When I first started doing activations in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program, many of our regional parks in North Carolina were ATNOs (All-Time New Ones).
An ATNO is what it sounds like: a park that is in the POTA network but has never been activated.
ATNOs were plentiful in the early days–before the rise of POTA. In those early days, I found that if a park was even slightly inconvenient to access, it would be an ATNO.
In fact, I reckon that nearly 40% of the parks I activated in 2020, were ATNOs. This wasn’t because I made a particular effort to hit ATNOs. Rather I made an effort to activate unique parks that year; it was the beginning of the pandemic and this was a fun activity for me–an excuse to explore regional public lands–so ATNOs were among them.
With POTA participation having grown by orders of magnitude in the past few years–a very welcome thing indeed–ATNOs in North Carolina are extremely rare. I just checked and we have two ATNO parks out of 230 parks in NC. I can pretty much guarantee that our two ATNOs have either just been added to the database, or they’re very difficult to access.
POTA hasn’t been in Canada as long as it has in the US and, in some regions, it’s just catching on.
I was surprised to find that there were still a lot of ATNOs in/around Québec City because the area has a very active ham radio community.
As we were plotting our summer trip to Canada, I made a list of the parks I wanted to activate and Grands-Jardins was at the top of that list.
When we spend the summer in Québec, we always fit in a few visits to Grands-Jardins. The mountains there are beautiful with rounded tops and rocky faces. Via ferrata is a very popular summer activity in the park, but our family enjoys the hikes, the overlooks, and I especially love the back country roads!
When my family spends the summer in Québec we typically visit it several times, especially since it’s never far from where we stay.
Thing is, each entry into Cap Touremente costs about $20 or so (unless we purchase an annual pass), but it’s worth it for the hikes, and the scenery. We also like supporting parks with our entry fee.
For a POTA activation–? I don’t need access to the main park, especially if the family isn’t with me. I did a little research and found a spot within the NWA on the “free” side of the park gates.
The spot is a basically a wildlife viewing area with a small grass road that is flanked by marsh land near the town of Saint-Joachim.
Marsh Land = Mozzies
Before heading to Cap Touremente on Monday, June 27, 2022, I sprayed a “healthy” dose of insect repellent on my clothing. Having been to this spot several times in the past, I knew what awaited me: mosquitos. Lots of them.
We have mosquitos back home in the mountains of North Carolina, of course, but not in the quantities you find in marshy areas along the north shore of the St-Lawrence.
That Monday, though, it was very gusty. In the morning we had heavy rains, then a front pushed that through in the early afternoon opening up clear skies and very gusty winds. Mosquitos don’t do well in the wind, so my hope was the wind would offer an extra layer of protection.
Spoiler alert: The winds did help to some degree, but Canadian mosquitoes are heartier than our Carolina varieties.
Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area (VE-0012)
I had been on the air earlier in the day and conditions were truly in the dumps–at least, at my latitude. I knew it wouldn’t be a quick activation, so I allowed myself extra time to complete the activation.
On the 10 minute drive to the site, I decided to pair the Elecraft KX2 with the TufetIn 9:1 random wire antenna that I configured with a 31′ radiator and a 17′ counterpoise. I found this combo very effective in the past and I love the frequency agility of random wire antennas especially when the bands are rough and it becomes a game of band hopping to see what portions might be open. Continue reading Fighting mozzies and logging POTA hunters at Cap Touremente→
Stealthy field activations, for me, aren’t about activating where I shouldn’t (in fact, by definition, activations can only take place on public lands) it’s just fun!
As I’ve mentioned before, when I choose to be a bit stealthy, it’s strategic. I consider one of the privileges of doing POTA and SOTA activations is that I’m often the first ham others encounter out in the wild. It gives activators like me a chance to be a ham radio ambassador. I like giving our wonderful past time a proper introduction and even enticing others to join in on the fun.
That said, there are times when my on-the-air time is very limited and I want fewer interruptions. That’s when being a bit stealthy can help me get in/out quickly.
It simply attracts less attention.
I tend to be less conspicuous in a park when I’m in a busy area with lots of people and activity. I don’t want my operation to get in the way of others’ enjoyment of a park. I don’t want someone to trip on or get tangled up in my wire antenna while tossing a frisbee, for example.
Also, when it’s super busy and I’m pressed for time, I’d rather get the activation done and then move on.
Of course, I was very eager to use the new callsign on the air!
Finding a park
A few weeks prior to our trip, I checked out all of the POTA sites within a short distance of our hotel in Ottawa.
Turns out, there are loads of parks in the Ottawa/Gatineau region so I was spoiled for choice!
Since Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, there’s no shortage of provincial and national parks in the area. (Washington DC is very similar in this regard.)
