If you’ve been reading QRPer.com for long, you’ll no doubt have gathered that I’m [understatement alert] a big fan of the Elecraft KX1.
A couple months ago, a good friend and supporter of this site/channel, reached out to me because he planned to sell his pristine Elecraft KX1. He’s in the process of downsizing his radio inventory in preparation of a move.
He wanted me to have first dibs at his KX1 and I couldn’t refuse. I knew it would be a great unit and I wanted two fully-functioning KX1s.
You might ask, “But wait Thomas, don’t you have three KX1s???”
Yes, this is true.
With this latest addition, I have now have two fully-functioning KX1s (a 3 and a 4 band version) and one other in need of repair. After I make the repair, I plan to give this radio to a friend (one who doesn’t read QRPer regularly) so will be back to two KX1s.
Since Elecraft has discontinued the KX1, they’ve become difficult to find on the market and when they do appear, they often demand a very high price.
That said, if you’ve been looking for a KX1, you will eventually find one. All of my friends who’ve wanted one have put out word and found willing sellers in due time. Elecraft sold quite a few of these back in the day, so there are units floating around out there.
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
On Sunday, August 27, 2023, I had an opening to play a little radio and fit in a hike at Tuttle Educational State Forest.
At the time, I needed a little radio therapy and outdoor break: my mom had been admitted to the hospital the previous day (they released her a few days later and at time of posting she’s doing much better).
Tuttle was only a 30 minute drive from the hospital and, as I suspected, I was the only visitor there that Sunday–educational forests aren’t nearly as busy as other NC state parks.
After a nice 3-ish mile hike, I grabbed my radio backpack from the car and started recording an activation video.
My goal was to test this new KX1 and to set up CW message memories.
Have you ever had an activation that didn’t quite go to plan?
Yeah. Me too.
Truth is, it’s just the nature of field radio that things sometimes break, behave erratically, and/or some key component goes missing. When you’re lugging your gear around in a pack and deploying it outdoors in a wide variety of settings it’s a much less “controlled” environment than, say, in the shack.
When a problem arises, you have to work that problem in the field to get on the air and complete the activation.
If you watch my activation videos, you’ll note that I try to include everything in them–including mistakes and mishaps.
Mishaps that lead to a failed activation happen less frequently than they did when I first got started in the world of field radio. Over the years, I’ve refined my field kit and made sure I’ve got the right spare components and tools to solve minor issues I might encounter.
That said, I felt like my activation attempt of Lake James State Park on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 was a total comedy of errors. It seemed like an extra layer of complication presented itself each step along the way as I tried to activate that park.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
The plan was to leave my home around 17:15 local, arrive at the park around 18:00, set up my Icom IC-703 Plus, pair it with a 40 meter end-fed half-wave, hop on the air and work stations until about 19:00 (23:00 UTC) at the latest, then pack up and continue driving another hour to my final destination.
Here’s how it actually played out…
I had all of my bags packed and ready to go at 17:15, but as I was ready to leave, I discovered a plumbing leak under our kitchen sink. It required immediate attention (obviously) so I grabbed my tools, pulled everything out from under the kitchen sink, found the leak, and sorted out the issue. Thankfully, I had some spare plumbing parts at the house. This only delayed my departure about 30 minutes.
I arrived at Lake James around 18:30 and had the entire park to myself.
My real goal at the park was to take the Icom IC-703 Plus out for a little fresh air. It had been ages since I put it on the air in the field. The last time I tried to use it in the field, the internal keyer was tripping up due to a little RF coming back to the radio from my end-fed half-wave. This is a known issue with the Icom IC-703–it’s more sensitive to RF than any other radio I own.
This time, I planned to eliminate the RF with the inline common mode choke built into my Chameleon 50′ cable.
I grabbed my throw line, MM0OPX EFHW and had the antenna deployed in record time.
You can’t tell from the photos because my iPhone does a great job with low-light, but the sun was setting quickly even as I set up the IC-703. I knew I’d be finishing the activation in the dark, but I had a headlamp handy so wasn’t concerned (again, never leave home without a headlamp!).
