Category Archives: Field Reports

POTA camping in West Virginia and focusing on the radio journey

As I mentioned in a previous post, instead of going to Hamvention this year, I went on a POTA expedition with my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) and his son Miles (KD8KNC) in West Virginia.

Just a random roadside waterfall.

In short? It was a brilliant trip!

Amazing WV

The New River Gorge

West Virginia is such a beautiful state and it’s absolutely chock-full of state and national parks. Eric and I were left scratching our heads as to why there are so few activations in many of West Virginia’s most accessible parks.

The iconic New River Bridge

In fact, though it’s still relatively early in the season, we found the parks to be rather busy with tourists from across the globe.

We set up camp at Babcock State Park and used it as our home base to activate numerous parks in the area. In the late evenings we activated Babcock from the comfort of our campsite.

The Grist Mill at Babcock State Park.

I didn’t bring Hazel on this trip, but Eric brought his little dog, Theo– A.K.A “The Great Warg”–who was our little POTA mascot and certainly our ambassador at each site.

The Great Warg enjoying a little ice cream at Dixie’s Drive-In in Anstead, WV.

Theo attracted a lot of attention from pretty much anyone and everyone. That little guy never meets a stranger.

On a mission

Our goal wasn’t to activate as many parks as possible, rather it was to enjoy camping, sightseeing, and simply hanging out together during our activations.

Wow–what a success!

I stole Eric’s K1 field kit and used it to activate Hawk’s Nest State Park. Only made me wish I’d never have sold my K1 some 10 years ago!

If you’ve been on the air the past few days, you’ll have noticed that band conditions have been pretty rough and unstable at times.

We met this confident little guy while hiking at Hawk’s Nest SP.

We had to allocate more time than normal to work our ten contacts needed for a valid park activation.

That was perfectly fine, though, because the scenery at our activation sites was simply spectacular. I just hope the rushing waters didn’t create too much QRN in my videos!

Gauley River at the Summersville Hydroelectric Project

We also learned early on that (since we had no band pass filters in tow) it was best that we work non-harmonically-related bands simultaneously and, of course, separate our stations as far apart as reasonable at each site. When Eric was on 40 or 20 meters, I was on 30 and 17 and vice versa. It worked out pretty well.

Time management…

Now that I’m back at the QTH, I’ll pull the videos from my camera then process and upload them. I’m currently a good four weeks behind on field reports.

Thurmond Depot

If you’ve tried to contact me recently, you’ll notice I’m also at least two or more weeks behind on email as well. Unfortunately, there’s simply not enough time in the day and I need to sort out a better way to handle questions from readers and subscribers. I love answering emails and attempt to reply to each and every one, but the amount of time it takes to manage email is actually now taking a significant bite out of my content creation time. Between QRPer.com and the SWLing Post, I receive an average of 25-40 messages per day from readers, many of which are new to the site. Those stack up rapidly when I’m traveling or out and about doing activations.

I receive questions about choosing gear, asking about operating practices, and general advice on a variety of radio topics. They’re all great questions, but I feel like I’m a bit of a bottleneck in terms of delivering answers.

I might build a discussion board or create an email group where people can find community support. I certainly welcome your thoughts and comments on this.

I need to take action soon, because I’ve got a lot of travels planned this summer and will be off-grid for days at a time.

If I’m being perfectly honest, another reason why I didn’t attend Hamvention this year is because I knew it would only add to my work and correspondence load right before nearly two months of planned travels.

Our POTA camping expedition was a more relaxing option than Hamvention for 2022. (You can bet I’ll be at the 2023 Hamvention, though!)

Sharing the journey

Indeed, this trip reminded me why I do what I do here: I love to share the radio journey.

On that note, I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with kind comments from readers and subscribers. It’s humbling and I’m most grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you so much!
Sharing the radio journey is indeed my main focus here on QRPer.com and on my YouTube channel. Sharing my journey and yours via the many excellent guest posts I’ve received.

