Category Archives: Field Reports

POTA Field Report: Fort Dobbs, 5 watts, and speaker wire

After making my first activation of Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, I knew I’d be back in short order. It had all of the things I love about a great POTA site: it’s accessible in my weekly travels, has tall trees, a huge shelter, and friendly park rangers. Plus, it’s chock-full of history.

Does it get any better?

Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)

On Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I stopped by Fort Dobbs for a quick activation.

Even though I arrived only shortly after the park opened and I was obviously the only guest there, I checked in at the visitor’s center to get permission to do the activation.

Not only did they grant me permission, but they also allowed me to set up in their main covered picnic area.As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe you should always ask permission at small historic sites like Fort Dobbs.  For one thing, I want the staff to know where I am and what I’m doing. Unlike vast state and national parks, their spaces to set up may be more limited and the last thing you’d want to do is set up shop in a space where they plan to do a scheduled outdoor presentation in period costume.

 

In addition, some historic and archaeological sites  may have restrictions on the types of antennas you employ. I’ve known of some, for example, that require fully self-supporting antennas that need no trees nor no stakes in the ground.

The folks at Fort Dobbs couldn’t be more friendly.

On the air

I decided I’d pull out the trusty 28.5′ speaker wire antenna and see how well it might perform while paired with the mAT-705 Plus and Icom IC-705.

Set up took all of three minutes.

With super lightweight antennas like the speaker wire antenna, there is rarely a need to tie off the end of the throw line to hold the antenna in a tree and in position. Unless there are strong winds, the weight of the throw line itself will hold it in place. Deploying the antenna and connecting it to the ATU and transceiver may have taken me two minutes.

Relying on trees can be a little unpredictable; some sites may have trees that are too short, some with branches that are too high, some that are too dense with branches, and/or trees may not be ideally situated for a field activation.  When things aren’t ideal, it might take much longer to deploy a wire antenna in a tree. This is one reason why so many POTA and SOTA ops choose to bring their own collapsible support–it gives them a degree of predictability when setting up at a new site.

Fortunately, at Fort Dobbs, there are numerous trees that are ideally situated for effortless field deployments.

Gear:

I hopped on the 40 meter band and started calling CQ.

Fortunately, propagation was in pretty good shape, and I worked a string of contacts.

It was nice to experience a more “normal” activation where propagation wasn’t completely in the dumps.

I eventually moved up to the 20M band and did a little hunting before finally packing up.

All in all, I made eleven contacts–just one more than the 10 required for a valid POTA activation.

I could have stayed and played radio for a much longer period of time–and I was tempted for sure–but I chose to fit in one more activation that morning at nearby Lake Norman State Park. So I packed up and moved on.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO map of my contacts at Fort Dobbs:

Video

I made another real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation as well. You can view it via the embedded player below, or on YouTube:

I didn’t work any DX at Fort Dobbs, but I was super pleased with the speaker wire’s performance using only 5 watts of output power. I imagine if I would have stayed on the air for another hour or two, I could have worked a couple stations in Europe. It was a tad early for much activity on 20 meters.

Thank you!

Thank you for reading this field report and 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–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

If you can, find some time to chase or activate a park or summit near you! Or, if you have an opportunity, just take your radio outdoors, hop on the air, and have some fun. It’s good for your soul!

And a friendly reminder: you don’t need a fancy radio or fancy antenna. Use what you’ve got. Pretty much any transceiver you’re willing to lug to the field will work. And antennas? As you can see, even $4 of speaker wire conjures up some serious QRP magic!

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Pairing the CHA Tactical Delta Loop, LDG Z-100 Plus, and IC-705 at Tuttle Educational State Forest

I carved out a little time on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, to play POTA and take a hike at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).

Being August in the Piedmont of North Carolina, it was a very humid and warm day. That wasn’t really a problem, though, because Tuttle has so many well-shaded picnic tables.

Once I arrived on-site, I decided to deploy the Chameleon CHA Tactical Delta Loop (TDL) antenna for a few reasons: I thought it might make for some good daytime NVIS action, perhaps even a little fun on the 20M band, and it’s so darn quick to deploy.

With the state of propagation the way it is these days, though, I never know what to expect on the air despite the antenna or my wishes!

I found a picnic table and set up the CHA TDL about 50′ away in an open field. Continue reading Pairing the CHA Tactical Delta Loop, LDG Z-100 Plus, and IC-705 at Tuttle Educational State Forest

POTA Field report from Fort Dobbs State Historic Site

It’s funny: when I started my POTA journey in earnest during February 2020, I plotted out all of the state parks in the part of western North Carolina where I travel the most.