I turned on the ‘703 and the 40 meter band was chock-full of signals. A very good sign!
Then I switched the 703’s meter to the SWR setting and sent a couple of dits on an open frequency to confirm a low SWR.
The SWR was off the charts poor, pegging the SWR meter at 9:1 (or worse?).
If you’ve been following this site for long, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Elecraft KX1 [understatement alert].
I owned one for the better part of a decade, then sold it to purchase a KX2 in 2016. I almost instantly regretted selling it.
In 2020 I purchased another KX1 for $300; like my previous one, it was a four band model, with ATU and paddles. In fact, it even came with a number of other accessories like a proper Pelican 1060 case.
I made dozens of POTA activations with this little KX1 and named her “Ruby” (because I tend to name radios that are a permanent part of my collection).
Trouble in paradise
In the summer of 2021, though, Ruby started exhibiting some issues. This was not completely unexpected because:
All KX1s started life as a kit. None were factory assembled and tested by Elecraft. Quality varies based on the original kit builder.
I believe Ruby is pushing 20 years old.
The main issue was, after turning on the power switch, the rig wouldn’t completely power up. Instead of the typical two clicks we KX1 owners are accustomed to hearing, I only heard one click and neither the display nor any of the functions worked.
This was an intermittent issue–the next day it might power up as it should. I continued operating and tried to find the issue myself, but my skills at doing repairs on radios is very limited.
I took Ruby to Dr. Vlado who traced the issue to a faulty encoder. I purchased a replacement encoder from Elecraft (along with a number of other spares) and Ruby was back on the air!
Back on the air for a while…
A couple months later, I discovered that power output would drop to nearly zero watts after about 20-25 minutes on the air. Basically, when the radio would get warm from operating, power output was affected.
Vlado traced the issue to a cold solder joint and repaired it (while also double checking other joints). Ruby worked perfectly for a few more activations…then once again the same issue with power output dropping reared its ugly head.
Right before we left for Canada this summer, Vlado found yet another cold solder joint and made the repair.
Once we were back home from Canada, I put Ruby back on the air. I did a lot of SOTA/POTA chasing from home and took her on a couple activations.
All was going well until a few weeks ago (you may see this in an upcoming activation video) when once again, power output took a nose dive after the radio warmed up from operating.
It appears old Ruby is just littered with cold solder joints.
I brought her home and decided that I would pull her completely apart this winter and re-solder every point on her board.
Parts radio hunt
Last year, I started hunting for a second KX1. I didn’t care if it was fully functioning because I was mainly searching for a parts radio.
The KX1 has become–and you’ll know this if you’ve been looking for one as well– as rare as hen’s teeth. When they do appear on the market, they command a premium.
In a full year, looking pretty steadily, I only found one reasonable deal on what sounded like a quality KX1. I contacted the seller and he told me that within the one hour his ad was published, he received 10 offers. He asked if I wanted to be put on the waiting list if all ten fell through.
“Okay, I guess?”
I blame the KX1 price increase on a few factors:
Elecraft discontinued the KX1 several years ago. No more are being made.
Others are looking for spare KX1s.
The CW renaissance we’re going through (truly an amazing thing!)
The popularity of POTA and SOTA
It is still a very unique and capable field radio
And quite possibly me, being so public about my love and admiration of the KX1 (where’s that foot of mine so I can shoot it?)
If you’ve been looking for a KX1, you’ve no doubt noticed the low supply and high prices.
Frankly, I’ve even felt a bit guilty looking for a second KX1 knowing how few there were on the market.
Then an opportunity
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend and–long story short–I discovered that a mutual friend of ours would be willing to sell me his KX1.
It was a three band model with ATU and paddles.
He was the original builder and, in fact, this was the third KX1 he’d built. I know him and his soldering work; it’s top-shelf and professional.
I knew I’d likely never get an opportunity to be only the second owner of a KX1 and to actually know that the builder is one of the best out there.
He offered it to me for a fair price based on the current market. I didn’t want him to lose money by selling to me, so I agreed.
I’ve already taken the new KX1 on three activations and it’s performing flawlessly. In fact, I believe the built-in ATU is even doing a better job finding matches that the one in Ruby.
