Category Archives: SSB

QRP by Lantern Light: A CW/SSB sunset POTA activation at Lake James State Park

The one thing about doing POTA activations in the winter is being aware of just how short the days are. It seems like, lately, I’ve had a number of activations that have spilled over well beyond sunset.

With POTA, running out of sunlight really isn’t a big deal. As long as I have a headlamp (I always do) and/or a lantern, I can continue operating as long as the park is still open to guests.

With SOTA, running out of sunlight can develop into a serious situation, especially if you’ve bushwhacked to a summit in unfamiliar territory. Even with a headlamp, it can be difficult finding your way back to an established trail.  I’ve never scheduled a SOTA activation that pushed sunset unless I’m comfortable with the path to the summit.

If I’m being honest, I think a part of me actually enjoys doing POTA activations after sunset. It feels a lot like camping.

On Sunday, December 4, 2022, I was on the road once again and could not help but squeeze in a POTA activation at Lake James State Park.

It was late afternoon and I knew I’d be pushing sunset, but I had my little LED lantern just in case I ran out of sunlight (hint: I did!) and I was ready to play some radio: both CW and SSB!

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

It was a grey, chilly day and there were no other cars in the parking lot at the Catawba River Access. I had the whole park to myself until closing time at 7:00PM.

I chose a picnic table by the lake, putting some distance between me and the visitor’s center which has been known to spew radio interference (QRM) in the past.

I brought along my Elecraft KX3 for this activation.

The KX3 is one of my top field portable radios, but I rarely take it to the field these days for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s my main shack radio and is hooked up to my KXPA100 amplifier 100% of the time (although I rarely run enough power that the amplifier engages). I do much of my park/summit hunting from home with the KX3.
  2. Since I purchased my KX2 in 2016, I tend to take it to the field instead since it’s *that* much more portable. It’s like a smaller version of the KX3 with nearly the performance and only lacking 160 and 6 meters.

But I do love my KX3. It’s a benchmark radio–and one of the best field transceivers on the market.  You will see a few field reports with it each year since I try to give all of my radios a regular dose of fresh air!

Setting up

After recording the intro to my activation video (which I tried to do before the sun actually set), I decided to film the antenna deployment as well.

I debated which antenna to use at the site. I decided upon the super easy-to-deploy 28.5′ “no transformer” random wire antenna by Tufteln (see link in the Gear section below). I first demoed this super simple antenna on Mount Mitchell during a SOTA activation. It’s basically two lengths of 28.5 foot 26 AWG wire connected to a BNC connector on a small 3D printed mount which provides strain relief.

This antenna is basically my super simple speaker wire antenna, just in a more compact form factor.  Since there’s no transformer, the antenna relies on an ATU to do all of the heavy work of sorting out impedance matches. Continue reading QRP by Lantern Light: A CW/SSB sunset POTA activation at Lake James State Park

A QRP SSB POTA activation using only the Elecraft KX2’s internal microphone!

Once I started doing CW POTA activations in 2020, there really was no going back.

It’s hard to explain, but CW makes POTA and SOTA activations so much easier, in my opinion.

I’m sure many who’ve ventured down the path of CW understand.  I know devoted SSB operators who started doing CW in the field and pretty much permanently switched to CW. Indeed, that was me.

That said, I do like SSB as well and it has some positives over CW in terms of POTA.

For one thing, there are so many more SSB hunters out there (compared with CW); even on a slow POTA today, you can still amass large pileups. The cadence of SSB exchanges is also faster than that of POTA CW exchanges (which rarely exceed 20 WPM) so it’s easy to log two or even three times the number of contacts in the same amount of time.

In addition–let’s face it–it’s also fun hearing another operator’s voice on the other end.

Many readers have been asking me to do more SSB activations and I’ve been meaning to. Truth is, though, the majority of my field radios are CW-only, so when I have them in tow, SSB simply isn’t an option.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

On Thursday, November 17, 2022, I stopped by Tuttle Educational State Forest for a short hike and, of course, an activation.

