Category Archives: POTA

Field Report: QRP SOTA and POTA on Big Cedar and Black Mountain in North Georgia

As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the W4G SOTA Fall Campout in October and it was nothing short of amazing.

It was so great to spend an extended weekend camping, hiking, and hopping on the air with other SOTA activators.

I especially enjoyed getting to know Joshua (KO4AWH)–the fellow behind Tufteln products— over that weekend. He needed a campsite and since my buddy Monty had to pull out of the trip due family activities, I was happy to share the tent site with him.  It actually worked out quite well since we could then pair up and car pool to our SOTA and POTA activations.

What follows is a field report for two SOTA activations Joshua and I did back-to-back on Friday, October 14, 2022.

The trail head for both of these summits was only a few miles from our campsite at Lake Winfield Scott.

Gear:

Note that I used the same gear during both SOTA activations all packed in my Spec-Ops Brand SOTA backpack.

Black Mountain and Big Cedar essentially share the same trailhead at the Woody Gap Recreational Area parking lot on Highway 60.

We were on site early enough to grab a parking space. Keep in mind that it was Friday during leaf season, so there were quite a few hikers on the trails that day! In fact, by midday, the parking lot was overflowing with cars.

Almost by flip of coin, we decided to hit Big Cedar Mountain first. Turns out, Joshua had actually hiked to this summit in the past and even met a SOTA activator en route (and I believe this might have been his inspiration to try Summits On The Air!).

Big Cedar Mountain (W4G/NG-023)

The 1.1 mile hike to the summit of Big Cedar Mountain was brilliant and the views were absolutely stunning. Continue reading Field Report: QRP SOTA and POTA on Big Cedar and Black Mountain in North Georgia

N0SA SP4 Mini Morse Magnetic Paddles Review

You might recall my previous announcement about the new  N0SA SP4 POTA/SOTA Mini Morse Code Magnetic Paddle from CW Morse.

The first production run of these paddles sold out very quickly, but I just received the following message from CW Morse about the new paddles:

We’ve finally gotten caught up and will be shipping out Monday & Tuesday [Nov 21/22]! Also have a few more in stock. Making another batch as well.

CW Morse sent me a set of these paddles to evaluate at no charge to me (keep in mind, they’re both a sponsor and affiliate of QRPer.com) and I got a chance to use them Thursday afternoon.

In short?

I love these paddles!

In fact, I think these may become my preferred compact paddles.

I like the size of the finger pieces/pads.  They’re large for such a tiny paddle, which I believe gives them a solid feel while keying. I prefer a larger contact surface area as opposed to thin finger pieces.

The response is very precise, too, and the action can be adjusted by a supplied Allen wrench.

I agree with a few readers who’ve already received their paddles and noted that the carbon fiber reinforced PETG material make the key grippy and very easy to hold.

The size and design is very similar to the SOTA paddle N0SA sold out of last year in a matter of a few hours.

Bonus POTA Activation!

Thursday afternoon, my daughters attended a two hour meeting not even a stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had *just* taken delivery of the new N0SA paddles, so grabbed the shipping box from CW Morse, my new-to-me Elecraft K2/10 (more on that later!), and my PackTenna Random Wire antenna.

I only discovered that my daughters’ meeting was so close to the parkway about 10 minutes before leaving the QTH. This was one of those bonus activations that deserved a little happy dance, especially since I could spend a good 1.5 hours on the air–a proper luxury for this busy father!

I’ll post a full field report and activation video in a couple of weeks, but in a nutshell, 30 meters was on fire. I’d planned to work 20, 30, and 40 meters (to test the K2’s internal ATU) but 30M was so dang busy, I never had time to QSY.

I had not put the K2/10 on the air yet, so all of the settings were default and it had been a few years since I used a K2, so had to re-familiarize myself with the settings. Thirty meters was so consistently busy, I didn’t have a breather to tinker with the settings.

The new N0SA SP4 paddles worked flawlessly.

I expected nothing less from an N0SA design, but still–the feel and action is superb.

I think this paddle may become the new benchmark for where price and quality meet.

I feel like CW Morse could be charging  $112.95 instead of $82.95 for these and I would still be very pleased with that price. I’m glad they’re not, though, because sub-$100 pricing does give new CW ops an affordable quality mini paddle option.

