Category Archives: News

Poor Propagation: Can the Elecraft AX1 handle band conditions during this urban POTA activation?

Typically, when I do field activations while on vacation, I squeeze them in and around our family activities and travels. This is quite easy to do because our family enjoys a good hike and we love our parks.

On July 4, 2022 (Independence Day in the US!) my wife and daughters had their own activities planned for the day which opened up nearly a full day–at least a good 5-6 hour window–for me to do park activations solo.

Château Frontenac in Old Québec

I had numerous park choices in/around Québec City–an area rich with POTA sites.

I thought that I could either spend the day hitting one park further afield or hit multiple parks clustered together.

I chose the latter, so I started researching the POTA Map for Québec City.

In truth, pretty much any of the parks in Québec City could have been pieced together for a multiple park run. In fact, there are a number cluster in the city center and in Old Québec, but I was keen to explore a little cluster of parks I noted in the Saint-Foy area west of Québec City:

The map below shows just how close these four parks are to each other. Very doable!

These parks were so close to each other, I considered parking in the middle and simply walking to each site, but after reviewing the distance between the potential activation sites at each parks more carefully, I realized I wouldn’t have the time to activate all four parks if I walked it.

It was this activation that reminded me how brilliant it would be to own a folding bike like by buddy Jim (N4JAW) uses on each of his nearly daily POTA activations. With a bicycle, I think I could have actually activated these more quickly than I could with a car because there’d be no need to find a parking spaces at each site.

The Plan

I decided I’d try to hit my four parks in this order:

The only park I’d visited in advance was Parc Cartier-Roberval so I knew I’d need a little time to find activation sites, etc. at the other three. If the activations took longer than expected to validate with 10 stations logged, I might have to skip the final park.

Interestingly, three of these four parks were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) thus had never been activated for POTA. Continue reading Poor Propagation: Can the Elecraft AX1 handle band conditions during this urban POTA activation?

Activating Parc National des Grands-Jardins as a POTA All-Time New One!

When I first started doing activations in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program, many of our regional parks in North Carolina were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones).

An ATNO is what it sounds like: a park that is in the POTA network but has never been activated.

ATNOs were plentiful in the early days–before the rise of POTA. In those early days, I found that if a park was even slightly inconvenient to access, it would be an ATNO.

In fact, I reckon that nearly 40% of the parks I activated in 2020, were ATNOs. This wasn’t because I made a particular effort to hit ATNOs. Rather I made an effort to activate unique parks that year; it was the beginning of the pandemic and this was a fun activity for me–an excuse to explore regional public lands–so ATNOs were among them.

With POTA participation having grown by orders of magnitude in the past few years–a very welcome thing indeed–ATNOs in North Carolina are extremely rare. I just checked and we have two ATNO parks out of 230 parks in NC. I can pretty much guarantee that our two ATNOs have either just been added to the database, or they’re very difficult to access.

POTA hasn’t been in Canada as long as it has in the US and, in some regions, it’s just catching on.

Another discovery was the Domaine de Maizerets–a very popular urban park in Québec City/Beauport that I activated as an ATNO in June 2022.

I was surprised to find that there were still a lot of ATNOs in/around Québec City because the area has a very active ham radio community.

Parc national des Grands-Jardins (VE-0499)

One of my favorite parks in Québec is Parc national des Grands-Jardins. This is a SEPAQ park located in the Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve.

As we were plotting our summer trip to Canada, I made a list of the parks I wanted to activate and Grands-Jardins was at the top of that list.

When we spend the summer in Québec, we always fit in a few visits to Grands-Jardins. The mountains there are beautiful with rounded tops and rocky faces. Via ferrata is a very popular summer activity in the park, but our family enjoys the hikes, the overlooks, and I especially love the back country roads!

I didn’t realize until a few days before attempting this activation that Grands-Jardins was still an ANTO Continue reading Activating Parc National des Grands-Jardins as a POTA All-Time New One!

Arborist throw lines: Ideal lengths, weights, and packs for field radio

Many thanks to Barry (WD4MSM) who writes:

Thomas,

I thoroughly enjoy the website and movies!

Could you answer one question?

How much arborist throw line do you take into the field? 150’ – 100’ – less?

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

Barry WD4MSM

Great question, Barry!

I basically have four variations of throw line kits.

You’ve asked about line lengths, but I’m also asked frequently about the throw weight sizes and throw line bags as well.

