Category Archives: Field Reports

POTA Field Report: Two quick activations with the IC-705, mAT-705Plus, and CHA MPAS Lite

Back in the days of the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program in 2016, I made it a habit of doing multiple park activations in a morning, afternoon, or evening. I’ve done less of this in Parks On The Air (POTA) this year only because my time is more limited. Still, I love doing multiples because it gives me an opportunity to set up, play radio, achieve a valid activation, pack up, move on and repeat. Makes me feel like the only member of a pit stop crew. I love it!

Some call this RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio).

Monday (December 21, 2020) I had a block of time in the early afternoon to fit in up to two activations, en route to the QTH if all went well. While it wasn’t three, four, or five activations in an afternoon, I knew it would be a challenge to fit both in my tight schedule. If an activation took much longer than 30-40 minutes, I wouldn’t be able to complete both.

Since my goal was a quick activation, I reached for the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna which is so easy to deploy. I paired it with the Icom IC-705 and new mAT-705Plus ATU.

Gear:

Johns River Game Land (K-6915)

My first stop was Johns River Game Land. During hunting season, I spend less time in game lands because parking areas are full and even though I wear a blaze orange vest, I’d rather not be shot if I venture into the forest to set up. 🙂

Johns River has a very accessible large parking area off of a highway near Morganton, NC and I’ve never seen more than two vehicles there at a time.

I arrived on site just before noon on Monday and set up at the edge of the parking area. Unfortunately, this parking area is less than bucolic. Those who use this game land access point leave trash everywhere. You can tell groups gather with pickup trucks, make fire pits, drink beer, break bottles and throw their trash in the woods. Being a firm believer in Leave No Trace, this really, really gripes me.

I found a spot with the least amount of trash and set up in the gravel portion of the parking area so I didn’t drive over sharp objects or step on broken glass.

This is where the Chameleon MPAS Lite came in handy: I plunged its spike in the ground, unrolled the counterpoise, extended the antenna, and I was on the air in perhaps three minutes. No need to walk into the weeds and trees to hang an antenna.

I made a real-time, no-edit video of the entire activation with my iPhone. Since the iPhone was in use, I didn’t take a single photo at Johns River. That’s okay, though, because–as I mentioned–there wasn’t a lot there in terms of scenery. 🙂

Here’s the full video:

All in all, I worked 11 stations in short order. The video above approaches 30 minutes, but much of that time is dialog before the activation started. Toward the end, I also have the Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus tune from 160-6 meters with the CHA MPAS Lite. If you’d like to skip directly to that bit, here’s the link.

I quickly packed my gear and set my sites on the next activation.

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

I arrived at Lake James State Park around 19:00 UTC and was on the air ten minutes later with the same equipment I used at Johns River.

I love Lake James because there are so many picnic sites and all have tall trees (for wire antennas) and gorgeous views. It doesn’t get any better for a POTA activator. Also, it’s a very short walk to the picnic spots. Since I recently sprained my ankle and can’t hike at present, this is a major plus. Like Johns River, I also have mobile internet access at Lake James which was a huge plus since the POTA spotting page wasn’t pulling spots from the Reverse Beacon Network like it normally does.

The Chameleon MPAS Lite 17′ vertical (above) served me well once again.

I worked 11 stations in short order.

Even though a vertical antenna isn’t optimal in the foothills of western North Carolina (due to poor ground conductivity), it had no problem sending my 10 watts across the US into California and up to Alaska. I still get a major thrill out of MPW (mileage per watt) like this!

I also made a short video at Lake James where I primarily talk about the trade off between convenience and performance with regards to field antennas. I also work a few stations on 30 meters:

Here’s a QSOMap of all of my contact from both Johns River and Lake James on Monday December 21, 2020:

Happy Holidays!

Today is Christmas Eve and I’ve no plans to do an activation (torrential rain, if I’m being honest, is dissuading me).

Instead, I’ll spend quality time with my family here at home. Same for Christmas Day. This evening, we’ll watch some our favorite Christmas shows/episodes: The Good Life (a.k.a. Good Neighbors), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and of course a Charlie Brown Christmas to cap off the evening.

