Tag Archives: Elecraft KX2

Activating Anderson Mountain: My first drive-up one point summit

As AA6XA wrote on his blog:

To quote the W4C association manager Pat, KI4SVM, “Anderson is a drive-up with no other redeeming qualities.” This perfectly describes the mountain. It is easy to get to, at the top of Tower Road, right off of Route 16. The road to the top get a bit rough in places, but is passable in any car.

He had me at “no other redeeming qualities”–!

I must admit that all of the summits I’ve activated so far have been pretty amazing: offering up spectacular views, wildlife, and wonderful hiking opportunities. All of them were also on protected public lands like state/national/county parks.

Anderson Mountain (W4C/WP-012)

Earlier this year, I made a spreadsheet of summits I planned to activate. Anderson Mountain was one of them because of its convenient location in my travels to visit family each week. I had also been saving it for the day that I planned to activate a nearby park–Tuesday, July 6, 2021 was that day!

Earlier, I had an amazing activation at Mountain Island Educational State Forest using the Yaesu FT-817ND, T1, and my speaker wire antenna. I completed Mountain Island in enough time I could also pop by Anderson Mountain for a quick activation.  It was literally a six minute detour from my route, if that.

The mountain is directly off of US 16–the main highway between Newton/Conover and Charlotte.

You turn off of the highway onto a dead end road that leads to the summit. About halfway up, it turns into a single lane privately-maintained road that, as AA6XA noted above, is rough but passable in any car (well, save a Lamborghini but I’m guessing most SOTA ops don’t own one of those!).

The road to the summit is a straight–there’re no confusing forks in the road and it’s impossible to get lost.

Once on top, you’re greeted by a few clusters of communications towers. This is actually pretty common sight with smaller one point summits because they typically have superb line-of-sight to populated areas and are easily accessible by vehicle.

When you look around, you can understand why Pat would say it has no redeeming qualities: towers, rusty transmitter buildings, razor wire on chain link fences, and litter all over the place.

Not the sort of spot that would inspire Ansel Adams.

Judgement call

It’s worth noting here that, unlike POTA, you’re not allowed to operate from a vehicle during a SOTA activation–even at a “drive-up” summit. There’s no such thing as a mobile SOTA activation.

Indeed, you’re not supposed to operate in “the vicinity” of your vehicle either (although, there’s no distance noted and I’m guessing this is on purpose to allow leeway and the op to make a judgement call).

I set up in a little island of trees in the middle of a road loop on the summit. While I wouldn’t call it a hike, I did walk the entire summit after arriving to check for other operating spots, but decided to set up near where I parked the car. In fact, it’s really the only safe spot I noted in the activation zone to park since the road is single lane and you would otherwise block access to one of the transmitter sites. I thought about parking further down the road next to one of the transmitter fences, but I felt like that would have been on private property.

Side note: SOTA forbids operators from trespassing on private property without the owner’s permission. I checked the road very carefully for “no trespassing” signs, but the only ones I found were to keep people out of and away from the fenced-in transmitter sites.

I also thought about trying to operate in a spot on that little island where I couldn’t see my car as easily in the cluster of trees–to remove myself from the “vicinity” of the car–but that would have been awkward, too and only separated me an additional 10-15 meters or so. I chose the option where others could see me and I could see them if, for example, a Duke Energy service vehicle approached.

I was fully outside of my car, though, and not using it to support my antenna or any equipment–another important factor.

Sometimes as an operator you have to make a judgement call when you arrive at a site to stay within the rules and the spirit of the program. I’ve never had a SOTA or POTA activation where I felt I was splitting hairs until this one. I decided that this was the best scenario to activate Anderson Mountain in a way that wouldn’t inconvenience other property owners, nor cause suspicion that might lead to a future no trespassing sign on the road. It was the safest set up and I’m willing to bet most previous activators did exactly the same thing. I felt it was within the spirit of the program.

