Many thanks to Don (W7SSB) who shares the following news from Chameleon Antenna:
WE’RE MOVING TO A NEW LOCATION!!
In August 2021, we will be at our NEW location, South of the airport in Sparks Nevada! The NEW location will be TWICE the size of the current one which will allow us to hire more people, increase production & inventory thus allowing us to ship faster!
Here in the Asheville, NC area, there’s one mountain that almost anyone can recognize by sight: Mount Pisgah.
Mount Pisgah is prominent because not only is it one of the taller summits bordering the Asheville basin, but it’s also home to the WLOS TV tower and and a cluster of public service and amateur radio repeaters.
I’ve been eager to activate Mount Pisgah for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Along with Bearwallow Mountain, and Mount Mitchell, it’s one of the most popular SOTA summits in the Asheville area.
Being so accessible from the BRP, the Mount Pisgah trail also receives a heavy amount of foot traffic. Being locals, our family tends to skip this trail when we’re venturing along the BRP because it can be so congested at times.
Mount Pisgah (W4C/CM-011)
On Tuesday, June 1, 2021, Hazel and I decided to hit Mount Pisgah fairly early and avoid the crowds.
We arrived at the trailhead around 8:15 AM and there were very few cars there–a good sign indeed!
Hazel was chomping at the bit to start our hike!
The trail is only about 1.5 miles with a 700 foot elevation gain, so not strenuous.
It was blissfully quiet and we only passed two other groups of hikers on the way up.
I’ll admit that I was keeping an eye out for black bears, though. We saw bears very close to the trailhead entrance on the BRP that morning. I may have mentioned before that black bears are not something to be feared here in western North Carolina; they typically avoid people and your chances of being fatally injured by a black bear are incredibly slim–right there with being struck by lightening.Still, the black bears that wonder near populated spots like Pisgah along the parkway are often fed by tourists and lose their fear of humans. Not only that, but they even expect people to be food dispensers. Not good. As we say around here, “a fed bear is a dead bear” because feeding bears leads to aggressive behavior and the poor creature’s eventual euthanization.
But I digress!
Hazel and I reached the summit and were happy to find that we were alone. Pisgah’s summit can get very crowded as there really isn’t a lot of space–only a large viewing platform next to the massive tower.
When we arrived on site, the summit was surrounded in clouds.
I briefly considered operating from the viewing platform, but knew I would have to cope with a lot of curious hikers while trying to operate CW. Since I’m not a good multitasker, I decided to do what many SOTA activators do: carefully pass under the tower and find an activation spot on the other side of the summit.
Hazel and I found a small overgrown trail used primarily by those working on the tower. I deployed my station in a small clearing.
For this activation, I chose my Elecraft KX2 and paired it with the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite which has quickly become one of my favorite SOTA antennas.
I deployed the CHA MPAS Lite perhaps 15 feet away from my operating spot, in the middle of a spur trail. I was able to extend the 17′ vertical without touching any branches. I rolled out about 20-25′ of counterpoise wire along the ground.
After setting up, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten my clipboard. No worries, though! I simply flipped over my GoRuck GR1 pack and used the back as an operating surface.
On The Air
Not only was this a summit activation, but also a park activation–indeed, a two-fer park activation at that! The summit of Mount Pisgah is in both Pisgah National Forest (K-4510) and Pisgah State Game Land (K-6937).
If I’m being honest here–since I’m not a “numbers guy” and don’t follow my activation counts closely each year–it’s very tempting not to announce or count this activation in both the SOTA and POTA programs since K-4510 and K-6937 aren’t rare entities. The main reason for this is because, back home, I end up doing double entry with my logs: loading them via the SOTA online log submission tool, then entering them in N3FJP or TQSL for submission to the POTA and WWFF programs. It can be very time-consuming doing this.
I am working on a way to “massage” the ADIF file data so that I can submit it to both programs with less effort.
But, of course, I announced the activation on both SOTAwatch and the POTA site. At the end of the day, I’ve never *not* announced a dual SOTA and POTA activation because I can’t help but think it might offer up the sites to a new POTA hunter. It’s worth the extra log entry later.
Another plus with activating a site in two programs is that you’ll likely be spotted in both thus increasing your odds of logging the necessary contacts to validate your activations.
Turns out, snagging valid activations that Tuesday morning was incredibly easy. And fun!
I started on 20 meters CW and logged fifteen stations in eighteen minutes. The band was energized because not only did I easily work stations from France, Slovenia, and Spain in Europe, but also stations all over North America from the west coast to as close as the Ohio valley and into Canada.
