Category Archives: Field Reports

K3ES’ Eclipse Clean Sweep!

An Eclipse Clean Sweep

by Brian (K3ES)

Eclipse totality, as seen from US-8785, complete with corona.

My home QTH is located near Tionesta, PA, and the path of the 2024 eclipse put us near, but not in, the path for totality.  At home we would have more than 99.5% of the sun’s disc obscured.  I will confess that the distinction between 99.5% and totality was lost on me, but Becky was insistent that she wanted to be in the path of totality, because it gives a unique view when the sun’s disc is completely obscured by the moon.  At that point, only a halo of the sun’s corona remains visible.  Becky was right.  It was well worth the effort to get in the path of totality.

My contribution was to find a public area within the path of totality that would not be swarmed by traffic, cars, and people.

The Eclipse Plan

It turned out that we could be within the totality path by driving less than 20 miles from home.  We could also do this by driving away from population centers, rather than driving toward them.  Places like Erie, PA were expecting tens of thousands of people to visit.  I later heard stories of miles-long traffic jams, and hours of delay experienced by Erie pilgrims.  I hoped to, and thankfully managed to, avoid that fate.

After identifying that this section of PA State Game Land 086 was in the path for eclipse totality, a satellite view helped to identify open fields for viewing and activating.

I found that portions of Pennsylvania State Game Land 086 (coincidentally also POTA entity US-8785) lay within the totality zone.  Using a variety of on-line maps, I was able to find a parking area near the start of a gated Game Land road.

The road passed next to a series of small fields (satellite images are definitely helpful!).  Such fields are not uncommon at Game Lands, because it provides the opportunity for hunters to cross paths with rabbits and pheasants, both of which were out-of-season in April.  But, those same fields should have an unobstructed view of the sky.  So, we headed hopefully toward our selected parking lot, with plans to set up folding chairs (and a portable radio station) in one of the fields, as long as a parking space remained.

The POTA Plan

I had previously activated US-8785, making contacts on only the 40m band.  At that time, the goal had been a quick activation during a rove.  Lately, I have been working hard to accumulate contacts on 10 bands at multiple parks, inching my way closer to POTA’s N1CC award for making contacts on 10 bands from 10 different parks.

Prior to eclipse day, I had completed contacts on 10 bands from each of seven different parks.  While two or three of those contacts were made using VHF FM mode, my preferred method for achieving my goal at a park is to use CW mode and QRP power levels to make contacts on high frequency (HF) bands from 10m to 80m, and to also make CW QRP contacts on 160m (which is technically a medium frequency band).

The challenge with the 160m band (and the 80m band, to some extent) is that it generally works best after sunset.  Given that there would be an abnormal sunset occurring at 3:20 pm EDT, might it be possible to get a 160m contact during or near the period of totality?  That would be my quest.

So, I picked my equipment to give me the ability to rapidly move between bands.  I paired my KX3, with its excellent tuner and 160m to 6m coverage, with my VK160 homebrew 9:1 end-fed random wire (EFRW) antenna.  The story of VK160 design and construction and VK160 testing during Winter Field Day 2022 has previously been told in these pages (links provided), but suffice it to say that the radiating wire is 144 ft long.

If the crowds were sparse enough, I hoped to set it up as a shallow inverted V (I normally get a throw line up 30 to 40 ft, which is small in comparison to the antenna’s total length) along the wood line bordering the field.  I also brought two Bioenno LiFePO4 batteries that would normally be able to power my station for the large part of a day.  I chose battery redundancy, because there would be no opportunity for a re-do.

My operating plan was to make contacts on as many bands as possible.  I would start with 10m before the start of the eclipse, and work my way down in frequency, hopefully after making one or more contacts on each successive band.  I also needed to manage my time, so that I would get some time on each of the low bands – 60m, 80m, and 160m as the eclipse neared totality.  Since I already had contacts from a prior activation, I would not work 40m unless I had completed contacts on the other 9 bands.

Gear

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Eclipse Day

My cousin joined Becky and I for the outing to see the eclipse.  We all hoped that the afternoon would be memorable.  As we drove to our selected location, traffic was unexpectedly light, but the sky was overcast. There had been rain earlier in the morning, but the clouds seemed to be thinning as the day progressed, and we remained hopeful during the drive, particularly as glimpses of blue sky became apparent.

A final stretch on a dirt road brought us to the Game Land parking lot, a cleared patch of gravel, which was… empty!!!  It seemed that I had either planned well, or guessed right.  Either way, I was happy with the starting point!

