Category Archives: POTA

Field Report: Pairing the LDG Z-100 Plus, Icom IC-705, and Chameleon Emcomm III Portable

Last Tuesday (April 27, 2020), I grabbed my radio gear and my boots then headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick morning activation.

There were three factors motivating me: 1.) the weather was amazing 2.) I had three free hours in my schedule and 3.) I was eager to pair the LDG Z-100 ATU with the Icom IC-705 for the first time.

Hazel–my canine companion–was as eager to hit the field as I was.

“Let’s go, Dad!”

When she heard me grab my boots, she met me at the door with tail wagging.

I did plan to hit the Blue Ridge Parkway, but had not decided on an actual site. The lowest hanging fruit (easiest sites to reach from the QTH) are the Folk Arts Center and the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters. I wanted more altitude, though, so we drove to the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area.

This is a favorite spot for our family, but this time of year can be quite busy–especially around noon. I hoped that I could beat the crowds by arriving early.  We pulled into the parking lot around 9:00 AM and were one of the only cars there (score!).

Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378 NC)

Hazel and I found a concrete picnic table overlooking the parking area and I quickly deployed the CHA Emcomm III Portable over a short tree with my arborist throw line. (Have I mentioned before how AMAZING an arborist throw line is? Why yes, I have!)

Gear:

On The Air

I made a video of the entire activation including pairing the Z-100 Plus ATU with the IC-705 via the supplied command cable.  In true K4SWL style, I didn’t read the Z-100 Plus owner’s manual or connect the Z-100 Plus to the IC-705 prior to recording.

Frankly, I forgot to read the manual I wanted to show what it was like pairing the Z-100 Plus and IC-705 for the first time without having even referenced the manual.  Fortunately, it couldn’t have been an easier process: connect the command cable, and go into the ATU function menu to activate the tuner.

I started my activation on 80 meters and–although the band was dead quiet–I worked K8RAT, WD8RIF, K4JAZ and ND1J in about six minutes.

Next, I moved up to 40 meters where I worked nine more stations in about thirteen minutes.

Finally, I moved to the 30 meter band where I worked two more stations in about five minutes.

One first for this activation was working K8RAT in north central Ohio on all three bands! His signal was incredibly weak on 30 meters, but I recognized his sideswiper “fist” or operating style.

At the end of the activation, I tested the Z-100 Plus by having it match the Emcomm III Portable random wire all the way up the band to 6 meters. It did a fine job.

No surprise here as the Z-100 Plus is a well-loved ATU that’s been on the market for quite some time already. At $150 it’s a proper bargain of an ATU. Unlike the mAT-705 Plus which only pairs with the IC-705, the Z-100 Plus is RF-sensing and can pair with any transceiver on the market.

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation including pairing the Z-100 Plus with the IC-705 for the first time:

QSOmap

Here’s a QSO map of the entire activation:

This was a very enjoyable activation at one of my favorite Blue Ridge Parkway picnic areas. It was especially pleasant to have the place all to ourselves–a true rarity! I think Hazel was a bit bummed that our local red squirrels (we call them “Boomers”) weren’t out in full force. They’re proper “Squirrel TV” for her since she must be on a leash on the parkway and can’t chase them as she does at home.

If you’re ever travelling the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is a great area. As I mention in the video, the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area also borders a vast tract of land–accessible by a forest service road on the site’s driveway–where the Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land overlap for a POTA two-fer (here’s a previous report including this two-fer).

Craggy Dome–a SOTA summit–is also very close by. In addition, Mount Mitchell State Park is only 20-25 north on the parkway and offers up both a POTA site and SOTA summit. So many possibilities on this part of the BRP! One could easily activate four parks and two summits in the space of a few hours.

I hope you enjoyed this field report!

Thomas (K4SWL)

Activating The Pinnacle: Amazing SOTA & POTA fun with the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite

Last Tuesday (April 20, 2021), I decided to make a detour to a park I had never visited before: Crowders Mountain State Park (K-2726).

It’s actually quite odd that I’ve never activated this park during the weekly trip to do a little caregiving for my folks: Crowder’s Mountain State Park is a reasonable detour especially compared to some of the more remote parks I’ve visited recently.

What’s really impressive about Crowders Mountain is that although it’s not as large as a national park and it’s very close to the city of Gastonia, it has no less than two unique summits that qualify for Summits On The Air: The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain.

Both summits are accessible from the main park visitors’ center via a well-maintained trail network.

The propagation forecast looked pretty grim and after my last activation, I thought I might increase my chances of success by hiking to both summits in one visit. This made sense because I would only need 4 contacts per summit to have a valid SOTA activation and I could combine the contacts from each summit to hit 10 total contacts to activate the state park.

I decided to call the park and ask how long it would take to hike to both summits: the ranger told me “about 5 hours, or less if you’re fast.” That meant that once I added in my setup/pack up times and on-the-air time, I would be staring at a minimum of 7-8 total hours.

I (wisely) decided to pass on that opportunity. I simply didn’t have enough time in my schedule for that many hours at the park. That, and I didn’t want to feel rushed–I wanted to enjoy my outdoor time.

I decided instead to activate one summit and simply plan on spending more time on the air then plan to come back to the park for the second summit on a different day.

Before going to bed Monday night, I checked out the trail map and decided to activate The Pinnacle.

Crowders Mountain State Park (K-2726)

I arrived at Crowders Mountain State Park around 11:00 AM local–the weather was nearly ideal.

I had pre-packed all of the radio gear and supplies in my GoRuck GR1 rucksack, so once I arrived, I grabbed the pack, put on my hiking boots, a hat, and hit the trail.