I wanted to play a little SSB, so I moved to the phone portion of 20 meters and spotted myself on the SOTA network. I worked five stations in eight minutes. Fun!
Next, I moved up to the 17 meter band and stayed in SSB mode. I worked five more stations in nine minutes. Had I only activated this site in SSB on 20 and 17 meters, I could have obtained both a valid SOTA and POTA activation in 17 minutes.
Even though I knew I needed to pack up soon, I decided to hit the CW portion of 17 meters before signing off. I started calling CQ and was rewarded with sixteen additional stations in eighteen minutes.
All in all, I logged 41 stations.
Here’s the QSO Map of my my contacts–green polylines are CW contacts, red are SSB (click to enlarge):
A welcome interruption!
If you watch my activation video, you’ll note that as I moved to the 17 meter band and started calling CQ, another hiker popped in and introduced himself.
Turns out it was Steve (WD4CFN).
As Steve was setting up his own SOTA activation on Mount Pisgah next to the observation deck, his wife, Patty, heard my voice off in the distance giving a signal report.
Steve and I had a quick chat and coordinated frequencies so we wouldn’t be on the same band at the same time and interfere with each other.
After finishing my activation, I stopped by the observation deck and spent some time with Steve and Patty as Steve finished his SOTA activation and packed up his gear.
Steve was also using an Elecraft KX2 and strapped his telescoping fiber glass mast to the side of the observation deck to support a wire antenna. Very effective!
Hazel and I hiked back to the trailhead with Steve and Patty. It was so much fun talking ham radio, QRP and SOTA with kindred spirits. What an amazing couple!
Steve and Patty were actually on a multi-day camping trip in WNC and planned to hit two more summits by end of day. In fact, I got back to the QTH *just* in time to work Steve (ground wave!) at his second summit of the day. It was fun hunting someone I had just spent time with on a summit!
Steve and Patty: Again, it was a pleasure to meet you both!
Hazel and I both needed a little trail time that Tuesday morning. Hiking to the summit in the low clouds, taking in the views, enjoying a stellar activation and then meeting new friends? It doesn’t get any better than this.
I’ll say that I do love the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite combo. It makes for a compact and effective SOTA pairing that can be deployed so quickly.
A couple months ago, I ordered a SOTAbeams Tactical Mini fiberglass telescoping pole. I plan to pair it with my QRPguys tri-bander kit antenna.
If I’m being honest, though, I find that the CHA MPAS Lite is so quick to deploy–like 2-3 minutes tops–I’ve yet to take the Tactical Mini and Tri-Bander to a summit. No worries, though, as I will eventually deploy this pair on a summit. Admittedly, I need to work on my mast guying skills in advance–let’s just say that I’m still in that awkward stage of struggling to manage each guy line as I try to keep the Tacmini vertical during deployment. I welcome any tips!
Last time I visited Table Rock Fish Hatchery–this activation–it was a struggle to get the ten contacts I needed for a valid activation. Propagation was horrible that day, making it a proper struggle.
On Thursday, May 20, 2021, I thought I’d go back to the fish hatchery for another try! I really like the site: it’s open, has lots of trees, and the staff (and neighborhood dogs) are all very friendly.
Thing is, as I drove to Table Rock, my buddy Mike informed me that propagation took a nose dive. Earlier in the day, it had been reasonably stable, but he noted that POTA activators were struggling in the afternoon and the propagation numbers were in the dumps.
My secret weapon: The Chameleon CHA LEFS
Shortly after I posted my “unboxing” video of the lab599 Discovery TX-500, Carl at Chameleon Antenna made a comment on my YouTube channel that he was going to send me their CHA LEFS (Lightweight End Fed Sloper) wire antenna since it’s resonant on 40, 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10 meters. In many ways, it’s ideally suited to pair with the TX-500 since this transceiver lacks an internal ATU. Side note: there is a cool project in the works called the DIY599 that adds a 60 watt amp and ATU to the TX-500 .
I had only recently received the CHA LEFS and had not yet taken it to the field. Table Rock was the perfect opportunity.
When I know in advance that propagation is poor, I try to make my portable set up as efficient as possible, so that’s when I 1.) make sure I pull out a resonant wire antenna and 2.) use a wire antenna with longer radiators. The CHA LEFS fits both of these bills.
The CHA LEFS has a 63 foot radiator made of 20 gauge PTFE antenna KEVLAR wire. The winder has a large efficient transformer to match impedance, and there is an inline coil to make the most of the 63′ radiator. They also include 50′ of Micro 90 paracord.
Like all Chameleon antennas I’ve used, it’s built to military specs.