It was during my hike that I came up with the idea to do a five watt SSB activation. I quickly realized, though, that the only radio in my car with SSB capabilities was the Elecraft KX2, but I didn’t have a hand mic or headset packed!

Fortunately, the KX2 has a built-in microphone for SSB. It’s not as ideal as my Elecraft/Heil Pro Set, nor even the basic Elecraft hand mic, but it works, so I thought it might be fun to do an entire SSB activation only using the KX2 internal microphone!

Setting up

There’s not a lot to set up when using a KX2; the radio has an internal battery, internal ATU, and since I was using the internal mic, all I needed was an antenna and some feed line.

I chose the KM4ACK 40 meter end-fed half-wave that I built from a kit many moons ago. I hadn’t deployed this particular antenna in the field in ages–it’s a good one, though! Continue reading A QRP SSB POTA activation using only the Elecraft KX2’s internal microphone!

Guest Field Report: K3FAZ, K3STL, and K3ES POTA in the Cold with a Bonus Gear Report

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following field report:


K3FAZ, K3STL, and K3ES POTA in the Cold with a Bonus Gear Report

K3STL and K3ES at the entrance to K-0621.

by Brian (K3ES)

K3ES Perspective

Saturday November 19 dawned clear and cold in northwest Pennsylvania, but the truth is that I was up well before dawn.  The third Saturday of each month, I try to make the 2 hour drive south to help with Skyview Radio Society’s monthly Volunteer Examiner (VE) testing session for new or upgrading licensees.  Clear skies (which matched the forecast) meant that road conditions would not be a problem.  So, shortly after 5 am I pointed the truck south.

One of the creature comforts I appreciate about our VE session is meeting for breakfast before the test.  It was obvious on arrival at the restaurant that the VEs would greatly outnumber the test candidates, but many hands make light work.  Coffee and an omelet definitely helped fuel the effort.  Since the test sessions normally last less than 2 hours (and that held true this time), three of us VEs had made plans for post-test session POTA.

Before launching into the field report, let me acknowledge that K3STL’s photography was instrumental in providing a report with visual appeal.  Personally, I almost always forget to take the pictures.

POTA Plan

John “Tall Guy” K3STL, Steve K3FAZ, and Brian K3ES in the parking lot at K-0621.

The plan for the day was to attempt activation of two POTA sites, Beechwood Farms State Conservation Area (K-0620) in suburban Pittsburgh, and Todd Sanctuary State Conservation Area (K-0621) about 20 miles further to the northeast.  John “Tall Guy” – K3STL and Brian – K3ES would do a short activation of K-0620, then meet Steve – K3FAZ at K-0621 for the rest of the afternoon.

Knowing it would be a cold day for mid-November (temperatures peaked for the day just barely above freezing), each of us made plans to adjust for operating from our vehicles. That meant that we would be doing parking lot activations at both locations. While we each normally activate with slightly different operating styles that are suited to outdoor POTA operations, some tweaks made it possible to have wind and weather protection for this outing.  In hindsight, it was a perfect choice.

Operating Methods

K3FAZ works an SSB contact.

K3FAZ operated his treasured Kenwood TS-50 using SSB mode with an EFHW antenna in a tree.  Rather than setting up with a table and chair, Steve configured his station to fit in the front seat of his SUV. Continue reading Guest Field Report: K3FAZ, K3STL, and K3ES POTA in the Cold with a Bonus Gear Report

Spring Flashback: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite at New River State Park

This year, it’s been a challenge for me to keep up with field reports that accompany my activation videos.  It’s been a very busy year with a fair amount of travel, DIY projects, and family activities.

I recently realized that I have a number of activation videos from much earlier this year–videos I skipped over in order to post some of my Canadian field reports while I was still in Canada (at one point, I was over 2 months behind posting field reports and activation videos!).

I’ve often said that even if only a handful of people enjoyed my reports and activation videos, I’d still post them. I feel like they could even play a small part in someone’s path to doing field radio or learning CW, it’s wort it.