I’ll sort out a way to manage correspondence in due time and, in the meantime, I appreciate your understanding.

Thanks for reading this post and many thanks to Eric and Miles for an amazing trip exploring the rivers and mountains of West Virginia! I can’t wait to do this again.

Indeed, this trip has me absolutely energized about the activations I’m plotting in Canada this summer. Stay tuned!

QRP POTA at Fort Dobbs: No antenna? No problem!

I’m a pretty organized field radio guy if I do say so myself.

In all of the hundreds of field activations I’ve attempted since the days of the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, I’ve only arrived on site two or three times and discovered I was missing a key component of my field kit.  Out of those times, only once do I remember that the missing component prevented my activation (it was hard to power my radio without a battery and power cable). The other times, I was able to improvise.

As I mentioned in this two-parter series, I tend to build two different types of field kits:

  • one that’s fully self-contained (like the MTR-3B kit),
  • or one that’s modular, where component families (transceiver, antenna, power, etc) are in their own packs and can be moved from pack to pack.

I always prefer having dedicated field kits, but they’re pricey because they require a dedicated antenna, battery, radio, key/mic, earphones, pack, connectors, and sometimes even their own throw line.

I assemble modular kits around a particular radio and antenna system prior to leaving the QTH to go on an activation. I have a method for doing this which prevents me from leaving stuff behind.

Save this time…

On Thursday, April 7, 2022, before leaving the house for a quick overnight trip, I grabbed my SOTA pack and disconnected my Elecraft KX3 from the KXPA100 amp in the shack.

My pre-side rails KX3 in the shack.

My KX3 is used a lot in the shack–along with the Mission RGO One and Ten-Tec Argonaut V–it’s one of my staple rigs at the QTH. I didn’t think I would have time to complete an activation on this quick trip, but if I did, I wanted to use the KX3. I also grabbed one of my pouches that contained a 12V battery, distribution panel, and power cord.

Also inside the pack was my Elecraft KX2 kit. It was in there from a previous activation, so I just left it in the bag.

When a window of opportunity for a quick activation opened on Friday, April 8, 2022, I grabbed it. I didn’t have time to go far afield, so I chose to activate the closest park to where I was running errands that day.

Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)

As I was driving to the site on I-40, it dawned on my that I might have forgotten to pack an antenna.

Not a good feeling, but I was only 10 minutes from the park, so there was no turning back.

You see, a couple days beforehand, I did a bit of an antenna inventory at the QTH–I took all of my antennas out of their packs, checked them over carefully for any damage or fault points and  made notes.

I normally keep a 20M EFHW antenna in my KX2 field kit, but I remembered that also I removed it during the inventory.

Once I arrived at Fort Dobbs, I opened my SOTA pack and confirmed that I had no antenna. Not a one.

I kept a clear head and realized that if I wanted to complete the activation, I needed to do one of two things:

  1. Search the car in case, somehow, I had a spare antenna floating around in there. Unlikely, but I’d feel like a fool if I aborted an activation with an antenna in the car.
  2. Go to a nearby hardware or dollar store and find some cheap wire.  The KX3 has a brilliant internal ATU to match pretty much any wire I connect to it.

So, I searched the car. Continue reading QRP POTA at Fort Dobbs: No antenna? No problem!

My first POTA activation with the Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2

As you might have noticed from past field reports, I’m a big fan of the LnR Precision Mountain Topper MTR-3B. It’s a wee CW-only transceiver that is almost perfectly designed for summit and park activating. It’s so lightweight and compact, you barely notice it in your backpack.

Thing is, the MTR-3B is no longer produced and I’m not sure if it ever will be again, but Steve Weber (KD1JB) hasn’t stopped making iterative improvements to the Mountain Topper design and LnR hasn’t stopped producing them.

In late 2020, LnR introduced the new MTR-4B which replaced the MTR-3B and added a few extra features that many of us had been asking for including:

  • Easy access to sidetone volume control (with a dielectric screwdriver)
  • A built-in SWR meter
  • A wider voltage range and higher output power (up to 5 watts)
  • And the 80 meter band in addition to 40, 30, and 20 meters

The MTR-4B also has an attractive red gloss chassis.