I still plan to work on Ruby this winter–it’ll make for a nice relaxing project some cold, snowy day. It’s the same process Vlado would have to go through (and he’d do it without hesitation) but I’d rather do it myself and save his time especially since it’ll be a bit tedious.
One of the things I love about our state and national parks is that no matter how often I visit, there’s almost always something new to discover.
This is especially the case as the seasons change from winter to spring.
On March 20, 2022, I carved out enough time in my afternoon to fit in a quick activation of Tuttle Educational State Forest. My main goal, in truth, was fitting in a nice hike–the weather was beautiful, although it was rather gusty.
I needed a little “radio therapy” that day as I had been spending time in the hospital with my mom who had a nasty case of pneumonia. This was a few weeks ago and she’s feeling much better now, thankfully, but those hospital weeks in March were pretty stressful for all of us.
Field activations are such an effective way for me to get in a little exercise, a little radio time, and clear my mind; again, proper “radio therapy.”
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
For this trip, I packed the Elecraft KX1 field kit which included my K6ARK EFHW antenna since that was the last pairing I’d used int he field (click here to read that report). I did, however, transfer the KX1 to my new Pelican 1060 waterproof case.
For February, I decided to purchase and build a counterpoise-less end-fed half-wave kit from from Adam (K6ARK). This kit is available on Amazon.com for a mere $19.95 (affiliate link).
The build itself is pretty straight-forward and not terribly complicated. With that said, you do need a fine soldering iron tip and a little dexterity to manipulate these super tiny components. Adam includes instructions for building an EFHW with a counterpoise, without a counterpoise, or a random wire antenna. The coil can be configured as a a 49:1 Unun, 9:1 Unun, or 1:1 Balun.
If you choose the EFHW route you will need to solder one surface-mount capacitor on the board. If you’ve never worked with surface mount components before, take your time and use a good magnifying glass.
Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378 NC)
On Monday, February 21, 2022, on my way back from town, I hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove to one of my favorite roadside spots on a grassy hill surrounded by trees.
Since I configured the K6ARK kit as a counterpoise-less EFHW, I wasn’t entirely sure how stable the SWR would be in the field. For this reason, I was a wee bit nervous pairing it with my MTR-3B since that little radio lacks an SWR meter and really needs a good match.
I might have mentioned in a previous post that I named my little Elecraft KX1 “Ruby.”
I name all of my field radios that are permanent; ones I never plan to sell or trade at any point in the future. Ruby is firmly in that keeper list.
Why do I anthropomorphize field radios? That’s perhaps a discussion for a different day but I reckon it’s because I feel they have a lot of character and are, quite literally, trusted companions. They go with me on travels, hikes, and all sorts of outings.
So Ruby is actually the second KX1 I’ve owned.
The first one I purchased in 2008 as a reward to myself for learning CW (see photo above). I enjoyed that KX1 until 2016 when I sold it to help fund the purchase of my KX2.
I immediately regretted selling it, although it helped that I sold it to an amazing person.
In October 2020, I purchased Ruby and wrote a post about how great it was to be reunited with this gem of a radio.
At the time, I had no idea what a great deal I had landed.
Ruby turned out to be a four band radio (it was advertised as three), included the built-in ATU, and the package came with a simple wire antenna, three different coaxial DC plugs, a Pelican 1060 waterproof case, earphones, and a set of KXPD1 paddles. All of this for $300 US shipped.
I took Ruby on a number of field activations and couldn’t have been happier
Intermittent issues surface
In the summer of 2021, I started noticing some odd behavior.
Sometimes, after turning on the power switch, the rig wouldn’t completely power up. Instead of the typical two clicks we KX1 owners are accustomed to hearing, I only heard one click and neither the display nor any of the functions worked.
This was an intermittent issue–the next day it might power up as it should.
I did a little troubleshooting: I completely disassembled it, visually inspected all of the solder joints, and removed/cleaned and reinserted the firmware chip. This had no effect at all.
So, I took Ruby to one of the best radio repair technicians in the world who also happens to be one of my best friends: Vlado (N3CZ). He actually does a lot of repair and even has a radio repair website.
