The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the easiest POTA sites for me to activate when I’m at the QTH.
Pretty much anytime I head into Asheville from home, I’m going to cross the parkway. The BRP is such a refuge, I often take it to avoid hitting the Interstate or a busy highways. It takes longer, but it’s orders of magnitude more peaceful and pleasant than, say, Interstate 40.
On Monday, September 13, 2021, I had a small opening in my schedule in the afternoon and decided to pop by the Folk Art Center for a quick picnic table activation since I was passing by.
The Folk Art Center is a site where I typically deploy smaller, lower-profile antennas to keep from interfering with others who are enjoying the park. I try to keep my antennas very close to my operating spot and my counterpoises on the ground in a space where others aren’t likely to tread.
In the past, I’ve used the Wolf River Coils TIA, the Elecraft AX1, Chameleon MPAS Lite & MPAS 2.0, and once, a Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire. I avoid anything that slopes so that I don’t inadvertently “clothesline” unsuspecting vacationers!
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.
After a successful SOTA and POTA activation at Hanging Rock State Park on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, I drove to nearby Pilot Mountain State Park. It was quite warm, but a beautiful day with no afternoon thunderstorms in sight.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play a little more radio. As the French say, “Il faut en profiter!”
Although I’ve seen Pilot Mountain numerous times in my travels, I had never actually visited the park so this was a new-to-me park activation.
Pilot mountain is a landmark in the Yadkin river valley and has a fascinating back story.
Per Pilot Mountain State Park’s website:
“Pilot Mountain is a remnant of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. A quartzite monadnock, this rugged mountain rock has survived for millions of years while the elements have eroded surrounding peaks to a rolling plain.
Pilot Mountain is capped by two prominent pinnacles. Big Pinnacle, with walls of bare rock and a rounded top covered by vegetation, rises 1,400 feet above the valley floor, the knob jutting skyward more than 200 feet from its base. Big Pinnacle is connected to Little Pinnacle by a narrow saddle.
The mountain was mapped in 1751 by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, father of President Thomas Jefferson. Pilot Mountain became North Carolina’s 14th state park in 1968. The Pilot Mountain Preservation and Park Committee proposed the establishment of Pilot Mountain as a state park in order to protect it and the surrounding area from commercial development. The group secured options on the land and raised matching funds that made it possible to purchase with
Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, but it has never been activated because it would require an experienced rock climber (assuming access is even allowed). The base of Big Pinnacle is 61 meters above the summit trail system, so well outside the 25 meter activation zone.
Pilot Mountain State Park (K-2750)
I only had my sights set on making a park activation out of Pilot Mountain and, frankly, I didn’t even have time to explore the trail system that Tuesday.
Finding a spot to set up was quite easy. I entered the park and took a right at the roundabout which lead to the parking area at the top portion of the mountain.
From there, I found a small picnic area perhaps 50 meters from the parking lot. I carried my gear there and set up shop!
Since I was doing this activation mid-afternoon, I had the picnic area to myself, save one unfortunate woman who was trying to (conspicuously, if I’m being honest) fit in a bit of meditation time. She picked out a picnic table near one of the main trails basically in the center of the picnic site , so I assumed she was pretty good at blocking out noises you’d normally hear at a busy park.
But the question remained: could she block out the sweet sound of CW emanating from my FT-817?
There was only one way to find out!
In truth, I try to lay low at parks and not disturb other people. In this case, I picked a table on the perimeter of the picnic area but it was still only a couple tables away from her. Since I was making one of my real-time, real-life field activation videos, I would be using the speaker–instead of headphones–with the FT-817.
In other words, there was no escaping a little CW music!
Of course, the benefit of camping at a state park is being able to play radio pretty much anytime while on the park grounds. For a few days, it’s like you’re living in a park activation and can actually set up an antenna and use it over the course of multiple days.
It’s such a big departure from my typically short (45-90 minute) park activations.