I know 2020 has put a damper on gatherings with family and friends–our family has certainly felt it this year. With that said, I think the amazing thing about ham radio is the community we build over the air–it’s certainly been an important community for me, this year especially.

Thank you, radio family!

Here’s wishing you, your family, and your friends the very best of the season!

73,
Thomas

K4SWL/M0CYI

POTA Field Report: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) December 14, 2020

Monday afternoon (December 14, 2020), after completing a long to-do list of errands, I found myself with a chunk of free time in the late afternoon. Of course, I like to fill free time with radio time, so I packed the car and headed to one of my favorite spots: Lake Norman State Park (K-2740).

I love Lake Norman because it’s only a 35 minute drive from my parents’ house (where I was that Monday) and it’s nearly ideal for POTA because they’ve a number of picnic tables widely spaced, and lots of tall trees–a perfect spot for wire antennas. It’s also a quiet location and has good “POTA Mojo”–meaning, I’ve never had difficulty racking up contacts there.

Gear:

I was the only person at the picnic area of Lake Norman that afternoon. No surprise as it was after 3:00 PM local and temps were on a fast downward trend after a front moved through earlier in the day.

You may be able to see the Emcomm III hanging in the tree.

I used my arborist throw line and deployed the Emcomm III Portable antenna with ease.

On the Air

I hopped on the air around 21:30 UTC and started calling CQ POTA. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spotted me and the POTA website auto-spotted me under a minute. Within ten minutes, I logged 8 contacts on 40M.

I then moved to 20 meters and worked an additional 5 contacts within 15 minutes.

Since I had worked a total of 13 stations, I had three more than needed for a valid POTA activation.

Since I was using the amazing Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, I decided to move to 160M just to see if anyone work work me on the “top band.”

To be clear, 160 is one of the least active bands in POTA for obvious reasons: few ops care to deploy an antenna that can tune up on 160M, and few POTA hunters have an antenna at home to work the Top Band. Although it’s not as efficient as a resonant 160M antenna, the Elecraft T1 and mAT-705 easily tune it and get a great match.

I called CQ for a few minutes on 1810 kHz in CW and N4EX replied. Woo hoo! My first 160M POTA contact as an activator.

I then moved up to the phone QRP calling frequency of 1910 kHz and called CQ for about 10 minutes. No dice. Since I spotted myself, about two stations attempted to make contact, but unfortunately, my five watts just couldn’t be heard.

I checked the time at this point and it was 22:30 UTC. The sun was setting over Lake Norman, so I started packing up.

It was then received a text from my buddy Mike (K8RAT). The message read, “80M?”

I thought it might be fun to work Mike on 80M, so I re-connected the antenna and tuned up on 3538 kHz.

I think I called CQ once, and Mike replied with a strong signal. We had a nice exchange and when we sent our 73s, I heard a few stations calling me. Of course…the RBN picked up my CQ for Mike and the POTA site spotted me.

To be clear: it’s next to impossible for me to cut an activation short when I have hunters actively calling me, so I started replying.

Getting late…

Turns out, 80 meters was on fire. In 15 minutes, I logged 17 more stations–from Florida to Ontario–with 5 watts.

Next thing I know, it’s dark. Like, pitch dark…

My iPhone struggled to make this photo look brighter without the flash engaged.

Side note: someday, remind me to write a post about how one of my earliest National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations carried on until it was pitch dark outside and how that one activation forever changed how I pack my gear. In short: if you’re in the field and you aren’t intimately familiar with your gear and how its packed–even if you have a headlamp–there’s a good likelihood you’ll leave something behind.

It then hit me that Lake Norman State Park closes at sunset in the winter.  Doh!

Friendly park rangers

I finished my last exchange (with W3KC) and sent QRT despite a few others still calling me.

 

As I quickly powered down the IC-705, I noticed a truck pass by slowly on the road behind me. He drove to the end of the road then turned around and stopped behind me. I knew it was a park ranger doing final rounds.

He walked down to my table with flashlight in hand and I greeted him with an apology as I quickly packed up my gear. He was incredibly kind and encouraged me to take my time. He also saved me a trip to the car to grab my headlamp by illuminating the area with his Maglite flashlight/torch.