I’ve read that Crowders Mountain State Park can get very busy and it’s no surprise as the park is within easy reach of Shelby, Gastonia, and the Charlotte Metro area. Fortunately, I was visiting on a Tuesday morning, and while I saw at least 30+ cars parked in the main parking lot, I passed other hikers only a few times on the Pinnacle trail. It’s a sizable park and can easily swallow 30 groups of day hikers!

I followed the orange-blazed trail to the summit of The Pinnacle.

The hike was very enjoyable and, frankly, not what I would consider strenuous, but it had enough elevation change to feel like a proper hike. I allowed an hour to reach the summit, but it only took about 40 minutes or less.

Near the summit, there’s a fork in the trail: if you take a right, it leads to the summit, if you take a left, it’ll lead you on a much longer Ridgeline Trail that will eventually take you into Kings Mountain State/National Park–you’d better believe I’ll try that one day in the future! It would be fun to activate two parks and a summit all on foot.

I took a right at the fork and the .2 mile long trail zig-zagged up the side of The Pinnacle.

I was a little surprised to be greeted by the sign above.  It’s true that the summit area is quite rocky and you have to watch your step, but this warning is a bit extreme in my opinion (especially since the SOTA activation I did with my daughter recently was orders of magnitude more dodgy!).

If you are activating The Pinnacle and don’t want to climb up the rocky path, no worries. I’m certain the area where the sign is located is well within the SOTA summit activation zone.

The Pinnacle (W4C/WP-010)

Although The Pinnacle is only a “one point” summit, when you reach the top you’re greeted by some impressive views.

The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain are both outlying mountains so are the tallest points in the area offering beautiful, long-range vistas.

There were perhaps a half dozen hikers hanging out on the summit. I found a quite spot to set up on the side of the summit only a few meters from the top.

Gear:

On The Air

During the hike, my buddy Mike (K8RAT) sent a text noting that propagation on 40 meters was non existent. He suggested I play on 20 meters and above, possibly including 30 meters.

Later on, I found out that Mike was 100% correct. Several POTA activators that day mentioned on the POTA Facebook group that 40 meters was completely wiped-out.

I installed the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna next to me. I’ll admit that I was a little worried it might be too rocky to plunge the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike in the ground, but it turned out not to be the case.

The CHA MPAS Lite has really proven itself as an invaluable SOTA antenna. While the stainless spike adds weight to my pack, it’s less fussy than dealing with guy lines and telescoping fiberglass poles and much quicker to set up.  You do need enough ground to plunge that spike into, but if there are trees and bushes on the summit, it’s probably doable!

I started recording a video (see below) of the activation, spotted myself to the SOTA network (even though it would have likely auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network)  and hopped on 20 meters.

Solar Flare!

I had no idea at the time, but we were experiencing a solar flare which explained why 40 meters was completely wiped out.

The effect on 20 meters was simply epic.

I called CQ and was instantly rewarded with a long, continuous string of stations. Within 26 minutes, I had already worked 23 stations with 5 watts and the MPAS Lite vertical. A stark contrast to my previous POTA activation.

The view from my shack

And here’s the thing: the flare opened up 20 meters to local/regional stations as well. I worked stations as close as South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee–this is simply unheard of normally. Of course, stations on the west coast were also booming in.

I was a little surprised I didn’t log any European stations on 20 meters, but I suspect they were having a difficult time competing with the strong signals from North America during the flare.

I short: the band opening was amazing fun and even renewed my faith in our local star just a wee bit. (Ha ha!)

After playing on 20 meters, I decided to try 17 meters.

Wow! Without a doubt, I worked more stations on 17 meters in short order than I’ve ever worked during a field activation. In 10 minutes, I worked 12 stations. As with 20 meters, the flare opened up stations that would normally be in my 17 meter skip zone.

Here I was worried about logging the ten stations needed to validate my park activation!  After logging 35 total contacts, I decided to pack up.

Here’s a QSO Map of the activation (click to enlarge):

Video

Here’s one of my unedited real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation:

(Click here to view on YouTube)

Although the weather app on my phone wasn’t showing any afternoon thunderstorms nearby, there were some patchy dark clouds forming on the other side of the summit and the winds were shifting, so I decided to call it a day and enjoy the hike back down the mountain.

Fortunately, the clouds never amounted to anything but I don’t take my chances with spring weather–it’s fickle, especially along the North Carolina/South Carolina line. That, and frankly, I needed to stick to my travel schedule.

I took my time on the way back down and simply soaked up the outdoors.

I love doing field activations of all types, but I’ll admit that I’m becoming addicted to Summits On The Air because of the hiking opportunities it presents.

There are few things in the world I enjoy more than hiking.

When I’m on a trail, all of my concerns seem to dissolve.

Perspective

On the return hike, I passed by a group of three hikers. All of them were staring at their phones while hiking and one tripped on a tree root in the path. They caught themselves before hitting the ground.

I’ll admit I was thinking at the time that mother nature was saying, “Hey! Wake up, disconnect and enjoy the beauty around you! You need some perspective!” 🙂

I’m already looking forward to visiting Crowders Mountain State Park again.  I believe I’ll return within a month and hike to Crowders Mountain, activating both the summit and park.

Sometime, I’d like to hit the trails as soon as the park opens and, perhaps, activate both Crowders Mountain and Kings Mountain parks on foot. That would likely take an entire day when I include the time on the air, but it would also be a lot of fun.

I was telling my wife yesterday that I actually enjoy writing up the odd field report on QRPer. It hit me that there are a couple of reasons why…

For one, a number of readers have reached out and thanked me because they enjoy living vicariously through my field reports and videos.  I get it. My family and I enjoy watching YouTube videos of travelers around the world. We avoid the personality-driven channels and focus more on those that are less “produced.” It gives us an opportunity to travel to, say, Spain, France, Finland, or Turkey when we can’t presently do so. It pleases me to no end thinking that my reports and videos could, even in some very small way, offer a little vicarious travel to others.

