Tag Archives: Packtenna Random Wire Antenna

A casual and stealthy POTA activation at Le Domaine Maizerets

The weather in/around Québec City has been amazing lately; nice cool mornings and warm, clear days. I know this probably won’t last, so we’ve been taking advantage of it as much as possible (il faut en profiter, as francophones like to say).

Yesterday, we had a few errands to run in town: we needed to pick up some groceries, order a tarte au citron for my birthday (today!) from our favorite patisserie Pralines & Chocolat in Château-Richer, and yes, enjoy the great outdoors.

I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d be able to fit in an activation, but I tucked my KX2 radio pack in the car just in case. I didn’t take the camera because it was family time and if I managed an activation, I didn’t want to film it this time. That, and I have a huge backlog of activation videos I need to publish; I sidelined a lot of my field reports while studying for the Canadian Basic exam over the past month.

Le Domaine Maizerets (VE-5020)

We decided to hit one of our favorite little parks conveniently located on the east end of Québec City (Beauport): Le Domaine Maizerets.

We’ve been to this park a few times in the past to attend a Celtic festival and to meet with friends.

The grounds are beautiful and there are loads of foot paths.

An ATNO!

I checked to see if Le Domaine Maizerets was actually a park in the POTA system and I discovered that not only was it a POTA park, but it was an ATNO (All Time New One); meaning, it had never been activated before.

I was a bit surprised it had never been activated because this is a very popular park and even has free entry with free parking.

Keeping it Stealthy

I decided I wanted to stay fairly low-profile while doing this activation. I wasn’t worried about permissions (families, friends and groups meet here for all sorts of activities) but I wanted to see just how stealthy I could be while operating from a park bench in a city park. I don’t get this opportunity a lot because, back home, I’m usually operating from rural state/national parka and in remote game lands.

We found a couple of benches at the edge of the park that very conveniently had perfect antenna trees behind them.

While no one was watching, I deployed the PackTenna 9:1 random wire antenna; the jacket on its radiator is black and simply disappears with trees and flora in the background.

The wire is next to impossible to see from even 5 meters away

The more conspicuous parts of the antenna–the feed point and RG-316–were tucked away behind the park bench.

My high-visibility arborist throw line was hidden behind the tree and out of sight from those walking on the footpath.

From the footpath, you couldn’t see the antenna, coax, nor the throw line unless you were looking for it.

From behind the bench, you could though; in the very unlikely event someone would have walked behind us, it was pretty conspicuous (always avoid antenna tripping points). That and my family would have warned anyone coming near.

The Elecraft KX2 was a natural choice for this activation: it’s all-in-one and incredibly compact. I can also operate it and log  using the knee board Carolanne (N0RNM) kindly made for me last year.  No picnic table needed.

Operating CW with earphones is insanely stealthy. A CW op makes almost no noise whatsoever.

One of my daughters (K4TLI) was kind enough to log for me on my Microsoft Surface Go (using N3FJP’s AC Log).

 

Here’s what I looked like to anyone passing by:

Click to enlarge – Photo courtesy of K4TLI

My wife (K4MOI) and other daughter (K4GRL) were on the bench next to us sketching and painting. We looked like any other family at the park simply enjoying the amazing weather.

On the air

This was only my third activation here in Canada using my new Canadian callsign: VY2SW.

I’m still getting use to sending the new call; it flows well for me, but my muscle memory keeps kicking in and I find myself accidentally sending K4SWL. 🙂

Since I’m in Québec but have a Prince Edward Island callsign, I do intermittently add a /VE2 to the end of my call. It’s a fistful (VY2SW/VE2) so I don’t use it with every exchange or CQ.

Conditions lately have been absolutely in the dumps and yesterday was no exception.

When a propagation path opened, it was great, but conditions were very unstable with severe QSB.

I spent the better part of an hour hopping between 30, 40, and 20 meters to scrape together enough contacts for a valid park activation.

40 meters was absolutely dead due to flaring. I tried hunting a few CW and SSB stations there, but if I could hear them, they were barely audible.

20 and 30 meters served me better, but the QSB was so deep and frequent, I had to repeat my exchange on a number of occasions.  Some stations would call me with a 599+ signal and after my reply with signal report, they were then barely audible.