Table Rock Fish Hatchery (K-8012)
Table Rock is ideally-suited for a long-ish sloping wire antenna, too. The site has tall trees and open spaces that make stretching out the sloping radiator quite easy. Just watch those power lines!
The CHA LEFS takes longer to deploy that end-fed antennas with a feedpoint near the ground. I find it quicker to deploy, however, than dipoles.
I deployed the LEFS by first stretching out its radiator wire in the direction I planned to deploy it.
Next, I connected the coax feedline to the SO-239 on the LEFS winder and stretched it in the opposite direction of the radiator. Why do this? It helps keep the radiator and coax from twisting together as I raise the winder/feedpoint into the tree.
This is not a difficult antenna to deploy as one person. Of course, if you have a helper, it’ll go even faster (I’ve yet to convince Hazel to help me with antenna deployment).
I had launched the arborist line quite high into a tree at the picnic table where I planned to operate. I was able to elevate the LEFS feedpoint/winder about 47′ into the tree.
I used the supplied paracord to attach the radiator to a nearby branch. The end of the sloper was perhaps 6 feet off the ground (if memory serves).
Knowing how poor conditions were from real-life K8RAT observations, I didn’t expect to actually validate my activation by logging the required 10 contacts. As I stated in my activation video, I was fully prepared to walk away with three or four contacts–I didn’t have a few hours to burn on an activation. I was simply happy to play with a new antenna, the TX-500, hang with the local canine welcome committee and enjoy the fine weather.
First, I hopped on 40 meters and discovered the LEFS provided a perfect 1:1 match on 7063 kHz. Very promising!
Next, I started calling CQ and the Reverse Beacon Network functionality of the POTA spots page must have quickly auto-spotted me.
Within 13 minutes, I logged six contacts! I was impressed. Mike (K8RAT) was in that first six contacts and he later told me it was one of the strongest signals he’d ever heard from me at a POTA activation. He asked what I was using as an antenna that day and said, “it was working!”
Next, I moved to the 30 meter band and worked K8RAT again (a rarity on 30 meters!) along with four other stations.
I ran out of time, so called it quits with 11 stations logged.
I did not expect to not only walk away with a valid activation, but to have completed it in such short order.
Here’s the QSO Map of my contacts all made with 5 watts of power:
As Carl suggested, I’m going to keep the CHA LEFS tucked away along with my PackTenna EFHW in the Discovery TX-500 pack.
When conditions are poor, I’ll spend the modest amount of extra time deploying this fine antenna.
The only CHA LEFS criticism I noted–and it’s a minor one–is that the in-line trap/coil isn’t very low-profile and takes a little attention to make it fall in the right spot when reeling the antenna up post-activation. Seriously. A minor criticism and I’m guessing Chameleon has a reason for it being on the large size–likely for power handling reasons.
Field Day is coming up, and I think I’m going to make the CHA LEFS one of Team Baklava‘s main antennas (Team Baklava = my buddy N3CZ and me!).
It’s actually quite odd that I’ve never activated this park during the weekly trip to do a little caregiving for my folks: Crowder’s Mountain State Park is a reasonable detour especially compared to some of the more remote parks I’ve visited recently.
What’s really impressive about Crowders Mountain is that although it’s not as large as a national park and it’s very close to the city of Gastonia, it has no less than two unique summits that qualify for Summits On The Air: The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain.
Both summits are accessible from the main park visitors’ center via a well-maintained trail network.
The propagation forecast looked pretty grim and after my last activation, I thought I might increase my chances of success by hiking to both summits in one visit. This made sense because I would only need 4 contacts per summit to have a valid SOTA activation and I could combine the contacts from each summit to hit 10 total contacts to activate the state park.
I decided to call the park and ask how long it would take to hike to both summits: the ranger told me “about 5 hours, or less if you’re fast.” That meant that once I added in my setup/pack up times and on-the-air time, I would be staring at a minimum of 7-8 total hours.
I (wisely) decided to pass on that opportunity. I simply didn’t have enough time in my schedule for that many hours at the park. That, and I didn’t want to feel rushed–I wanted to enjoy my outdoor time.
I decided instead to activate one summit and simply plan on spending more time on the air then plan to come back to the park for the second summit on a different day.
Before going to bed Monday night, I checked out the trail map and decided to activate The Pinnacle.
Crowders Mountain State Park (K-2726)
I arrived at Crowders Mountain State Park around 11:00 AM local–the weather was nearly ideal.
I had pre-packed all of the radio gear and supplies in my GoRuck GR1 rucksack, so once I arrived, I grabbed the pack, put on my hiking boots, a hat, and hit the trail.
