Category Archives: News

Bruce notes a sale on the Garmin InReach Mini 2

Many thanks to Bruce (N7RR) who writes:

Hi Thomas –

Since I’m a licensed radio amateur, I always carry ham gear into the backcountry. However, I also carry my Garmin Mini 2 satellite communicator, since that is usually the most reliable way to get an emergency message transmitted. It will also send a one-way message to any email address.

Right now the Garmin Mini 2 is on sale at REI for $100 off.

Only if I’m in a thick forest will Mini 2 messages be delayed significantly.

In thick forests, HF messages transmit reliably. There are lots of 80 m nets available. They are most active in the early evening. Near vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) works well with horizontal antennas which are fairly close to the ground for frequencies below 10.1 MHz.

73,
Bruce Prior N7RR

Thanks for the tip, Bruce. I have the 1st generation InReach Mini and I never leave home for a hike without it. I feel like the subscription is basically hiking insurance! I even pay for the higher payout in case an emergency evacuation via the SOS is needed. I’ve only needed to use it for spotting on a couple of occasions, fortunately. 

From the Activation Archives: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and MPAS Lite at Little Beaver State Park

In May 2022, my buddy Eric (WD8RIF), his son Miles (KD8KNC), and I opted to skip Hamvention that year and, instead, plan an extended weekend POTA campout in West Virginia.

Although attending the 2022 Hamvention was a tempting idea, I had already committed to a two-month family camping trip to Québec, Canada, scheduled to begin just a week later. Fortunately, the camping trip provided us with ample opportunities for field radio and was a more budget-friendly alternative.

During a recent review of my videos, I uncovered two videos from my West Virginia journey that had previously remained unpublished.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of FDIM and Hamvention 2024 (happening now), I’ve decided to shake things up by publishing these two videos. With my schedule packed to the brim during Hamvention weekend, I’ve arranged for these posts to go live automatically.

Abbreviated field report

Indeed, as I prepare this report (and the following one), I’m only two days away from heading to Ohio and I’m pressed for time. In lieu of my regular in-depth field report, I’m keeping these two reports simple and short so that I can fit them in my tight schedule.

Little Beaver State Park (US-1815)

Photo Credit: Little Beaver State Park

My first archived field report is from Little Beaver State Park.

We activated this park on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

I didn’t take a lot of photos at Little Beaver–I find that when I activate with others, I often simply forget to take photos.

The site was very pleasant. In fact, it was ideal for POTA on a hot sunny day since there were so many trees and some well-spaced picnic tables flanking a disc golf course.

I set up my Elecraft KX2 and paired it with my Chameleon MPAS Lite.

Gear:

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QSO Map

Here’s what this five-watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Post Activation

Of course, it’s been two years since Eric, Mile, and I performed these activation, but it’s funny what details I do remember.

For one thing, I remember enjoying a brilliant meal and ice cream at Dixie’s Drive-In post-activation.

I also remember taking this photo of Eric and Theo:

Good times!

If you’re interested in reading Eric’s field reports from this camping trip, please visit his website using this link.

Thank you!

Thank you for joining us during this 2022 activation!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon, and the Coffee Fund. While not a requirement, as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo makes it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

It’s not you, it’s the bands! (Also, see you at Hamvention!)

I’ve received a few messages from readers and subscribers about failed park activations over the past few days.

It’s no surprise, really, since we’ve had several extended periods of HF radio blackouts with powerful solar flares and CMEs bombarding our planet.

I experienced this firsthand on Sunday. We celebrated Mother’s Day with a picnic and hike at Tuttle Educational State Forest on our way to visit my father in the hospital in Hickory, NC.

I didn’t plan on activating, so I didn’t bring my radio pack or camera gear. I wanted the day to focus on celebrating my amazing wife. After we finished eating and before hitting the trail, everyone encouraged me to get on the air for a bit.

