Category Archives: Field Reports

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)


Do you enjoy QRPer?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

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

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)

Activating Anderson Mountain: My first drive-up one point summit

As AA6XA wrote on his blog:

To quote the W4C association manager Pat, KI4SVM, “Anderson is a drive-up with no other redeeming qualities.” This perfectly describes the mountain. It is easy to get to, at the top of Tower Road, right off of Route 16. The road to the top get a bit rough in places, but is passable in any car.

He had me at “no other redeeming qualities”–!

I must admit that all of the summits I’ve activated so far have been pretty amazing: offering up spectacular views, wildlife, and wonderful hiking opportunities. All of them were also on protected public lands like state/national/county parks.

Anderson Mountain (W4C/WP-012)

Earlier this year, I made a spreadsheet of summits I planned to activate. Anderson Mountain was one of them because of its convenient location in my travels to visit family each week. I had also been saving it for the day that I planned to activate a nearby park–Tuesday, July 6, 2021 was that day!

Earlier, I had an amazing activation at Mountain Island Educational State Forest using the Yaesu FT-817ND, T1, and my speaker wire antenna. I completed Mountain Island in enough time I could also pop by Anderson Mountain for a quick activation.  It was literally a six minute detour from my route, if that.

The mountain is directly off of US 16–the main highway between Newton/Conover and Charlotte.

You turn off of the highway onto a dead end road that leads to the summit. About halfway up, it turns into a single lane privately-maintained road that, as AA6XA noted above, is rough but passable in any car (well, save a Lamborghini but I’m guessing most SOTA ops don’t own one of those!).

The road to the summit is a straight–there’re no confusing forks in the road and it’s impossible to get lost.

Once on top, you’re greeted by a few clusters of communications towers. This is actually pretty common sight with smaller one point summits because they typically have superb line-of-sight to populated areas and are easily accessible by vehicle.

When you look around, you can understand why Pat would say it has no redeeming qualities: towers, rusty transmitter buildings, razor wire on chain link fences, and litter all over the place.

Not the sort of spot that would inspire Ansel Adams.

Judgement call

It’s worth noting here that, unlike POTA, you’re not allowed to operate from a vehicle during a SOTA activation–even at a “drive-up” summit. There’s no such thing as a mobile SOTA activation.

Indeed, you’re not supposed to operate in “the vicinity” of your vehicle either (although, there’s no distance noted and I’m guessing this is on purpose to allow leeway and the op to make a judgement call).

I set up in a little island of trees in the middle of a road loop on the summit. While I wouldn’t call it a hike, I did walk the entire summit after arriving to check for other operating spots, but decided to set up near where I parked the car. In fact, it’s really the only safe spot I noted in the activation zone to park since the road is single lane and you would otherwise block access to one of the transmitter sites. I thought about parking further down the road next to one of the transmitter fences, but I felt like that would have been on private property.

Side note: SOTA forbids operators from trespassing on private property without the owner’s permission. I checked the road very carefully for “no trespassing” signs, but the only ones I found were to keep people out of and away from the fenced-in transmitter sites.

I also thought about trying to operate in a spot on that little island where I couldn’t see my car as easily in the cluster of trees–to remove myself from the “vicinity” of the car–but that would have been awkward, too and only separated me an additional 10-15 meters or so. I chose the option where others could see me and I could see them if, for example, a Duke Energy service vehicle approached.

I was fully outside of my car, though, and not using it to support my antenna or any equipment–another important factor.

Sometimes as an operator you have to make a judgement call when you arrive at a site to stay within the rules and the spirit of the program. I’ve never had a SOTA or POTA activation where I felt I was splitting hairs until this one. I decided that this was the best scenario to activate Anderson Mountain in a way that wouldn’t inconvenience other property owners, nor cause suspicion that might lead to a future no trespassing sign on the road. It was the safest set up and I’m willing to bet most previous activators did exactly the same thing. I felt it was within the spirit of the program.

Now where was I–? Oh yes…

Gear:

On The Air

Since I used the speaker wire antenna at Mountain Island, I used it on Anderson Mountain as well. I deployed the entire station within 5 minutes max: herein lies the advantage of using an arborist throw line, a shack-in-a-box transceiver like the KX2, and a simple wire antenna.

I first hopped on 20 meters CW, spotted myself to the SOTA network (mobile phone reception was superb, by the way) and started calling CQ SOTA.

Within three minutes I logged K6YK, KT5X, W5GDW, and K0LAF which already validated this SOTA activation.

Wow–validating this activation was, as my daughters used to say, “easy peasy lemon squeezy.” 🙂

I added WB6POT and N0RZ for a total of six stations on 20 meters within five minutes.

I then moved to 40 meters SSB and worked K8RAT, W4NA, and WN4AT all within about three minutes.

Finally, I moved up to the 17 meter band and worked F4WBN (our well-known French SOTA chaser) and K2LT.

Packing up my gear was as quick as setting it up.

Video

I did make one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire Anderson Mountain activation with no edits. If you need a cure for insomnia, I encourage you to watch or listen to it:

At least one redeeming quality…

I mention in the video that some readers and subscribers have confessed that they feel SOTA is less accessible to them than POTA or WWFF.  I would have to agree that summit activations are much less accessible than park activations.

For one thing, there are flat regions on our planet that lack prominences that qualify for the SOTA program. If you live in the middle of a prairie state, you may have to drive a great distance to reach the closest qualifying summit (although you might have a number of POTA and WWFF parks nearby).