The park ranger asked a number of questions about ham radio, POTA, and the equipment I was using as I packed up. He told me he’s always found it fascinating and had met other radio amateurs at the park doing activations. I gave him my contact info and I hope he considers checking out the world of radio.

Because I’m meticulous about how I pack (again, lessons learned from the past) I had no issues in low light and left nothing behind.

I drove out of the park at exactly 6:00PM which is the park’s closing time. I was happy, at least, that I hadn’t delayed their closing!

All-in-all, it was a very fun activation–so much fun, I lost track of time. I logged 30 stations all over North America on four bands with 5 watts.

Have you ever found yourself operating and packing up in the dark? Any stories to share or advice? Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (K-3888)

Tuesday last week (December 8, 2020), I was still on a much-needed weeklong vacation near Charleston, South Carolina with my family. We had the day wide-open to enjoy the outdoors and my wife suggested we find a nice park where I could play radio and we could enjoy a picnic.

I looked on the POTA map and chose the Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (K-3888) primarily because I thought it would be fun to spend some time near a lake.

The drive there was over an hour from where we were staying on John’s Island, but well worth it!

Turns out, it was pretty chilly and windy that day due to a front that had moved through the area during the night. After exploring the area a bit, my wife and daughters decided to enjoy their picnic in the car while I did the activation!

On the air

The spot we found near one of the lakes was ideal for a POTA activation. Although there were numerous large trees that were perfect for wire antennas, I deployed my CHA Emcomm Lite vertical knowing it would also perform well (and it did!)

My entire station!

Gear:

On The Air

Because the CHA MPAS Lite is so easy to deploy, I was on the air in a matter of minutes. I decided to stake it in the ground next to the water about 50 feet from my operating position under a tree. You can see it in the photo above (it’s rather stealthy!).

I’m not at all bothered by cold weather, but it was windy enough that my hands did get cold.

I started calling CQ around 17:55 UTC and by 18:34 I had logged a total of 21 stations on both 40 and 30 meters.

POTA hunters will often thank me for activating a park. I always tell them “it’s my pleasure.” Because it is! Just check out the view from my shack!

This is why I love POTA and SOTA so much. I’m a firm believer that radios and their operators are meant to be outdoors!


When I operate outdoors, I tune out everything else in the world and just enjoy the radio time and the outdoors. It’s bliss.

I kept my total time on site less than one hour so my family and I could continue  exploring the area and even get a long walk on the beach before sunset.

Here’s a map of the stations I worked with 5-10 watts. Since I discovered this park had never been activated in CW, I made it a CW-only activation:

If you find yourself in the Charleston, SC area, I highly recommend a trip to Bonneau Ferry WMA for some Parks On The Air fun!

POTA Field Report: Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge (K-0520)

One of the great things about Parks On The Air (POTA) is it provides a brilliant excuse to discover public lands that might otherwise go unnoticed while on vacation.

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge is a case in point.

I’m currently taking a little vacation time with the family on the coast of South Carolina and Saturday, December 5, 2020, we decided to explore a nearby park and activate it. I happened upon the ACE Basin Project on the POTA website and thought it sounded intriguing. Our plan was to go to the park, perform a quick activation, perhaps hike a bit, then go to the coast for a beach walk.

I’ve been to wildlife management areas and game lands that have been very basic perhaps only featuring a parking area and a trail or two– which is fine, frankly.

But sometimes you happen upon gems like the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge that are so much more!

Let’s activate!

Our walk to the main house and visitor center.

The visitor’s center and the main gates to the house were closed, but the grounds were still open to the public. We parked in the area just outside the main gates.

Gear:

Since I had no idea what to expect on site, I grabbed my Red Oxx Micro Manager field kit that had the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna packed inside.

On this vacation, space in the family car was extremely limited, so I only packed the AX1 and the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antennas to pair with the KX2. I left the CHA MPAS Lite vertical in the car assuming I might actually perform the activation back at the parking area once we walked around the main house.

The KX2/AX1 travel kit is incredibly portable and lightweight. That’s the whole kit in the bag in the photo above.

On the air

Turns out, we pretty much had the entire campus to ourselves that day and, as a bonus, there was even an excellent picnic area where I could easily set up the KX2 and AX1 antenna.