Secondly, writing up these reports gives me an opportunity to re-experience some of my field time and sort through photos I might have taken along the way. Although it takes a few hours to write a report, I truly appreciate the experience.

Thank you, dear reader, for spending time with me during this outing!


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Completing a field activation when band conditions are poor

Sure…the sign is a little rough, but the site is nearly ideal.

Lately, when I hit a park or summit to do an activation, I allow a little extra time.

We’re truly in the doldrums of the solar cycle at present, but we’re heading into Solar Cycle 25 with the promise of more sun spots and better propagation.  (At least, the ARRL is banking on it!)

If you’ve been doing field activations these past few years, you know how to cope when there are few or no sun spots. You might get less DX contacts, but you can still validate an activation easily enough.

But some days, propagation is unstable or wiped out altogether based on the particles, winds, and CMEs our local star might decide to hurl our way.

Last week (April 12, 2021), I stopped by a new-to-me site: Table Rock State Fish Hatchery.

It was very much an impromptu activation as I decided to visit the site on my way back home after spending time with my parents. Max (WG4Z) mentioned that he had recently visited the site and it had easy access–I checked the map and saw that it was, perhaps, a 30 minute detour.

Table Rock State Fish Hatchery (K-8012)

I arrived on site and found a number of concrete picnic tables and a load of trees ideal for suspending a wire antenna.

Before I deploy an antenna–a wire or vertical–I always check for power lines or cables in the vicinity. This site did have them so I deployed my antenna in such a way that there would be no possible way they could touch.

Always look for power lines!

My buddy Mike (K8RAT) told me in advance that this would be a challenging activation because band conditions were so rough, so I decided to deploy my Chameleon CHA MPAS 2.0 antenna as a random wire instead of a vertical.

I didn’t have my instruction sheet for the MPAS 2.0 so forgot to use the strain relieve at the base of the antenna (not a big deal) and I added a counterpoise wire. I knew it would radiate well.

Next time, I won’t forget to attach the strain relief!

I paired the Icom IC-705 with my mAT-705 Plus ATU knowing this would give me frequency options across the bands. Setup was actually very simple.

Gear:

I hopped on the air assuming 40 meters might be somewhat fruitful.

Turns out, it was not.

Contacts were slow coming and I could tell conditions were very unstable. In the span of 30 minutes, I had only worked five stations. That’s a very slow rate compared with a typical activation.

I eventually made my way to the 60 meter band and was very happy to rack up an additional three contacts in fairly short order. (I often forget about 60 meters, but it’s a brilliant band and proper blend of 80 and 40 meter characteristics.

When I felt like I’d worked all available stations on 60 meters, I went back up to 40 meters and finally added three more contacts in 20 minutes.

If I’m being honest, this activation felt like a proper struggle. I was fully prepared to call it quits without having logged 10 stations to validate my activation simply due to my schedule. This activation took me to the threshold of my available time.

In fact, I recorded one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation, but decided I wouldn’t even bother posting it because…well…it would be too long and had so few stations calling in.

In the end, though, and against my better judgement, I uploaded the video to YouTube because, frankly, activations like this are a reality in 2021.

Video

In fact, once I returned home, I looked at the POTA and SOTA discussion groups and there were numerous reports of failed and troublesome activations that afternoon with ops running much more than QRP power.

I even read a report of one unlucky operator who was attempting his first ever POTA activation during that same span of time. He was not able to gather his 10 needed contacts and felt somewhat deflated. I shared my story with him because I think he feared either his gear or his technique were to blame. He was running SSB which would have put him at even more of a disadvantage that day.

Still…I had fun!

A bad day in the field is better than a good day in the office, right? Right!

While I might have been frustrated with the poor propagation, it didn’t stop me from enjoying this outing. The weather was beautiful, and I even had a canine welcoming committee pop by for a visit (you can see that in the video).  I also worked a number of friends that day on the air including (I later found out) one very new CW operator.

Although you can’t see it in the photos or video, the Fish Hatchery is close to Table Rock which is a beautiful mountain here in western North Carolina. The drive to the site is quite scenic.

I don’t do POTA, SOTA, or WWFF for the numbers–I do it because I love playing radio outdoors.

Time is your friend

My activations are normally very short because I squeeze them into my weekly schedule. Keep in mind that, regardless of propagation, you can almost always get your 10 contacts with enough time. It also helps if you’re activating a site that is either rare, or if it counts for multiple programs (I’ll often find SOTA summits that are on state or national park land).  Chasers from multiple programs are a good thing!

I’d encourage you to check band conditions before leaving home and simply plan to spend more time on the air if conditions are poor. Bring a book with you and put your CW or voice memory keyer to work while you dive into your favorite novel. 🙂

Keep in mind that sometimes our local star will surprise us with amazing band openings. The activation after Table Rock was a case in point. Stay tuned!

Have you struggled to complete an activation recently?  Or have you struggled as a hinter/chaser? Please comment!

Rendezvous Mountain Field Report: Activating three individual sites on one summit!

Last Wednesday (April 7, 2021), I managed to block out most of the day to play a little radio in the field. When I have opportunities like this, I usually take one of two approaches: either make a multi-park and/or summit run, or go further afield and activate a site or two on my bucket list.

I chose the latter.

Two of the very few sites from my 2020 Park Bucket List that I hadn’t managed to activate were Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest and Rendevous Mountain State Game Land. When I created my bucket list, both of these parks were very rare: one was an all-time new one, the other had only been activated once. In 2021, they were still rare but both had activations logged.