Vlado will be the first to tell you that the worst problems to diagnose are those that are intermittent; it takes much longer to trace the source of the problem.
A few days later, Vlado sent me a message notifying me that the patient (Ruby) was on the operating table and surgery was about to begin. (See why I call him “Dr. Vlado”–?)
Vlado checked the circuit board very carefully. He found a few solder joints that needed work including a couple on the chip holder. In fact, he completely desoldered the chip holder and soldered it back in properly. Keep in mind here that the KX1 was only ever available as a kit, so quality had everything to do with the skill of the original builder.
He re-assembled Ruby and she worked perfectly.
A second operation
I put Ruby back on the air for a few months, but then in December 2021, a variation of the same issue resurfaced. This time, the “two clicks” in startup took a couple seconds longer than it should. Then it simply stopped working altogether.
Vlado wanted Ruby back in surgery ASAP, so I dropped her off at his “Emergency Room.”
Since the problem was no longer intermittent, Vlado quickly sorted out the main issue: a faulty encoder.
I should note here that since the KX1 hasn’t been produced by Elecraft in many years, there’s always the fear that a replacement part might already be “unobtainium.”
I called Elecraft support and fortunately for KX1 owners everywhere, the encoder is one Elecraft uses in a few of their radios. They have a healthy inventory and the part costs less than $5.00. Woo hoo!
Admittedly, when I placed the order, I also order a few extra parts I thought could fail in the future and might be difficult to find: 3.5mm jacks, pots, and even the LED screen. If I was paying shipping anyway, why not add a few extras? The parts are all very reasonably priced.
The KX1 doesn’t seem to have a lot of unobtainium in it–I seem to recall though that the firmware chip can no longer be ordered from their website and neither can the pushbuttons. I bet you could find other pushbuttons if needed, though.
I had the encoder shipped directly to Vlado and he completed Ruby’s operation in short order. Thank you, Vlado!
To the field!
I’m so happy to have Ruby back on the air! We’ve chased numerous parks and summits in the past week and I took her on an activation Monday, pairing her with my recently-built K6ARK EFHW antenna.
I’ll post an activation report and video in the coming weeks.
Elecraft KX1s have become as rare as hen’s teeth lately. You’ve no doubt noticed this if you’ve been looking for one. I’m sure I could sell my KX1 package in a heartbeat for twice more than I paid a year and a half ago. It’s a little insane, really, but I get it.
If you’ve been looking for a used KX1, I would offer the following notes/advice:
Since these were only available as kits, you might ask the seller about the original builder and/or have them take photos of the soldering work inside prior to purchasing.
Assume issues might arise with time. With radios like this, I mentally set aside at least a couple hundred dollars for future replacement parts and/or repairs.
Keep in mind that as with any other radio that’s a bit long in the tooth, you may find that some components are simply no longer available. That’s the risk we take being custodians of these cool little rigs.
Actively looking for a KX1 at time of posting (Feb 2022)? Note that interest in particular radio models waxes and wanes over time. With a little patience, you’ll eventually find one. I’ve seen this happen with so many other radios over the years.
The KX1, as with most Elecraft radios, comes in a number of configurations and you need to be aware of this if purchasing. Some only have two bands, some have three, and some have four. I’m not certain if band modules are still available via Elecraft, so you might get stuck with the configuration you purchase. Also, the internal ATU was an option; don’t assume the one you’re purchasing has the ATU.
KXPD1 paddles are very difficult to find these days. It’s a big bonus if your radio comes with them. Not everyone likes these paddles, but the version I have now seem to work really well, actually. N6ARA Tiny Paddles are a brilliant little replacement, but you might wish to make a 3D-printed holder to attach the the paddle point on the front of the radio to take a little strain off of the 3.5mm jack inside.
I should also add that Vlado is a brilliant repair technician and has worked on numerous Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, and Ten-Tec models over the years–if it’s solid state, he can repair it. If you ever need his services he can be reached via his website HamRadio.repair.
