On the morning of Thursday, September 23, 2021, I had one thing on my mind: SOTA!
It had been well over a month since my last SOTA activation and I was eager to hike to a summit and play radio.
It had been raining for a few days but overnight, a front moved into the area that swept out all of the clouds. We were finally feeling proper fall weather.
It was gorgeous outside and I made up my mind I’d fit in a summit activation.
I was visiting my parents in Hickory, NC, so I knew I’d have to drive a bit to activate a unique (to me) summit. On top of that, I knew I’d be alone and trails would be very muddy after days of rain. I decided to stick with an easy hike, so picked Flat Top Mountain (W4C/EM-026) off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I announced my activation via the SOTA website and drove about one hour to the trailhead of Flat Top Mountain.
After completing a successful activation at Fort Dobbs State Historic Site on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I decided to fit in one more activation that day. I thought about heading out to one of the game lands I hadn’t hit in a while, but frankly, I needed a park a little closer to home due to my time constraints that day, so Lake Norman State Park it was!
Lake Norman State Park (K-2740)
Lake Norman is such an effortless park to activate. Their main picnic area has numerous tables (including two large covered areas), and tall trees providing support for antennas and much needed shade from the NC summer sun!
One thing I had not decided upon was what antenna I’d use at Lake Norman. Earlier, I used my trusty speaker wire antenna at Fort Dobbs, but I like to shake things up. I checked the trunk of my car and found the Chameleon MPAS Lite. Seeing how propagation plummeted after my previous activation, I decided that I wanted a large wire antenna deployed rather than a vertical.
The MPAS Lite can be configured as a wire antenna, of course: instead of attaching the 17′ whip to the “Hybrid Micro” transformer, you attach the 60′ wire that might normally be used as a counterpoise.
Setting it up was quite easy, in fact. I used my arborist throw line to snag a tree branch about 45′ high, then attached the throw line to the floating dielectric ring on the Chameleon wire spool. I stretched the entire length of wire out, attached the end to a tree, then hoisted up the center, forming an inverted vee shape.
Even thought the 50′ coax shield would act as a counterpoise, I really wanted another ground wire attached, so I pulled one of the wires off of my speaker wire antenna and attached it to the grounding post of the MPAS Lite’s stainless spike. I figured a little extra counterpoise wouldn’t hurt.
Although I’d never used the CHA MPAS Lite quite like this, I was pretty confident my Elecraft T1 would find a match. The Chameleon transformer (the Hybrid Micro) brings most any (but not all) lengths of wire within reasonable matching range of an ATU.
I started on 40 meters and found that, without employing the ATU, I had a match that was slightly below 2:1. Not terribly surprising since I had a good 60′ of wire in the tree. Still, I hit the tune button on the T1 and easily achieved a 1:1 match.
I will add here, though, that perfect 1:1 matches are not that important–especially at QRP levels. I’m certain the TX-500 would plug along with a match of 2.5:1 or higher and still radiate perfectly fine. I’ve known hams that truly equate that 1:1 match with an antenna that’s performing efficiently, but that’s not always the case. Keep in mind a dummy load will give you a 1:1 match but is hardly efficient. The ATU’s job isn’t to make the antenna radiate better–it’s to match impedance.
The CHA MPAS Lite will get you within matching range across the HF bands and, many times, it’s close enough that an ATU isn’t really needed.
I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within 28 minutes had logged the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation–all with 5 watts, of course. I was very pleased with these results because, as I had suspected, the bands were still pretty darn rough.
I then moved up to the 30 meter band where I worked a couple of stations and then, for fun, found a match on 80 meters and worked one NC station (possibly on ground wave!).
Here’s a screenshot of my logs from the POTA website:
I must say that I do love using the Discovery TX-500. It’s such a brilliant little field radio. I’m just itching to take it on another SOTA activation soon!
I’m also loving the TX-500 field kit that I built around a Red Oxx Micro Manager pack.
I used the same bag (different color) for my KX2 NPOTA field kit in 2016. It’s such a great size and can even easily hold my arborist throw line along with all of the station accessories and rig, of course. I’ve made a short video showing how I pack it and will upload that video when I have a little bandwidth!
I did make a real-time, no-edit video of my entire Lake Norman activation. Feel free to check it out below or via this YouTube link. No need to worry about ads popping up–my videos have no YouTube ads!
