Category Archives: SOTA

Elecraft KH1 CW Message Memories

Yesterday, I updated the firmware in my Elecraft KH1 with a beta release we’re evaluating in the KH1 volunteer test group. This beta release includes CW message memories and CW send/receive decoding. At first blush, both seem to work really well.

I updated my KH1 while having lunch at my buddy Vlado’s (N3CZ) QTH. Elecraft makes the process so simple: download their utility, download the firmware file, connect the supplied USB cable to the PC and the radio, and make one setting change on the KH1 for it to receive data. That’s pretty much it.

I loaded the firmware right before I walked out the door and then programmed the message memories at K-3378 where I had less than 20 minutes to perform an activation (that video will be posted soon). I had no notes, no manual, and sorted out how to record the messages with no problem whatsoever. The process is very intuitive. I even recorded all three messages correctly on the first go.

I’d already given thought to what messages would go where–one message is very specific to the KH1.

Here’s what I recorded in the three message memory slots:

  1. “CQ POTA DE K4SWL”
  2. “BK TU TU 72 DE K4SWL”
  3. “AS AS DE K4SWL”

Number three is there for when I need to change log sheets in the KH1 logging tray!

AS is a CW Prosign that means, “Wait” or “Hang on.” Since it’s a Prosign, you send AS as one character (dit dah dit dit dit)–no space between the A and S.

I just hit that #3 memory then take my time flipping log sheets!

On my other field radios with CW message memories, I tend to give memory #1 a CQ POTA, memory #2 a CQ SOTA, then the third memory a 73/72 message.

In the early days of POTA, I used my “CQ POTA DE K4SWL” message memory a lot in beacon/repeat mode because we had a mere fraction of the hunters we have today.

These days, I find that I only end up calling CQ POTA two or three times–just enough for the RBN to pick me up. Once spotted? I almost never need to call CQ again and if I do, it’s easy enough to do that by hand. POTA has grown in numbers so much since the early days.

There’s no SOTA CQ on the KH1 for this same reason. I find I only need to call CQ enough for the RBN to find me.

Anyway, just a random Friday note for you!

I had a problem uploading my latest SOTA activation video with the KH1. I hope to have it published later this weekend or on Monday at the latest.

Have a great weekend–I hope you have a moment to play a little radio!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

My first SOTA activation with the new Elecraft KH1 handheld QRP transceiver!

On Friday, November 3, 2023, I had planned to activate Mount Mitchell–the highest summit in eastern North America. I need to activate Mitchell soon because I’ve yet to activate it for SOTA in 2023 and when winter weather sets in (quite early at that altitude) the park is inaccessible.

Unfortunately, last week, the National Park Service closed an 8 mile portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway due to (no kidding) park visitors feeding and trying to hold bears at the Lane Pinnacle Overlook.

I won’t get on my soapbox about how people are so out of touch with nature that they feel human interaction with bears is a good thing. It breaks my heart because as we natives of WNC say, “a fed bear is a dead bear.” Bears that become comfortable with humans become (at best) a nuisance and (at worst) aggressive.  This is bad for people and it’s bad for our bears who are otherwise shy and avoid humans.

Okay, I said I wouldn’t soapbox about this…

That 8 mile section being closed meant that what would have been a 50 minute drive to the summit of Mitchell turned into a 90 minute drive. Round trip, I simply couldn’t fit that in my day, so I made alternate plans.

Another summit on my list to activate before year’s end was Richland Balsam.

Richland Balsam is actually the highest summit on the Blue Ridge Parkway and is, in fact, at one of my favorite points along the parkway.

That  Friday morning, I dropped my daughters off at their classes and drove an hour or so to the Haywood-Jackson Overlook.

In the valley, as I started my drive to the parkway, past the Cradle of Forestry, it was 30F/-1C. I was concerned that on the summit–nearly 4,000′ higher in elevation–that the temp would be closer to 20F. Fortunately for me, as I gained elevation, the temperature climbed too. We were having inversion that day so the higher altitudes were actually warmer than lower altitudes. This is not uncommon in the fall and was very welcome that particular Friday morning!

Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003)

Only three weeks earlier, there would have been no free parking spots at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook overlook–it would have been packed.

Fortunately for me, all of the leaf-lookers had gone and I literally had the place to myself. What a luxury!

And the temperature? A balmy 43F/6C.

The hike to Richland Balsam is one of the easiest along the parkway.

At the north side of the parking area, you’ll see a trailhead for the Richland Balsam Nature Loop Trail.

I wish my iPhone camera could haver truly captured how the moon looked in the sky.

The trail isn’t long; I believe the entire loop is just shy of 1.5 miles.

Although I didn’t set out to do this, I ended up making a video of the entire loop trail hike along with the activation (of course, you can skip over those parts in my activation video below).

Sadly, one thing you won’t be able to enjoy in my video? The smell. The air is filled with the fragrance of balsam trees along the entire trail–it’s just amazing!

The summit of Richland Balsam is at 6,410 feet ASL (1,954 meters).

The summit is covered in trees which is brilliant for SOTA activators. Another luxury is that there are two benches within the activation zone. I did pack my Helinox Zero chair as a backup, but didn’t need it.

SOTA with the KH1

Setting up my KH1 for a SOTA activation couldn’t be easier or faster. I show the whole process in my video at a very casual pace. Continue reading My first SOTA activation with the new Elecraft KH1 handheld QRP transceiver!

A Portable Oblong Antenna for 2 Meters


Many thanks to Andrew (VK2ZRK) who writes:

Hello Thomas,

The area I live near Canberra in Australia has many SOTA summits that are easily activated on 2m with a HT. That said a good antenna always helps. The 2m oblong antenna is very popular in these parts. It is easy to make, light to carry and packs small. It is horizontally polarised.

This is the second oblong I have built. I gave my dad VK4FASR my first one and have finally built another. I mostly use the bottom of the band for SSB/morse, the middle for APRS on 145.175 and 145.500 for SOTA. The antenna is cut accordingly.

References:

Andrew VK1AD
https://vk1nam.wordpress.com/2019/09/29/antenna-project-2m-145-mhz-rectangular-loop/

Peter VK3YE
https://youtu.be/Nyttl277ehs?si=9M5mP-KlxTGln0Tm

PARTS LIST
(Sorry about the lack of Freedom units)

    • 8mm fibreglass tube.
    • 8mm ID kite nocks (both from a kite supply).
    • Double walled glue lined heat shrink.
    • 2200mm Antenna wire – DX Commander in this case.
    • 2mm ‘ZingIt’ dyneema.
    • A BNC to banana adapter.

Assembly

I cut the tube so the centre to centre distance between the holes in the kite nocks was 360mm as per Andrew VK1AD’s instructions.

With the wire I started with 2200mm and trimmed until I had the best SWR at 145.000 when I lost my nerve and stopped cutting. [See photos below.]

Everything is held together with the glue lined heat shrink.
The top tube includes a little loop made from the ZingIt to suspend the antenna. Total weight is 102g.

The 2mm ZingIt can hold about 200Kg. I hope the pics make sense

73
Andrew VK2ZRK

Photos with detail

Field Radio Kit Gallery: VE6VID’s KX2 SOTA Kit

Many thanks to Malen (VE6VID)Canada’s first SOTA Double Mountain Goat – who shares the following article about his portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery page. If you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post.


Hello Thomas,

After being prompted by Vince (VE6LK) I am sending in my humble lightweight HF setup. The core of the setup is an Elecraft KX2 with a few goodies bolted onto it.

My station consists of KX2 with tuner, end plates with lexan cover, external 4s LiPo (1100mah) battery, power cable that is fused and has switched diodes (voltage reducer), an Amazon speaker and earbuds, a modified UV5R microphone (I’m an SSB guy for now), and a homebrew 65 ft EFHW. It’s all carried in a large water bottle case by Condor and weighs in at just under 3lbs. That case also fits an Icom IC-705 or the Elecraft KX3.