Still, I managed to snag my ten with a couple to spare. 🙂

Many thanks to all of you who waded through the ether to reach me on the other end.

QSO Map

It’s interesting looking at the QSO map post-activation. My best DX (EA4B) was easily the strongest station I worked with my 5 watts.

Click to enlarge the map:

This activation was so much fun.

Sure, contacts weren’t frequent but they were all meaningful and, frankly, none of us minded spending time outdoors on such a gorgeous day! It added an extra dimension keeping things very stealthy, too.

Thank you

Thanks for reading this field report. Now that my Canadian exam is in the books, I’ll have time to catch up on the numerous activation videos in the backlog!

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been 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 which allows me to open up my work life to write more field reports and film more activation videos.

I hope you get a chance this week to play radio outdoors or chase/hint some park, island, or summit activators!

Until next time…73!

Cheers,

Thomas (VY2SW / K4SWL)

POTA RaDAR Run Activation #3: Table Rock Fish Hatchery

On January 26, 2022, I decided to fit in multiple park activations in one day as a RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) run. My hope was to activate four or five sites between 14:00 – 21:30 UTC.

Here are the field reports and videos of my first two activations from this run:

The next park in my run (#3) was Table Rock Fish Hatchery, a good 40 minute drive from the spot where I operated at activation #2.

The drive to Table Rock was most pleasant and I stopped a couple times to take in views along the forest service road leading down the mountain.

I was pointing my finger and saying, “I’m going to activate your summit soon, Table Rock!”

I mentioned in a previous post that I made this RaDAR run unnecessarily more complicated by deploying a different antenna and radio combo at each site.

On the drive to the fish hatchery, I decided to use the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna and pair it with my Yaesu FT-817ND.

It had been a while since I used the FT-817ND in the field, so I was very much looking forward to putting it on the air! Continue reading POTA RaDAR Run Activation #3: Table Rock Fish Hatchery

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

I’ve had a lot of fun testing the Xiegu X6100 in the field. Each time I’ve taken this little shack-in-a-box radio outdoors, I’ve paired it with a different antenna.

I’ve paired it with the Elecraft AX1, an End-Fed Half-Wave, and my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

On January 10, 2022, I decided to try one more antenna: the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire.

The Packtenna random wire is a brilliant little antenna to pair with radios like the X6100 that have built-in, wide-range ATUs. It’s such a small antenna and can easily find matches on my favorite POTA/SOTA bands:  40 meters and up. It’s also very compact and super durable.

I use te PackTenna random wire quite a lot in the field, so I was curious just how effectively it might pair with the X6100. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

A Last-Minute, Late Afternoon New Year’s Day Activation!

Photo by K4TLI

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.

I knew this would be a short activation even by my standards but hopefully, it would represent the first of many meaningful field outings this year! Continue reading A Last-Minute, Late Afternoon New Year’s Day Activation!

POTA Field report from Fort Dobbs State Historic Site

It’s funny: when I started my POTA journey in earnest during February 2020, I plotted out all of the state parks in the part of western North Carolina where I travel the most.

At the time, POTA had only a wee fraction of the community it does now and many of the parks and game lands were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones)–parks that had never been activated. Fort Dobbs was still one, in fact, and I had marked it on my POTA game plan spreadsheet.

My mission back then was to rack up unique-to-me parks as I explored the region; in doing so, I ticked off quite a few ATNOs. It was fun!

I focused on parks a little further afield first. This provided me with a sense of adventure and travel during the first round of Covid-19 lockdowns.

At the end of 2020, I realized I had never activated Ft. Dobbs State Historic site which was, ironically, one of the lowest hanging fruit sites around. It’s only, perhaps, 30 minutes from where I travel each week.

I suppose Fort Dobbs has been “out of sight, out of mind” until I saw a tweet from Andrew (N4LAZ) who activated Dobbs on August 6, 2021. I mistakenly assumed that the only spots to set up on site were around the periphery of the parking lot. This time of year, in the middle of the hot and humid summer? I’m less enthusiastic about open parking lot activations.