Based on so many reader recommendations, I purchased a BaMaKeY TP-III paddle recently. It’s also a wonderful paddle, but cost me 157.25 Euro which is nearly twice the price of the SP4 paddles. While I think the TP-III paddles are brilliant (and I’ll soon post a review) I actually prefer the N0SA SP4 paddles (note that this is my own personal preference–both are amazing keys). I prefer the SP4’s larger finger pieces.

Size comparison: CW Morse CNC Machined Aluminum Paddles (left) N0SA SP4 Paddles (right)

The great thing about CW Morse is that they have the capacity to handle customer demand of the SP4 paddles–this is something N0SA couldn’t do as a one-man show. I think CW Morse also has economies of scale working in their favor and, no doubt, this is how they continue to be the market leader in terms of quality for price.

If you’ve been looking for quality mini paddles for your compact field kit or shack, look no further. These are a no-brainer. You’ll love them.

Click here to check out the new N0SA SP4 SOTA/POTA paddles at CW Morse.

The enduring Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers

The following article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


The enduring Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers

by Thomas (K4SWL)

Last April, our family went on a camping trip at New River State Park in Ashe County, North Carolina; we had an absolutely brilliant time.

Naturally, as with any camping trip or extended travel, I’d put a lot of thought into choosing the portable transceiver and field kit to take along.

The great thing about camping at a state park is that I can “activate” that park via the “Parks On The Air” (POTA) or “Worldwide Flora and Fauna” (WWFF) programs pretty much anytime: early morning, late afternoon, or even in a late shift well into the night. Or, of course, all of the above.  Since my activation site is also where I’m eating and sleeping, my radio usually gets heavy use.

Before leaving on that April camping trip, I knew what radio I wanted to operate the bulk of the time: my Yaesu FT-817ND. For a lot of reasons which  I’ll delve into later, I think the FT-817ND (or its latest iteration, the FT-818ND) is an amazing QRP field radio.

Despite unstable propagation and a little campground QRM that moved in over the weekend––no doubt from a neighboring RV, chock full of noisy switching power supplies––I found the FT-817ND activation to be a most enjoyable experience. I posted a few field reports and activation videos from my New River activations on QRPer.com

The thing is, each time I publish a field report using the FT-817ND, I receive a string of questions from subscribers and readers. Questions such as…

  • Should I buy a new FT-818 or a used FT-817?
  • Why do you like the FT-817ND so much?
  • What’s the difference between the 817 and 818?
  • How does the FT-817/818 compare with _____ radio?

Most queries, however, are a version of this comment from reader David:

“We have such a wide array of QRP rigs available to us these days, I’m curious what brings you back to the Yaesu for activations? It’s bigger than our more modern radios, with no ATU and more current draw.   I’m just wondering if there is something that you find it does particularly well, or if it’s just ‘because I like to use it,’ which to me is an entirely valid reason, too! My 897 served me well, as does my 891; I’ve had Yaesu handhelds forever, so I’m certainly a fan. I don’t own an 817/8 but they have a devoted following so I just wanted to get your perspective on it.”

Or as another subscriber distilled the question:

“Why choose a legacy design like the 817/818 when newer QRP transceivers have better overall field specs and features?”

Of course, these types of questions are simple enough when it comes to asking, but when it comes to answering, much more complex.

Of course, as I said in my recent TSM article about choosing a field radio, one’s love of a particular radio is by definition quite subjective, and this certainly applies to my response…we all have our own personal preferences.  But behind these preferences are objective facts, such as product’s unique features, specifications, and form factor; let’s take a look at these.

Continue reading The enduring Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers

Vince’s chilly #POTAThon1111 run on Remembrance/Veterans Day 2022

Many thanks to Vince (VE6LK) who shares the following guest post and field report from Alberta, Canada:


#POTAThon1111 – report from the field

by Vince (VE6LK)

My goal is to activate all of the parks I can that have never been activated.

I’m blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world and see these parks up close. One wall in my shack has a map of all the un-activated parks and routes within a day’s drive of me, and most are already planned with routes. There will be more #POTAThons!

[Click all images to enlarge.]

#POTAThon is what I call it when I plan on getting to more than one park in a day. Usually these things aren’t thought of for weeks in advance, they are more like a “tomorrow morning” kind of thing. Opportunistic, if you will.

But first, a note about the day I chose…

November 11 is called different things in different countries, but what we share in common is we honour our Veterans and we give thanks for the freedoms they fought for. So today I paused to give thanks and think of the lives they gave so that I have the freedoms I do today. I would bundle up that giving of thanks into an urgently needed day away from the office.