I didn’t have my radio pack, but I did have the Elecraft KH1 in my EDC pack. I went back to the car, grabbed it, and then started calling CQ POTA after spotting myself on 20 meters.

I only heard crickets. After 25+ CQ POTAs, not a single hunter responded. I knew conditions were terrible, but I figured I’d work at least one station. Nope!

I tuned around to try contacting one of the half dozen or so activators on the air, but I couldn’t hear any of them. In fact, I only heard one ongoing conversation on the entire 20-meter band. Even the FT8 frequency was quiet.

In fact, I only heard one rag chew in progress on the entirety of the 20 meter band. Even the FT8 frequency was pretty quiet.

If I had my radio pack (and my goal would have been to activate) I would have deployed a 40M EFHW and settled in for a very long activation. I’m sure I would have eventually worked 10 stations, but it could have taken a couple of hours or more.

All this to say, if you had a failed activation in the past few days, it’s not you. The HF bands have simply been dead at times.

I packed up the KH1 without making a single contact, which was fine because we were there for family time, and that part was absolutely amazing!

Hamvention 2024

I’m heading to Ohio today for the first leg of my journey to FDIM (Four Days in May) and Hamvention. I’ll be at FDIM all day Thursday and Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.

At Hamvention, you’ll find me at the Halibut Electronics/Ham Radio Workbench Podcast booth #3011 when I’m not browsing the indoor and outdoor exhibits. Stop by and say hi!

Also, during Hamvention, I’ll have very little time to check email and comments, and I expect a backlog by the time I’m back home next Tuesday. I appreciate your understanding.

If you have a pressing question, please sign up for our discussion group at QRPer.net. There are loads of mentors there who can help you!

If you’re also going to Hamvention, travel safely!

Cheers & 72,
Thomas (K4SWL)

POTA at South Mountains: Wet Weather, Flaky Bands, but Brilliant Field Radio Fun!

On Friday, April 26, 2024, I dropped in on a POTA site I hadn’t visited in months: South Mountains State Park (US-2753).

The Clear Creek Access area–on the north west side of the park–is the quickest POTA detour for me as I travel from Asheville to Hickory along the I-40 corridor.

In my previous field report, I mentioned that my trips to Hickory have become less frequent compared to before, when I would go at least once a week. Now, when I do go, it’s typically not an overnight stay, which limits my opportunities for activations.

That Friday, the weather was predominantly wet. As I drove up to the Clear Creek parking area, clouds had rolled in and it was lightly raining. It was one of those days I wish I had packed my TX-500.

Fortunately, I typically set up under a large oak tree at this site and I knew it would offer pretty good protection from the rain.

Upon arriving at the site, I was surprised by the number of parked vehicles. Ordinarily, I would expect to see only one or two other vehicles besides my own, but on this rainy day, there were about a dozen. This is the largest number of vehicles I’ve ever observed at the Clear Creek access.

I was a little worried that the one lonely picnic table at this site would be occupied, but fortunately, it was not.

I later learned that the bulk of the cars were there because a homeschool group was visiting. In fact, at one point, you’ll hear me speaking to one of the homeschool moms about amateur radio in the activation video below. That’s what I love about homeschoolers: they’re always ready to approach and ask questions!

I reached the picnic table and started setting up my field kit.

I had a simple, but effective pairing in mind for this activation: my Elecraft KX2 and Packtenna 9:1 random wire. In the past, I’ve used this combo numerous times with great success.

What I love about a good random wire is just how easily I can hop from one band to another.

Setup was simple and pretty speedy. Also, the tree did keep me pretty dry while it rained lightly.

Gear:

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On The Air

Propagation has been very flaky as of late, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I hopped on the air. Continue reading POTA at South Mountains: Wet Weather, Flaky Bands, but Brilliant Field Radio Fun!