Plus, I occasionally like looking back at them myself.

In a sense, these reports are my travelogues and they bring back memories of some beautiful spots where I’ve played radio, gone camping, and enjoyed time with my family.

So why don’t you join me as we travel back a few months to…

Springtime

Photo by K4TLI

In late April 2022, I took my family on a camping trip to New River State Park here in North Carolina. You might remember this post and a couple field reports from that trip.

In short, it was an amazing trip and I got to play radio quite a bit!

Each day, I played radio from the morning into the evening. The camp site was actually ideal for playing radio. Until…

Saturday morning (April 30) I woke up, made some coffee at the picnic table, then fired up my radio. It was then I learned that one of the new RVs that joined the campground Friday evening brought some sort of RFI-spewing device with them.

I’ve no clue what it was. If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was likely something used in electronic warfare. It was intense.

At the campsite that morning, I couldn’t copy a single signal that wasn’t S9+ on my meter. The noise level was S8 or S9.

I decided that I’d need to move to a different part of the park to play radio after breakfast and our family’s morning hike.

Fortunately, there was a large picnic shelter within a short drive of our campsite.

I had the whole place to myself! Continue reading Spring Flashback: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite at New River State Park

Guest Post: Breaking 100 QSOs during two QRP SSB Activations

Breaking 100 QSOs during two QRP SSB Activations

by Joshua (KO4AWH)

Back in May I had to travel last minute for work to North Dakota. I typically bring radio gear in the event that I have some time to do a Parks On the Air activation. This trip presented the opportunity to activate a park in Minnesota as well as one in South Dakota. I didn’t have much time to plan these activations, but I knew I had an early enough arrival in the afternoon that I could likely activate a park in MN and then in SD. So, I picked out a park in MN close to my destination. I could go activate in MN then get over to a park in SD and activate there.

I found a nice looking State Park in MN. The idea was to activate as quickly as I could and then get back to a park in ND with enough time to activate before it got too late. K-2482 Fort Snelling State Park had 110 successful activations. That is always promising when planning out an activation. I got my rental car and headed to the park.

I also had recently purchased a HFJ-350m which is a base-loaded coil with an extendable whip. I found a tripod base I could print online and then designed an adapter so I could install a SO-239 and RG316 lead with a BNC connector. I had just tested this setup in the back yard and knew it worked, although I certainly knew it was a compromised antenna.

HFJ-350m setup on custom tripod in the backyard for testing
Custom 3D Printed Tripod with BNC Connector

I typically bring my Raspberry PI4 loaded with Build-A-Pi and then run digital modes from my phone or Tablet. My plan was to activate this park with the compromised antenna running 5W on FT8 at the first park and then go to my second park and run a full half wave wire in a tree on SSB at 10W.

Not much to say about the activation in MN. The state park was nice but where I set up presented quite a bit of RF noise. Not so much of a problem since I was running digital. After a bit of adjustment on the whip I was tuned for 20m and started hunting a few FT8 stations. I did make a few QSOs while hunting but I then started calling CQ and had a bit more luck. I think because my signal was quite weak, calling CQ was a bit more efficient as only those who could hear me were calling back. While hunting, if those calling CQ were running a bit more power, I was unlikely to get in while running lower power and on a compromised antenna. I got the activation completed with 12 QSOs and packed it up and headed to the next park.

Continue reading Guest Post: Breaking 100 QSOs during two QRP SSB Activations

Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

Each time our family spends the summer in Québec, we make time to visit the Saguenay region  which is just a couple hours north of Québec City.

We enjoy the hikes, the river walks, and other outdoor activities. It’s a beautiful part of Québec.

This year, we spent more time along the north shore of the St. Lawrence visiting Baie-Comeau and later camping and whale watching a little north of Tadoussac. We also explored more of the Charlevoix region and even parts of the Québec City area we’d never visited in the past. I really enjoyed driving some new-to-us back country roads.

A couple weeks before leaving Québec, we took a family poll and unanimously decided to squeeze in a trip to Saguenay despite our other travels.