At the time, POTA had only a wee fraction of the community it does now and many of the parks and game lands were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones)–parks that had never been activated. Fort Dobbs was still one, in fact, and I had marked it on my POTA game plan spreadsheet.

My mission back then was to rack up unique-to-me parks as I explored the region; in doing so, I ticked off quite a few ATNOs. It was fun!

I focused on parks a little further afield first. This provided me with a sense of adventure and travel during the first round of Covid-19 lockdowns.

At the end of 2020, I realized I had never activated Ft. Dobbs State Historic site which was, ironically, one of the lowest hanging fruit sites around. It’s only, perhaps, 30 minutes from where I travel each week.

I suppose Fort Dobbs has been “out of sight, out of mind” until I saw a tweet from Andrew (N4LAZ) who activated Dobbs on August 6, 2021. I mistakenly assumed that the only spots to set up on site were around the periphery of the parking lot. This time of year, in the middle of the hot and humid summer? I’m less enthusiastic about open parking lot activations.

Andrew mentioned that the site actually has an excellent covered picnic area where he was allowed to perform his activation.

That’s all I needed to know!

Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)

On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, I traveled to Fort Dobbs State Historic Site and quickly found the covered picnic area Andrew had mentioned. It was, indeed,  ideal for POTA!

Continue reading POTA Field report from Fort Dobbs State Historic Site

Pairing the Mission RGO One with the CHA LEFS at Lake Norman State Park

As I mentioned in a previous post, I do love rotating out radios I take to the field. Shuffling radios not only helps me remember a radio’s features and menu system, but it helps me understand any advantages one radio might have over another.

One radio I use at the QTH a lot is the Mission RGO One. I reviewed this radio for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, and later posted the review on The SWLing Post. It has been a few months since I posted a field report and video using this rig yet it’s one readers ask about all the time because this is a small production run radio.

Before heading out to Lake Norman State Park on August 9, 2021, I grabbed the Mission RGO One, the Chameleon CHA LEFS sloper, and my 15Ah Bioenno LiFePo4 battery. I knew this combo would serve me well as propagation that day was in the dumps!

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

Lake Norman is such an effortless park to activate. They’ve a huge picnic area, large trees (for both antenna support and shade!), and are typically not incredibly busy during the week. I love Lake Norman because they also have a very nice Lake Shore Trail I enjoy hiking post-activation.

That Monday morning, as I drove to the park, it was approaching lunch time and I did worry that some of my favorite picnic spots might be taken, but when I arrived, I was happy to see I pretty much had the place to myself!

Gear

Setting up the CHA LEFS sloper antenna takes a couple minutes longer than a standard end fed antenna only because the feed point is elevated and the radiator slopes down from the feed point. Since I typically do activations on my own (with no extra hands to help), I find that a little extra antenna prep equates to a quicker overall deployment.

My procedure for deploying the CHA LEFS

The CHA LEFS sloper

First thing I do is identify a good tree limb at least 45′ or so high and also identify an unobstructed path for the sloping radiator to travel.

Prior to hoisting the antenna, I stretch out the radiator and attach it to a tree or support (using the supplied paracord) in the direction I want the slope to follow.

I then use my arborist throw line to snag the desired tree limb and I connect the end of the throw line directly to the CHA LEFS’ feed point. Chameleon provides Paracord for hoisting the antenna, but the great thing about the arborist throw line is that it’s more than strong enough to handle this job. It saves the extra step of pulling paracord through the tree.

Next, I attach a 50′ length of coax (PL-259s on both ends) and stretch the coax out in the opposite direction of the CHA LEFS radiator. Doing this keeps the antenna from spinning and tangling the radiator and coax as it’s hoisted into the tree.

Finally, I simply pull the throw line and raise the antenna feedpoint to the desired height. Again, I like a height of at least 40-45′, but lower will still work. As I raise the antenna, I do put a little tension on the coax feedline just to keep it from swinging around the throw line or radiator.

Of course, if you have two people, one person can simply stretch the coax as you’re raising the antenna feedpoint which will also keep it from tangling.

That’s all!

In truth, the amount of extra time to deploy the CHA LEFS as opposed to, say, an end-fed half wave is maybe three minutes.

I picked the CHA LEFS for this particular activation because it’s resonant on my favorite bands, it’s efficient, and it was so effective the last time I performed an activation during poor/unstable propagation.

I picked the Mission RGO One because it has an amazingly quiet receiver and handles QRN like a champ. Plus, being a tabletop radio, it also sports a proper speaker, large controls, and up to 50 watts of output power if needed.