I’ve read that Crowders Mountain State Park can get very busy and it’s no surprise as the park is within easy reach of Shelby, Gastonia, and the Charlotte Metro area. Fortunately, I was visiting on a Tuesday morning, and while I saw at least 30+ cars parked in the main parking lot, I passed other hikers only a few times on the Pinnacle trail. It’s a sizable park and can easily swallow 30 groups of day hikers!
I followed the orange-blazed trail to the summit of The Pinnacle.
The hike was very enjoyable and, frankly, not what I would consider strenuous, but it had enough elevation change to feel like a proper hike. I allowed an hour to reach the summit, but it only took about 40 minutes or less.
Near the summit, there’s a fork in the trail: if you take a right, it leads to the summit, if you take a left, it’ll lead you on a much longer Ridgeline Trail that will eventually take you into Kings Mountain State/National Park–you’d better believe I’ll try that one day in the future! It would be fun to activate two parks and a summit all on foot.
I took a right at the fork and the .2 mile long trail zig-zagged up the side of The Pinnacle.
I was a little surprised to be greeted by the sign above. It’s true that the summit area is quite rocky and you have to watch your step, but this warning is a bit extreme in my opinion (especially since the SOTA activation I did with my daughter recently was orders of magnitude more dodgy!).
If you are activating The Pinnacle and don’t want to climb up the rocky path, no worries. I’m certain the area where the sign is located is well within the SOTA summit activation zone.
The Pinnacle (W4C/WP-010)
Although The Pinnacle is only a “one point” summit, when you reach the top you’re greeted by some impressive views.
The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain are both outlying mountains so are the tallest points in the area offering beautiful, long-range vistas.
There were perhaps a half dozen hikers hanging out on the summit. I found a quite spot to set up on the side of the summit only a few meters from the top.
During the hike, my buddy Mike (K8RAT) sent a text noting that propagation on 40 meters was non existent. He suggested I play on 20 meters and above, possibly including 30 meters.
Later on, I found out that Mike was 100% correct. Several POTA activators that day mentioned on the POTA Facebook group that 40 meters was completely wiped-out.
I installed the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical antenna next to me. I’ll admit that I was a little worried it might be too rocky to plunge the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike in the ground, but it turned out not to be the case.
The CHA MPAS Lite has really proven itself as an invaluable SOTA antenna. While the stainless spike adds weight to my pack, it’s less fussy than dealing with guy lines and telescoping fiberglass poles and much quicker to set up. You do need enough ground to plunge that spike into, but if there are trees and bushes on the summit, it’s probably doable!
I started recording a video (see below) of the activation, spotted myself to the SOTA network (even though it would have likely auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network) and hopped on 20 meters.
I had no idea at the time, but we were experiencing a solar flare which explained why 40 meters was completely wiped out.
The effect on 20 meters was simply epic.
I called CQ and was instantly rewarded with a long, continuous string of stations. Within 26 minutes, I had already worked 23 stations with 5 watts and the MPAS Lite vertical. A stark contrast to my previous POTA activation.
And here’s the thing: the flare opened up 20 meters to local/regional stations as well. I worked stations as close as South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee–this is simply unheard of normally. Of course, stations on the west coast were also booming in.
I was a little surprised I didn’t log any European stations on 20 meters, but I suspect they were having a difficult time competing with the strong signals from North America during the flare.
I short: the band opening was amazing fun and even renewed my faith in our local star just a wee bit. (Ha ha!)
After playing on 20 meters, I decided to try 17 meters.
Wow! Without a doubt, I worked more stations on 17 meters in short order than I’ve ever worked during a field activation. In 10 minutes, I worked 12 stations. As with 20 meters, the flare opened up stations that would normally be in my 17 meter skip zone.
Here I was worried about logging the ten stations needed to validate my park activation! After logging 35 total contacts, I decided to pack up.
Here’s a QSO Map of the activation (click to enlarge):
Here’s one of my unedited real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation:
Although the weather app on my phone wasn’t showing any afternoon thunderstorms nearby, there were some patchy dark clouds forming on the other side of the summit and the winds were shifting, so I decided to call it a day and enjoy the hike back down the mountain.
Fortunately, the clouds never amounted to anything but I don’t take my chances with spring weather–it’s fickle, especially along the North Carolina/South Carolina line. That, and frankly, I needed to stick to my travel schedule.
I took my time on the way back down and simply soaked up the outdoors.
I love doing field activations of all types, but I’ll admit that I’m becoming addicted to Summits On The Air because of the hiking opportunities it presents.