Now where was I–? Oh yes…

Gear:

On The Air

Since I used the speaker wire antenna at Mountain Island, I used it on Anderson Mountain as well. I deployed the entire station within 5 minutes max: herein lies the advantage of using an arborist throw line, a shack-in-a-box transceiver like the KX2, and a simple wire antenna.

I first hopped on 20 meters CW, spotted myself to the SOTA network (mobile phone reception was superb, by the way) and started calling CQ SOTA.

Within three minutes I logged K6YK, KT5X, W5GDW, and K0LAF which already validated this SOTA activation.

Wow–validating this activation was, as my daughters used to say, “easy peasy lemon squeezy.” 🙂

I added WB6POT and N0RZ for a total of six stations on 20 meters within five minutes.

I then moved to 40 meters SSB and worked K8RAT, W4NA, and WN4AT all within about three minutes.

Finally, I moved up to the 17 meter band and worked F4WBN (our well-known French SOTA chaser) and K2LT.

Packing up my gear was as quick as setting it up.

Video

I did make one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire Anderson Mountain activation with no edits. If you need a cure for insomnia, I encourage you to watch or listen to it:

At least one redeeming quality…

I mention in the video that some readers and subscribers have confessed that they feel SOTA is less accessible to them than POTA or WWFF.  I would have to agree that summit activations are much less accessible than park activations.

For one thing, there are flat regions on our planet that lack prominences that qualify for the SOTA program. If you live in the middle of a prairie state, you may have to drive a great distance to reach the closest qualifying summit (although you might have a number of POTA and WWFF parks nearby).

In addition, summit activating generally involves hiking–which is actually the motivating factor for many of us (certainly for me as I love hiking).

Some would-be SOTA activators have mobility issues, however, and simply can’t hike great distances with gear on their backs.

This is where “drive-up” summits like Anderson Mountain come in: they’re much more accessible for those with health considerations.

If you live in an area with SOTA summits, but haven’t attempted an activation because you can’t do strenuous hikes, connect with local SOTA activators and ask for a list of “drive-up” summits. There are many of these around–some, like Anderson, are accessible because there are radio towers on top, other are accessible because they’re on a park with accessible vistas, or some are even in a mountaintop neighborhood.

Thank you

I’d like to thank all of you for reading this field report and I’d especially like to thank those of you who contribute to QRPer.com via Patreon and our Coffee Fund. While my content will always be free and QRPer is very much a labor of love, your support helps me purchase gear and supports my radio travels. With that said, if you’re saving up for your first radio or need to invest in your own kit, I’d rather you support yourself!

My goal with QRPer is to champion field radio operations and encourage others to discover the benefits of playing radio outdoors!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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An amazing SOTA activation on Mount Pisgah (W4C/CM-011)

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.

One reason for its popularity is because it’s so accessible. Not only is there a dedicated, large parking area at the main trailhead off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s also an easy hike from the excellent Pisgah Inn, restaurant, and camp grounds.

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.

Gear:

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!

Fabulous conditions!

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.

Phenomenal!

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!

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire Mount Pisgah SOTA activation:

A memorable activation indeed

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!


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SOTA: Activating Bearwallow Mountain with the KX2, MPAS Lite, and Hazel

The MPAS Lite vertical has an impressive view!

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?

The Bearwallow antenna farm is extensive!

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.

Click here for a map of the trails (PDF).

Hazel and I decided to go up the foot trail and descend via the Fire Tower Road to make a loop.

We spotted a number of plants in bloom on the way up.

The foot trail is an easy one to hike, too. It’s well-maintained, as I mentioned, and there are only a couple of steep-ish sections.

There are even opportunities to take in views on the trail.

When you reach the top of the trail, it opens onto a pasture.

And the views are panoramic!

There are cattle all over the summit, so give them wide berth.

Speaking of cattle, Hazel is quite fond of them…or at least what they leave behind.