And the right and left sides of the chassis even protrude a bit to better protect the front panel buttons and switches when the unit is flipped over on its face. Nice touch!

Generosity

One of the great things about being me is I am often at the receiving end of incredibly generous people who like supporting what I do.

QRPer.com is a pure labor of love and I’d do what I do without any compensation, but it’s an honor when anyone goes out of their way to thank or support me.

Seriously: the kindness I feel here restores my faith in humanity.

In January, a reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) approached me with a deal I simply couldn’t refuse. He is a very seasoned and accomplished field operator but has only recently been upping his CW game. I believe as a reward to himself for starting CW activations later this year, he told me he wished to order a new MTR-4B.

What he proposed was to purchase the radio from LnR and have it drop-shipped to me. He wanted me to have the opportunity to review this little radio and log field time with it as well. He told me I could use it for months before shipping it to him and not to worry about it getting scratched or showing other signs of field use.

Wow.

I loved this idea because, as a reviewer, it isn’t financially viable to buy each and every radio I would like to review. I do like asking manufacturers for loaner radios, but LnR is a small manufacturer and make these units to order. I know them quite well and they simply don’t have extra loaner units lying around the shop–much like new automobiles these day, each one produced is already spoken for.

I accepted his offer with gratitude. I looked forward to getting my hands on the MTR-4B!

But that wasn’t all: this kind reader has actually been sending me coffee fund contributions that will add up to half the price of a new MTR-4B should I decide to purchase and add one to my own field radio arsenal! I tried, but I couldn’t talk him out of it.

So there you go. I’m so incredibly grateful.

Delivery

As LnR Precision states on their website, there’s roughly a 6-8 week lead time on the MTR-4B. I took delivery of this unit in early March.

As with all LnR Precision products, it was packed amazingly well.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of size, but the MTR-3B is only slightly bulkier than the MTR-3B (indeed, in my activation video below, I compare the two).

I love the hotrod red paint job!

This unit arrived during what turned out to be a crazy time for me–one where there was nearly a four week period with no field activations. That’s how crazy!

I did play with the MTR-4B in the shack, however, during that time and logged numerous POTA, WWFF, and SOTA activators. I even had a couple of 80 meter rag chews.

Many field ops were surprised that the MTR-4B didn’t use the forth band position for 17 or 15 meters and I tend to agree. In the field, efficient 80 meter antennas are a bit bulky for the likes of a summit activator. Then again, when in the shack or for extended camping trips? I find 80 meters a brilliant band for evening rag chews and late night DXing.

Not sure how much I’ll use 80M in the field, but I do appreciate this additional band!

Of course, the MTR-4B is built for playing radio outdoors and that’s exactly what I had in store for it on April 13, 2022. Continue reading My first POTA activation with the Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2

Field Report: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35

My most recent field report and video featured the Penntek TR-35 but it was not my first activation with this fantastic little QRP rig!

I pushed the last field report and activation video to the front of the line so that I could show how CW message memory keying worked in the TR-35’s updated firmware. It was, in my opinion, a major upgrade!

What follows is my field report from April 1, 2022: my first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35. This video was made a week or so before I learned that WA3RNC was working on the new firmware.

Side note: If you’d like to read my full review of the TR-35, check out the May 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

Although I’d used the TR-35 in the shack for more than a month I was eager to find an opportunity to take it to the field. April 1, 2022 was that day and I made a little detour to one of my favorite local POTA sites to break in the TR-35… Continue reading Field Report: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35

Field Report: Testing the new Penntek TR-35 firmware during a POTA activation!

Since I have a busy family life, I always look for opportunities to fit a little field radio time into my schedule.

My policy is to always keep a radio field kit in my car or truck so I can take advantage of any last minute opportunities.