There are few things in the world I enjoy more than hiking.
When I’m on a trail, all of my concerns seem to dissolve.
On the return hike, I passed by a group of three hikers. All of them were staring at their phones while hiking and one tripped on a tree root in the path. They caught themselves before hitting the ground.
I’ll admit I was thinking at the time that mother nature was saying, “Hey! Wake up, disconnect and enjoy the beauty around you! You need some perspective!” 🙂
I’m already looking forward to visiting Crowders Mountain State Park again. I believe I’ll return within a month and hike to Crowders Mountain, activating both the summit and park.
Sometime, I’d like to hit the trails as soon as the park opens and, perhaps, activate both Crowders Mountain and Kings Mountain parks on foot. That would likely take an entire day when I include the time on the air, but it would also be a lot of fun.
I was telling my wife yesterday that I actually enjoy writing up the odd field report on QRPer. It hit me that there are a couple of reasons why…
For one, a number of readers have reached out and thanked me because they enjoy living vicariously through my field reports and videos. I get it. My family and I enjoy watching YouTube videos of travelers around the world. We avoid the personality-driven channels and focus more on those that are less “produced.” It gives us an opportunity to travel to, say, Spain, France, Finland, or Turkey when we can’t presently do so. It pleases me to no end thinking that my reports and videos could, even in some very small way, offer a little vicarious travel to others.
Secondly, writing up these reports gives me an opportunity to re-experience some of my field time and sort through photos I might have taken along the way. Although it takes a few hours to write a report, I truly appreciate the experience.
Thank you, dear reader, for spending time with me during this outing!
I just received an email announcement from Chameleon Antenna, and I thought I’d share it here.
I’ve often referred to Chameleon antennas as “military-grade” because I’ve seen numerous military portable antenna systems over the years and Chameleon antennas are engineered to that standard. The quality is simply uncompromising.
Chameleon antennas are at the top of the amateur radio price bracket for portable antennas, but affordable compared to other military field antenna systems.
Their recent email announcement showcased a real-world example of how their antennas are used in military communications exercises. From Chameleon:
For QRPX 2021, the NTC Operations Group, Fort Irwin, CA station had the opportunity to deploy several Chameleon Antenna systems to use in the competition. This article is a summary of how each system performed during the contest, and how each could serve a military operator best.
Every year in mid-March, Army NETCOM hosts an annual HF Low Power Competition where stations across the globe try their best to establish HF communications with each other over a variety of modes, including USB Voice, ALE, 3rd Generation ALE, and Tactical Chat messaging application.
Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard elements of the US Army
The three Army MARS HF Hubs in Ft. Detrick, MD; Ft. Huachuca, AZ; and Ft. Shafter, HI
Any other military branches including Air Force, Marines, Navy, Space Force, and Coast Guard
Canadian military teams
Army MARS Auxiliarists
As a Signal Coach out here at The National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, CA, I found out about this competition, and competed the last two years. In the 2020 QRPX, I operated my station alone using only an L3Harris AN/PRC-150 with its accompanying antenna, the L3Harris RF-1944 dipole kit. I operated as I was able to, not expecting much, only to find out that my station placed third with 48 points and was only a few contacts shy of the winning score of 53 set by a fully stacked team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I was absolutely hooked from there.
I’d recommend you download and read the detailed report.
If you can’t tell, I’m proud to have Chameleon Antenna as a sponsor of QRPer. They’re a brilliant company that designs and builds all of their gear here in the USA. Their gear is built for the long haul. They’ve never heard of the marketing concept “planned obsolescence.” I’m guessing Chameleon’s idea is to impress you enough with their product quality that you buy more and more of their systems.
By the way, if you think I’m supportive of amateur radio manufacturers that build quality products, don’t even get me started about my obsession with US-made backpacks and camping gear. Seriously. Just slowly back away while you can… 🙂
Chameleon Antenna has sent me a number of their antenna systems to evaluate in the field over the past few months at no cost to me. I appreciate not only the opportunity to test these antennas, but to provide the company with my frank feedback.
As I’ve mentioned previously, Chameleon antennas are military grade and build here in the US (check out Josh’s tour of their factory). You pay a premium price–compared to imported options–but their gear is built for performance, easy deployment, and longevity.
What has impressed me most about Chameleon gear is how flexible and modular it is. Their antenna systems are adaptable to almost any situation and always built around the idea of emergency communications.