She’s been known to roll in cow patties when she has the opportunity (or if I’m distracted with something else…like performing an activation!).

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.

Gear:

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! 🙂

Here’s a QSO map of the contacts:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life (a.k.a. it’ll put you to sleep) video of the entire activation:

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!

Thank you & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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A memorable Bakers Mountain SOTA activation with the Elecraft KX2 & PackTenna 9:1

Besides Lane Pinnacle, there’s been one SOTA summit, in particular, I was eager to activate this year: Bakers Mountain (W4C/WP-007).

I practically grew up in the shadow of this little outlier mountain in Catawba County, North Carolina–my home was only a couple miles away as the crow flies and it has always been a bit of a landmark in my childhood stomping grounds.

Growing up, the land in/around Bakers Mountain was basically off-limits and privately owned. In the late 1980s, one of the land owners gave a large tract of land to the county to protect it from development (which started booming in the area around that time).

In June, 2002, while I was living in the UK, Catawba County open up the 189 acre park and its 6 miles of trails to the public.

I love Bakers Mountain park. Even though the mountain isn’t terribly tall (1780 feet/543 meters ASL) parts of the trail system are fairly strenuous. When I want to escape and clear my head, the Bakers Mountain trails are the perfect medicine.

Bakers Mountain: What’s in a name?

An interesting tidbit about Bakers Mountain that I learned from one of the park rangers: it was originally called “McBride Mountain in the late 1700s, but as more German settlers moved into the area, German family names became predominant.

The Baker family had large tracts of land in/around the mountain and, locally, people started referring to it as “Baker’s Mountain” sometime in the 1800s and the name stuck.

Officially, the name of the mountain is “Bakers Mountain” although, I suppose, it should have been called “Baker’s Mountain” or maybe “Bakers’ Mountain.” An apostrophe was never added, though.

It’s a source of confusion for those who make maps and refer to the mountain. In the SOTA database, it’s referred to as “Baker Mountain.” That is incorrect, of course, but the SOTA database is likely built upon one of the topographic map databases where it’s incorrectly labeled.

So there you go. Tuck away this bit of trivia and sound like a local next time you’re in Catawba County!

Now where was I? Oh yes…

So on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, I packed my Elecraft KX2 and PackTenna 9:1 UNUN antenna in the GoRuck GR1, and hit the Bakers Mountain trail system.

The weather was perfect, although the humidity was incredibly thick that day.

Mountain Laurels were in bloom and flanked portions of the trail.

I took the main red-blazed loop trail.

The trail is very well-marked and maintained with maps posted throughout.

At one point, you’ll happen upon the old home site.

The trail has a few steep sections, but overall is pretty moderate.

There’s no missing the summit trail.

Following the orange mountain top trail will take you to a gazebo and observation deck near the summit.

Keep in mind, though, that this is not the true summit of Bakers Mountain and isn’t close to the 25M SOTA activation zone. Still, the views are fantastic here, so take a breather and soak up the Catawba valley.

Click the pano image below to enlarge in a new window.

To find the trail to the real summit, you must follow the path crossing under the power lines near the observation area–you can’t miss it. While the public isn’t encouraged to take this path–and it is not a part of the Bakers Mountain trail network–a park ranger told me that the current owners don’t mind the odd SOTA activator following the trail to the summit.

The path–since it’s not a part of the public trail–is a bit overgrown. Follow this path until you intersect an overgrown narrow access road. At the intersection take a left and this will lead you to the true summit. The ring road around the summit is well within the AZ.

I found a little spot to set up among the trees on the summit. No views, but it was the perfect space to deploy the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN!

Gear:

On The Air

This being my first time activating Bakers Mountain, of course I made a real-time, real-life, no-edit video (see link below). Sorting out a way to set up the camera position took me longer than deploying the antenna and unpacking the radio! It can be a real challenge on a stony mountain summit.

The KX2 paired beautifully with the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN. I got a great match on 20 meters.