I hopped on the air around noon and started calling CQ. I had no internet access on site, but could tell the Reverse Beacon Network and POTA spots page had auto-spotted me because I worked about three stations on CW within the first few minutes.

I started on 40 meters CW, but quickly moved over to phone before converting the AX1 antenna for 20 and 17 meters.

A friend spotted me on the POTA site and I worked a couple more stations on SSB.

After only 15 or 20 minutes on the air, my wife suggested we stay put for a couple of hours. We were all loving the gorgeous weather, wildlife, and beautiful scenery by the pond. She asked our daughters to hike back to the car and grab our picnic lunch. I decided to accompany them and grab the CHA MPAS Lite vertical knowing it would be a much more effective antenna for a longer activation.

The hike was about 30 minutes round-trip (that’s a long plantation driveway!).

After I got back to the site, I installed the MPAS Lite which took all of four minutes.  A friend, once again, spotted me on the POTA network and I started calling CQ on 20 meters phone.

I quickly worked stations from Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts,  New Hampshire, and Ontario.

I wanted to hop back to CW mode though, because I discovered K-0520 (this park) had never been activated in CW before and wanted to give CW hunters a chance to put it in the logs.

I worked stations across the US on 20 meters CW from Tennessee to Kansas, from Arizona, to Alaska, and from Iowa to Ontario. Major fun!

I also decided to head further up the band and work AD1C in Colorado on 15 meters (there were no takers on 12 and 10 meters, but I tried–!).

I started around 17:00 UTC and wrapped things up around 19:15 UTC with 34 logged.  That may seem like a low QSO count for over two hours, but a good 45-50 minutes of that time I was off air while hiking back to the car and grabbing the MPAS Lite, setting it up, and enjoying a quick picnic with the family.

All in all it was a very memorable day at the ACE Basic WMA. If you’re ever in the low country of South Carolina, I highly recommend a visit. It’s a stunning site with lots of flora, fauna, hikes, and, of course, a great spot for a little field radio fun!

Note: If I worked you during this activation, it may not show up on the POTA website until I’m home from vacation and can create an ADIF file to submit the logs!

POTA Field Report: Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

On Sunday, November 29, 2020, I decided to return to one of my family’s favorite local POTA sites: the Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace.

On Field Day 2020, I activated this park and learned later that it was an ATNO (All-Time New One). It was very hard to believe because the site is nearly ideal for a POTA activation.

The Vance Birthplace is my go-to site when I want to do some field radio work without travelling too far and when the weather is marginal. The site has a wonderful large covered picnic area we typically have all to ourselves, and I can set up knowing that if it rains it won’t stop the activation.

When we arrived at the Vance Birthplace on Sunday, November 29, we were the only guests at the park. Even though the visitor’s center is closed on Sundays, the park is still open to the public.

Gear:

On this particular activation, I decided to give my Elecraft KX3 some field time. I think this was its first field outing in several months. I decided to pair it with the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable antenna to make the most of multi-band operation. I knew in advance that this activation would also coincide with the CQ Worldwide CW contest and I wanted some frequency agility–the Emcomm III Portable covers 160-6 with a good ATU.

On the Air

After deploying the CHA Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna in a similar configuration as I have in the past (see image above), I tuned to 17M CW to avoid the contest crowd.


I worked a few stations but, frankly, it was slow going. For POTA, I’ve found that 18 meters isn’t the most productive band at this point in the solar cycle, but a number of other POTA ops were there too as they didn’t want to compete with blowtorch contest stations on 40 and 20 meters.

I eventually moved down to 30 meters and worked a few station as well.

I knew in advance I’d want to log some stations in SSB, so I brought the Heil Proset-K2 Boom Headset along for the ride. I can’t recommend this boom headset enough if you own an Elecraft KX3 or KX2. I believe great audio is the best way to maximize your QRP SSB signal and this headset is custom made for Elecraft gear and certainly delivers. It’s a major upgrade over the KX3 hand mic and, I believe, must add two S units to your signal.

Pileups!

Holy cow! I had no idea what would be awaiting me on 40 meters phone.