Andrew mentioned that the site actually has an excellent covered picnic area where he was allowed to perform his activation.

That’s all I needed to know!

Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)

On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, I traveled to Fort Dobbs State Historic Site and quickly found the covered picnic area Andrew had mentioned. It was, indeed,  ideal for POTA!

Continue reading POTA Field report from Fort Dobbs State Historic Site

Field Report: Some QRP POTA and SOTA at Hanging Rock State Park!

I’m not a summer-heat-loving guy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Give me cold weather and I can hike and camp forever.

On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, it wasn’t cold outside, of course, but I still wanted to fit in a park activation and hike. Despite the forecast highs of 90F/32C. I had almost the entire day to play radio, too–a rarity.

When I have an entire day to devote to radio, I can either hit the road and try to hit multiple parks–perhaps as many as 5 or 6–or I can choose to venture further afield and hit a new-to-me park.

I tend to choose the latter and that Tuesday was no exception.

North and north by NW of Winston Salem, NC, are two parks I’ve always wanted to visit: Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park.

I devised a plan to first visit Hanging Rock, then Pilot Mountain. Both parks are close together geographically, but a good 30 minutes drive apart.

A quick check of the SOTA database and I discovered that there are actually two summits on Hanging Rock State Park’s grounds. One is off the beaten path a bit and would require some light map work, and the other–Moore’s Knob–is on one of the park’s main trails.  Since I was putting this whole plan together morning of, I opted for the “easy” summit as I didn’t have time to double-check topo maps, parking areas, etc.

Hanging Rock State Park (K-2735)

Travel time to Hanging Rock was about 1 hour 45 minutes. Once I arrived on site, I discovered that, like many state parks, the main visitor’s center is being renovated.

I easily found the parking area for the Moore’s Knob loop. It being a Tuesday, the parking lot only had a few cars.

Pro tip: with the visitor’s center out of commission, stop by the swimming area pavilion for some proper restrooms/washrooms!

I planned to take the full trail loop in a counter-clockwise direction.

I’m glad I did, too, as the bulk of the ascent was a long series of steps. I’m not a fan of steps, but I much prefer using them heading up a mountain rather than down.

Near the summit, there’s a very short spur trail to Balanced Rock which is worth a visit not only for the rock, but also the views.

It being a North Carolina state park, there are some obligatory warning signs about how falling off of cliffs can lead to injury or death. These warning signs aren’t as prominent as those at Crowders Mountain State Park, though!

Moores Knob (W4C/EP-001)

You can see my MPAS Lite vertical poking out of my pack. I brought it along in case I had no good tree options. In this case, I didn’t use it.

There’s no mistaking the summit as there’s a large observation tower on top that affords some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the foothills, and Pilot Mountain (my next stop).
There were a number of hikers on the summit of Moore’s Knob and it was actually pretty gusty up there, too. I searched and found a nice little spot to set up that was sheltered from the wind, shaded, and even had trees tall enough to hang my Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna!


Gear:

Set up was quick and easy on the radio side of things, but as with most SOTA activations, positioning my tripod to make a video was the tricky part. Since I’m sitting on the ground, it can be difficult to find the right angle so that the radio, key, and notepad are all in the frame. (See my video below).

I started calling CQ at 16:00 UTC on 20 meters. I had a reasonable cell phone signal on the summit, so I was able to spot myself. Problem was, though, my hiking app seemed to be draining my iPhone’s battery very rapidly (that and my aging iPhone 7 probably needs a new battery at this point). After spotting myself, I shut down the phone to save power.  I forgot to contact my buddy Mike (K8RAT) with a frequency, but he eventually saw me on the SOTA spots.

In a period of 29 minutes, I worked 20 stations on 20 meters.

Next, I moved up to 17 meters where I worked eight more stations in seven minutes.

I love effortless activations like this and part of me wanted to continue operating–even switching to SSB–but looking at the time, I knew I needed to hit the trail, make my way back to the car, and drive to Pilot Mountain.

I called QRT around 16:42 UTC and packed up my gear.

QSO Map

Not bad for 5 watts and a 31′ wire!