I started calling “CQ SOTA” and spotted myself on the SOTA network using the SOTA Goat app.

My first contact was SA4BLM in Sweden–I almost fell off of my rock!

Next, I worked KR7RK in Arizona, AE0XI in South Dakota, and HA9RE in Hungary! All in eight minutes.

Wow!

Next, I moved up to the 17 meter band where I logged AC1Z in New Hampshire, F4WBN in France, and KT5X in New Mexico.

Finally, I moved down to 40 meters where I worked K3TCU in Pennsylvania, K8RAT in Ohio, W4KRN in Virginia, and K4MF in Florida.

My total activation time was about 25 minutes.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO Map plotting out my QRP contacts. I must say, that modest PackTenna did a lot with my 5 watts! That and some good Bakers Mountain mojo! 🙂

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, unedited video of the entire activation from start to finish:

Click here to view on YouTube.

That was fun!

When I hike at Bakers Mountain, I add spur trails and connectors to make it as long as can in the time frame I have. The trip back to the car was actually a longer hike than it was to the summit.

But I had a spring in my step.

I was absolutely chuffed that my first activation of this particular summit was so exciting and fun. It still blows my mind what can be accomplished with 5 watts and a modest wire. I can’t wait to go back again.


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Comparing the lab599 Discovery TX-500 with the Elecraft KX2

Since I took delivery of my lab599 Discovery TX-500, one of the most asked questions I’ve received from readers of QRPer.com and my YouTube channel is:

Which should I buy, Thomas? The KX2 or TX-500–?

I’ve also been asked which radio is “better” and which one I’d purchase if I could only buy one.

To address these questions, I decided to make a YouTube video where I outline some of the pros and cons of both radios, and compare them in terms of features especially with regard to field use.

Video

Click here to watch my video on YouTube, or use the embedded player below:

In this video, I mention a number of external sites. I’ve included them in the video description, but I’ll also link to them below:

Feel free to comment if you have any specific questions and I’ll do my best to address them!

Activating The Pinnacle: Amazing SOTA & POTA fun with the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon MPAS Lite

Last Tuesday (April 20, 2021), I decided to make a detour to a park I had never visited before: Crowders Mountain State Park (K-2726).

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.

Gear:

On The Air

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.

Solar Flare!

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.

The view from my shack

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):

Video

Here’s one of my unedited real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation:

(Click here to view on YouTube)

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.

Perspective

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!


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Rendezvous Mountain Field Report: Activating three individual sites on one summit!

Last Wednesday (April 7, 2021), I managed to block out most of the day to play a little radio in the field. When I have opportunities like this, I usually take one of two approaches: either make a multi-park and/or summit run, or go further afield and activate a site or two on my bucket list.

I chose the latter.

Two of the very few sites from my 2020 Park Bucket List that I hadn’t managed to activate were Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest and Rendevous Mountain State Game Land. When I created my bucket list, both of these parks were very rare: one was an all-time new one, the other had only been activated once. In 2021, they were still rare but both had activations logged.

When two park entities are this close together, I will do my at-home research in advance and search for a spot where the boundaries of the two parks might overlap opening an opportunity for a one activation two-fer.  Although there are exceptions (like Elk Knob)  when a park and a game land share a common name, there’s a decent chance their boundaries overlap, possibly even in an accessible area.

Fortunately, I discovered last spring that Rendezvous Mountain did indeed have an accessible spot where both the game land and state educational forest meet. I pinpointed it on Google Maps and embedded the URL in my park bucket list spreadsheet:

I can’t overstate how important one of these lists is to an activator who loves exploring different  sites. When the weather outside is horrible and activating isn’t a good option, spend your time indoors doing research for a day when you can hit the field!

Tuesday evening, I decided to finally hit this Rendezvous Mountain two-fer. Since the weather was forecast to be beautiful, so I also wanted to fit in a proper hike, so I started searching for a nearby summit as well.

Click to enlarge

Turns out, there was a SOTA summit called “2543” (named after its height above sea level in feet) that was accessible from a Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest parking area. An easy four mile round-trip hike. Score!

Next, I found the 2543 summit on a topo map and compared it with the location I’d already plotted for my two-fer. Turns out, they were very close to each other–likely within 100 meters. I was able to confirm with confidence that the summit and game land could be activated at the same time. The state forest map was a little too vague to confirm its exact boundary.

I originally found this site using the NCWRC maps and topo/trail maps.

Here’s the interesting part: the game land parking area I planned to use was within 50-100 meters of the SOTA summit. If I wanted to, I could easily turn this summit into a drive-up activation. But again, I wanted to hike, so I plotted a trip to the parking area of Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest.

My plan was to hike to the summit, activate it and the game land as at the same time, then hike back to the Rendezvous Mountain Educational Forest’s parking area, grab a picnic table and activate the state forest separately.

I arrived on site around 11:30 and spent a few minutes confirming that I was hitting the correct trail (as there are multiple trails in this forest).

The trail head is at the last parking area, simply keep following the paved road which quickly turns into a gravel/logging road.

Turns out, it couldn’t be easier to find the summit trail (should you decide to make this same activation): simply drive to the last parking area in Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest, and continue walking up the road past the metal gate. This road will take you past the visitor’s center, turn into a gravel road, then pass the fire tower road on your right.

Simply continue following the main road for two miles. There are a few branches on this road and I did take one thinking I was sticking to the main road, but quickly discovered it was a dead end and had to back-track. In general, follow the most traveled road and you’ll be fine.

The summit is fairly nondescript since it’s lower in altitude and covered in trees. Look for a short spur road, two miles in, near the game land gate (where you could park if you wanted to do a drive-up activation).

As I hiked to the site, I realized that the logging/access road is actually the boundary between the game land and the state forest. A promising sign!

When I arrived at the short spur road that ended on the summit of 2543, I was very pleased to discover that the game land/forest boundary followed the spur road and was all well within the SOTA activation zone! Brilliant!

Rendezvous Mountain State Game Land (K-6941), Educational State Forest (K-4859), and
SOTA Summit 2543 (W4C/EM-082)

The game land, state forest, and summit all met on an old road bed that was flanked by tall trees.

This meant that I could activate all three sites in one go and–since there’d be no need to activate the state forest separately–still have enough time to perhaps activate Kerr Scott Game Land later in the afternoon on my way home.

You can see the state forest sign on the left, the game land sign on the right–both within the SOTA activation zone.

Point of clarification about park boundaries and “two-fers”

POTA is fairly clear about where park boundaries are in terms of counting a park in an activation, “The activator and all the equipment you use must be within the perimeters of the park, and on public property. […] If the park is part of a trail system or river, you need to be within 100 feet of the trail or river.”

In order to claim a two-fer, there needs to be park overlap. Technically,  you can’t straddle a map line between two (non-river/trail) park sites and activate them as a two-fer because you and your equipment can’t be in both places at the same time if there’s no property overlap. In POTA, there is no buffer area around a park unless it’s a trail or river.

SOTA is specific and gives you a 25 vertical meter activation zone which forms a contour line around the true summit (not a secondary, nearly as high area). Little room for interpretation here.

For Rendezvous Mountain, I decided it was a POTA two-fer because I activated on a road that is also a marked and blazed trail used for recreation/access for both the game land and forest–and both of these areas are a part of the over-arching Rendezvous Mountain State Forest.

Had this been a boundary defined by an imaginary (surveyed) line without a common trail or road, there would have been no point of overlap, thus no two-fer.

This was actually the first time I had been in this particular situation. All of the other multiples I’d activated in the past had vast areas of geographic overlap.

