So far this winter has been a challenge in terms of activating summits. For me, at least.
Between my busy schedule, family life, and the weather, it’s been difficult to make the stars align. Activating a summit, in general, requires much more time than activating a park. At least, where I live.
Summits tend to be much less accessible and time-consuming than, say, a state or national park. Besides getting to the summit trailhead and hiking it, there can be quite a bit more research in advance including reading previous activator notes and mapping out the true summit location.
SOTA (Summits On The Air) activators (depending on their location) often have extra incentive to do activations during the winter because many of us can accumulate “bonus points” for summits above a certain height during the winter months.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a numbers guy and honestly couldn’t tell you, for example, how many parks I’ve activated this year. But it would be awfully fun to eventually achieve “Mountain Goat” status in the SOTA program. It requires 1000 (!!!) points. Many of the summits where I live range from 1 to 10 points each. Each summit can only count once per year, so if I activate Mount Mitchell (our highest summit) the 10 points only count once in 2022 toward Mountain Goat status. The program is designed to encourage activators to activate a wide variety of unique summits each year. It’s a brilliant motivator.
I will be happy if I achieve Mountain Goat status in 5 years. I simply don’t have the free time to hit summits as often as I’d like. It is a really cool goal though.
I’ve been receiving a lot of comments lately from readers and viewers asking to see more Hazel in my reports and videos.
Hazel, if you’re not familiar, is my brown, white, and freckled canine shadow.
Hazel requires absolutely no prep time to go on a hike and summit/park activation. She’ll go from a deep, dreamy sleep where she’s chasing squirrels and her paws are twitching, to wide awake, tail wagging and nose pointed at the door in 2 seconds flat.
All it takes is the sound of me putting on my hiking boots (which must be louder that I imagined).
On Monday (May, 24, 2021) the weather was beautiful and I decided to finally add Bearwallow Mountain to my list of SOTA activations. Hazel was ready for a short hike!
Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)
Bearwallow is one of the most popular summits to activate in the Asheville/Hendersonville area of western North Carolina. Any semi-seasoned local SOTA activator probably has Bearwallow in the logs. Why?
For one thing, Bearwallow is a ham-friendly site. A number of local repeaters are on this mountain and some of our local clubs have access to the summit. Once–I can’t remember the year–I even spent time with a club (I believe it was the Roadshow ARC) on Bearwallow for the ARRL Field Day. It was a blast!
Bearwallow is also a very accessible summit.
The trailhead to the summit (Google Map) is tucked away in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge area–and there’s ample paved parking unless you happen to pick a very busy day (basically, any weekend with good weather will be busy!). Hazel and I were hiking on a Monday morning, thus there was very little activity and loads of parking spaces.
Some years ago, Conserving Carolina acquired the summit and much of the land on Bearwallow Mountain. Their conservation easement protects this area from future development and opens it for the public to enjoy.
Conserving Carolina maintains the trail system to the summit and all of the hiker information and blazing.They do a brilliant job!
There are two options for hiking to the summit: a proper foot trail, or you can take the Fire Tower Road which is the best choice for hikers who need a more gentle incline and flat gravel hiking surface.
Hazel and I found a nice spot to set up the station well within the activation zone. On summits like Bearwallow where there are clusters of communications towers, I prefer not to set up next to them. This is where that 25 meter SOTA activation zone (AZ) comes in handy.
I had actually planned to use my Elecraft KX3 on this activation, but after setting it up, I realized quickly that my power cord had developed a fault.
Fortunately, I packed a spare radio.
Knowing in advance that this would be a short hike–before leaving the QTH–I also packed the KX2 kit in my backpack as a backup. I don’t always have the luxury of packing a second radio, but wow! Am I glad I did that Monday!
Setting up the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical, of course, was super easy.
On the Air
I started the activation on 20 meters and spotted myself to the SOTA network via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, before leaving home, I had also set up an alert on SOTAwatch so that the spots page would auto-spot me via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) if I didn’t have mobile phone coverage.
In short? The contacts started rolling in. I was very surprised to have this sort of response on a Monday morning.
In 22 minutes, I worked a total of 19 stations including one summit to summit (S2S)–thanks for that, Eric (VA2EO)!
I was very pleased with the number of contacts logged in such short order because I only had a max of 25-30 minutes to be on the air before I needed to pack up and head back to the QTH.
Here’s the full log:
Activations like this one remind me of what one can do with QRP power and a modest antenna.
Sure, at one point–after I had worked at least my first four to achieve a valid QRP SOTA activation–I increased the power from 5 watts to a cloud-scorching 10 watts! 🙂
I must apologize for the audio in this one–it’s a little weak due to how the camera was set up.
Hazel at it again
So I brought along a retractable leash/lead for Hazel for this particular outing.
This leash allows her to roam more freely during our actual hike. On the summit, I locked the leash and attached it to my pack so it would keep her within 4 feet or so of where I was sitting which was cow patty-free.
At one point, near the end of the activation, when I was trying to manage a few calls, off-camera Hazel discovered that the leash unlocked, allowing her more flexibility to roam.
I looked up to discover that she found a semi-moist cow patty I somehow missed and was preparing to “enjoy” it. While sending CW and trying to keep from knocking down the camera, I used my left foot to put the brakes on her leash. She knew I was struggling, though, and tugged more.
I managed to stop her before even one paw plopped in the patty. Somehow. It was a very close call, though.
If you’ve watched my activation videos before, you’ve no doubt gathered that I’m not a multitasker. This little event really tested my ability to hold it all together on and off camera! 🙂
After packing up the station, Hazel and I took the Fire Tower Road back to the car. It was a very pleasant stroll and cow patty free.
Thank you for coming along with me on this SOTA activation and making it to the end of the report. You deserve an award! Please treat yourself to a local summit or park soon!