Although I’m a QRPer, on days with horrible propagation, I have been known to increase the power beyond 5 watts if operating SSB especially. This year, I set out to validate all of my park and summit activations with 5 watts or less, so at least my first ten contacts at a park will be QRP.

Before starting this particular activation, I took a few moments to record a video and answer a reader question.

On the Air

I thought I’d start by calling CQ on the 40 meter band in CW. Within 15 minutes, I snagged the ten contacts needed for a valid POTA activation. I was very pleased with this.

Since I had mobile phone service, I checked the POTA spots and worked AA3K (Park To Park) then moved to the phone portion of the 40 meter band.

During the exchange with AA3K, I did pump the power up to a cloud-scorching 20 watts! A proper rarity for me.

I then worked an additional five contacts in about 8 minutes in SSB. Very satisfying!

QSO Map

Here’s my QSO map of the entire activation. The red polylines represent SSB contact, the green are CW:

I was very pleased with the results especially after reading reports from other activators that same day who really struggled to get their ten.

Video

Of course, I made one of my real-time, real-life, no-edit videos of the entire activation. If you’ve never seen one of my videos before and have a strong dislike of professional, well-polished YouTube channels, you’re in for a treat! 🙂

Click here to view on YouTube.

Lake Shore Trail

Post-activation–and despite the heat and humidity–I hiked the length of the Lake Shore Trail; roughly six miles. I highly recommend this trail if you can fit it into your schedule.

Thank you!

As always, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

Here’s wishing everyone a little radio fun this week!

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

SOTA Activation: Richland Balsam with the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite

Two weeks ago, my buddy Monty and I went on a camping trip near Mount Pisgah off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was amazing.

Monty is one of my best friends and like a brother to me.  We were roommates during my undergraduate years at Western Carolina University. In those days, we were both into mountain biking, hiking, trail running, backpacking, and camping. WCU was the perfect launching point for all of those activities.

These days, we both still do hiking and a little mountain biking, but at–what we might generously call–a more “relaxed” pace.

Although Monty’s family also live in western North Carolina and we keep in touch pretty regularly, we hadn’t seen each other in person for years, so we knew a camping trip would sort all of that out and give us a chance to reconnect while disconnecting from our busy schedules.

Mount Pisgah

You can’t see it in the photo, but my 25 year old four person dome tent about pushed Monty’s two person dome tent off of the camping pad! And, yes, I brought a butane torch to light the campfire–not exactly bushcraft.

We chose Mount Pisgah campground off of the Blue Ridge parkway for a few reasons: it’s roughly halfway between our homes, it’s at a high altitude which equates to cooler nights during the hottest part of the summer, and–you guessed it–it’s on no less than two POTA sites and close to a number of SOTA summits as well!

Another fun fact about the Mount Pisgah campground? It’s also black bear habitat. I believe I mentioned that when I activated Mount Pisgah earlier this summer, I spotted a number of bears in this area.  But hey! Check out the park’s bear traps:

And to be honest? My QTH is also just as much in black bear territory, so this isn’t exactly unfamiliar.

Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003)

I was up earlier than Monty, so I brewed some coffee, read a bit of my book, and fit in a little early morning POTA!

The weather was ideal on the morning of Monday, August 2, 2021.

Monty actually mentioned in advance that he’d like to accompany me on a SOTA activation or two. He’s an engineer at WCU and I’ve been nudging him for years to get his ham ticket, so how in the world could I pass up a little SOTA/POTA proselytizing?

While Monty cooked up some breakfast burritos, we hatched a plan to activate Richland Balsam first.

Richland Balsam is a very accessible 6,410′ (1954M) summit and is actually the highest peak on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.

Richland Balsam is a great “beginners” SOTA summit because the loop trail is only 1.5 miles long, well-marked, doesn’t require an experienced hiker, and passes through a spruce-fir forest which not only provides shade, but also ample trees for wire antennas. The trailhead is easy to find as well; it’s at the north end of the Haywood/Jackson overlook parking area.

Only one word of caution: being such an accessible loop trail right there on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it can get very busy during the summer and fall–in fact, you might struggle to find a spot to park.  Monty and I arrived early enough that there were only a handful of cars parked at the overlook.

Richland Balsam reminds me of some of the trails in/around Mount Mitchell:  lots of ferns, mosses, and and the smell of spruce-fir. Bliss!

On The Air

I’d forgotten that there are actually a couple of benches on the summit of Richland Balsam which is a proper luxury for any SOTA activator!

Monty had no issue at all setting up the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical on his own as I prepared my clipboard, Elecraft KX2, and log book.

