For the past four days here at my mountain QTH in North Carolina, I haven’t seen the sun. The cloud ceiling has been low and our house has been in the middle of it. It’s been rainy and foggy with temps floating a few degrees above freezing.
Last Tuesday (February 9, 2021), however, we had one day with glorious weather and I’m so pleased I carved out 90 minutes to perform a park activation on my way back home from a short trip.
I picked Lake James State State Park (K-2739) because it’s such a short detour and has numerous spots where I could set up my gear.
The temperature was a truly balmy 60F/15.5C–possibly even a tad higher.
Lake James State State Park (K-2739)
On my way to Lake James, I knew I’d use my Elecraft KX2 (it was the only transceiver I had on this trip) but debated what antenna to deploy. I chose the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna because, to my knowledge, I had never paired it with the KX2 and I enjoy shaking up my transceiver and antenna combos.
The brilliant thing about antennas like the CHA MPAS 2.0 is how quick they are to deploy: it takes me all of three minutes or so.
On the air
Since the Elecraft KX2 has a built-in battery and built-in ATU, I basically connected the radio directly to the antenna and was on the air in moments.
The CHA MPAS 2.0 is the vertical equivalent of a random wire antenna: it’s not resonant on any one frequency and requires an antenna tuner to achieve a good SWR.
As I mentioned in the video (below) I always keep my expectations low when deploying a vertical antenna in areas like western North Carolina where ground conductivity is poor.
Maybe the antenna decided to prove me wrong, because I hopped on 20 meters CW and logged a number of stations across the country including Washington state and British Columbia with a measly five watts.
It also happened that my buddy and fellow POTA activator, Steve (KC5F), was just down the road activating another site in the same county. It’s rare that Steve and I can work each other because, typically, we’re too close for skywave propagation and too far for ground wave. Not this time! We were close enough for ground wave on multiple bands–it was great fun working him park-to-park on every band I tuned.
I moved from 20 meters to 17 meters, to 30 meters, 40 meters and back up to 20 meters SSB.
The great thing about using the MPAS 2.0 is how incredibly easy it is to pick up and move from band-to-band–there’s no manually tuning a coil or changing links on a multi-band diplole. In fact, the MPAS 2.0 covers 160-6 meters, so I’ve lots of options if band conditions are wonky.
Here’s an unedited video of the entire activation:
In the end, here’s how my QSOmap looked with 32 stations logged:
I look back at activations like this and am reminded of the magic of HF radio. It’s truly phenomenal, in my mind, that with less power than it takes to light an LED bulb, I can make contacts across the continent pretty effortlessly–CW or SSB–even during the solar doldrums! Good fun!
In other news, my ankle is healing nicely and once this cycle of nasty weather clears, I’m looking forward to putting some SOTA sites on the air!
How about you? Do you have any field radio plans? Has the weather or C-19 lockdowns gotten in the way? Please comment!
Some of my most enjoyable field activations are those involving the least amount of equipment and accessories. Maybe it’s my “less is more” mentality, but it is amazing when all I need to get on the air is one radio, a feedline, logging notebook, and a simple antenna.
That was my set-up earlier this week (February 8, 2021) when I activated Kerr Scott State Game Land–a site I hadn’t visited since last summer.
Kerr Scott State Game Land (K-6918)
I was the first person to activate Kerr Scott State Game Land back in June of 2020.
“[I]f you don’t have a “spot” of your activation on the POTA site, it’s like you don’t exist.”
This was truly a tipping point that lead me down the path of doing CW activations in order to benefit from auto-spotting via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). Only a couple weeks after this activation, I made my first CW activation and the rest is history. While I still use SSB during activations, CW has become my favorite mode even though I’m still not that great of an operator.
I speak about this a bit more in my activation video below.
Once I arrived on site, I deployed my EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 meter end-fed resonant antenna.
The last few times I deployed this antenna in the field, it hasn’t been resonant on 40 meters and I suspect this is due to damage to the coil near the end of the radiator. I decided I’d give it one last test by suspending it in an overhanging tree branch about 50 feet high so it would not touch other branches.