On the morning of Wednesday, April 20, 2022, I was scheduled to take my car in for warranty/recall servicing at the dealership.  I decided in advance that if the service could be completed in two hours or less, I’d relax in their waiting room with my MacBook, drink a cup or two coffee, and attempt to make a dent in my email backlog.

If the service was going to take longer than 2 hours, I decided that I’d use one of their loaner/courtesy cars and activate a nearby park.

The dealership is about 45 minutes from my QTH and I’ve activated most of the parks nearby it, save one: Holmes Educational State Forest.  I’ve been wanting to activate this park for ages, but my travels these days simply don’t take me in the direction of the park very often; it’s a good 75 minute drive from my QTH.

Uncertain how long the dealership would need my car, I grabbed my SOTA backpack that had a full field kit inside based on the Penntek TR-35 transceiver.

TR-35 Upgrades!

Why the TR-35? Because I was testing new firmware that added a huge upgrade: two CW message memories!

I won’t go into details about the new upgrade in this field report since I describe it both in my activation video (see below) and in this post which relays the announcement from WA3RNC.

Suffice it to say, I was itching to see how well the new message memories work during a proper activation.

Front of the line

Since this upgrade was just made public, I thought those of you who either own the TR-35 or are plotting to purchase the TR-35, might want to see it in action. For this reason, I pushed this video and field report ahead of all of the others in my pipeline.

The really weird part about publishing this video so quickly is that one of my next field reports and videos will actually feature the first time I took the TR-35 to the field about 3-4 weeks ago! Back then, CW message memory keying wasn’t even on the table.

Activation time

I arrived at the dealership around 9:00 AM (local) and the first thing I asked was, “So how long do you think this will take?” The representative looked at the work to be performed and said, “Three or four hours, likely. If you’re in a rush, maybe two hours.

I decided I wasn’t in a rush because I’d much rather be playing radio at a new-to-me park than sitting in a waiting room.

I asked if I could borrow one of their courtesy cars and he replied, “We assumed you might want one Mr. Witherspoon, so we already reserved one for you.”

Woo hoo!

Holmes Educational State Forest (K-4856)

The drive to Holmes Educational State Forest from the dealership took perhaps 30 minutes or so–it was a gorgeous day and a beautiful journey. Continue reading Field Report: Testing the new Penntek TR-35 firmware during a POTA activation!

Speaker Wire SOTA & POTA: Another rendezvous with Rendezvous Mountain!

I get a little thrill out of checking out new parks and summits.

When going to a new-to-me site, I typically do quite a bit of research in advance. With parks, I look up directions to the entrance, hiking trails, park boundaries, and try to sort out the best potential activation sites on a map. With a summit, it can be much more complicated, but reading previous activator notes really saves a lot of headache. That’s especially the case here in the States where many summits are on private/gated land and/or could require bushwhacking off trail with no mobile phone service.

Then again, returning to a site I’ve been to before is also quite nice. I know what to expect and that often opens up the door to more confidence with time planning, antenna choices, and what to pack in terms of gear.

 

On Friday, March 25, 2022, I re-visited a site I hadn’t been to in nearly a year: Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest.

 

What’s great about Rendezvous is that it’s both a POTA and SOTA site.

On top of that (no pun intended) the activation zone of SOTA summit 2543 (W4C/EM-082) is on a road where Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest (K-4859), and Rendezvous Mountain State Game Land (K-6941) overlap. One activation yields two parks and one summit!

Last year, it took a bit of research to make this discovery. I studied both the park and game land maps, then compared those with a Cal Topo map. If interested, check out that field report here.

Rendezvous Mountain

I arrived on site around 12:45 local. The park was void of visitors–I almost felt like I’d arrived on a day when the gates should have been closed.

As I grabbed my SOTA backpack out of the back of the car, a ranger pulled up in his truck and  asked if I was planning to hike. I told him about my plans and asked if it was okay that I hike the forest service road to the summit. He said, “Sure. But when you reach the prison crew doing brush cutting on the road, make sure one of the guards sees you before you attempt to pass them.”

Okay then.