One highlight of this activation was meeting Jim (NA4J) who heard my CW from the summit and popped by to introduce himself. Although I trimmed out our conversation in the video (I’m not entirely sure he knew I was recording the activation), you’ll hear him in the first half of the activation.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

The hike back to the car was very pleasant. It was a bit longer than the path I took to the summit, but the descent had no steps which made it a breeze.

I had a radio topic on my mind during that hike and actually pulled out the OSMO Action camera and made a bit of a “hike and talk” video.  It’s on the topic of ATUs and resonant vs non-resonant antennas. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll post it–the shaky camera might make some viewers sea sick! 🙂 We’ll see–maybe I’ll brave up and post it anyway…

Next, I drove to Pilot Mountain State Park for a quick afternoon activation. Although Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, too, it’s yet to be activated because the actual summit would require proper rock climbing, I believe.

Thank you

As always, thank you for reading this field report! And thank you to everyone who has supported me through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. I truly appreciate it.

I hope you find time this week to take your radios outdoors to play, or to hunt some parks and summits from your shack, backyard or vacation spot!

And for those of you working on your CW skills, don’t give up and don’t stress about it. Take your time and allow your brain to absorb code by simply listening. When you feel you’re able to copy even some of the contacts in the videos of my activations, you’re ready to start hunting CW activators!

You’ve got this!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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New River State Park: Pairing the Discovery TX-500, Elecraft T1, and PackTenna 9:1 UNUN

Last month, my family went on a camping trip to New River State Park and had an amazing time.

I first discovered New River much earlier in the year when I did a multi-park and summit run.  I really liked the park and, especially, the campground, so I decided to return with the family for some proper outdoor fun and relaxation.

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.

Gear:

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.

Auto-spotting help

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!

Video

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!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL/M0CYI)

SOTA Activation Report: Crowders Mountain (W4C/WP-011)

“It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.”

That’s what my grandpa used to say and he was right. It was certainly the theme on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, when I decided to activate Crowders Mountain (W4C/WP-011).

If memory serves, it was about 80F/27C that day–pretty reasonable for late spring in the Piedmont of North Carolina. But the humidity was quite high. I’m no meteorologist, but I’m guessing it was 7,400%. (That number may be a bit of an exaggeration.)

Still, I was eager to fit in a decent hike and I knew Crowders would be fun and easy in the sense that I wouldn’t need to carry a map or do bushwhacking to get to the summit. In fact, Crowders Mountain is possibly one of the busiest parks I ever visit; being so close to Shelby, Gastonia, and Charlotte, it can get crowded especially on weekends.

The amazing thing about Crowders Mountain State Park, to the amateur radio operator, is that it contains not one but two SOTA summits! And, of course, the park can be activated during the SOTA activation. Earlier this year, I activated The Pinnacle–it was amazing fun–and now I was ready to activate Crowders Mountain as well.

I arrived at the park visitor’s center around 11:30 AM local time and hit the trail.

I opted to take the longer trail to the summit which is about 6 miles round trip. There’s a shorter path to the summit via the Linwood Access, but I wanted a bit more trail time despite the humidity.

The hike was amazing and the trail very, very well-worn and marked.

The hike was overall what I would call moderate and very gentle. In fact, at about 2/3 into the trail, I was curious when I’d truly start gaining a bit of elevation. Turns out: all near the very end!

The final portion of the hike was pretty steep–mostly steps up to the summit. The humidity was thick enough, I took my time going up the steps.

In the end, you will put in a bit of effort to bag this one point SOTA summit if it’s hot and humid.

Crowders Mountain (W4C/WP-011)

Having been on the summit of The Pinnacle earlier this year, there was no mistaking the summit of Crowders Mountain, since it, too, has ominous warning signs!

I’m sure the sign is in response to people acting foolishly. Crowders Mountain is not a treacherous place, but like many summits, there’re ample opportunities to fall to your death, I reckon.

I’ve heard that even the summits of Crowders Mountain can get quite busy–this is why I chose a Tuesday to do the activation. Even then, I’m guessing there were anywhere from 8-12 other hikers on the summit with me at various times during the activation that day.

