you haven’t already, hop over there and subscribe!

Planning a POTA Babe Trip – Part 2

(Note: I cut my Florida POTA trip short as I needed to take care of some personal business. I apologize for the change of plans and the inability to communicate that to y’all. I appreciate everyone’s support of the trip and the QSOs of those who hunted me. Articles will be forthcoming for those activations in the near future.)

Those of you who have followed my journey on QRPer know that I wrote an article about my kit for the trip I took last summer to Nova Scotia. Since then, what ham radio equipment I take with me has changed, partially because I am not flying to a different country far from home and partially because of my experiences with what I generally do and don’t need. I thought I’d share what my kit currently looks like for the spring-break Florida trip.

Here is a photo of what ham radio-related gear I am taking on my Florida POTA trip. We’ll first look at what I have in each section of the Elecraft bag I take with me and then a few items that do not fit in this bag but are still along for the ride.

When I purchased my KX2, I also purchased the Elecraft bag. Though the bag is bulky in its profile, it was a worthy purchase due to the amount of stuff it can store in one place in a well-organized manner.

The bag has three compartments.

In the first compartment is my main man, Craig, my KX2. He is the rig I use for all my QRP adventures out and about. I do have a protective cover I purchased for him but haven’t installed yet. I have a fear of messing with electronics and, though installing the shield isn’t rocket science, the project seems overwhelming enough that I haven’t tackled it yet.

Also in this first compartment are my throw bag containing an arbor line and throw weight, some S-carabiners, my homemade radials for the AX1, the tripod mount for the AX1, and a pencil and earbuds. I find I copy CW much better when I have a headset of some sort.

In this compartment, I used to have a back-up key. However, in its place is a new single-lever paddle from CW Morse [QRPer affiliate link]. I am using this key because it is wired to be a cootie or a paddle via an internal switch. I discovered my KX2 doesn’t balk at using this key like a cootie unlike when I use the CW Morse SP4. I desire to use QRP for more than POTA, specifically for SKCC and calling CQ for ragchews. SKCC requires a mechanical key and, as the cootie is my favorite key, this new key should fill the need  I discovered the last time I visited Skidaway Island.

In the second compartment, I have the AX1 and the Tufteln EFRW antenna. Those of you who have read my articles know I generally deploy the Tufteln EFRW antenna. On this April Florida trip, I plan to use the AX1 and the Chelegance MC-750 more often in preparation for my summer POTA trip. I anticipate I’ll be limited by terrain and park rules from deploying an antenna in a tree so more experience with verticals will be helpful.

In the third and final compartment are some odds and ends: neon pink flagging tape, an allen wrench for adjusting my CW morse keys, some twine, a short length of wire with an alligator clip on the end, two shock bungee cords, the cord for my CW Morse single-lever key, and a splitter for the headphone jack. I’ve used all these items (except the cord for the new key) at one time or another so I don’t want to leave the house without them.

Here are items I am also taking that don’t fit in the Elecraft bag.

The Tufteln kneeboard, POTA flag, and a notebook. I really like using pencil and paper for my POTA logs. I hold my key in the left hand and send with the right. For some reason, juggling that with paper is more manageable to me than logging in my phone or a laptop. The one thing I miss out on by doing that, though, is not knowing people’s names except those I’ve encountered many times. (And even then I forget names in the busyness of an activation so if I do, please forgive me.) I like to thank people by name at the end of the QSO rather than just their call sign if I know their name. I learned to do this in SKCC exchanges and I think it is a respectful and genteel practice. The one advantage I see to using a logging program is that I could do that with every QSO.

In a Tom Bihn bag, I have my RG-316 coax in three lengths (10’, 20’, and 50’), a short bungee cord, a stereo connector, and a newer version of the SP4 (aka The Minion).

Also coming along for the ride is the Chelegance MC-750. [QRPer affiliate link]

The last pieces of equipment I am bringing are for the first park I will visit – Lafayette Wildlife Management Area. In areas that allow hunting, Daisy and I wear blaze orange, even in the off season. Though as hams we try to be law abiding, we need to remember there are others out there who are not. When it comes to areas in which hunting is allowed, it is wise to wear blaze orange year-round because hunting violations due happen.