And with that, #POTAThon1111 was born.

#POTAThon is what I tag these activities on my Twitter feed and the month and day denote when it happened. By definition a #POTAThon is more than one activation in a day; I’m simple like that. #POTAThon1111 is the third such event.

The first was #POTAThon0930, an ambitious day attempting 8 sites with two operators and most of them in backcountry outside of cellular range. You can see the video from that day when you click on this link. We didn’t get to all 8 but we had a hoot trying.

Just before I departed for #POTAThon0930, Thomas Witherspoon K4SWL (you know him, right?) said words to me I’ll never forget: “Vince, just work CW at a speed where you are comfortable, people will adjust. If you work the sacred language, I will find you.

With those words of encouragement, I gave it a go. On that day I worked CW and a bit of SSB, but since then it’s been all CW for POTA. While the propagation wasn’t with Thomas and I on 0930, we did connect some weeks later – KX3 to KX3 no less.

You need to understand that I think I’m terrible at CW, but I also need to let you in on a secret: there’s no such thing as a Bad CW Contact. I explain that concept in more detail on YouTube, and the essence is: just do it and roll with it, warts and all. People adjust their ways and usually their speed. Go out and have fun trying. Continue reading Vince’s chilly #POTAThon1111 run on Remembrance/Veterans Day 2022

Field Report: How I evaluate a new POTA site plus serious QRP fun with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1

On Friday, October 7, 2022, I had a couple of errands to run in/around Morganton, NC. Of course, I always have POTA in mind so squeezed in an activation at nearby Tuttle Educational State Forest that morning.  That activation took longer than expected due to swapping out antennas and radios, but it was a success and quite fun.

After Tuttle, I knew I could fit in one more activation if I made it quick, so I set my sights on Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012), but first I had a couple of errands to run in Morganton!

I visited my friend Hamilton at his ceramics studio, popped by another store to pick up a couple of items, then (on Hamilton’s advice) grabbed lunch at the The Grind Café.

I must say that Hamilton was spot-on. My wrap was delicious!

Just what I needed to fuel another POTA activation, right? Right!

After lunch, I drove to Table Rock Fish Hatchery. The weather was ideal and the leaves were beginning to show color.

At our home in the mountains, we were almost at peak leaf color, but the fish hatchery site is much lower in elevation. The weather was simply ideal.

On days like this, driving to a site is half the fun. Continue reading Field Report: How I evaluate a new POTA site plus serious QRP fun with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1

Guest Post: QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest

QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

I had an opportunity to activate Fort Yargo State Park (K-2177) during the CQ WW DX contest.

Fort Yargo is my local park, about 30 minutes away. The park features a great playground for the kids to play on and many tall trees which are perfect for deploying a wire antenna. There really is not much more I could ask for in a POTA location. Even the noise floor is very low, about S0, so I typically turn on the pre-amp which brings it up to S2-S3 on my Discovery TX-500.

This was very much a last minute plan. I knew the contest was going on which may present some difficulty activating QRP. I knew I would not be calling CQ on 20m where I normally activate and hunting stations could be difficult but likely doable.

There was a bit of rain at the house in the morning, then a promise of drizzle the rest of the day. Not too sure what I would find at the park, but hopefully the rain would hold off and I could get the activation in using the TX-500 without too much worry about it getting wet. I threw in a picnic blanket with a water barrier that promised a bit of protection from the rain if needed it.

I have a go-box setup with my TX-500 and IC-705, as well as several antennas, an ATU, and all cabling and power needed to run FT8 either on my Raspberry PI4 with the TX-500, or on my iPad through the IC-705.

I was taking my wife’s vehicle as she had the car seats needed for the 3 kiddos that were coming along. So, I had to be sure I had everything I needed. There are quite a few additional radio items I keep in the back of my car that I would not have available. But everything should be in the go-box, right?

Go-Box with two full stations, TX-500 and IC-705

After a bit of mist and some rain on the drive over, I planned to setup the TX-500 knowing it would get a bit wet. I tossed the throw line in the tree and pulled up my Tufteln EFHW QRP cut for 20m. In retrospect I probably should have pulled up the EFRW for a bit more band agility.

I tuned around for a few minutes.

