Category Archives: Field Reports

SOTA Report: New QCX-Mini, new Packtenna EFHW, and pileup insanity on Mount Mitchell

Do you know what it’s like when you have a new radio and you can’t wait to take it to the field?

Yeah, me too!

Even before I received my QCX-Mini in October 2021, I already knew where I’d take this pocket-sized, single-band QRP CW transceiver for its first field activation: Mount Mitchell (W4C/CM-001).

Mitchell is the highest summit east of the Mississippi river and only about 6 miles from my QTH as the crow flies.  I had yet to activate Mitchell this year for SOTA although I have activated it for POTA/WWFF several times. As I’ve probably mentioned in the past, Mount Mitchell park is my “happy place.” Our family loves this site and we visit it frequently to hike in the spruce-fir forest.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 3, 2021, I realized I had enough room in my schedule to swing by Mount Mitchell for an activation, so I quickly assembled my SOTA pack around the QCX-Mini. Continue reading SOTA Report: New QCX-Mini, new Packtenna EFHW, and pileup insanity on Mount Mitchell

Putting the KM4ACK End-Fed Half-Wave on the air at Table Rock!

Lately, I’ve been in the mood to build kits.

I say “lately” but in truth I’m always tinkering with something in the shack.

The radio room/office at my QTH is pretty small, though, and I don’t have a dedicated, full-time workbench. I’ve been mentally re-arranging the room and trying to sort out a way to make space for one because it would be so nice to have a spot where my soldering iron could remain hooked up at all times.

For the moment, when I work on kits I use our dining room table so I try to stick with one or two session kits as opposed to the multi-day variety.

KM4ACK EFHW

KM4ACK Image

A number of readers and subscribers have asked me to check out the KM4ACK 49:1 End-Fed Half-Wave antenna kit.  This kit is produced by Jason (KM4ACK) and purchasing his kits supports his excellent YouTube channel.

I have a lot of field antennas, so I don’t really need another EFHW, but then again I like having a dedicated resonant wire antenna with each of my radios and, (hey hey!) it’s a great excuse to build a kit!

KM4ACK Image

I purchased the KM4ACK kit and received it within a week. Building the antenna was incredibly straight-forward. Jason packaged the components in small bags so finding parts was easy. I really appreciate kits that aren’t one large “bag-o-parts.” Continue reading Putting the KM4ACK End-Fed Half-Wave on the air at Table Rock!

40M Activation: Pairing the Icom IC-705 and CHA LEFS at Tuttle Educational State Forest

I’ve gotten a few messages from readers lately asking, “Why no love for the Icom IC-705?

Looking back, I realize that I haven’t had the ‘705 in the field for quite some time (at least, in a video and field report).

Truth is, the ‘705 has been doing duty as a shortwave listening receiver in shack and just hasn’t hopped into my field pack recently. Since it’s important for the health of all field radios to soak in the outdoors on a regular basis, I packed it in my bag and took it to one of my favorite parks.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

The weather was beautiful on Thursday, October 21, 2021.

When I arrived at Tuttle, the first thing I did was hike their 2 mile loop to get the blood pumping.


This also gave me time to decide on the antenna to deploy: my Chameleon CHA LEFS.

The CHA LEFS sloper

The CHA LEFS has served me quite well in the past, especially on days with mediocre propagation.

During my hike I decided to do the entire activation on 40 meters only, just to get a better idea how the CHA LEFS’ propagation footprint might look with a larger sample size.

Gear:

On the Air

This was also the first time I’d used my N0SA paddles with the IC-705. Isn’t it cute?

Setup was quite easy.

I deployed the CHA LEFS with the feed point at about 35-40′ into a large tree.

The radiator sloped down to a point in the middle of a field and the end was elevated perhaps 4′ off the ground. I secured the end of the antenna to a length of paracord, the end of which was attached to a heavy stick on the ground, stretching the radiator.

The CHA LEFS is resonant on 40 meters, so no external ATU was necessary.

I hopped on the air, started calling CQ POTA in CW and within 10 minutes was rewarded with 10 contacts. It doesn’t get much better than this for a good start!

