Tag Archives: CHA MPAS 2.0

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. ūüôā

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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SOTA Field Report from Rocky Face (W4C/WP-006)

One of the things I love about POTA and now SOTA is that it gives me a reason to venture out and explore parks and other public lands that might have otherwise never shown up on my RADAR.

Rocky Face is a prime example.

On the morning of Wednesday, March 10, 2021, I would have never guessed that by noon I would be standing on the summit of Rocky Face. That morning, I had planned to activate the summit of Baker’s Mountain–a park and summit I know very well as I’ve hike the trails there almost monthly and the mountain is a stone’s throw from my parents’ home.

That morning, when I arrived at Baker’s Mountain Park and the gates were shut, I remembered that they are closed on Wednesdays.

Oops.

I was determined to hike to a summit, though, so I grabbed my iPhone and launched the SOTA Goat app, then searched for nearby summits.¬† That’s when I noticed Rocky Face which was *only* a 40 minute drive from Baker’s Mountain. I had heard of this 1 point summit and park, but had never been there, so why not take a little road trip and explore?

Rock Face (W4C/WP-006)

View of Rocky Face from the road.

It was a very pleasant drive which was made all the better by gorgeous sunny weather.

When I arrived on site, I was surprised to see just how well developed this park was. There were two different parking areas, a visitor’s center, picnic area, rock climbing face, playground, and numerous trails. There’s even a large area for outdoor events.

I took the “Vertical Mile Challenge” to the summit (which I would recommend) and was more of a workout that one might imagine for a 1 point 576 meter summit.

The trail was very well maintained. The ascent up the granite slope offered some welcome views of the surrounding area.

I was a little surprised to find some Nodding Trilliums blooming on the side of, and even on the path. A sure sign spring is on the way!

March 10th was also one of the warmest days of the year so far.

On the summit, there were actually a couple of picnic tables–a total surprise which made this SOTA operation feel somewhat luxurious!

On The Air

I set up the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS 2.0 which were still packed from a SOTA activation two days earlier at Elk Knob (I’ll post a report of that activation in the near future).

I had not charged the Lithium Ion pack in the KX2 after the Elk Knob activation, but I assumed I’d still have enough “juice” to get me through the Rocky Face activation at 5 watts.

I started by calling CQ SOTA on 20 meters. A friend told me that propagation was very unstable, so I feared the worst. Fortunately, 20 meters was kicking (40 meters much less so).

Right off the bat, I worked stations in France, Germany, Slovenia, Quebec, Spain, and all of the west coast states of the US. It was so much fun and exactly why I love QRP and playing radio in the field.

As I switched from 20 meters to 40 meters, some hikers passed by. Turns out it was my cousin and her husband–what a surprise! Of course, they had no idea what I was up to, so I ended up explaining not only SOTA, but amateur radio and why I was using CW (yeah, I cut that bit from the activation video below).

They moved on and I hit 40 meters which was hit harder by the poor propagation. Many stations I regularly work were a good 2-3 S units lower in signal strength.

I am certainly looking forward to some stable propagation eventually! Still…very, very pleased with the 24 stations I worked and the QRP DX as well.

Here’s a QSOmap of my contacts–all from 5 watts and a vertical:

Video

Here’s a video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Rocky Face turned out to be a fun little hike, productive activation, and a great opportunity to explore a new summit and park. I’ll certainly return!


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Poor propagation but impressive QRP DX with the CHA MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna

One of the funny things about doing field activations is you never know what to expect when you arrive on site, setup, and hop on the air. It’s part of the fun, really. There are certain things you can control, and then there’s propagation.

On Sunday, February 14, 2021 (yes, Valentine’s Day), we had a modest break in the weather and my wife and daughters encouraged me to hit the field to do a quick activation before an afternoon movie marathon. Sunday was the first day I had seen the sun at our house since the previous Wednesday when the cloud ceiling descended to the altitude of our house (3,300′ ASL) and stayed there. It also wasn’t raining incessantly on Sunday, which was a welcome change.

I checked with my go-to propagation friend Mike (K8RAT) before heading out the door and he informed me that things were dismal. I wasn’t surprised: earlier that morning I worked a couple CW stations calling CQ POTA on 40 meters who had very few takers.

Still…I wasn’t going to let propagation stop me.

“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.‚ÄĚ

I chose the Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856) as my POTA site because it’s the closest park to me that has a covered shelter. I fully expected rain to move in within an hour and really didn’t want that to cut my radio play short.