I have approximately 300 SOTA activations with this along with various masts. These activations range from easy 10 pointer strolls in Arizona and Manitoba to strenuous (over 1000 metres of gain) 4 pointers in the Alberta Rockies along with summits in VE5, VE7 lands tossed in as well.

By using old Altoids tins for storage for earbuds and the mic, everything fits into the case with the antenna laying on top. I ended up doing some trimming of the kite winder to fit with ease on top of the case.

Here is the basic setup laid out.

The battery will last me for two ten to fifteen minute activations without having to switch the diodes out of line.

When solo activating in VE6 land, I use the Amazon external speaker to make noise to let the local four legged critters know I am there.

After a few years of using a dipole on treed summits, which at times can be troublesome to setup, I built a 49:1 EFHW. When using the EFHW I typically set is up as an inverted V with a mast, invert L with trees. The antenna is a homebrew 49:1 using a non-standard size type 43 toroid, SOTAbeams antenna wire 65 ft long, bulkhead male BNC for connecting directly to the radio.

Trying to go compact, not necessarily light, I ditched the Elecraft mic for something with a small footprint, a mic that started life as an UV5R mic / earbud combo from Amazon . By replacing the cable with a Walmart 3.5mm TRS cable and adjusting the menu on the radio, it works great.

Take care,  Malen Vidler, VE6VID


Vince’s notes: Malen is Canada’s first SOTA Double Mountain Goat. You can check out his YouTube channel here. He is soft-spoken and deeply knowledgeable on SOTA and Amateur Radio. He is one of my go-to people when I don’t understand something in these areas.

Kneeboard SOTA: INSANE DX with my smallest, most compromised antenna!

I walked out of my front door on the morning of Friday, September 29, 2023, knowing I was going to do an activation, but I had no idea where that might be.

I certainly had no idea it would be one of my most memorable activations ever–!

I knew I had a five hour window to play radio somewhere not too far from my daughters’ classes near the Asheville Airport.

I really wanted to do a SOTA (Summits On The Air) activation, but I’d pulled a muscle in my back and was nursing it a bit.  I knew that an invigorating hike on a long, gnarly trail was not really in the books.

After dropping off my daughters, I sat in the parking lot running through the activation options in my head. There were 5 or so parks within an easy drive. I knew a POTA activation probably made the most sense since it wouldn’t require hiking or carrying a heavy pack.

Then again, I really wanted to do a SOTA activation–the weather was so amazing, I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to take in a summit.

I decided that if I took a minimal amount of gear and activated an “easy” summit, then maybe I could get away with a little SOTA without hurting my back. I thought this might be the perfect excuse to do a SOTA activation pairing my Elecraft KX2 and AX2 antenna. I had a lightweight chair and my kneeboard, so in theory, I could set up anywhere on the summit with my entire station on my knee.

Next, I only needed to find the right summit and one came to mind almost immediately…

Black Balsam Knob (W4C/CM-005)

The last time I activated Black Balsam was with my buddy, Monty, in 2021. I remembered that it was an easy hike with stunning vistas of Pisgah Forest (K-4510) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378).

This it the Mountain Ash (Sorbus Americana) with bright red fruit!

I drove 55 minutes to the trailhead and was happy that there weren’t too many cars in the parking area yet that morning. Black Balsam is one of the most popular summits on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so sometimes it can be a challenge to find a parking space…especially with stunning weather like this!

The hike was very pleasant and my GoRuck GR1 backpack was pretty light.

I knew I’d chosen the right summit hike.

The views from the Art Loeb Trail do not disappoint. (Click images to enlarge.)

In fact, if anything, I wish this hike were just a little longer because I enjoyed the scenery so much!

It’s only 3/4 of a mile one way, so it goes by quickly. Still… it’s why I chose this particular summit. I knew it would be gentle on my back (and it was).

Once I reached the summit, I started searching for a spot to set up. There were quite a lot of folks on the summit that morning, so I looked for a site just slightly off of the main trail.

I found an area on a side trail that provided just enough room to set up my folding chair without disturbing the flora.
Continue reading Kneeboard SOTA: INSANE DX with my smallest, most compromised antenna!