Recently, Chameleon sent me their new CHA TDL or Tactical Delta Loop antenna. This vertical loop antenna has been designed to be portable, and tunable from 3.5 to 54.0 MHz (80-6M), but, as Chameleon points out, “is most effective on the bands from 10.1 to 54.0 MHz (30-6M). ”
If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect this antenna to look like–in terms of size–once deployed, so I set it up in the front yard prior to taking it to the field.
Set up couldn’t have been more simple: attach the 17′ telescoping whips to the stainless steel spike (with one whip attached to the Hybrid Micro), extend the whip sections, then attach the loop wire to connect the tips of both whips.
It might have taken me four minutes to set up the TDL on the first go.
This antenna needs a little space for sure: this isn’t one you could easily deploy in a dense forest, but it has a very flat profile vertically. I can’t think of a single park I’ve activated that couldn’t accommodate the CHA TDL.
I like to try to give gear a fair chance when I do evaluations and thought I’d wait until propagation was at least stable before taking the TDL to the field and making a real-time, real-life video (as I used it for the first time). But, frankly, I’m way to impatient to wait for the sun to play fair! Trial by fire…
Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)
On Monday (March 15, 2021) I packed up the CHA TDL and headed to Lake Norman; one of my favorite parks to play radio.
Propagation left much to be desired that afternoon, but the weather was perfect.
I decided to pair the CHA TDL with my Icom IC-705. Since the CHA TDL requires an ATU, I connected the mAT-705 Plus.
NVIS on the low bands
I had no idea what to expect from the CHA TDL in terms of performance, but Chameleon notes that it provides Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) propagation on 40 and 80 meters. NVIS antennas are very popular for the military and for emergency communications since the propagation footprint is much closer to home than it might normally be.
NVIS is also a brilliant option for park and summit activators, especially if they’re activating in an area with a high density of park/summit chasers. For example, if you live and activate sites in the state of Maryland, employing a NVIS antenna might make your site more accessible to the DC metro area, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey–regions that might otherwise be in the skip zone of your 40 meter signal.
On the air
Operating five watts CW, I started calling CQ POTA on 20 meters and snagged four stations in about seven minutes.
I was very pleased to work a station in California and one in Montana with five watts. (Though I need to check, this might have been my first MT station logged from a park.)
Next, I moved to 40 meters and was very curious if the TDL would provide me with proper NVIS propagation.
It did! One litmus test for me is when I work stations in Tennessee on 40 meters. Typically, I only log TN stations when on 80 meters or when I’ve configured one of my wire antennas for NVIS coverage.
Here are my logs from this 28 minute activation:
Here’s a QSOmap of the activation–the delineation between my four 20 meter contacts and eight 40 meter contacts is pretty evident:
In a future video, I’ll show how I deploy the CHA TDL.
Unfortunately, I left my tripod at home, so apologies for the viewing angle as I operated the IC-705.
This first test of the CHA TDL really couldn’t have gone better.
I was able to easily deploy it on sloping ground, among trees, in a state park, and snag both locals and QRP DX within a brief window of time on the air. All this, while our local star tried its best to interfere.
In terms of construction, the TDL is what I would expect from Chameleon: military grade.
For park activators and Emcomm purposes, the CHA TDL makes for a convenient, portable NVIS antenna on 40 and 80 meters.
While I have lighter, smaller footprint antenna options for SOTA, I must admit I’m very curious how it might perform on 20 and 17 meters from the summit of a mountain. The idea of being able to rotate the antenna and change the propagation footprint is very appealing. I’ll save this experiment for a summit that doesn’t require hours of hiking, though, and one where I know I can jab the stainless steel spike in the ground (i.e. not on top of a rocky mountain).
Any negatives? When I first deployed the TDL at home, we were having 30+ MPH wind gusts. When the gusts shifted, it did move the antenna. This could be remedied pretty easily by using a bit of fishing line filament to tie off one side of the loop. With that said, I’m not sure I’d configure the TDL as a loop if I expected strong winds. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this might not be the best antenna to pack if you plan to include a multi-hour hike in your activation.
And herein lies the brilliant thing about Chameleon Antennas: If I packed in the CHA TDL and found that winds were strong on site, I would simply configure it as a vertical instead of a loop!
The CHA TDL can easily be configured as a CHA MPAS Lite portable vertical: all it’s missing is a counterpoise wire which you can buy separately from Chameleon or, better yet, just use some spare wire you have on hand!
Or, you could configure it as a random wire antenna by directly connecting a length of wire to the Hybrid Micro transformer.
That’s the thing about Chameleon HF Antennas: they can be configured so many different ways.
If you’re interested in the CHA TDL, I’d strongly encourage you to read though the user manual: it’s chock full of info and ideas. Click here to download as a PDF.