When I turned on the KX2, I set the internal ATU to “bypass” and tested SWR. Sadly, it was unacceptable, so I re-activated the ATU to get a good match.
My buddy and fellow POTA activator, Steve (KC5F), reminded me recently that the radiator on this antenna can be replaced with enough wire to make a simple end fed half wave. That’s probably what I’ll do because, frankly, this antenna has served me so well for five years and over 150 park activations I’m not ready to simply toss it. I will need to order some proper wire for the EFHW, though!
On The Air
Since I have no mobile phone/Internet service at this site, I decided to make this a CW only activation, hopefully taking full advantage of auto-spotting to the POTA spots page.
I started on 40 meters because I had pre-arranged with my buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Eric (WD8RIF) to listen for me on 7063 kHz. I did this in case auto-spotting wasn’t working, which does happen from time-to-time. It’s always important to have a back-up if possible especially for sites (like this one) that carry significant travel time.
I hopped on 40 meters, called CQ POTA and within 29 minutes, I logged 26 stations. That’s about as much activity as I could possibly expect during a Monday morning activation!
Next, I moved to 20 meters and started calling CQ. The first station I worked was CU3BL in the Azores, then WD5GRW in Texas, AB6QM in California, then IK4IDF in Italy, and finally KH2TJ in California.
I then moved to 30 meters and worked N5GW in Mississippi before going QRT with a total of 32 stations logged.
Not at all bad using 5-10 watts!
Here’s a QSOmap of this activation (click to enlarge):
I made a real-time, real-life, no edit, no advertisements video of this activation. Feel free to check it out if you like:
One of the things I rarely mention in my videos and field reports is how much I love the trips to/from an activation site. I’m a traveler at heart and while I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to and live in some pretty amazing countries and cities, I still have a deep appreciation for simply driving through the countryside and taking in the scenery. I appreciate the mundane as much as I do the majestic. It’s a beautiful drive.
Kerr Scott Game Land is located in the little farming community of Boomer, NC which, I understand, was named after its first postmaster, Ed “Boomer” Matheson.
Before it was called Boomer, the community was known as Warrior Creek–the very creek running through Kerr Scott Game Land.
Even though I know there’s no connection, when I hear the name Boomer I can’t help but think of the incredibly cute and cheeky red squirrel that we WNC natives call “Boomers.”
Last week, I had a hankering to visit a site I hadn’t activated in a few months: South Mountains Game Land.
This game land is pretty vast and has a number of entry points, almost all of which are very accessible. When I re-visit a site multiple times, I like to try different entrances when I can because it gives me a chance to check out a site better and, frankly, even enjoy a little light off-roading.
I found a western road leading deep into South Mountains from the Wildlife Resource Commission map and decided to explore it and do a quick activation.
South Mountains Game Land (K-6952)
I avoid activating Game Lands on days when I suspect there will be a lot of hunting. Tuesday afternoon was *not* ideal for hunters. Besides being the middle of a work day, it was cold and very gusty.
As I drove about 4 miles into the site, I didn’t see a single car or truck parked in any of the parking areas. I could tell I had the place to myself.
A Few Precautions
It goes without saying that if you’re doing a POTA or SOTA activation in a rural/remote area that has no mobile phone coverage (quite common at the ones I activate), you really need to take a few precautions.
First of all, let someone else know where you’ll be and how long you plan to be there. I always let a couple radio friends know where I’ll be so if I don’t show up on the air or they don’t hear from me, they could contact authorities to look for me.
Secondly, always take a proper first aid kit. If you get hurt, you need a way to apply first aid until you can get help.
Take a handheld radio with local repeater frequencies pre-loaded. Even though I might not have cell phone coverage, I can almost always hit at least one repeater.
Of course, carry a little food and water with you and make sure your vehicle has fuel as well.
Always wear a high-visibility vest, jacket, and/or cap. Many game lands require these. Besides, would you rather perform and activation or get shot? I don’t like getting shot. I also don’t like the idea of being bear food, so at least pack a little bear mace if you’re in bear country.