Once I arrived on site, I decided to deploy my  Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna. Why would I use a multi-band vertical instead of a more efficient wire antenna on a day with dodgy prop?

Aren’t you a handsome antenna!

For one thing, I had a limited amount of time and the MPAS 2.0 can be deployed and packed up within a few minutes. Also, I could position the MPAS 2.0 close to the shelter so if heavy rain moved in, I could even keep the base of the antenna protected and pack it up under cover. That and I really didn’t want to fiddle with a wire antenna in the rain if I didn’t have to.

Gear:

On The Air

In short: I only made 12 contacts during this brief activation.

But what I lacked in quantity, I made up for in quality!

Let’s skip straight to the QSOmap of the activation. Keep in mind these are contacts made with a vertical antenna and only 5 watts of power (green poly lines are CW, red is SSB):

Click to enlarge.

Days like Sunday we can’t expect large pileups with five watts, but we can expect normal–albeit brief–openings that allow for some serious low-power DX.

My five watts and a vertical caught Raffaelle’s (IK4IDF) attention in Italy. Sure…he has good ears with a nine element HF Yagi, but I worked him with 5 watts over a distance of 7653 km / 4755.36 mi.

951 miles per watt? Yes, please! I’ll take that!

Parks On The Air isn’t really about working DX, but it’s so much fun when it does happen.

Video

I made a video of the full activation which includes setting up the Chameleon CHA MPAS 2.0. As I mention each time, this is a real-time, real-life video so keep expectations low. ūüôā It includes a number of mistakes on my part.

Click here to view on YouTube.

I’m hoping this odd pattern of bad weather will break soon. I shouldn’t complain: I feel pretty fortunate that we haven’t gotten hit hard with some of the heavy winter conditions affecting much of North America right now.

As soon as it dries up a bit, I’m ready to hike to a local summit for a little SOTA (Summits On The Air) fun! I can’t wait…

Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 at Lake James State Park

For the past four days here at my mountain QTH in North Carolina, I haven’t seen the sun. The cloud ceiling has been low and our house has been in the middle of it. It’s been rainy and foggy with temps floating a few degrees above freezing.

Last Tuesday (February 9, 2021), however, we had one day with glorious weather and I’m so pleased I carved out 90 minutes to perform a park activation on my way back home from a short trip.

I picked Lake James State State Park (K-2739) because it’s such a short detour and has numerous spots where I could set up my gear.

The temperature was a truly balmy 60F/15.5C–possibly even a tad higher.

Lake James State State Park (K-2739)

On my way to Lake James, I knew I’d use my Elecraft KX2 (it was the only transceiver I had on this trip) but debated what antenna to deploy. I chose the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna because, to my knowledge, I had never paired it with the KX2 and I enjoy shaking up my transceiver and antenna combos.

Gear:

The brilliant thing about antennas like the CHA MPAS 2.0 is how quick they are to deploy: it takes me all of three minutes or so.

On the air

Since the Elecraft KX2 has a built-in battery and built-in ATU, I basically connected the radio directly to the antenna and was on the air in moments.

The CHA MPAS 2.0 is the vertical equivalent of a random wire antenna: it’s not resonant on any one frequency and requires an antenna tuner to achieve a good SWR.

As I mentioned in the video (below) I always keep my expectations low when deploying a vertical antenna in areas like western North Carolina where ground conductivity is poor.

Maybe the antenna decided to prove me wrong, because I hopped on 20 meters CW and logged a number of stations across the country including Washington state and British Columbia with a measly five watts.

It also happened that my buddy and fellow POTA activator, Steve (KC5F), was just down the road activating another site in the same county. It’s rare that Steve and I can work each other because, typically, we’re too close for skywave propagation and too far for ground wave. Not this time! We were close enough for ground wave on multiple bands–it was great fun working him park-to-park on every band I tuned.

I moved from 20 meters to 17 meters, to 30 meters, 40 meters and back up to 20 meters SSB.

The great thing about using the MPAS 2.0 is how incredibly easy it is to pick up and move from band-to-band–there’s no manually tuning a coil or changing links on a multi-band diplole. In fact, the MPAS 2.0 covers 160-6 meters, so I’ve lots of options if band conditions are wonky.

Video

Here’s an unedited video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

In the end, here’s how my QSOmap looked with 32 stations logged:

I look back at activations like this and am reminded of the magic of HF radio. It’s truly phenomenal, in my mind, that with less power than it takes to light an LED bulb, I can make contacts across the continent pretty effortlessly–CW or SSB–even during the solar doldrums! Good fun!

