Category Archives: Videos

SOTA in the Clouds: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and MPAS Lite for brilliant QRP fun on Craggy Dome!

Although I live in the mountains of North Carolina and am surrounded by SOTA summits, it’s much easier for me to activate a park rather than a summit.

Parks can be quite easy: find the park on a map, drive through their main entrance, find a good picnic table to set up, and next thing you know you’re on the air! Of course, wildlife management areas and game lands can be more tricky, but typically you can drive to the activation site.

Summits–speaking as someone who activates in North Carolina–take much more planning. If it’s a new-to-me summit, I typically need to:

  1. find the GPS coordinates of the true summit
  2. map out the drive to the trail head
  3. read through previous activation notes (if they exist) to find out
    • what type of antenna/gear I might pack
    • and any notes I might need to find the trail or bushwhack to the true summit (quite often published, well-worn trails don’t lead to the actual summit)
  4. look up the trail map and make sure I have a paper and/or electronic copy
  5. pack all needed gear for the hike, activation, and emergencies
  6. sort out the time it will take to travel to the site, hike the full trail to the summit, activate, and return home

If you ask most any SOTA activator, they’ll tell you that the planning is part of the fun.

It really is.

One summit I’ve had on my activation list for ages is Craggy Dome (W4C/CM-007). Out of the higher summits in this region, it’s one of the easier ones for me to reach from the QTH. In fact, as with Lane Pinnacle, I could simply hike from my house directly to the summit (although one way to Craggy might take the better part of a day). The trailhead is about a 50 minute drive, and the hike about 30 minutes.

SOTA notes and All Trails indicated that Craggy Dome’s trail isn’t always easy to follow and that it’s steep and slippery.

Craggy has been activated loads of times, though, so I wasn’t concerned at all.

Living here and knowing how much brush there was on the manway to the summit, I knew that Craggy would be a pretty easy summit if I could activate it after the parkway re-opened for the spring and before the mountain “greened-up”; about a five week window.

Meeting Bruce

My schedule opened up for an activation of Craggy Dome on the morning of April 21, 2022 and I was very much looking forward to it.

I wouldn’t be alone on this hike either. Bruce (KO4ZRN), a newly-minted ham, contacted me and asked if he could join me on a hike and simply be an observer during a SOTA activation.

Fortunately, timing worked for him to join me on this particular SOTA activation. Continue reading SOTA in the Clouds: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 and MPAS Lite for brilliant QRP fun on Craggy Dome!

Hike and Talk: Future of Ham Radio, POTA/SOTA’s Role, CW Renaissance, Power of Kindness, and Engaging our Youth

As I drink a cup of coffee and type this post, I’m also packing my camping and radio gear in the car for a four day POTA expedition with my buddy, Eric (WD8RIF). As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s what we’re doing in lieu of going to the 2022 Hamvention.

I’d planned to write up a field report this morning (I’ve a few in the pipeline) but I simply don’t have the time to do a proper job and I like taking my time with these reports.

Instead, I unearthed a “Hike and Talk” video I made earlier this year and completely forgot about.

Be warned…

My “Hike and Talk” videos aren’t for everyone. I don’t edit them–they’re pure unscripted stream of consciousness. And they’re quite long by YouTube standards.

If this isn’t your sort of thing, just skip this one–I won’t be offended.

On this particular day, I had the future of amateur radio on my mind.

Since it’s been a couple of months since I made this video, I listened to it this morning while packing if for no other reason than to simply refresh my memory. Since I don’t typically do this sort of thing (sharing my thoughts and opinions out there in the public space) I always find it a bit cringe-worthy to review these after the fact. I’m no authority on any topic and never want to paint myself as one, so I typically only discuss these things in interviews and even then, I rarely, if ever, listen my interview post-broadcast (save this one, perhaps).

Proud Prof

But this rambling “Hike and Talk” session reminded me of something that still makes me swell up with pride. I mentioned one ham radio class in particular that I taught for the high school students in our home school cooperative.

It reminded me of a couple of photos I took during that class:

In this first photo (above), I took the class out to the parking lot at the school and I had them set up a (then prototype!) Mission RGO One transceiver on a folding table under a large tree. I had the students erect both an end-fed resonant antenna and a simple 20 meter vertical. I picked the RGO one because all of the adjustments we had talked about in the classroom—AGC, Filters, A/B VFOs, Direct Frequency Entry, Pre Amp, Attenuation—are on the front panel and one button press away. Plus, it’s just a cool radio!

We hopped on the air with one of my students calling CQ (SSB) on the 20 meter band. Her very first contact was with a station in Slovenia—and she simply beamed with excitement. Thank you propagation gods!

In the photo above–taken a week or two later–we were forced to play radio indoors. I’d planned to set up the ALT-512 QRP transceiver outside and see what sort of DX we could work with a simple home brew mag loop antenna. Heavy rains moved in, though, so we moved back to the classroom, they set up the loop in a small window of this large brick building, and we worked station after station on FT8. You can see one student operating, another logging, another looking up each grid square and address, and one at the board calculating how many miles per watt we were achieving with each contact. We had huge fun!

