After a rainy and windy Friday, the weather was expected to improve a bit the next day. The temperature was still forecasted with around 0 °C / 32 °F, but no rain was expected. So, my friend Jochen (DG1PSI) and I thought we could operate outside. We have chosen a summit called Bernhardus. The summit is next to “Kaltes Feld” on the opposite side of the valley, where I was a some days before. With an 1.2 km / 0.75 mi trail and an ascent of 124 m / 440 ft, it is not the hardest summit around.
We had an appointment for 10 o’clock. The parking lot was still empty at the time, but the weather seemed a bit more difficult than expected. We have asked some other members of our local ham radio club if they want to join us. But surprisingly, no one wanted to get up early on a Saturday morning, hike and operate a radio in freezing temperatures.
As mentioned, the summit was near “Kaltes Feld”, on the opposite side of the valley. You can see the SOTA activation zone of “Kaltes Feld” on the left, the glider airfield in the middle and some miles in the background another SOTA summit called “Stuifen”.
The peak was easy to reach and invites enjoying the beautiful view.
A completely under-prepped SOTA & WWFF activation which turned out to be perfect
In preparation for a tough conversation a good friend once told me: “You know what, just walk into the fire. If you have bad news to deliver, don’t sugar coat it and do it right away. You’ll be fine.”
“Just walk into the fire.” I believe this can be applied to many other situations in life. While I would consider myself to be well-prepared on most trips, hikes and activations and getting a lot of joy out of optimizing my kits I try to stay open-minded. Imagine the things you would miss out on if you wouldn’t be spontaneous or only do things while fully prepared and 100% safe – even if it means taking risks.
Last Wednesday, I kind of walked into the fire. Not fire as in fire-fire but fire as in Latvian winter storm. In general this wouldn’t be such a big deal had I brought the right clothes, gear and shoes to my short business trip to Riga.
Due to very strict luggage restrictions I could only bring one small backpack for three days. Inside I had enough room for a laptop, washbag, spare clothes and the compact QCX-Mini Kit I built for exactly these occasions. I was wearing sneakers and jeans. At this point I had not planned a specific activation but I wanted at least to be able to operate YL/ & /p maybe 30 minutes from a nearby park – not a problem if you can jump right back into the warm hotel afterwards.
During our stay, my schedule for Wednesday morning freed up so I decided to try activating one out of only three SOTA summits in Latvia: YL/YL-003. It turns out this summit is also located within WWFF territory YLFF-0007 about a 1,5h drive from Riga. Big Thanks to Val (YL2SW), Latvia’s WWFF manager, for assisting me with local rules and processing my log. A quick look at the weather forecast showed freezing temperatures, 90% chance of snow, heavy winds and overcast. Many of you will understand why a SOTA&WWFF combo in a rare country could be a small reason not to use the hotel’s sauna on a day like that. Sometimes things just need to get done.
I got up early the next morning and was very happy to be able to grab a Bolt rental car from the street and get going quickly. The drive went by without issues up to a point just about 3km away from the mountain (well, 1-pointer hill I should say). The roads were completely covered in snow so I could barely see where I was driving. Latvia is a rather flat country but here it started to get a bit hilly and the tires were certainly not cut out for that. Continue reading CQ From Latvia with Love→
How I found the best antenna for my SOTA/POTA activations
by Thomas (DM1TBE)
Until January this year I had a German “Klasse E” / CEPT-novice amateur radio license (equivalent to the US General Class), which limits the use of HF to the 10-,15-, 80- and 160-meter bands. When I started with SOTA I used homemade single band end-fed antennas most of the time. However, that is only feasible for the 10- and 15-meter bands.
Unfortunately, both bands are very moody and sometimes they have not worked at all. Unlike the UK for example, FM is uncommon for SOTA in my home association DM (i.e. Germany Low Mountains). You can be lucky and get your 4 QSOs, but I did not want to rely on pure luck.
Therefore, I bought an end-fed half-wave antenna for 10-, 15-, 20-, 40- and 80-meter bands, after some experiments with 10-80-meter end-fed half-wave antennas, from a small German company called ANjo.
Although I could not use the 20- and 40- meter bands at that time, the EFW80-10P (en: auto-translated) antenna gave me the possibility to use the 80-meter band. The antenna could also be tuned for 15. It has a mechanical length of 23.6 m / 77 ft and a coil for the 80-meter band. It is pretty lightweight with 0.4 kg / 14 oz and allows up to 30 watts PEP – more than enough for me. 80-meters is not the best band for daytime SOTA activations, but in 21 months doing SOTA activations, it worked 37 times and tipped the scales for an activation from time to time.