When I’m activating a game land I don’t hike deep into the woods. In fact, I try to stay on or very close to a parking area. Even though POTA is becoming a very popular radio activity, I can promise that you’ll likely be the first POTA activator most hunters will see. It’s a good idea to be near areas of activity like a parking spot or road where they’re much less likely to be hunting.
Finally, as I mentioned before, I personally do not activate game lands on busy hunting days.
Of course, check the weather forecast in advance.
On The Air
I found a great spot to set up my station near a ridge line deep in the game lands.
Normally, I’d set up right next to my car, but Tuesday the winds were very gusty so I found a semi-protected area maybe 10 yards off the road. I located a spot with the least amount of overhanging branches (always check for widowmakers and dead trees!).
It only took me five minutes to deploy the Chameleon Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna with my arborist throw line.
Random wire antennas require tuners, so I employed the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus.
This site has no mobile phone coverage, so I had no easy way to spot myself to the POTA spots page had I decided to do a little phone/SSB operating. I decided to stick with CW as the POTA spots page will auto-spot me using my information from the Reverse Beacon Network (as long as that system is working).
It’s so rare that I do activations around noon or early in the afternoon, so I decided to start on 20 meters just to see if I could snag a European station.
I felt pretty chuffed to quickly snag the Azores (CU3BL) and a few west coast stations with my 5 watts and a wire. QRP rocks!
I then moved to 40 meters where I worked a number of stations in succession and topped off the activation with one 30 meter contact.
Here’s a QSOmap of this activation:
Not bad for about 40 minutes on the air.
I also made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the activation. Note that my camera died on me perhaps five minutes before I completed the activation, so it will end abruptly. Sorry about that!
My ankle is healing nicely so I’m feeling more comfortable with the idea of hiking again. I’m plotting a SOTA activation with my daughter in the coming weeks.
I mentioned in a previous post that I recently did a thorough clean-out of my shack and home office. It took two full days, and kept me out of the field during that time, but I’m very pleased with the results.
After re-arranging my grab-and-go QRP rigs on their dedicated shelf, one rig was very conspicuous: my LnR Precision LD-11.
Thinking back, it has been ages since I used it in the field–possibly more than a couple of years, in fact. As I packed my bags Sunday morning for a multi-day trip to my hometown, I grabbed the little red LD-11 and stuffed it in my main radio bag. It was time to take it to the field!
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
I didn’t have a lot of time to play radio Sunday afternoon, so Lake Jame State Park was a no-brainer. There, I know I have a number of picnic table options, mobile phone service, and it’s a modest detour off of Interstate 40. Low-hanging fruit in my POTA world.
There was snow on the ground Sunday afternoon, but it was 36F/2C so not terribly cold, just damp.
Due to snow melting in the trees, I set up my station in a picnic shelter where things were dry.
Like the FT-817ND and G90, the LD-11 has no memory keying in CW or Phone. Memory keying is such a useful feature for park and summit activations because it frees up your fist and voice while calling CQ or sending 73s. With the LD-11, I’d be doing all of this “old school” which is absolutely fine for a short activation.
On the air
Although my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna should be resonant on 40, 20, and 10 meters, it was not Sunday because I’m almost certain I’ve finally damaged the radiator coil. I’ve deployed this antenna well over 150 times and yanked it out of countless trees when it got stuck. It’s lasted much longer than I would have ever guessed.
When I tried transmitting on 40 meters, I got a high SWR. Instead of replacing the antenna with another one, I simply hooked up the Elecraft T1 ATU and found a match. This is one good reason why you should always pack an antenna tuner. While employing an ATU might not be as efficient as using a resonant antenna, it can save your bacon in a situation like this and will certainly get the job done (especially if your only goal is a valid field activation).
After matching the antenna, I hopped on the 40M band and logged five CW stations in short order. Obviously, the antenna was working “well enough”–!
As I’ve done with a number of my recent activations, I started recording a video at this point. I started it after my first five CW contacts due to a lack of space to record a 60 minute video (this one turned out to be 40 minutes and change).
I then moved up to the 20 meter band where I worked one CW station, then switched modes to SSB where I was surprised to work Jon (TI5JON) in Costa Rica, Steve (WA4TQS) in Texas, and Paul (NL7V) in North Pole, Alaska.