In addition, summit activating generally involves hiking–which is actually the motivating factor for many of us (certainly for me as I love hiking).

Some would-be SOTA activators have mobility issues, however, and simply can’t hike great distances with gear on their backs.

This is where “drive-up” summits like Anderson Mountain come in: they’re much more accessible for those with health considerations.

If you live in an area with SOTA summits, but haven’t attempted an activation because you can’t do strenuous hikes, connect with local SOTA activators and ask for a list of “drive-up” summits. There are many of these around–some, like Anderson, are accessible because there are radio towers on top, other are accessible because they’re on a park with accessible vistas, or some are even in a mountaintop neighborhood.

Thank you

I’d like to thank all of you for reading this field report and I’d especially like to thank those of you who contribute to QRPer.com via Patreon and our Coffee Fund. While my content will always be free and QRPer is very much a labor of love, your support helps me purchase gear and supports my radio travels. With that said, if you’re saving up for your first radio or need to invest in your own kit, I’d rather you support yourself!

My goal with QRPer is to champion field radio operations and encourage others to discover the benefits of playing radio outdoors!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


Do you enjoy QRPer.com?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

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

943 Miles Per Watt with the Yeasu FT-817ND, Elecraft T1, and 28.5 feet of speaker wire

When it comes to parks, I haven’t picked up many new-to-me “uniques” lately.

In truth, though, I’ve put more effort into activating unique summits which takes more time to plan, plot, and activate. SOTA has taken a bite out of my park uniques, but I’m good with that because to me it’s less about my park/summit numbers and more about the exploration and outdoor radio time.

On Tuesday (July 6, 2021) however, I added one more unique to my 2021 park count: Mountain Island Educational State Forest (K-4858).

This park is actually a modest detour during my weekly travels, but I’ve never popped by for an activation. You see, unlike other state parks I visit, Mountain Island isn’t yet open to the public on a daily basis. On their website, they state that visits must be arranged in advance, so I reached out to them the morning of July 6 and they promptly replied, welcoming me for a visit and activation that very same day!

Off the beaten path

Since this state park isn’t yet open to the public, I didn’t see the typical brown highway signs pointing me to the park entrance, but Google Maps steered me right to the front gate where there’s a sign.

The gates were unlocked and open, so I pulled into the property and met with two of the park staff who were incredibly kind and accommodating. They were both familiar with the Parks On The Air (POTA) program which made it much easier for me to ask about spots where I could set up my station.

First, though, I wanted to know more about Mountain Island Educational State Forest so I asked ranger Laura about the history of the site.

Turns out, Mountain Island is the newest Educational State Forest in North Carolina and has been in the works for more than 20 years.

The Forest is a vast conservation area that protects 12 miles of shoreline on Mountain Island Lake in the Catawba River Basin. This lake is the primary drinking water supply area for Charlotte, Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties. She told me that one in 23 North Carolinians rely on this area for their source of water.

Much of the land was originally owned by Duke Power who put it up for sale in 1998. Conservation groups purchased the land from Duke’s real estate agency in 1998 and put it into a conservation easement. The land is actually in two counties (Gaston and Lincoln) and a portion in the city limits of Gastonia.

The NC Forest Service now manages the forest and supports the public-private partnership with the counties, municipalities, and conservation groups.

Mountain Island has been actively educating school groups and the public about the river basin and local flora/fauna for many years by appointment. Currently, a new education center is being built on the property and will soon be open to the public with regular business hours. Being so close to population centers, I imagine they’ll stay busy!

Shade

Park ranger Laura was kind enough to allow me to set up under a huge tree in front of their ranger station.

I was grateful for the shade: it was 92F (33.3C) and humid.

There were no picnic tables under the tree, but I happened to have two folding chairs in my car. I used one as a table and the other as a chair. I flipped over my GoRuck GR1 backpack to make a stable base for the Yaesu FT-817ND.

Gear list:

On The Air

I was super pleased to put the Yaesu FT-817ND back on the air. It’s been a while since I’d used it in the field because my review radios (TX-500, X5105, etc.) have taken priority.

I love the FT-817ND and believe it’s actually an exceptional transceiver for CW and SSB ops. The CW full break-in QSK is wonderful and I actually like the mechanical sound of the T/R relay switching (if you like pin diode switching, you should look the other way, though!). With the 500Hz CW filter installed, the front end is pretty bullet-proof, too!

This was the first time I had paired the FT-817ND with my 28.5 foot speaker wire antenna. The random wire antenna needs a good ATU to match impedance, so I employed the Elecraft T1 this time (soon I’ll also try the LDG Z-100A).

I had planned to do a little SSB work, but quickly realized I’d forgotten the FT-817ND microphone. A shame because this site actually has excellent mobile phone service so I could have spotted myself to the network. Next time–!

I started on 40 meters CW and worked ten stations in 21 minutes. That’s a perfect pace for me!

Next, I moved to 20 meters where I worked six more in 9 minutes.

I was incredibly pleased with how well the speaker wire antenna performed–especially on 20 meters.

From the Piedmont of North Carolina, I worked Montana, Texas, New Hampshire, and Italy with 5 watts into $4 worth of speaker wire.

I did a quick back-of-the-envelop calculation and discovered that I yielded about 943 miles per watt!

To be clear, IK4IDF did all of the heavy lifting in our contact with his 9 element Yagi, but still it’s awfully exciting to put DX in the logs with only fair propagation.