Gear:

I actually had decent mobile phone service on the summit, so spotting myself was quite easy via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, I assumed I might not have access to spot myself, so I did schedule the activation before leaving the campsite on both the SOTA and POTA platforms knowing both would auto-spot me from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

I started calling CQ on 20 meters CW and my first contact was fellow POTA activator Steve (KC5F) who was, no doubt, working me via ground wave from his home. Always good to have Steve in the logs.

In thirteen minutes, I worked nine stations on 20 meters–lots of familiar calls. I actually validated the SOTA activation (logging four contacts) in no less than five minutes!

I then moved to 17 meters where I worked K6MW in Washington state.

Finally, I moved down to the 40 meter band in hopes of picking up Mike (K8RAT)–success!–and also worked good ole’ Bill (WB1LLY) in Georgia.

Here’s my full log sheet:

Near the end of the activation (you might note this in the video), Monty and I hear a loud animal noise in the forest–very likely a black bear making itself known. We took that as a cue to pack up and move on.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you’ve been seeking a cure for insomnia, you’ve found it:

Click here to view on YouTube.

A perfect day for hiking

The view from Black Balsam.

After leaving Richland Balsam, we decided to also take in W4C/CM-005 (Black Balsam Knob) which is another 10 point summit on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tried making a video of this activation, but for some reason the camera shut down after nine minutes. I’m uncertain yet if I’ll publish that video with a post. We’ll see! It, too, was a fun activation.

After Black Balsam, Monty and I prepared a late lunch back at the campsite and decided that there was still enough of the day left to take in the Mount Pisgah summit trail. Frankly, it was simply too tempting! There was a trail not even 25 feet from our tents which lead us to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. Since I had already activated Mount Pisgah only recently, I didn’t take radio gear this time.

Turk’s-cap lilies were in bloom along the Mount Pisgah trail.

Funny, but we both underestimated the hike from our campsite to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. In my head, I assumed it was perhaps half a mile or so. Turns out, it was more like 1.5 miles one way!

The Mount Pisgah tower

Combined with the actual Mount Pisgah trail, it made for a decent amount of hiking. I believe we left the campsite around 16:00 local and were  back by 19:00 or so.

That Monday turned out to be a day full of hiking, radio, and hanging with Monty. It was amazing fun.

Thank you

As always, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

Here’s wishing everyone good health and maybe even a little outdoor radio fun this week!

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

POTA Field Report: A beautiful day for obnoxious QRM!

A few weeks ago–on July 12, 2021–I popped by Lake James State Park to do a quick activation with the Icom IC-705. It had been a while since I’d used the ‘705 in the field and the little rig was begging to go outdoors.

Here’s the funny part: I completely forgot about that activation! Two days ago, while browsing my photo archive, I noticed the video I made of the activation and, of course, the memory came flooding back.

In my defense, it has been a crazy summer and the weeks/days seem to all blend together in my head.

Thing is, this activation was memorable for a bad reason: QRM (human-made radio noise). It was also memorable for some of the folks I worked on the air.

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

I arrived at Lake James and was a bit surprised to practically have the place to myself.

I found a picnic table with a view of the water, deployed my speaker wire antenna, and set up the IC-705. As with all of my activations, I was only running 5 watts.

I attached the speaker wire antenna’s BNC binding post adapter directly to the mAT-705 Plus ATU.

Gear:

Propagation was–you guessed it–forecast as very poor.

It felt that way when I hopped on 40 meters at first as the band was pretty quiet..

Still, I managed to log 5 contacts on 40 meters (two in SSB, three in CW) before moving up to 20 meters which served me well.

I worked a total of eight stations in nine minutes on 20 meters.

QRM

Check out the noise level on the waterfall display!

If you watch the video, you’ll hear how nasty the QRM was at times.

I keep forgetting that there’s a source of intermittent radio interference at the Lake James visitors center. The spot where I set up the station was only 25 meters or so from that building. I believe the center was responsible for the QRM I first experienced during the activation. Whatever the device is generating the QRM, it doesn’t last for long periods of time–it cycles.

The second batch of QRM was emanating from a small boat that pulled up to the dock in front of my site. It was nasty and completely wiped out the 20 meter band. When the owners turned off the boat and stepped onto the dock, the noise stopped completely. Later, when they got back into the boat, the noise started again. I have to assume it was something in their motor causing the QRM. I suspect they may have been using a DC trolling motor.

Memorable contacts

POTA activations often feel like a gathering of friends. I often see many of the same callsigns in my logs and it’s a lot of fun working them each time.