There you have it – the POTA Babe’s current QRP kit. I have one last question to address in this series – how I plan my trips. To find out, stay tuned…

N6ARA Introduces: THE GIANT PADDLE–!

I’ll just leave this product announcement from N6ARA right here:

K4RLC Field Report: POTA with Blackbeard!

Many thank to Bob (K4RLC) who shares the following guest post:


POTA with Blackbeard in Bath, North Carolina

de Bob (K4RLC)

While in Eastern North Carolina for the North Carolina QSO party, I decided to take a trip to visit historic Bath, North Carolina, the oldest city in our state and one of the original 13 colonies.

Bath, named after the English Earl of Bath, was founded in the late 1600s. It soon became the first port for the Carolina colony, then soon thereafter, the center for the colony’s government.

While I enjoy the wilder side of POTA, like state forests and game lands, and the mountains of SOTA, these historic sites often have a vibe that lets the mind wander back in history.

Additionally, two historic houses had recently been added to the POTA program: the Palmer-Marsh House (US-10388)  and the Bonner House (US-10263). The Palmer-Marsh House was built in 1744 by Captain Michael Coutanch, the original governor who came from the Isle of Jersey. The house was sold around 1762 to Robert Palmer, then later to the Marsh family around 1805. It is deemed the oldest standing house in North Carolina. While this state historic/POTA site had been activated on SSB, it had not been activated on Morse code yet, and it was appealing to me to be the first CW activator.

Palmer-Marsh House

It was a quiet clear Saturday morning with beautiful Carolina blue skies and chilly temps when I arrived at the Palmer-Marsh House.

The house itself was closed and open only to guided tours, however there were large open grounds with pathways, benches, and a family cemetery for the Marsh family. I had my North Face RECON pack full of the Elecraft KX2 set up I’ve taken overseas, and ready for almost everything.

On the bench near the cemetery there were no overhanging ancient oak branches. I set up the KX2 and laid down the screen wire counterpoise. On top of that, I put a 17 foot Chameleon whip which is resonant on 20 M CW, without wire counterpoises, and running only 5 watts.  The key was the CW Morse SP4 key.

Not knowing what would happen, I called CQ and was quickly answered by multiple stations wanting to work this new POTA site for the first time.

KX2 Setup in the Palmer House back yard
Palmer Family Cemetery

This entire section of town is loaded with historic houses. If you walk a few blocks down Main Street to Bonner Point, turn left on Front Street, and turn left again on King Street toward the visitor center, you will cover over 300 years of history, in a few blocks.

While the visitor center in the old school building is a POTA site, I chose the other POTA site in Bath – the Bonner House, built around 1830. This is the second house on the site, as John Lawson, the founder of Bath, built a house there which no longer stands. The entire original town boundary is considered a National Register Historic District.

I walked down Main Street to Bonner Point and Bonner House. From the Bonner House, I was looking into the Pamlico River sound fed by Bath Creek, with its deep blue water.

It took a moment to process, but I soon decoded waveforms of a school of dolphins playing close to the shore. They were incredibly graceful and efficient breaking the water. My over analytic mind tried to discern a pattern – could they be responding to the sound of Morse code? Or, simply a highly evolved graceful sea creature at play.

Bonner House
Looking at Pamlico Sound

In just a few hours, propagation seemed to have changed so it was difficult to make the requisite contacts still on 20 m CW with the same KX2 and antenna setup. My mind wandered back in history to the historical street sign to my right that said that Edward Teach had made his home here in 1713, while taking a brief break after the King’s pardon.

Most people know Teach by his more famous nickname of Blackbeard the Pirate. My mind time traveled, and I wondered what it would be like to have sailed with Blackbeard and his outrageous exploits in his time, or what he would’ve thought of the KX2 in our time!

Teach sign at Pamlico Sound

Not wanting to leave the site right away,  I enjoyed the typical lunch my YL Alanna K4AAC makes for a me on sojourns away from home – a really good peanut butter and jelly sandwich with  fruit punch Gatorade and a Reese cup. It’s great brain food for all the cognitive processing needed for Morse Code.