This was one of those rare instances where my QRP SSB signal snagged more distant stations than my QRP CW signal.
I’m certain, however, had I spent more time on 20M CW, I would have logged a number of other distant contacts. Here’s my QSOmap from the activation–not bad for 5 watts into an inefficient antenna:
All-in-all, I was very pleased with the activation. Even though I was making do with a faulty antenna and even though my CW was a little sloppy since I wasn’t quite used to the LD-11 keyer timing, it was so much fun!
I do love the little LD-11 and would certainly recommend grabbing a used one if you find a good deal.
As I mention in the video, the LD-11 is no longer manufactured and it never will be again. The main engineer behind the LD-11, SKY-SDR, and ALT-512–Dobri Hristov (LZ2TU)–passed away in 2020. Dobri was a well-respected fellow and distinguished ham radio operator/DXer. I corresponded with him quite a few times in the past. Sadly, when Dobri passed away, he took the design of all of these rigs with him. His brief period of sickness leading to his death all happened within a year.
So if you find one of these fine transceivers, keep in mind that some internal components (LCD screens, ICs, etc.) might be hard to replace if they fail. These radios are built well, however, so I wouldn’t expect something like that to happen for a very long time.
It was a lot of fun using the LD-11 during this activation and I certainly plan to put it in rotation from now on. Wherever Dobri is now, I like to think he’ll feel those LD-11 signals running through the ether!
Any other LD-11, SKY-SDR, or ALT-512 owners out there? Please comment!
This Saturday (Jan 30, 2021), I had a small window of opportunity to perform a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. My park options were limited because I needed to stay near my home and a store where I was scheduled to do a curbside pickup.
The only viable option–since time was a factor–was my reliable quick hit park.
The Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
I plotted a quick trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center which is centrally-located and, this time of year, there are few visitors.
But what radio take? It had been a couple of weeks since I used the IC-705 in the field, so I decided to take it and rely only on its supplied BP-272 battery pack.
My buddy Mike (K8RAT) had warned me only a few minutes before my departure that propagation was pretty much in the dumps. I’d also read numerous posts from QRPers trying to participate in the Winter Field Day event and finding conditions quite challenging.
Saturday was the sort of day that I should’ve deployed a resonant wire antenna and made the most of my meager five watts thus collect my required 10 contacts in short order.
And that’s exactly what I didn’tdo.
You see, a really bad idea popped into my head that morning: I had a hankering to pair the IC-705 with my Elecraft AX1 super compact vertical antenna.
This made absolutely no sense.
I tried to get the idea out of my head, but the idea won. I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m not about taking the easy path (and I’m obviously a glutton for punishment).
I was also very curious if the mAT-705 Plus external ATU could tune the AX1 on 40 meters. More on that later…
I arrived on site a few minutes before noon. Setup was fast–that’s the big positive about using the AX1.
Normally, I deploy the AX1 antenna with my KX2 or KX3 and simply attach it to the BNC connector on the side of the transceiver. The AX1 Bipod gives the antenna acceptable stability during operation.
The IC-705 also has a side-mounted BNC connector, but it’s much higher than that of the KX3 or KX2. I’m not entirely sure I could manipulate the Bipod legs to support the antenna without modification.
That and the AX1 needs an ATU to match 40 meters (where I planned to spend most of the activation). Since the IC-705 doesn’t have an internal ATU, mounting it to the side of the transceiver really wasn’t an option.
I employed my AX1 tripod mount for the first time. On the way out the door, I grabbed an old (heavy) tripod my father-in-law gave me some time ago and knew it would easily accommodate the super lightweight AX1.
On The Air
I first tried using the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 Plus ATU to tune the AX1 on 40 meters.
I tried both the phone and CW portions of the 40 meter band, but the mAT-705 Plus simply couldn’t find a match. SWR was north of 7:1 – 9:1.
Instead of grabbing the Chameleon MPAS Lite or 2.0 from the car, I decided instead to see if the Elecraft T1 ATU could tune 40 meters.