When we first arrived at the New River State Park campground, I deployed my PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna.
I brought two transceivers with me: the Xeigu X5105 and the Discovery TX-500–I pretty much split my operating the time equally between the two radios.
New River State Park (K-2748)
Although I spent much more time on the air than I normally do, I didn’t make videos of each session. One reason is I wanted to operate with earphones–especially since some of my sessions were later in the evening or early in the morning. I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors at the campground.
That and, especially with the X5105, I wanted to see what it would be like to operate with earphones for extended sessions. Prior to making videos of my activations, I almost exclusively used earphones in the field. I appreciate the sound isolation earphones offer–I also find they help tremendously with weak signal work. When I make videos, however, I don’t want to go through the hassle of recording the line-out audio separately in order to use headphones, so I use an external speaker.
I decided to record my Wednesday, June 23, 2021 evening session with the Discovery TX-500.
This session started only a few minutes prior to the end of the UTC day which meant I had to watch the clock very carefully and clear my logs at the beginning of the UTC day (20:00 EDT).
In POTA and other field activities, if your activation straddles the UTC day change, you must keep in mind that any contacts made after 0:00 UTC can only be counted on the next day’s logs. This was not a problem for me because I had logged dozens of stations earlier in the day, but if you ever start an activation close to the UTC day change, you need to make sure you log your 10 contacts for a valid activation prior to 0:00 UTC.
Another thing complicating my sessions at New River State Park was that I chose not to schedule my activation via the POTA website prior to our trip.
If you schedule your activation via the POTA website, anytime the Reverse Beacon Network picks up your CQ calls (in CW), the POTA spots website will scrape that information and auto-spot you. It’s an amazing convenience for those of us who operate CW.
I chose not to schedule my activation days at New River because I had also planned to operate at another nearby park during my stay and I didn’t want the system to spot me incorrectly. That, and I thought I would have mobile phone coverage to self-spot.
It turned out that–contrary to my mobile phone company’s coverage maps–I had no internet service at the park. None.
In order to get spotted, I relied on my Garmin InReach GPS/satellite device to send short text messages to my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF). My pre-formatted message would prompt them to check the RBN for my frequency, then spot me to the POTA site manually.
I’m incredibly grateful to have had them helping me in the background. Everyone should have a Mike and Eric as friends!
I made a real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation. Note that it took a while to get spotted, so the first ten minutes are simply me talking (it’s alright to skip that bit…it won’t hurt my feelings!).
Also, here’s a QSO map of that day’s contacts. Note that this includes stations I logged later in the UTC day (i.e. the following morning/day.
Due to some unexpected conflicts, our camping trip was shorter than we would have liked. We plan to visit New River later this year and spend much more time there. It’s a beautiful park!
Thanks for reading this short field report and here’s hoping you get a chance to play radio in the field soon!
When it comes to parks, I haven’t picked up many new-to-me “uniques” lately.
In truth, though, I’ve put more effort into activating unique summits which takes more time to plan, plot, and activate. SOTA has taken a bite out of my park uniques, but I’m good with that because to me it’s less about my park/summit numbers and more about the exploration and outdoor radio time.
On Tuesday (July 6, 2021) however, I added one more unique to my 2021 park count: Mountain Island Educational State Forest (K-4858).
This park is actually a modest detour during my weekly travels, but I’ve never popped by for an activation. You see, unlike other state parks I visit, Mountain Island isn’t yet open to the public on a daily basis. On their website, they state that visits must be arranged in advance, so I reached out to them the morning of July 6 and they promptly replied, welcoming me for a visit and activation that very same day!
Off the beaten path
Since this state park isn’t yet open to the public, I didn’t see the typical brown highway signs pointing me to the park entrance, but Google Maps steered me right to the front gate where there’s a sign.
The gates were unlocked and open, so I pulled into the property and met with two of the park staff who were incredibly kind and accommodating. They were both familiar with the Parks On The Air (POTA) program which made it much easier for me to ask about spots where I could set up my station.