When two park entities are this close together, I will do my at-home research in advance and search for a spot where the boundaries of the two parks might overlap opening an opportunity for a one activation two-fer.  Although there are exceptions (like Elk Knob)  when a park and a game land share a common name, there’s a decent chance their boundaries overlap, possibly even in an accessible area.

Fortunately, I discovered last spring that Rendezvous Mountain did indeed have an accessible spot where both the game land and state educational forest meet. I pinpointed it on Google Maps and embedded the URL in my park bucket list spreadsheet:

I can’t overstate how important one of these lists is to an activator who loves exploring different  sites. When the weather outside is horrible and activating isn’t a good option, spend your time indoors doing research for a day when you can hit the field!

Tuesday evening, I decided to finally hit this Rendezvous Mountain two-fer. Since the weather was forecast to be beautiful, so I also wanted to fit in a proper hike, so I started searching for a nearby summit as well.

Click to enlarge

Turns out, there was a SOTA summit called “2543” (named after its height above sea level in feet) that was accessible from a Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest parking area. An easy four mile round-trip hike. Score!

Next, I found the 2543 summit on a topo map and compared it with the location I’d already plotted for my two-fer. Turns out, they were very close to each other–likely within 100 meters. I was able to confirm with confidence that the summit and game land could be activated at the same time. The state forest map was a little too vague to confirm its exact boundary.

I originally found this site using the NCWRC maps and topo/trail maps.

Here’s the interesting part: the game land parking area I planned to use was within 50-100 meters of the SOTA summit. If I wanted to, I could easily turn this summit into a drive-up activation. But again, I wanted to hike, so I plotted a trip to the parking area of Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest.

My plan was to hike to the summit, activate it and the game land as at the same time, then hike back to the Rendezvous Mountain Educational Forest’s parking area, grab a picnic table and activate the state forest separately.

I arrived on site around 11:30 and spent a few minutes confirming that I was hitting the correct trail (as there are multiple trails in this forest).

The trail head is at the last parking area, simply keep following the paved road which quickly turns into a gravel/logging road.

Turns out, it couldn’t be easier to find the summit trail (should you decide to make this same activation): simply drive to the last parking area in Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest, and continue walking up the road past the metal gate. This road will take you past the visitor’s center, turn into a gravel road, then pass the fire tower road on your right.

Simply continue following the main road for two miles. There are a few branches on this road and I did take one thinking I was sticking to the main road, but quickly discovered it was a dead end and had to back-track. In general, follow the most traveled road and you’ll be fine.

The summit is fairly nondescript since it’s lower in altitude and covered in trees. Look for a short spur road, two miles in, near the game land gate (where you could park if you wanted to do a drive-up activation).

As I hiked to the site, I realized that the logging/access road is actually the boundary between the game land and the state forest. A promising sign!

When I arrived at the short spur road that ended on the summit of 2543, I was very pleased to discover that the game land/forest boundary followed the spur road and was all well within the SOTA activation zone! Brilliant!

Rendezvous Mountain State Game Land (K-6941), Educational State Forest (K-4859), and
SOTA Summit 2543 (W4C/EM-082)

The game land, state forest, and summit all met on an old road bed that was flanked by tall trees.

This meant that I could activate all three sites in one go and–since there’d be no need to activate the state forest separately–still have enough time to perhaps activate Kerr Scott Game Land later in the afternoon on my way home.

You can see the state forest sign on the left, the game land sign on the right–both within the SOTA activation zone.

Point of clarification about park boundaries and “two-fers”

POTA is fairly clear about where park boundaries are in terms of counting a park in an activation, “The activator and all the equipment you use must be within the perimeters of the park, and on public property. […] If the park is part of a trail system or river, you need to be within 100 feet of the trail or river.”

In order to claim a two-fer, there needs to be park overlap. Technically,  you can’t straddle a map line between two (non-river/trail) park sites and activate them as a two-fer because you and your equipment can’t be in both places at the same time if there’s no property overlap. In POTA, there is no buffer area around a park unless it’s a trail or river.

SOTA is specific and gives you a 25 vertical meter activation zone which forms a contour line around the true summit (not a secondary, nearly as high area). Little room for interpretation here.

For Rendezvous Mountain, I decided it was a POTA two-fer because I activated on a road that is also a marked and blazed trail used for recreation/access for both the game land and forest–and both of these areas are a part of the over-arching Rendezvous Mountain State Forest.

Had this been a boundary defined by an imaginary (surveyed) line without a common trail or road, there would have been no point of overlap, thus no two-fer.

This was actually the first time I had been in this particular situation. All of the other multiples I’d activated in the past had vast areas of geographic overlap.

Again, no one but the POTA activator actually knows the truth, and it would be incredibly rare that anyone would ever question you after your logs have been submitted. There is no POTA Police and it’s not even a contest–it’s a group activity. It’s all about following the rules to the best of your ability, exercising due diligence,  and being honest with yourself.

Now where was I?

Gear:

At the site, I used my new compact arborist throw line bag.

It worked even better than I had expected.

I was concerned that the line wouldn’t deploy as smoothly as the line does from my larger arborist storage cube, but it deployed perfectly!

On the air

I deployed my Vibroplex EFT-MTR end-fed antenna across the road bed and connected it to my Elecraft KX2 with attached KXPD2 paddles.

This made for a very compact and simple setup: in situations like this, I love the compact size of the KX2 since it can easily fit on my clipboard where I also log on paper.

I also brought along my Google Pixel 3 and made a video of the entire activation (see below).