Yup, there was not a single free place across 20 meters where I could start calling CQ in the clear. In fact, the stations I listened to for more than a few seconds had someone else start calling right on top of them. 20 meters was indeed crazy.

I could try to hunt some DX with my QRP signal, it would be a fight no doubt, and a nice challenge. After another DX station I tuned to had someone in the States start calling right over top of them, decided not to hunt. Continue reading Guest Post: QRP POTA Activation During the CQ World Wide Contest

QRP DX: A quick POTA break with the Penntek TR-45L on the Blue Ridge Parkway

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I feel pretty lucky to live in an area that is  flush with POTA sites.  It’s not that we have numerous individual parks, but the parks we do have encompass massive portions of the area.

One park, in particular, that literally runs around and through Asheville, NC, is the Blue Ridge Parkway. When I’m in town and have a few free minutes, it’s quite easy to hit the BRP; it’s never far away.  I can set up along the parkway pretty much anywhere, or go to the Visitor’s Center or Folk Art Center if I want to operate from a picnic table. In addition, the Mountains To Sea Trail runs along large portions of the parkway, so it’s very easy to hit it as well.

On Wednesday, September 28, 2022, I took my daughters to a class and had the better part of an hour to play radio. The BRP’s Folk Art Center was only a 10 minute drive from their class, so I made a beeline for the site as soon as I dropped them off.

I had the amazing Penntek TR-45L packed in my car, and decided to pair it with my Tufteln End-Fed Random Wire antenna.

Continue reading QRP DX: A quick POTA break with the Penntek TR-45L on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Jay discovered that his first CW POTA activation wasn’t scary at all!

Many thanks to Jay (W1ASP) who, last week, sent me a note about his first POTA CW activation. I asked if he’d consider writing up a short field report about his experience to share with others and he was happy to do so. Thank you, Jay.


Halloween POTA

by Jay (W1ASP)

Halloween doesn’t have to be scary.

I set out to Bear Brook State Park (K-2643) for my first CW POTA activation.

Bear Brook is relatively close by, its the largest state park in New Hampshire with over 10,000 acres. There’s camping, hiking and biking trails along with an archery course and plenty of swimming and fishing areas.

I didn’t give it much thought about what day it was, just that I had the time to do an activation and it was nice out, what a perfect opportunity to break in the newly assembled kit.

I decided on a spot next to the water and as luck would have it there was a picnic table right there. I took out my gear, set up and proceeded to tune around and listen. The band seemed pretty quiet. I wasn’t sure if I’d get enough QSO’s in to make it an official activation. I decided on 14.038 MHz, I sent QRL? I then held down the memory button, took a deep breath and hit it again to transmit: CQ POTA DE W1ASP

I waited a second or two and used the memory keyer once more, again nothing. I went to the POTA website on my phone and added my activation.

The memory keyer was used for a third time, I noticed a message pop up on my logging app, the Reverse Beacon Network spotted me. It wasn’t too long after, the first call came back to me!

I was nervous and fumbled a bit here and there but once I took my time I was fine, sending their call back and TU UR 599 599 NH BK. I cheated a little and left the CW decoder enabled. I wanted to be sure I had the call correct as I logged my 13 QSO’s. (I swear the 13 wasn’t intentional.) for my first CW park activation! I only realized that it was Halloween while walking back to my truck.

I thought to myself, “that wasn’t scary at all.”

Once I decided that, as an activator I’m in charge of the QSO, I relaxed and it was a lot of fun. I may have made a few mistakes but everyone was patient with me. I later received an email from another Ham in Delaware. He was using the same radio, and referred to them as the perfect “picnic portable radio” we emailed back and forth a few times and I look forward to hearing him on the air again soon.

 

The week before, I finished building my second QCX Mini. The first kit I built was for the 30 meter band around this time last year, this second one is a 20 meter version. I love these little radios, there’s something about these little transceivers that I just can’t seem to put them down.

I took my time making sure it was working properly, I hooked it up in my shack and I had my first QSO with another POTO activator in Maryland just over 400 miles away.  To say I was excited is an understatement!

I planned on putting together a kit about a month ago for POTA and eventually SOTA with the QCX Mini as the radio. I decided on using a small pack, I wanted it to be a self contained kit that had everything I needed to do an activation and nothing extra.