First, though, I wanted to know more about Mountain Island Educational State Forest so I asked ranger Laura about the history of the site.
Turns out, Mountain Island is the newest Educational State Forest in North Carolina and has been in the works for more than 20 years.
The Forest is a vast conservation area that protects 12 miles of shoreline on Mountain Island Lake in the Catawba River Basin. This lake is the primary drinking water supply area for Charlotte, Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties. She told me that one in 23 North Carolinians rely on this area for their source of water.
Much of the land was originally owned by Duke Power who put it up for sale in 1998. Conservation groups purchased the land from Duke’s real estate agency in 1998 and put it into a conservation easement. The land is actually in two counties (Gaston and Lincoln) and a portion in the city limits of Gastonia.
The NC Forest Service now manages the forest and supports the public-private partnership with the counties, municipalities, and conservation groups.
Mountain Island has been actively educating school groups and the public about the river basin and local flora/fauna for many years by appointment. Currently, a new education center is being built on the property and will soon be open to the public with regular business hours. Being so close to population centers, I imagine they’ll stay busy!
Park ranger Laura was kind enough to allow me to set up under a huge tree in front of their ranger station.
I was grateful for the shade: it was 92F (33.3C) and humid.
There were no picnic tables under the tree, but I happened to have two folding chairs in my car. I used one as a table and the other as a chair. I flipped over my GoRuck GR1 backpack to make a stable base for the Yaesu FT-817ND.
I was super pleased to put the Yaesu FT-817ND back on the air. It’s been a while since I’d used it in the field because my review radios (TX-500, X5105, etc.) have taken priority.
I love the FT-817ND and believe it’s actually an exceptional transceiver for CW and SSB ops. The CW full break-in QSK is wonderful and I actually like the mechanical sound of the T/R relay switching (if you like pin diode switching, you should look the other way, though!). With the 500Hz CW filter installed, the front end is pretty bullet-proof, too!
This was the first time I had paired the FT-817ND with my 28.5 foot speaker wire antenna. The random wire antenna needs a good ATU to match impedance, so I employed the Elecraft T1 this time (soon I’ll also try the LDG Z-100A).
I had planned to do a little SSB work, but quickly realized I’d forgotten the FT-817ND microphone. A shame because this site actually has excellent mobile phone service so I could have spotted myself to the network. Next time–!
I started on 40 meters CW and worked ten stations in 21 minutes. That’s a perfect pace for me!
Next, I moved to 20 meters where I worked six more in 9 minutes.
I was incredibly pleased with how well the speaker wire antenna performed–especially on 20 meters.
From the Piedmont of North Carolina, I worked Montana, Texas, New Hampshire, and Italy with 5 watts into $4 worth of speaker wire.
I did a quick back-of-the-envelop calculation and discovered that I yielded about 943 miles per watt!
To be clear, IK4IDF did all of the heavy lifting in our contact with his 9 element Yagi, but still it’s awfully exciting to put DX in the logs with only fair propagation.
Of course, I made a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation (save the set-up and take-down):
I packed up quickly because I had a SOTA activation planned that afternoon on Anderson Mountain. I’ll post a field report and video of that activation soon.
Rev 4 FT-817 Buddy Board
Also, I’m about to start soldering together G7UHN’s new Rev 4 FT-817 Buddy Board! Revision 2 worked wonderfully, but revision 4 now includes a CW memory keyer among other upgrades! (Woo hoo!) All of the components are now in the shack–just a matter of soldering them together and programing the Arduino Nano. Andy, if you’re reading this, expect a call from me soon, OM!
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!
On the morning of May 10, 2021, I had a hankering to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick park activation.
I had a particular spot in mind–one that’s only two miles or so from my QTH as the crow flies. The only wrinkle in my plan was that we were expecting rain all morning and at our house we were in thick fog and light, steady rain.