Also, it’s a lot of fun to work stations further afield. At Lake James, I was very pleased to work NK7L in Washington State, IK4IDF in Italy, and HA9RE in Hungary. My back of the envelope calculations tell me that I was pushing 1,000 miles per watt when I worked Elemer (HA9RE). To be clear, all of the work was done on his end as he has some world-class ears; just check out his QRZ page!

For some reason when I logged HA9RE, I copied VA4RE. I’m not sure why, but after packing up it hit me that I had logged him incorrectly (funny how brains work!). I reviewed the video on-site and confirmed it was indeed HA9RE.

Here’s my QSO Map:

I was also very pleased to finally work Dave Benson (K1SWL). He’s very well-known in QRP circles for his amazing Small Wonder Labs kits. Dave’s a great guy and, of course, loves playing radio in the field.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, unedited video of the entire activation. Apologies in advance as I really needed a wind screen over my microphone that day–I had the mic and camera a little too close.

Loop next time!

The next time I hit Lake James, I plan to deploy a Chameleon loop antenna. I think it will have a significant impact on the QRM levels at that particular part of the park. Of course, I could easily move further away from the noise source (that’s the easiest solution) but I’d like to see how effectively a loop might mitigate the QRM. That and it’s been years since I last used a compact mag loop antenna in the field.

Thank you

Again, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–never feel an obligation to do so (especially if you’re investing in your first station, for example)–I really appreciate the support.

Here’s wishing you some outdoor radio fun in the near future!

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Activating Pilot Mountain State Park on a beautiful summer afternoon

After a successful SOTA and POTA activation at Hanging Rock State Park on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, I drove to nearby Pilot Mountain State Park. It was quite warm, but a beautiful day with no afternoon thunderstorms in sight.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play a little more radio. As the French say, “Il faut en profiter!

Although I’ve seen Pilot Mountain numerous times in my travels, I had never actually visited the park so this was a new-to-me park activation.

Pilot mountain is a landmark in the Yadkin river valley and has a fascinating back story.

Per Pilot Mountain State Park’s website:

“Pilot Mountain is a remnant of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. A quartzite monadnock, this rugged mountain rock has survived for millions of years while the elements have eroded surrounding peaks to a rolling plain.

Pilot Mountain is capped by two prominent pinnacles. Big Pinnacle, with walls of bare rock and a rounded top covered by vegetation, rises 1,400 feet above the valley floor, the knob jutting skyward more than 200 feet from its base. Big Pinnacle is connected to Little Pinnacle by a narrow saddle.

The mountain was mapped in 1751 by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, father of President Thomas Jefferson. Pilot Mountain became North Carolina’s 14th state park in 1968. The Pilot Mountain Preservation and Park Committee proposed the establishment of Pilot Mountain as a state park in order to protect it and the surrounding area from commercial development. The group secured options on the land and raised matching funds that made it possible to purchase with
federal grants.”

Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, but it has never been activated because it would require an experienced rock climber (assuming access is even allowed). The base of Big Pinnacle is 61 meters above the summit trail system, so well outside the 25 meter activation zone.

Pilot Mountain State Park (K-2750)

I only had my sights set on making a park activation out of Pilot Mountain and, frankly, I didn’t even have time to explore the trail system  that Tuesday.

Finding a spot to set up was quite easy. I entered the park and took a right at the roundabout which lead to the parking area at the top portion of the mountain.

From there, I found a small picnic area perhaps 50 meters from the parking lot. I carried my gear there and set up shop!

Since I was doing this activation mid-afternoon, I had the picnic area to myself, save one unfortunate woman who was trying to (conspicuously, if I’m being honest) fit in a bit of meditation time.  She picked out a picnic table near one of the main trails basically in the center of the picnic site , so I assumed she was pretty good at blocking out noises you’d normally hear at a busy park.

But the question remained: could she block out the sweet sound of CW emanating from my FT-817?

There was only one way to find out!

In truth, I try to lay low at parks and not disturb other people. In this case, I picked a table on the perimeter of the picnic area but it was still only a couple tables away from her. Since I was making one of my real-time, real-life field activation videos, I would be using the speaker–instead of headphones–with the FT-817.

In other words, there was no escaping a little CW music!

I shared my picnic table with this little Praying Mantis
I think he’s upset that my throw line is all over *his* ground.

Gear:

This was also the first time I’d used my new orange single-level CW Morse paddle very kindly gifted to me by contributor/subscriber, Nathan (N8HWV).

Although it might look like a dual lever paddle, it’s actually a single lever!

Thank you so much, Nathan! 

On The Air

I started on 20 meters CW and, fortunately, it was hopping!

I worked 18 stations in 19 minutes. Whew!