Again, no one but the POTA activator actually knows the truth, and it would be incredibly rare that anyone would ever question you after your logs have been submitted. There is no POTA Police and it’s not even a contest–it’s a group activity. It’s all about following the rules to the best of your ability, exercising due diligence,  and being honest with yourself.

Now where was I?

Gear:

At the site, I used my new compact arborist throw line bag.

It worked even better than I had expected.

I was concerned that the line wouldn’t deploy as smoothly as the line does from my larger arborist storage cube, but it deployed perfectly!

On the air

I deployed my Vibroplex EFT-MTR end-fed antenna across the road bed and connected it to my Elecraft KX2 with attached KXPD2 paddles.

This made for a very compact and simple setup: in situations like this, I love the compact size of the KX2 since it can easily fit on my clipboard where I also log on paper.

I also brought along my Google Pixel 3 and made a video of the entire activation (see below).

Propagation was very unstable, but I hoped that this site would be rare enough to attract SOTA, POTA, and WWFF chasers thus helping me log my needed 4 for SOTA and 10 for POTA/WWFF.

I first hopped on 20 meters CW where I quickly worked seven stations in eight minutes–from Utah and Arizona, to France, Spain and Germany. An excellent start!

I then hopped on 30 meters (using the KX2’s ATU instead of removing the SMA cap on the EFT-MTR), and worked one station in Missouri.

Next, on 40 meters CW, I logged another six stations in six minutes.

I then connected the microphone and worked a Summit-To-Summit contact on 20 meters SSB. I was very pleased to put K4AAE/P in the logs because I had difficultly working other stations on 20M SSB.

Finally, I moved to 40 meters SSB and worked a total of four stations in five minutes.

All-in-all, a total of 19 contacts logged in a total of 45 minutes on the air.  Not bad for QRP on a poor propagation day!

QSO Map

Video

I made one of my real-time, real life videos of the entire activation. Check it out below or via my YouTube channel:

Photos

As I hiked back to the car, I took my time and enjoyed the weather, the hike, and the solitude. Here are a  few extra photos from the camera roll:

Thank you for reading this field report!

If you ever pass by North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, I highly recommend this site. It’s very rare that you find a site that is a SOTA, POTA, and WWFF entity and that can be activated by a pleasant 4 mile RT hike, or as a drive-up.

I’ll plan to hit Rendezvous Mountain again next year!


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Which should you buy? The Icom IC-705 or the Elecraft KX2?

Without a doubt, the most popular type of question I receive from readers here on QPRer.com and over at the SWLing Post has to do with making equipment purchase decisions.

In the past two months, I’ve had numerous questions from QRPer readers asking my opinion about choosing between the new Icom IC-705, or the Elecraft KX2. In fact, as I started putting this post together this morning, I received yet another email from a reader asking my opinion about these two iconic QRP transceivers!

I love both of these radios for different reasons, so the answer is not an easy one.

Let’s discuss this in some detail…

I decided to make a video talking about the pros and cons of each transceiver and note the reasons why one might pick one over the other. My hope is that this will help inform a purchase decision:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Do you own both of these radios? Or did you recently decide to purchase one instead of the other? Please comment with your thoughts and opinions!

Why did I replace my KX2 aluminum encoder knob with the stock plastic one?

Many thanks to Nick (KC0MYW) who writes:

I notice that you put the stock knob back on your KX-2 instead of the aluminum one you sang the praises of here:

https://swling.com/blog/2018/01/a-25-upgrade-for-the-elecraft-kx2/

I’d be interested in your thoughts/views/opinion/reasoning for that. I am hoping to get a KX-2 soon and was planning to get the aluminum knob that you recommended.

Excellent question. I did, indeed, swap out the nicer aluminum knob with the stock lightweight knob. I meant to write a quick note about that last year.

I did this after watching a presentation by Wayne Burdick (N6KR) for the QSO Today Expo last year.