Normally when I have these conditions, I look for a sheltered site, but I thought it might be a great time to take out the TX-500 since it’s weather-resistant. Why not, right?
I packed the lab599 Discovery TX-500, my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical, and my Elecraft T1 antenna tuner to pair the two. I also brought along some rain gear.
Although the activation site is close to home as the crow flies, it actually takes about 30 minutes to drive there. By the time I reached the site, the skies were mostly clear and the sun was shining! This time of year, it reminds me of living in the UK: if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.
This was very much a road side activation. The spot I chose isn’t an overlook–although it did provide amazing views–it was simple a pull-off.
This is where antennas like the MPAS 2.0 are so useful: they are self-supporting and very quick to deploy. Since I was set up right off the road, I also appreciate using verticals rather than wire antennas since the antenna and throw line aren’t in the way of others who might choose to park in the same pull-off. I can easily deploy the counterpoise and feedline so that it’s out of the way.
As with most park activations, I started on 40 meters CW and only operated 5 watts.
I quickly racked up five contacts on 40 meters, then the band fell silent.
I moved up to 30, then 20, down to 80, back to 60 and 40 again.
About 30 minutes had passed since I was last on 40 meters, so new hunters were checking the bands. I snagged a total of seven more contacts in about eleven minutes.
Obviously, 40 meters was the only band open that morning!
A quick note about 80 meters
I get a lot of questions from readers and YouTube subscribers about my use of the 80 meter band during the daytime.
I go into more detail about this in the video, but contrary to what many think, 80 meters can be a very useful daytime band for POTA activators.
While it’s true that you’re not going to work DX on 80 meters during the daylight hours (else, highly unlikely), you can still work local and regional stations.
Keep in mind that POTA, WWFF, and SOTA activations aren’t about working DX. DX is fun and perhaps a personal goal, but it has nothing to do with success in achieving a valid activation.
Basically, any contacts–DX or local–will get you what is needed for a valid activation.
If, like me, you live in a part of the country where there are a concentration of park and summit hunters/chasers within a daytime 80 meter footprint, then hop on that band and give it a go!
I’m not sure how useful this might be for activations in sparsely populated areas like Montana or the Dakotas, for example, but along the east and west coast, 80 meters is your friend.
At this particular activation, I didn’t didn’t employ an efficient antenna for 80 meters. While I’ve made numerous 80 meter contacts on the CHA MPAS 2.0 in the past, it’s just not physically large enough to be efficient on that band. The CHA Emcomm III Portable or another long wire antenna would have provided better results. But I knew that 40 meters and possibly 30 meters would be my best bet that day, so the MPAS 2.0 was a great choice.
Again: don’t forget about 80 meters. It’s helped me snag many an activation!
Here’s my real-time, leal-life, no-edit video of the entire activation:
You might hear an audio pop when I’m keying on the TX-500. This is happening because I have the audio gain cranked up all the way for the video. While the speaker/mic can get quite loud, when I’ve got it located so far from the camera mic, I run it at 100% volume to be heard. I recently changed my CW T/R recovery time from 100ms to 400s which eliminated most of the audio popping.
Thank you for reading this field report! I hope you’re getting an opportunity to take your radios outdoors this week!
While I love the opportunity to head outdoors and play radio, I also love shaking up my field kit and trying different combinations of radios, antennas, and other station accessories.
When using new-to-you gear, though, a best practice is to set everything up at home before you hit the field. This way, you can confirm that you have everything you need and you can also familiarize yourself with the gear prior to activating a park or summit.
Last Sunday (May 2, 2021), I threw caution to the wind. Well, sort of. At the very last moment, I decided to squeeze in an activation en route to my sister’s home to do some brush-cutting and yard work.
Basically, I was chomping at the bit to take my lab599 Discovery TX-500 to field.
You see, in August 2020, I received an early pre-production TX-500 to evaluate for one week. In that seven day span, I activated seven parks with the TX-500 and enjoyed every minute of it. Because the loan period was limited, I packed a lot of TX-500 air time that week, then wrote this review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine.