We passed out the folding chairs from the back of the truck, shouldered our bags, and started the half-mile walk back the road to find our field.  We saw no vehicles and no people on the way in.  We did hear a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers drumming on branches near the side of the road, and we saw a Red-tailed Hawk and some Turkey Vultures soaring overhead.  It all made for an enjoyable walk, and the clouds continued to thin, with patches of blue emerging as the clouds continued their journey overhead.

Setting Up the Station

Here, I am preparing to throw a line to support the VK160.  I selected a tree somewhat distant from my planned operating location, so that apex would be located at about the midpoint of the radiating wire.
I used the K4SWL sling method of throwing the arborist line for this deployment.  While I am much more accurate using the “granny shot” throwing method, the sling method can get the line consistently higher.
I am deploying one of the three radial wires used with the VK160.  If you look closely, you can see the antenna feedpoint hanging behind me, level with my hat brim.  The cord holding the feedpoint can be seen just above my head.

When we arrived at the field, I scouted out a location for my antenna.  A tall tree at the woodline seemed to have a number of great branches high above the ground.  I broke out my arborist line, made my throw, and missed.  I repeated the process a couple more times, then snagged a light branch just a bit lower than I had hoped, but it would be sufficient.

Unwrapping the antenna (it takes a while to spool out 144 ft of wire) I found that it would stretch across the width of the field, and a bit further along one edge, so up it went in a bent inverted V.  A length of 550 cord secured it to a tree branch on the far side of the field, and a bit of light cord held the feed point to a tree branch near my chair.  This done, I connected and stretched out three counterpoise wires, connected the RG316 feed line, and started assembling the station.

On the Air

I am preparing for operation.  Station equipment is on the clipboard in my lap.  The antenna feedpoint can be seen at upper right.  The 15 ft RG316 feedline runs downward from the feedpoint, along the ground, and up to my operating position.
On the air with the KX3 set for 5 watts CW.
Working for a contact on 12m.
Continuing to work contacts as the light dims.  Chairs for Becky and my cousin are about 100 ft down the field from my operating position.
Between contacts I could quickly don my fashionable eclipse glasses to safely monitor progress, as the moon’s shadow progressed across the sun.

I was quickly ready to hit the air.  Having scheduled the activation in advance, I was not worried about cell service, but found that I had enough to verify my initial spot, as well as subsequent band changes.  As planned, I started on  the 10m band.  It took some time before my CQ call was returned.  After logging it, I called for a bit longer, then switched over to the 12m band, where things took a different turn. Continue reading K3ES’ Eclipse Clean Sweep!

The POTA Babe Goes Back to Florida – Day 2

Day 2 of my spring-break Florida POTA trip began well. The night before, I left the rain fly off one corner of the tent, the one out of which I could look when lying on my Thermarest pad listening to the bird song all around us. There must be something about being outside because I had the soundest and most sleep I’d experienced in several weeks.

someone is not ready to get out of bed yet
Day 2 of my April Florida trip

We headed to the Nature Coast State Trail first as I was concerned about the temperature due to the sunny forecast. We found the Old Town trailhead, parked, and walked toward the trail’s bridge over the Suwannee River. Not far from the bridge, I spied a bench with an overhang and thought it would make a great QTH.

Old Town trailhead parking area
the trail
flowers along the trail
potential QTH

I had left the Chelegance MC-750 in the car as I wished to work with the AX1 today. It wasn’t long before I had it installed on the Joby Gorillapod ready for 40 meters. I turned on the KX2, put on my earbuds, and was greeted by NOISE, S5-S7 noise.

Well, noise happens and I typically find it on 40 meters than any other band when I activate. Undaunted, I tweaked the AX1 and moved to 30 meters. I found less noise (S3-S4) but no one answered my CQ. Now I was getting worried.

I removed the 40 meter coil from the AX1 and tried 20 meters. Now 20 meters didn’t sound that noisy; however, I had no callers. I found the same on 17 meters. What the heck?

And then I noticed the power lines across the road. How they had escaped my notice I have no idea. They weren’t just your typical power lines but also high-voltage power lines. That had to be the source of the noise. I felt like an idiot not even noticing them. The AX1 is a compromised antenna to begin with and, in those conditions, I don’t think it stood a chance.  Note: I later learned the band conditions were not great that morning either.