I continued calling CQ and, in the end, worked a total of 22 contacts in 30 minutes–almost all in CW. Check out the video below to see how it all played out.

Many thanks to KC5F and N9UNX for the Park-To-Park contacts!

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation (less antenna set up and take-down):

Click here to view on YouTube.

QSO Map

The QSO Map shows an interesting pattern: a ring with a few close regional stations (almost NVIS), and an outer ring of 40 meter skywave:

Thank you!

I believe one of the attractions of activating parks and summits is the fact that we really have no idea in advance how it might all play out. It’s a bit like going fishing.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from readers lately about what propagation tools I use. In truth, my main propagation forecasting tool is my buddy Mike (K8RAT). Before I head out–or if he knows I’m hitting the field–he’ll usually text me current conditions and they’re quite accurate.

At the end of the day, though, propagation forecasts never stop me from doing an activation when I want to play radio. I just go out there and see what happens. As I’m sure my childhood fishing buddy–my Great Uncle Luther–would have said, “Any day fishing is better than a good day at work!” (Of course, a real quote from Uncle Luther would have included more “colorful metaphors.”)

A special thanks to those of you who are 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.

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

POTA Field Report: Coffee & QRP at Tuttle Educational State Forest

Thursday, October 28, 2021 was a wet, rainy day but I wanted to do a POTA activation on the way back to the QTH after having visited my parents for a couple nights.

I didn’t have a lot of radio gear with me on that trip, but I had the right gear: my Elecraft KX2 transceiver and AX1 antenna. If I could activate a park under a covered picnic shelter, I knew I would stay dry while playing radio.

There are only two parks within a reasonable detour that have covered picnic shelters: Lake James State Park and Tuttle Educational State Forest.

Lake James was the shortest detour, but they tend to be busier than Tuttle and last time I was there? Yeah, the picnic shelter was occupied.

On the other hand, I was nearly certain that I would have the picnic shelter all to myself at Tuttle. It would be a slightly longer detour, but worth it. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Coffee & QRP at Tuttle Educational State Forest

Pairing the KX2 & Speaker Wire Antenna at Johns River State Game Land

You might have noticed that normally I’m a good 2-4 weeks behind posting activation videos and field reports. This is due to the fact that I typically record an activation video one week, upload it sometime within the following two weeks, then write up the field report, add photos, and put it all together when the stars align.

Much of my workflow is dictated by the fact that it can (literally) take 2-3 days for a video to upload from my rural QTH. Therefore, I never upload from home, only when I have proper bandwidth.

However, I’m happy to announce that this field report and video are going to move to the front of the line! Continue reading Pairing the KX2 & Speaker Wire Antenna at Johns River State Game Land

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a stolen doublet at Table Rock Fish Hatchery!

Someone asked me recently which activity I prefer more: Summits on the Air (SOTA) or Parks On The Air (POTA)?

Truth is, I like both.

I like SOTA because I love hiking and playing radio on the summits of some pretty impressive mountains.  I’m often treated to amazing views and the DX can be spectacular. I love the sense of accomplishment when the activation goes well and I’m back home later feeling a bit tired from a long hike. Good stuff!

I like POTA because it’s incredibly accessible (thus fits in my tight schedule easily). Many of the parks have great hiking trails, and there’s almost always a picnic table available making set up so much easier.  Here in western North Carolina it’s almost a given that park picnic tables are surrounded by large trees and have a reasonable amount of space, thus POTA sites can be ideal for antenna experimentation.

I don’t typically experiment with antennas during SOTA because after hiking 2-3 hours to a summit, I feel pretty invested in the activation and the last thing I want to do is roll the dice with my antenna.  With POTA, I can bring a few extra supplies or “plan B” antennas if something goes sideways.  Plus, unlike parks, summits are often lacking in tall trees so I stick with shorter wire antennas and self-supporting verticals.

On the morning of October 20, 2021, I decided that I wanted to try a new antenna or an antenna I hadn’t used in quite some time. My intention was to dig out my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical, but when I reached into my antenna bag, I pulled out a nondescript Shure microphone pouch. I scratched my head for a moment…

For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what this was, so I opened it up and discovered a doublet inside! Not just any doublet, either–based on the use of a 35mm film canister in the antenna’s construction, I knew it had to be a creation of my buddy Eric (WD8RIF).