In short, I logged my ten contacts to have a valid activation, but it was slow-going. All but two of my contacts were on 40 meters CW. The last two logged were on 20 meters CW.
It was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it! And, frankly, considering the propagation, 5 watts of power only using the IC-705 battery pack, and the inherent inefficiencies using a loaded compact vertical antenna and ATU? I was impressed.
Here’s a QSOmap of my 10 contacts:
I bet my effective radiated power was closer to 2-3 watts.
Typically, the AX1 antenna acts almost like an NVIS antenna on 40 meters, but Saturday it favored Mid-Atlantic and the states of IN, OH, and PA. Normally, I would expect more of a showing from the states surrounding North Carolina.
My last two contacts on 20 meters were with KE5XV in Texas and KB0VXN in Minnesota. Not a bad hop!
It took longer to collect my ten contacts than I had hoped and I ran nearly 25 minutes late to my curbside appointment. I’m a punctual guy, but there was no way I was leaving without my ten! 🙂
Here’s a video of the entire activation. Hint: it’s the perfect remedy for insomnia:
Next time I try to pair the IC-705 with the AX1 antenna, I think I’ll try adding a couple more ground radials and see if the mAT-705 Plus can more easily find a match.
One thing I know for sure: the T1 is a brilliant little ATU. While the mAT-705 Plus was never designed to do this sort of match, it’s comforting to know the T1 can.
I’m very curious if anyone else has paired the Elecraft AX1 with the Icom IC-705 or other QRP transceivers. If so, what was your experience? Please comment!
Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed taking the Yaesu FT-817ND to the field.
While the ‘817 lacks features I’ve come to appreciate during field activations like voice and CW memory keying, it’s still an incredibly fun and capable radio.
Last Monday (January 18, 2021), I had an opportunity to visit Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) and perform an activation around lunchtime. Lake Norman is convenient to my hometown of Hickory, NC and these days I typically spend at least a couple nights there doing a little caregiving for my parents. It’s rare my schedule is clear at lunchtime to fit in an activation–typically it’s later in the afternoon.
As with my recent activation at Lake Jame State Park, I paired the Yaesu FT-817ND with my Par End-Fedz EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 meter resonant antenna.
It was an incredibly fun activation and one of the few recently where I racked up some great QRP contacts across the 20 meter band before moving to 40 meters.
Here’s my QSOMap of the activation (red lines are phone, green are CW):
As with most of my activations, this one was relatively short. Rarely do I have more than 45-60 minutes of on-air time during a POTA sortie.
I also made another real-life, real-time, no-edit video of the entire activation. If interested, you can view it via the embedded player below or on YouTube:
I’m long overdue a multiple park run, so will start strategizing soon! The Parks On The Air program has also added a few new park in North Carolina, but none appear to be in the western part of the state.
Oh, and Phillip, thanks for prompting me to take the ‘817 to the field again. It is a gem of a rig and I think it might suit your needs very well!
One question that often faces newcomers to the hobby is: “Should I buy a QRP or a 100W transceiver as my first rig?”
That is a very deep topic, actually, and one to explore in a future post. A 100 watt transceiver will certainly give you more options as they can often pump out 100W or be turned down to 1 watt. If you’re a phone operator only, that’s got some serious appeal. Then again, if you’re operating POTA or SOTA where you are the DX, power–while still important–is much less so than, say, if you were at home trying to work DX.
Again, a deep topic for another post because there is no right or wrong answer.
One of our readers (Phillip) reached out to me a couple weeks ago and asked if the Yaesu FT-818 would make for a good first HF rig. He liked the portability factor, the build quality, the HF/VHF/UHF multi-mode coverage, and the overall flexibility of the rig as a field radio. His goal was to do POTA activations.
We had quite a few emails back and forth about the pros and cons and I decided it might make more sense to simply take my Yaesu FT-817ND (which is nearly identical to the FT-818) to the field and activate a park in both SSB and CW. Since I knew he wouldn’t necessarily have an external antenna tuner from day one, I paired the FT-817 with my resonant 40/20/10 meter end-fed antenna.
