On Monday, September 27, 2021, I had just enough time to stop by the Blue Ridge Parkway on my way back from Asheville, NC and fit in a short activation.
I had my Xiegu X5105 along for the ride and decided to pair it with the MFJ-1984LP EFHW since I knew propagation was going to be rough.
That day, Earth was being pounded by CMEs and, frankly, I didn’t know how pleasant it would be on the air.
I picked one of my favorite spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway: a grassy hill I’ve used numerous times in the past. I love this particular site because it’s incredibly rare that anyone else parks or walks there, so I can set up larger wire antennas and not have to worry about others walking into the radiator or tripping over the counterpoise.
On the morning of Thursday, September 23, 2021, I had one thing on my mind: SOTA!
It had been well over a month since my last SOTA activation and I was eager to hike to a summit and play radio.
It had been raining for a few days but overnight, a front moved into the area that swept out all of the clouds. We were finally feeling proper fall weather.
It was gorgeous outside and I made up my mind I’d fit in a summit activation.
I was visiting my parents in Hickory, NC, so I knew I’d have to drive a bit to activate a unique (to me) summit. On top of that, I knew I’d be alone and trails would be very muddy after days of rain. I decided to stick with an easy hike, so picked Flat Top Mountain (W4C/EM-026) off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I announced my activation via the SOTA website and drove about one hour to the trailhead of Flat Top Mountain.
On September 20, 2021, I had a full day planned in town. It was one of those days where my few errands and appointments were spread out across the day in such a way that driving back home between appointments made no sense. I knew I might have a bit of time to kill.
The big appointment holding me in town was recall service work on my Subaru that would take most of the day. The dealership reserved a loaner car for me.
That morning, I cleaned out my car (removing a couple of radios and antennas) and I packed a backpack with the supplies I’d need for the day; water, sandwich, laptop, and (fortunately) my Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna.
I would take this pack with me in the loaner car as I ran my other errands. I remember thinking that there was likely no possibility of doing an activation–it was rainy and I knew even getting set up at the service center might take an hour. I packed the Elecraft gear nonetheless. (Never leave home without a radio, I say!)
One of the closest parks to my parents’ home in Hickory, North Carolina (where I travel most weeks) is South Mountains State Park.
Despite its convenient location, I haven’t activated South Mountains many times and, in fact, the times I have activated it, I’ve always found it a struggle to log the ten contacts needed for a valid park activation. I suspect it’s had less to do with the physical location of my operating spot (which has admittedly been in a bit of a “bowl” surrounded by hills) and much more to do with the fact that propagation has been crappy on the days I tried to activate.
Ironically, I’ve activated the adjoining South Mountains Game Land numerous times with wonderful success. It’s funny how that works.
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
I had a good reason to hit South Mountains on September 9, 2021. My buddy Max (WG4Z) had just purchased an Elecraft KX3 at the Shelby Hamfest (at an incredible deal, I might add). He plans to pair it with a Chameleon CHA TDL (Tactical Delta Loop) he has on order.
Sometimes we do things that take us outside of our comfort zone.
That’s exactly what I did on September 8, 2021 at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).
My friend, Jérôme, asked I would consider doing a POTA activation video in French!
Jérôme lives in France and wants to do a POTA activation there eventually, but had a number of questions about what to do in the field (spotting, logging, etc.). He’s been watching my videos for a while but admits that while he can understand written English (with the aid of Google Translate), he doesn’t understand spoken English.
Although I regularly listen to news and YouTube videos in French, it’s been ages since I’ve spoken French for any extended period of time.
Jérôme has been bugging me about the French video for some time, actually, but I’d put it off because there were a number of radio terms I simply never learned when I lived in France (well before I was a ham radio operator).
When he very diplomatically asked me again via email on the morning of September 8, I thought, “Why keep waiting? Just do it!”
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 making my first activation of Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, I knew I’d be back in short order. It had all of the things I love about a great POTA site: it’s accessible in my weekly travels, has tall trees, a huge shelter, and friendly park rangers. Plus, it’s chock-full of history.
Does it get any better?
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
On Wednesday, August 25, 2021, I stopped by Fort Dobbs for a quick activation.