Then my memory kicked in. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a stolen doublet at Table Rock Fish Hatchery!

POTA Field Report: Dodging the rain at Lake James State Park

On Thursday, October 7, 2021, I was driving back to the QTH and had a hankering to do an activation. There was only one problem…

Rain.

Lots of rain…

As I was driving on Interstate 40 west-bound, I passed through bands of rain producing torrential downpours; the kind that brings interstate traffic to a crawl. Weather-wise, this is not typically when I would contemplate a park activation. I did a quick mental inventory of what I had in the car. Turns out I had the Icom IC-705 and the Elecraft KX2.

I also had the Elecraft AX1 portable antenna. Having used the KX2/AX1 pairing under picnic shelters with success, it was a no-brainer what I’d use at Lake James.

Most North Carolina state parks have covered picnic shelters that are first-come, first-serve or can be reserved (at no small expense) for group gatherings. There’s a really nice large picnic shelter at the Catawba River access of Lake James State Park–in fact, I took shelter there earlier this year during an activation.

No matter how bad the rain, I knew I could play radio under the shelter with my KX2/AX1 pair. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Dodging the rain at Lake James State Park

Field Report: POTA Roadside activation with a view!

On Monday, October, 18, 2021, I finished a few errands in Asheville, NC and realized I had just enough time to squeeze in an afternoon activation. The weather was beautiful, the fall air felt amazing, and although I had no clue what propagation was like, I needed some field radio therapy!

Blue Ridge Parkway to the rescue!

I’ve mentioned in previous videos that pretty much anytime I drive into Asheville I pass by the Blue Ridge Parkway. Over the years, I’ve discovered numerous POTA (Parks On The Air) spots scattered along “America’s Favorite Drive.”

It’s fall, so we’ve autumn leaf colors and loads of tourists in the region–especially on the BRP.

Even so, I’ve one favorite overlook that is often overlooked by tourist!

It’s a little unofficial turn-out on the parkway that offers up spectacular views. I believe the reason tourists pass by it is because it’s located just beyond one of the most popular overlooks in the area: the Tanbark Ridge Overview. Tourists stop at Tanbark to enjoy the views not knowing that a mere +/-200 meters away, there’s one they could enjoy all on their own. Continue reading Field Report: POTA Roadside activation with a view!

New N0SA paddles and Elecraft AX1 showing off during an impromptu POTA activation

On Monday, October 4, 2021, I was set to have a lunch with my good friend, Taiyo, who happened to be in town from Japan. We decided to grab some take-out and meet at a picnic area halfway between my QTH and where he would be staying during his visit. Turns out, the Vance Birthplace (K-6856) fit the bill perfectly–especially since rain showers were in the forecast all day and Vance has a covered picnic area.

I didn’t have an activation in mind that Monday because my focus was on spending time with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, but I brought the KX2 field kit with the AX1 antenna…you know...just in case.

Radio time!

After running a number of errands in town and grabbing some take-out lunch from Whole Foods market, I still ended up arriving at Vance about an hour early, so I pulled the KX2 and AX1 out of the car.

I thought this might be a good opportunity to attempt to prove (once again) that antennas like the AX1 are super fun and portable, but you can’t expect large aperture antenna results. Continue reading New N0SA paddles and Elecraft AX1 showing off during an impromptu POTA activation

W4 SOTA Campout, extra long hikes, and my headlamp is definitely my safety blanket

This past weekend (October 15-17, 2021) I was off-grid and offline…but not off the air.

It was bliss.

I joined the W4 SOTA Campout–a group of Summits On The Air (SOTA) activators and chasers primarily from the Southeast US–in Nantahala National Forest at Standing Indian Campground. Due to my schedule, I was only there two nights, but it made for a  great weekend reset.

I have no activation videos from the weekend (save one short video for Patreon) so thought I’d share a few memories, thoughts and photos from the weekend in a post. Continue reading W4 SOTA Campout, extra long hikes, and my headlamp is definitely my safety blanket