Video

Of course, I made a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation (save the set-up and take-down):

Click here to view on YouTube.

Onward and upward!

I packed up quickly because I had a SOTA activation planned that afternoon on Anderson Mountain. I’ll post a field report and video of that activation soon.

Rev 4 FT-817 Buddy Board

Also, I’m about to start soldering together G7UHN’s new Rev 4 FT-817 Buddy Board! Revision 2 worked wonderfully, but revision 4 now includes a CW memory keyer among other upgrades! (Woo hoo!)  All of the components are now in the shack–just a matter of soldering them together and programing the Arduino Nano. Andy, if you’re reading this, expect a call from me soon, OM!

Thank you!

I’d like to thank all of you for reading this field report and I’d especially like to thank those of you who contribute to QRPer.com via Patreon and our Coffee Fund. While my content will always be free and QRPer is very much a labor of love, your support helps me purchase gear and supports my radio travels. With that said, if you’re saving up for your first radio or need to invest in your own kit, I’d rather you support yourself.

My goal with QRPer is to champion field radio operations and encourage others to discover the benefits of playing radio outdoors!

Have a wonderful week!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


Do you enjoy QRPer.com?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

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

Field Report: Let’s build a super simple antenna on-site and activate this park!

Until 2016, I had never purchased a commercial field antenna; I built all the ones I had ever used.

These days, I take a number of commercial antennas to the field and use them in my real-time videos and I really enjoy deploying and using them. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) reminded me, though, that I hadn’t actually used a homebrew antenna in ages. He was right!

You see, while I believe commercial field antennas can be incredibly durable and compact, it’s important to note that antennas are one of the easiest components of an amateur radio system to build yourself. They require only the most simple of tools and are very affordable. And the best part? They can perform as well as those that are available commercially.

I also get a great deal of pleasure out of building things.

A simple goal

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I often set a little goal that runs in the back of my mind for each park or summit activation I make.

On Monday, June 14, 2021, I made a simple goal: buy my antenna wire en route to Lake James State Park, build the antenna on site, and complete a valid Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.

A very simple antenna

I also decided to employ my Xiegu X5105 since 1.) it’s one of the most affordable general coverage QRP transceivers I own and 2.) it has a built-in antenna tuner (ATU).

One of the cool things about having an ATU is that, if it has the matching range, you can allow it to do the “heavy lifting” in terms of matching impedance.

Although I’d never put the X5105 to the test, I suspected its internal ATU would have the matching range to forgo building a 4:1 or 9:1 transformer and simply pair it directly with a random wire.

All I would need was a 28.5 foot length of wire for a radiator, at least a 17 foot length for a counterpoise, and a BNC to binding post adapter.

The antenna would benefit from multiple 17′ counterpoises, but I really wanted to keep this setup dead simple to prove that anyone can build an effective field antenna with a very minimum amount of components.

Even though I have plenty of wire lying around the house to build this simple antenna, I wanted to pretend I had none to prove that any wire would work.

And to add just a wee bit more challenge, I also limited myself to shopping for antenna wire between my home and the park without making a serious detour from my route. That really limited my options because there isn’t much in terms of commercial areas between me and Lake James State Park.

The wire

As I left the QTH, I decided that the best spot to shop was a Walmart in Marion, NC. It would only be a four minute round-trip detour at most.  I had a hunch that Walmart would even have speaker wire which would be ideal for this application.

In my head, I imagined I would have at least three or four choices in speaker wire (various gauges and lengths), but turns out I had a difficult time finding some at Walmart. We live in such a Bluetooth world, I suppose there isn’t much demand for it these days. A store associate helped me find the only speaker wire they had which was basically a 100 foot roll of the “premium” stuff for $17 US.

While I would like to have paid a fraction of that, in the end it’s not a bad price because once you separate the two conductors, you have double the amount of wire: 200 feet.

Although the frugal guy in me cringed, I bit the bullet and purchased their speaker wire. To be clear, though, I could have found another source of wire in that Walmart, but I preferred speaker wire for this application. And $17 to (hopefully!) prove a point? That’s a deal! 🙂

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

Once I arrived on site, I found a picnic site I’d used before with some tall trees around it.

Here’s how I prepared the antenna:

First, I cut 28.5 feet of the speaker wire from the roll and split the paired wires so that I’d have two full 28.5 foot lengths.

Next, I stripped the ends of the wire and attached banana jacks I found in my junk drawer. Although these aren’t necessary as the binding post adapter can pair directly with the wire, I though it might make for a cleaner install. In the end, though, I wasn’t pleased with the connection to the radiator, so dispensed with one of the banana jacks on site, and later dispensed with the other one as well. The connection is actually stronger without the banana jacks.

I then deployed the 28.5 radiator with my arborist throw line, and laid the other 28.5 half on the ground (the ground of this antenna would pair with the black binding post, the radiator with the red post).  I only needed 17 feet of counterpoise, but once it couples with the ground, I don’t think any extra length makes a difference (although less than 17 feet likely would).

The antenna was essentially set up as a vertical random wire with one counterpoise.

I then plugged the BNC binding post adapter into the rig, hit the ATU button, and was on the air.

It’s that simple!

My new speaker wire antenna in all its glory.

Gear:

On The Air

I’ll admit: I was a bit nervous putting this antenna on the air. Although I felt the X5105 ATU *should* match this antenna, I had no idea if it actually would.

Fortunately? It did.