Due to other activities we’d scheduled, we only had a window of a couple of days to make the trip. The weather didn’t look that wonderful for the drive north and, in fact, it wasn’t. We drove along a line of torrential rain that was so heavy at one point, I (along with many other drivers) pulled off the road to wait out the heaviest bit.

Otherwise, the drive was/is a beautiful one through the Jacques-Cartier  National Park on 73/175 North. Had it not been for the thunderstorms and rain, I would have taken a small detour to make at least one activation.

The first day in Saguenay was all about walking on the river, and hitting some of our favorite spots when the rain finally moved on; I didn’t attempt a park activation. I decided instead to do an early morning activation the following day (July 22, 2022).

Finding a park

You may have noticed that quite a lot of my activations in Québec have been ATNOs (All-Time New Ones). I didn’t specifically set out to activate ATNOs–in fact, they were hard to avoid because there were so many.

Not so in Saguenay!

POTA activators in Saguenay are an active bunch and they are spoiled for choice in terms of the density of parks; there are so many!

It really pleased me to see so many previous activations at the parks I researched–not only activations in the summer months, but also winter (and they have proper winters in Saguenay/Chicoutimi–!).

There were so many parks to choose from, I decided I would simply choose the one closest to our hotel and that turned out to be Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin.

It was so close to our hotel, I could have easily walked there.

Continue reading Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!

This spring, as we planned our two months of travel in Québec, Canada, I jotted down one location in particular that I wanted to visit: Baie-Comeau.

Baie-Comeau is located about 420 km (260 miles) northeast of Québec City on the north shore of the mighty St-Lawerence river. It’s a small city with a population of around 21,000 and is pretty darn isolated. For many travelers, Baie-Comeau is the last major stop before a long, lonely road journey north to Labrador City or further northeast along the St-Lawrence.

I’ve always wanted to visit Baie-Comeau and my wife and daughters were game to make a proper trip out of it!

While in Québec, we plotted the details of our trip to coincide with a good weather opening.

We packed our gear, left the home base near St-Anne-de-Beaupré on July 13, 2022, and drove up the St-Lawrence, crossing the Saguenay River by ferry, and on up to Baie-Comeau with a few stops along the way.

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

It’s a beautiful drive.

We reserved lodging at the Hôtel Le Manoir Baie-Comeau (an excellent hotel, if you ever find yourself overnight in Baie-Comeau). We’re frugal travelers, so this was a bit of a splurge, but the stay coincided with our 20th wedding anniversary, so why not?

I was very happy to see that the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve was on a hill only a short drive from the hotel. It was approaching dinner hour, so I didn’t want to fit in a late afternoon activation with the family; we had other plans that evening. My wife suggested instead that we check out the park and walk the trails before dinner which would allow me a bit of time to scope out an activation site.

Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (VE-0054)

We discovered that Google Maps doesn’t have the trailhead marked very well. It led us to a neighborhood street a short walk from the park. I remembered reading a note from a local (online) mentioning there was ample parking at “the church” so we drove to a beautiful church nearby and immediately spotted the trailhead. If you ever find yourself in Baie-Comeau, here are the coordinates for the trailhead.

Turns out, the church is no longer a church, but has has been converted into the headquarters for the park which is a part of the Jardins des glaciers.

There are some brilliant views of the St-Lawrence from the parking lot.

We quite easily found the trailhead of the sentier which led into the biosphere reserve. I used my GPS to confirm when we were well within the boundaries.

We enjoyed a scenic hike that evening.

As I mention in my activation video, this is one of the amazing things about doing POTA during travels: you discover so many incredible parks that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. My family truly appreciates this particular aspect of POTA. It opens the opportunity to find spots only locals might otherwise know about.

After our hike that evening, I had a pretty good idea where I could set up in the morning. We made our way back to the hotel and enjoyed dinner and a movie.

Morning activation

So that my activation time wouldn’t interfere with family plans that day, I scheduled an early morning activation for July 14.

Continue reading An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!