After a wonderful morning taking in Bath and being the first to activate the Palmer-Marsh house for POTA CW, I packed up my KX2 kit and headed off for nearby Goose Creek State Park (US-2731) where the other Dr. Bob , W4TTX and I were setting up as NC4QP, a bonus station for the North Carolina QSO party.

As there is still one more POTA site to activate, a return trip to historic Bath is on the list to take in its wonderful ambience, watch dolphins and daydream about Blackbeard playing radio.

Woo hoo! Finally taking my QRP Labs QMX on a POTA activation!

Those of you who purchased a fully-assembled and tested version of the QRP Labs QMX are, no doubt, patient people.

While you can order a kit version of the QMX and receive it fairly quickly (still, I believe), the assembled versions take more time as the QRP Labs crew is small and they build and test these by hand.

I ordered mine on June 5, 2023, and it shipped on December 27, 2023.

Truth is, I’ve had a QMX kit since Hans Summers announced it at Four Days In May (FDIM) prior to the 2023 Hamvention. I’ve been meaning to build it but, as many of you know, my life has been a tad crazy these past months and I never got around to it.

I purchased an assembled version of the QMX because I will be reviewing this one and wanted a factory-tested unit. I would have never guessed I’d receive the assembled unit before building it!

Familiar Form-Factor

The QMX looks so much like my QCX-Minis, I’ve gotten them mixed up in the shack! The menu system is very similar to the QCX, but there are some changes to accommodate band changes, modes, etc., as the QCX-Minin series is mono-band CW only.

The QMX, on the other hand, is a five-band, five-watt, multi-mode (CW, Digital, and likely SSB in the future) transceiver. It’s hard to believe you can purchase the QMX for as little as $90 (bare-bones) kit or $165 (fully-assembled and tested).

I initially thought I had an issue with my QMX because it kept shutting down the transmit function. Turns out, that was all user-error. I mentioned the issue on an episode of the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, and a couple of listeners wrote to tell me what I was doing wrong: I was feeding it too much voltage. The QMX doesn’t want more than 12V or so. If the radio detects even a temporary mismatch, it shuts down the TX to protect the finals, etc.

I was unintentionally triggering the QMX’s self-protection functionality!

Once I figured that out, I decided to simply pair my QMX with my Bioenno 3Ah 9V LiFePO4 battery. That would yield about 3 watts of output power and be a comfortable voltage for the QMX.

Vance Historic Birthplace (US-6856)

On Thursday, March 7, 2024, I finally took the QMX outdoors where it belongs! I had a one-hour window of time to complete a full activation. I decided to pair the QMX with my Chelegance MC-750 vertical.

My QMX is a “low-band” version that covers 80, 60, 40, 30, and 20 meters. I thought the top end of its band coverage would serve me best mid-day, so I planned my activation around 20 meters.

Setup was easy and simple. You can see the full set-up process in my activation video below.

Gear:

Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

On The Air

I hopped on the air and started calling CQ POTA after sorting out my QMX settings–I needed to adjust the sidetone and I had to take it out of split mode! Continue reading Woo hoo! Finally taking my QRP Labs QMX on a POTA activation!

Lightweight SPOTA Hat Trick on Angel Island

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 3

by Leo (DL2COM)

Do you remember the last time you arrived at a new vantage point on a hiking trail and all of a sudden you were stunned by a view that you didn’t expect at all? 

“No kidding.” I said when I approached the summit of Mount Caroline Livermoore on Angel Island and “bang” there it was: San Francisco Bay showing itself from its best side all around and in beautiful sunlight. Wow what a moment to remember.

The stunning view from Angel Island
Is this CGI?

If you’re passing through San Francisco and you’re looking for the perfect ham radio-infused hiking day trip and a very hard-to-beat city panorama, Angel Island is your ticket to a heavenly experience. If you’re the fast type you could get an activation done in half a day even including the summit. My two cents though: Bring a little time and let it soak all the way in. It’s worth it and not just because you can log three references in one go:

Angel Island State Park is covered by the very large Golden Gate National Recreation Area. If you are eager to read about the history of Angel Island you can do so here or here (former immigration station).