Deflated, I packed everything up and walked a little ways up the trail to the bridge crossing the Suwanne River. After a few moments to enjoy the view, I headed toward my second park – Fanning Springs State Park. It was but a 5 minute drive from the Old Town trailhead. I began  looking for somewhere to set up. Good news – not many power lines.

Suwannee River

I found a grassy field/parking area off to the side and set up there. My riding instructor would always say “Set your horse up for success.” Well, this I thought was a more successful situation for the AX1 (at least I hoped it would be). Once the AX1 was installed on top of my car, I got down to business.

AX1 on top of the car on Joby Gorillapod

I didn’t do well on 40 meters (only one caller in Florida) or 30 meters (no response). I removed the 40 meter coil and set up shop on 20 meters. Would anyone hear me today? YES! Over the next 20 minutes, I logged eight contacts including Dan N0ZT who is in my current Comprehensive ICR class for CW Innovations.

At this point, I only had nine total contacts, not enough for a valid activation. Hearing no more responses to my CQ on 20 meters, I headed to 17. After a while, Craig KC3TRT responded to my CQ. Over the next ten minutes, nine ops had a QSO with me including Raffaele IK4IDF in Italy. Whew – a valid activation.

QSO Map for Fanning Springs State Park
QSO Map (USA contacts) for Fanning Springs State Park
The springs (as close as we could get as dogs are not allowed near them)

By now I was worn out and decided to regroup back at the campsite. I felt kicked in the keister over the failed activation in the morning. There are five trailheads for the Nature Coast State Trail. Maybe I could find a section without power lines (not likely) and maybe the conditions in the late afternoon/early evening would be better.

After an early supper and a few minutes to read, Daisy and I headed back to the trail for another attempt. Yes, there were power lines (but not high voltage ones) near the trailhead I chose in Chiefland. It was peaceful on this section of the trail. We ambled along until I found another bench like I saw that morning.

AX1 with radials

I opted to sit instead in my Helinox chair on the ground with Daisy to my right and the AX1 to my left. There was thick foliage in front of me as well as a park area that I hoped would provide a buffer from any RFI from the businesses on that side of the trail. I took a breath and called QRL. I picked 20 meters thinking that might be my best bet this time of day, around 6 PM.

Guess what? The AX1 delivered!

I had 18 contacts in 30 minutes including a QRP-to-QRP QSO with Karl K5KHK in New York. I also had one park-to-park QSO with David WN1E at US-0897. I practically floated back to the car and then celebrated with a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone from Dairy Queen.

QSO Map for Nature Coast State Trail
Way more ice cream than I needed but it was good!

People don’t talk about the emotional component that comes with morse code. My life has been an emotional rollercoaster as of late and that failed activation felt like another punch in the gut.

You know the ops that I see make the most progress, in general and in the class I facilitate with CW Innovations? Those with determination.

They don’t give up but persevere despite their struggles. Life is really tough for me right now but I have to hang in there as I did with this activation. You never know when success or for what you are waiting will be around the corner.

For day 3, I’ll head south toward Cedar Key. What antenna will I choose to use and how will those activations go? Stay tuned…

Equipment Used

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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

Kansas City to the Countryside: N5DUX’s Work Trip POTA Journey

Many thanks to Tommy (N5DUX) who shares the following guest post:


Work Trip POTA

by Tommy (N5DUX)

I recently had a work trip that took me to lovely Emporia, Kansas – home of Emporia State University. Prior to leaving for the trip, I did a little POTA sleuthing to see if there were any parks in the general region I could activate after I finished work each day. As luck would have it, I found there were indeed a handful locations on the POTA map within a reasonable drive – including one right in town!

One of the locations was a fun looking site called the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve National Conservation Area (US-3673), home to a herd of bison.

Viewing on Google Maps I saw a “scenic lookout” in the middle of the prairie and figured that sounded like a great place to setup.

Packing my suitcase for the trip (there’s work to do, remember!) I included my Buddistick and a collapsable, “450cm” carbon fiber fishing rod. The rest of my kit was in a hand held bag that I would carry with me. My main radio for this activation was my Elecraft KX2.

For an antenna, I brought my a newly built 20W K6ARK EFHW trimmed which I had tuned to work on 40m, 20m, and 10m with the idea of using the fishing pole to hold up the far end of my end-fed. Should that fail or disappoint, I had my Buddistick which is self-supporting thanks to the excellent design of its shock-cord tripod and “tie-down” to keep the whole thing upright in strong winds.