At this point, if you don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you watch my real-time, real-life, no-edit, no-ad, video of the entire activation (including buying and building the antenna!).

Click here to watch the video.

Otherwise, scroll for my activation summary…

I was very pleased that the X5105 found a match on the 40 meter band.

I started calling CQ in CW and validated my activation by logging 10 stations in 13 minutes.

Honestly: it doesn’t get much better than this.

I logged three more stations on 40 meters CW, then moved up to the 30 meter band where the X5105 easily found a match.

I worked one station on 30 meters before heading back down to the 40 meter band to do a little SSB. I logged three SSB stations in five minutes.

Mission accomplished!

In the end, I logged a total of 17 stations including a P2P with K4NYM.

Not bad at all for speaker wire!

After the activation, I tested the X5105 ATU by trying to find matches on other bands–I was able to find great matches from 60 meters to 6 meters. Most impressive!

X5105 battery

You might recall that I attempted to deplete my X5105 internal battery at my last (rather long) activation of Lake Norman State Park.  I wasn’t able to deplete the battery at that activation, but I finally did at this one.

All I can say is that I’m incredibly impressed with the X5105 internal battery.  This was my fourth activation from one initial charge on May 16.  The battery lasted for 20 minutes, taking me well beyond the 10 contacts needed to validate this park. I’ll now consider taking the X5105 on a multiple SOTA summit run!

Short Hike

Even thought the heat was intense and the humidity even more intense, I decided to take in a 2 mile hike post-activation. I snapped a few shots along the way.

This is the Christmas Fern which derives its name from a few characteristics: its resilience to early season snows maintaining a dark green color beyond Christmas, and because folks believe its leaves are shaped like Santa’s boots or even Santa on his sleigh.

Improvements

I’ll plan to add more counterpoises to the speaker wire antenna as I know this will only help efficiency.

In addition, I’ll plan to build even more antennas with this roll of speaker wire. If you have some suggestions, feel free to comment!

Thank you for reading this field report!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)


Do you enjoy QRPer.com?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

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

POTA Field Report: Attempting to deplete the Xiegu X5105 internal battery at Lake Norman

Each time I head to a park or summit, I have a goal in mind.

With summits, it’s getting to the summit and activating it because, sometimes, that can be a challenge in and of itself. I’m not exactly Sir Edmund Hillary, so I’m happy when I make it to the top of any summit!

Parks, however, offer me the chance to experiment with transceiver/antenna combos, test gear, and explore hikes. Parks tend to be more accessible and spacious than summits and even have shelter options if weather is questionable.

I don’t even attempt afternoon summit activations if they require a decent hike and there’s a good chance of pop-up thunder storms.

On Monday, June 7, 2021, it was hot and incredibly humid in the Piedmont of North Carolina. That early afternoon, little patches of showers were passing through the region delivering brief, isolated downpours.

The weather forecast also predicted a high likelihood of thunderstorms that afternoon. (Turns out, they were correct.)

Those were not conditions for a SOTA activation, rather, I decided to pick out a park I knew could offer up some shelter options. Lake Norman was an obvious choice–there’s a very nice covered area at their visitor’s center and also two large picnic shelters at the other side of the park. Lake Norman it was!

Goal

I drove to Lake Norman State Park with one goal in mind: deplete the Xiegu X5105 internal battery. I had assumed the battery would only power the X5105 for perhaps two activations on one charge.

Boy, was I wrong.

I charged the X5105 before this activation on May 17, then I completed this short activation on May 18. I never expected the battery to keep going, but it did.

Now three full weeks later, I decided I would deplete the battery at Lake Norman because that afternoon I had a decent amount of time to play radio in the field. In my head, I was prepared to squeeze perhaps 30-45 minutes more air time out of that one May 16 battery charge.

Lake Norman (K-2740)

I arrived at Lake Norman State Park and scouted out a site. Fortunately–it being a Monday in the early afternoon–it wasn’t busy and all three shelters were available.

I chose to set up at a shelter at the far end of the main picnic area.

Gear:

The humidity was so thick that day,  I was sweating just walking around the site. I noticed in my activation video (see below), I was breathing as hard as I would hiking to a summit even though I was just tooling around the picnic shelter.

I had no doubt in my mind that if a thunderstorm developed, it would be a doozie! (I was right about that, too–keep reading.)

On The Air

I paired the Xiegu X5105 with my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 mainly because I wanted to see how easily the X5105 ATU could match this multi-band vertical. Turns out? Quite easily.

I expected the X5105’s battery to deplete to the point that I would need to use an external power source to complete the activation, so I connected my QRP Ranger battery pack, but didn’t turn it on. I knew that when the radio died, I could flip the QRP Ranger’s power switch and perhaps only lose a few seconds of air time.

I hopped on the air and started calling CQ. I planned to operate the X5105 until the internal battery died, then (if needed) continue operating with the QRP Ranger until I logged my 10 contacts for a valid activation. Post activation, I planned to hike one of the Lake Norman loop trails.

Normally, I would mention the number of contacts I made perhaps noting the bands that were most productive. Instead, if you’d like to experience this activation with me, you might consider watching the activation video.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no edit video of the entire activation including my full set up.  My summary of the activation follows–keep scrolling if you’re open to a spoiler.

Please note that this is the longest video I’ve ever published, so don’t feel any pressure to watch it in its entiretity:

Impressed

Let’s just say that the X5105 sold me.