The POTA Babe Resumes Pursuit of Her Goal

by Teri (KO4WFP)

Now that life has settled down, it is time to return to my 60 new-to-me park activations goal for 2024. I currently stand at 24 out of the 60. For #25 on the list, I chose Penholoway Swamp Wildlife Management Area (US-3767) outside of Jesup, Georgia.

This park is a one-and-a-half hour drive from my QTH. I set out around 8 AM this past Wednesday, May 8th for my activation. Rather than drive Interstate 95 most of the way, I opted to drive through rural Georgia which I prefer. The route took me through the communities of Hinesville (just outside of Fort Stewart, home of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division), Ludowici, and Jesup.

As I entered Jesup, I encountered a sizable manufacturing plant next to the Altamaha River. Owned by Rayonier, the plant is the largest speciality cellulose plant in the world, producing 330,000 metric tons a year.

Paper mills are big business in Georgia. According to georgiagrown.com, the state of Georgia accounts for 21% of all US exported pulp and paper (both newly milled & recycled products). I found a 2015 Georgia Forestry Commission report noting there are 22 pulp and paperboard mills in Georgia resulting in $12.5 billion in revenue.

Rayonier cellulose plant

Paper mills often produce a smell like rotten eggs or cabbage. In Savannah, there was the Union Camp paper mill (later purchased by International Paper) on the Savannah River. The joke I remember while growing up in Savannah was that when tourists asked what that smell was, you would reply “the smell of money.” The Savannah mill is still operating and produces a million tons of paper product every year which eventually gets made into cardboard boxes.

Penholoway Swamp Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 10,500+ acre property near the Altamaha River with hunting opportunities. The WMA contains lots of pine stands including several stands of longleaf pines which are maintained by prescribed fire and mechanical thinning. As I mentioned in my Oliver Bridge WMA trip report, longleaf pine areas are important habitat for threatened species such as the gopher tortoise and indigo snake.

evidence of a controlled burn

I thought I would set up my station near the kiosk at the entrance. However, there was not much room and what little there was didn’t offer much shade. Looking at the map I printed from the GA Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website, I decided to drive down Post Road to where it dead-ends into Hinson Road near the Altamaha River. Maybe that section of the park would be more secluded and offer some shade.

park entrance off River Road
Entrance area with kiosk
pine stands in the WMA
a road off the main drag (Post Road)

Sure enough, the section of Hinson Road off to the left of Post Road went a little way before being blocked off by a gate. Oaks, pines, and other trees created a canopy over the road and looked like a perfect QTH off the beaten path.

WMA Map. source: https://georgiawildlife.com/penholoway-swamp-wma
a shady location

Before I left the house, I checked the GA DNR Hunting Regulations booklet as to what might be in season for this WMA. Turkey is currently being hunted, though I didn’t expect on a weekday to run into many hunters. Either way, I made sure to don my blaze orange hat and vest as well as put Daisy’s vest on her before setting up my equipment. Continue reading The POTA Babe Resumes Pursuit of Her Goal

K4AAC & K4RLC: SOTA Babe in the Clouds at Mt. Jefferson

Many thanks to Bob (K4RLC) for the following field report:


SOTA Babe in the Clouds at Mt. Jeff

de Bob (K4RLC)

Two weekends ago, Alanna K4AAC & I took a short trip to the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina to combine a POTA Weekend and Summits-on-the-Air. We stayed at the New River State Park, a small newer state park that the New River (actually the oldest river in North America) transverses. New River SP is also near some SOTA peaks and the idyllic Blue Ridge Parkway, an almost 500 mile highway that follows the Blue Ridge mountains, starting near Cherokee, North Carolina and ending in Northern Virginia.

Courtesy: National Park Service

This was a needed trip to the fresh air and incredible vistas, as this year brought health problems for both of us, especially an Emergency Room visit for Alanna Easter weekend. Fortunately, with great physicians from UNC and med changes, she was able to rebound fairly quickly.