I was banking on the fact that Crowders Mountain had trees, so I only packed my short PackTenna random wire–no self-supporting vertical of any sort.

After a quick site search, I found an ideal spot to play radio just beneath the radio/TV towers on the summit.

Gear:

Deploying the PackTenna was incredibly easy with my arborist throw line. I meant to make a video showing the antenna deployment, but was distracted by some curious hikers who asked a load of questions as I launched the line. Somehow, I managed to snag the perfect tree branch despite an audience and a mild case of performance anxiety!

Next, I set up the Discovery TX-500 transceiver and paired it with my Elecraft T1 ATU since random wire antennas require matching and the TX-500 has no internal ATU.

I’ll admit here that each time I use the Elecraft T1 it reinforces why I like this ATU so much: it’s incredibly compact, runs for ages on a 9V cell, pairs with all of my transceivers, and it has a very wide matching range (although, in this case, the 9:1 UNUN doesn’t need a wide range ATU). The T1 gets the job done each and every time.

As with many of my activations, I made a real-time, real-life video and didn’t edit out a thing. If I had any self-respect, I would have edited out all of my keying errors that day, because I made numerous ones.  (For the record, I blame the humidity!) 🙂

Joking aside, I’m not ashamed of my keying mistakes. We all make them. No one is a perfect CW operator and, trust me, the op at the other end can sympathize. If I let my sloppy fist sessions prevent me from operating, I’d never get on the air.

On The Air

I hopped on the 20 meter band in CW and wow! I made 30 contacts in 39 minutes.

Since I had cell phone service, I also decided to spot myself to the SOTA network and do a little SSB on the 17 meter band. I made four contacts in four minutes.

Of course, this was not only a summit activation, but also a park activation (K-2726), so logs were submitted to both programs.

Here’s a QSO Map of my contacts (click to enlarge):

 

In truth, I would have liked to hang around on the summit a bit longer and work more stations, but I needed to start my hike back to the car.  I had a number of errands in the afternoon and also needed to be back in time for a live stream interview with Red Summit RF (click here to watch the archive of that show).

As I was packing up my radio gear, two young women stopped by and one asked, “Was that Morse Code we wear hearing earlier?” I confirmed this and she looked at her friend and said, “Yes, I knew it was!” I asked them if it was the first time they’d heard Morse Code “in the wild,” and they both nodded their heads. They then asked a load of questions that I was happy to answer.

Meeting Max

One of our readers, Max (W4GZ), had asked that I contact him next time I activated Crowders Mountain State Park as it’s not too far from his QTH. I sent him a message earlier in the day and when I got back to the car, I found Max set up with his IC-705 and vertical antenna next to my parking spot.

Max had just started his own park activation.

It was great meeting you, Max!

Photos

Of course, I snapped a few photos on the summit and the trail, so here they are in no particular order:

Thank you reading this field report! I hope you have an opportunity to play a little radio in the great outdoors this week!


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A memorable Bakers Mountain SOTA activation with the Elecraft KX2 & PackTenna 9:1

Besides Lane Pinnacle, there’s been one SOTA summit, in particular, I was eager to activate this year: Bakers Mountain (W4C/WP-007).

I practically grew up in the shadow of this little outlier mountain in Catawba County, North Carolina–my home was only a couple miles away as the crow flies and it has always been a bit of a landmark in my childhood stomping grounds.

Growing up, the land in/around Bakers Mountain was basically off-limits and privately owned. In the late 1980s, one of the land owners gave a large tract of land to the county to protect it from development (which started booming in the area around that time).

In June, 2002, while I was living in the UK, Catawba County open up the 189 acre park and its 6 miles of trails to the public.

I love Bakers Mountain park. Even though the mountain isn’t terribly tall (1780 feet/543 meters ASL) parts of the trail system are fairly strenuous. When I want to escape and clear my head, the Bakers Mountain trails are the perfect medicine.

Bakers Mountain: What’s in a name?

An interesting tidbit about Bakers Mountain that I learned from one of the park rangers: it was originally called “McBride Mountain in the late 1700s, but as more German settlers moved into the area, German family names became predominant.

The Baker family had large tracts of land in/around the mountain and, locally, people started referring to it as “Baker’s Mountain” sometime in the 1800s and the name stuck.