Here’s the video queued up to the spot where Wayne mentions why he doesn’t recommend anything other than the stock plastic encoder:

In the video, I believe he’s really referring to heavier encoders rather than the lightweight aluminum one, but I still pulled it thinking I was perfectly happy with the plastic one and would accept the compromise. Anything to extend the longevity of my KX2.

The video is a fascinating look at how the KX2 was designed and developed. I would encourage you to watch the entire video when you have the time.

Activating Elk Knob State Park for SOTA, POTA, and WWFF

On Monday, March 8, 2021, I had a very rare opportunity: nearly a full day to play radio!

I debated where to go the night before and I had a lot of ideas. Do a multi-park run?  Activate some new-to-me parks a little further afield? Hit a SOTA summit?

While it was very appealing to plan a multi-park run for POTA/WWFF, I really wanted to stretch my legs and activate a summit. The weather was glorious and it dawned upon me that we’ll soon be entering the season of afternoon thunderstorms which will, no doubt, have a negative impact on my summit plans for the next few months since afternoons are typically when I have time to do activations.

After examining the map, I decided to go to Elk Knob State Park. The summit of Elk Knob is a SOTA site and the park is in both the POTA and WWFF programs.

Last year, I activated Elk Knob State Park and really enjoyed the experience.

The round trip hike to the summit (adding in a little trail loop around the park) would amount to about 4 total miles and an elevation increase of roughly 1,000 feet.

Monday morning, I left the QTH around 9:00 and arrived at the park around 11:15–it was a proper scenic drive.

The 1.9 mile hike to the summit took me about 45 minutes. The path was amazingly well maintained: 4′ wide with crushed stone most of the way.

One of the nicest trails I’ve been on in ages–Elk Knob State Park is quickly becoming one of my favorite NC State Parks.

There aren’t any antenna-friendly trees on the summit, so I was happy that I packed the Chameleon MPAS 2.0.

At first, I planned to only bring the top section of the MPAS 2.0 vertical to save space, but the hike was so short, I brought the lower aluminum sections as well. I’m glad I did.

Deployment of the MPAS 2.0 was quick and I the Elecraft KX2‘s internal ATU found a match on 20 meters very quickly.

Elk Knob (W4C/EM-005)

I spotted myself using the SOTA Goat app and received quite a 20 meter CW pileup! As you’ll see in my video below, it was testing the limits of my CW skills for sure.

With 5 watts, I quickly worked stations to my east in France, Spain, and Germany, and to my west all over the west coast of North America. It was a hoot!

I eventually moved to 40 meters and operated a bit, but 40 was suffering from poor propagation so stations that are normally quite strong, were weak that day.

I needed four stations for a valid SOTA activation and 10 stations for a valid park activation. I logged a total of 38 stations in 56 minutes. 75% of those contacts were on 20 meters.

Video

Here’s one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation (less a small amount I removed while eating a quick bite):

When people tell me running QRP is like “trying to play radio with both hands tied behind your back” I’ll show them this video. 🙂

AGN?

While the hike, the weather, and the signals were all in my favor, I’ll admit I wasn’t on my “A Game” that day. We all have days like this where we struggle to copy, to keep up with the flow of contacts, and to send correctly.

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a number of emails from readers and viewers who said they had a less-than-smooth SOTA or POTA activation and felt a wee bit embarrassed on the air when they struggled copying.

But you know what?

No worries!!!

This is all about having radio fun in the field, enjoying a hike, taking in the views, and soaking up the beautiful weather! It’s not a contest and we have nothing to prove to anyone.

I can also promise you that any chaser/hunter who has ever activated a field site will completely understand if they have to send their call a couple extra times or if they (heaven forbid!) have to re-send their call after you incorrectly copy a character.

This is totally normal.

Be easy on yourself and enjoy the ride. Even on days when I don’t feel like I’m 100% in the groove, I find doing a summit or park activation clears my mind and resets my soul.

My policy? When a mistake is made laugh it off and move on!

Photos

Here are a few extra photos from the Elk Knob hike:


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