Propagation was very unstable, but I hoped that this site would be rare enough to attract SOTA, POTA, and WWFF chasers thus helping me log my needed 4 for SOTA and 10 for POTA/WWFF.

I first hopped on 20 meters CW where I quickly worked seven stations in eight minutes–from Utah and Arizona, to France, Spain and Germany. An excellent start!

I then hopped on 30 meters (using the KX2’s ATU instead of removing the SMA cap on the EFT-MTR), and worked one station in Missouri.

Next, on 40 meters CW, I logged another six stations in six minutes.

I then connected the microphone and worked a Summit-To-Summit contact on 20 meters SSB. I was very pleased to put K4AAE/P in the logs because I had difficultly working other stations on 20M SSB.

Finally, I moved to 40 meters SSB and worked a total of four stations in five minutes.

All-in-all, a total of 19 contacts logged in a total of 45 minutes on the air.  Not bad for QRP on a poor propagation day!

QSO Map

Video

I made one of my real-time, real life videos of the entire activation. Check it out below or via my YouTube channel:

Photos

As I hiked back to the car, I took my time and enjoyed the weather, the hike, and the solitude. Here are a  few extra photos from the camera roll:

Thank you for reading this field report!

If you ever pass by North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, I highly recommend this site. It’s very rare that you find a site that is a SOTA, POTA, and WWFF entity and that can be activated by a pleasant 4 mile RT hike, or as a drive-up.

I’ll plan to hit Rendezvous Mountain again next year!


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Activating the New River State Park with the Icom IC-705 and EFT-MTR end-fed antenna

On Monday, March 22, 2021, I performed three QRP field activations in one day. I started off the day with a visit to Three Top Mountain Game Land, and then headed to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area for a POTA and SOTA activation before heading to my final destination: New River State Park.

I had never visited the New River State Park before but I knew since it was an NC State Park, it would be a beautiful site…and it certainly was.

It being a mid afternoon on a Monday in mid-March, I had the entire park to myself.  Well…at least I had the entire park from my access point (this particular park has a number of entry points).

Sadly, I didn’t have a lot of time to explore the park nor any of its trails, because I was on a fairly tight schedule.

New River State Park (K-2748)

I decided to deploy my EFT-MTR 40/30/20 end fed antenna and pair it with the Icom IC-705. Since New River had a spacious picnic area with numerous tall trees, setup really couldn’t have been easier.

Gear:

In the video below, I actually demo how I used my arborist throw line to deploy the EFT-MTR antenna.

On The Air

While the weather and the POTA site were ideal, propagation was not.  I knew that going into the site and that’s exactly why I deployed a near resonant wire antenna instead of a vertical.  I say “near-resonant” but the EFT-MTR is actually a resonant antenna on 40, 30 and 20 meters–I repaired mine recently, however, and it affected the resonance. I need to take an antenna analyzer to it and sort that out. In the meantime, though, I simply used the mAT-705 Plus ATU to take the edge off of the SWR.

I ended up only using the 40 meter band to make my 11 contacts in the span of about 33 minutes. Considering the propagation and the fact it was a Monday mid-afternoon, I was pleased with the results.

If I had the time, I would have moved up to the 30 and 20 meter bands, but again, I had a schedule to maintain so I went QRT after working my buddy K8RAT.

Video

Here’s a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:

I’m definitely coming back to the New River State Park later this year. In fact, I think this would be an ideal spot for a family canoeing and camping trip.

As I’ve said so many times before, this is what I love about POTA and WWFF: they provide an excuse to check out public lands that wouldn’t normally be on my radar.  New River is a perfect example since it’s a little too far from the QTH to be a day trip, yet a little too local to be a destination we’d typically plan in our cross-country travels.

Thank you for reading this report.

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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SOTA and POTA Field Report from Mount Jefferson State Natural Area

On Monday, March 22, 2021, I performed three QRP field activations in one day. I started off the day with a visit to Three Top Mountain Game Land, and then headed to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area for a POTA and SOTA activation before heading to New River State Park.

When plotting my multi-site activation day, I picked Mount Jefferson because it’s a SOTA entity (W4C/EM-021). I only realized later that it’s also a POTA entity (K-3846). I mistakenly assumed Mount Jefferson was a county park rather than an NC state park.  To do both a POTA and SOTA activation simultaneously is ideal!

Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021)

This was my first visit to Mount Jefferson and, frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of hiking.

The park itself is amazing! North Carolina parks never let me down.

The entrance is near the base of the mountain and very close to the town of West Jefferson. The park road climbs up the side of Mount Jefferson –there are a number of spots to park, hike, and picnic.

I had not checked the trail map in advance, but I had read that the summit trail was accessible from the parking and picnic area at the end (top) of the park road.

I hopped out of my car, grabbed my SOTA pack, and very quickly found the trail head.

The trail is impeccably maintained and wide enough for vehicle use (no doubt these trails double as access for tower maintenance on the summit).

The hike to the summit from the parking are was incredibly short–about .3 miles. Normally, I’d want a much longer hike, but since I was trying to fit three site activations in a span of four hours, I didn’t complain.

On top of the summit, one is greeted by a typical cluster of transmission towers.

While I appreciate checking out antennas and towers, these are never a welcome site because they can generate serious QRM, making a SOTA activation difficult.

I also found a park weather station on the summit. Nice!

I searched around and found a spot to set up well within the activation zone but giving me a bit of distance from the towers.

Gear:

My Yaesu FT-817ND was desperate to get a little SOTA action, so I decided to pair it with the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite using the Elecraft T1 ATU to find matches.

After putting the FT-817 on the air, I was very pleased to hear that the nearby transmission towers and power lines weren’t causing any noticeable interference.  This was a very good sign because, frankly, propagation was very unstable that day and I had real concerns about being able to work stations on 40 meters.

