I walked out of my front door on the morning of Friday, September 29, 2023, knowing I was going to do an activation, but I had no idea where that might be.
I certainly had no idea it would be one of my most memorable activations ever–!
I knew I had a five hour window to play radio somewhere not too far from my daughters’ classes near the Asheville Airport.
I really wanted to do a SOTA (Summits On The Air) activation, but I’d pulled a muscle in my back and was nursing it a bit. I knew that an invigorating hike on a long, gnarly trail was not really in the books.
After dropping off my daughters, I sat in the parking lot running through the activation options in my head. There were 5 or so parks within an easy drive. I knew a POTA activation probably made the most sense since it wouldn’t require hiking or carrying a heavy pack.
Then again, I really wanted to do a SOTA activation–the weather was so amazing, I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to take in a summit.
I decided that if I took a minimal amount of gear and activated an “easy” summit, then maybe I could get away with a little SOTA without hurting my back. I thought this might be the perfect excuse to do a SOTA activation pairing my Elecraft KX2 and AX2 antenna. I had a lightweight chair and my kneeboard, so in theory, I could set up anywhere on the summit with my entire station on my knee.
Next, I only needed to find the right summit and one came to mind almost immediately…
Black Balsam Knob (W4C/CM-005)
The last time I activated Black Balsam was with my buddy, Monty, in 2021. I remembered that it was an easy hike with stunning vistas of Pisgah Forest (K-4510) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378).
I drove 55 minutes to the trailhead and was happy that there weren’t too many cars in the parking area yet that morning. Black Balsam is one of the most popular summits on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so sometimes it can be a challenge to find a parking space…especially with stunning weather like this!
The hike was very pleasant and my GoRuck GR1 backpack was pretty light.
I knew I’d chosen the right summit hike.
The views from the Art Loeb Trail do not disappoint. (Click images to enlarge.)
In fact, if anything, I wish this hike were just a little longer because I enjoyed the scenery so much!
It’s only 3/4 of a mile one way, so it goes by quickly. Still… it’s why I chose this particular summit. I knew it would be gentle on my back (and it was).
Once I reached the summit, I started searching for a spot to set up. There were quite a lot of folks on the summit that morning, so I looked for a site just slightly off of the main trail.
Many thanks to Bob (K4RLC) for the following guest post:
Field Trip to Greece: September & October 2023
A trip to Greece had been on the bucket list for my YL Alanna K4AAC and me for several years. In fact, we had to postpone the trip twice due to COVID. An opportunity arose to take a unique trip to Greece with the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, rather than a more touristy cruise. It’s always good to have fellow Tar Heels around, to share experiences.
This trip involved a few days in Athens, seeing the classic archeologic sites such as the Parthenon and the Acropolis, as well as exploring the packed downtown markets, such as Plaka and Monasteraki Square. Then the group would travel to the South of Greece on the Peloponnesian Peninsula staying in a fishing village called Gytheio, founded in the 5th Century BC, and port to the Spartan warriors. From there, there would be day trips to historic sites. These included a trip to Areopoli, where the Greek revolution against the Turks started in 1821. Another trip would be to Monemvasia, an island fortress founded in 50 AD. Other trips would be to Mystras (the last outpost of the Byzantine Empire) and ancient Sparta. On the return trip to Athens for departure, the tour would stop in Ancient Corinth, which had been civilized by the Greeks by the 8th century BCE and where the Apostle Paul preached ethics to this Sin City of ancient Greece.
As I had taken the KX1 and KX2 to various places overseas, I, of course, wanted to operate portable radio in Greece. Past treasured memories included enjoyment operating with the KX1 on Suomenlinna Island, in the Bay of Finland, and with the KX2 in various Caribbean sites, including St. Lucia in 2019.
One of the first things I did was to consult the SOTA Summits Database for peaks we might be near. In the Peloponnesian (PL) region, there are about 180 sites, many of which had never been activated. Once we got there, we found out why. The peninsula is extremely mountainous, with steep barren peaks up to 4000 feet, rising quickly from the shore. In fact, talking with Cristos, our guide in Areopoli and a local young man, he said that he and his friends would hike about 6 to 8 hours to a summit, then spend the night in a cave before returning home. Obviously, this would not fit in with our somewhat rigid tour schedule.