It was sometimes a bit tricky to raise the long wire into the air, but it always worked … better or worse …somehow … like here in the woods along a trail.
Many thanks to Thomas (DM1TBE) for the following field report:
Shivering with 18 WPM on the ruins of the medieval Hohenstaufen Castle
by Thomas (DM1TBE)
It had been two weeks since my last field activation and my bad conscience grew, so a friend and I scheduled an activation, even with expected temperatures at -2 °C / 28 °F. The choice fell on the summit Hohenstaufen (DM/BW-102).
The Hohenstaufen is one of the two SOTA summits that I can see from home in Southern Germany and one of the so-called group Drei Kaiserberge – the middle one does not qualify for SOTA, unfortunately.
A Little Bit of History
On top of the summit are still ruins from the medieval Hohenstaufen Castle. The castle was built around 1050 and used until 1525, when it was looted and burned down during the German Peasants’ War. The summit has been populated since at least the 8th century.
The castle (picture from 1470 above), was the seat of the Hohenstaufen dynasty to whom belonged several Kings and three Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, which, at its greatest extent, included the area of Germany, Switzerland and parts of France, Austria, Italy, Czech, Belgium, Netherlands, Slovakia – or easier: almost all of Central Europe.
There is not much left of the castle nowadays, but you can still spot parts of the foundations and walls.
Due to the positive experiences during the last two activations, I decided to go with an end-fed half-wave antenna for the 30 meter band along with my Elecraft KX3, a 4Ah LiFePo4 battery, a 10 m / 33 ft fibreglass pole and the BaMaKeY TP-III (a 70 g / 2.5 oz light magnetic paddle). The paddle is too light for me to use, so I usually attach the magnetic base of the paddle to a metallic clamp on a clipboard. Although I studied computer science, I prefer pen and paper for logging. Part of the fun is the guessing of the logged call signs after an activation.
How two Scottish SOTA activations encouraged me to upgrade my German license
by Thomas (DM1TBE / M0KEU)
I just wanted to tell someone this story. Not sure if you want to hear it, but I will tell you anyway
During June last year, my boss asked me if I could step in for an ill colleague and visit a business partner in Frankfurt and Edinburgh. As a SOTA activator, I first checked the map and have happily spotted a summit within walking distance of the hotel in Edinburgh.
Unfortunately, there were three issues to solve:
The UK does not accept my German “Klasse E” (CEPT novice/intermediate) license;
operating a radio on the summit requires written permission and
as the duration of the trip was planned with just 2 overnight stays, only hand luggage was possible.
At the Ham Radio in Friedrichshafen, I asked an RSGB representative if it is possible to get a British license as a German. Mark, M1MPA, explained to me how the process worked, so I started the online course provided by GM6DX. It was not too difficult, and I soon passed every mock exam. Roughly, two weeks before the trip, I passed the RSGB operated online exam and got my UK foundation license, so I could operate in Scotland as MM7TBE.
Regarding the issue with the permission to operate on the summit, I first chose to ignore and pretend being a stupid foreign tourist until I was told that it is really enforced, and my activation could be deleted. So, I asked the Ranger Service at Historic Environment Scotland for permission less than two weeks before my activation and received it just one day later with a comment that it is usually expected to ask one month in advance. Many thanks to the Ranger Service, next time I will come earlier – I promise!
The last issue was the size of the equipment.
There is no tree on top of the summit Arthur’s Seat GM/SS-272, and I had very little space left. So I went with a KX3 with an AX1 antenna and a FT2D for 2m FM.
Now the journey could begin.
On the first day, I was at a very high place in Frankfurt but unfortunately, it did not qualify for SOTA. That evening I arrived in Edinburgh.
The next day, late afternoon, the fun could start.
I’ve attached couple pictures of V1.0 of my field clip board. I’ve been searching for the perfect clipboard to use in the field. The main requirements of the design include: lightweight, low cost and the flexibility to allow a comfortable operating position while securely holding a radio.
What I came up with is a based on an inexpensive fiber board clip board:
I chose to set it up somewhat unconventionally and designed it to use the clipboard “upside down”. Setting it up this way provided ample space at the top to mount the radio while still providing room to attach a metal pad mounting point for paddles.
The radio is held securely in place with craft 3mm elastic bands. The bands were made with metal “toggles” so I can easily add more holes to the clipboard to accommodate varying rigs.
The metal pad is just a stick-on metal plate purchased from Amazon. I plan to add a leg strap in the future and will do so once I’m sure no other major modifications need to me made.
I’m pretty happy with the way the clipboard came out and would appreciate any comments or suggestions!