Friday, we set up a trap Inverted-V on a push-up pole, lashed to the campsite split rail fence. For the radio part, the goal was to put the new Elecraft KH1 through it’s paces. While most rave about this new hand-held CW rig, I still prefer my KX2. Anyway, Friday night with 3 watts on 40 CW with the KH1 and the inverted-V. As it was rainy, I ran the coax inside our Winnebago Solis and set up at the kitchen table (the Winnebago Solis is their smallest vehicle, really just an ergonomic camper van built on a Dodge RAM Promaster chassis).

With a 140 watt solar panel on top and two 100-ampHr batteries, you can boon dock off the grid for several days. Had a productive run of Qs sitting at the table, and with several other LICW members.

As the weather report for Sunday was bad, we decided to do a Summits-on-the-Air activation Saturday on near-by Mount Jefferson, a nearly 5000 ft peak named  for its original owners, Thomas Jefferson and his Father. This is a partial drive-up south of the town of West Jefferson (named for ?).

There are several trails on the top, including the Mountain Ridge Trail and the Lost Province Trail. The trails are incredibly well maintained, flat gravel trails, not like the rock scrabble of the AT, but a definite steep incline. Alanna did great climbing  the steep trail, only having to stop a few times to catch her breath.

About half way up, we were in thick clouds, with visibility only a few feet. It was ethereal. At the SOTA activation zone, there is a rock ledge where you can set up….but be careful, as you don’t want to tumble off the ledge, way down to the valley below. At first, Alanna operated in the clouds. She looked like a spirit SOTA babe emerging through the clouds.

Mt Jeff overlook in the clouds

A few hours later, a cold front came through and blew the clouds away. What a difference! We could see 70 or more miles, down the valley and into the nearby state of Tennessee.

Mt Jeff overlook in the clear

Unfortunately, there was a major solar flare, with an A Index of 12, so conditions were very rough. At first, I tried the KH1 as a hand-held with the attached 4 foot whip and one 13 ft counterpoise. To make conditions better, I set up the Elecraft AX1 miniature vertical on a tiny tripod and attached four 13 ft radials, in the trees and over the rock ledge. It was still an effort, but managed to get the required SOTA contacts. As Mt Jeff (W4C/EM-021) is both a SOTA peak and a NC Park natural area, it’s a two-fer. Unfortunately, my luck capped below the required number of POTA contacts. Thanks to all who tried to dig me out. The Reverse Beacon Network spotted  us around the country, but with very weak signals on 20 CW.

Mt. Jeff with KH1 & whip antenna
Mt. Jeff with KH1 & AX1 on mini-tripod

Sunday, the weather was hit and miss, so we decided just to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway (US-3378), stopping at breath taking overlooks and hiking some on the Mountains-to-the-Sea trail. The MST runs almost 1200 miles from the Great Smoky mountains in the western part of NC to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks, where North Carolina meets  the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve section-hiked the MST, just as we’ve done on the Appalachian Trail.

Cooking  over an open campfire is the only way to get that great wood smoke flavor. Our hot dogs and hamburgers by campfire, with guacamole, were delicious.

K4AAC Alanna with guac & campfire

Looking forward to trying the KH1 in decent propagation conditions, as it may be the go-to for SOTA and overseas travel.

All-in-all, the clear clean mountain air and great mountain vistas were really therapeutic for our health, and the kind of medicine you can’t put in a bottle.

73 de K4RLC Bob

Xiegu X6100 v X6200 Feature/Specs Comparison Chart

Many thanks to Don (W7SSB) who shares the following spreadsheet that highlights the key similarities and differences between the Xiegu X6100 and the new Xiegu X6200.

Click here to view the comparison spreadsheet.

The POTA Babe Gets a Partner!

Those of you that read the final article for my spring-break Florida POTA trip know that I recently reconciled with someone dear to me. This man, Glenn W4YES, has moved to Savannah, Georgia and we are in a relationship. He is a CW op and the person behind CW Innovations’ Comprehensive ICR course. He knows how much I love POTA and joined me Friday, May 3rd for an activation.