Bob pairs the KX2 and AX1 for ultralight travel-friendly SOTA in Greece

Many thanks to Bob (K4RLC) for the following guest post:


Field Trip to Greece: September & October 2023

 Bob (K4RLC)

A trip to Greece had been on the bucket list for my YL Alanna K4AAC and me for several years. In fact, we had to postpone the trip twice due to COVID. An opportunity arose to take a unique trip to Greece with the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, rather than a more touristy cruise. It’s always good to have fellow Tar Heels around, to share experiences.

This trip involved a few days in Athens, seeing the classic archeologic sites such as the Parthenon and the Acropolis, as well as exploring the packed downtown markets, such as Plaka and Monasteraki Square. Then the group would travel to the South of Greece on the Peloponnesian Peninsula staying in a fishing village called Gytheio, founded in the 5th Century BC, and port to the Spartan warriors.   From there, there would be day trips to historic sites. These included a trip to Areopoli, where the Greek revolution against the Turks started in 1821. Another trip would be to Monemvasia, an island fortress founded in 50 AD.  Other trips would be to Mystras (the last outpost of the Byzantine Empire) and ancient Sparta. On the return trip to Athens for departure, the tour would stop in Ancient Corinth, which had been civilized by the Greeks by the 8th century BCE and where the Apostle Paul preached ethics to this Sin City of ancient Greece.

As I had taken the KX1 and KX2 to various places overseas, I, of course, wanted to operate portable radio  in Greece. Past treasured memories included enjoyment operating with the KX1 on Suomenlinna Island, in the Bay of Finland, and with the KX2 in various Caribbean sites, including St. Lucia in 2019.

One of the first things I did was to consult the SOTA Summits Database for peaks we might be near. In the Peloponnesian (PL) region, there are about 180 sites, many of which had never been activated. Once we got there, we found out why. The peninsula is extremely mountainous, with steep barren peaks up to 4000 feet, rising quickly from the shore. In fact, talking with Cristos, our guide in Areopoli and a local young man, he said that he and his friends would hike about 6 to 8 hours to a summit, then spend the night in a cave before returning home. Obviously, this would not fit in with our somewhat rigid tour schedule.

Olive tree grove & Taygetos Mountains
SOTA map of Peloponnesian Peninsula with Gytheio circled

I was very excited to see that Mt. Mystras, where we would visit, also was a SOTA site (SV/PL-012), as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

I found it curious that Mystras had not been activated since 2017. I found the name of the last ham who had activated this site, and took a chance of sending him an email at his QRZ address. I was very pleased to get a nice reply from Cristos (a common name in Greece, named after Saint, or “Agios” Christopher), who said that he lived in the north of Greece some distance away and had not been back. I asked him if he had to seek permission to activate there. Cristos said they just didn’t ask anybody, but that I should be “careful of the guards” as I’m not a local.

I took his caution under advisement and reached out to the Greek Radio Union. I received a very nice email from Takis, Vice President of the Greek Radio Union. He advised me that my call sign on the Peloponnesian peninsula would be SV3/K4RLC/P. That is, in Greece the geographic location of operation still matters, while it doesn’t in the United States. And I also should use the designator P, identifying as a portable station. Takis went on to write that radio operation in many the archaeological sites is now “prohibited” by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Antiquities. I filed that away for consideration.

The tour was culturally enriching, taking in the incredibly long and complex history of each ancient site we explored. Just as memorable, we were extremely well fed with local cuisine, including fresh fish caught that day, especially eating by the water in Limeni on the West Coast of the Mani Peninsula. I have to admit we ate spanakopita at least once for 10 consecutive days (it’s even served at breakfast)!

The trip to Mystras also included a trip to ancient Sparta, civilized in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. We were fortunate to have an archaeologist who is currently excavating Sparta as a guide to the fascinating history here. On the trip to Mystras, three miles to the west of Sparta, the bus stopped at the tavern where we would return to eat later that afternoon, for a pre-tour bathroom break. Bathrooms are few and far between in ancient sites, and most of our group could be considered geriatric and needed proximity to a bathroom. Mystras  is a 682 meter sharp  peak over the town (see photo). Continue reading Bob pairs the KX2 and AX1 for ultralight travel-friendly SOTA in Greece

Video: Wayne (N6KR) demonstrates the Elecraft KH1 at Pacificon SOTA Luncheon

Many thanks to Rex (KE6MT) who shares the following video made at the at the Pacificon SOTA Luncheon (2023):

Click here to view on YouTube.