First, let’s take a look at my kit variations, then I’ll share my thoughts on throw line lengths, weights, and bags. Note that many of these products are Amazon so there are affiliate links:

Throw Line with folding cube

One is my original Weaver throw line kit made up of two parts:

The line length is 150 feet (45.72 meters).

I tend to use this throw line when I’m doing a POTA activation very close to my vehicle. It’s lightweight, but a bit bulky to take on a long hike.

Compact Arborist Throw Line Kit

This kit is identical to my large folding cube kit above, but the throw weight is 12 oz and I store it in a small Weaver stuff sack.

Continue reading Arborist throw lines: Ideal lengths, weights, and packs for field radio

Fighting mozzies and logging POTA hunters at Cap Touremente

One of our favorite national parks in the Côte-de-Beaupré region of Québec, Canada is Cap Tourenemente National Wildlife Area.

When my family spends the summer in Québec we typically visit it several times, especially since it’s never far from where we stay.

Thing is, each entry into Cap Touremente costs about $20 or so (unless we purchase an annual pass), but it’s worth it for the hikes, and the scenery. We also like supporting parks with our entry fee.

For a POTA activation–? I don’t need access to the main park, especially if the family isn’t with me. I did a little research and found a spot within the NWA on the “free” side of the park gates.

The spot is a basically a wildlife viewing area with a small grass road that is flanked by marsh land near the town of Saint-Joachim.

Of course…

Marsh Land = Mozzies

Before heading to Cap Touremente on Monday, June 27, 2022, I sprayed a “healthy” dose of insect repellent on my clothing. Having been to this spot several times in the past, I knew what awaited me: mosquitos. Lots of them.

We have mosquitos back home in the mountains of North Carolina, of course, but not in the quantities you find in marshy areas along the north shore of the St-Lawrence.

That Monday, though, it was very gusty. In the morning we had heavy rains, then a front pushed that through in the early afternoon opening up clear skies and very gusty winds. Mosquitos don’t do well in the wind, so my hope was the wind would offer an extra layer of protection.

Spoiler alert: The winds did help to some degree, but Canadian mosquitoes are heartier than our Carolina varieties.

Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area (VE-0012)

I had been on the air earlier in the day and conditions were truly in the dumps–at least, at my latitude. I knew it wouldn’t be a quick activation, so I allowed myself extra time to complete the activation.

On the 10 minute drive to the site, I decided to pair the Elecraft KX2 with the TufetIn 9:1 random wire antenna that I configured with a 31′ radiator and a 17′ counterpoise. I found this combo very effective in the past and I love the frequency agility of random wire antennas especially when the bands are rough and it becomes a game of band hopping to see what portions might be open. Continue reading Fighting mozzies and logging POTA hunters at Cap Touremente

A portable transceiver for QRP SSB SOTA?

This morning, I was browsing the drafts folder of QRPer.com–the place where I store ideas, images, notes, and future posts.

I discovered a draft post with the following inquiry from Motters (M7TRS) dating back several months. I suspect Motters may still be contemplating this decision so perhaps we can chime in with some suggestions and advice [apologies, OM, for the delay!].

Motters writes:

Advice required.

I want to get into QRP SOTA portable voice HF.

My dream station would the flagship IC-705 due to the vhf, uhf and HF plus the waterfall. I am on a shoe sting budget so have to choose wisely for my radio as this will probably be a one time hit for a long time.

The radios in the list are IC-705, FT-818ND, Xiegu G90 and the Xiegu X6100.

The antenna would probably be a linked dipole. Which radio would you choose?

Question open to anyone

Motters (M7TRS)

Great question, Motters. The radios you’ve chosen range anywhere from $450 – 1400US (of course you know the prices in GBP) so much, of course, depends on your budget.

Knowing SSB is your mode of choice, I would likely focus on radios that could deliver 10 watts or more of power output. You’re in the UK and plan to do SOTA ops there, so 5 watts will work perfectly fine, but I’ve always felt like 10 watts SSB is a proper QRP “full gallon.” Many QRP contests consider 10 watts proper QRP in SSB mode. The difference between 5 watts and 10 watts is about 3dB of gain.

The most expensive option–the Icom IC-705–would be a superb choice in so many respects. It would cover all HF/VHF/UHF frequencies, it has a rechargeable battery pack, it’s fairly lightweight, and has excellent features for an SSB operator. With an external battery attached, it’ll yield 10 watts. It also sports superb performance. Since you’ll be using a resonant antenna, you won’t notice the lack of an internal ATU.