7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

A SOTA road trip from Berlin to Tuscany via the Alps and back

sota-flag-mountain-panorama
On the summit of Kellerjoch OE/TI-311

by Leo (DL2COM)

Flashback March 2021: I am sitting on a couch in the countryside 2h north of Berlin, Germany. It’s a rainy day and my 1-year-old kid just fell asleep on my chest. I am watching Youtube and enjoying the feeling of just having maintained the chainsaw after a productive run preparing firewood.

Then suddenly something special got washed into my feed: Adam K6ARK activating a summit in CW somewhere on the U.S. West Coast. I thought: I have no idea what this wizardry is but this is exactly what I want to do. Right here, right now. Well I have a child to take care of, the next mountain with a prominence of >150m (~500 feet, min. requirement to be a valid SOTA summit) is 3h away, I don’t know what ham radio is, I have no license and what the heck is CW. 

sota-backpack
Complete SOTA kit incl. 6m mast

Jump to July 2022: I am sitting in my car commencing a vacation road trip to the south of Tuscany, Italy. Due to the chaotic luggage situation at EU airports and unreal prices for rental cars my family and I had decided that we would be better off if I drove down while my wife and kids took the plane without having to check in any bags (btw: best decision ever).

alps-panorama
Innsbruck embedded in the Inn valley

Our schedule allowed for me to leave a few days early so I could make room to do a little bit of hiking and throw in a few casual SOTA activations because why not. On top I saw that there were a few never activated summits in close proximity to where we planned to stay. I could feel my heart pumping already followed by a strong reassuring feeling radiating from the well-thought-through contents of my backpack in the trunk. Am I ready? Who cares. I am on my own now. I had completed a quick 1-pointer activation in May and a few POTAs but what was planned now was a different level.

sota-road-trip
From Berlin to Cortona (Tuscany) via Brenner pass (Alps) (Source: Sotl.as)

Going into detail about every summit would go beyond the scope of this article so here are just a few highlights: The first leg down to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area went by in a wink (7h drive). I passed most of the time rehearsing CW by singing license plates out loud. The fun peaked with plates along the lines of M-OT-9990 or E-SI-5545. It’s all about melody and timing, remember. I met up with my buddy Chris whom I hadn’t seen in a long time and who agreed to join me on the first hike up Zirbelkopf (8-points summit) to witness the cult activity I had tried and failed to explain to him beforehand.

Continue reading 7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

A challenging but fun POTA ATNO activation at Parc des Moulins

Some activations are more challenging than others.

I think we had all hoped on our climb into Cycle 25 that we’d get some brilliant propagation, stable conditions, and the opportunity to use less power and yield more DX.  Who doesn’t want that?

But we get what we get from our local star and the theme this year is that it is indeed showing some positive indicators, but at the same time–this summer, especially–it’s spitting stuff toward our pale blue dot that makes a mess of the ionosphere.

Photo by K4TLI

Lately, each time I head out the door to activate a park, I never know what to expect. It’s part of the fun. Will band conditions be in the dumps, or will the ionosphere provide the perfect platform for my QRP signals–?

On Thursday July 7, 2022 it was the former rather than the latter.

My family decided to head into Québec City that day to visit one of our favorite used book stores (in search of some Bandes Desinées–read more about that at the bottom of this post) and other errands.

I checked the POTA Map and discovered a park we’d never visited in the past, so it looked like a good candidate for a POTA activation!

Digging deeper, I also discovered it was an ATNO (All-Time New One) and had never been activated for POTA before. Hard to believe given its location, but there you go!

I put my POTA backpack in the car and we hit the road!

Parc des Moulins (VE-5068)

After a little searching, we finally found a good parking spot at the park. There was a LOT of construction going on around the grounds.

Parc des Moulins, like many of the parks I’d recently activated in/around Québec City, is a proper urban park with manicured paths and gardens. It’s a beautiful little park!

Continue reading A challenging but fun POTA ATNO activation at Parc des Moulins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parc national des Grands-Jardins (VE-0499)

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

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

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

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