The Arizona 10-Point Madness Summit-to-Summit Event

The Arizona 10-Point Madness Summit-to-Summit Event

by Charlie Brown (NJ7V)

“How can I accumulate a bunch of summit-to-summit points all at once, for Summits on the Air?”  This was a question Pete Scola WA7JTM had been pondering for years.  He initially thought it might be fun to choose several 10-point summits that were near each other, have a person operate on each summit, and then rotate to a new summit every so often.  Eventually, this idea gave way to the Arizona 10-Point Madness Summit to Summit event.  With an invitation from Pete, all willing SOTA participants gathered on a 10-point summit on September 19th, 2018, and 10-Point Madness was born!

The Arizona 10-Point Madness Summit to Summit event is a casual on-air gathering, where Summits on the Air participants set up their ham radio station on the top of summit . . .  at approximately the same time.  Operators are on simultaneously so that there is an overwhelming availability of summit-to-summit contacts to be made.  This event occurs every year on the first Saturday of October.

Fred (N7PN) 2023 10-Point Madness

There was a focus on 2-meter contacts the first year we did this.  We learned quickly during the 2018 inaugural event that it was true madness for 31 ham radio stations to contact 26 nearby summits all at the same time, especially on 2 meters.  We tried alternate 2-meter frequencies and even considered a net control operator.  However, in the end, we learned to just wait patiently for our turn to call for contacts on 2-meters, or if it was extra busy, we just moved off to HF for a while and returned later.  As a courtesy, we now monitor 2 meters and return to it throughout the event to give the operators a chance to come and go.

Adam (K6ARK) 2022 10-Point Madness

That first year was amazing.

We collectively made 1104 contacts, 354 of which were VHF.  And yes, we scored a lot of summit-to-summit points.  We averaged 140 points each, with a grand total of 4324 s2s points for all the Arizona stations.  We announced the event to several online platforms and invited others to participate, and had a few people join us from outside of Arizona. All of them had fun and saw good results as well.

Our 6th annual event concluded a few weeks ago.  Participation has been steady in Arizona but we have seen an increase outside of Arizona.  We had about the same number of Arizona participants as years past, but total contacts increased to 1403.  The average s2s points per participant increased to 169, with a grand total of 4906 s2s points.  I was amazed that Keith KR7RK earned 400 s2s points this year for this event – a new record, I think.  These are only numbers for Arizona participants.

I read on social media that Josh WU7H, who was participating from Washington state, had 55 total s2s contacts and only a fourth of them were from Arizona.  We received some statistics from stations in Georgia, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and more.  It is a lot of effort to compile the statistics but it would be interesting to include people outside of Arizona in the future.

Joe (KE9AJ) 2022 10-Point Madness

Here are a few things that have stood out to me over the past 5 years for this event:

In 2019, Josh WU7H and DJ WW7D participated from Washington.  They won the award for most challenging activation in my opinion, operating from a snow packed summit in below freezing temperatures.  But that didn’t deter them!  They continue to come back year after year.  They are tough!

In 2022 my friend Adam K6ARK was participating on a summit in California.  I was able to make a 2-meter CW and SSB contact with him from my summit, 327 miles away.

Several others in Arizona also made contact with him.  While not record breaking, this is long haul for 2-meters.  And this year, I was able to make 19 DX contacts with one summit-to-summit into Germany.  It seems like there are a lot of DX contacts to be made every year, but this was a record for me.

Finally, this year Pete WA7JTM made a contact on every single band from 1296 MHz down to 1.8 MHz.  That’s 16 different bands.  How amazing is that?

The point is, you can make this event into whatever you want.  Experiment and try new things because there are people listening.  And of course, you do get a ton of summit-to-summit points.

