On Thursday, January 6, 2022, I woke up with one goal in mind: take the Xiegu X6100 out on a proper hike-in activation!
While I’d had this radio on loan from Radioddity since December 23rd, I hadn’t had an opportunity to truly hike it into an activation site. Between the weather and my tight schedule, I haven’t had an opportunity to plot out a proper Summits On The Air (SOTA) Activation. SOTA activations that involve hiking usually take a much bigger bite out of my day and, lately, I’ve been to busy to plot one.
I do live near a vast trail network, however, and it so happens that much of the trails run through overlapping public lands: Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah State Game Land.
So I packed my Spec-Ops EDC tactical pack, grabbed Hazel’s harness, and headed out the door.
I’ve always believed that the first day of the year should be symbolic of the whole year.
At least, that’s the excuse I was using to fit in a quick activation on New Year’s Day (Jan 1, 2022).
I have had the new Xiegu X6100 on loan and planned to take it to the field, but that afternoon waves of rain were moving into the area in advance of a weather front. Since I don’t own this X6100, I didn’t want to risk getting it wet.
In fact, I had almost talked myself out of going on an activation, but my wife encouraged me to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we jumped into the car and hit the road.
Our options on the parkway were very limited as they often are in the winter. In advance of winter weather, the National Park Service closes off large sections of the BRP because they have no equipment to remove snow/ice. Plus, you’d never want to drive the BRP in slippery conditions. There are too many beautiful overlooks to slide off of.
Thankfully, the Folk Art Center access is always open and incredibly convenient.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
We arrived at the parking lot and I very quickly made my way to a picnic table while my wife and daughters took a walk.
When I head out the door to activate a summit, if it involves a long hike, I reach for one of my super compact QRP transceivers like the Mountain Topper MTR-3B, Elecraft KX1, or KX2. If you’re carrying your entire station and all of your hiking provisions in your backpack, it’s best to keep the load as light and compact as possible.
I purchased the single-band QRP Labs QCX-Mini last year specifically with Summits On The Air (SOTA) in mind. My QCX-Mini is built for 20 meters which tends to be my most productive SOTA band.
The QCX Mini has a rugged, utilitarian feel: basic controls, two line backlit LCD display, and a sturdy aluminum enclosure. It’s super compact.
One of the first things I did was build a dedicated field kit around the QCX-Mini. Everything–save my throw line–fits in my Spec-Ops Op Orders pouch:
Many thanks to Jon (KA6TVX) who shares the following field report from K-1186.
Activation of park K-1186 Pt. Mugu State Park the hard way
I thought you might be interested in my activating K-1186.
Within the park is Mugu peak that’s 1200 ft above sea level. This is not the highest or most prominent in the park but to get to it you follow an old Chumash Indian trail that goes up the mountain making it a much rougher hike than usual.
The round trip is about 3 miles but took 2 hours to reach the peak. After we got there I set up the Ic-705 and the Wolf River Coil Silver Bullet and tuned it for 40 meters CW.
I noticed that the battery on iPhone was almost dead so was logging on paper. No contacts on 40 after 30 minutes of calling so switched to 20 and retuning my antenna. Got 13 contacts (after I got home and entered them in HAMRS I noticed that each contact was from a different state which I have not had before).
My son came with me; that was really nice.
Thank you for the mini field report and photos, Jon! What a beautiful location. Sorry that 40 meters wasn’t more productive for you, but it looks like 20 meters certainly made up for it. Well done!
Like you, I believe it’s fun to pack in a radio at a park and go on a long hike. It gives me a bit of that “SOTA” feeling, but there’s no particular summit I have to hit and the activation zone is basically anything within the park boundary!
Thank you again for sharing your experience on Mugu peak.
I’ve been so busy these past few weeks, it only hit me yesterday afternoon (Dec 30, 2021) that if I wanted to activate another park or summit in 2021, I needed to do it that same afternoon. I knew that we had plans for today and would visit with friends.
Looking back at 2021
As I’ve mentioned before, I really don’t follow my park and summit statistics with any regularity. For me, each activation and opportunity to play radio is a reward in and of itself.
I’m not a competitive fellow but I’ll admit that I’m in awe of those activators who are! Some have truly mind-blowing activation numbers. I’d encourage you to check out the POTA and SOTA leaderboards!
For SOTA, I set a vague goal of activating 12 summits in 2021–roughly one summit per month.
If you’re not familiar, the Outer Banks (OBX) is a 200-mile (320 km) long string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia that separates the Pamlico Sound, Albemarle Sound, and Currituck Sound from the Atlantic Ocean.