The activation was incredibly fun and I logged 20 stations (18 CW and 2 phone) from Alaska to Spain with my 5 watts and the MPAS 2.0 vertical.  Propagation conditions were only “meh” but since I had the time to play radio longer, I was able to take advantages of little openings as they happened.

X5105 Battery

The X5105 won.

I simply gave up on trying to deplete the internal battery because I was running out of time to fit the activation and a much needed hike that afternoon before thunderstorms moved in.

I operated over 90 minutes with constant CQ calls and the battery never made it below 10.2 volts.

A most welcome surprise.

No mic, no problem!

During the activation, I remembered that I had been asked by readers and viewers to include more SSB work.

Problem was, I left my X5105 mic at the QTH (nearly 2 hours away by car).

I remembered though that, like the Elecraft KX2, the X5105 has a built-in microphone.

I decided to give that mic a trial by fire and, by golly, it worked!

Not only did it work, but it worked well.

The X5105? A keeper.

It was at Lake Norman that day, I decided the X5105 was a keeper.

That evening, I reached out to Radioddity–who lent this X5105 to me–and offered to pay full retail price for it either in cash or via ad credit

Since Radioddity is a sponsor on my other radio site–the SWLing Post–we decided that, since their ad was coming up for renewal soon, I would simply extend their ad time an equivalent amount of months as the full value of the X5105 ($550 US). This saved them from having to cut a check in two months.  Worked for both of us.

I have much, much more to say about the X5105 and will do so in an upcoming review.

In short, though? It’s not a perfect radio by any means, but I feel like it really hits a sweet spot for the QRP field operator.

I enjoy putting it on the air and it’s an incredibly capable little transceiver.

I’m very pleased to now put it in rotation with my other field radios. Look for it in future reports!

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO Map for this activation (click to enlarge):

Hike and dodgy weather

After packing up my gear, I walked over to a nearby trailhead and checked out the trail map. I was prepared to take a very long hike that afternoon despite the heat and humidity, but I also knew conditions were ripe for a thunderstorm.

I decided to take what appeared to be a fairly short loop trail along the lake. Looking at the map, I assumed the trail might be 1 mile or so long.

The hike is well-worn and well-marked, so there’s no getting lost here. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t bother looking at my GPS map or even consulting the trailhead map in detail.

Instead, I simply started hiking the Lake Shore Trail loop. It was gorgeous. Here are a few photos (click to enlarge):

The skies started getting dark, though, and I heard a little distant thunder.

I decided it might make sense to consult my phone for the weather map.

A line of thunderstorms had developed and they were sweeping toward me. Time to pick up the pace of hiking!

It was at this point I realized I had underestimated the length of this loop trail. Part of me was quite pleased that it was longer than I anticipated, but the part of me that didn’t want to be caught out in a t-storm wanted to get back to the car ASAP.

I checked another weather map a few minutes later.

I decided that jogging the rest of the trail made sense!

Turns out the 1 mile loop was something closer to 3 miles when I included the walk back to the car.

I did make it back to the car in time, though, right before the heavens opened.

It’s no exaggeration to say that I was sincerely concerned about the possibility of tornadoes in that storm front.

The skies were dark enough that streetlights turned on and the rain was incredibly heavy with strong wind gusts. I saw flash flooding and driving conditions were nearly impossible. I parked next to a brick building in the town of Catawba and waited for the strongest part of the storm to pass. I was also very grateful I wasn’t still on the trail by the lake!

Of course, the storm passed and I expected conditions to be a little drier behind that front, but I was wrong. I think the humidity level increased to 150%. Ha ha! No worries, though, as I was on my way to air conditioned space!

Thanks so much for reading this field report and stay safe out there!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


Do you enjoy QRPer.com?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

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

An amazing SOTA activation on Mount Pisgah (W4C/CM-011)

Here in the Asheville, NC area, there’s one mountain that almost anyone can recognize by sight: Mount Pisgah.

Mount Pisgah is prominent because not only is it one of the taller summits bordering the Asheville basin, but it’s also home to the WLOS TV tower and and a cluster of public service and amateur radio repeaters.

I’ve been eager to activate Mount Pisgah for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Along with Bearwallow Mountain, and Mount Mitchell, it’s one of the most popular SOTA summits in the Asheville area.

One reason for its popularity is because it’s so accessible. Not only is there a dedicated, large parking area at the main trailhead off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s also an easy hike from the excellent Pisgah Inn, restaurant, and camp grounds.

Being so accessible from the BRP, the Mount Pisgah trail also receives a heavy amount of foot traffic. Being locals, our family tends to skip this trail when we’re venturing along the BRP because it can be so congested at times.

Mount Pisgah (W4C/CM-011)

On Tuesday, June 1, 2021, Hazel and I decided to hit Mount Pisgah fairly early and avoid the crowds.

We arrived at the trailhead around 8:15 AM and there were very few cars there–a good sign indeed!

Hazel was chomping at the bit to start our hike!

The trail is only about 1.5 miles with a 700 foot elevation gain, so not strenuous.

It was blissfully quiet and we only passed two other groups of hikers on the way up.

I’ll admit that I was keeping an eye out for black bears, though. We saw bears very close to the trailhead entrance on the BRP that morning. I may have mentioned before that black bears are not something to be feared here in western North Carolina; they typically avoid people and your chances of being fatally injured by a black bear are incredibly slim–right there with being struck by lightening.Still, the black bears that wonder near populated spots like Pisgah along the parkway are often fed by tourists and lose their fear of humans. Not only that, but they even expect people to be food dispensers. Not good. As we say around here, “a fed bear is a dead bear” because feeding bears leads to aggressive behavior and the poor creature’s eventual euthanization.