All of the young ladies in my class passed their Technician exam by the end of the term and are all now licensed amateur radio operators. They were all amazing students.

I couldn’t have been more proud of them.

The Video

But I digress. Here’s my “Hike and Talk” video in all its glory:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed watching (or skipping) the video!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support which allows me to open up my work life to write more field reports and film more activation videos.

Here’s wishing you some rewarding radio activity this week!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Field Report: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35

My most recent field report and video featured the Penntek TR-35 but it was not my first activation with this fantastic little QRP rig!

I pushed the last field report and activation video to the front of the line so that I could show how CW message memory keying worked in the TR-35’s updated firmware. It was, in my opinion, a major upgrade!

What follows is my field report from April 1, 2022: my first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35. This video was made a week or so before I learned that WA3RNC was working on the new firmware.

Side note: If you’d like to read my full review of the TR-35, check out the May 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

Although I’d used the TR-35 in the shack for more than a month I was eager to find an opportunity to take it to the field. April 1, 2022 was that day and I made a little detour to one of my favorite local POTA sites to break in the TR-35… Continue reading Field Report: My first POTA activation with the Penntek TR-35

Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Brooks (KO4QCC), a newly-minted  ham radio operator who asked to tag along on one of my POTA field activations. 

Brooks, it turns out, lives within spitting distance of a number of parks I regularly activate here in western North Carolina. He mentioned he was interested in observing an activation to learn a bit about deploying a field radio kit and, of course, to learn what it’s like to be on the air.

Brooks was also plotting the purchase of his first field radio kit and was very interested in the Icom IC-705 and MFJ-1988LP End-Fed Half-Wave (EFHW) antenna. 

Of course, I welcomed him to join me but since we both have busy family lives–and my schedule especially took some twists and turns in March–it took a few weeks before our schedules aligned.

I asked Brooks if he would consider actually doing the activation himself instead of simply observing or tag-teaming it.  I’m a big believer in hands-on radio time.

Brooks loved the idea!

On Sunday, March 27, 2022, a window of opportunity opened in our schedules and we agreed to meet at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861). I packed my:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really a “YouTuber” so I’m not actually inclined to capture every moment on video, but it struck me that others may appreciate experiencing (vicariously) what it’s like to do a park activation for the first time.

Prior to meeting, I asked Brooks if it would be okay if I made a video of his activation adding that there was absolutely no pressure to do so–just a thought. I’ll be the first to admit that if I were in his shoes, I’m not sure if I’d want a camera capturing my first activation jitters for all to see. 

Brooks loved the idea–as he, too, saw value in this sort of video–so I brought my camera along for the ride.

In the same spirit, I asked Brooks if he would write up the field report and he wholeheartedly agreed, so I’ll turn it over to him now: Continue reading Brooks’ first Parks On The Air (POTA) activation

TX Factor Episode 28

Many thanks to Eric (WD8RIF) who notes that the 28th episode of TX Factor was recently released. Here’s the show summary:

Episode 28

It’s been over a year since our last episode was released so we’re trying to make up for lost time by releasing show number 28 almost eight years after our first show back in February of 2014. Where have the years gone?!

In this show, Bob and Mike get to grips with constructing a digital voice modem using an MMDVM module kit and Raspberry Pi Zero, and Bob reviews the long-awaited ID-52 5W hand-held transceiver from Icom. As always there’s a chance to win a bundle of books from the RSGB in our free-to-enter draw. See here for terms and conditions and full details of how to enter. Don’t forget we also provide a podcast of the GB2RS news every week. Details of how to download or subscribe are here.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Video: A complete POTA field activation from planning/scheduling to QRT

A few weeks ago, one of my YouTube channel subscribers asked if I could make a video showing the entire process of activating a park: everything from planning, scheduling, packing, driving, setting up, to activating.

Why not, right?

So on January 20, 2022 I scheduled an activation of K-6856 and recorded a very, very long activation video!

It’s 1 hour 42 minutes long, in fact, but I broke the video into chapters to make it easier to navigate and digest.

Activation Video:

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Since the entire process has been captured on video, my field report below will simply focus on the various sections of the video along with my results. That and I didn’t even think to take a single photo I was so busy with the camera (images here are all screen shots).

In the shack

My OSMO Action camera does a brilliant job outdoors, but in the shack it did struggle with my monitor brightness/contrast while I scheduled the activation. When I checked the quality from the camera’s built-in monitor screen, it looked pretty acceptable, but after being uploaded to YouTube, it was less so. Sorry about that!

Knowing this could be a problem, I did my best to describe everything I was doing on the screen. Frankly, I couldn’t go back and re-shoot this if I wanted to because it was all happening in real-time.

Before I scheduled the activation, I did sneak in a wee bit of park hunting! After all, this is how I do things in the shack.

Oh yeah, my shack wasn’t exactly tidy that day as I had a project on the table. You’ve been warned. Continue reading Video: A complete POTA field activation from planning/scheduling to QRT

Three watts of POTA power with the Mountain Topper MTR-3B, an EFHW, and Hazel!

Recently on Twitter, I created an informal poll and asked if anyone else named their radios.