I hopped on the air and quickly realized I’d forgotten to hook my external battery up to the Yaesu FT-817ND. This meant I was running something closer to 2.5 watts as opposed to a full 5 watts. I decided to attempt the activation without the external battery and add it if needed.

I started operating on 20 meters and was very pleased to quickly rack up a number of contacts. I could tell that most of these contacts were via SOTA because I recognized the calls and primarily SOTA chasers.

Within 11 minutes, I worked 10 stations on 20 meters in CW. I was very pleased with how quickly those QSOs rolled in and how easily I logged the four needed for a valid SOTA and 10 needed for POTA activation–all on 20 meters.

Next, I moved to 40 meters where I worked two stations and 30 meters where I worked one. For sure, 20 meters was a much stronger band than 40 and 30 turned out to be.

After working 13 stations, I packed up.

Obviously, 2.5 watts was plenty for this activation!

I would have loved to stay longer, but frankly, I needed to stick to my schedule because I had one more park to fit in that day! (More on that in a future post and video!).

Here’s my QSOmap for the Mount Jefferson activation:

And here’s my full log:

Video

Even though I was a bit pressed for time, I still made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation. I hope you enjoy:

Next up will be an activation of New River State Park. I hope to post this early next week.

Thank you so much for reading this report!


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POTA Field Report: A CW ATNO at Three Top Mountain Game Land

Last Monday (March 22, 2021), I had another opportunity to play radio for the bulk of the day. These are rare opportunities–although I did have another open day only a few weeks ago–so I ty to take full advantage of them! The weather was perfect, so I decided to make a detour to Ashe County, North Carolina en route to visit my parents.

I haven’t been to Ashe County in the better part of a decade although I love this pretty secluded part of western North Carolina.

Ashe County is very much a destination–not a place you’d easily happen upon in your travels. It’s very much worth the detour, though, as it’s close to Boone/Blowing Rock, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a number of other spots outdoor enthusiasts would love. The towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson are everything you’d expect from small town NC: charming and friendly. Plus, they have some excellent sources of cheese!

I plotted a three park, one summit run for that Monday. I’d have about one hour at each site, which would hopefully be enough to set up, play radio, and pack up. All three sites were new to me–meaning, I had never personally activated them.

My first destination?

Three Top Mountain Game Land (K-3869)

I left my QTH around 9:00 local and arrived on site around 11:30. I had researched the most accessible parking area (there were many for this game land) and one that would be closest to my other destinations.

The game land maps are pretty accurate, but this parking area was a little tricky to find as it’s small, elevated off the road, and you have to enter a private driveway to find it. the “Hunters Parking” sign is, let’s say, “discreet.”

Honestly? Finding these sites is all part of the fun.

Gear:

Going into this activation, I knew there would be challenges. For one thing, propagation was similar to the day before: poor and unstable.

Secondly, the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) auto-spotting functionality on the POTA spots page was not working. That was a bad thing because this game land site had no hint of mobile phone service.

I did anticipate both of these issues though, and took precautions:

  • I contacted my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) and gave them my full schedule with anticipated start times for frequencies at each location before leaving the QTH.
  • I also had my new Garmin InReach satellite messaging device that I could use to text Mike and Eric should they not be able to hear me that day.

As I’ve mentioned in previous post: successful activations (especially if you’re under time pressure) always include being spotted to the POTA network. It’s as if you don’t exist if you’re not spotted.

“CW ATNO”

 

Another thing working in my favor at this particular site  is that it had only been activated a couple times before and both of those times it was via phone only. My activation would be the first time CW had been used at this site for POTA. This means nothing in terms of the Parks On The Air program–meaning, there are no special awards for this sort of thing–but it does give you a bit of an edge because CW hunters will find the site rare and very desirable. They’ll go the extra mile to get logged.

It’s funny: in 2020, I activated numerous proper ATNOs (All Time New Ones)  for POTA. There were so many here in western North Carolina that just by going to new sites each time, I ended up activating them for the very first time in phone and/or CW.

POTA grew by orders of magnitude last year, though, and now there are so many activators who would love to be the first to activate a site, new entities are often activated within a day of being added. The only true ATNOs left in NC are game lands that have accessibility issues.

On The Air

I deployed my EFT-MTR antenna that I repaired that weekend. I did a very basic repair, attaching the top end of the radiator back to the in-line coil/trap. Somehow in doing this I changed the antenna enough that my SWR on 40 and 20 meters was in excess of 2.5:1.

No problem: I employed my T1 ATU to bring the SWR back down to 1:1.

I hopped on 40 meters and immediately started working stations. No doubt, the rarity of this park was providing my spot with a little extra attention.

In 23 minutes, I worked a total of 20 stations: that’s about as good as it gets, especially with poor propagation.

Once the initial group of hunters died down, I went QRT.

Normally, I would spend more time on-site and move up the band, but I was on a tight schedule and realized I hadn’t allowed any time to grab a to-go lunch!

Video

I did make another real-time, real-life video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you care to watch it, click this link to view on YouTube, or watch via the embedded player below:

Thanks for reading this report. Three Top was a fun activation and I was very happy I didn’t have to struggle to validate it.  The next park that day was Mount Jefferson which also happened to be a SOTA site. I’ll be posting the report and video later this week!

73,

Thomas, K4SWL


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Mike rediscovers radio and POTA “gently reopened the door to an amazing hobby”

Many thanks to Mike (W6MVT) for sharing the following guest post:


Back to Ham Radio for a Year – A Brief Reminiscence

by Mike (W6MVT)

This story will sound like many I have heard over the past year, but I will write it nonetheless as a note of gratitude.