Even though I arrived only shortly after the park opened and I was obviously the only guest there, I checked in at the visitor’s center to get permission to do the activation.
Not only did they grant me permission, but they also allowed me to set up in their main covered picnic area.As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe you should always ask permission at small historic sites like Fort Dobbs. For one thing, I want the staff to know where I am and what I’m doing. Unlike vast state and national parks, their spaces to set up may be more limited and the last thing you’d want to do is set up shop in a space where they plan to do a scheduled outdoor presentation in period costume.
In addition, some historic and archaeological sites may have restrictions on the types of antennas you employ. I’ve known of some, for example, that require fully self-supporting antennas that need no trees nor no stakes in the ground.
The folks at Fort Dobbs couldn’t be more friendly.
On the air
I decided I’d pull out the trusty 28.5′ speaker wire antenna and see how well it might perform while paired with the mAT-705 Plus and Icom IC-705.
Set up took all of three minutes.
With super lightweight antennas like the speaker wire antenna, there is rarely a need to tie off the end of the throw line to hold the antenna in a tree and in position. Unless there are strong winds, the weight of the throw line itself will hold it in place. Deploying the antenna and connecting it to the ATU and transceiver may have taken me two minutes.
Relying on trees can be a little unpredictable; some sites may have trees that are too short, some with branches that are too high, some that are too dense with branches, and/or trees may not be ideally situated for a field activation. When things aren’t ideal, it might take much longer to deploy a wire antenna in a tree. This is one reason why so many POTA and SOTA ops choose to bring their own collapsible support–it gives them a degree of predictability when setting up at a new site.
Fortunately, at Fort Dobbs, there are numerous trees that are ideally situated for effortless field deployments.
I hopped on the 40 meter band and started calling CQ.
Fortunately, propagation was in pretty good shape, and I worked a string of contacts.
It was nice to experience a more “normal” activation where propagation wasn’t completely in the dumps.
I eventually moved up to the 20M band and did a little hunting before finally packing up.
All in all, I made eleven contacts–just one more than the 10 required for a valid POTA activation.
I could have stayed and played radio for a much longer period of time–and I was tempted for sure–but I chose to fit in one more activation that morning at nearby Lake Norman State Park. So I packed up and moved on.
Here’s the QSO map of my contacts at Fort Dobbs:
I made another real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation as well. You can view it via the embedded player below, or on YouTube:
I didn’t work any DX at Fort Dobbs, but I was super pleased with the speaker wire’s performance using only 5 watts of output power. I imagine if I would have stayed on the air for another hour or two, I could have worked a couple stations in Europe. It was a tad early for much activity on 20 meters.
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.
If you can, find some time to chase or activate a park or summit near you! Or, if you have an opportunity, just take your radio outdoors, hop on the air, and have some fun. It’s good for your soul!
And a friendly reminder: you don’t need a fancy radio or fancy antenna. Use what you’ve got. Pretty much any transceiver you’re willing to lug to the field will work. And antennas? As you can see, even $4 of speaker wire conjures up some serious QRP magic!
I carved out a little time on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, to play POTA and take a hike at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).
Being August in the Piedmont of North Carolina, it was a very humid and warm day. That wasn’t really a problem, though, because Tuttle has so many well-shaded picnic tables.
Once I arrived on-site, I decided to deploy the Chameleon CHA Tactical Delta Loop (TDL) antenna for a few reasons: I thought it might make for some good daytime NVIS action, perhaps even a little fun on the 20M band, and it’s so darn quick to deploy.
With the state of propagation the way it is these days, though, I never know what to expect on the air despite the antenna or my wishes!
Two weeks ago, my buddy Monty and I went on a camping trip near Mount Pisgah off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was amazing.
Monty is one of my best friends and like a brother to me. We were roommates during my undergraduate years at Western Carolina University. In those days, we were both into mountain biking, hiking, trail running, backpacking, and camping. WCU was the perfect launching point for all of those activities.
These days, we both still do hiking and a little mountain biking, but at–what we might generously call–a more “relaxed” pace.
Although Monty’s family also live in western North Carolina and we keep in touch pretty regularly, we hadn’t seen each other in person for years, so we knew a camping trip would sort all of that out and give us a chance to reconnect while disconnecting from our busy schedules.