Included in my bag was a 9Ah Bioenno battery, reel of kite string, a throwing weight, notebook for logging, pencil, Elecraft hand mic, Elecraft paddles, some earbuds, and a few other insignificant odds and ends (adapters, pigtails, etc)

When packing radio equipment in your suitcase, remember to not pack any batteries in your checked bag. For carry-on, remember to not pack any pointed objects like tent stakes, screw drivers, or spikes like some vertical antennas like the Chelegence 750 or PAC-12 have. Pack smart – think about what the radio will look like to someone unfamiliar with our hobby.

TSA really doesn’t care about our radios or wires – they just don’t want bricks of organic material surrounded by wires on the plane or sharp pointy things in the cabin.

On Easter Sunday, I flew into Kansas City, picked up a rental car, got a quick bite of BBQ recommended by the guy at the rental car place, and set off. The weather upon arrival was excellent. A nice breeze, sun shining, and warm temps. Lovely. But the weather forecast had told me it wouldn’t last.

While at work on Monday, the temperature began its steady slide as a cold front moved through the area. As soon as the work day was finished, I quickly changed clothes and headed west of Emporia for the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve.

The weather continued to get cooler and the wind had picked up.

As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by a park ranger leaving. I asked about the bison herd and he told me the scenic overlook I’d picked as my destination was a couple miles down a gravel trail. I ask the ranger if he knew about ham radio and he said there was a group coming in a couple months or something but said I was welcome to setup wherever I pleased. I grabbed my gear, preparing to make the 2 mile hike, and started down the path.

I got about a quarter mile in and cresting the first grassy rise, I realized I’d underestimated just how strong the wind really was and how cold it was going to get if I stayed exposed. I had not worn my thicker coat and realized I wouldn’t last long on the prairie given my attire and the weather to come. Seeing the bison would have to wait.

My carbon fiber fishing pole at Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve in Kansas being held up by a fishing pole holder available from Walmart or Amazon.

I changed course and walked back to a historic ranch situated on the property with some still-used cattle pens. Surveying my options there, I spotted a shelter for the livestock over in the corner of one corral. Eyeing the grassy area in that pen, I decided that was going to be my operating position. No sooner had I chosen my spot when I heard the faintest tick of raindrops hitting the tin roof.

I unfolded my chair in the dirt under the roof then unpacked my radio, pencil, logbook, some trail mix (nabbed from the hotel front desk snack bin), and my water bottle. I unspooled the EFHW and erected the fishing pole to hold up the far end. I connected the antenna and let the Elecraft KX2’s internal tuner do its thing. It found a 1:1 match in no time and everything was set.

Shack in the lap with the KX2.

I dialed through the band to get a sense of conditions on 20m. I listened to a few other POTA stations and was able to work them. I then found an unused frequency, called out, and listened. Nothing heard – I was ready to go. By this point, it was only about 30 minutes total since my arrival – not too bad.

I spotted myself on the POTA site and my first hunter responded to my CQ pretty quickly. This trend continued unabated for quite some time.

When there was a lull in activity, I grabbed a handful of trail mix and was mid-chew when someone called. I tried to swallow and got choked. He’s calling me. I’m trying to clear my throat. Nobody’s around – the best I could muster was a half-wheezy reply to his call. He probably thought my signal dropped a few dB – no old man, it was my voice. A splash of water after we were clear and I was back to normal.

Looking southeast from my activation spot at Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve in Kansas

Around this time, the raindrops decided to spit a little and the wind had definitely picked up. I adjusted my antenna to see if that helped matters. I used my kite string to secure one end of my wire antenna to the stone wall surrounding the pen and moved the fishing pole support from the end near the wall more toward the middle This gave the antenna more of an inverted V configuration.

It actually helped! Whereas before my “sloper” was more of a “sagger”, I actually got an increase in the relative frequency of QSOs. I worked with this configuration for the rest of my stay at the preserve. The wind never let up and the temps continued to slide. I was shivering by the time I finished packing up and the sun had set and darkness was setting in.

My humble livestock pen operating shelter at Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve in Kansas

Back to the rental car and heater, please!

Tuesday brought a similar workday but I planned to activate a historic home there in town after enjoying a dinner at a local restaurant recommended by my hosts. The weather was considerably colder than Monday and it was downright windy. I’m glad I’d worked the nature preserve on Monday and didn’t wait to try on Tuesday!