I spotted myself on the POTA network and my daughter, Geneva (K4TLI), moved in to log for me on my Microsoft Surface Go tablet.

In all of my field activations, I’ve never had the pileups I had that day. It sounded like proper DXpedition pileups. In order to make the most of it, I had to note three or four calls at a time and work them in succession.

Had this not been POTA, I think I would have moved to split operation to break apart the pileup and work it more efficiently. But in truth, POTA hunters/chasers are not used to thinking in terms of split.  With only a handful of exceptions (for example, when I activated rare parks during the 2016 NPOTA program) I’ve never had a pileup so large I considered operating split at a park.

I did work stations about as quickly as I could but didn’t go into full “contest” mode where I give a quick signal report then move on to the next person.

Frankly, POTA and SOTA are not contests and part of the fun of it for me is the community and bonds that are formed between activators and hunters. It’s like meeting people at an on-air family reunion.

My SSB exchanges are never long-winded. I do maintain a certain cadence and keep POTA exchanges relatively brief because that’s just my operating style. I see this as a courtesy to the hunters who may have a limited opening to work my park and I want them to have ample opportunity to put me in the logs. I only spend a bit of time rag-chewing if the bands are a bit dead.

At the same time, I endeavor to make my exchanges friendly. I always try to take a few seconds to thank the operator at the other end of the ether and and wish them a good day.

Because, at the end of the day? POTA is not a contest.

But I digress…

It was amazing fun getting a bit of that pileup “rush”–!

Geneva was logging about as quickly as she could as she heard me reply to stations with their callsigns.  I would like to have used the speaker on my KX3 so she could follow the pileup but one of the weak points of the KX3 is the mediocre audio from the internal speaker.

You might see me logging in the photos above because I was also keeping a paper log to cross-reference with the N3FJP generated logs later.

Tally

I worked a total of 90 stations in about one hour and five minutes on the air.

I made 10 CW contacts on 17 and 30 meters, and 80 SSB contacts on 40 meters.

Of course, it was SSB where I really racked up the contacts in short order: 80 stations in 47 minutes. Whew!

I’m certain I could have logged 150-200 stations if I had more than about an hour or so of on-air time. By the time I left the air, I did eliminate the pileup.

Here’s the QSO Map from my logs (click to enlarge):

By the way: Geneva (K4TLI) is close to taking her General exam so you’ll soon be seeing her call on the POTA and SOTA spots page! I’m already piecing together components for her field pack! Of course, she’ll start by building her own resonant antennas! She can’t wait.

Keith is impressed with the Elecraft K1’s selectivity

Many thanks to Keith (GW4OKT) who recently contacted me, noting that his took his Elecraft K1 to Llyn Brenig (Lake Brenig) in North Wales last weekend, and was impressed with its performance.

His outing coincided with the CQ Worldwide CW contest–a true test of any radio as this is one of the most RF-dense environments you’ll encounter on the CW portions of the HF bands.

Many lesser radios simply fall apart in contest environments like the CQWW.

Not the Elecraft K1, though! Keith noted that he was operating on 20 meters with his GWhip antenna on the roof of his car.

He made the following video:

Wow! I owned the K1 for a number of years and was incredibly impressed with its receiver although I can’t remember if I ever used it in a contest. It’s a brilliant field radio and sports a bullet-proof front end.

I should add, Keith, that I’m not the least bit envious of your Caterham Seven 310 SV. Not a bit. Not me.  🙂

Anyone else love the Elecraft K1 (or the Caterham Seven 310?) Please comment!

Impromptu POTA activation using the Elecraft AX1 Antenna

A few weeks ago, I posted a report about doing my first park activation with the Elecraft AX1 super compact antenna. If anything, I felt the activation almost went *too* well using such a small antenna. I didn’t want to give others the impression this is all the antenna you’ll ever need–it’s just a brilliant compact antenna designed for convenience and accessibility. It’s a fun field companion and can be used pretty much anywhere.

Yesterday morning, I had a number of errands to run on the south side of Asheville and had not planned to do a POTA activation. While I was waiting on a curbside delivery, however, I was admiring the nice weather and thinking that I might venture out later in the day to do a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. Part of me knew, though, that if I returned home, I’d get involved with projects and never make it back out to the field.