What, at first, surprised me was the number of parks that had either never been activated or had only been activated a handful of times. Taking a closer look in advance and with the assistance of Google Street View, I could see that many of these entities are simply historic buildings/sites or formal parks in the city with no easy means of activating without special permission.
Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve (VE-1596)
Shortly after noting on QRPer that I’d be in Ottawa a few days, a reader named Andrew reached out and offered advice about local parks. He suggested the Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve since it was only a 15 minute drive from our hotel. We made plans to meet up there for the activation.
If you’ve been following my field reports and activation videos, you’ll note that I’m almost twomonths behind posting them at present.
Much of this is due to the fact that I made numerous activations during a camping trip at New River State Park with my family in April and many more activations during a camping trip with WD8RIF and KD8KNC in West Virginia in May.
May was an extremely busy month for me family-wise and I was fitting in Canadian Basic Exam prep during any free time I had because my goal was to write the Canadian Basic exam within the first few days of arriving in Canada.
Looking at my field report back log, I’ve got a few more reports from both the NC and WV camping trips, but I’ve decided to put them on hold for a bit so that I can post more recent ones. Plus, it might be fun posting late spring field reports this fall!
One of the things I love about writing these field reports is re-living the activation.
We began our road trip to Canada on the morning of June 15, 2022.
Our first stop would be Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the second stop Ottawa, Ontario (for three nights), and then our final destination of St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec. All in all, we’d log 1,306 miles/2,102 km not including side trips.
Although I sort of fantasize about all of the amazing parks I could activate during our travels north, in reality this road trip was all about reaching the destination in fairly short order to save on hotel expenses en route.
The first leg of the trip equated to a good 10 hours on the road including stops to refuel, stretch our legs, and grab a bite to eat.
That first day, I’d completely written off the idea of performing a POTA activation assuming we’d arrive in Pine Grove, PA too late and too tired.
Turns out, though, we got an earlier start than we had anticipated, so arrived in Pine Grove around 16:00 local. That afternoon, everyone was eager to take a stroll or hike to shake off all of those hours of sitting in the car.
I checked my POTA Map and then cross-referenced it with my All Trails app to find the closest park with proper hiking trails. Turns out Swatara State Park met both criteria and was a mere 8 minutes from our hotel. Woo hoo!
Honestly: Swatara couldn’t have been more convenient for us.
Back in the days of National Parks On The Air (2016), I activated this site (the Gauley River, actually) but it was snowing, the winds were howling, and being on a tight schedule, I didn’t hang around to explore the site.
Gauley River National Recreation Area (K-0695)
On Friday, May 20, 2022, the weather was nearly ideal.
Eric, Miles, and I decided to venture down to the river for our activation.
We knew that it would compromise our signals to some degree setting up at the base of the Summersville Dam instead near the top, but how can you pass up scenery like this–?
The banks of the river were very rocky and there wasn’t a lot of space for Eric and I to separate our stations, so we knew our signals might interfere with each other.
Eric set up his trusty 31′ Jackite pole which supports a 28.5 vertical wire–the entire setup is attached to his folding chair. FYI: Eric tells me he’ll do a little write-up here on QRPer.com detailing his antenna setup in the near future.
I sold my Elecraft K2/100 to fund the purchase of my Elecraft KXPA100. I don’t regret purchasing the KXPA100 in the slightest (even though I so rarely use it), but I do regret selling not one, but two K2s over the years! I’ll snap one up if I find a good deal.
I also sold my Elecraft K1 to help fund the purchase of my Elecraft KX3 in 2013.
At the time, the seller’s remorse wasn’t immediate because the KX3 was such a revolutionary portable radio in almost every respect. The K1 seemed so limited in comparison.
Still, since I started doing CW POTA and SOTA activations, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a good deal on another 4 band/ATU Elecraft K1.
Why does the K1 have appeal when I have so many “superior” radios at my disposal–?
Good question! I reckon I just like it.
The K1 feels more like an analog radio rather than a digital one; no doubt, this is due to its VFO’s limited range. It’s more akin to an analog radio with a digital frequency display.
The K1 is also super compact for a radio with a traditional tabletop form factor. The menus and features take a bit of time to learn–they’re cleverly implemented, but you definitely need an owner’s manual or cheat sheet to master them.
The K1 is not general coverage; it can only be configured to operate on a maximum of four CW bands. It does have an internal ATU option, but I don’t think it’s on par with the KX-series internal ATUs in terms of matching range. It works well with a variety of field antennas, though!
The K1 does have a very low noise floor and wonderful audio. Those are perhaps the two things I love most about it.
The separation/distance from Eric’s Tri-Bander antenna worked a charm: there was very little interference between our two stations.
I started the activation by calling CQ POTA on 20 meters. Funny: I actually thought I was on 40 meters; the K1 display (much like that of the KX1) only shows the last three digits of the frequency display; when I saw “61.1” I assumed “7061.1” but of course it was actually 14061.1. I realized this as I later changed meter bands.