You can’t go wrong with the IC-705, but I think you know that already since you describe it as your dream radio.

Here’s my Icom IC-705 review.

On the opposite end of the price spectrum is the Xiegu G90 and I believe that radio might serve you very well. It’s not as compact as the IC-705, has no internal battery, only covers HF, and has no SSB message memories. That said, it can output up to 20 watts and has a superb built-in ATU should you ever need one (my experience is that in SOTA, you will!). It’s a solid radio and well-loved by many in the world of field radio.

Here’s my 2020 review of the Xiegu G90.

I’ve used my Yaesu FT-817ND on numerous SOTA activations and I love it. It’s extremely durable, has great performance characteristics, and sports HF/VHF/UHF in all modes. I love the fact that it has two antenna ports! Continue reading A portable transceiver for QRP SSB SOTA?

A stealthy and challenging activation at Parc de l’Île-Lebel

Sometimes, I like going a little stealth.

Stealthy field activations, for me, aren’t about activating where I shouldn’t (in fact, by definition, activations can only take place on public lands) it’s just fun!

As I’ve mentioned before, when I choose to be a bit stealthy, it’s strategic. I consider one of the privileges of doing POTA and SOTA activations is that I’m often the first ham others encounter out in the wild. It gives activators like me a chance to be a ham radio ambassador. I like giving our wonderful past time a proper introduction and even enticing others to join in on the fun.

That said, there are times when my on-the-air time is very limited and I want fewer interruptions. That’s when being a bit stealthy can help me get in/out quickly.

It simply attracts less attention.

I tend to be less conspicuous in a park when I’m in a busy area with lots of people and activity. I don’t want my operation to get in the way of others’ enjoyment of a park. I don’t want someone to trip on or get tangled up in my wire antenna while tossing a frisbee, for example.

Also, when it’s super busy and I’m pressed for time, I’d rather get the activation done and then move on.

Parc de l’Île-Lebel (VE-0967)

On Sunday, June 19, 2022, our family was traveling from Ottawa, Ontario to our final destination of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec where we’d spend the next six weeks. Continue reading A stealthy and challenging activation at Parc de l’Île-Lebel

IW0HK and IZ0FYL activate Gran Sasso (I/AB-301)

Many thanks to my buddy Andrea (IW0HK) who posted the following field report to the SOTA reflector and has kindly allowed me to re-post it here on QRPer.com:


IW0HK and IZ0FYL: A climbing route to Gran Sasso (2912 mt.) I/AB-301

by Andrea (IW0HK)

Today I am very happy to be able to share with you a splendid and incredible day in the mountains and radio: together with Luca Iz0Fyl we have decided to activate the western peak of Corno Grande I/AB-301 2912 mt. the highest peak of the Central Apennines, the most important mountain for us enthusiasts who live in central Italy. The choice was not to climb the classic “normal” route but think of a climbing route with passages of 1, 2 and 3 degrees called “direttissima” which allows you to reach the summit through a very steep channel.

Today was with variable weather, rain was expected but in the afternoon, so we left early from Rome and went to Abruzzo. In two hours by car we reached Campo Imperatore where the path towards the Gran Sasso begins. In about 2 hours and 20 minutes we reached the top, making several mountaineering passages but without encountering great difficulties. Continue reading IW0HK and IZ0FYL activate Gran Sasso (I/AB-301)

Field Report: First POTA activation as VY2SW in Ottawa!

As I mentioned in my previous field report, the afternoon I arrived in Canada, I somehow managed to pass my Basic exam with honors.

This granted me full HF privileges and I even obtained the callsign VY2SW within an hour of requesting it the following morning.

No visit to Ottawa would be complete without snagging this photo!

Of course, I was very eager to use the new callsign on the air!

Finding a park

A few weeks prior to our trip, I checked out all of the POTA sites within a short distance of our hotel in Ottawa.

Turns out, there are loads of parks in the Ottawa/Gatineau region so I was spoiled for choice!

Since Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, there’s no shortage of provincial and national parks in the area.  (Washington DC is very similar in this regard.)

What, at first, surprised me was the number of parks that had either never been activated or had only been activated a handful of times. Taking a closer look in advance and with the assistance of Google Street View, I could see that many of these entities are simply historic buildings/sites or formal parks in the city with no easy means of activating without special permission.

Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve (VE-1596)

Shortly after noting on QRPer that I’d be in Ottawa a few days, a reader named Andrew reached out and offered advice about local parks. He suggested the Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve since it was only a 15 minute drive from our hotel. We made plans to meet up there for the activation.