Many thanks to N2EIM and NA9M for the P2P (Park To Park) contacts!

I then moved to 40 meters where I worked K8DRT for a second time (first was on 20M) and my “it wasn’t a real activation unless I worked him” buddy, K8RAT.

40 meters wasn’t in as good of shape as 20 meters was.

Having no way to spot myself to the POTA site, I didn’t attempt any SSB contacts–I would have at least for a while,  otherwise.

Video

Here’s a real-time, real-life, no-edit, no-ad video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Inner Peace through code…

Evidently, Morse code must have “resonated” with my meditating neighbor.

She didn’t move until I I was off the air–as if the conclusion of her session coincided with the end of my activation.

Obviously, a little CW helped her along her journey to inner peace. 🙂

I know it did for me!

Thank you

As always, thank you for reading this field report. I hope you take a little time to achieve your inner peace by playing radio outdoors! 🙂

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Field Report: Some QRP POTA and SOTA at Hanging Rock State Park!

I’m not a summer-heat-loving guy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Give me cold weather and I can hike and camp forever.

On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, it wasn’t cold outside, of course, but I still wanted to fit in a park activation and hike. Despite the forecast highs of 90F/32C. I had almost the entire day to play radio, too–a rarity.

When I have an entire day to devote to radio, I can either hit the road and try to hit multiple parks–perhaps as many as 5 or 6–or I can choose to venture further afield and hit a new-to-me park.

I tend to choose the latter and that Tuesday was no exception.

North and north by NW of Winston Salem, NC, are two parks I’ve always wanted to visit: Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park.

I devised a plan to first visit Hanging Rock, then Pilot Mountain. Both parks are close together geographically, but a good 30 minutes drive apart.

A quick check of the SOTA database and I discovered that there are actually two summits on Hanging Rock State Park’s grounds. One is off the beaten path a bit and would require some light map work, and the other–Moore’s Knob–is on one of the park’s main trails.  Since I was putting this whole plan together morning of, I opted for the “easy” summit as I didn’t have time to double-check topo maps, parking areas, etc.

Hanging Rock State Park (K-2735)

Travel time to Hanging Rock was about 1 hour 45 minutes. Once I arrived on site, I discovered that, like many state parks, the main visitor’s center is being renovated.

I easily found the parking area for the Moore’s Knob loop. It being a Tuesday, the parking lot only had a few cars.

Pro tip: with the visitor’s center out of commission, stop by the swimming area pavilion for some proper restrooms/washrooms!

I planned to take the full trail loop in a counter-clockwise direction.

I’m glad I did, too, as the bulk of the ascent was a long series of steps. I’m not a fan of steps, but I much prefer using them heading up a mountain rather than down.

Near the summit, there’s a very short spur trail to Balanced Rock which is worth a visit not only for the rock, but also the views.

It being a North Carolina state park, there are some obligatory warning signs about how falling off of cliffs can lead to injury or death. These warning signs aren’t as prominent as those at Crowders Mountain State Park, though!

Moores Knob (W4C/EP-001)

You can see my MPAS Lite vertical poking out of my pack. I brought it along in case I had no good tree options. In this case, I didn’t use it.

There’s no mistaking the summit as there’s a large observation tower on top that affords some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the foothills, and Pilot Mountain (my next stop).
There were a number of hikers on the summit of Moore’s Knob and it was actually pretty gusty up there, too. I searched and found a nice little spot to set up that was sheltered from the wind, shaded, and even had trees tall enough to hang my Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna!


Gear:

Set up was quick and easy on the radio side of things, but as with most SOTA activations, positioning my tripod to make a video was the tricky part. Since I’m sitting on the ground, it can be difficult to find the right angle so that the radio, key, and notepad are all in the frame. (See my video below).

I started calling CQ at 16:00 UTC on 20 meters. I had a reasonable cell phone signal on the summit, so I was able to spot myself. Problem was, though, my hiking app seemed to be draining my iPhone’s battery very rapidly (that and my aging iPhone 7 probably needs a new battery at this point). After spotting myself, I shut down the phone to save power.  I forgot to contact my buddy Mike (K8RAT) with a frequency, but he eventually saw me on the SOTA spots.

In a period of 29 minutes, I worked 20 stations on 20 meters.

Next, I moved up to 17 meters where I worked eight more stations in seven minutes.

I love effortless activations like this and part of me wanted to continue operating–even switching to SSB–but looking at the time, I knew I needed to hit the trail, make my way back to the car, and drive to Pilot Mountain.

I called QRT around 16:42 UTC and packed up my gear.

QSO Map

Not bad for 5 watts and a 31′ wire!