We chose Mount Pisgah campground off of the Blue Ridge parkway for a few reasons: it’s roughly halfway between our homes, it’s at a high altitude which equates to cooler nights during the hottest part of the summer, and–you guessed it–it’s on no less than two POTA sites and close to a number of SOTA summits as well!
Another fun fact about the Mount Pisgah campground? It’s also black bear habitat. I believe I mentioned that when I activated Mount Pisgah earlier this summer, I spotted a number of bears in this area. But hey! Check out the park’s bear traps:
And to be honest? My QTH is also just as much in black bear territory, so this isn’t exactly unfamiliar.
Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003)
The weather was ideal on the morning of Monday, August 2, 2021.
Monty actually mentioned in advance that he’d like to accompany me on a SOTA activation or two. He’s an engineer at WCU and I’ve been nudging him for years to get his ham ticket, so how in the world could I pass up a little SOTA/POTA proselytizing?
While Monty cooked up some breakfast burritos, we hatched a plan to activate Richland Balsam first.
Richland Balsam is a very accessible 6,410′ (1954M) summit and is actually the highest peak on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
Richland Balsam is a great “beginners” SOTA summit because the loop trail is only 1.5 miles long, well-marked, doesn’t require an experienced hiker, and passes through a spruce-fir forest which not only provides shade, but also ample trees for wire antennas. The trailhead is easy to find as well; it’s at the north end of the Haywood/Jackson overlook parking area.
Only one word of caution: being such an accessible loop trail right there on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it can get very busy during the summer and fall–in fact, you might struggle to find a spot to park. Monty and I arrived early enough that there were only a handful of cars parked at the overlook.
Richland Balsam reminds me of some of the trails in/around Mount Mitchell: lots of ferns, mosses, and and the smell of spruce-fir. Bliss!
On The Air
I’d forgotten that there are actually a couple of benches on the summit of Richland Balsam which is a proper luxury for any SOTA activator!
Monty had no issue at all setting up the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical on his own as I prepared my clipboard, Elecraft KX2, and log book.
I actually had decent mobile phone service on the summit, so spotting myself was quite easy via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, I assumed I might not have access to spot myself, so I did schedule the activation before leaving the campsite on both the SOTA and POTA platforms knowing both would auto-spot me from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).
I started calling CQ on 20 meters CW and my first contact was fellow POTA activator Steve (KC5F) who was, no doubt, working me via ground wave from his home. Always good to have Steve in the logs.
In thirteen minutes, I worked nine stations on 20 meters–lots of familiar calls. I actually validated the SOTA activation (logging four contacts) in no less than five minutes!
I then moved to 17 meters where I worked K6MW in Washington state.
Finally, I moved down to the 40 meter band in hopes of picking up Mike (K8RAT)–success!–and also worked good ole’ Bill (WB1LLY) in Georgia.
Here’s my full log sheet:
Near the end of the activation (you might note this in the video), Monty and I hear a loud animal noise in the forest–very likely a black bear making itself known. We took that as a cue to pack up and move on.
Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you’ve been seeking a cure for insomnia, you’ve found it:
After leaving Richland Balsam, we decided to also take in W4C/CM-005 (Black Balsam Knob) which is another 10 point summit on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tried making a video of this activation, but for some reason the camera shut down after nine minutes. I’m uncertain yet if I’ll publish that video with a post. We’ll see! It, too, was a fun activation.
After Black Balsam, Monty and I prepared a late lunch back at the campsite and decided that there was still enough of the day left to take in the Mount Pisgah summit trail. Frankly, it was simply too tempting! There was a trail not even 25 feet from our tents which lead us to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. Since I had already activated Mount Pisgah only recently, I didn’t take radio gear this time.
Funny, but we both underestimated the hike from our campsite to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. In my head, I assumed it was perhaps half a mile or so. Turns out, it was more like 1.5 miles one way!
Combined with the actual Mount Pisgah trail, it made for a decent amount of hiking. I believe we left the campsite around 16:00 local and were back by 19:00 or so.
That Monday turned out to be a day full of hiking, radio, and hanging with Monty. It was amazing fun.
As always, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.
Here’s wishing everyone good health and maybe even a little outdoor radio fun this week!