A Brief Public Service Announcement…
If I have a little advice for you this week, it’s this: don’t wait to play radio because someone says you don’t have the right gear for the job.
I received an email this morning from a ham that’s new to field operation and just received an antenna he had ordered. He was upset because a YouTuber claimed his antenna was basically a dummy load. To add insult to injury, he also found a blogger or YouTuber was also highly critical of his recently-acquired Yaesu FT-818. [Note that the FT-817ND–the 818’s predecessor–is one of my favorite field rigs.]
Keep in mind that many of these YouTubers are trying to produce “click bait” videos that will stir up a reaction and, thus, increase their readership numbers which will have a direct and positive impact on their ad revenue. It’s a red flag when someone doesn’t have real-world examples and comparisons proving their points and typically a sign that they’ve never even used the products in question.
I’ve been told antennas I use don’t work, yet I’ve snagged some incredible QRP DX with them. I’ve been told that some radios I use are junk, yet I’ve hundreds of successful field activations with them. And funniest of all are those who tell me that QRP is ineffective and–quoting from an actual message recently–“a complete waste of time.”
My advice is to simply ignore these folks. The proof is in the pudding! Get out there and play radio! In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” 🙂
As always, thank you for reading this field report and a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.
Two weeks ago, my buddy Monty and I went on a camping trip near Mount Pisgah off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was amazing.
Monty is one of my best friends and like a brother to me. We were roommates during my undergraduate years at Western Carolina University. In those days, we were both into mountain biking, hiking, trail running, backpacking, and camping. WCU was the perfect launching point for all of those activities.
These days, we both still do hiking and a little mountain biking, but at–what we might generously call–a more “relaxed” pace.
Although Monty’s family also live in western North Carolina and we keep in touch pretty regularly, we hadn’t seen each other in person for years, so we knew a camping trip would sort all of that out and give us a chance to reconnect while disconnecting from our busy schedules.
We chose Mount Pisgah campground off of the Blue Ridge parkway for a few reasons: it’s roughly halfway between our homes, it’s at a high altitude which equates to cooler nights during the hottest part of the summer, and–you guessed it–it’s on no less than two POTA sites and close to a number of SOTA summits as well!
Another fun fact about the Mount Pisgah campground? It’s also black bear habitat. I believe I mentioned that when I activated Mount Pisgah earlier this summer, I spotted a number of bears in this area. But hey! Check out the park’s bear traps:
And to be honest? My QTH is also just as much in black bear territory, so this isn’t exactly unfamiliar.
Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003)
The weather was ideal on the morning of Monday, August 2, 2021.
Monty actually mentioned in advance that he’d like to accompany me on a SOTA activation or two. He’s an engineer at WCU and I’ve been nudging him for years to get his ham ticket, so how in the world could I pass up a little SOTA/POTA proselytizing?
While Monty cooked up some breakfast burritos, we hatched a plan to activate Richland Balsam first.
Richland Balsam is a very accessible 6,410′ (1954M) summit and is actually the highest peak on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
Richland Balsam is a great “beginners” SOTA summit because the loop trail is only 1.5 miles long, well-marked, doesn’t require an experienced hiker, and passes through a spruce-fir forest which not only provides shade, but also ample trees for wire antennas. The trailhead is easy to find as well; it’s at the north end of the Haywood/Jackson overlook parking area.
Only one word of caution: being such an accessible loop trail right there on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it can get very busy during the summer and fall–in fact, you might struggle to find a spot to park. Monty and I arrived early enough that there were only a handful of cars parked at the overlook.
Richland Balsam reminds me of some of the trails in/around Mount Mitchell: lots of ferns, mosses, and and the smell of spruce-fir. Bliss!
On The Air
I’d forgotten that there are actually a couple of benches on the summit of Richland Balsam which is a proper luxury for any SOTA activator!
Monty had no issue at all setting up the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical on his own as I prepared my clipboard, Elecraft KX2, and log book.
I actually had decent mobile phone service on the summit, so spotting myself was quite easy via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, I assumed I might not have access to spot myself, so I did schedule the activation before leaving the campsite on both the SOTA and POTA platforms knowing both would auto-spot me from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).
I started calling CQ on 20 meters CW and my first contact was fellow POTA activator Steve (KC5F) who was, no doubt, working me via ground wave from his home. Always good to have Steve in the logs.
In thirteen minutes, I worked nine stations on 20 meters–lots of familiar calls. I actually validated the SOTA activation (logging four contacts) in no less than five minutes!