But I digress!

Hazel and I reached the summit and were happy to find that we were alone. Pisgah’s summit can get very crowded as there really isn’t a lot of space–only a large viewing platform next to the massive tower.

When we arrived on site, the summit was surrounded in clouds.

I briefly considered operating from the viewing platform, but knew I would have to cope with a lot of curious hikers while trying to operate CW. Since I’m not a good multitasker, I decided to do what many SOTA activators do: carefully pass under the tower and find an activation spot on the other side of the summit.

Hazel and I found a small overgrown trail used primarily by those working on the tower. I deployed my station in a small clearing.

Gear:

For this activation, I chose my Elecraft KX2 and paired it with the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite which has quickly become one of my favorite SOTA antennas.

I deployed the CHA MPAS Lite perhaps 15 feet away from my operating spot, in the middle of a spur trail. I was able to extend the 17′ vertical without touching any branches. I rolled out about 20-25′ of counterpoise wire along the ground.

After setting up, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten my clipboard.  No worries, though! I simply flipped over my GoRuck GR1 pack and used the back as an operating surface.

On The Air

Not only was this a summit activation, but also a park activation–indeed, a two-fer park activation at that! The summit of Mount Pisgah is in both Pisgah National Forest (K-4510) and Pisgah State Game Land (K-6937).

If I’m being honest here–since I’m not a “numbers guy” and don’t follow my activation counts closely each year–it’s very tempting not to announce or count this activation in both the SOTA and POTA programs since K-4510 and K-6937 aren’t rare entities. The main reason for this is because, back home, I end up doing double entry with my logs: loading them via the SOTA online log submission tool, then entering them in N3FJP or TQSL for submission to the POTA and WWFF programs. It can be very time-consuming doing this.

I am working on a way to “massage” the ADIF file data so that I can submit it to both programs with less effort.

But, of course, I announced the activation on both SOTAwatch and the POTA site. At the end of the day, I’ve never *not* announced a dual SOTA and POTA activation because I can’t help but think it might offer up the sites to a new POTA hunter. It’s worth the extra log entry later.

Another plus with activating a site in two programs is that you’ll likely be spotted in both thus increasing your odds of logging the necessary contacts to validate your activations.

Turns out, snagging valid activations that Tuesday morning was incredibly easy. And fun!

Fabulous conditions!

I started on 20 meters CW and logged fifteen stations in eighteen minutes.  The band was energized because not only did I easily work stations from France, Slovenia, and Spain in Europe, but also stations all over North America from the west coast to as close as the Ohio valley and into Canada.

I wanted to play a little SSB, so I moved to the phone portion of 20 meters and spotted myself on the SOTA network. I worked five stations in eight minutes. Fun!

Next, I moved up to the 17 meter band and stayed in SSB mode. I worked five more stations in nine minutes. Had I only activated this site in SSB on 20 and 17 meters, I could have obtained both a valid SOTA and POTA activation in 17 minutes.

Even though I knew I needed to pack up soon, I decided to hit the CW portion of 17 meters before signing off.  I started calling CQ and was rewarded with sixteen additional stations in eighteen minutes.

Phenomenal!

All in all, I logged 41 stations.

Here’s the QSO Map of my my contacts–green polylines are CW contacts, red are SSB (click to enlarge):

A welcome interruption!

If you watch my activation video, you’ll note that as I moved to the 17 meter band and started calling CQ, another hiker popped in and introduced himself.

Turns out it was Steve (WD4CFN).

As Steve was setting up his own SOTA activation on Mount Pisgah next to the observation deck, his wife, Patty, heard my voice off in the distance giving a signal report.

Steve and I had a quick chat and coordinated frequencies so we wouldn’t be on the same band at the same time and interfere with each other.

 

After finishing my activation, I stopped by the observation deck and spent some time with Steve and Patty as Steve finished his SOTA activation and packed up his gear.

Steve was also using an Elecraft KX2 and strapped his telescoping fiber glass mast to the side of the observation deck to support a wire antenna. Very effective!

Hazel and I hiked back to the trailhead with Steve and Patty. It was so much fun talking ham radio, QRP and SOTA with kindred spirits. What an amazing couple!

Steve and Patty were actually on a multi-day camping trip in WNC and planned to hit two more summits by end of day. In fact, I got back to the QTH *just* in time to work Steve (ground wave!) at his second summit of the day. It was fun hunting someone I had just spent time with on a summit!

Steve and Patty: Again, it was a pleasure to meet you both!

Video

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

A memorable activation indeed

Hazel and I both needed a little trail time that Tuesday morning. Hiking to the summit in the low clouds, taking in the views, enjoying a stellar activation and then meeting new friends? It doesn’t get any better than this.

I’ll say that I do love the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite combo. It makes for a compact and effective SOTA pairing that can be deployed so quickly.

A couple months ago, I ordered a SOTAbeams Tactical Mini fiberglass telescoping pole. I plan to pair it with my QRPguys tri-bander kit antenna.

If I’m being honest, though, I find that the CHA MPAS Lite is so quick to deploy–like 2-3 minutes tops–I’ve yet to take the Tactical Mini and Tri-Bander to a summit.  No worries, though, as I will eventually deploy this pair on a summit. Admittedly, I need to work on my mast guying skills in advance–let’s just say that I’m still in that awkward stage of struggling to manage each guy line as I try to keep the Tacmini vertical during deployment. I welcome any tips!


Do you enjoy QRPer?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

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

SOTA: Activating Bearwallow Mountain with the KX2, MPAS Lite, and Hazel

The MPAS Lite vertical has an impressive view!

I’ve been receiving a lot of comments lately from readers and viewers asking to see more Hazel in my reports and videos.

Hazel, if you’re not familiar, is my brown, white, and freckled canine shadow.

Hazel requires absolutely no prep time to go on a hike and summit/park activation. She’ll go from a deep, dreamy sleep where she’s chasing squirrels and her paws are twitching, to wide awake, tail wagging and nose pointed at the door in 2 seconds flat.

All it takes is the sound of me putting on my hiking boots (which must be louder that I imagined).

On Monday (May, 24, 2021) the weather was beautiful and I decided to finally add Bearwallow Mountain to my list of SOTA activations. Hazel was ready for a short hike!

Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)

Bearwallow is one of the most popular summits to activate in the Asheville/Hendersonville area of western North Carolina. Any semi-seasoned local SOTA activator probably has Bearwallow in the logs. Why?

The Bearwallow antenna farm is extensive!

For one thing, Bearwallow is a ham-friendly site. A number of local repeaters are on this mountain and some of our local clubs have access to the summit. Once–I can’t remember the year–I even spent time with a club (I believe it was the Roadshow ARC) on Bearwallow for the ARRL Field Day. It was a blast!

Bearwallow is also a very accessible summit.

The trailhead to the summit (Google Map) is tucked away in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge area–and there’s ample paved parking unless you happen to pick a very busy day (basically, any weekend with good weather will be busy!). Hazel and I were hiking on a Monday morning, thus there was very little activity and loads of parking spaces.

Some years ago, Conserving Carolina acquired the summit and much of the land on Bearwallow Mountain. Their conservation easement protects this area from future development and opens it for the public to enjoy.

Conserving Carolina maintains the trail system to the summit and all of the hiker information and blazing.They do a brilliant job!

There are two options for hiking to the summit: a proper foot trail, or you can take the Fire Tower Road which is the best choice for hikers who need a more gentle incline and flat gravel hiking surface.

Click here for a map of the trails (PDF).

Hazel and I decided to go up the foot trail and descend via the Fire Tower Road to make a loop.

We spotted a number of plants in bloom on the way up.

The foot trail is an easy one to hike, too. It’s well-maintained, as I mentioned, and there are only a couple of steep-ish sections.

There are even opportunities to take in views on the trail.

When you reach the top of the trail, it opens onto a pasture.

And the views are panoramic!

There are cattle all over the summit, so give them wide berth.

Speaking of cattle, Hazel is quite fond of them…or at least what they leave behind.

She’s been known to roll in cow patties when she has the opportunity (or if I’m distracted with something else…like performing an activation!).

Hazel and I found a nice spot to set up the station well within the activation zone. On summits like Bearwallow where there are clusters of communications towers, I prefer not to set up next to them. This is where that 25 meter SOTA activation zone (AZ) comes in handy.

Gear:

I had actually planned to use my Elecraft KX3 on this activation, but after setting it up, I realized quickly that my power cord had developed a fault.

Fortunately, I packed a spare radio.

Knowing in advance that this would be a short hike–before leaving the QTH–I also packed the KX2 kit in my backpack as a backup. I don’t always have the luxury of packing a second radio, but wow! Am I glad I did that Monday!

Setting up the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical, of course, was super easy.

On the Air

I started the activation on 20 meters and spotted myself to the SOTA network via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, before leaving home, I had also set up an alert on SOTAwatch so that the spots page would auto-spot me via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) if I didn’t have mobile phone coverage.

In short? The contacts started rolling in. I was very surprised to have this sort of response on a Monday morning.

In 22 minutes, I worked a total of 19 stations including one summit to summit (S2S)–thanks for that, Eric (VA2EO)!

I was very pleased with the number of contacts logged in such short order because I only had a max of 25-30 minutes to be on the air before I needed to pack up and head back to the QTH.

Here’s the full log:

Activations like this one remind me of what one can do with QRP power and a modest antenna.

Sure, at one point–after I had worked at least my first four to achieve a valid QRP SOTA activation–I increased the power from 5 watts to a cloud-scorching 10 watts! 🙂

Here’s a QSO map of the contacts:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life (a.k.a. it’ll put you to sleep) video of the entire activation:

I must apologize for the audio in this one–it’s a little weak due to how the camera was set up.

Hazel at it again

So I brought along a retractable leash/lead for Hazel for this particular outing.

This leash allows her to roam more freely during our actual hike. On the summit, I locked the leash and attached it to my pack so it would keep her within 4 feet or so of where I was sitting which was cow patty-free.

At one point, near the end of the activation, when I was trying to manage a few calls, off-camera Hazel discovered that the leash unlocked, allowing her more flexibility to roam.

I looked up to discover that she found a semi-moist cow patty I somehow missed and was preparing to “enjoy” it. While sending CW and trying to keep from knocking down the camera, I used my left foot to put the brakes on her leash. She knew I was struggling, though, and tugged more.

I managed to stop her before even one paw plopped in the patty. Somehow. It was a very close call, though.