As I mentioned in a previous post, if I would have had the opportunity to buy that loaner TX-500 last year, I would have. It wasn’t an option, though, as so few working models existed at the time. Now that I had a TX-500 in hand again, I couldn’t wait to hit the field with it.
Last Sunday, the weather was beautiful in western North Carolina, but clouds were moving in and we expected scattered showers in the latter part of the afternoon. The last thing I wanted to do was my sister’s yard work in the rain, so I needed to make the activation a speedy one.
But the TX-500 wasn’t the only piece of new gear. I also recently ordered and received a PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna. I wanted to see how well it would perform, too, so I decided to pack my Elecraft T1 ATU and give it a go, too!
For the record: when you’re in a hurry, it’s not only a really bad idea to hit the field with a new radio and antenna, but to also throw the entire field kit together in 5 minutes before walking out the door.
On the drive to Lake James, I mentally packed and re-packed the field kit trying to decide if I might have left out a crucial component (say, an adapter or cable). I also made the decision not to make a real-time, real-life video because 1.) this would surely turn into a very clumsy deployment, 2.) I was pressed for time and didn’t want to set up the video, and 3.) I only had my iPhone with me to make the recording which would mean I would be giving up Internet and mobile phone access at the park which is important for spotting purposes.
I reminded myself that the goal of my YouTube channel is simple: real-life, unedited examples of field radio operating.
All of us, at some point, use new equipment in the field and we stumble through the process as we give the system a shake-out. So why not record it, right?
My iPhone battery had about 80% capacity. I knew if I tried to use the personal hotspot while recording the video–so that I could spot myself on the Microsoft Surface Go tablet–it would run down the battery in 20 minutes or so. I immediately put my iPhone in airplane mode to preserve the battery.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
I know this park quite well and assumed it would be busy on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It was, in fact. I was confident I’d find a good operating spot, though, because they’ve a large picnic area and loads of tall trees to support wire antennas. And mid-afternoon, it was unlikely all of the picnic tables would be occupied.
I found a nice spot to set up and deployed the PackTenna in short order.
Since my iPhone was doing video duty, I didn’t take extra photos.
I hooked up the Elecraft T1 and attempted to find a match on 40 meters. I thought I did find a match at first, but it turns out that the T1 was in Bypass mode. I didn’t have my reading glasses handy, so thought I saw a great match on the TX-500’s display. Turns out it was floating around 2:1. Still: not a bad match.
I worked five stations, then moved to the 30 meter band. It was then I finally realized the T1 was in bypass mode. I found my spectacles, read the front panel of the T1 and remedied that in short order (I can never remember the button press combo to toggle bypass mode!).
I tuned 30 meters and got a great match.
On 30 meters, I worked two stations.
I then moved up to 20 meters where I worked two more.
Then I moved back down to 40 meters where I topped off the activation with an additional three contacts for a total of 12 as I called QRT.
I’m very grateful to my buddy Scott (KN3A) who worked me on three bands all while he was activating a park in Pennsylvania! Thanks for those P2Ps, Scott!
In fact, I’m grateful Scott took the time to work me on multiple bands because it help bring my numbers above the 10 stations needed for a valid POTA activation.
After going QRT, I quickly packed up my gear (which was easy because there were so few parts), and started the 45 minute drive to my sister’s house. Fortunately, the rain held off the whole time I did the yard work!
I’m so happy to have a TX-500 back in the field radio arsenal.
Shortly after this activation, I officially purchased this loaner TX-500 unit from lab599. As I said in my “unboxing” video, there was no way I was sending this unit back. 🙂 Now I won’t feel bad if it gets dinged or scratched!
I’m sure the TX-500 will be in heavy rotation for a while. Please comment if you have any questions about this radio or the 9:1 UNUN PackTenna. I’d be happy to answer your questions!