Although the propagation forecast was pretty dismal, the EFHW performed very well.
Within 18 minutes, I logged 16 hunters (including WD8RIF some 20 feet away).
I then moved to the 40 meter band (so Eric could move to 20) and worked an additional six stations in six minutes!
The final contact was both an HF and eyeball QSO with WD8RIF. I got that on video–very much a fun first for me!
Here’s what my five watts into an end-fed half-wave looked like on a QSO Map:
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation with WD8RIF. I include a bit about Eric’s station and also his QRPguys Tri-Bander antenna after I go QRT. As with all of my videos, there are no ads and I don’t edit out any of the activation:
Make sure to check out Eric’s field report which includes details about his KX3 set-up that you’ll see in the video above.
Thank you for joining me (and Eric, Miles, & Theo) on this POTA activation.
Although detailed field reports take a few hours to write-up and publish (along with activation videos), I truly enjoy the process. It gives me a chance to re-live an activation and share the whole experience with kindred spirits. This was such a fun activation.
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.
Oh, and if you have a four band Elecraft K1 with ATU you’d like to part with? Get in touch with me! 🙂
More specifically, I wanted to activate the park by way of the scenic one-way road that starts near the New River Gorge Visitor’s Center and descends down to the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge (the “old” New River bridge).
Why? Because in December 2016 during the National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) program, I passed through West Virginia and activated some very rare parks on my way to a multi-day park run with Eric in Ohio. I fully intended to activate the New River at this very spot (underneath the “new” New River Bridge) after hearing how amazing the drive was from Eric.
Unfortunately, I happened to time my trip through West Virginia on a day when we received about an inch of snow. Even though (at the time) I was driving a Toyota minivan with nearly bald tires, the snow didn’t pose a problem at any other site, save this one. I had to change my plans and activate the New River in a spot where the access had less elevation change on a narrow snow-covered road. With my Subaru, this wouldn’t have been an obstacle in the slightest.
I was looking forward to going back to this site and was very pleased to see that Eric and his son, Miles, had already planned this trip in the draft itinerary!
New River Gorge National Park (K-0696)
On the morning of May 20, 2022, Eric, Miles, Theo the dog, and I left our campsite at Babcock State Forest and made our way to the New River Gorge Visitor’s center next to the New River Bridge.
If you’re ever in this area, I’d highly recommend checking out this visitor’s center as it has some well-designed exhibits detailing the impressive engineering that went into the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge.
There are also some fantastic views from the visitor’s center and from its short gorge overlook trail.
From the trail overlook at the visitor’s center we could see the spot where we planned to activate near the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge deep in the gorge (see photo above).
The drive into the gorge was quite scenic with a number of spots to park and take in the enormity of the New River bridge.At the bottom of the gorge, the view was pretty spectacular as well!
TufteIn 9:1 EFRW (End-Fed Random Wire) antenna
I mentioned in a previous post that long-time QRPer.com reader and supporter, Joshua (KO4AWH), runs an Etsy store with a wide range of products primarily designed for field operators.
Besides the Elecraft T1 protection case I mentioned previously, he also sent a couple of his QRP field antennas for testing and evaluation (to be clear: free of charge). Thanks, Joshua!
This year, instead of attending the 2022 Hamvention, my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) and I hatched another plan.
Eric and I–along with his son Miles (KD8KNC) and sometimes Mike (K8RAT)–attend Hamvention every year it’s held. We’d planned to do the same this year especially with it being the first in-person Hamvention since 2019.
Looking back at last year (2021), if I had to pick out one of the easiest SOTA activations I made, Mount Jefferson would be near the top of the list. It’s a very accessible summit although not technically a “drive-up” summit because you will need to walk a short distance up a service road to the activation zone (AZ).
Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021) is located on and protected by the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area (K-3846), so when you activate Mount Jefferson for Summits On The Air, you can also claim the activation for Parks On The Air and World-Wide Flora and Fauna as long as you work at least 10 contacts.
What I love about POTA and SOTA “2-fer” sites like this is that you can set things up to be spotted in both systems (and often the WWFF system, too!) which increases your audience of hunters and chasers, thus increasing your odds of achieving a valid activation in all programs. It’s especially desirable if you’re a CW op and know you may potentially be in a spot with no mobile phone service for self-spotting; if, for some reason, RBN auto-spotting functionality is down with one program, the other serves as a backup.
Mount Jefferson is at least a two hour drive from my QTH, but it was easy pickings on April 29, 2022 because it happened to be within spitting distance of New River State Park where I was camping with my family.
Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021)
The drive to Mount Jefferson took all of 20 minutes which was a good thing because our family had other activities in store that day including some extended hikes!