In other news, my ankle is healing nicely and once this cycle of nasty weather clears, I’m looking forward to putting some SOTA sites on the air!

How about you? Do you have any field radio plans? Has the weather or C-19 lockdowns gotten in the way? Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Activating the BRP with my new-to-me Icom IC-703 Plus

When my buddy Don told me he was selling his Icom IC-703 Plus a few weeks ago, he caught me in a (multi-year long)¬† moment of weakness. I asked his price and followed up with a PayPal transaction without giving it a lot of thought. It was a bit of an impulse purchase, if I’m being completely honest, but he definitely gave me a “friends and family” discount.¬† (FYI: Don is the same enabler that made this purchase happen.)

I’m thinking the IC-703 Plus might be a good first HF rig for my daughter (K4TLI) and, of course, it’ll be fun to take it to the field from time to time.

Of course, the best way to get to know a radio, in my opinion, is to take it to the field. So that’s exactly what I did last week (January 13, 2021).

Blue Ridge Parkway K-3378

Against my better judgement, I decided to make a video of the activation. I mean, what could possibly go wrong operating a radio for the first time in the field? Right–?

I picked out an “easy” park for this activation: the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Although most of the parkway around Asheville, NC, is closed to vehicle traffic, the Folk Art Center is open year round and a very convenient spot for POTA.

Gear:

I paired the IC-703 Plus with my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna. I was curious how easily the IC-703’s internal ATU could match the MPAS 2.0: turns out, pretty darn well!

I started the activation on 40 meters phone (SSB).

Almost immediately, I logged a few contacts and that quickly built my confidence that even the default voice settings were working well on the IC-703 Plus.

I then moved to 40 meters CW and used the CW memory keyer to call CQ (I pre-programmed this before leaving the QTH that day).

Then I experienced a problem: when someone answered my call, my keyer didn’t work properly. For some reason, it was sending “dit dash” strings from both sides of the paddle. I’m not entirely sure what happened but assume there was either a radio glitch or a small short in my paddle cable. After fiddling with the IC-703 for a bit, I pulled out my Elecraft KX2 and finished the CW portion of my activation. (Always carry a spare radio, I say!)

Actually, I assumed since I was using the IC-703 for the first time, there could be hiccups as I did not do a full rig reset prior to putting it on the air–settings were essentially what they were when Don had the radio.

Here’s one of my real-time, real-life no edit videos of the entire activation, if you’re interested:

Back home, I connected my CW Morse paddles up to the IC-703 and it worked perfectly. Even though I checked the connections in the field, I must assume one of the plugs simply wasn’t fully-inserted. It hasn’t repeated this since.

Despite the CW snafu, I’m very pleased with the IC-703 Plus so far. I like the size for tabletop operating and it’s actually surprisingly lightweight.

If you own or have owned the IC-703, please comment!

POTA Field Report: Three park run with two transceivers & two antennas

Yesterday, I started the day hoping I might fit in one afternoon activation at a local park. In the morning, however, my schedule opened up and I found I actually had a window of about six hours to play radio!

Instead of hitting a local park, I considered driving to parks I’d been planning to activate for months.

I may have mentioned before that, earlier this year, I created a spreadsheet where I listed of all of the parks I planned to activate in 2020.

From earlier this year–many of the parks listed as “rare” are much less so now!

Each park entry had the park name, POTA designator, priority (high/medium/low), difficulty level for access, and a link to the geo coordinates of where I could park and possibly hike to the site. I spent hours putting that list together as finding park access–especially for game lands–isn’t always easy.

Yesterday morning, I looked at that sheet and decided to knock two, or possibly three off the list.

I had already plotted the park run, driving to Perkins State Game Land (K-6935) near Mocksville, then to the NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847) in Spencer, and finally Second Creek Game Land (K-6950) in Mt Ulla.

The circuit required about three hours of driving. Here’s the map:
When I plan an activation run, I factor in the travel time, add ten minutes extra if it’s my first time at the site (assuming I’ll need to find a spot to operate) and then assume at least one hour to deploy my gear, work at least ten stations, and pack up.

Using this formula, I’d need to allow three hours for driving, plus an additional three hours of operating time, plus a few minutes to sort out an operating spot at Perkins Game Land. That would total six hours and some change.