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 Monday (March 22, 2021), I had another opportunity to play radio for the bulk of the day. These are rare opportunities–although I did have another open day only a few weeks ago–so I ty to take full advantage of them! The weather was perfect, so I decided to make a detour to Ashe County, North Carolina en route to visit my parents.
I haven’t been to Ashe County in the better part of a decade although I love this pretty secluded part of western North Carolina.
Ashe County is very much a destination–not a place you’d easily happen upon in your travels. It’s very much worth the detour, though, as it’s close to Boone/Blowing Rock, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a number of other spots outdoor enthusiasts would love. The towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson are everything you’d expect from small town NC: charming and friendly. Plus, they have some excellent sources of cheese!
I plotted a three park, one summit run for that Monday. I’d have about one hour at each site, which would hopefully be enough to set up, play radio, and pack up. All three sites were new to me–meaning, I had never personally activated them.
My first destination?
Three Top Mountain Game Land (K-3869)
I left my QTH around 9:00 local and arrived on site around 11:30. I had researched the most accessible parking area (there were many for this game land) and one that would be closest to my other destinations.
The game land maps are pretty accurate, but this parking area was a little tricky to find as it’s small, elevated off the road, and you have to enter a private driveway to find it. the “Hunters Parking” sign is, let’s say, “discreet.”
Honestly? Finding these sites is all part of the fun.
Going into this activation, I knew there would be challenges. For one thing, propagation was similar to the day before: poor and unstable.
Secondly, the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) auto-spotting functionality on the POTA spots page was not working. That was a bad thing because this game land site had no hint of mobile phone service.
I did anticipate both of these issues though, and took precautions:
I contacted my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) and gave them my full schedule with anticipated start times for frequencies at each location before leaving the QTH.
I also had my new Garmin InReach satellite messaging device that I could use to text Mike and Eric should they not be able to hear me that day.
As I’ve mentioned in previous post: successful activations (especially if you’re under time pressure) always include being spotted to the POTA network. It’s as if you don’t exist if you’re not spotted.
Another thing working in my favor at this particular site is that it had only been activated a couple times before and both of those times it was via phone only. My activation would be the first time CW had been used at this site for POTA. This means nothing in terms of the Parks On The Air program–meaning, there are no special awards for this sort of thing–but it does give you a bit of an edge because CW hunters will find the site rare and very desirable. They’ll go the extra mile to get logged.
It’s funny: in 2020, I activated numerous proper ATNOs (All Time New Ones) for POTA. There were so many here in western North Carolina that just by going to new sites each time, I ended up activating them for the very first time in phone and/or CW.
POTA grew by orders of magnitude last year, though, and now there are so many activators who would love to be the first to activate a site, new entities are often activated within a day of being added. The only true ATNOs left in NC are game lands that have accessibility issues.
On The Air
I deployed my EFT-MTR antenna that I repaired that weekend. I did a very basic repair, attaching the top end of the radiator back to the in-line coil/trap. Somehow in doing this I changed the antenna enough that my SWR on 40 and 20 meters was in excess of 2.5:1.
No problem: I employed my T1 ATU to bring the SWR back down to 1:1.
I hopped on 40 meters and immediately started working stations. No doubt, the rarity of this park was providing my spot with a little extra attention.
In 23 minutes, I worked a total of 20 stations: that’s about as good as it gets, especially with poor propagation.
Once the initial group of hunters died down, I went QRT.
Normally, I would spend more time on-site and move up the band, but I was on a tight schedule and realized I hadn’t allowed any time to grab a to-go lunch!
I did make another real-time, real-life video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you care to watch it, click this link to view on YouTube, or watch via the embedded player below:
Thanks for reading this report. Three Top was a fun activation and I was very happy I didn’t have to struggle to validate it. The next park that day was Mount Jefferson which also happened to be a SOTA site. I’ll be posting the report and video later this week!