This is brilliant, Rich! I love both how affordable this board is and how easy it is to build. Having the clip at the bottom of the board is a fantastic way to secure your logging notebook as well.
On the morning of November 4th, I woke up with one thought on my mind: “I need to activate Mount Mitchell before it’s too late!”
It’s not like Mount Mitchell was going to disappear, but I knew I was already on borrowed time since the long section of the Blue Ridge Parkway I use to drive to Mount Mitchell from Asheville typically closes in the early part of November for weeks at a time. The park itself will close to guests too–in fact, last year, it closed its gates as I drove out of the park! There are often other roads open to Mitchell in the winter, but they’re very much out of the way for me and frankly, weather can shift and the park close at the drop of a hat.
As the crow flies, Mount Mitchell is actually very close to my QTH. If I wanted, I could hike there directly from my home. I’ve yet to do this, however, because with the 3,000′ elevation change and the anything-but-direct trails that skirt the Asheville watershed, I’d need a full day or more to hike it one way. I will for sure do this sometime, but only when I can pack appropriately and reserve a campsite.
As soon as I surfaced that morning, I check the weather map. I noticed that the temp at Mount Mitchell was actually slightly higher than at my QTH. I looked out the kitchen window and could see fog in the valley. This meant one thing: inversion!
When we have inversion, the cold air is pushed down into the valley and warmer air can be found at higher elevations. The flip opposite of what you’d typically expect.
I ate a quick bite, grabbed come coffee, and hit the road.
As I drove past Warren Wilson College’s farm, it was absolutely gorgeous. I had to stop and take a photo or two [click images to enlarge].
The drive up to Mount Mitchell on the BRP was ideal: clear skies and quite warm!
A Review of the LnR Precision Mountain Topper MTR-4B V2
by Thomas (K4SWL)
I confess, there is something that I’ve come to believe is almost a rite of passage in the SOTA (Summits On The Air) community. And, no, I’m not talking about activating an All Time New One (ATNO) summit, or completing a particularly challenging activation on a snow-capped peak.
I’m talking about owning one of the iterations of the amazing “Mountain Topper” pocket-sized QRP CW transceivers designed by Steve Weber (KD1JV).
This little radio first caught my attention at a Four Days In May (FDIM) QRP conference over a decade ago: a ham friend in the SOTA community proudly showed me a very early version of the Mountain Topper that he built from a kit. The first thing that struck me was how impossibly small and extraordinarily lightweight it was. But when he showed me the 9-volt battery he used to power it––a power supply not only small, but convenient––I was mesmerized.
Over the years, the Mountain Topper has evolved. There have been many models, ranging from two bands to five. To my knowledge, they’re no longer offered in kit form, but LnR Precision manufactures and tests these in North Carolina, and they’re better than ever in terms of features and performance.
At present, the MTR-4B V2––the second version of the four-band Mountain Topper––is the only model in production, and if you’re hoping to acquire one, due to supply chain issues (at time of publishing) there’s a rather long wait time. They retail new for $350 US, and frankly, the used ones I’ve seen posted in ham radio classifieds ads have been equal to, or even over, the listed price for a new rig. Obviously, demand for these radios is much higher than supply.
So, how could it be that this minuscule QRP radio performs well enough to produce some serious DX from a remote summit…so well, in fact, that people are willing to wait in line for one?
Magic or method?
As any CW operator will tell you, the magic is in the mode. CW is such an efficacious mode that it cuts through the ether like a knife, even when conditions are less than favorable.
Obviously, pint-size radios like the Mountain Topper are QRP––low power––so designing them around such a simple mode is a very smart choice. CW transceivers are much less complex than a similar SSB transceiver, thus have less components, less mass, and are in general more affordable (when compared to those with similar receiver performance).
In addition, the Mountain Topper is designed with the field activator in mind: specifically, SOTA activators, but of course, POTA (Parks On The Air), WWFF (World Wide Flora and Fauna), IOTA (Islands On The Air), or any other popular “-OTA” field activity. As a field activator in one of these programs, you are the DX. This means chasers and hunters are actively seeking your signal, and thus you are not competing with blowtorch stations to punch through a pileup.
I can also assure you that standing on a tall summit also gives you a brilliant starting point for your QRP signal. Some of the best DX I’ve ever worked has been from a summit.
So, for the average CW SOTA activator, QRP is preferred because QRO simply isn’t necessary––indeed, in my opinion it’s a bit of an overkill. At least that’s been my experience now with my few hundred SOTA, POTA, NPOTA, SOTA, and even one Lighthouse On The Air activations.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.