Tag Archives: SOTA

Field Report: QRP SOTA and POTA on Big Cedar and Black Mountain in North Georgia

As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the W4G SOTA Fall Campout in October and it was nothing short of amazing.

It was so great to spend an extended weekend camping, hiking, and hopping on the air with other SOTA activators.

I especially enjoyed getting to know Joshua (KO4AWH)–the fellow behind Tufteln products— over that weekend. He needed a campsite and since my buddy Monty had to pull out of the trip due family activities, I was happy to share the tent site with him.  It actually worked out quite well since we could then pair up and car pool to our SOTA and POTA activations.

What follows is a field report for two SOTA activations Joshua and I did back-to-back on Friday, October 14, 2022.

The trail head for both of these summits was only a few miles from our campsite at Lake Winfield Scott.

Gear:

Note that I used the same gear during both SOTA activations all packed in my Spec-Ops Brand SOTA backpack.

Black Mountain and Big Cedar essentially share the same trailhead at the Woody Gap Recreational Area parking lot on Highway 60.

We were on site early enough to grab a parking space. Keep in mind that it was Friday during leaf season, so there were quite a few hikers on the trails that day! In fact, by midday, the parking lot was overflowing with cars.

Almost by flip of coin, we decided to hit Big Cedar Mountain first. Turns out, Joshua had actually hiked to this summit in the past and even met a SOTA activator en route (and I believe this might have been his inspiration to try Summits On The Air!).

Big Cedar Mountain (W4G/NG-023)

The 1.1 mile hike to the summit of Big Cedar Mountain was brilliant and the views were absolutely stunning. Continue reading Field Report: QRP SOTA and POTA on Big Cedar and Black Mountain in North Georgia

N0SA SP4 Mini Morse Magnetic Paddles Review

You might recall my previous announcement about the new  N0SA SP4 POTA/SOTA Mini Morse Code Magnetic Paddle from CW Morse.

The first production run of these paddles sold out very quickly, but I just received the following message from CW Morse about the new paddles:

We’ve finally gotten caught up and will be shipping out Monday & Tuesday [Nov 21/22]! Also have a few more in stock. Making another batch as well.

CW Morse sent me a set of these paddles to evaluate at no charge to me (keep in mind, they’re both a sponsor and affiliate of QRPer.com) and I got a chance to use them Thursday afternoon.

In short?

I love these paddles!

In fact, I think these may become my preferred compact paddles.

I like the size of the finger pieces/pads.  They’re large for such a tiny paddle, which I believe gives them a solid feel while keying. I prefer a larger contact surface area as opposed to thin finger pieces.

The response is very precise, too, and the action can be adjusted by a supplied Allen wrench.

I agree with a few readers who’ve already received their paddles and noted that the carbon fiber reinforced PETG material make the key grippy and very easy to hold.

The size and design is very similar to the SOTA paddle N0SA sold out of last year in a matter of a few hours.

Bonus POTA Activation!

Thursday afternoon, my daughters attended a two hour meeting not even a stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had *just* taken delivery of the new N0SA paddles, so grabbed the shipping box from CW Morse, my new-to-me Elecraft K2/10 (more on that later!), and my PackTenna Random Wire antenna.

I only discovered that my daughters’ meeting was so close to the parkway about 10 minutes before leaving the QTH. This was one of those bonus activations that deserved a little happy dance, especially since I could spend a good 1.5 hours on the air–a proper luxury for this busy father!

I’ll post a full field report and activation video in a couple of weeks, but in a nutshell, 30 meters was on fire. I’d planned to work 20, 30, and 40 meters (to test the K2’s internal ATU) but 30M was so dang busy, I never had time to QSY.

I had not put the K2/10 on the air yet, so all of the settings were default and it had been a few years since I used a K2, so had to re-familiarize myself with the settings. Thirty meters was so consistently busy, I didn’t have a breather to tinker with the settings.

The new N0SA SP4 paddles worked flawlessly.

I expected nothing less from an N0SA design, but still–the feel and action is superb.

I think this paddle may become the new benchmark for where price and quality meet.

I feel like CW Morse could be charging  $112.95 instead of $82.95 for these and I would still be very pleased with that price. I’m glad they’re not, though, because sub-$100 pricing does give new CW ops an affordable quality mini paddle option.