I thanked him and double checked that it was actually not a problem to hike the road and he said, “Go for it!” Continue reading Speaker Wire SOTA & POTA: Another rendezvous with Rendezvous Mountain!

Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Brooks (KO4QCC), a newly-minted  ham radio operator who asked to tag along on one of my POTA field activations. 

Brooks, it turns out, lives within spitting distance of a number of parks I regularly activate here in western North Carolina. He mentioned he was interested in observing an activation to learn a bit about deploying a field radio kit and, of course, to learn what it’s like to be on the air.

Brooks was also plotting the purchase of his first field radio kit and was very interested in the Icom IC-705 and MFJ-1988LP End-Fed Half-Wave (EFHW) antenna. 

Of course, I welcomed him to join me but since we both have busy family lives–and my schedule especially took some twists and turns in March–it took a few weeks before our schedules aligned.

I asked Brooks if he would consider actually doing the activation himself instead of simply observing or tag-teaming it.  I’m a big believer in hands-on radio time.

Brooks loved the idea!

On Sunday, March 27, 2022, a window of opportunity opened in our schedules and we agreed to meet at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861). I packed my:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really a “YouTuber” so I’m not actually inclined to capture every moment on video, but it struck me that others may appreciate experiencing (vicariously) what it’s like to do a park activation for the first time.

Prior to meeting, I asked Brooks if it would be okay if I made a video of his activation adding that there was absolutely no pressure to do so–just a thought. I’ll be the first to admit that if I were in his shoes, I’m not sure if I’d want a camera capturing my first activation jitters for all to see. 

Brooks loved the idea–as he, too, saw value in this sort of video–so I brought my camera along for the ride.

In the same spirit, I asked Brooks if he would write up the field report and he wholeheartedly agreed, so I’ll turn it over to him now: Continue reading Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation

Guest Post: Fraser Activates Ben Newe Despite the Winter Weather

Last week, while browsing Twitter, I scrolled past a short note and photos from Fraser (MM0EFI) describing his recent activation of Ben Newes in NE Scotland. I’m not sure if it was the snow, the KX2, or his vintage Land Rover (or all of these) but I wanted to know more about this activation.

Fraser kindly agreed to share the following field report for us here on QRPer.com: 


Ben Newe SOTA Mini-adventure

by Fraser Wenseth (MM0EFI)

Introduction

I’ve lived on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park in north east Scotland for around six years. I’ve always climbed the hills, winter and summer, enjoyed rock & ice but now just love being outdoors. I’ve held an amateur radio licence for 18 years but have to admit that until I discovered Summits on the Air (SOTA), my licence was under utilised!

SOTA has allowed me to discover local hills that I had previously driven by on countless occasions on my way to bigger adventures, or so I thought, because it’s possible to have amazing adventure on smaller hills just by picking the time of day, season, or even choice of radio gear. Sometimes I’ll just carry VHF gear, which is always a challenge in a rural area! Of course I still love a big day out in the mountains, but todays story concerns a little hill just 7 miles from my home in Royal Deeside.

It’s called Ben Newe and its’ SOTA reference is GM/ES-053. It stands 565m or 1853’ above Strathdon in Aberdeenshire. I’d planned on climbing it after work. Generally I work a really early shift one day a week and the motivation for getting out of bed at 0340 is knowing that I’ll generally be on a summit around 12 hours later.

I left for work at 0400 (British Summer Time, UTC+1) and that’s when the snow started falling. It actually didn’t stop until 1900 that evening. We’d had an unusual winter, with little snow. Here we were in April and it had snowed for over 12 hours! I really wanted to get out for a SOTA activation and the snow was only going to enhance my adventure. I spent some time (probably too much time) thinking of suitable peaks to climb whilst at work that day. Ben Newe fitted the bill perfectly. Continue reading Guest Post: Fraser Activates Ben Newe Despite the Winter Weather

SOTA Field Report: How long will Pale Blue Li-Ion rechargeable batteries power the Elecraft KX1?