Here are the results:

I quickly found out that I’m in the 6.7% minority who freely admit that they name their radios.

We can also assume, however, that a healthy percentage of the “Neither confirm nor deny” crowd do too. They just have a professional reputation to maintain!

Truth is, I don’t name all of my radios; only the ones with “personality” that I plan to keep permanently.

Tuppence

My gift to myself after completing my very first CW activation in 2020 was to purchase a Mountain Topper MTR-3B from LnR Precision. I’ve always admired these tiny hiker-friendly transceivers and have watched as Steve Weber (KD1JV) updated the design over the years.

I first became intrigued with this radio series when I interviewed Appalachian Trail through-hiker and author, Dennis Blanchard (K1YPP) who packed one of Steve Weber’s early ATS-3A kit transceivers (built in an Altoids tin).

A closeup of Dennis’ AT Sprint 3A taken at Four Days in May

By the way, I highly recommend Dennis’ book, “Three Hundred Zeroes: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail.”

When I took delivery of my MTR-3B and opened the box, I was floored with how tiny it was.

It’s no bigger than a pack of playing cards.

I knew the MTR-3B would be a permanent resident at QRPer HQ, so after some soul-searching and bouncing names off of a few good friends (who also name their radios), I called her “Tuppence.” Continue reading Three watts of POTA power with the Mountain Topper MTR-3B, an EFHW, and Hazel!

Xiegu X6100: New compact throwline, POTA pileups & overloading in Pisgah National Forest

On Thursday, January 6, 2022, I woke up with one goal in mind: take the Xiegu X6100 out on a proper hike-in activation!

While I’d had this radio on loan from Radioddity since December 23rd, I hadn’t had an opportunity to truly hike it into an activation site. Between the weather and my tight schedule, I haven’t had an opportunity to plot out a proper Summits On The Air (SOTA) Activation. SOTA activations that involve hiking usually take a much bigger bite out of my day and, lately, I’ve been to busy to plot one.

I do live near a vast trail network, however, and it so happens that much of the trails run through overlapping public lands: Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah State Game Land.

So I packed my Spec-Ops EDC tactical pack, grabbed Hazel’s harness, and headed out the door.

“Let’s go, Daddy!”

Hazel knows me too well.

When she sees my pack and my hiking boots, she  waits in front of the door so there’s no possibility she’ll be left behind. Continue reading Xiegu X6100: New compact throwline, POTA pileups & overloading in Pisgah National Forest

POTA Activation: In the Presence of a North Carolina Icon!

Dear QRPer readers:

As you likely know, my activation reports typically run a few weeks behind.  Although I’ve got several in the pipeline, I pushed the following report to the front of the line. 

You might brew a cuppa’ coffee or tea for this one. 

Here’s wishing you and yours very Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


A Special Holiday Activation

As mentioned in my previous activation report, we’ve spent the past week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; specifically, Hatteras Island.

It’s been amazing.

If you’re not familiar, the Outer Banks (OBX) is a 200-mile (320 km) long string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia that separates the Pamlico Sound,  Albemarle Sound, and Currituck Sound from the Atlantic Ocean.

No trip to the Outer Banks would be complete without visiting North Carolina’s most iconic structure: the Cape Hatteras Light Station in Buxton, NC.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

On Thursday (December 16, 2021–last week) the weather was stunning, so my family took a few long walks on the beach, explored Hatteras Island, and spent the afternoon at the Cape Hatteras Light Station which is located within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is a North Carolina icon and arguably one of the most recognizable lighthouses in North America due to its height, its age, and the black/white helical daymark paint scheme. Continue reading POTA Activation: In the Presence of a North Carolina Icon!

Field Report: Beautiful weather and three parks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Last week, my family hopped in the car and took an eight hour drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

We’ve had such a busy 2021 that we decided to take a full week prior to Christmas and fit in some proper vacation and family time.

We love going to the coast off-season to avoid big crowds. Turns out, we chose well, too: it’s as is we have the whole of the Outer Banks to ourselves. Other than a couple days with some “invigorating” weather (which we actually enjoy) it’s been absolutely spectacular.

The view from our cottage

While radio plays an important role in any travels, my family time always takes priority. The good thing about activating parks is that radio and family time often go very well together!

On Friday, December 17, 2021, my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and I decided to spend the day together while my wife and other daughter worked on an art project at our rental cottage. We had a few loose plans, but mainly wanted to fit in a nice beach walk, possibly discover some new scenic spots, and enjoy a take-out lunch together.

She very much liked the idea of fitting in a bit of POTA, so we hit the field with two sites in mind.

The plan

My Subaru is still in the body shop getting repaired after a bear decided to open the doors and make himself at home, so we have a Toyota Camry rental car on this trip. It’s been a great vehicle for sure, but its trunk space is limited and we packed quite a lot of food knowing local restaurants would be closed this time of year.

We all limited our luggage and I limited the amount of radios and gear I took. I could write an entire article about my holiday radio and antenna selection process (seriously, I put too much thought into it) but in a nutshell I limited myself to two radios and two antennas.

Here’s what I chose for this trip: Continue reading Field Report: Beautiful weather and three parks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina