Tag Archives: POTA

POTA Field Report: A Tale Of Two Parks (And Two Antennas)

Yesterday, I *finally* activated two parks that have been on my list for most of the year: Elk Knob State Game Land (K-6903) and Elk Knob State Park (K-2728).

The game land had never been activated which I found quite puzzling since it seemed to be accessible based on my maps and was only 1.5 miles from (actually adjoining!) a state park which has been activated a number times.

Turns out, there’s a good reason it hadn’t been activated.

Elk Knob State Game Land (K-6903)

Upon entering the game land parcel, you’re greeted by the sign above which states that while the game land is a public resource, it is private land and the owner only allows hunting and trapping on it. First time I’ve ever encountered this.

This meant that I really couldn’t cross the barb wire fence that lined the one lane dirt road to activate the park in the woods (which I would have preferred).

Fortunately, I found one pull-off in the middle of the game land road. It was just wide enough to fit my car so that others on the road could pass me without a problem. It was rather tight, though.

Since I didn’t want to use a tree on the game land to support my antenna, I employed the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite 17′ vertical.

I pushed the MPAS Lite spike into the ditch of the road and ran the counterpoise along the ditch as well. All was within the road right-of-way, yet within the game land so I felt it a proper compromise respecting the land owner’s wishes while still being able to activate the park.

Gear:

For this activation, I chose the Elecraft KX2 since I had such a limited space in the back of my car to both operate the transceiver and log.

The great thing about the KX2 is it’s such a complete & compact package: it’s a transceiver, with an internal battery pack (that allows 10 watts of power), a built-in ATU, and attachable paddles. Everything easily fits on my clip board which then functions as an operating table.

I started calling CQ POTA and was quickly spotted to the POTA spots page via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

I very quickly logged a number of stations in CW, but did eventually reach one road block when one of the contact posts in my KXPD paddles loosened. I’ve had this happen before. Thankfully, I keep precision screwdrivers in my EDC bag, so could make the fix. Unfortunately, it took me off the air for a good 5-10 minutes and I lost my pile-up.

I eventually changed modes and called CQ a few times on 40 meters phone.

In the end, I only logged 13 contacts. Certainly the smallest number I’ve ever had at an ATNO (All Time New One). I felt I had to cut it short, though, as cars/trucks had to slow down to pass me. Twice I was asked if I needed any help (assuming my car had broken down).

I was very grateful to have the CHA MPAS Lite antenna in my arsenal, though. I have few other antenna options that would have worked so effectively in such a tight space.

The MPAS Lite is also incredibly stealthy. I’m not sure many passersby even noticed it.

On to the next park!

Elk Knob State Park (K-2728)

Where Elk Knob Game Land was an incredibly challenging site, adjoining Elk Knob State Park was the complete opposite. A POTA activator’s dream site.

Gear:

This was my first visit to Elk Knob State Park and I was most impressed. Not only is the park gorgeous and quiet, but the picnic area is expansive, well-spaced, and there are numerous large, old-growth trees. Absolutely perfect for POTA purposes.

The CHA Emcomm III Portable

Since I had the luxury of these tall trees, I decided to employ the CHA Emcomm III Portable which has quickly become my favorite field antenna. When I have the space, I use it because it gives me 160-6 meters and is easily matched by all of my antenna tuners.

Since I had a great picnic table surface to operate, I also used my Icom IC-705 transceiver and Elecraft T1 antenna tuner.

So turns out, I didn’t take a lot of photos of my site because I used my iPhone to make a video of the activation.

On YouTube, I’ve been encouraged by viewers/followers to continue making real-time, real-life videos of some of my park activations. These videos have no edits and are what I would generously call “Ham Radio Slow TV.” ūüôā The idea is the viewer is simply joining me as I set up and operate at a park–as if they were there with me in person. I hope there’s some value in these videos for newcomers to Parks On The Air.

The video ended up capturing the whole activation from start to finish. If you need something to put you to sleep, check it out:

 

Video

All in all, it was a brilliant day and I’m pleased to have finally activated these two POTA sites.

It was a particular treat to discover Elk Knob State Park. I can’t wait to go back there to camp and to hike their trails.

Perhaps this is one of my favorite side benefits of Parks On The Air: it gives me a reason to explore state parks I might have otherwise overlooked. We’re huge supporter of state and national parks, so it’s truly a win-win!

Can you activate a park with the Elecraft AX1 portable vertical antenna–?

In my head, this was going to be a post talking about antenna compromise vs. convenience vs. performance. I set out to make a point and will do just that. But it’s not the point I intended to make.

The Elecraft AX1 Antenna

My Maxpedition Fatty Pouch has more than enough room for the AX1, tripod adapter, bipod, antenna, 40M section, and two counterpoises.

For those of you not familiar, Elecraft designed a super compact portable antenna for the KX3 and KX2 called the AX1 a couple years ago. It’s, by far, the most compact HF antenna I’ve ever owned or operated.

What makes it so unique is that no one section of it is longer than 6″, which means when disassembled, it’ll fit in a very small pouch or pocket.

I purchased the AX1 a couple months ago. I bought the antenna, (which handles 20/17 and 15 meters), the 40 meter extension, bipod, tripod mount, and both counterpoises were included.

It’s a cool piece of antenna kit for sure! And so compact!

But let’s face it: it’s a compromised antenna!

An antenna this small and compact is not as efficient as a longer resonant wire antenna. Not even close.

The AX1 wasn’t built for performance per se–although it’s as efficient as it can be for the size–it was built for convenience!

You can set the AX1 up anywhere, anytime.

A POTA Experiment

The AX1 is in the Maxpedition pack on the left, my KX2 in the Lowe pack on the right.

A few months ago, a reader who owns a KX3 asked me if I thought he could successfully activate a (Parks On The Air) park with the AX1.

My reply:

“Sure! Especially if you’re using CW and you have a whole lot of patience.”

Yesterday morning, I decided to test my theory.

I drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378) and parked at the Folk Arts Center. I found a picnic table (wasn’t hard at all considering it was hovering around freezing and incredibly breezy!) and set up my station.

It takes me maybe 3 minutes to set up the entire station.

The antenna fits together quickly (I was operating 40 meters, so used the optional extension and 31′ counterpoise).

Three minutes later, I’m ready to rock and roll!

On The Air

I had errands to run in town so didn’t want to spend all day doing this experiment, but I was determined to complete a valid POTA activation which requires 10 total contacts.

Before leaving the house, I scheduled my activation on the POTA site, so it would know to scrape my spot on the Reverse Beacon Network.

Keep in mind, this was taking place on a Monday morning around 10:15 AM and I was activating a park almost every POTA hunter has logged numerous times. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most activated parks in the POTA network, so not exactly super desirable.

In addition, propagation number were pretty dismal.

I fired up the KX2, pressed the ATU button, and achieved a 1:1.1 match.

I called CQ POTA three times in CW.

Evidently, the RBN picked me up quickly, because I received a call.

Then another call.

Then a small pile-up of calls.

Next thing I know, I’ve logged five stations in five minutes.

I called CW again, and had another small pileup.

Short story short, I had achieve a valid activation in all of 12 minutes.

12 freaking minutes!

Seriously? My point was to prove it takes patience when using extremely compromised antennas.

After logging 12 stations, a received a phone call on my mobile and left the air (no other stations were calling me at that point and, again, this wasn’t a highly desirable or rare park). After my phone call, I decided to pack up and finish my errands in town.

After I returned home, I realized: this was easily my quickest field radio deployment and park activation.

The activation took me a total of 20 minutes: 3 minutes to deploy, 12 minutes on the air, and (generously) four minutes to pack up.

Let’s face it…

The stars were aligned Monday morning.

The AX1 is a compromised antenna but it’s obviously also quite effective.

The irony was en route to the activation, I was listening to the latest episode of Ham Radio Workbench. They were discussing wire antennas and how incredibly compromised shortened verticals are.

I was in complete agreement about compact antennas: sometimes, the compromise is worth it for the convenience.

Now, I would add: sometimes, it’s all convenience, performance, and no compromise whatsoever!

Next, I plan to attempt an SSB activation with the AX1. I do believe it’ll take quite a while to gather 10 stations for a valid activation. But who knows?

Stay tuned!

POTA Field Report: Finally putting Toxaway State Game Land on the air

The C-Ruck loaded and ready for the field!

I woke up Saturday morning (October 24, 2020) with one goal in mind for that day: activate Toxaway State Game Land (K-6960).

This year, I’ve had a blast finding game lands to activate for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program as they are typically are less crowded, have open areas to hang long antennas, and sometimes even give me a chance to do a little off-roading.

I’ve had Toxaway on my list of game lands to activate since April, but it’s a good 1.5 hour drive from the QTH and not in a part of the state I routinely drive through these days. After some searching, via the excellent WRC interactive map, I was able to find one access point that even appeared to have parking for a trail head.

I checked with the family and they were all up for a  drive and picnic lunch.

It’s still “leaf-looking” season here in the mountains of western North Carolina, so the roads were pretty crowded with tourists.¬† The closer we got to this relatively remote site, though, the less traffic. A very good sign!

Our location

Gear:

Chameleon Antennas recently sent me their new CHA MPAS Lite vertical to evaluate and I had planned on deploying it for this activation, but once I arrived on site, I realized I should have checked a topo map first: it was deep in a valley near a creek and I questioned the wisdom of using a short vertical in this situation. That and propagation wasn’t exactly stellar.

Fortunately, there were tall trees around, so I deployed the CHA Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna which has become one of my favorite field antennas.

Saturday was also the CQ WW SSB contest, so the phone portions of the bands were very busy with contest activity. I planned to make this primarily a CW activation.

After setting up the Icom IC-705, I attached my Elecraft T1 ATU to the rig and antenna. Since this turned out to be a parking area activation, I could have set up my portable table, but instead, I used the Red Oxx C-Ruck pack to support the IC-705 and ATU.

Using the C-Ruck as a mini field table saves time. I discovered how useful this pack was while evaluating the lab599 Discovery TX-500 in August.

I started calling CQ POTA on 40 meters and within seconds the the POTA site auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). I only called CQ POTA twice before I started working pile-ups.

The Emcomm III Portable antenna performed admirably as I pushed a full 10 watts of power.

Indeed, for me, this activation was a bit of a sprint to answer everyone calling me in the amount of time I had at the site. To make the activation work in our Saturday schedule, I only allowed for one hour on the air.

QSO Map and logs:

Map courtesy of QSOMap.org Green=CW Red=Phone (Click to enlarge)

Not at all bad for 10 watts and a wire!

I could have worked many more stations had I moved to 20 meters CW and then back to 40 meters CW, but I did want to make a few SSB QSOs and even attempt hunting other POTA parks.

Some highlights: working my buddies (and fellow SEORAT members) Eric (WD8RIF) in park-to-park contacts, and Mike (K8RAT) who is one of the top hunters in POTA and also huge support to Eric and me in the field.

I was also very pleased to work another local park activator, Steve (KC5F), who is an excellent CW op–indeed, I believe this was our first SSB contact! Steve primarily operates CW with his Xiegu G90.¬† We typically struggle working each other because we’re simply too close geographically!

All in all, it was amazing fun!

Once again, I was impressed with the IC-705’s capabilities, the T1’s excellent matching skills, and the Emcomm III portable’s performance.

I also find the CW Morse Pocket Paddle to be a brilliant portable paddle. It’s slightly larger than my N0SA paddles, but still very portable. I’ve been carrying them in the top flap of my ruck sack.

I will plan to return to Toxaway, perhaps this winter, and spend more time at the site.


If you would like to post a field report on QRPer, drop me a line!

Parks On The Air 101: Some real-time, real-life videos of a typical POTA activation using the Icom IC-705

On Monday (October 19, 2020) I received an inquiry from Dale (KI5ARH) only an hour or so before packing up my radio gear to activate Lake Norman State Park (K-2740).

Dale is interested in using his recently acquired Icom IC-705 to get involved with Parks On The Air (POTA) and play radio in the field.

What’s in my field kit

Dale was curious about all of the components of the field kit I use with the IC-705, so I made this video:

Equipment links:

Since I had already set up my phone to record the video above, I decided to make a couple more.

I thought there might be some value in making real-time videos showing what it’s like operating CW and SSB during a POTA activation.¬† The videos have no edits and haven’t been trimmed.¬† It’s as if the viewer were there at the activation sitting next to me at the picnic table.

Operating CW with the IC-705

After setting up my station, I first started on the 40M band in CW. I meant to start the camera rolling during tune-up, but forgot to hit record. The video begins after I’d made a few CW contacts, but shows what it’s like changing bands and relying on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) to pick me up then the POTA website to auto spot me.

Note: to be automatically spotted by the RBN, you must schedule your activation via the POTA website in advance, or have been already spotted by yourself or someone else, so the system will know to look for you.

My video cut off abruptly due to a low battery message. I had to give my iPhone a quick power charge to make the next video.

Operating SSB with the IC-705

After operating CW for a while, I plugged in the hand mic that ships with the IC-705 for a little SSB action. My main goal with this video was to show how I call CQ and use the voice keyer memories in order to manage the field “work flow” process.¬† I also speak to how important it is to either self-spot or have a friend spot you to the POTA network while operating phone.

I spent so much time setting up and running the camera, I wasn’t actually on the air for very long, but I easily managed to achieve a valid activation and had a lot of fun in the process.

I’m not a pro “YouTuber” as I say in one of my videos. I much prefer blogging my experiences rather than “vlogging,” I suppose.

Still, I think I’ll do a few more “real-time” videos of POTA activations and speak to the various techniques I use to activate parks. Since these videos aren’t edited for time, they may not appeal to the seasoned POTA activator or QRPer–that’s okay, though. My goal is primarily to assist first-time POTA activators.

Have you been activating Parks or Summits lately?  Do you have any advice or suggestions I failed to mention? Or do you have suggestions for future topics? Please comment!

POTA Field Report: Mount Mitchell State Park (K-2747) with the Mission RGO One transceiver

On Thursday October 15, 2020, my family made an impromptu trip to Mount Mitchell State Park to enjoy the amazing weather and gorgeous fall colors.

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Mount Mitchell State Park were predictably crowded with tourists, although nowhere near as crowded as the following three days which were “peak” leaf color days.

After arriving at the park, we claimed one of the little picnic areas tucked away from the crowds.  After a picnic lunch, I set up the station, my wife painted, one daughter caught up on her favorite book, and the other daughter took a deep dive in her recently acquired Yaesu FT-60R (and also helped me log).

And Hazel, predictably, slumbered.

I swear that dog is only awake maybe one hour a day.

On this particular activation, I didn’t want to deploy a wire antenna. Being the highest elevation east of the Mississippi river, the trees are short .

Instead, I deployed my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical antenna.


I consider the WRC vertical to be a “compromised” antenna especially in our region which is rocky and has poor ground conductivity. But at times like this when the park is crowded, it’s a great low-profile way to get on the air–and it’s self-supporting!¬† In any other year, I’m actually okay with my radio set-up being conspicuous–I love telling passersby about ham radio and Parks On The Air–but at the moment I choose to keep my social distance.

When I use the WRC antenna, I typically pair it with one of my favorite transceivers: the Mission RGO One.

I love the Mission RGO One. It’s a superb transceiver (indeed, my full review of it will appear in the November 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine).

I like to pair the RGO One with the WRC vertical because the RGO One is capable of 50 watts of output power (the real max for the WRC), which I feel makes up for a bit of the antenna compromise. I typically start at QRP levels and increase wattage if I get no response.

At Mt. Mitchell, I rarely have internet access via my mobile phone, so I rely on the Reverse Beacon Network to spot me to the POTA network when I call “CQ POTA.”

Within a minute of calling CQ, I started logging stations. Thanks RBN!

I operated for almost an hour off and on. I took a few breaks during low activity to help my daughter with the FT-60R. At one point, she was in hysterics over a conversation she picked up on a local repeater. (Hysterics in a good way, fortunately. I do worry about some of the conversations I hear on local repeaters at times!)

Here’s my tally from Mt Mitchell:

Mt. Mitchell is one of our family’s favorite state parks and is accessible from my QTH via the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Unfortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway is often closed during the winter, so we hope to make at least one more trip to Mitchell within the next few weeks.

I’ll add that this was the third time I’d taken the CW Morse “Pocket Paddle” to the field. It’s a brilliant set of paddles. It’s has a fantastic field-adjustable response. I’m uncertain if they’re on the market yet–CW Morse sent them to me for evaluation in the field.

I also have a set of N0SA paddles I love and typically keep packed in my dedicated MTR-3B pack.

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Icom IC-705 with the Elecraft T1 and CW Morse Pocket Paddles

The new CW Morse “Pocket Paddle.”

On Wednesday, October, 14 2020, the weather was gorgeous so I decided to make an impromptu POTA activation of Pisgah National Forest and the Pisgah Game Land (K-4510 and K-6937). These sites are the closest to my QTH and only a 15 minute drive (in fact, I can even hike up to the same trail network from my back yard).

My canine companion, Hazel, jumped into the car before I could even invite her to come along.

We drove to the trailhead, parked, and hiked a short distance into one of my favorite spots where it’s relatively flat, with lots of tall trees and almost no foot traffic from other hikers.

This activation gave me an opportunity to use the Icom IC-705 in more of a “backpack” setting since I hiked in with only my pack, Hazel, and my folding three-leg stool. Up to this point, I’d only used the IC-705 on picnic tables and flat surfaces since it can’t easily fit on my clip board like my MTR-3B, KX2, and KX1 can.

The activation also gave me a chance to evaluate a new product sent to me by the CW Morse company: their “Pocket Paddle” designed specifically for portable operations.

After reaching the site, I easily deployed the EFT-MTR antenna using my arborist throw line.

I decided to set up the Icom IC-705 much like I did the lab599 Discover TX-500 when I took it on hikes: mount the radio above the front pocket of my Red Oxx C-Ruck backpack.

The arrangement works quite well–I simply sit on the stool in front of the pack and hold my simple logging notepad and paddles on a clipboard.

While this particular site is great because it’s so accessible to me, the negative is it’s deep down in a valley surrounded by high ridge lines. I feel like this does have some impact on how well my signal travels.

Wednesday, it took nearly 50 minutes to rack up a total of 12 contacts in CW mode.  I never bothered with SSB/phone because this site had no cell phone service and, thus, there was no way to spot myself on the POTA network.

That’s okay, I felt pretty chuffed about racking up 12 contacts with 5 watts and a wire! This is what field radio is all about, in my opinion.

Loving the Elecraft T1

The Elecraft T1 ATU pairs beautifully with the Icom IC-705.

After a little falling out with the mAT-705, I decided I wanted to try other ATUs with the IC-705. I used to own an Elecraft T1 ATU and loved it, but I eventually sold it for a song to a friend since all of my field rigs at that point had internal ATUs.

I reached out to Elecraft and they sent me a T1 on loan to give it a go.¬† I’d forgotten how much I love this simple, effective ATU.

Even though the EFT-MTR is resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters, moving to the 30 meter band requires lowering the antenna, pulling off an SMA cap on the coil, then re-hanging it.¬† Not a big deal at all, really, but it’s so much easier to simply press the tune button on the T1 and have it match 30 meters without going through the normal process.

CW Morse Pocket Paddle

I also thoroughly enjoyed using the CW Morse “Pocket Paddles.” I’m not sure when they’ll be available to purchase (perhaps they are already?) but I can highly recommend them.

The paddle action is field-adjustable and even though there’s an Allen wrench built into the paddle base, the machined screws are easy to twist by hand.

They feel very sturdy, too, much like the other CW Morse paddles and keys I’ve used.

I believe the Pocket Paddles are going to permanently pack with my IC-705!

The Icom IC-705 might be a ‘Holy Grail’ portable QRP SSB transceiver

While visiting my parents this week in the Piedmont of North Carolina, I took some time Monday afternoon to take the new Icom IC-705 to field and activate Lake Norman State Park (K-2740) for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program.

So far, most of my time with the IC-705 has been in CW mode but a number of my readers have been asking about SSB operation and performance.

My goal for this park activation was to give the IC-705 a proper shake-out on SSB.

Set-up

The activation was very much impromptu–I only decided I could fit it into my day an hour before my start time. In addition, while it wasn’t raining per se, there was a very heavy mist/fog that, at times, felt like a light sprinkle/drizzle.

I packed and planned on using my IC-705, mAT-705 external ATU, and Vibroplex End-Fedz EFT-MTR wire antenna.

I had an issue with the mAT-705 ATU (read more here), so opted for my trusty and incredibly capable Emtech ZM-2.

I did begin the activation in CW and quickly racked up a dozen or more contacts in short order after spotting myself. One of the great things about Lake Norman State Park is it’s one of the few locations I activate these days with proper cell phone coverage for mobile internet so that I can update my own activation spots on the POTA site.

I also moved up to 20 meters and switched over to my recently (re)acquired Elecraft KX1 (FYI, I named her “Ruby” so no way will I sell her again).

I quickly snagged two states (Iowa and Kansas) with 1 watt of power from the KX1’s internal AA cells, then 20 meters fell silent, so I moved to 30 meters to work a few more stations.

SSB on 40 meters

I then moved to the 40 meter band and decided to record a quick video after spotting myself on 7197 kHz.¬† I wasn’t expecting such a productive mini pile-up.

As you can tell from the video, I had my hands full trying to hold my phone/camera, log, and manage the hand mic. Note, too, I prefer not hooking up the speaker portion of the microphone because audio from the IC-705 internal speaker is far superior:

I operated SSB for a good 30 or so minutes and was busy with contacts thanks to all of those excellent POTA hunters.

IC-705 Voice Memory Keyer

Before packing up, I remembered that my buddy Dave had asked me to make a video showing how I use the IC-705’s voice memory keyer, so I moved up to 20 meters (which you’ll see was pretty much dead) and recorded this.

Doh! I had the SSB position in LSB instead of USB! Thanks to one of my YouTube viewers who noticed this. I had been tinkering with mode settings earlier while evaluating the rig. No worries, though, this was more a demo of the memory keyer–check out SSB operation in the video above.

I was actually very relieved 20 meters was dead because I’m terrible at managing a camera, a tablet, and a microphone all at once!

The Icom IC-705 is an SSB champ

Photo taken at South Mountain Game Land last week.

Despite the fact that I was using the default microphone settings and had not even touched the TX EQ or compression, I received no less than three unsolicited compliments about my audio during this activation.  That is probably a personal record.

No doubt, the IC-705 is a very capable rig for QRP SSB where audio quality is essential.

On top of that, the eight voice keyer memories are incredibly useful when activating a park, a summit, or even running a contest where you could truly automate your exchanges.

Have you been using the IC-705 in the field? What are your thoughts? Do you have any questions? Please feel free to comment!

Hiking to a POTA “two-fer” site from home

I feel pretty lucky that my QTH borders tens of thousands of acres of protected lands: a watershed, Pisgah National Forest, and Pisgah Game Land WRC. Our family enjoys hiking, so we often venture into the forest around our house  and explore the ridge lines, peaks, and views.

This year, while exploring all of the public lands available to activate in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program, I realized there were no less than two sites within a 30-35 minute hike of my home! Quite literally, in my back yard.

In fact, there’s a large area where two POTA entities overlap–Pisgah National Forest and Pisgah Game Land–giving me the opportunity to activate both sites simultaneously as a “two-fer.”

If it’s so close, you may wonder why I haven’t activated it yet–? Well, by the time I realized the park boundary overlap was within hiking distance of the house, we were well into spring, thus the forest was lush with vegetation and the hike to the site requires proper trail-blazing with an elevation change of 600′ (183M). It’s a much easier hike in fall and winter when you can actually see where you’re going through the trees.

Still: Saturday morning, the weather was so perfect for hiking I floated the idea by my teenage daughter, Geneva: “I’ve got a hankering to hike up the mountain today and do a POTA activation.” She replied, “I’ll need to pack my daypack and take the HT.” She was eager to see if she could communicate back to the house simplex with her mom and sis with her new FT-60R handheld.

My wife gave me her blessing, so I packed my trusty Red Oxx C-Ruck with my Elecraft KX2 kit, CHA Emcomm III Portable antenna, water, snacks, logbook and tablet, and used the ruck top flap to secure my three leg folding stool.

Pisgah Game Land WRC (K-6937) & Pisgah National Forest (K-4510)

We arrived at a suitable site about 40 minutes after leaving the QTH. My Garmin GPS and topo maps confirmed we were well within park boundaries. I found a rock outcropping and set up my station.

Even though the area was pretty dense with trees, Rhododendrons, and Mountain Laurel, I had no difficulty deploying the Emcomm III Portable antenna using my throw line.

That’s not a flying squirrel, it’s the winder/balun of the Emcomm III.

The Elecraft KX2 had no trouble at all matching the Emcomm III on all bands.

Even though Geneva was busy communicating with her sister (back at “Mission Control” via simplex) on the FT-60R, she actively logged all of my contact on the Surface Go tablet using N3FJP’s excellent contact log.

I quickly logged eleven contacts on 80 and 40 meters and my daughter suggested we cut the activation a bit short to take in more hiking.

We both wanted to follow a trail we found and see if it lead to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Hazel has that “Seriously? You want to continue hiking?” look.

I packed up the station and hit the trail!

It turned out to be a good 45 minute trek along a ridge line increasing our elevation about 1,000′ (305M) ASL compared with home. The trail to the BRP was what I would call a moderately difficult trail (much easier than trail-blazing up the mountain!).

In the end, we found the Blue Ridge Parkway and the trail head to ascend Lane Pinnacle which is an excellent SOTA site. We decided to save Lane for another day this fall/winter with a very early departure from home.

Neva also discovered she could easily chat with her sister back at the QTH via 2 meter simplex at the parkway. This means I can definitely chat with the family back home when I eventually make that Lane Pinnacle SOTA activation.

The hike back to the POTA site was mostly downhill so only took about 40 minutes. I then veered off the path to trail-blaze our way back to the house. I did get a little off course which added about 25 minutes (!!) to our descent and requiring us to mitigate the steepest part of the ridge. Next time, I’ll pay more attention to my GPS map (although, in the winter, it’ll be much easier).

Still, it was a very enjoyable hike and certainly one of the more challenging I’ve been on in ages mainly due to the steep part at the end.

All-in-all: I discovered that there are no less than three POTA sites and one SOTA site within hiking distance of the QTH. The best part, by far, was the father/daughter time. Geneva is always up for an adventure (including currently studying for her General class license!).

642 Miles Per Watt with the new Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver

Thursday, I set out to test how long the Icom IC-705 could operate during a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation with one fully-charged Icom BP-272 Li-ion battery pack. This, following my listening endurance test.

I knew conditions were pretty terrible Thursday in terms of propagation, but that didn’t really matter. I intended to call “CQ POTA” in CW until the ‘705 finally shut down due to low voltage. In my head, I imagined this wouldn’t take much longer than 1.5 to 2 hours and during that time, despite propagation, surely I’d work 10 stations to validate the activation, right–?

Sandy Mush Game Lands (K-6949)

I picked Sandy Mush Game Lands as my test site. Since I’d been there before, I knew there were ample trees to hang the Vibroplex EFT-MTR end-fed antenna, and I knew I’d likely be the only one in the parking area as this site is secluded and this was not a designated hunting day.

The Vibroplex/End-Fedz EFT-MTR antenna

Setup at the site was pretty straight-forward. I quickly deployed the EFT-MTR antenna–using my arborist throw line–in a “V” shape hanging over a high tree branch.

I picked the EFT-MTR because it’s resonant on my three favorite POTA bands: 40, 30, and 20 meters. Note that the IC-705 does not have an internal ATU.

Although I have an mAT-705 external ATU on loan to test, I didn’t take it to this first activation–I wanted to keep the set up simple for testing battery endurance.

On the Air

I started calling CQ at 16:30 UTC on the 40 meter band and set the IC-705 to beacon mode call “CQ POTA K4SWL.” No replies for 10 minutes. At that point, I discovered the POTA spots website was down for a scheduled upgrade (I have impeccable timing!), so I posted my spot on the POTA Facebook page.

Then my buddy Mike (K8RAT) sent a text message stating that the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) had spotted me, but with a very low signal report. Hmmm….why would that be?

Turns out, I still had the IC-705 power level set to “0” watts (this story might sound familiar). Doh!

Note to IC-705 owners: zero watts is not zero watts!

I turned up the power to 5 watts (the max the IC-705 will achieve on a 7.4V battery pack) and was greeted by an instant CW pile-up.

What a blast! I started on 40 meters in CW, but eventually worked both 40 and 20 meters in SSB and CW. I then lowered the antenna, removed the SMA cap on the EFT-MTR coil, and worked 30 meters CW for the remainder of my time.

I logged my first contact at 16:28, my last at 18:18 UTC. So 1 hour 50 minutes of near constant operating.

Remaining battery capacity after 1:50 of operating.

The IC-705 battery pack was still going strong and had about 40% capacity left, but I simply ran out of time as I needed to run an errand in town, so had to shut down the radio and pack up.

I must admit: the IC-705 is doing a much better job managing battery usage than I would have expected. I’m guessing I could have operated for 3 hours or so at 5 watts without needing to recharge the BP-272 1880 mAh Li-ion battery pack.

I do believe I’ll invest in the larger BP-307 battery pack which has a capacity of 3100 mAh. It’s a pricey battery, though, at $130 US.

How does the IC-705’s battery endurance compare with the Elecraft KX2? I’m not sure yet, but I’m guessing the KX2 will have even better longevity as its current drain is less than half that of the IC-705. The KX2 will operate at 10 watts output for about 1 hour 15 minutes with the internal battery pack, before decreasing to 5 watts output. I’ve never tried a battery endurance test with the KX2 at only 5 watts.

Of course, with an external 12 volt battery, the IC-705 will pump out a full 10 watts of power as well.

Five watts and a wire–wow!

The biggest surprise of the day?

I worked stations from Oregon, and Saskatchewan to the Azores…in single sideband!

Here’s a map of my contacts–red signal paths are SSB, CW in green (click to enlarge):

This was one activation where 5 watts SSB actually snagged more DX than CW. Great fun!

While I’d like to think it was a little IC-705 “mojo” on its first field outing, in truth it had everything to do with the EFT-MTR antenna and what must have been a moment of propagation stability.

This was also my maiden voyage with the CW Morse Single Lever paddle. CW Morse sent this paddle, along with their double lever paddle and a selection of straight keys, for me to evaluate. If you’ve been considering an affordable, portable single-lever paddle, this is a brilliant one. I really enjoyed using it and the action is very easy to adjust.

I’m already regretting the decision to send it to my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) for a proper evaluation. (Just kidding, Eric! (Maybe.)) He only uses a single lever paddle for his numerous field radio adventures.

Eric will give this single-lever paddle a proper workout and give us a full report.

I must admit, I had a lot of fun with the IC-705/EFT-MTR antenna combo.

Of course, I’ll be taking the IC-705 to the field a lot in the coming weeks.

IC-705 Questions?

Feel free to comment and ask any questions you may have about the IC-705. I’ll do my best to answer them.

POTA Portable, Picnic, Paddles, and Unpredictable Propagation

Practicing left hand lunching, right hand keying/logging!

It seems like lately I’ve had to work hard to log 10-15 contacts during my Parks On The Air (POTA) activations.¬† Propagation has been so flaky, I use every trick in the book to snag at least my ten contacts for a valid activation: change antenna configuration, run up to 40-50 watts output, employ both CW and SSB, have friends spot me on the network, and try every band possible (typically from 80-17).

Note that the majority of my activations are proper QRP and rarely do I spend longer than 60 to 90 minutes actually on the air. Indeed, many of my activations are only 60 minutes long including set-up and take-down. That may seem short to most POTA folks, but that’s what works in my schedule and family life: quick hits. It’s one of the reasons I’m not more active in Summits On The Air (SOTA)–I need more time for those sites as they’re not as accessible as our numerous POTA entities.

Still, our local star has been misbehaving, and I had not planned to do an activation on Sunday (September 28) because I saw the propagation forecast and it was rather discouraging (A index 26, SW 505, Bz -2).

From home that morning, I chased a few parks but found it challenging to hear most of them. QSB was incredibly deep–strong stations gone in an instant.

Still, my wife suggested we take a picnic to one of our favorite local spots and how could I possibly visit a park without activating it? Right–?

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

What we, as a family, love about this site is the large covered picnic area and historic log cabins. Also, the site receives very few visitors on Sundays when the main museum is closed.

Each time we visit the Vance site, we bring my MSR liquid fuel stove and make lunch/dinner.

I set up the stove, got lunch started and my wife took over food prep.

Knowing propagation was unstable, I opted for more than QRP power this time–at least, at first–so I chose the Mission RGO One transceiver (capable of 55 W output) and CHA Emcomm III Portable antenna for this activation.

I deployed the Emcomm III in a sloping configuration with the end of the 73′ radiator high in a nearby (dead) tree and the counterpoise on the ground. I also suspended the winder/balun from the corner of one of the shelter’s rafter’s with paracord.

Since it’s difficult to see a wire antenna in photos, I’ve labeled the components in the following image (click to enlarge):

I didn’t know if this configuration would prove useful, but I knew it would be better than attempting this activation with my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical antenna.

I hopped on the air starting on 80M CW (at the request of my buddy WD8RIF), worked him and three stations in rapid succession. After a few minutes of silence, I moved up to the 40 meter band and worked 16 stations. I then moved to 30 meters and worked 11 stations.

I was working more stations than I would have ever guessed beforehand.

Since I only had about 10 minutes to spare after working 30 meters, I decided to plug in the microphone and work some park-to-park contacts. While I always intend to hunt for other parks while I’m in the field, more times than not, I don’t have the luxury of an Internet connection to check the POTA spots page like I did at Vance on Sunday.

I worked 5 parks: 3 in SSB and 2 in CW.

Speaking of CW, this was my first field activation using CW Morse Double Paddles.

CW Morse recently surprised me by sending a few of their products to evaluate in the field (guessing they saw my previous post asking about keys–?).

I must say, I really love the CW Morse double paddles. They’re fully (and easily) adjustable, the action is responsive and smooth, and with the base, they’re incredibly stable on a hard surface. I highly recommend them.

At a setting like we had at Vance, I love the heavy base plate, but if I planned to hike into a site, I believe I’d remove the base to save on weight.

Unpredictable Propagation?

Perhaps there was a brief window of stability between solar events and I was able to take advantage of that while I was on the air? I’m not sure.

I never expected to log 37 contacts in the space of a little over an hour (with some of that time being off the air to help with picnic prep). Not on that Sunday when the solar numbers were in the dumps.

I’d like to believe it was a combination of things:

  • A large wire field antenna with decent gain and the ability to work multiple bands
  • 40 watts of power (at first, I backed down to QRP on 30 meters)
  • Using CW for 34 of the 37 contacts
  • Perhaps unintentionally good timing

All I know is, I had a blast! It’s hard to beat a combination of good radio, good food, good scenery, and good weather!

I suppose this was also a lesson in simply hitting the field and ignoring the propagation.

Or as Rear Admiral David G. Farragut once famously said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”