I was very excited to see that Mt. Mystras, where we would visit, also was a SOTA site (SV/PL-012), as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
I found it curious that Mystras had not been activated since 2017. I found the name of the last ham who had activated this site, and took a chance of sending him an email at his QRZ address. I was very pleased to get a nice reply from Cristos (a common name in Greece, named after Saint, or “Agios” Christopher), who said that he lived in the north of Greece some distance away and had not been back. I asked him if he had to seek permission to activate there. Cristos said they just didn’t ask anybody, but that I should be “careful of the guards” as I’m not a local.
I took his caution under advisement and reached out to the Greek Radio Union. I received a very nice email from Takis, Vice President of the Greek Radio Union. He advised me that my call sign on the Peloponnesian peninsula would be SV3/K4RLC/P. That is, in Greece the geographic location of operation still matters, while it doesn’t in the United States. And I also should use the designator P, identifying as a portable station. Takis went on to write that radio operation in many the archaeological sites is now “prohibited” by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Antiquities. I filed that away for consideration.
The tour was culturally enriching, taking in the incredibly long and complex history of each ancient site we explored. Just as memorable, we were extremely well fed with local cuisine, including fresh fish caught that day, especially eating by the water in Limeni on the West Coast of the Mani Peninsula. I have to admit we ate spanakopita at least once for 10 consecutive days (it’s even served at breakfast)!
The trip to Mystras also included a trip to ancient Sparta, civilized in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. We were fortunate to have an archaeologist who is currently excavating Sparta as a guide to the fascinating history here. On the trip to Mystras, three miles to the west of Sparta, the bus stopped at the tavern where we would return to eat later that afternoon, for a pre-tour bathroom break. Bathrooms are few and far between in ancient sites, and most of our group could be considered geriatric and needed proximity to a bathroom. Mystras is a 682 meter sharp peak over the town (see photo). Continue reading Bob pairs the KX2 and AX1 for ultralight travel-friendly SOTA in Greece→
“How can I accumulate a bunch of summit-to-summit points all at once, for Summits on the Air?” This was a question Pete Scola WA7JTM had been pondering for years. He initially thought it might be fun to choose several 10-point summits that were near each other, have a person operate on each summit, and then rotate to a new summit every so often. Eventually, this idea gave way to the Arizona 10-Point Madness Summit to Summit event. With an invitation from Pete, all willing SOTA participants gathered on a 10-point summit on September 19th, 2018, and 10-Point Madness was born!
The Arizona 10-Point Madness Summit to Summit event is a casual on-air gathering, where Summits on the Air participants set up their ham radio station on the top of summit . . . at approximately the same time. Operators are on simultaneously so that there is an overwhelming availability of summit-to-summit contacts to be made. This event occurs every year on the first Saturday of October.
There was a focus on 2-meter contacts the first year we did this. We learned quickly during the 2018 inaugural event that it was true madness for 31 ham radio stations to contact 26 nearby summits all at the same time, especially on 2 meters. We tried alternate 2-meter frequencies and even considered a net control operator. However, in the end, we learned to just wait patiently for our turn to call for contacts on 2-meters, or if it was extra busy, we just moved off to HF for a while and returned later. As a courtesy, we now monitor 2 meters and return to it throughout the event to give the operators a chance to come and go.
That first year was amazing.
We collectively made 1104 contacts, 354 of which were VHF. And yes, we scored a lot of summit-to-summit points. We averaged 140 points each, with a grand total of 4324 s2s points for all the Arizona stations. We announced the event to several online platforms and invited others to participate, and had a few people join us from outside of Arizona. All of them had fun and saw good results as well.
Our 6th annual event concluded a few weeks ago. Participation has been steady in Arizona but we have seen an increase outside of Arizona. We had about the same number of Arizona participants as years past, but total contacts increased to 1403. The average s2s points per participant increased to 169, with a grand total of 4906 s2s points. I was amazed that Keith KR7RK earned 400 s2s points this year for this event – a new record, I think. These are only numbers for Arizona participants.