Knowing things don’t always go to plan, I decided I’d quickly omit the NC Transportation museum if I was running behind after the Perkins activation. In fact, I felt like the NC Transportation Museum¬† might be out of reach, so I didn’t even schedule the activation on the POTA site.

Perkins State Game Land (K-6935)

I arrived at K-6935 a little before noon (EST).

Since this is the week after Christmas, I had a hunch game lands could be quite busy with folks trying out their new hunting gear and I was correct.  I passed by the first small parking area and it was packed with vehicles, so I drove on to the second parking area I identified via Google Maps satellite view.

The second parking area was also busy, but was larger. There was just enough room for my car to park between two trucks.

Gear:

I donned my blaze orange vest–a necessity at any game land–and walked outside to asses the site. In short? It was a tough one. There were no easy trees to use for antenna support and I simply didn’t have the space. I knew folks would walk through the area where I set up my antenna so a wire antenna would have acted a lot like a spider’s web.

I pulled out my trust Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna and deployed it next to the car. I rolled out the counterpoise into the woods paralleling a footpath so no one would trip on it.

Since I had no room to set up outside, I operated from the backseat of my car–it was actually very comfortable.

I pulled out the Elecraft KX3 and hooked it directly to the MPAS Lite–it easily tuned the antenna on both 40 meters, where I started, then later 20 meters.

I very quickly logged 13 stations on 40 and 20 meters.

While on the air, a number of other hunters discovered the parking area was nearly full–some turned around and left. I decided to cut the activation with 13 logged and skipped doing any SSB work. I accomplished what I set out to do here, was short on time, and I wasn’t actually using the game land for its intended purpose. Better to give others the parking space!

I quickly packed up and started the 30 minute drive to my next site.

NC Transportation Museum State Historic Site (K-6847)

The Cameleon MPAS Lite

I knew what to expect at the NC Transportation Museum because I’ve visited the museum in the past and, earlier this year, scoped out a spot to activate the park in their overflow parking area.

The museum is closed on Mondays. In general, I avoid activating parks and sites that are closed. I never want to give anyone at the park a bad impression of POTA activators.

In this case, however, the overflow parking area is wide open even when the park is closed and there was no one at the site. I felt very comfortable setting up the CHA MPAS Lite which is a pretty stealthy antenna. Indeed, as I was setting up, I’m guessing it was a museum employee that passed by in their car and waved–no doubt, POTA activators are a familiar site!

Gear:

I set up my portable table behind the car under the hatchback so I took up the least amount of space.

I used the table primarily so I could shoot one of my real-time, real-life videos of a park activation. Readers have been asking for more of these and I’m happy to make them if they’re helpful to even one new ham.

In the end, I logged 13 stations and didn’t try to work more because I was still on track to activate one more park. I didn’t feel bad about only working 13 stations, because this site has been activated many times in the past–in other words, it wasn’t exactly rare.

Here’s my video of the activation:

Second Creek Game Land (K-6950)

The Cameleon MPAS 2.0

I arrived at K-6950, the final park, around 14:50 EST (19:50 UTC).

Only one vehicle car was in the parking area, so it was easy to pick out a spot to set up.

Gear:

Again, since I planned to make a video of the activation, I set up my portable table.

I decided en route to the site, that I’d use the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical at Second Creek. Although I’ve used the more compact Chameleon MPAS Lite at a number of parks–including the two previous parks–I had a great spot to deploy the taller MPAS 2.0.

As with the MPAS Lite, deployment was very quick. the MPAS 2.0 vertical is made up of folding pole sections–much like tent poles. As with all Chameleon gear I’ve ever used, the quality is military grade. Full stop.

I started calling CQ on the 20 meter band in CW this time. Within a minute or so I logged my first contact, followed by five more.

I then moved to the 40 meter band and logged twelve more stations in twelve minutes.

I decided to then give SSB a go as well and logged two more stations for a total of twenty stations logged.

Here’s a video of the activation:

I would like to have stayed longer at Second Creek and even used the MPAS 2.0 on 80 meters, but frankly I was pushing my time limit to the edge.

All in all, it was a brilliant three park run!

These days, it’s difficult to pack more than three parks in my available time–in fact, I think this was the first three park run I’d done in months. During National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) in 2016, I’d been known to pack four or five parks in a day–it was so much fun.

Here’s my QSOmap for the day (click to enlarge):

Getting outside on such a beautiful day, driving through some picturesque rural parts of my home state, and playing radio? Yeah, that’s always going to be a formula for some amazing fun!