Also, Dave (W8FGU) is an Elecraft employee that is devoted to their legacy radios like the KX1/KX1/K2, etc. He’s a great guy, brilliant resource, and I believe can also arrange repair, if needed.
Enough blogging: I think Ruby and I will chase a few summits now while I finish my morning cuppa’. 🙂
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.
Last week, I activated Pisgah Game Land and Pisgah National Forest (K-6937 & K-4510)–things didn’t exactly go according to plan. I still achieved a valid activations–meaning, I logged ten contacts–but I cut my antenna too short.
In short: I cut my wire antenna too short and my KX1 and KX2 ATUs couldn’t find an acceptable impedance match on the 40 meter band. This pretty much forced me to make do with 30 meters and above unless I modified or switched antennas.
The 40 meter band tends to be my most productive band, particularly on days like last Saturday when I’m operating in the latter part of the afternoon.
Maybe it was stubbornness, but I was determined to make a valid activation with that four-feet-too-short antenna.
I first hopped on the air with my Elecraft KX1 (above) and logged a few contacts on 30 meters. I then tried 20 meters, but the band was dead.
Eventually, I pulled the Elecraft KX2 out of the bag with the hope it might actually find a match on 40 meters, but as I said in my previous post, that darn physics stuff got in the way.
That’s okay, though. Although the sun was starting to set and I didn’t want to pack up in the dark, I took my time and eventually logged ten contacts for a valid activation. I actually enjoyed the challenge.
I complain about my wire antenna, but in the end, it made the most of my three watts by snagging stations from New Hampshire, Ontario, Illinois, Arkansas and several states in between.
Against my better judgement, I made a video of this activation. As with all of my videos, they’re real-time, real-life, and have no edits. (They also have no ads.)
A few readers and subscribers had asked me to include the odd video where I actually do a full station set up including the installation of a wire antenna–that’s what you’ll see in this video:
At the end of the day, this was still an incredibly fun activation.
This was the first time I’ve ever completed a valid activation only using the 30 meter band.
Next time, though, you’d better believe I’ll cut my antenna to be the ideal length for 40 meters and above!
If you use a similar antenna with your KX1, KX2, KX3, or other transceiver, I’m curious what lengths you find work best for 40 meters an above. Bonus points for 80 meters. Please comment!
I don’t know about you, but part of the fun of playing radio in the field are the inevitable frustrations.
It might not feel like it in the moment, but when I eventually overcome the challenges of a mistake, I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something.
That was my little epiphany this morning: making mistakes has perhaps made me a better radio operator. Less-than-efficient field deployments have honed my skills and had a major influence on the gear I pack.
If you’ve read some of my (rather rambling) field reports in the past, you’ll note that I rarely do field activations with the exact same gear combinations each time. I feel fortunate enough that I can pair different radios with different antennas and different accessories. I get a small thrill out of not knowing exactly how well a combination will work, especially if I’m not activating a rare all-time new park or tough summit for that matter. In cases where getting to the site is a challenge in and of itself, I want to use a trusted combo of gear.
It’s that wee bit of mystery that attracts me to the field.
If I approached POTA more like a contest–where activation and contact numbers were my focus–I would have installed a mobile HF rig in my car a long time ago. I could rack up way more parks and contacts that way. It especially simplifies multi-site activation days since it effectively eliminates the time involved in setting up and later packing up gear. Mobile operating is the most efficient way to hit number goals: drive up to a site, start calling CQ, work your stations, then move on.
K-6937 & K-4510
Yesterday, I did a last minute “two-fer” activation of Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land. I had not planned to do an activation that day–temps never rose above 29F (-2C) at the QTH day and it also snowed and flurried all day long. Winds were very gusty as well, so it effectively felt much colder on the skin.
I wanted to hike up to the ridge line behind my QTH and do the activation but I knew up there temps would be lower and (worse) winds much stronger. Cold doesn’t really bother me, but strong winds do. This was also the first weekend my ankle felt almost normal after twisting it badly last month. It’s healing and I hope will be in shape for a long hike from my QTH to a six point SOTA summit next weekend with my daughter (K4TLI).
All of those factors combined pointed toward simply staying at home, drinking coffee, and reading a book.