Rental car portable at the William Allen White House known as “Red Rocks” in Emporia, Kansas

I made my way over to the William Allen White House State Historic Site (US-9183) a few blocks from the university and the dinner spot. With the weather as it was, I opted to sit in the rental car and run my antenna out the top of a cracked window over a couple low branches and over to another large tree branch. I got my rig setup in the car for my first “rental car portable” activation and found it to be considerably more comfortable than the night before. I managed to log about 20 QSOs in short order on 20m until band conditions deteriorated.

On Wednesday, we wrapped up the work project that had brought me to town. We had a final wrap-up meeting with my point of contact there and I headed back to Kansas City. The intent was to grab a quick dinner with a friend, head for the hotel, throw down my stuff and make for the World War I Museum National Memorial (US-4591). The dinner lasted much longer than I’d planned but it was okay. Dinner was with my CO whom I hadn’t seen since I was in the Guard.

We shared a great dinner with his wife, recounting funny stories from our times together and generally getting caught up. I didn’t get to the hotel until very late so I decided I better get some shut-eye and just activate the Museum and Memorial in the morning.

Thursday morning, I packed up everything to get ready for the airport.

My plan for the WW1 Memorial was to find a tree and throw the EFHW there and get some sun while sitting at a park bench or something. It didn’t happen. The strong, cold wind continued. I opted for another “rental car portable” operation. Noticing my “sloper” was again a “sagger,” I pulled the fishing pole out of my suitcase and elevated the antenna wire in the middle. Much better.

A view of the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri

Band conditions on 20m were rapidly going down the drain and it was hard for me to hear anyone – the big guns that I worked toward the end of my activation provided such poor signal reports, I knew my QRP signal just couldn’t compete with the noise floor that continued to come up.

In total, I managed to bag about 14 QSOs in short order – but it was enough to count as another activation! And, since this was on the Missouri side of Kansas City, it gave me a new state.

I packed up, grabbed some more famous Kansas City BBQ at another local haunt, and headed for the airport to fly home.

The reliable, trusted Buddistick surprisingly never saw the light of day on this trip. It sure was along for the ride, but the EFHW really worked well and I enjoyed the simplicity of it when it came time to pack up. Being less of a compromise antenna led me to believe it would be more efficient anyway.

I’m still somewhat new to POTA and I continue to learn – but this was a memorable work trip because I brought my radio along with me and it took me to some spots I may not have otherwise ventured to visit. The work that brought me to the university went well enough that we began scheduling a return trip slated for sometime in a couple months. I plan on bringing my radio with me for that and on all future work trips in other places.

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:

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

IX1CKN: POTA in the hills of Tuscany

Many thanks to Christian (IX1CKN) who shares the following field report:


POTA in the hills of Tuscany

by Christian (IX1CKN)

The beauty of the POTA program lies in the fact that, even if you’re not in your region, you can still participate and, in fact, feel somewhat at home even from a distance.

So, Sunday 7th April afternoon, while in Florence, given not common family commitments, I took two buses bound for Fiesole and then walked about twenty minutes to reach reference IT-1396, Monte Ceceri Park.

The concept of a peak at 414 meters above sea level might make a Valdostan smile, because it’s less than the center of Aosta, the place where I usually live, but the view of Florence and its surroundings is priceless and truly breathtaking.

Moreover, as reminded by a monument on the clearing at the summit, the mountain was the stage for Leonardo’s first flight experiments, which adds charm and historical interest to the location.

I set up the equipment I managed to bring with me on the trip: Xiegu G106 and a quarter-wave vertical on the ground, with about ten radials. Not more, but the truth is, more isn’t necessary.

The less than stellar propagation on the higher bands led me to mostly stick to 20 meters, even though they were hyper-populated for the SP contest. However, well, I found a corner with sustainable crowding…

The final log shows 30 QSOs in just over an hour and a half, including various park-to-park contacts (including Nicola IU5KHP, national POTA manager, and Andrea IW0HK).

Unfortunately, an unsuccessful attempt with Dario IZ3QFG, but there will be other opportunities.

No overseas contacts, but I repeat: it’s not about quantity or distance, but the fact that being able to reach a reference by public transport and walking is priceless. It manages to give one that feeling of familiarity – amplified by the voices of those you connect with, amazed to find yourself in a park far from home – which is why it’s no surprise that Parks on the Air is growing!

SOTA: First activation of VE6/RA-174

As always there are lots of links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! 

You can see a full video of this activation on YouTube. Use it for CW practice as the footnotes follow the callsigns but only once I’ve gotten it correctly and have transmitted it back.