Not only was Hog’s Back convenient, but it was also a large park with loads of spots where one could set up and play radio. No doubt this is why it’s one of the most popular POTA spots in the Ottawa area. Continue reading Field Report: First POTA activation as VY2SW in Ottawa!

Steve’s Homebrew Vertical Antenna for POTA

Many thanks to Steve (KM4FLF/VA3FLF) for sharing the following guest post:


A Great Homebrew Vertical Antenna

by Steve (KM4FLF/VA3FLF)

Last spring, I was going through my many boxes of ham “stuff” looking for items to sell at our club tail gate sale. I came across a couple of Hustler SM Series Resonators (20 /40 Meters) that I had acquired. I am not sure where I obtained them, but I decided they were keepers.  That decision turned out to be the first step in a year long process that has given me an awesome homebrew vertical antenna.

After doing a little research I found the resonators and accessories at most of the online ham dealers. They are used primarily as mobile and marine antennas. I had seen where a ham had used these on a ground stake as a portable antenna as well. I ordered a Hustler MO1 mast which is 54 inches tall and thought I would attempt to make a portable POTA antenna.

Antenna base

I had a couple of small aluminum plates that I drilled out a few holes. I cut out a notch to put a SO-239 Stud Mount on the plate as my antenna base. I now had a ground plate, connector, and antenna with resonator. By putting a stake in the bottom of the plate, I was able to get the antenna to stand up. The Hustler resonators have a hex screw for tuning that can be loosened. The antenna can be adjusted for resonance by lengthening or shortening the radiator length. After adjusting the radiator my SWR was still horrible on the two bands.

Antenna base close-up

I had some 14-gauge wire laying around and attached it to the plate using carriage bolts and nuts for my ground radials. I didn’t think about the length of the wires at this point but went with three or four lines around 20 to 30 ft. I was able to use my vertical a few times with moderate success. My SWR on 20 and 40 Meters was around 2:0 to 1 at best. It was bulky and very delicate. Sometimes screwing in or unscrewing the MO1 the SO239 would slide off the edge of the aluminum plate. I put away my contraption for the winter and decided to move on to something else.

In April of this year, I wanted to revisit my project. Continue reading Steve’s Homebrew Vertical Antenna for POTA

En Route to Canada: An impromptu POTA activation at Swatara State Park

If you’ve been following my field reports and activation videos, you’ll note that I’m almost two months behind posting them at present.

Much of this is due to the fact that I made numerous activations during a camping trip at New River State Park with my family in April and many more activations during a camping trip with WD8RIF and KD8KNC in West Virginia in May.

May was an extremely busy month for me family-wise and I was fitting in Canadian Basic Exam prep during any free time I had because my goal was to write the Canadian Basic exam within the first few days of arriving in Canada.

(Read this previous post for more detail.)

Looking at my field report back log, I’ve got a few more reports from both the NC and WV camping trips, but I’ve decided to put them on hold for a bit so that I can post more recent ones. Plus, it might be fun posting late spring field reports this fall!

One of the things I love about writing these field reports is re-living the activation.

Objectif Québec

We began our road trip to Canada on the morning of June 15, 2022.

Our first stop would be Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the second stop Ottawa, Ontario (for three nights), and then our final destination of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec. All in all, we’d log 1,306 miles/2,102 km not including side trips.

Although I sort of fantasize about all of the amazing parks I could activate during our travels north, in reality this road trip was all about reaching the destination in fairly short order to save on hotel expenses en route.

The first leg of the trip equated to a good 10 hours on the road including stops to refuel, stretch our legs, and grab a bite to eat.

That first day, I’d completely written off the idea of performing a POTA activation assuming we’d arrive in Pine Grove, PA too late and too tired.

Turns out, though, we got an earlier start than we had anticipated, so arrived in Pine Grove around 16:00 local.  That afternoon, everyone was eager to take a stroll or hike to shake off all of those hours of sitting in the car.

I checked my POTA Map and then cross-referenced it with  my All Trails app to find the closest park with proper hiking trails. Turns out Swatara State Park met both criteria and was a mere 8 minutes from our hotel. Woo hoo!

Honestly: Swatara couldn’t have been more convenient for us.

Swatara State Park (K-1426)

Swatara had multiple access points along the highway, so we simply picked one and drove to the end to find a trailhead and picnic table under the trees. It was ideal. Continue reading En Route to Canada: An impromptu POTA activation at Swatara State Park