Next time I take the CHA TDL out, I think it’ll be to a summit where I’d like to see how it might perform on the higher bands with the ground sloping away from the antenna site.
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.
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. 🙂
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?
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!
Here are a few extra photos from the Elk Knob hike:
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Don’t tell anyone, but I held off making my first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation until the stars aligned and I could activate one particular summit completely on foot from my QTH.
Last Thursday (February 25, 2021), my daughter and I hiked to Lane Pinnacle (W4C/CM-018) and performed my first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation.
Why did I wait so long?
We live in the mountains of western North Carolina where (obviously) there are numerous SOTA summits to activate.
But I wanted Lane Pinnacle to be the first.
Why? Well, it’s the one summit I can hike to directly from my house with my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and enjoy a proper father/daughter day hike.
I had planned to do this hike last year, but I injured my ankle and let’s just say that the hike to Pinnacle isn’t a beginner’s run. I knew my ankle would need to properly heal before the journey.
This is also more of a late fall to very early spring hike due to the amount of thick foliage we knew we would have to mitigate. It’s so much easier to keep your bearings when there are no leaves on the trees nor on the green briar!
Last Thursday, I felt confident that my ankle was up to the task. We had a break in the weather as well with moderate temps and lots of sunshine (this, after several days of rain). We knew things could be muddy and slippery, but we also knew that with my busy schedule this might be our last chance to hit the summit before the mountains green up.
So we packed a lunch, plenty of water, radio gear, and (of course) emergency/first-aid kits while trying to keep our backpacks as light as possible.
Hitting the trail!
The first part of the hike requires trailblazing to a ridge line. The distance is short, but the ascent is steep (about 800 feet). We hike this portion regularly, so knew how to pick our path and avoid the steeper, slippery bits.
On the ridge line, we intersected an established single track trail and enjoyed the hike across a couple of smaller summits until we intersected the Blue Ridge Parkway.
If I’m being honest, I had some serious concerns that the trailhead to Lane Pinnacle would be closed. This portion of Blue Ridge Parkway is currently closed to motor vehicles (for the winter season) and I had noticed a number of “trail closed” signs on other portions of the parkway.
If the trail was closed, I planned to simply activate the parkway and Pisgah National Forest for the POTA program. I never hike on trails that have been closed by the park service because I like to obey the rules and I certainly don’t want to paint SOTA activators in a bad light.
When we crossed the parkway, we were incredibly pleased to see that the trailhead was open.
The ascent from the parkway to Lane Pinnacle is about 1,000 feet (305 meters) of elevation gain over a pretty short distance. The trail we were taking–turns out–was primitive. It basically lead us straight up the slope (no switch backs following lines of elevation, for example) and simply fizzled out about one third of the way up. We could tell it isn’t traveled often at all (although we did find a massive fresh bear track in the mud on the trail!).
I bushwhacked our way to the top–at times, the slope was about 45 degrees and slippery, but we easily found our way to the summit where our goat path intersected the Mountains To Sea trail.
We found an amazing overlook and took in views of the Bee Tree Reservoir as we ate our lunches.
Geneva grabbed her dual-band HT and made the first summit contact with our friend, Vlado (N3CZ) on 2 meters FM.
On the Air
I knew there would be short trees on the summit of Lane Pinnacle, but I also knew that I wanted to get on the air as soon as possible to allow extra time for our hike home.
I did pack a super compact wire antenna, but opted instead for the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical. I paired it with my Elecraft KX2.
The great thing about the CHA MPAS Lite is how quick it is to deploy–it might have taken me all of three minutes.
Since it was noon, I decided to start on the 20 meter band. I found a clear frequency, started calling “CQ SOTA” with the KX2 memory keyer, and spotted myself to the SOTA network via the excellent SOTA Goat app on my phone.
I had also scheduled my activation on the POTA website in advance because Lane Pinnacle is in Pisgah National Forest (K-4510). My buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) were also helping to spot me in the unlikely event I wouldn’t have cell phone service on the summit.
Within 20 seconds of submitting the spot to the SOTA network I had a CW pileup.
In all of my hundreds of field activations, I can’t think of a single time that I generated a CW pileup on 20 meters in such short order with five watts and a vertical.
The first station I logged was N1AIA in Maine. The second station was F4WBN in France. The race was on!
It took every bit of CW skill I had to pull apart the stations on 20 meters. It was so much fun!
I eventually worked Spain and all of the west coast states (WA, OR, and CA) and numerous stations throughout the Rockies and Midwest.
I then moved to 40 meters where I worked stations in the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and in the Southeast.