I always carry a transceiver and antenna in my car, so I opened the trunk and found my Elecraft KX2 transceiver field kit which included the Elecraft AX1 antenna. Technically, that’s a whole station! Why not give it a go–? I’m always up for a challenge.

Since I would be passing by the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way home, I quickly scheduled an activation on the POTA website via my phone so that the spotting system would know to grab my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) when I started calling CQ.

Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

I knew this might not be an “easy” activation: I would be using a super compact field antenna that’s quite a compromise in terms of performance, propagation wasn’t exactly stellar, and I was activating a popular (hence somewhat stagnant) park on a Monday morning. Not necessarily ideal ingredients for a successful activation.

I also discovered my phone tripod in the trunk of the car, so decided to make one of my real-time, real-life, no edit videos of the entire successful or failed activation. (Hint: It turned out to be a success.)

Gear:

If you’d like to accompany me on this park activation, check out my video on YouTube:

At the end of the day, the AX1 continues to impress me. It is a compromise? Yes. Does it perform as well as a resonant wire antenna? No. Can it activate a park as well as my other antennas? Yes.

AX1 QSO Map

Click to enlarge

No doubt, part of my success with the AX1 is because I’m primarily using CW instead of SSB to complete activations. I’ve made SSB contacts with the AX1, but I’ve never completed full park activations with it yet–in truth, though, I’ve never tried.

In fact, perhaps it’s just a lucky streak, but so far the AX1 has been as effective as many of my wire antennas in terms of simply completing valid park activations in less than an hour. My signal reports aren’t as strong as they would be with, say, my EFT-MTR resonant antenna or Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna, but it’s enough to get the job done.

If nothing else, I’ll admit that the AX1 reminds me of the magic of low-power radio each time I use it. When I log stations hundreds of miles away, with such a modest station, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

In short? It’s fun to use.

Black Friday Sale

FYI: I just received Elecraft’s latest Black Friday 2020 ad and noticed that the AX1 antenna package (which doesn’t include the 40M extension) is on sale. Click here to check it out.

POTA Field Report: One antenna and two transceivers at South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

On Tuesday (Nov 17, 2020), I decided to activate South Mountains State Park (K-2753) for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program. As with my activation at Lake James the day before, it was impromptu. Basically, the weather was beautiful, so I couldn’t resist.

In fact, the weather was so nice, on my way to South Mountains I passed by Bakers Mountain County Park and hiked their full trail including the summit. While on that hike, I ran into Kenneth (W4KAC) who had just activated Bakers Mountain for Summits On The Air (SOTA). This was a bit of serendipity because I, too, plan to activate Baker’s Mountain for SOTA and Kenneth provided some great details for finding the summit (which is not actually on the park grounds).  It was great running into a fellow QRPer and talking shop, too!  I hope to meet Kenneth again in the field.

I arrived at South Mountains State Park mid-afternoon and set up near one of their large covered picnic shelters.

Although I’ve activated South Mountains State Game Land numerous times in the past, I’ve never activated the actual park. The last time I popped by the park, there was already another ham there in the middle of an activation, so I moved to the adjoining game land that day.

South Mountains State Park is a very popular park–indeed, it’s currently the second most activated park in North Carolina.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time because I had no internet access, there was actually another operator somewhere at the park on the air at the same time I was.

Gear:

On the Air

Once again, I set up the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antenna for this quick activation.

Besides being such a quick and easy antenna to deploy, I love how stealthy it is, essentially disappearing against a background of trees.

As you might imagine, activating a park while someone else is also activating it is not ideal. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why contacts were coming in so slowly, but no doubt many hunters probably thought they’d already worked me because they worked the other activator.

In the end, though, my biggest problem at South Mountains was the fact my battery died in the Elecraft T1 ATU after finding a match on the 20 meter band. A 9 volt battery should last months in the T1, but the battery I put in it several weeks ago had already been used in another device for a few months. I had meant to replace it with a fresh cell. I actually packed a new 9V battery in my main radio pack, but I didn’t have it with me on this trip because both South Mountains and Lake James were unplanned activations.