I mentioned in a previous post that I recently did a thorough clean-out of my shack and home office. It took two full days, and kept me out of the field during that time, but I’m very pleased with the results.
After re-arranging my grab-and-go QRP rigs on their dedicated shelf, one rig was very conspicuous: my LnR Precision LD-11.
Thinking back, it has been ages since I used it in the field–possibly more than a couple of years, in fact. As I packed my bags Sunday morning for a multi-day trip to my hometown, I grabbed the little red LD-11 and stuffed it in my main radio bag. It was time to take it to the field!
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
I didn’t have a lot of time to play radio Sunday afternoon, so Lake Jame State Park was a no-brainer. There, I know I have a number of picnic table options, mobile phone service, and it’s a modest detour off of Interstate 40. Low-hanging fruit in my POTA world.
There was snow on the ground Sunday afternoon, but it was 36F/2C so not terribly cold, just damp.
Due to snow melting in the trees, I set up my station in a picnic shelter where things were dry.
Like the FT-817ND and G90, the LD-11 has no memory keying in CW or Phone. Memory keying is such a useful feature for park and summit activations because it frees up your fist and voice while calling CQ or sending 73s. With the LD-11, I’d be doing all of this “old school” which is absolutely fine for a short activation.
On the air
Although my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna should be resonant on 40, 20, and 10 meters, it was not Sunday because I’m almost certain I’ve finally damaged the radiator coil. I’ve deployed this antenna well over 150 times and yanked it out of countless trees when it got stuck. It’s lasted much longer than I would have ever guessed.
When I tried transmitting on 40 meters, I got a high SWR. Instead of replacing the antenna with another one, I simply hooked up the Elecraft T1 ATU and found a match. This is one good reason why you should always pack an antenna tuner. While employing an ATU might not be as efficient as using a resonant antenna, it can save your bacon in a situation like this and will certainly get the job done (especially if your only goal is a valid field activation).
After matching the antenna, I hopped on the 40M band and logged five CW stations in short order. Obviously, the antenna was working “well enough”–!
As I’ve done with a number of my recent activations, I started recording a video at this point. I started it after my first five CW contacts due to a lack of space to record a 60 minute video (this one turned out to be 40 minutes and change).
I then moved up to the 20 meter band where I worked one CW station, then switched modes to SSB where I was surprised to work Jon (TI5JON) in Costa Rica, Steve (WA4TQS) in Texas, and Paul (NL7V) in North Pole, Alaska.
This was one of those rare instances where my QRP SSB signal snagged more distant stations than my QRP CW signal.
I’m certain, however, had I spent more time on 20M CW, I would have logged a number of other distant contacts. Here’s my QSOmap from the activation–not bad for 5 watts into an inefficient antenna:
All-in-all, I was very pleased with the activation. Even though I was making do with a faulty antenna and even though my CW was a little sloppy since I wasn’t quite used to the LD-11 keyer timing, it was so much fun!
I do love the little LD-11 and would certainly recommend grabbing a used one if you find a good deal.
As I mention in the video, the LD-11 is no longer manufactured and it never will be again. The main engineer behind the LD-11, SKY-SDR, and ALT-512–Dobri Hristov (LZ2TU)–passed away in 2020. Dobri was a well-respected fellow and distinguished ham radio operator/DXer. I corresponded with him quite a few times in the past. Sadly, when Dobri passed away, he took the design of all of these rigs with him. His brief period of sickness leading to his death all happened within a year.
So if you find one of these fine transceivers, keep in mind that some internal components (LCD screens, ICs, etc.) might be hard to replace if they fail. These radios are built well, however, so I wouldn’t expect something like that to happen for a very long time.
It was a lot of fun using the LD-11 during this activation and I certainly plan to put it in rotation from now on. Wherever Dobri is now, I like to think he’ll feel those LD-11 signals running through the ether!
Any other LD-11, SKY-SDR, or ALT-512 owners out there? Please comment!