One highlight of this activation was meeting Jim (NA4J) who heard my CW from the summit and popped by to introduce himself. Although I trimmed out our conversation in the video (I’m not entirely sure he knew I was recording the activation), you’ll hear him in the first half of the activation.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

The hike back to the car was very pleasant. It was a bit longer than the path I took to the summit, but the descent had no steps which made it a breeze.

I had a radio topic on my mind during that hike and actually pulled out the OSMO Action camera and made a bit of a “hike and talk” video.  It’s on the topic of ATUs and resonant vs non-resonant antennas. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll post it–the shaky camera might make some viewers sea sick! 🙂 We’ll see–maybe I’ll brave up and post it anyway…

Next, I drove to Pilot Mountain State Park for a quick afternoon activation. Although Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, too, it’s yet to be activated because the actual summit would require proper rock climbing, I believe.

Thank you

As always, thank you for reading this field report! And thank you to everyone who has supported me through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. I truly appreciate it.

I hope you find time this week to take your radios outdoors to play, or to hunt some parks and summits from your shack, backyard or vacation spot!

And for those of you working on your CW skills, don’t give up and don’t stress about it. Take your time and allow your brain to absorb code by simply listening. When you feel you’re able to copy even some of the contacts in the videos of my activations, you’re ready to start hunting CW activators!

You’ve got this!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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What is it they say about the best-laid plans?

Ever have one of those days where nothing works out the way you had planned–?

Yeah, me too.

In fact–and this is purely a coincidence–today was one of those days for me!

Here’s how it played out…

A New-To-Me Park

This morning, I had an optometrist appointment in Hendersonville, NC and needed to fit in the appointment on my way to visit my parents for a couple of days. I don’t often venture out to Hendersonville so I looked up a few parks in the area and thought I might fit in a quick activation around lunch.

Keep in mind it’s been nearly two weeks since my last field activation, so this QRPer is having some serious withdrawal.

I looked at the map and realized that Green River State Game Land was a very short detour. I had meant to activate Green River last year and actually located an ideal spot for an activation via the NC WRC maps but never activated it. Since it would be awfully fun to fit in a new-to-me park en route to visit the folks, I mapped out my travels, scheduled the activation via the POTA website and notified my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) so they could look for me on the air.

The optometrist appointment went well (thanks for asking) so I made my way to Green River Game Land. I had no problem finding the site–it was basically an open parking area off a rural road.

It was hot, though. My car’s thermometer measured 93F, the humidity wise high, and there were no trees to provide shade. I sat up the Chameleon MPAS Lite, a folding chair, and used the open hatchback of my Subaru as shade from the noon sun. It was *just* enough shade for my chair. I placed the Xiegu X5105 on my clipboard, connected the key, and turned on the radio.

QRM!

The first thing I heard on the radio is the last thing any activator wants to hear. Noise…lots of it.

The radio was tuned to 17 meters and the noise was approaching S9.  The noise was raspy and sounded like arching from power lines.  I looked at the road behind me where there were several power lines meeting at three different poles.

I checked 20 meters, 30 meters, 40 meters, and 60 meters. The noise was consistently loud across those bands.

I’m certain the noise was coming from a local power pole–it could have been a staple, nail, or something else that was arching.

It was so incredibly hot on site, I had no desire to attempt hiking into the game lands far enough to escape the noise. In my experience, power line/pole noise can propagate vast distances. Plus, again, it was just too hot.

Normally, I’d try to find another game land access point, but having already done a bit of research, I knew going to an alternate spot would be too much of a detour. This was the only access point along my route.

I decided, instead, to pack up my gear, continue my travels, and plot an alternate activation.

South Mountains Game Land

Photo from earlier this year.

I called my buddy Mike, and told him I thought I’d try South Mountains Game Land. In the back of my mind, I had been wanting to visit one portion of South Mountains I activated in the winter this year. I thought, perhaps, it was actually near a SOTA summit on the game lands.

I pulled over at a gas station a good 45 minutes from South Mountains and tried to log into the POTA website to change my scheduled activation (so it wouldn’t spot me at the wrong park via the Reverse Beacon Network). Problem was, before logging me in, Google wanted to initiate a two-factor authentication since I hadn’t logged into the POTA site on my phone in a while. Google wouldn’t send me a text message to confirm, it wanted me to dig a confirmation code out of my Pixel 3 phone that I only use as a video camera and the Pixel 3 was inaccessible.

I had a hunch that I wouldn’t have mobile phone access on site, so I called Mike back and he agreed to correct my spot on the POTA network. (Thanks, Mike!)