I spent a good half an hour on the 20 and 30 meter bands where I had a decent match, but only logged three or four hunters. Conditions were not ideal on the higher bands.

I really needed to move down to the 40 meter band knowing it would be more productive, but I had no way to find a match for the IC-705. (Lesson learned: I’ll never again leave home without my Emtech ZM-2 as a backup!).

Fortunately, I remembered I had the Elecraft KX1 field kit. The KX1 now permanently lives in my car so I know I always have a complete radio kit for impromptu field activations.

The KX1 has a built in ATU, but it’s not as robust and versatile as the T1 or the internal ATUs in the KX2 or KX3.

I tried loading 40 meters and got a 2.5:1 match. I’m sure the KX1 would have plugged along, but I don’t like pushing much over 2:1 when I don’t have to.

After tinkering with the CHA MPAS Lite counterpoise for ten minutes, I finally found a length that, if half suspended, allowed the KX1’s internal tuner to achieve a 1.9:1 match. Good enough!

I started calling CQ on 40 meters and within a few minutes, I logged a total of 12 contacts.

The KX1 saved my bacon that Tuesday!

All in all, I really enjoyed the time at South Mountains State Park. It was beautiful weather and I had an idea spot to set up and operate. I’ll certainly come back here in the future.

I’ve also decided that I’m going to start packing a resonant antenna option in the car with my KX1 field kit. It’s only this year that I started using multi-band and random wire antennas that require an ATU; they are mighty convenient indeed, but it’s always nice to have a resonant option on hand as well.

POTA Field Report: Lake James State Park (K-2739) with the Icom IC-705 and CHA MPAS Lite

Monday (November 16, 2020), I made a detour to the Catawba River access of  Lake James State Park (K-2739) to try a late morning POTA activation.

I didn’t plot this activation in advance, so had to work with what I had in the trunk/boot of the car.

I did a quick inventory and found my Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antenna packed and ready to deploy. (I always have an antenna tucked away in the car because…well, because!)

In terms of radios, I had the Icom IC-705 and Elecraft T1 antenna tuner packed as well. Woo hoo! A perfect combo! Let’s go!

Gear:

It was blustery and cold Monday morning due to a front that moved through during the night, so it was no surprise that the picnic area was completely void of (sane) people.

I found a picnic table on the bank that was relatively sheltered from some of the stronger gusts moving across the river. It was still quite windy, though, so I propped the MPAS Lite field pack on the table to provide a bit of a wind break for my log book.

Setup was quick. I don’t think I needed more than 4-5 minutes to have the CHA MPAS Lite deployed. This is one of the advantages of field portable verticals. The disadvantage? Verticals aren’t the most effective antennas in this part of North Carolina where ground conductivity is so poor. Still…I knew I could at least grab my ten needed contacts to have a valid POTA activation.

On the air

I won’t lie: it was slow-going.

For one thing, it was 11:00 local on a Monday morning–not exactly a prime time for a park activation.

I first tried making some SSB contacts on 40 meters and spotted myself on the POTA network. I managed to log 5 hunters in 30 minutes. With patience and time, no doubt, I could log ten SSB contacts, but I didn’t have time to wait, so I moved over to CW.

Oddly, the higher HF bands were in better shape than 40 meters that morning. One of my first contacts was NL7V in Alaska on 20 meters. A most impressive contact with 10 watts into a vertical.

I was on the air a full hour and did manage to log a total of 10 contacts. I’m certain if I would have deployed a wire antenna I would have had even better luck. Indeed, had I thought about it in advance, I could have actually deployed the MPAS Lite as a random wire antenna. (Doh!) That’s one of the great things about this antenna system is that it can be configured so many different ways.  Next time…

Still…I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Lake James State Park. I’ll make this detour again in the near future.

The Icom IC-705 continues to prove its worth as a superb little POTA transceiver!

POTA Field Report: Elecraft KX1 and two wires yield 1,100 miles per watt

Yesterday, my family decided to make an impromptu trip to one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam–the highest point on the BRP.

Of course, it was a good opportunity to fit in a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, but I had also hoped to activate Richland Balsam for Summits On The Air (SOTA) simultaneously.

