On Friday, January 27, 2023, I dropped off one of my daughters at the library for a creative writing session.
Hazel was along for the ride, so we decided to hike on the nearby Mountains To Sea Trail (MST) while my daughter was in the meeting.
During the hike, I realized that I should have taken my field radio pack along because it would have been so easy to activate both the MST and Blue Ridge Parkway as a two-fer.
Instead, Hazel and I enjoyed our hike and got back to the car with about 35 minutes or so to do an activation–including set-up, on-air time, and pack-up. That would leave me just enough time to pick up my daughter at the library before they closed for the day.
Because I had been using the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 recently, I had both packed in my Spec-Ops EDC backpack. In theory–even filming a video at the same time–I knew I could probably fit in a whole activation with 25 minutes on the air. I only needed 10 contacts, and I’ve never been in a situation where the AX1 couldn’t achieve that goal.
I try to start each year by doing a POTA or SOTA activation on New Year’s Day.
POTA actually issues a certificate for completing an activation on New Year’s Day so there are typically loads of activators and hunters working the bands. It’s an ideal time to play radio.
This year, we had a number of family activities on New Year’s Day, but I made a little time to fit in an activation during the late afternoon at my most accessible spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway: the Southern Highland Folk Art Center.
As with my last activation, I suspected I would be operating in the dark, so I brought my LED lantern along for the ride.
Although not intentional, this New Year activation had a lot of new-to-me stuff involved!
New VK3IL Pressure Paddle
The prior evening–on New Year’s Eve–while my wife and daughters were watching a classic movie movie marathon, I used the time to heat up the soldering iron and work through a few kits and projects that had been sitting on my desk.
Quanity of 1: Three conductor wire with a (typically) 3.5mm plug (note that I had one of these in my junk drawer)
Keep in mind: the components are surface-mount. If you’re not used to working with SMD components (ahem…that would be me) I suggest buying a few spares of each in case you lose or damage one or more during the build.
It also helps to cover the finished board in heat shrink not only to protect the board and make it easier to grip, but most importantly (if you’re me) hide your electrically-sound yet unsightly surface mount soldering job.
The build might have taken me 20 minutes.
New FT-817ND Narrow CW Filter
Some time ago, I purchased a second FT-817ND with the idea of doing full-duplex satellite work. I later realized I could be taking the second FT-817ND out to the field more often if I simply had another narrow CW filter installed, so I built one.
This New Year’s Day activation was actually the first time I’d taken this particular FT-817ND and its new narrow filter out to the field!
New Armoloq TPA-817 Pack Frame
Earlier this year, I also decided that I wanted to outfit my 2nd Yaesu FT-817ND with an Armoloq TPA-817 pack frame. The idea was to experiment with building a rapid-deployment field kit around it.
I took the family on a multi-day camping trip at New River State Park in April 2022. During that trip, I made an activation of New River each day and also fit in a quick SOTA activation (click here to read an overview). I didn’t film all of my on-the-air because some of that radio time was spent sitting around chatting with my family and even some neighbors at the campground.
Recently on Twitter, I created an informal poll and asked if anyone else named their radios.
Here are the results:
I quickly found out that I’m in the 6.7% minority who freely admit that they name their radios.
We can also assume, however, that a healthy percentage of the “Neither confirm nor deny” crowd do too. They just have a professional reputation to maintain!
Truth is, I don’t name all of my radios; only the ones with “personality” that I plan to keep permanently.
My gift to myself after completing my very first CW activation in 2020 was to purchase a Mountain Topper MTR-3B from LnR Precision. I’ve always admired these tiny hiker-friendly transceivers and have watched as Steve Weber (KD1JV) updated the design over the years.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!