I then moved to 17 meters where I worked K6MW in Washington state.
Finally, I moved down to the 40 meter band in hopes of picking up Mike (K8RAT)–success!–and also worked good ole’ Bill (WB1LLY) in Georgia.
Here’s my full log sheet:
Near the end of the activation (you might note this in the video), Monty and I hear a loud animal noise in the forest–very likely a black bear making itself known. We took that as a cue to pack up and move on.
Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you’ve been seeking a cure for insomnia, you’ve found it:
After leaving Richland Balsam, we decided to also take in W4C/CM-005 (Black Balsam Knob) which is another 10 point summit on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tried making a video of this activation, but for some reason the camera shut down after nine minutes. I’m uncertain yet if I’ll publish that video with a post. We’ll see! It, too, was a fun activation.
After Black Balsam, Monty and I prepared a late lunch back at the campsite and decided that there was still enough of the day left to take in the Mount Pisgah summit trail. Frankly, it was simply too tempting! There was a trail not even 25 feet from our tents which lead us to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. Since I had already activated Mount Pisgah only recently, I didn’t take radio gear this time.
Funny, but we both underestimated the hike from our campsite to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. In my head, I assumed it was perhaps half a mile or so. Turns out, it was more like 1.5 miles one way!
Combined with the actual Mount Pisgah trail, it made for a decent amount of hiking. I believe we left the campsite around 16:00 local and were back by 19:00 or so.
That Monday turned out to be a day full of hiking, radio, and hanging with Monty. It was amazing fun.
As always, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.
Here’s wishing everyone good health and maybe even a little outdoor radio fun this week!
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!
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!
On Monday, March 22, 2021, I performed three QRP field activations in one day. I started off the day with a visit to Three Top Mountain Game Land, and then headed to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area for a POTA and SOTA activation before heading to New River State Park.
When plotting my multi-site activation day, I picked Mount Jefferson because it’s a SOTA entity (W4C/EM-021). I only realized later that it’s also a POTA entity (K-3846). I mistakenly assumed Mount Jefferson was a county park rather than an NC state park. To do both a POTA and SOTA activation simultaneously is ideal!
Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021)
This was my first visit to Mount Jefferson and, frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of hiking.
The park itself is amazing! North Carolina parks never let me down.
The entrance is near the base of the mountain and very close to the town of West Jefferson. The park road climbs up the side of Mount Jefferson –there are a number of spots to park, hike, and picnic.
I had not checked the trail map in advance, but I had read that the summit trail was accessible from the parking and picnic area at the end (top) of the park road.
I hopped out of my car, grabbed my SOTA pack, and very quickly found the trail head.
The trail is impeccably maintained and wide enough for vehicle use (no doubt these trails double as access for tower maintenance on the summit).
The hike to the summit from the parking are was incredibly short–about .3 miles. Normally, I’d want a much longer hike, but since I was trying to fit three site activations in a span of four hours, I didn’t complain.
On top of the summit, one is greeted by a typical cluster of transmission towers.
While I appreciate checking out antennas and towers, these are never a welcome site because they can generate serious QRM, making a SOTA activation difficult.
I searched around and found a spot to set up well within the activation zone but giving me a bit of distance from the towers.
My Yaesu FT-817ND was desperate to get a little SOTA action, so I decided to pair it with the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite using the Elecraft T1 ATU to find matches.
After putting the FT-817 on the air, I was very pleased to hear that the nearby transmission towers and power lines weren’t causing any noticeable interference. This was a very good sign because, frankly, propagation was very unstable that day and I had real concerns about being able to work stations on 40 meters.
I hopped on the air and quickly realized I’d forgotten to hook my external battery up to the Yaesu FT-817ND. This meant I was running something closer to 2.5 watts as opposed to a full 5 watts. I decided to attempt the activation without the external battery and add it if needed.
I started operating on 20 meters and was very pleased to quickly rack up a number of contacts. I could tell that most of these contacts were via SOTA because I recognized the calls and primarily SOTA chasers.
Within 11 minutes, I worked 10 stations on 20 meters in CW. I was very pleased with how quickly those QSOs rolled in and how easily I logged the four needed for a valid SOTA and 10 needed for POTA activation–all on 20 meters.
Next, I moved to 40 meters where I worked two stations and 30 meters where I worked one. For sure, 20 meters was a much stronger band than 40 and 30 turned out to be.