I keep the wire and radios together,  and depending what band I choose to operate on is the one I pack. I’m considering a third kit; maybe a 10m version? I threw the EFHW matching transformer in the bag along with a notebook, mechanical pencil and a battery pack I put together using four 3.2v LifePo batteries. The paddle I’m currently using is a stainless paddle I found on online with a mini CW paddle for backup and set of folding headphones.

I’m looking forward to my next park, this was a great experience. I wanted to learn CW since I became a Ham in 2016, that’s another story of what got me into Ham Radio in the first place.

POTA Plan C: Swapping antennas and rigs at Tuttle Educational State Forest

After the success of my previous day’s activation at Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, I decided to take the Icom IC-703 Plus out for yet another activation.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the IC-703 has not gotten a lot of outdoor time this year because I’ve had issues with the electronic keyer locking up when using the radio with end-fed antennas.

Of course, there are a number of ways to mitigate or radiate the RF that could be coming back to the radio, so at Fort Dobbs, the previous day, I used a simple common mode choke. It seemed to do the trick.

I was curious if using a common mode choke might be the only solution needed to solve this problem, or if I’d need to perform a mod to my IC-703.

I was ready to test the IC-703 again.

I had a fair amount of antenna options in the trunk of my car, so on the way to Tuttle Educational State Forest (on Friday, October 7, 2022), I considered a few options to shake things up a bit.

Since I was feeling comfortable that the common mode choke was taking care of things, I decided to push the limit a bit and deploy an end-fed random wire antenna. I didn’t have any of my mini portable 9:1 random wire antennas in the car (PackTenna, Tufteln, etc.), but I did have another solution: the Chameleon MPAS Lite.

The cool thing about the CHA MPAS Lite is that while it’s primarily designed to be a vertical antenna with counterpoise, it can be reconfigured and deployed a number of ways including as a simple end-fed random wire antenna.

After giving it some thought, I decided it might be fun to deploy it as an inverted V random wire. In fact, here’s a diagram from the MPAS Lite manual of exactly what I planned to do.

I’d be using the MPAS Lite counterpoise as the radiator, so I wouldn’t have the optional second counterpoise as seen in the illustration above. That’s okay, though, because I was feeding the antenna with Chameleon’s 50′ RG-58C/U cable with in-line choke; the shield of the coax would act as the antenna counterpoise.

This is the same coax cable I used the previous day. Continue reading POTA Plan C: Swapping antennas and rigs at Tuttle Educational State Forest

Rich’s Triple Activation Day!

Many thanks to Rich (KQ9L) for sharing the following field report:


Triple Activation Day

by Rich (KQ9L)

I decided to build on the momentum and lessons learned from my last two POTA outings and yesterday [October 29, 2022] completed x3 Activations in one day— a first for me. I wrote a brief description of the day and I hope you enjoy reading about the activations.


Well the weather has been pretty good here in Chicago and Old Man Winter hasn’t made it around to these parts yet and being on a POTA kick lately, I decided see if I could complete several activations in one day. Previously I had completed x2 in one day, but felt that after all that I learned from my last couple activations, I should practice what I learned and go for three.

In my area, there are several POTA sites, but one area to the south of me seemed to be the best location to accomplish my goal. The area has a unique geographic feature and historically interesting landmark which added to the lure of the area. The region centers around the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Here is a quick history lesson courtesy of Wikipedia:

The Illinois and Michigan canal was build in 1848 and served as a connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Running 96 miles, it connects Bridgeport in Chicago to LaSalle-Peru. Why was this important? This connect helped establish Chicago as the transportation hub of the US and linked by water the East coast to the Mississippi River and from there the Gulf of Mexico. Before the railroad era in the US, this water way dominated transportation.

Pretty cool!

Along the canal are numerous little hamlets and one in particular, Morris, Illinois had x3 State Parks all within about a 5 mile radius. Perfect!

First stop was Gebhard Woods State Part (K-0995). The park is only 30 acres, but affords activities for hikers, fisherman, campers and picnickers. There is even an eBike rental facility so the park has broad appeal to many people, including hams!

I arrived pretty much right after sunrise and was greeted by fog and a thin layer of frost on the grass and picnic tables. Though beautiful this frost and fog, did not make for a fun activation. Temps were in the upper 30’s F, but with the fog the air felt damp and overall much cooler.

I hurriedly set up my PackTenna 9:1 antenna on my collapsible mast and leaned it up against a nearby tree. I had a separate counterpoise and feed line with a choke built into it…more on this later.

Continue reading Rich’s Triple Activation Day!