Lake James State Park (K-2739)
On January 17, 2021, I pulled into my favorite part of Lake James State park and quickly set up my station. I only had about one hour to complete my activation, so knew this would be a very brief excursion. Since I actually had a minimal amount of gear, it was a quick setup.
Since I deployed a resonant antenna, there was no tuning or matching involved which not only makes the most of your 5 watts (in that it’s more efficient), but also saves a bit of time in set up and tuning up.
I’m testing this prototype at the moment, but didn’t need to employ it at Lake James since it’s really useful when the rig is on your lap or on on the ground. It essentially gives you top-mounted controls and a larger display to read front panel information from above–incredibly useful for SOTA and proper in-the-field activations. Andy’s v3 board will include a memory keyer–I can’t wait for that one!
Since I had Internet access at this park, I used my Microsoft Surface Go logging tablet to spot myself to the POTA network. I started calling CQ on 40 meters phone (SSB) and within six minutes logged eight stations. Not bad for 5 watts and a wire!
Next, I moved to CW on 40 meters and started calling CQ POTA. The POTA spots page auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network in short order. In eight minutes, I worked six more stations.
I then moved to twenty meters which was essentially dead, so I called it quits a bit early. I needed to pack up and head to my next destination.
Here’s a QSOMap of this short activation (red polylines are SSB and green CW):
Truth is, each time I use the FT-817, I love it more. Sure it’s only 5 watts, has no ATU, has a small display, a clicky T/R relay, and questionable ergonomics, but it is a keeper for sure. Even after 20 years of being in production, it still holds its own and is an incredibly popular radio for good reason.
As I told Phillip, the 817/818 is the Toyota Corolla of the QRP radio world.
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!
When my buddy Don told me he was selling his Icom IC-703 Plus a few weeks ago, he caught me in a (multi-year long) moment of weakness. I asked his price and followed up with a PayPal transaction without giving it a lot of thought. It was a bit of an impulse purchase, if I’m being completely honest, but he definitely gave me a “friends and family” discount. (FYI: Don is the same enabler that made this purchase happen.)
I’m thinking the IC-703 Plus might be a good first HF rig for my daughter (K4TLI) and, of course, it’ll be fun to take it to the field from time to time.
Of course, the best way to get to know a radio, in my opinion, is to take it to the field. So that’s exactly what I did last week (January 13, 2021).
Blue Ridge Parkway K-3378
Against my better judgement, I decided to make a video of the activation. I mean, what could possibly go wrong operating a radio for the first time in the field? Right–?
I picked out an “easy” park for this activation: the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Although most of the parkway around Asheville, NC, is closed to vehicle traffic, the Folk Art Center is open year round and a very convenient spot for POTA.
I paired the IC-703 Plus with my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical antenna. I was curious how easily the IC-703’s internal ATU could match the MPAS 2.0: turns out, pretty darn well!
I started the activation on 40 meters phone (SSB).
Almost immediately, I logged a few contacts and that quickly built my confidence that even the default voice settings were working well on the IC-703 Plus.
I then moved to 40 meters CW and used the CW memory keyer to call CQ (I pre-programmed this before leaving the QTH that day).
Then I experienced a problem: when someone answered my call, my keyer didn’t work properly. For some reason, it was sending “dit dash” strings from both sides of the paddle. I’m not entirely sure what happened but assume there was either a radio glitch or a small short in my paddle cable. After fiddling with the IC-703 for a bit, I pulled out my Elecraft KX2 and finished the CW portion of my activation. (Always carry a spare radio, I say!)
Actually, I assumed since I was using the IC-703 for the first time, there could be hiccups as I did not do a full rig reset prior to putting it on the air–settings were essentially what they were when Don had the radio.
Here’s one of my real-time, real-life no edit videos of the entire activation, if you’re interested:
Back home, I connected my CW Morse paddles up to the IC-703 and it worked perfectly. Even though I checked the connections in the field, I must assume one of the plugs simply wasn’t fully-inserted. It hasn’t repeated this since.
Despite the CW snafu, I’m very pleased with the IC-703 Plus so far. I like the size for tabletop operating and it’s actually surprisingly lightweight.
If you own or have owned the IC-703, 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.