Based on so many reader recommendations, I purchased a BaMaKeY TP-III paddle recently. It’s also a wonderful paddle, but cost me 157.25 Euro which is nearly twice the price of the SP4 paddles. While I think the TP-III paddles are brilliant (and I’ll soon post a review) I actually prefer the N0SA SP4 paddles (note that this is my own personal preference–both are amazing keys). I prefer the SP4’s larger finger pieces.

Size comparison: CW Morse CNC Machined Aluminum Paddles (left) N0SA SP4 Paddles (right)

The great thing about CW Morse is that they have the capacity to handle customer demand of the SP4 paddles–this is something N0SA couldn’t do as a one-man show. I think CW Morse also has economies of scale working in their favor and, no doubt, this is how they continue to be the market leader in terms of quality for price.

If you’ve been looking for quality mini paddles for your compact field kit or shack, look no further. These are a no-brainer. You’ll love them.

Click here to check out the new N0SA SP4 SOTA/POTA paddles at CW Morse.

Honing my mag loop tuning skills

Yesterday, I posted the photo above on Twitter.

I couldn’t help it: I’m not an “Instagram Moment” kind of guy, but the fall leaf colors this year have simply been stellar. Any excuse.

Where was I? Oh yes…

Truth is, I was in the front yard practicing my loop tuning skills by hunting parks across 30, 20, and 17 meters.

The loop is the excellent Chameleon F-Loop 2.0 (which has since been replaced by Chameleon with the 3.0 version).

I’ve used this loop a few times in the field and even once from inside a large brick community building while doing an FT8 demo.

Loops are a brilliant solution when you have:

  • QRM from local noise sources,
  • limited space to deploy an antenna,
  •  or need a very low-impact and small footprint antenna (very handy for those historic and archeological POTA sites).

The trade-off, of course, is that they have a high “Q”–meaning very, very narrow bandwidth. Basically, anytime you move frequency? Yeah, it’s time to re-tune.

The environment around a loop can also have a pretty significant impact on your ability to tune it as well. For example, metal support structure in a building, window frames, metal poles, vehicles–anything like this nearby can have an impact on your ability to tune a loop and obtain a low SWR.

It’s for this reason I use them so little in the field–where I live, wire antennas are so easy to deploy and use.

But sometimes loops are the perfect tool, so knowing how to efficiently and effectively use them is important.

The F-Loop packed

I thought I had posted an activation video using the F-Loop, but looking back I realize I have not.

Yesterday, I decided to pack the F-Loop in my larger Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack which can easily hold the entire loop, folding tripod, and antenna analyzer.

I always fully set up an antenna before packing it in a new pack just to make sure I’ve included all components.  I used this as an excuse to improve my loop tuning skills by intentionally chasing POTA stations across the HF bands. I worked all of the stations I hunted (five, if memory serves).

Twice I obtained a brilliant match just by using my ear (listening for the HF band noise level to increase as I tuned the variable cap) and the rest of the time I turned to my RigExpert handheld analyzer to find a low SWR.

I’m looking forward to taking the F-Loop to the field soon just to see how well it performs. After my practice today, I do believe I’ll keep the antenna analyzer packed with the loop–it makes it so easy to find a good match.

I find the F-Loop a wee bit easier to tune than my W4OP loop. The W4OP loop is also a brilliant loop if you can find one–I recently gifted mine to a friend. Here’s my review from a few years ago.

I’ve used an AlexLoop once and was impressed as well. That’s another antenna I may review at some point.

Commercially-produced mag loops are pretty expensive though. I do plan to build a 20M mag loop antenna before end of year.  They’re surprisingly easy to build if you have a good variable cap.

Curious how many of you regularly use mag loop antennas. If you do, what make and model? Or is your loop homebrewed? Please comment!

W4G SOTA Fall Campout Recap

As I noted last week, I participated in the W4G SOTA campout at Lake Winfield-Scott Campground in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in north Georgia.

In short? It was amazing!

I thought I’d share a few photos and memories…

Campsite and friends

These SOTA campouts typically involve an announcement via the W4 SOTA group then we all make individual reservations at the chosen campground. Since we’re not reserving the whole campground as a block, we tend to share our individual camping sites with others who might not have been able to reserve a spot.

At Lake Windfield Scott campground, the SOTA group did reserve one large group campsite, but only a couple months ago it was canceled by the park service due to a trail maintenance group that needed it.

Typically, I camp with my friend Monty, but he had other family plans that weekend.

When I found out my buddy Joshua (KO4AWH)–the fellow behind Tufteln products–needed a spot to pitch his tent, I offered up my site.

As you can see in the photo above, both of our tents fit on the tent pad with absolutely no extra room to spare. 🙂

It was such a pleasure getting to know Joshua. What a kindred spirit and super nice fellow.

KO4AWH (left) and K4SWL (right) on the summit of Black Mountain.

We ended up doing all of our SOTA activations together as you will see in upcoming activation videos and field reports.

Joshua is as pack and organization obsessed as I am. A proper pack nerd! I really enjoyed checking out his bags, cases and all of the brilliant accessories that are a part of his field kits.

He brought both an IC-705 and TX-500 along for the ride. He logs in the field using the HAMRS app (same one I do) but on an iPad Mini (see photo above) and I must admit that the size of the iPad mini is nearly ideal–much better than a phone for logging.

He also used the SDR-Control app to connect wirelessly with his IC-705 and operate digital modes.

Summits

We activated a total of three summits during the weekend (Big Cedar, Black Mountain, and Yonah Mountain). It would have been easy to activate six or more if that was the goal–the area is chock full of accessible summits.

Continue reading W4G SOTA Fall Campout Recap

A tour and deep-dive of my SOTA/POTA Backpack (Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC)

As many of you know, I’m a bit of a backpack geek (okay, that’s an understatement).

If you don’t believe me, listen to the Ham Radio Workbench episode where they invited me to take a deep dive into my world of packs, bags, and organization. It’s not for the faint of heart or the short of time. (It was seriously fun, though!)

You would think being a pack geek that I would produce more videos showing a breakdown of what’s in my packs and how I organize them. The irony is I watch numerous videos on YouTube of how others pack out their various field and travel kits.

In truth, I have done this before, of course–once showing how I pack out my GoRuck GR1 for field radio and travel and another time showing how I pack out my TX-500 field kit in a Red Oxx Micro Manager. I plan to do more.

I’ve had several requests to do a video about my main SOTA pack which is designed around the Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC tactical backpack (see above). I think the reason why I haven’t made a video and post yet about this pack is because I knew it would be quite detailed and, frankly, take a lot of time to detail.

That said, here we go!

Designed to be modular

This particular pack is not set up to be a fully self-contained field backpack for just one radio. Quite the opposite: I use its main compartment to hold a wide variety of modular field kits I’ve put together.

What do I mean by “modular”–?

As I prepare my pack to hit the field, I decide which radio I plan to take; typically that radio is in a pouch, bag, or case of its own that contains radio-specific connectors and accessories.

Mini Mini Arborist Throw Line Kit in a Tom Bihn Small Travel Tray

I put the radio in the main compartment, then I add a battery kit, logging kit, an antenna kit, arborist throw line, and an accessories kit that contains a key, cables, adapters, etc. Continue reading A tour and deep-dive of my SOTA/POTA Backpack (Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC)

Gone SOTA camping…

By the time this post has been published [I scheduled this one in advance], I’ll be offline and preparing for a long weekend of radio fun at the W4G SOTA Campout in north Georgia.

I’m looking forward to catching up with friends, trading (mostly true) stories, and hopefully activating a number of new-to-me SOTA summits and POTA parks.

As long as my ankle cooperates, I plan to hit at least a couple of summits each day.

If you care to chase me on the air, check out the SOTA Spots page and/or the POTA Spots page.

My activations will likely be super short so that I can fit in multiples within a day. That said, our campground is in Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (K-4473), so I should have longer evening sessions on the air.

At SOTA events like this, you can get away with only carrying an HT: it’s easy to work other activators Summit-to-Summit (S2S) on VHF since there are so many other SOTA ops on nearby summits.

I will still do HF, though, unless I’m really pressed for time.  I’ve packed a wide variety of radios and antennas. In fact (typical me) I’ve packed more than I know I could possibly put on the air in one weekend.

I don’t expect to have mobile phone or internet service other than when I’m en route to or on summits. Obviously, I won’t be checking email during this time.

Frankly, there’s nothing better than a little offline & on-the-air time!

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

A SOTA road trip from Berlin to Tuscany via the Alps and back

sota-flag-mountain-panorama
On the summit of Kellerjoch OE/TI-311

by Leo (DL2COM)

Flashback March 2021: I am sitting on a couch in the countryside 2h north of Berlin, Germany. It’s a rainy day and my 1-year-old kid just fell asleep on my chest. I am watching Youtube and enjoying the feeling of just having maintained the chainsaw after a productive run preparing firewood.

Then suddenly something special got washed into my feed: Adam K6ARK activating a summit in CW somewhere on the U.S. West Coast. I thought: I have no idea what this wizardry is but this is exactly what I want to do. Right here, right now. Well I have a child to take care of, the next mountain with a prominence of >150m (~500 feet, min. requirement to be a valid SOTA summit) is 3h away, I don’t know what ham radio is, I have no license and what the heck is CW. 

sota-backpack
Complete SOTA kit incl. 6m mast

Jump to July 2022: I am sitting in my car commencing a vacation road trip to the south of Tuscany, Italy. Due to the chaotic luggage situation at EU airports and unreal prices for rental cars my family and I had decided that we would be better off if I drove down while my wife and kids took the plane without having to check in any bags (btw: best decision ever).

alps-panorama
Innsbruck embedded in the Inn valley

Our schedule allowed for me to leave a few days early so I could make room to do a little bit of hiking and throw in a few casual SOTA activations because why not. On top I saw that there were a few never activated summits in close proximity to where we planned to stay. I could feel my heart pumping already followed by a strong reassuring feeling radiating from the well-thought-through contents of my backpack in the trunk. Am I ready? Who cares. I am on my own now. I had completed a quick 1-pointer activation in May and a few POTAs but what was planned now was a different level.

sota-road-trip
From Berlin to Cortona (Tuscany) via Brenner pass (Alps) (Source: Sotl.as)

Going into detail about every summit would go beyond the scope of this article so here are just a few highlights: The first leg down to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area went by in a wink (7h drive). I passed most of the time rehearsing CW by singing license plates out loud. The fun peaked with plates along the lines of M-OT-9990 or E-SI-5545. It’s all about melody and timing, remember. I met up with my buddy Chris whom I hadn’t seen in a long time and who agreed to join me on the first hike up Zirbelkopf (8-points summit) to witness the cult activity I had tried and failed to explain to him beforehand.

Continue reading 7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

The Big E exposition: Radio club seeks scheduled contacts with POTA and SOTA activators

Many thanks to Mark (K8LSB) who shares the following announcement:

Sharing POTA/SOTA with the Public

Greetings POTA/SOTA activators,

This year the Big E (exposition)—a “combined” state fair for the six New England states (CT MA, ME, NH, RI, VT)—will run for 17 days: from September 16 to October 2. In the past, 1.5 million people have attended the Big E, the fifth largest fair in the nation.

Hampden County Radio Association (HCRA) will be running a special events station (N1E) and have a booth at the event where we hope to acquaint the general public with the many facets of amateur radio. For example, we have made arrangements to have a live ARISS space station contact, emergency communications display, POTA/SOTA contacts (hopefully), etc. One of our key goals is to identify those who might be interested in getting their ham license and connecting them with license training classes held by radio clubs across New England.

I am seeking your help in two ways. First, I would like to schedule some contacts with people activating POTA/SOTA sites during the Big E period. To make this interesting for visitors, I’d like to limit this primarily to phone operation, and would love it the activators could talk for a minute or two about where they are and what they enjoy about POTA/SOTA operation; not just the typical “you’re 58 in Massachusetts.” Many of the folks who attend the Big E are people who enjoy outdoor activities like RVing, hiking, camping, biking, etc. and may be attracted to adding the adventure of portable ham radio operation to their recreational routine.

The second way you can help is, for those of you who live in New England, to consider helping staff our booth at the Modern Living building. We hope to have at least four active hams at the booth from 10 am through 10 pm. Our operating shifts are from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and 3:30 to 10 pm. As you can imagine, we need a lot of hams to help out! We have contacted all the radio clubs in New England to solicit volunteers, but we could still use some more hams on specific days. This is a volunteer activity, but we have funds to offset the price of admission ($15) and parking ($10), and can provide free overnight accommodations with local ham families if this makes the logistics easier.

If you’d like to volunteer to be one of our “activator” contacts, please contact me via [email protected] 

If you’re interested in learning more about our Big E plans or would like to volunteer, go to:  https://nediv.arrl.org/project-big-e/  and scroll down to the “How Can I Help” and click the link for volunteering. It will show the specific dates and times that are open.

73, Marc K8LSB

A portable transceiver for QRP SSB SOTA?

This morning, I was browsing the drafts folder of QRPer.com–the place where I store ideas, images, notes, and future posts.

I discovered a draft post with the following inquiry from Motters (M7TRS) dating back several months. I suspect Motters may still be contemplating this decision so perhaps we can chime in with some suggestions and advice [apologies, OM, for the delay!].

Motters writes:

Advice required.

I want to get into QRP SOTA portable voice HF.

My dream station would the flagship IC-705 due to the vhf, uhf and HF plus the waterfall. I am on a shoe sting budget so have to choose wisely for my radio as this will probably be a one time hit for a long time.

The radios in the list are IC-705, FT-818ND, Xiegu G90 and the Xiegu X6100.

The antenna would probably be a linked dipole. Which radio would you choose?

Question open to anyone

Motters (M7TRS)

Great question, Motters. The radios you’ve chosen range anywhere from $450 – 1400US (of course you know the prices in GBP) so much, of course, depends on your budget.

Knowing SSB is your mode of choice, I would likely focus on radios that could deliver 10 watts or more of power output. You’re in the UK and plan to do SOTA ops there, so 5 watts will work perfectly fine, but I’ve always felt like 10 watts SSB is a proper QRP “full gallon.” Many QRP contests consider 10 watts proper QRP in SSB mode. The difference between 5 watts and 10 watts is about 3dB of gain.

The most expensive option–the Icom IC-705–would be a superb choice in so many respects. It would cover all HF/VHF/UHF frequencies, it has a rechargeable battery pack, it’s fairly lightweight, and has excellent features for an SSB operator. With an external battery attached, it’ll yield 10 watts. It also sports superb performance. Since you’ll be using a resonant antenna, you won’t notice the lack of an internal ATU.

You can’t go wrong with the IC-705, but I think you know that already since you describe it as your dream radio.

Here’s my Icom IC-705 review.

On the opposite end of the price spectrum is the Xiegu G90 and I believe that radio might serve you very well. It’s not as compact as the IC-705, has no internal battery, only covers HF, and has no SSB message memories. That said, it can output up to 20 watts and has a superb built-in ATU should you ever need one (my experience is that in SOTA, you will!). It’s a solid radio and well-loved by many in the world of field radio.

Here’s my 2020 review of the Xiegu G90.

I’ve used my Yaesu FT-817ND on numerous SOTA activations and I love it. It’s extremely durable, has great performance characteristics, and sports HF/VHF/UHF in all modes. I love the fact that it has two antenna ports! Continue reading A portable transceiver for QRP SSB SOTA?

IW0HK and IZ0FYL activate Gran Sasso (I/AB-301)

Many thanks to my buddy Andrea (IW0HK) who posted the following field report to the SOTA reflector and has kindly allowed me to re-post it here on QRPer.com:


IW0HK and IZ0FYL: A climbing route to Gran Sasso (2912 mt.) I/AB-301

by Andrea (IW0HK)

Today I am very happy to be able to share with you a splendid and incredible day in the mountains and radio: together with Luca Iz0Fyl we have decided to activate the western peak of Corno Grande I/AB-301 2912 mt. the highest peak of the Central Apennines, the most important mountain for us enthusiasts who live in central Italy. The choice was not to climb the classic “normal” route but think of a climbing route with passages of 1, 2 and 3 degrees called “direttissima” which allows you to reach the summit through a very steep channel.

Today was with variable weather, rain was expected but in the afternoon, so we left early from Rome and went to Abruzzo. In two hours by car we reached Campo Imperatore where the path towards the Gran Sasso begins. In about 2 hours and 20 minutes we reached the top, making several mountaineering passages but without encountering great difficulties. Continue reading IW0HK and IZ0FYL activate Gran Sasso (I/AB-301)