Officially, the name of the mountain is “Bakers Mountain” although, I suppose, it should have been called “Baker’s Mountain” or maybe “Bakers’ Mountain.” An apostrophe was never added, though.

It’s a source of confusion for those who make maps and refer to the mountain. In the SOTA database, it’s referred to as “Baker Mountain.” That is incorrect, of course, but the SOTA database is likely built upon one of the topographic map databases where it’s incorrectly labeled.

So there you go. Tuck away this bit of trivia and sound like a local next time you’re in Catawba County!

Now where was I? Oh yes…

So on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, I packed my Elecraft KX2 and PackTenna 9:1 UNUN antenna in the GoRuck GR1, and hit the Bakers Mountain trail system.

The weather was perfect, although the humidity was incredibly thick that day.

Mountain Laurels were in bloom and flanked portions of the trail.

I took the main red-blazed loop trail.

The trail is very well-marked and maintained with maps posted throughout.

At one point, you’ll happen upon the old home site.

The trail has a few steep sections, but overall is pretty moderate.

There’s no missing the summit trail.

Following the orange mountain top trail will take you to a gazebo and observation deck near the summit.

Keep in mind, though, that this is not the true summit of Bakers Mountain and isn’t close to the 25M SOTA activation zone. Still, the views are fantastic here, so take a breather and soak up the Catawba valley.

Click the pano image below to enlarge in a new window.

To find the trail to the real summit, you must follow the path crossing under the power lines near the observation area–you can’t miss it. While the public isn’t encouraged to take this path–and it is not a part of the Bakers Mountain trail network–a park ranger told me that the current owners don’t mind the odd SOTA activator following the trail to the summit.

The path–since it’s not a part of the public trail–is a bit overgrown. Follow this path until you intersect an overgrown narrow access road. At the intersection take a left and this will lead you to the true summit. The ring road around the summit is well within the AZ.

I found a little spot to set up among the trees on the summit. No views, but it was the perfect space to deploy the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN!

Gear:

On The Air

This being my first time activating Bakers Mountain, of course I made a real-time, real-life, no-edit video (see link below). Sorting out a way to set up the camera position took me longer than deploying the antenna and unpacking the radio! It can be a real challenge on a stony mountain summit.

The KX2 paired beautifully with the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN. I got a great match on 20 meters.

I started calling “CQ SOTA” and spotted myself on the SOTA network using the SOTA Goat app.

My first contact was SA4BLM in Sweden–I almost fell off of my rock!

Next, I worked KR7RK in Arizona, AE0XI in South Dakota, and HA9RE in Hungary! All in eight minutes.

Wow!

Next, I moved up to the 17 meter band where I logged AC1Z in New Hampshire, F4WBN in France, and KT5X in New Mexico.

Finally, I moved down to 40 meters where I worked K3TCU in Pennsylvania, K8RAT in Ohio, W4KRN in Virginia, and K4MF in Florida.

My total activation time was about 25 minutes.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO Map plotting out my QRP contacts. I must say, that modest PackTenna did a lot with my 5 watts! That and some good Bakers Mountain mojo! 🙂

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, unedited video of the entire activation from start to finish:

Click here to view on YouTube.

That was fun!

When I hike at Bakers Mountain, I add spur trails and connectors to make it as long as can in the time frame I have. The trip back to the car was actually a longer hike than it was to the summit.

But I had a spring in my step.

I was absolutely chuffed that my first activation of this particular summit was so exciting and fun. It still blows my mind what can be accomplished with 5 watts and a modest wire. I can’t wait to go back again.


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Enjoying a casual trailside activation with the Xiegu X5105 and PackTenna 9:1 Unun

I love day hiking with radios.

When I pack all of my radio gear in a field kit that is compact enough to fit in a small day pack, it forces me to only take the essentials. This, in turn, makes for a quick deployment and pack-up.

I think this is one of the reasons I find Summits On The Air so appealing.