If you’ve watched my activation videos before, you’ve no doubt gathered that I’m not a multitasker. This little event really tested my ability to hold it all together on and off camera! 🙂

After packing up the station, Hazel and I took the Fire Tower Road back to the car. It was a very pleasant stroll and cow patty free.

Thank you for coming along with me on this SOTA activation and making it to the end of the report. You deserve an award! Please treat yourself to a local summit or park soon!

Thank you & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


Do you enjoy QRPer?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

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

Pairing the Chameleon CHA LEFS with the Discovery TX-500 at Table Rock Fish Hatchery

Last time I visited Table Rock Fish Hatchery–this activation–it was a struggle to get the ten contacts I needed for a valid activation. Propagation was horrible that day, making it a proper struggle.

On Thursday, May 20, 2021, I thought I’d go back to the fish hatchery for another try! I really like the site: it’s open, has lots of trees, and the staff (and neighborhood dogs) are all very friendly.

My not-so-QRP diesel truck!

Thing is, as I drove to Table Rock, my buddy Mike informed me that propagation took a nose dive. Earlier in the day, it had been reasonably stable, but he noted that POTA activators were struggling in the afternoon and the propagation numbers were in the dumps.

There’s a beautiful little creek next to the picnic area.

My secret weapon: The Chameleon CHA LEFS

Shortly after I posted my “unboxing” video of the lab599 Discovery TX-500, Carl at Chameleon Antenna made a comment on my YouTube channel that he was going to send me their CHA LEFS (Lightweight End Fed Sloper) wire antenna since it’s resonant on 40, 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10 meters. In many ways, it’s ideally suited to pair with the TX-500 since this transceiver lacks an internal ATU. Side note: there is a cool project in the works called the DIY599 that adds a 60 watt amp and ATU to the TX-500 . 

I had only recently received the CHA LEFS and had not yet taken it to the field. Table Rock was the perfect opportunity.

When I know in advance that propagation is poor, I try to make my portable set up as efficient as possible, so that’s when I 1.) make sure I pull out a resonant wire antenna and 2.) use a wire antenna with longer radiators. The CHA LEFS fits both of these bills.

The CHA LEFS has a 63 foot radiator made of 20 gauge PTFE antenna KEVLAR wire. The winder has a large efficient transformer to match impedance, and there is an inline coil to make the most of the 63′ radiator. They also include 50′ of Micro 90 paracord.

 

Like all Chameleon antennas I’ve used, it’s built to military specs.

Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012)

Table Rock is ideally-suited for a long-ish sloping wire antenna, too. The site has tall trees and open spaces that make stretching out the sloping radiator quite easy. Just watch those power lines!

The CHA LEFS takes longer to deploy that end-fed antennas with a feedpoint near the ground. I find it quicker to deploy, however, than dipoles.

I deployed the LEFS by first stretching out its radiator wire in the direction I planned to deploy it.

Next, I connected the coax feedline to the SO-239 on the LEFS winder and stretched it in the opposite direction of the radiator. Why do this? It helps keep the radiator and coax from twisting together as I raise the winder/feedpoint into the tree.

This is not a difficult antenna to deploy as one person. Of course, if you have a helper, it’ll go even faster (I’ve yet to convince Hazel to help me with antenna deployment).

I had launched the arborist line quite high into a tree at the picnic table where I planned to operate. I was able to elevate the LEFS feedpoint/winder about 47′ into the tree.

I used the supplied paracord to attach the radiator to a nearby branch. The end of the sloper was perhaps 6 feet off the ground (if memory serves).

Gear:

On The Air

Knowing how poor conditions were from real-life K8RAT observations, I didn’t expect to actually validate my activation by logging the required 10 contacts. As I stated in my activation video, I was fully prepared to walk away with three or four contacts–I didn’t have a few hours to burn on an activation. I was simply happy to play with a new antenna, the TX-500, hang with the local canine welcome committee and enjoy the fine weather.

First, I hopped on 40 meters and discovered the LEFS provided a perfect 1:1 match on 7063 kHz. Very promising!

Next, I started calling CQ and the Reverse Beacon Network functionality of the POTA spots page must have quickly auto-spotted me.

Within 13 minutes, I logged six contacts! I was impressed. Mike (K8RAT) was in that first six contacts and he later told me it was one of the strongest signals he’d ever heard from me at a POTA activation. He asked what I was using as an antenna that day and said, “it was working!”

Next, I moved to the 30 meter band and worked K8RAT again (a rarity on 30 meters!) along with four other stations.

I ran out of time, so called it quits with 11 stations logged.

I did not expect to not only walk away with a valid activation, but to have completed it in such short order.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO Map of my contacts all made with 5 watts of power:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation. Next time I take the LEFS out, I’ll try to remember to include setting it up:

Loving the CHA LEFS!

Talk about good first impressions!

As Carl suggested, I’m going to keep the CHA LEFS tucked away along with my PackTenna EFHW in the Discovery TX-500 pack.

When conditions are poor, I’ll spend the modest amount of extra time deploying this fine antenna.

The only CHA LEFS criticism I noted–and it’s a minor one–is that the in-line trap/coil isn’t very low-profile and takes a little attention to make it fall in the right spot when reeling the antenna up post-activation. Seriously. A minor criticism and I’m guessing Chameleon has a reason for it being on the large size–likely for power handling reasons.

Field Day is coming up, and I think I’m going to make the CHA LEFS one of Team Baklava‘s main antennas (Team Baklava = my buddy N3CZ and me!).

As for the CHA LEFS, I highly recommend it!