But I really wanted some outdoor time. And I really wanted to make an activation with my Elecraft KX1, so I decided that instead of hiking up in elevation 800 feet, I’d drive down about 900-1,000 feet to a forest trailhead. That would get me on the air in a protected valley with less wind, less snow, possibly warmer temps, and much less hiking which would be easier on my ankle.
The Last-Minute Antenna
When I use the KX1 in the field, I typically pack a very simple antenna: one length of radiator wire and one length of counterpoise wire–connected to a BNC binding post adapter, I let the built-in ATU sort out the match.
When I owned my first KX1, I had a magic length of radiator wire (the length of which I can no longer remember) that seemed to work amazingly well on 40, 30, and 20 meters.
On the way out the door, I decided to cut a new radiator and counterpoise out of scrap wire I use for antenna experiments.
Being a bit stubborn and also in a hurry to beat sunset, I did no Internet research to sort out the ideal lengths for 40 meters. I simply cut a 17′ length for the counterpoise and about 27.5′ for the radiator.
In the Field
After arriving on site, I deployed the antenna and tried finding a match on 40 meters with the KX1’s internal ATU.
I tried a few times hoping maybe the ATU would find something even semi-reasonable in terms of a match, but there simply wasn’t enough radiator to make it work. That was a shame because forty meters would have been the ideal band for yielding quick contacts this time of the afternoon.
I had options, but I wanted to make what I had work.
The activation took time and patience. The 30 meter band was now my best bet and it’s where I logged all ten contacts for a valid activation. I tried 20 meters where I had a 1:1 match, but the band was dead.
At one point, I switched out the KX1 with my KX2 that I also packed. I tried to find a 40 meter match with the superior KX2 ATU, but physics got in the way again. 🙂
40 meters was an option
Let’s be clear here: I could have easily cut 4′ off of the counterpoise and attached it to the radiator and I bet I would have gotten a match on 40M. Since the counterpoise was lying on the ground, its length was less crucial.
I also had a perfectly capable 40/20/10 en-fed antenna in my pack. Switching out the antenna would have only taken four minutes.
I bet I could have easily yielded 20 additional contacts on 40 meters because the band was in great shape. Almost without fail, 40 meters is my most productive band.
Working with limitations
Thing is, I’m starting to understand that I like working with self-imposed limitations.
Perhaps this is why I love QRP and low-power radio so much: I get a little thrill out of doing more with less.
Yesterday, even after I realized it would be a struggle to log my final three contacts on 30 meters, I persisted. One motivation was I’ve never completed a full activation using only 30 meters. With a little patience, I knew I could snag my ten contacts.
The only things making it a challenge were the facts that temps were dropping rapidly, winds were picking up, and the sun was setting. Hazel (the POTA dog) who so eagerly jumped in the car when she saw me put on my hiking boots earlier, was also starting to shiver.
Fortunately, after trying another short stint on 20 meters, I returned to 30 and worked two more stations in quick succession giving me a total of nine contacts.
It started to get darker, so I hunted and found an operator calling CQ on 30 and simply made contact with him. He wasn’t a POTA station, just a general CQ call. He kindly gave me his details for the logs.
I made a video of most of this activation and will upload it when I have a little bandwidth to do so. I’ll embed it in a shorter field report here on QRPer since I’ve described so much already.
Even though it was a challenge making ten contacts to accomplish a valid field activation with my time constraints, I’ll admit that I really enjoyed the challenge.
Next time I head to the field with the KX1, I’ll actually test the antenna prior to leaving the QTH.
In fact, I’m planning to make two radiators: one at an ideal length for 40 meters and above, and another–much longer–for 80 meters and above. Any advice and personal experience from KX1 owners would be much appreciated.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s only now dawned on me how much I enjoy making the most with self-imposed limitations or “trying to make lemonade with lemons.”
Do you feel the same? I’d love to hear your comments.
Yesterday, my family decided to make an impromptu trip to one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam–the highest point on the BRP.
Of course, it was a good opportunity to fit in a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, but I had also hoped to activate Richland Balsam for Summits On The Air (SOTA) simultaneously.