Ten minutes from the game lands entrance, I noticed dark clouds had formed to my north. I pulled over and checked my weather app while I had Internet access. Sure enough, a large line of thunderstorms had formed and were heading my way, very slowly. I decided then and there I was not going to do an activation–my phone was already giving me severe thunderstorm warnings–but I thought I might at least explore the site and see if the road would actually lead to a SOTA summit.

Three minutes from the site entrance, the heavens opened. It was a proper gulley washer of a deluge, too–the type that forces you to drive at a snail’s pace and the type that causes flash-flooding. I turned down the game land road and then the lightening started popping too.

I threw in the towel.

Although a part of me would have enjoyed taking the dirt road several miles into the game lands, these rains were the type that wash out dirt roads and I had no intention of dealing with that too. Plus, it would be my luck…right? Right.

Still…

I’m really not that bothered because I actually enjoyed the drive today (save when I hit the storms) and I also found a place in Hendersonville that makes excellent Gyros!

That and I fully intend to do an activation or two tomorrow, weather pending.

We’ll have to see how it plays out. It’s all a part of the field radio fun!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

New River State Park: Pairing the Discovery TX-500, Elecraft T1, and PackTenna 9:1 UNUN

Last month, my family went on a camping trip to New River State Park and had an amazing time.

I first discovered New River much earlier in the year when I did a multi-park and summit run.  I really liked the park and, especially, the campground, so I decided to return with the family for some proper outdoor fun and relaxation.

Of course, the benefit of camping at a state park is being able to play radio pretty much anytime while on the park grounds. For a few days, it’s like you’re living in a park activation and can actually set up an antenna and use it over the course of multiple days.

It’s such a big departure from my typically short (45-90 minute) park activations.

When we first arrived at the New River State Park campground, I deployed my PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna.

I brought two transceivers with me: the Xeigu X5105 and the Discovery TX-500–I pretty much split my operating the time equally between the two radios.

New River State Park (K-2748)

Although I spent much more time on the air than I normally do, I didn’t make videos of each session. One reason is I wanted to operate with earphones–especially since some of my sessions were later in the evening or early in the morning. I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors at the campground.

That and, especially with the X5105, I wanted to see what it would be like to operate with earphones for extended sessions. Prior to making videos of my activations, I almost exclusively used earphones in the field. I appreciate the sound isolation earphones offer–I also find they help tremendously with weak signal work. When I make videos, however, I don’t want to go through the hassle of recording the line-out audio separately in order to use headphones, so I use an external speaker.

I decided to record my Wednesday, June 23, 2021 evening session with the Discovery TX-500.

Gear:

This session started only a few minutes prior to the end of the UTC day which meant I had to watch the clock very carefully and clear my logs at the beginning of the UTC day (20:00 EDT).

In POTA and other field activities, if your activation straddles the UTC day change, you must keep in mind that any contacts made after 0:00 UTC can only be counted on the next day’s logs. This was not a problem for me because I had logged dozens of stations earlier in the day, but if you ever start an activation close to the UTC day change, you need to make sure you log your 10 contacts for a valid activation prior to 0:00 UTC.

Auto-spotting help

Another thing complicating my sessions at New River State Park was that I chose not to schedule my activation via the POTA website prior to our trip.

If you schedule your activation via the POTA website, anytime the Reverse Beacon Network picks up your CQ calls (in CW), the POTA spots website will scrape that information and auto-spot you.  It’s an amazing convenience for those of us who operate CW.

I chose not to schedule my activation days at New River because I had also planned to operate at another nearby park during my stay and I didn’t want the system to spot me incorrectly. That, and I thought I would have mobile phone coverage to self-spot.

It turned out that–contrary to my mobile phone company’s coverage maps–I had no internet service at the park. None.

In order to get spotted, I relied on my Garmin InReach GPS/satellite device to send short text messages to my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF). My pre-formatted message would prompt them to check the RBN for my frequency, then spot me to the POTA site manually.

I’m incredibly grateful to have had them helping me in the background. Everyone should have a Mike and Eric as friends!

Video

I made a real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation. Note that it took a while to get spotted, so the first ten minutes are simply me talking (it’s alright to skip that bit…it won’t hurt my feelings!).

Also, here’s a QSO map of that day’s contacts. Note that this includes stations I logged later in the UTC day (i.e. the following morning/day.

Due to some unexpected conflicts, our camping trip was shorter than we would have liked. We plan to visit New River later this year and spend much more time there. It’s a beautiful park!

Thanks for reading this short field report and here’s hoping you get a chance to play radio in the field soon!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL/M0CYI)