Our local club runs a repeater network with a dozen repeaters connected hub and spoke style on UHF links. It covers an area approximately 42,000 square kilometers (16,200 square miles) in Southern Alberta. I help to maintain that network and am constantly learning from the smart people that put it together and fix it when it goes awry.

On a Sunday afternoon, in mid-March, I discovered that our club’s VE6HRL repeater at Longview Alberta wasn’t passing audio back to the network, only carrier and some white noise. Local audio was passing along just fine, so the issue is either with the controller or the linking radio. A plan was struck for a service call and to activate this summit at the same time.

Given the repeater is located on Longview Hill, SOTA entity VE6/RA-174, and it is on private land, this summit cannot be activated unless we have reason to be there. Performing repeater maintenance gave us that reason, and so I enlisted the help of Canada’s first double GOAT, VE6VID, to come along with me as it’s a 2 person job to remove a repeater from the rack. We’d activate the summit after the work was complete.

So, on a Sunday morning late in March, the two of us set out in our respective 4x4s to crawl up the road to the summit. In the event you’ve disremembered, I’m in shape -round- and, as a result, my favourite type of SOTA to do is a drive-up. For our repeater sites that are on top of summits, we always bring along two vehicles in case one has mechanical difficulty or gets stuck in the snow. Yes, we have used snowmobiles to do service calls in the past!

The road on the north side of the hill runs up through small valley and does not catch much sun, so the recent snowpack proved to be a small nuisance as we crawled forward. That small nuisance became medium-grade once I got stuck due to lack of forward momentum. A couple of backside-puckering moments later I backed down the hill to take a run at it with more speed and more potty-mouth. Success and no digging with snow shovels was involved.

View from the summit looking West-by-southwest

We arrived at the summit and the view was breathtaking! There were only a few clouds in an otherwise vibrant blue sky, and with the 4″ of snow on the ground it was simply VERY BRIGHT OUT making both of us wish we had darker sunglasses! We entered the repeater building and performed some simple testing in situ and then I powered off the repeater and we removed the gear from the rack and put our tools away a half hour after we arrived. Now we can do SOTA!

The activation zone is quite large at this site and Malen drove a few hundred metres away to set up, providing needed separation between us. He set about to do his thing and I did the same. I brought out my crappie fishing rod/mast and propped it up along the barbed wire fence and set about putting out my VE6VID 66′ EFHW. The folding lawn chair would serve as a table, and a nearby metal cabinet that houses phone lines would hold my Contigo mug and two video cameras.

EFHW running parallel to the fence. The tower is straight in real life, but my camera was not!

With the antenna oriented to the west and sloping downwards and parallel to the very old barbed wire fencing (I call it Tetanus fencing given it’s age and your need for a booster shot if it should puncture your skin), I was uncertain how it would perform. As it turns out I had no cause for concern as I was able to make contacts without too much trouble. I trudged back up the hill to the now-placed lawn chair and finished my set-up.

My “desk” for the activation

I evaluated the bands by listening briefly on the FT8 frequency for 10, 15 and 20m. For me it’s a quick measure of how active the bands are, and dialing off a few kHz or so will reveal how noisy the conditions are. I settled on 20m. Aaand right about then, as if I needed another distraction besides the Canadian Rockies staring me in the face, my HamAlert went off on my phone; regrettably I was unable to hear my friend N4JAW at his activation. As it was too cold to handle my cellphone for typing and spotting, I set about getting spotted via SOTAmat and got on the air. Continue reading SOTA: First activation of VE6/RA-174

K3ES Travels: Ten Days of QRP with Compromised Antennas

Ocracoke, NC, home to this iconic lighthouse, was our destination for a week of relaxation.  Ten days of QRP operation was a happy consequence.

Ten Days of QRP with Compromised Antennas

by Brian (K3ES)

At the end of a hard (or even a not-so-hard) winter, Becky and I really enjoy the opportunity to spend a week at the beach with friends.  Even with the cooler and more unpredictable weather late in the off-season, it provides welcome relief from the cold and snow that we often get in northwest Pennsylvania.  This year we chose to visit Ocracoke Island, at the southern tip of the North Carolina Outer Banks.

While driving down and back, I fit in Parks on the Air (POTA) activations at parks in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Each of the activated parks was new to me, and  so were their states.  My time at the beach also included daily POTA hunting.  I knew that my radio activity would all be conducted using CW mode, and low power.  All of my contacts on this trip were made with 5 watts, except for a brief stint where I increased power to 10 watts to fight band noise during a longer QSO with my code buddy.  What I did not expect was that all of my contacts would be made using antenna configurations that were less efficient than normal.