WW7D on High Rock 2019 10-Point Madness
Josh WU7H and DJ WW7D operated from High Rock

Dave AE9Q sent an email out to the Arizona participants and inquired about the radios, antennas, and power sources used for the event and as you can probably guess, the list was very diverse.  I’m not exaggerating.  Just about every QRP HF radio, VHF/UHF handheld, Antenna, and power source you can think of was used – Log periodicals, mono-band double-bazookas, double zepps, whips, Yagi’s, end-feds, QRP and QRO HF radios of all types, HT’s with microwave capabilities, mobile vhf radios, amplifiers, lipo and lifepo batteries.  The list is long.

Sandy (W7NRS) 2023 10-Point Madness
Ray (W7USA) 2023 10-Point Madness

We recognize that other SOTA associations do similar events, like the Colorado 14er event and the Pacific Northwest Not Quite Fourteener event, to name a couple.  These are all great opportunities to get on the air and have fun with QRP radio in the field.

I’m sure you have heard about how amazing the SOTA community is.  If you get out on the summits or frequently chase, your call sign becomes familiar to others.  So much so that you feel a personal connection and sense of comradery every time you make contact with them.  During these events you see many of your good on-air radio friends.  It’s like a reunion.

The Arizona SOTA association thanks the many chasers and participants outside of Arizona who make this event more and more exciting every year.  We hope to see even more participate next year.  Just pick a summit, put your alert on the sotawatch.sota.org.uk web page, get on top of the summit and have a blast!

Readers: Do yourself a favor and subscribe to Charlie’s YouTube channel Red Summit RF. It’s chock-full of SOTA radio goodness. I’m also a fan of the All Portable Discussion Zone podcast–subscribe if you haven’t already!

Check Out Vince’s Quick Start Guide to SOTAmat!

If you’re not familiar, SOTAmat is an incredibly valuable app and tool for spotting yourself on the SOTA or POTA networks when you’re truly off-grid and outside the range of mobile phone service.

Check out this two minute intro to SOTAmat:

Setting up SOTAmat for the first time can be a bit confusing, but it’s not difficult. It is important, however, that everything is set up in advance of your SOTA or POTA adventures.

Our friend Vince (VE6LK) has just published a “Quick Start” guide to SOTAmat. It’s concise, and covers everything you’ll need to get set up and running with SOTAmat!

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Thanks for putting this tutorial together, Vince!

SOTAmat is an incredibly powerful resource for those of us who activate parks and summits in remote locations. I highly recommend downloading the app and making it a part of your SOTA/POTA tool kit!

For more information about SOTAmat and for links to the apps, check out the SOTAmat website!

A Recap of the 2023 W4 SOTA Fall Campout

Another W4 SOTA Fall Campout is in the books! What amazing fun.

This year, the campout was held at Lake Rabun Beach Recreation Area in north Georgia.

Once again, Joshua (N5FY), and I shared a campsite. He arrived Wednesday afternoon and I showed up Thursday afternoon around 2:30 PM.

There was quite a lot of wet weather in the forecast, so I opted to bring my large 6 person tent (the orange one above) instead of my two person ultralight tent. My thinking was that, if need be, we could us the large vestibule on this tent as shelter while eating and cooking.

Joshua was way ahead of me, though, and brought a canopy for the picnic table.

After pitching my tent and setting up, Joshua and I discussed how we should spend the rest of the afternoon. One thought was to try to squeeze in a SOTA activation, but we would have been fighting sunset at the end of it.

Instead, Joshua suggested that we build some antennas.

It was then I noticed that Joshua’s picnic table canopy had a built-in spool of 26 gauge wire!

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Joshua is the fellow behind the Tufteln brand of antennas. Turns out, he brought along a full antenna-building station.

I built a long random wire antenna and started a 30M EFHW.

That evening, we had friends pop by the campsite, ate dinner and fit in a quick POTA activation.

We didn’t have to drive to the activation site because our campground was in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (K-4473). Continue reading A Recap of the 2023 W4 SOTA Fall Campout