No trip to the Outer Banks would be complete without visiting North Carolina’s most iconic structure: the Cape Hatteras Light Stationin Buxton, NC.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
On Thursday (December 16, 2021–last week) the weather was stunning, so my family took a few long walks on the beach, explored Hatteras Island, and spent the afternoon at the Cape Hatteras Light Station which is located within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Last week, my family hopped in the car and took an eight hour drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
We’ve had such a busy 2021 that we decided to take a full week prior to Christmas and fit in some proper vacation and family time.
We love going to the coast off-season to avoid big crowds. Turns out, we chose well, too: it’s as is we have the whole of the Outer Banks to ourselves. Other than a couple days with some “invigorating” weather (which we actually enjoy) it’s been absolutely spectacular.
While radio plays an important role in any travels, my family time always takes priority. The good thing about activating parks is that radio and family time often go very well together!
On Friday, December 17, 2021, my daughter Geneva (K4TLI) and I decided to spend the day together while my wife and other daughter worked on an art project at our rental cottage. We had a few loose plans, but mainly wanted to fit in a nice beach walk, possibly discover some new scenic spots, and enjoy a take-out lunch together.
She very much liked the idea of fitting in a bit of POTA, so we hit the field with two sites in mind.
My Subaru is still in the body shop getting repaired after a bear decided to open the doors and make himself at home, so we have a Toyota Camry rental car on this trip. It’s been a great vehicle for sure, but its trunk space is limited and we packed quite a lot of food knowing local restaurants would be closed this time of year.
We all limited our luggage and I limited the amount of radios and gear I took. I could write an entire article about my holiday radio and antenna selection process (seriously, I put too much thought into it) but in a nutshell I limited myself to two radios and two antennas.
When my wife and I made the difficult decision to move back to the US in 2003, we had a wide variety of options of where to live. There was no doubt in our minds, though, that we would end up settling down somewhere in the Asheville, NC area.
We’re both from western North Carolina and had both–at different times–lived or worked in Asheville. It’s a beautiful area with a good arts scene and loads of outdoor activities.
These days, as I’m involved with both Parks On The Air and Summits On The Air, it’s an especially appealing place to live. We’ve a number of accessible POTA/WWFF entities and loads of summits to activate.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
Any time I drive into Asheville, I pass by the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There are a number of easy parkway access points on the north, east, south and west sides of Asheville. I typically pass by the eastern access point of the BRP on Tunnel Road. Both the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters and the Folk Art Center are within spitting distance and both have picnic tables making setup and deployment quite easy for POTA/WWFF ops!
On Monday, November 29th, 2021, I found that I had a good 30-45 minutes to kill before heading home after running errands in town. My car was empty, as I was hoping our collision shop would ask me to finally bring the Subaru in for repair. They were waiting for one critical component to arrive.
Side note: Bears in cars
As I mentioned in a previous post, in late October, a bear opened all four doors of our car and proceeded to check inside for food. He wasn’t exactly “surgical” in his investigation and was likely frustrated when he realized there was no food to be found inside (never store food in your car in bear country).
On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.
I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).
South Mountains State Park (K-2753)
It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.
This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.
Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!
Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!
First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.
I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!
The new N6ARA TinyPaddle
This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.
He calls it the TinyPaddle:
An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:
As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.
He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.
Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:
Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.
I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.
Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.
On The Air
Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.
I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.
The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.
Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.
I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.
I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.
A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S, WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.
With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.
Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):
Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!
Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.
The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.
That time the KXPD2 failed me…
I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.
This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!
I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out. They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).
I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations. Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.
A proper backup!
But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!
When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!
I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.
I’d like to send 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 as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support.
My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!
I mentioned in a previous post that I recently purchased a Ten-Tec Argonaut V transceiver. It was–being honest here–an impulse purchase. This is what I get for randomly browsing the QTH.com classifieds!
Truth be told, I’ve always loved the design of the Argonaut V and I knew, being a Ten-Tec, it would be a proper CW machine.
As soon as I received the Argonaut V, I put it on the air and chased a few parks and summits from the shack. It seemed to work brilliantly, but of course I was eager to take it to the field!
Around the same time, my buddy Max (WG4Z) mentioned that he’d discovered a new access point for South Mountains State Park and had enjoyed performing an activation there. He wrote,
“It is a part of South Mountains State Park custom made for a Thomas Witherspoon visit. A great site for an activation, video, and photos. If you haven’t been there, please put it on your list!“