At each of the activated parks, I paired my Elecraft KX2 with a brand new Elecraft AX1 vertical antenna.  While it proved very effective at making contacts, the 4 ft high AX1 vertical definitely compromises gain to achieve its tiny form factor for HF operations.  Once we moved into our rented house on the island, we knew that storms were expected.  In fact, gale warnings were issued for our area twice during our week-long stay.  Besides cutting off ferry service to the island, I feared that high winds would bring down any antenna mast that I might try to use.  So, I deployed my shortest wire antenna in a low configuration that I hoped would resist the wind, yet still enable some contacts.  I certainly did not expect it to perform like it had many times before when deployed in vertical or inverted V configurations, but proof would be in the contacts.  I will avoid suspense by saying that this installation was unaffected by the high winds that were predicted and received.

Gear

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Monocacy National Battlefield – US-0705

Monocacy National Battlefield, US-0705, is located near the junction of Interstates 70 and 270 at Frederick, MD.

Our trip south took us close enough for a visit to our 3-year old grandson and his parents.  Truth be told, any distance would have been close enough, so even though greater-Baltimore is slightly off the direct path, that was the destination for our first day of driving.  On the way to Baltimore, we also passed within a couple of miles of the Monocacy National Battlefield, near Frederick, MD.  So, we spent a couple of hours exploring interpretive displays at the Visitor Center, and of course, activating the park.

As a Civil War history buff, I knew of the Battle of Monocacy, but little about its details.  Briefly, in July of 1864 a small Union force faced off against a much larger Confederate Army led by Lieutenant General Jubal Early.  The Confederates were moving against Washington, DC in an attempt to take the pressure off of the defenders around the Confederate capital of Richmond, VA.  While the battle was a tactical defeat for the Union, it proved to be a strategic victory, because it delayed the Confederate advance for two crucial days.  In that time Washington’s defenses were strongly reinforced, so the Confederate Army withdrew back into the Shenandoah Valley without accomplishing its mission.  More on that later.

A picnic table near a wood line outside the visitor center made a perfect, unobtrusive location to activate US-0705.

For the activation, I set up my station at a picnic table.  A table top tripod supported the AX1 antenna, with a short piece of RG316 coaxial cable connecting it to the KX2.  I operated CW mode with 5 watts of power, and completed the activation with 11 contacts in less than 15 minutes.

The entire station, including table-top AX1, took up less than half of a picnic table.
Logging contacts…
Cannons overlooking the battlefield…
Map of contacts from US-0705.  Home QTH for one station is located at the south pole!

Operating from Ocracoke Island, NC

A week at Ocracoke…

We arrived on Ocracoke on the last ferry run to the island before a Gale Warning shut down service for two days.  We counted ourselves fortunate to be on the island, but gale force winds complicated deployment of antennas.  Except, that is, for the AX1. Continue reading K3ES Travels: Ten Days of QRP with Compromised Antennas

My first POTA Activation with the Index Labs QRP Plus Field Transceiver

Sometimes, we do things for the pure nostalgia of it all!

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently acquired a circa 1995 Index Labs QRP Plus transceiver. Being transparent here, this was an impulse purchase fueled by pure, unadulterated nostalgia.

The QRP Plus was the first QRP transceiver that I’d ever laid my eyes on only a month or so before obtaining my ham radio ticket in 1997. I’ll write about this in more detail in the future–and I speak to this in my video below–but let’s just say that this little cube of a radio made a big impression on me at the very beginning of my ham radio journey.

I thought it might be fun to take it to the field and compare this 1995 state-of-the-art radio with so many of my other field radios. The QRP Plus wasn’t a perfect radio, but it was a marvel at the time it was produced. I can’t think of a smaller, more battery-efficient general coverage 160-10M QRP transceiver at the time.

I was eager to introduce this little radio to the world of POTA so on the morning of Thursday March 21, 2024, I grabbed it and hit the field!

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (US-6856)

I called the Vance site that morning and learned that a large school group would be arriving around noon. Since I was planning to leave around that time anyway, it was perfect timing for me.

Since I hadn’t created a field kit specifically for the QRP Plus yet, I brought my watertight stackable Husky brand box that basically contains everything I need to set up a field radio station, save the radio.