In the end, I had to keep my total time on the air short because I wanted to take my time finding a path from the summit back down to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In 30 minutes I worked 30 stations. I’m not a seasoned CW operator, so this was quite the accomplishment.
Here’s a QSOmap of my contacts:
I was chuffed! What a fabulous activation to kick off my SOTA adventures.
This time, I did not make a video of the actual activation. For one thing, I didn’t want to carry a folding tripod for the camera and I didn’t want to ask my daughter to film it either. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible to make the most of the airtime I had.
I really wish we could have stayed on the summit for an hour longer making contacts, but I knew it would be wise to allow extra time to descend Lane Pinnacle especially since I knew a front was moving through later that day.
I decided it would be easier to do my own bushwhacking back down the mountain rather than try to retrace our previous steps. We took our time and I followed elevation lines to make it slightly less steep. Since I took a more south westerly descent, when we reached the parkway, we had to hike north to reach the original trailhead.
The rest of the hike was totally uneventful and incredibly fun. The weather held and we took in the views, the wildlife, and invaluable father/daughter time.
That was the first strenuous hike I had done in months due to my ankle, so let’s just say I was feeling “spent” after our 6.5 hour adventure taking in 2,000 feet (610 meters) of elevation to the summit.
I knew it was bad when I even dreaded walking upstairs to take a shower. I think I remember telling my wife, “I’m never building a house with stairs again!”
Now that I’ve got Lane Pinnacle in the books, I’m ready to start hitting the summits! I’ve got a lot of pent up SOTA energy!
My goal is to activate a total of ten this year. That may sound like a modest number, but since at this point I’m less interested in “drive-up” summits, it’s more difficult to fit SOTA summits into my schedule than, say, typical POTA/WWFF parks.
In fact, I’ve already plotted my next SOTA activation and hope to do it within the next couple of weeks. It’s also a meaningful (to me) summit.
How about you?
Are you a SOTA activator or are you planning your first SOTA activation soon? Please comment!
Last week, we had a glorious break in the weather–it felt almost spring-like.
On my way back home after visiting my parents, I decided I would take in a quick afternoon hike. I originally planned to go to one of my favorite county parks, but I also had a hankering to get on the air and that park wasn’t a part of the POTA network.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
I decided to stop by Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861) instead and make February 19, 2021 not only a hiking day, but a Parks On The Air day. Tuttle sports both excellent sites for POTA and a nice little trail system.
I decided to play radio first then go on a hike, so I pulled out an antenna that I thought would give me quick deployment and pack-up: the CHA MPAS Lite.
I also remembered that a reader recently asked if I would include the deployment of the CHA MPAS Lite in one of my real-time, real-life activation videos. So I did just that!
Deployment was quick and the mAT-705 Plus ATU did a fine job finding matches on the CHA MPAS Lite.
I started calling CQ on 40 meters and worked quite a few stations in short order. When the first batch of eight chasers was worked, I moved up to the 20 meter band and started calling CQ. My hope was that I could work at least a couple of stations on 20 meters then pack up and go for a hike.
I started calling CQ on 20 meters and was quickly rewarded six additional contacts.
Without a doubt–if this wasn’t completely obvious in my video–the highlight was working my friend John Harper (AE5X) in Texas. I’ve known John for years now and have followed his excellent blog but we’ve never managed to catch each other on the air!
Turns out, John was using his recently unboxed Icom IC-705 as well. Click here to check out his post which includes a mention of this very activation. In addition, check out his thoughts after taking the IC-705 (all amped-up with the KPA-500) on the ARRL CW contest that weekend.
Another highlight was logging CU3BL in the Azores again. To me, it’s still mind blowing that 5 watts can reach out that far. Here’s a QSOmap of the activation (click to enlarge):
In total, I logged 14 stations with 5 watts and a vertical in very short order, leaving me a full hour of hiking time! Mission accomplished!
Here’s a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:
The hike afterwards was just what the doctor ordered, too. I’ve mentioned before that my ankle has been healing nicely after twisting it badly in December. This hike was an easy one and gave me a chance to properly test my ankle before the (epic-to-me) SOTA activation I planned with my daughter, K4TLI the following week. (More on that in a future post!)
Here are a few photos from the Tuttle hike:
If you ever find yourself at Tuttle Educational State Forest doing a POTA activation, make time to take in a hike as well. It’s a gentle hike and even the long loop can be completed within an hour at a very leisurely pace.
Thanks for reading this field report and please comment with your experiences on the air and in the great outdoors!
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.”
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?
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.
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):
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.
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. 🙂 It includes a number of mistakes on my part.
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…