I could have resumed my quest for 60 new-to-me parks. However, I figured we had enough “new” stuff going on with a new activator and a different set up for Glenn. POTA tends to throw the unexpected at you already and the more variables you add, the more opportunities there are for mistakes (er, learning opportunities) and/or hilarity to ensue. So I chose to return to Evans County Fishing Lake (US-7464), a site already known to me, for our dual activation.

photo: Glenn W4YES

What a gorgeous day! Sunny skies and 71 degrees! The drive is a short (about 50 minutes) and easy one to this park.

Given Glenn would use QRO equipment and didn’t have a chair or knee board like myself, I chose one of the few spots with a picnic table. The site looks out on Bidd Sands lake. We could have shared my QRP set-up but decided to activate at the same time which necessitated two sets of equipment.

road in the park. photo: Glenn W4YES
boaters on the lake

I chose familiarity over reinventing the wheel when it came to picking equipment for Glenn – I grabbed my Yaesu FC-50 tuner and Yaesu FT-891 rig from my ham shack and the Pacific Antenna 2040 trap dipole antenna and SOTABeams travel mast from my equipment stash. This was the set-up I used for POTA before I went QRP with the KX2 and Tufteln EFRW last May. It wasn’t long before a station was set up on the picnic table for Glenn. However, the antenna was another matter.

Glenn’s set up

When I grabbed coax for the antenna, I forgot the connector is a BNC connector which is why I have a coil of RG-174 in my stash. Instead of grabbing that RG-174, I grabbed my 50’ coil of RG-8x. (Doh!) That coax is extremely heavy for the SOTABeams travel mast and, after adding an adapter for the BNC to SO-239 connector, the antenna was hanging over precipitously. It just goes to show how well-made and durable the SOTABeams travel mast is. I was mortified as I like the best possible arrangement for my antennas but Glenn wasn’t. He knew what we had was good enough for contacts (see his QSO map down below) and his thinking turned out to be correct.

20-40 Pacific Antenna

While Glenn finished getting everything in order for his activation, I began setting up for mine. I know this park allows antennas in the trees so it wasn’t long before the trusty Tufteln EFRW was installed. Daisy and I chose a shady location near the antenna, got comfortable, and began my activation.

attaching throw weight to arbor line. photo: Glenn W4YES
granny swing to snag the branch I want. photo: Glenn W4YES
getting down to business! photo: Glenn W4YES

As Glenn was running QRO (the power I usually run on my Yaesu FT-891 is 75 watts) on 20 meters, I began working other bands. I initially wondered if I would have any difficulty running a QRP station so close to a QRO set-up, but I didn’t. Continue reading The POTA Babe Gets a Partner!

Bob takes a look at the (tr)uSDX

Many thanks to Bob (K7ZB) for sharing the following guest post:


A CW Operator’s First Look at the (tr)uSDX by Malahit

by Bob Houf  (K7ZB)  

April 22, 2024 – Gilbert, AZ

I recently bought an assembled (tr)uSDX from Amazon.com [affiliate link] in April, 2024, the mainboard is version 1.2 and the RF board is version 1.0.

Due to antenna limitations – a 17-foot wire antenna with a 6-foot counterpoise hanging from a second-floor condo balcony, matched through a Tokyo Hi-Power antenna coupler for an SWR well below 2:1 – I’ve been operating exclusively on the 20-meter band.

A short coax run into the dining room has given me some great on-air time over the weekend, with good band conditions for 20-meter CW.

The radio powers up when 13VDC is applied and I quickly figured out the menu structure with the minimal documentation available from DL2MAN.

I’ve learned that the filter is best set to 500Hz and it is effective for the conditions, and as the band gets hot with all the various weekend contests, I drop in a little attenuation and soon the radio begins to sound good – actually, for the money, it sounds really good.