It being well beyond leaf-looking season, we had hoped the BRP would be relatively quiet, but we were wrong.

Trail heads were absolutely jam-packed and overflowing with visitors and hikers. We’ve noticed a sharp hiker uptick this year in western North Carolina due in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. People see hiking as a safe “social-distance” activity outdoors, but ironically, hiker density on our single-track trails is just through the roof.   One spends the bulk of a hike negotiating others on the trail.

The trail head to Richland Balsam was no exception. Typically, this time of year, we’d be the only people parked at the trail head but yesterday it was nearly parked full.

Being natives of western North Carolina, we know numerous side-trails and old logging/service roads along the parkway, so we picked one of our favorites very close to Richland Balsam.

We hiked to the summit of a nearby ridge line and I set up my POTA station with the “assistance” of Hazel who always seems to know how to get entangled in my antenna wires.

“I’m a helper dog!”

Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired  KX1 field radio kit.

Gear:

I carried a minimal amount of gear on this outing knowing that there would be hiking involved. Everything easily fit in my GoRuck Bullet Ruck backpack (including the large arborist throw line) with room to spare.

I took a bit of a risk on this activation: I put faith in the wire antenna lengths supplied with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1 travel kit. I did not cut these wires myself, rather, they are the lengths a previous owner cut, wound, and labeled for the kit.

With my previous KX1, I knew the ATU was pretty darn good at finding matches for 40, 30, and 20 meters on short lengths of wire, so I threw caution to the wind and didn’t pack an additional antenna option (although I could have hiked back to the car where I had the CHA MPAS Lite–but that would have cut too much time from the activation).

I didn’t use internal batteries in the KX1, rather, I opted for my Bioenno 6 aH LiFePo battery which could have easily powered the KX1 the entire day.

I deployed the antenna wire in a nearby (rather short) tree, laid the counterpoise on the ground, then tried tuning up on the 40 meter band.

No dice.

The ATU was able to achieve a 2.7:1 match, but I don’t like pushing QRP radios above a 2:1 match if I don’t have to. I felt the radiator wire was pretty short (although I’ve yet to measure it), so clipping it would only make it less resonant on 40 meters.

Instead, I moved up to the 20 meter band where I easily obtained a 1:1 match.

I started calling CQ POTA and within a couple of minutes snagged two stations–then things went quiet.

Since I was a bit pressed for time, I moved to the 30 meter band where, once again, I got a 1:1 match.

I quickly logged one more station (trusty N3XLS!) then nothing for 10 minutes.

Those minutes felt like an eternity since I really wanted to make this a quick activation. I knew, too, that propagation was fickle; my buddy Mike told me the Bz numbers had gone below negative two only an hour before the activation. I felt like being stuck on the higher bands would not be to my advantage.

Still, I moved back up to 20 meters and try calling again.

Then some radio magic happened…

Somehow, a propagation path to the north west opened up and the first op to answer my call was VE6CCA in Alberta. That was surprising! Then I worked K3KYR in New York immediately after.

It was the next operator’s call that almost made me fall off my rock: NL7V in North Pole, Alaska.

In all of my years doing QRP field activations, I’ve never had the fortune of putting a station from Alaska in the logs. Alaska is a tough catch on the best of days here in North Carolina–it’s much easier for me to work stations further away in Europe than in AK.

Of all days, I would have never anticipated it happening during this particular activation as I was using the most simple, cheap antenna possible: two thin random lengths of (likely discarded) wire.

People ask why I love radio? “Exhibit A”, friends!

After working NL7V I had a nice bunch of POTA hunters call me. I logged them as quickly as I could.

I eventually moved back to 30 meters to see if I could collect a couple more stations and easily added five more. I made one final CQ POTA call and when there was no answer, I quickly sent QRT de K4SWL and turned off the radio.

Here’s a map of my contacts from QSOmap.org:

I still can’t believe my three watts and a wire yielded a contact approximately 3,300 miles (5311 km) away as the crow flies.

This is what I love about field radio (and radio in general): although you do what you can to maximize the performance of your radio and your antenna, sometimes propagation gives you a boost when you least expect it. It’s this sense of wireless adventure and wonder that keeps me hooked!