February and March 2022 were a crazy couple of months for me.

So crazy, that I wasn’t able to fit in one single POTA or SOTA activation for a nearly 4 week period. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that long without an activation since I started POTA in earnest.

Between home projects, wacky weather, timing/logistics, and even a brush with Covid, I had my hands full.

Thankfully, on Friday, March 19, 2022, the stars aligned and I was able to fit in an activation of Bakers Mountain for the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.

It was so nice hitting the field again!

Pale Blue AA Battery Field Test

I like shaking up my activations and trying new transceiver/antenna pairings. On this particular activation, I had a special test in mind.

A few months ago–almost as an impulse purchase–I ordered a set of eight Pale Blue AA Li-Ion rechargeable batteries. I didn’t check the specifications, but I did watch this somewhat promising assessment on The Tech Prepper YouTube channel.

My hope was that these little Li-Ion cells might power my Elecraft KX1 long enough to complete a field activation.

The KX1 is a marvel of QRP engineering, in my humble opinion, and it was the first super portable transceiver I owned that could be powered by internal batteries.

When the KX1 was first introduced, Elecraft recommended using non-rechargeable Advanced Lithium AA cells from Energizer and Duracell. These batteries sported a rather flat discharge curve and could power the KX1 for quite a while. Of course, the downside is they’re single-use and expensive. Six of those cells would often set me back nearly $9 or $10. Before I started doing POTA and SOTA, I kept a set of advanced lithium cells in my KX1 for casual, impromptu QRP in the field.

Doing frequent field activations–which tend to have much more transmitting time than casual Qs–it’s just not sustainable to purchase these cells, so I tend to power the KX1 with an external battery.

I couldn’t resist the thought that I could use USB rechargeable batteries in the KX1, so I forked out $60 (mild gasp!) for a set of eight AA batteries (these are purchased in packages of 4).

The cool thing about the Pale Blue batteries is that they can be directly charged from any 5V USB power source. Each battery sports a Micro USB port and its own internal battery/charge management system.

I was well aware these batteries would not power the KX1 for hours at a time, but I was hoping they could for at least 30-45 minutes.

The only way to really find out was to do a real-life field test. A SOTA activation would be ideal! Continue reading SOTA Field Report: How long will Pale Blue Li-Ion rechargeable batteries power the Elecraft KX1?

POTA Field Report: Gazebo QRV & Gusty Winds with the Elecraft KX1 and K6ARK EFHW

One of the things I love about our state and national parks is that no matter how often I visit, there’s almost always something new to discover.

This is especially the case as the seasons change from winter to spring.

On March 20, 2022, I carved out enough time in my afternoon to fit in a quick activation of Tuttle Educational State Forest. My main goal, in truth, was fitting in a nice hike–the weather was beautiful, although it was rather gusty.

I needed a little “radio therapy” that day as I had been spending time in the hospital with my mom who had a nasty case of pneumonia. This was a few weeks ago and she’s feeling much better now, thankfully, but those hospital weeks in March were pretty stressful for all of us.

Field activations are such an effective way for me to get in a little exercise, a little radio time, and clear my mind; again, proper “radio therapy.”

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

For this trip, I packed the Elecraft KX1 field kit which included my K6ARK EFHW antenna since that was the last pairing I’d used int he field (click here to read that report). I did, however, transfer the KX1 to my new Pelican 1060 waterproof case.

I actually have a solid yellow Pelican 1060 case for the KX1, but after reading about Leo’s QCX-mini field kit built in a clear-topped Peli 1060, I realized how much I missed having a clear lid on the 1060. I checked Amazon and discovered that their blue one was on sale, so I grabbed one. This was a total impulse purchase, by the way.

And for the record: I’m accused of being a radio enabler on a daily basis, but in my defence I promise the enabling works both ways! I’ve bought so many things based on reader recommendations. 🙂 Continue reading POTA Field Report: Gazebo QRV & Gusty Winds with the Elecraft KX1 and K6ARK EFHW