I unpacked everything I needed: a key, key cable, battery, power cord, cable assembly, antenna, logbook and pencil.

Since the QRP Plus has no internal tuner, I paired it with my MM0OPX 40M EFHW antenna which would give me 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. Note that Index Labs used to make an external manual ATU for this radio called the QRP Companion–I’ve never seen one in person, though.

Even though the Vance staff told me that the school group would not be using the picnic shelter, thus I could have free reign, I still deployed my antenna in a way that it would not become a trip hazard–keeping it close to the shelter and as conspicuous as I could (I do wish I would have brought along my flagging tape, but I left it at home).

Setting up the QRP Plus station was quick and easy. Time to hit the air!

Gear:

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On The Air

I started calling CQ POTA on the 40 meter band, hoping it would be a little productive while we were still in the latter part of the morning. Continue reading My first POTA Activation with the Index Labs QRP Plus Field Transceiver

Field Report: Elecraft KH1 for a Quickie POTA Two-Fer!

On Wednesday, March 27, 2024, I had a number of errands to run in town. Before leaving the house that morning, I looked at my schedule and honestly couldn’t see a wide enough opening for an activation.

In the latter part of the morning, however, I was miraculously ahead of schedule en route to a meet-up in Asheville. I decided to take a scenic route option along the Blue Ridge Parkway (US-3378). It was misty and foggy that morning; a beautiful time to drive the BRP.

Of course, any time I’m on the grounds or within the boundaries of a national or state park, it feels odd not to activate it (do you feel that way too–?) even though I drive the BRP.

I looked at my watch and realized I had about 15-20 minutes max to perform an activation.

I only had one radio in the car: my Elecraft KH1. I didn’t have any of my camera gear which was fine, because it would have been very difficult to set up a video and complete the activation all within 15-20 minutes.

I pulled over to quickly schedule my activation on the POTA website. I then drove about 5 minutes up the BRP to a larger pull-over with a short path to the Mountains To Sea Trail (US-8313).

Instead of setting up on the MST, I just walked down the bank and stopped within a few feet of the MST. This would yield an easy POTA two-fer!

I set up the KH1, sporting some new pressure paddles via K6ARK (one’s I’m testing), and I hit the air.

Gear:

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I called CQ POTA and started receiving replies slowly. Well, in truth, it wasn’t that slow, but it felt like it when I was in such a rush.

After working five stations, I checked the POTA spots page and discovered that I had not been auto-spotted. Sometimes the connection between the POTA spots page at the Reverse Beacon Network is down. Indeed, several times lately, I’ve tried to activate when it’s been down–my timing has been impeccable.

I had a little mobile phone service, so I self-spotted and the rest of the contacts rolled in quickly.

I called QRT after logging 10 contacts with apologies to those who were still calling me. I had to get back on my schedule.

My QSO Map:

Screenshot

This quick activation did make me realize how the KH1 seems to be fitting into my POTA/SOTA routine.

I never intended going pedestrian mobile 100% of the time after I got my KH1. Instead, I find it to be the radio that gives me the most freedom and flexibility when I need it. The KH1 allows me to seize radio opportunities I’d otherwise miss.

In this case, setup and pack-up time was really no more than 40 seconds in total.  It took me a minute to walk down the bank to the spot next to the trail to do the activation. All the rest of the time was radio time. I feel confident that had I been spotted properly, I would have validated the activation (10 contacts) in less than 15 minutes.

It’s fun to realize you can play radio anywhere (almost literally) with a handheld transceiver like the KH1. It almost feels like cheating!

Eclipse Time!

As I write this post, I’m in our hotel’s breakfast area. We’re in Dayton, Ohio to view the total solar eclipse tomorrow. I hope to fit in a couple of activations– the only radio I’ve brought along for the ride is the KH1 (well, save my SW-3B Headrest kit).

Traffic yesterday (en route to Ohio) was pretty heavy. I imagine it’ll be much worse today and even crazier tomorrow.

We took a break from traveling, yesterday, to visit my father-in-law’s alma mater. Can anyone recognize this beautiful campus? Bonus points for correctly identifying it!

Our family is meeting up with Eric (WD8RIF) and his wife, so I’m sure we’ll manage to hit at least a couple of parks!

I must admit: it feels odd to be in Dayton a few weeks prior to Hamvention.

Maybe I should camp out at the Greene County Fairgrounds for the next five weeks just to be the first to grab a good deal in the flea market–!?!

[Sinister laugh slowly fades…]

72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

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