After working 13 stations, I packed up.
Obviously, 2.5 watts was plenty for this activation!
I would have loved to stay longer, but frankly, I needed to stick to my schedule because I had one more park to fit in that day! (More on that in a future post and video!).
Here’s my QSOmap for the Mount Jefferson activation:
And here’s my full log:
Even though I was a bit pressed for time, I still made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation. I hope you enjoy:
Next up will be an activation of New River State Park. I hope to post this early next week.
Last Tuesday (March 2, 2021), I needed to make a quick trip to south Asheville and pick up some gear I had ordered from REI. Of course, I had a hankering to fit in a Parks On The Air activation. I contacted my buddies Eric (WD8RIF) and Mike (K8RAT) and mentioned I might make a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway [it’s always a good idea to have others look for you in case your unable to spot yourself on the bands].
By the time I jumped in the car, though, I talked myself out of doing the activation. Propagation was poor and I had a maximum of 30 minutes to fit in a valid activation.
After picking up my gear at REI, I realized, though, that a 30 minute limit made for an awfully fun challenge.
I had to pass by the parkway to go home, so why not? Right?
I did a quick check and, yes(!) I had the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite antenna in the car.
Before leaving REI, I scheduled my activation on the POTA website so that the site would know to auto-spot me if the Reverse Beacon Network picked me up.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I arrived at the parkway in very short order. I decided to do the activation at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor’s Center and Headquarters. Normally, I avoid this location because it’s busy and the best spots to set up a radio are in the path of visitors walking around the perimeter of the grounds.
It was a cold, overcast Tuesday morning so, as I expected, I almost had the place to myself.
I deployed the CHA MPAS Lite vertical in very short order–perhaps 3 minutes. Since I had also packed my Pixel 3 camera/phone and tripod in the car, I even recorded a video of the full activation (see below).
In short? I snagged my 10 contacts in about 19 minutes on the air–all on 40 meters CW. Not too bad for a Tuesday morning with five watts and a vertical.
Here’s a QSOmap of the contacts I made:
I also had a first at this activation! I worked ND9M/MM. To my knowledge, I’ve never worked a maritime mobile station at a park activation–certainly not in CW! The map above omits this contact since the location was unknown.
When I submitted my log to Bill DeLoach (our regional contact for POTA logs) said I really need a “Wham Bam!” award for this quick activation. Ha ha!
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!
Tuesday last week (December 8, 2020), I was still on a much-needed weeklong vacation near Charleston, South Carolina with my family. We had the day wide-open to enjoy the outdoors and my wife suggested we find a nice park where I could play radio and we could enjoy a picnic.
I looked on the POTA map and chose the Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (K-3888) primarily because I thought it would be fun to spend some time near a lake.
The drive there was over an hour from where we were staying on John’s Island, but well worth it!
Turns out, it was pretty chilly and windy that day due to a front that had moved through the area during the night. After exploring the area a bit, my wife and daughters decided to enjoy their picnic in the car while I did the activation!
On the air
The spot we found near one of the lakes was ideal for a POTA activation. Although there were numerous large trees that were perfect for wire antennas, I deployed my CHA Emcomm Lite vertical knowing it would also perform well (and it did!)
Because the CHA MPAS Lite is so easy to deploy, I was on the air in a matter of minutes. I decided to stake it in the ground next to the water about 50 feet from my operating position under a tree. You can see it in the photo above (it’s rather stealthy!).
I’m not at all bothered by cold weather, but it was windy enough that my hands did get cold.
I started calling CQ around 17:55 UTC and by 18:34 I had logged a total of 21 stations on both 40 and 30 meters.
POTA hunters will often thank me for activating a park. I always tell them “it’s my pleasure.” Because it is! Just check out the view from my shack!
This is why I love POTA and SOTA so much. I’m a firm believer that radios and their operators are meant to be outdoors!
When I operate outdoors, I tune out everything else in the world and just enjoy the radio time and the outdoors. It’s bliss.
I kept my total time on site less than one hour so my family and I could continue exploring the area and even get a long walk on the beach before sunset.
Here’s a map of the stations I worked with 5-10 watts. Since I discovered this park had never been activated in CW, I made it a CW-only activation:
If you find yourself in the Charleston, SC area, I highly recommend a trip to Bonneau Ferry WMA for some Parks On The Air fun!