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, I had a hankering to fit in a hike and, of course, play radio. I also wanted the option to fit in two activations, so needed a simple and short hike to minimize time.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

I decided to head to Tuttle Educational State Forest–one of my favorite accessible POTA sites–because their two mile loop trail was just what the doctor ordered. In fact, I knew exactly where I wanted to set up on the trail.

Tuttle is rarely busy–especially on a Tuesday afternoon.

I arrived on site and, as I was pulling my backpack out of the car, I was greeted by one of the Tuttle park rangers. He was incredibly nice and provided me with even more ideas of places to set up in the future along the trail and trail extensions. We must have chatted for 15-20 minutes–he had a number of questions about amateur radio and I never miss an opportunity to be an ambassador for both ham radio and POTA/WWFF.

Gear:

On The Air

The hike was amazing and, besides park rangers, I had the entire site to myself. About 1.5 miles into the hike, I found the spot I earmarked for this activation: a little open area with three wood benches on the side of the path.

This particular deployment reminded me how thankful I am that I discovered the Arborist Throw Line last year. I had the PackTenna deployed in three minutes.

It was so…effortless.

I decided to take the Xiegu X5105 out for another activation. Radioddity sent this to me on loan for a full evaluation and review. The previous day, I activated the Blue Ridge Parkway with the X5105.  I wanted to see how many activations I could accomplish off of one charge of the X5105’s internal battery, so after the BRP activation, I didn’t re-charge the battery.

As insurance at Tuttle, I brought along my trusty QRP Ranger LiFePo4 battery pack and hooked it up to the X5105. If the X5105’s internal battery died on me, it would be easy to simply turn on the QRP Ranger’s power switch and hop right back on the air.

I started one of my real-time, real-life activation videos (see below), then called CQ on 40 meters.

Maybe that quick antenna deployment was foreshadowing the activation, because in the span of 13 minutes, I logged 11 stations all on 40 meters.

I was very pleased to work P2P (Park To Park) contacts my friends Steve (KC5F) and Scott (KN3A). Thanks, guys, for hunting me!

Here’s my log:

I didn’t even move up to 30 or 20 meters after working the string of contacts on 40 meters because Tuttle is far from being a rare site and I wanted to fit in one more activation that afternoon.

The X5105’s internal battery easily powered the rig for the entire activation (perhaps a total time of 15 minutes). I suppose I’ll have to take it to yet another park on this same charge!

Packing up was nearly as quick as deployment. I owe thanks to one of my YouTube Channel subscribers for suggesting that I pack the Arborist Throw Line pouch by winding figure eight bundles of line on my hand (much like I do with antenna wire) and stuffing them in the pouch one bunch at a time. This saved me a lot of time.

While the portable throw line pouch isn’t as quick to pack as the throw line cube, this method made it a cinch!  I can’t find who originally made the suggestion, but I’m grateful–thank you!

Video

Here’s a link to the full activation video:

Photos

During my loop hike, I snapped a few photos (click to enlarge):


Well hello there, little fella’!

I’m most grateful to the late Ms. Tuttle for leaving this amazing park for all to enjoy. Her legacy protects this land for all future generations.

When you’re doing a park or summit activation, don’t forget to stop and take in a good dose of nature and the outdoors.

It does us all a world of good.

More X5105 thoughts

This second activation had me warming up a bit more to the X5105. I do like its size, and I think it’s a good rig for CW ops.

CW operation is very pleasant, actually, and keying feels natural. I was impressed that the battery held for a second activation, even though this was a very short one.

Again, I think the internal speaker audio leaves a bit to be desired–I dislike the audio splatter I hear at higher volumes–but for $550? It’s really hard to be critical.

During this activation, I still hadn’t learned how to program CW memory keying. A YouTube subscriber recently described the process and it seems overly cumbersome and much more complicated than it was in an earlier firmware version.  I’m going to contact Xiegu about this. Unless I’m missing something, it really holds the radio back from being pretty stellar on CW for the field op.

Readers, if you own the X5105 and can describe the best way to use CW memory keying, please comment with directions! I’d really appreciate it!

Thank you

Thank you once again for reading through this field report and perhaps watching the activation video.

I’d also like to thank the readers and subscribers who’ve recently supported me on Patreon and via PayPal. I am humbled and honored.

Thank you.


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