QSK set to ON allows my keyer in Iambic B to do a good job and I don’t miss any contacts which are forthcoming across the US from Oregon out to the East coast, on down to the Virgin Islands and then, quite a surprise, my Magnificent 7 Watts is heard for a choice contact with a VK2 down under.

I pound out contest QSO’s all up and down the band, adding in a few SOTA and POTA stations and very few have trouble copying me – I certainly had no problem copying weak signals from them.

I do notice that this is not a $1,500 transceiver, especially in the receiver performance, but for the price the satisfaction derived from effortlessly working CW makes up for any limitations.

During the MST contest, as I write this, stations were piled on top of each other. I found that tightening the filter down to 50Hz wasn’t ideal – 500Hz worked better for my ears. Signals filled the band from 14.030 to nearly 14.050, ranging from very weak to extremely strong. Thankfully, the well-behaved AGC prevented any ear-splitting surprises.

I also tested SSB mode briefly and it works and sounds good, though I’m unlikely to use it much myself.

Overall, this little gem is far from a toy. With its filters, AGC, attenuator, and fine-tuning, it should bring a smile to any CW operator’s face.

Caregiving and QSOs: Returning to a Favorite POTA Site

Those of you who’ve been following my field reports for a few years might have noticed something different:  I haven’t been activating some of my favorite POTA sites as often.  Here’s the reason why, and how I’m working to get back on the air at these special locations:

Most notably:

  • Lake James SP (US-2739),
  • South Mountains SP (US-2753),
  • Lake Norman (US-2740),
  • Fort Dobbs (US-6839),
  • and Tuttle Educational State Forest (US-4861)

These parks are all in or around Hickory, NC, where I used to travel weekly to care for my mom and take her to oncology appointments.

Sadly, she passed away in January. Since my sister has moved in with my dad, my trips to Hickory are now often day trips with the family, squeezed into busy afternoons.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t left much time for radio activations.

I’ve been longing to return to these parks! As an activator, you get attached to familiar spots–at least, I do–they become a home-away-from-home. These parks have definitely been calling me.

Two weeks ago, however, I started driving to Hickory again daily. My father was hospitalized, and I needed to be there for him. Thankfully, he’s much more stable now, in physical therapy rehab, and making progress.

These trips back to Hickory have allowed me to fit in some “radio therapy” at my favorite POTA sites.

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, I finally returned to the one I miss most: Tuttle Educational State Forest (US-4861).

Tuttle is an ideal POTA site: plenty of setup spots, a two-mile loop trail, and incredibly supportive staff. They’ve encouraged me to put up any antenna I want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other visitors. Plus, Tuttle is usually quiet, which I also love.

It was nice to see Tuttle’s entrance sign again!

Once on-site, I picked out a picnic site with shade. It was a sunny spring day and I forgot to bring my wide-brimmed hat (it was in the other car!).

It wasn’t a problem, though, as most of the picnic area at Tuttle is shaded.

That morning, I loaded one of my radio packs with gear and packed my Index Labs QRP Plus.

I was eager to put my Index Labs QRP Plus back on the air at a park. This radio holds sentimental value, taking me back to visiting my first amateur radio field activity in 1997! I paired it with my MM0OPX End-Fed Half-Wave for multi-band operation (40, 20, 15, and 10 meters).

You can almost see the MM0OPX EFHW in this photo!

I decided to pair the QRP Plus with an End-Fed Half-Wave which would give me 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters without needing an external ATU (I had packed my Elecraft T1 as well, but I really didn’t need it).

I had a little over an hour to perform this activation, then head back to the QTH to be with my wife and daughters. It was “Star Trek” night, so I couldn’t be late (priorities–!).

Gear

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On The Air

Even though propagation has been very unstable lately, I’ve gotten some surprising openings on the higher bands, so I decided to start this activation on 10 meters, then work my way down the band until I hit activity. Continue reading Caregiving and QSOs: Returning to a Favorite POTA Site