Last March COVID had just restricted our activities and I was wondering how to spend my time. I had received my licenses back in the 80’s. There was a code requirement, there was no internet, no QRZ, no spotting.

Though I enjoyed ham radio very much, family and work took precedence, and the equipment went into storage. I eventually sold it off (who is dumb enough to sell matching Drakes?).

Fast forward to the around 2010, when I knew I would be retiring and might want to get on the air again. I picked up some used equipment and stashed it away without really using it.

Then 2020 arrived and the world changed dramatically. One day, prompted by who-knows-what, I had the bright idea to dust off the gear and hook it up, mostly to see if it even still worked. A makeshift wire in the back yard and a quick listen and there it was – a CQ.

I was actually nervous to answer – it had been that long. It was KE8BKP, who it turns out, was activating a park. I hadn’t a clue what that meant, but I shakily answered. We exchanged reports and he went on the to the next one. I had two immediate reactions. First, I was reassured by that brief, painless interaction. The stuff worked and I could still “do this.” Second, things had changed a great deal since the “old days.” But I researched POTA and SOTA and DX Clusters and all the other magic that now exists.The point is that POTA gently reopened the door to an amazing hobby, one that still fascinates me. I went on to become an active hunter and now a prolific activator.

Since it has been a year now, I felt it important to acknowledge this moment, and to note one more thing. When an activator answers a call, we don’t know the other person’s circumstances. Maybe they are a new – or returning “old” ham. Maybe it took courage to key the mic or pound the key. I have appreciated the manner in which POTA hams enthusiastically help one another improve, learn and in turn help others. Thanks to Jeff, KE8BKP, and all the others since, and to come. And thanks to the many volunteers that keep the program running each day.

73, and be well,

Mike W6MVT


Mike, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think all POTA, WWFF, and SOTA activators are essentially ambassadors for ham radio. We never know what’s happening on the other end and I strongly believe in patience and understanding when answering calls and performing an exchange. It can have a huge positive impact for the person on the other end.

So glad you found Parks On The Air and that you’re enjoying playing radio once again!

Thank you for sharing your story.

Testing the new Chameleon Tactical Delta Loop (CHA TDL) antenna

Chameleon Antenna has sent me a number of their antenna systems to evaluate in the field over the past few months at no cost to me. I appreciate not only the opportunity to test these antennas, but to provide the company with my frank feedback.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Chameleon antennas are military grade and build here in the US (check out Josh’s tour of their factory).  You pay a premium price–compared to imported options–but their gear is built for performance, easy deployment, and longevity.

What has impressed me most about Chameleon gear is how flexible and modular it is. Their antenna systems are adaptable to almost any situation and always built around the idea of emergency communications.

Recently, Chameleon sent me their new CHA TDL or Tactical Delta Loop antenna. This vertical loop antenna has been designed to be portable, and tunable from 3.5 to 54.0 MHz (80-6M), but, as Chameleon points out,  “is most effective on the bands from 10.1 to 54.0 MHz (30-6M). ”

TDL deployment

If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect this antenna to look like–in terms of size–once deployed, so I set it up in the front yard prior to taking it to the field.

Set up couldn’t have been more simple: attach the 17′ telescoping whips to the stainless steel spike (with one whip attached to the Hybrid Micro), extend the whip sections, then attach the loop wire to connect the tips of both whips.

It might have taken me four minutes to set up the TDL on the first go.

This antenna needs a little space  for sure: this isn’t one you could easily deploy in a dense forest, but it has a very flat profile vertically. I can’t think of a single park I’ve activated that couldn’t accommodate the CHA TDL.

I like to try to give gear a fair chance when I do evaluations and thought I’d wait until propagation was at least stable before taking the TDL to the field and making a real-time, real-life video (as I used it for the first time). But, frankly, I’m way to impatient to wait for the sun to play fair! Trial by fire…

Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)

On Monday (March 15, 2021) I packed up the CHA TDL and headed to Lake Norman; one of my favorite parks to play radio.

Gear:

Propagation left much to be desired that afternoon, but the weather was perfect.

I decided to pair the CHA TDL with my Icom IC-705. Since the CHA TDL requires an ATU, I connected the mAT-705 Plus.

NVIS on the low bands

I had no idea what to expect from the CHA TDL in terms of performance, but Chameleon notes that it provides Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) propagation on 40 and 80 meters. NVIS antennas are very popular for the military and for emergency communications since the propagation footprint is much closer to home than it might normally be.

NVIS is also a brilliant option for park and summit activators, especially if they’re activating in an area with a high density of park/summit chasers. For example, if you live and activate sites in the state of Maryland, employing a NVIS antenna might make your site more accessible to the DC metro area, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey–regions that might otherwise be in the skip zone of your 40 meter signal.

On the air

Operating five watts CW, I started calling CQ POTA on 20 meters and snagged four stations in about seven minutes.

I was very pleased to work a station in California and one in Montana with five watts. (Though I need to check, this might have been my first MT station logged from a park.)

Next, I moved to 40 meters and was very curious if the TDL would provide me with proper NVIS propagation.

It did! One litmus test for me is when I work stations in Tennessee on 40 meters. Typically, I only log TN stations when on 80 meters or when I’ve configured one of my wire antennas for NVIS coverage.

Here are my logs from this 28 minute activation:

Here’s a QSOmap of the activation–the delineation between my four 20 meter contacts and eight 40 meter contacts is pretty evident:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation which also shows how the CHA TDL easily fit in among trees:

In a future video, I’ll show how I deploy the CHA TDL.

Unfortunately, I left my tripod at home, so apologies for the viewing angle as I operated the IC-705.

Summary

This first test of the CHA TDL really couldn’t have gone better.