A few hours earlier: 

KX2 radio kit, sandwich, granola bars, water. The contents of my backpack on November 8th 2023. This was going to be a good day. I just knew it when I approached the dock at San Francisco Ferry Terminal (Gate B).

San Francisco Ferry Terminal
See ‘ya city life

I had a couple of minutes left so I enjoyed walking through the ferry building with all its nice shops, bakeries and cafes. Many options for advanced coffee-heads to get their fix before going aboard.

coffee and backpack
Yes please

The ferry takes you across the bay in just about 30 minutes, past Alcatraz Island and without noticing you’ll have left big city life behind and swapped it for a remarkable landscape. You can check out their service times here and make sure to keep an eye on the last departure from the island. Otherwise you’ll have to stay for the night. Also the only restaurant on the island was closed (for renovation?) and I am not sure what their plans are to open again. 

From the arrival dock at Ayala Cove I decided to start the hike towards the north-east side of the island via the North Ridge Trail. It takes the better part of an hour to get to the summit if you walk at a constant pace but of course depending on your level of fitness and also how much time you take to enjoy the views. The trails are in very good shape and there is nothing keeping you from finding your personal and comfortable rhythm up the mountain.

Yes I admit it – I am getting excited before an activation.  Most likely it’s because I am looking forward to having fun on the airwaves but then it’s also about not knowing what to expect at the operating site and how to tackle potential challenges. So I usually try to get there fast.

At the summit:

I was still catching my breath from the not-so-difficult ascent and then I saw a demounted truss mast lying on the ground. Should I try to somehow get this up pointing towards the sky and use it as an antenna support? Tempting, but given the fact that I was alone and lacking proper guying material it seemed a bit mad. This brings me to an important fact: There are pretty much no usable trees inside the activation zone when it comes to hoisting a wire. So I do recommend bringing some form of a mast. A luxury I didn’t have due to luggage restrictions on my flight to the U.S.. So the trusty Elecraft AX1 needed to make do.

Truss mast on the ground
Should I or should I not?

There is however a very nice picnic area just below the summit and well inside the AZ. It doesn’t have a roof and it might get a bit windy but it sports a fabulous view and plenty of options to attach masts. Luckily, I was completely alone for the most part of the activation so I didn’t need to worry as much about someone tripping over the counterpoise wire. I used a second round of 50+ sunscreen on my central-European mozzarella body and got the antenna tuned up. 

Downtown San Fransico and Alcatraz Island
Downtown San Francisco and Alcatraz Island

A few seconds into calling CQ on 20m K6EL came in 599+ from a summit nearby and I was super happy to log him given the fact that we had completed an activation together only one day before. He was followed by many US operators almost all the way over to the east coast and then, of course, Chris (F4WBN) from France. Wait – which antenna was I using again in W6?

Ham radio QRP station in San Francisco
Dream operating location

I have “whipped out” this compromised whip so many times to complete an activation that it has become one of my favorite antennas in the arsenal. What fun to reach France from the West Coast with it.

40 QSOs on 20&17m later (yes including some S2S SSB via the KX2’s internal mic and even a contact on 15m thanks to the capable tuner) I had to go QRT because the sun was strong and I wanted to make sure I had a relaxed hike back down. 

ham radio QSO map
Testing the transmit and receive capabilities of a QRP dummy load

Because you get a couple of loop trail options you will also get a completely new perspective of the island and landscape while walking back to the dock which is nice. It is worth mentioning that poison oak is pretty common there and branches of these plants hang down across the paths. I actually touched a leaf accidentally with my arm but was lucky not to get a full load of the poison. The itching was already gone in about an hour.

At the dock I had a nice chat with some of the rangers and then hopped on the ferry back to SF. Thanks to all chasers and hunters for making this a truly special day.

Gear used:

ham radio gear and energy bars
Recharging for the next adventure

California, what have you done? I need to come back. I’ll be back.

vy 73 de Leo W6/DL2COM