It being well beyond leaf-looking season, we had hoped the BRP would be relatively quiet, but we were wrong.
Trail heads were absolutely jam-packed and overflowing with visitors and hikers. We’ve noticed a sharp hiker uptick this year in western North Carolina due in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. People see hiking as a safe “social-distance” activity outdoors, but ironically, hiker density on our single-track trails is just through the roof. One spends the bulk of a hike negotiating others on the trail.
The trail head to Richland Balsam was no exception. Typically, this time of year, we’d be the only people parked at the trail head but yesterday it was nearly parked full.
Being natives of western North Carolina, we know numerous side-trails and old logging/service roads along the parkway, so we picked one of our favorites very close to Richland Balsam.
We hiked to the summit of a nearby ridge line and I set up my POTA station with the “assistance” of Hazel who always seems to know how to get entangled in my antenna wires.
Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired KX1 field radio kit.
I carried a minimal amount of gear on this outing knowing that there would be hiking involved. Everything easily fit in my GoRuck Bullet Ruck backpack (including the large arborist throw line) with room to spare.
I took a bit of a risk on this activation: I put faith in the wire antenna lengths supplied with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1 travel kit. I did not cut these wires myself, rather, they are the lengths a previous owner cut, wound, and labeled for the kit.
With my previous KX1, I knew the ATU was pretty darn good at finding matches for 40, 30, and 20 meters on short lengths of wire, so I threw caution to the wind and didn’t pack an additional antenna option (although I could have hiked back to the car where I had the CHA MPAS Lite–but that would have cut too much time from the activation).
I didn’t use internal batteries in the KX1, rather, I opted for my Bioenno 6 aH LiFePo battery which could have easily powered the KX1 the entire day.
I deployed the antenna wire in a nearby (rather short) tree, laid the counterpoise on the ground, then tried tuning up on the 40 meter band.
The ATU was able to achieve a 2.7:1 match, but I don’t like pushing QRP radios above a 2:1 match if I don’t have to. I felt the radiator wire was pretty short (although I’ve yet to measure it), so clipping it would only make it less resonant on 40 meters.
Instead, I moved up to the 20 meter band where I easily obtained a 1:1 match.
I started calling CQ POTA and within a couple of minutes snagged two stations–then things went quiet.
Since I was a bit pressed for time, I moved to the 30 meter band where, once again, I got a 1:1 match.
I quickly logged one more station (trusty N3XLS!) then nothing for 10 minutes.
Those minutes felt like an eternity since I really wanted to make this a quick activation. I knew, too, that propagation was fickle; my buddy Mike told me the Bz numbers had gone below negative two only an hour before the activation. I felt like being stuck on the higher bands would not be to my advantage.
Still, I moved back up to 20 meters and try calling again.
Then some radio magic happened…
Somehow, a propagation path to the north west opened up and the first op to answer my call was VE6CCA in Alberta. That was surprising! Then I worked K3KYR in New York immediately after.
It was the next operator’s call that almost made me fall off my rock: NL7V in North Pole, Alaska.
In all of my years doing QRP field activations, I’ve never had the fortune of putting a station from Alaska in the logs. Alaska is a tough catch on the best of days here in North Carolina–it’s much easier for me to work stations further away in Europe than in AK.
Of all days, I would have never anticipated it happening during this particular activation as I was using the most simple, cheap antenna possible: two thin random lengths of (likely discarded) wire.
People ask why I love radio? “Exhibit A”, friends!
After working NL7V I had a nice bunch of POTA hunters call me. I logged them as quickly as I could.
I eventually moved back to 30 meters to see if I could collect a couple more stations and easily added five more. I made one final CQ POTA call and when there was no answer, I quickly sent QRT de K4SWL and turned off the radio.
I still can’t believe my three watts and a wire yielded a contact approximately 3,300 miles (5311 km) away as the crow flies.
This is what I love about field radio (and radio in general): although you do what you can to maximize the performance of your radio and your antenna, sometimes propagation gives you a boost when you least expect it. It’s this sense of wireless adventure and wonder that keeps me hooked!