I was able to easily deploy it on sloping ground, among trees, in a state park, and snag both locals and QRP DX within a brief window of time on the air.  All this, while our local star tried its best to interfere.

In terms of construction, the TDL is what I would expect from Chameleon: military grade.

For park activators and Emcomm purposes, the CHA TDL makes for a convenient, portable NVIS antenna on 40 and 80 meters.

While I have lighter, smaller footprint antenna options for SOTA, I must admit I’m very curious how it might perform on 20 and 17 meters from the summit of a mountain. The idea of being able to rotate the antenna and change the propagation footprint is very appealing. I’ll save this experiment for a summit that doesn’t require hours of hiking, though, and one where I know I can jab the stainless steel spike in the ground (i.e. not on top of a rocky mountain).

Any negatives? When I first deployed the TDL at home, we were having 30+ MPH wind gusts. When the gusts shifted, it did move the antenna. This could be remedied pretty easily by using a bit of fishing line filament to tie off one side of the loop. With that said, I’m not sure I’d configure the TDL as a loop if I expected strong winds. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this might not be the best antenna to pack if you plan to include a multi-hour hike in your activation.

And herein lies the brilliant thing about Chameleon Antennas: If I packed in the CHA TDL and found that winds were strong on site, I would simply configure it as a vertical instead of a loop!

The CHA MPAS Lite vertical

The CHA TDL can easily be configured as a CHA MPAS Lite portable vertical: all it’s missing is a counterpoise wire which you can buy separately from Chameleon or, better yet,  just use some spare wire you have on hand!

Or, you could configure it as a random wire antenna by directly connecting a length of wire to the Hybrid Micro transformer.

That’s the thing about Chameleon HF Antennas: they can be configured so many different ways.

If you’re interested in the CHA TDL, I’d strongly encourage you to read though the user manual: it’s chock full of info and ideas. Click here to download as a PDF.

Next time I take the CHA TDL out, I think it’ll be to a summit where I’d like to see how it might perform on the higher bands with the ground sloping away from the antenna site.

Click here to check out the CHA TDL at Chameleon Antenna ($355 US shipped). 

Activating Elk Knob State Park for SOTA, POTA, and WWFF

On Monday, March 8, 2021, I had a very rare opportunity: nearly a full day to play radio!

I debated where to go the night before and I had a lot of ideas. Do a multi-park run?  Activate some new-to-me parks a little further afield? Hit a SOTA summit?

While it was very appealing to plan a multi-park run for POTA/WWFF, I really wanted to stretch my legs and activate a summit. The weather was glorious and it dawned upon me that we’ll soon be entering the season of afternoon thunderstorms which will, no doubt, have a negative impact on my summit plans for the next few months since afternoons are typically when I have time to do activations.

After examining the map, I decided to go to Elk Knob State Park. The summit of Elk Knob is a SOTA site and the park is in both the POTA and WWFF programs.

Last year, I activated Elk Knob State Park and really enjoyed the experience.

The round trip hike to the summit (adding in a little trail loop around the park) would amount to about 4 total miles and an elevation increase of roughly 1,000 feet.

Monday morning, I left the QTH around 9:00 and arrived at the park around 11:15–it was a proper scenic drive.

The 1.9 mile hike to the summit took me about 45 minutes. The path was amazingly well maintained: 4′ wide with crushed stone most of the way.

One of the nicest trails I’ve been on in ages–Elk Knob State Park is quickly becoming one of my favorite NC State Parks.

There aren’t any antenna-friendly trees on the summit, so I was happy that I packed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0.

At first, I planned to only bring the top section of the MPAS 2.0 vertical to save space, but the hike was so short, I brought the lower aluminum sections as well. I’m glad I did.

Deployment of the MPAS 2.0 was quick and I the Elecraft KX2‘s internal ATU found a match on 20 meters very quickly.

Elk Knob (W4C/EM-005)

I spotted myself using the SOTA Goat app and received quite a 20 meter CW pileup! As you’ll see in my video below, it was testing the limits of my CW skills for sure.

With 5 watts, I quickly worked stations to my east in France, Spain, and Germany, and to my west all over the west coast of North America. It was a hoot!

I eventually moved to 40 meters and operated a bit, but 40 was suffering from poor propagation so stations that are normally quite strong, were weak that day.

I needed four stations for a valid SOTA activation and 10 stations for a valid park activation. I logged a total of 38 stations in 56 minutes. 75% of those contacts were on 20 meters.

Video

Here’s one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation (less a small amount I removed while eating a quick bite):

When people tell me running QRP is like “trying to play radio with both hands tied behind your back” I’ll show them this video. 🙂

AGN?

While the hike, the weather, and the signals were all in my favor, I’ll admit I wasn’t on my “A Game” that day. We all have days like this where we struggle to copy, to keep up with the flow of contacts, and to send correctly.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a number of emails from readers and viewers who said they had a less-than-smooth SOTA or POTA activation and felt a wee bit embarrassed on the air when they struggled copying.

But you know what?

No worries!!!

This is all about having radio fun in the field, enjoying a hike, taking in the views, and soaking up the beautiful weather! It’s not a contest and we have nothing to prove to anyone.

I can also promise you that any chaser/hunter who has ever activated a field site will completely understand if they have to send their call a couple extra times or if they (heaven forbid!) have to re-send their call after you incorrectly copy a character.

This is totally normal.

Be easy on yourself and enjoy the ride. Even on days when I don’t feel like I’m 100% in the groove, I find doing a summit or park activation clears my mind and resets my soul.

My policy? When a mistake is made laugh it off and move on!

Photos

Here are a few extra photos from the Elk Knob hike:


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