I read on social media that Josh WU7H, who was participating from Washington state, had 55 total s2s contacts and only a fourth of them were from Arizona. We received some statistics from stations in Georgia, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and more. It is a lot of effort to compile the statistics but it would be interesting to include people outside of Arizona in the future.
Here are a few things that have stood out to me over the past 5 years for this event:
In 2019, Josh WU7H and DJ WW7D participated from Washington. They won the award for most challenging activation in my opinion, operating from a snow packed summit in below freezing temperatures. But that didn’t deter them! They continue to come back year after year. They are tough!
In 2022 my friend Adam K6ARK was participating on a summit in California. I was able to make a 2-meter CW and SSB contact with him from my summit, 327 miles away.
Several others in Arizona also made contact with him. While not record breaking, this is long haul for 2-meters. And this year, I was able to make 19 DX contacts with one summit-to-summit into Germany. It seems like there are a lot of DX contacts to be made every year, but this was a record for me.
Finally, this year Pete WA7JTM made a contact on every single band from 1296 MHz down to 1.8 MHz. That’s 16 different bands. How amazing is that?
The point is, you can make this event into whatever you want. Experiment and try new things because there are people listening. And of course, you do get a ton of summit-to-summit points.
Dave AE9Q sent an email out to the Arizona participants and inquired about the radios, antennas, and power sources used for the event and as you can probably guess, the list was very diverse. I’m not exaggerating. Just about every QRP HF radio, VHF/UHF handheld, Antenna, and power source you can think of was used – Log periodicals, mono-band double-bazookas, double zepps, whips, Yagi’s, end-feds, QRP and QRO HF radios of all types, HT’s with microwave capabilities, mobile vhf radios, amplifiers, lipo and lifepo batteries. The list is long.
We recognize that other SOTA associations do similar events, like the Colorado 14er event and the Pacific Northwest Not Quite Fourteener event, to name a couple. These are all great opportunities to get on the air and have fun with QRP radio in the field.
I’m sure you have heard about how amazing the SOTA community is. If you get out on the summits or frequently chase, your call sign becomes familiar to others. So much so that you feel a personal connection and sense of comradery every time you make contact with them. During these events you see many of your good on-air radio friends. It’s like a reunion.
The Arizona SOTA association thanks the many chasers and participants outside of Arizona who make this event more and more exciting every year. We hope to see even more participate next year. Just pick a summit, put your alert on the sotawatch.sota.org.uk web page, get on top of the summit and have a blast!
To me, the pinnacle of portable amateur radio involves Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations in particularly remote and hard-to-reach areas. Many require long approaches, difficult climbs, and high-altitude travel to get there, so minimizing the size and weight of my portable radio kit is of utmost importance. To that end, I’ve managed to refine my smallest fully functional kit down to quite a compact and light-weight package.
An MTR2B which operates on 20 m and 40 m. It has been repackaged into a custom-designed 3d printed case is the core of the system. It has been repackaged into a 3d printed case which cuts the weight of the radio by about 60% from the original aluminum and steel case, and shrinks it in thickness by about 50%.
The key is built-in to the rig – a capacitive touch design I adapted from the M0UKD design.
Brass cap nuts installed on the corner of the case provide the capacitive sense touch points for the left and right paddles.
A 9v form-factor rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a USB-C charge port powers the system. The lower voltage reduces my transmit power to 2.5 or 3 watts, but also provides a bit more protection for the final amplifier transistors when my antenna setup is less than ideal. It has sufficient capacity to run this power-efficient little rig for a few hours from a summit.
The antenna is a 40m End Fed Half-wave with a matching unit built from an FT50-43 size toroid directly onto an RCA connector and protected with heat shrink tubing. 28 ga PTFE insulated stranded copper wire forms the radiating element, and it’s stored on a down-sized 3d printed winder of my own design.
The primary components of the kit weigh in at just 4.8 oz (136 g), and the padded camera case adds another 1.8 oz (51 g). Although the case isn’t particularly light, it provides excellent protection to the rig.
And because most of the summits I bring this rig to are void of trees, a compact telescopic pole is an essential addition. The one I typically bring packs small and weighs in at just 5.5 oz (156 g) but provides about 10 ft of elevation above the ground. The cap is leashed so I can’t lose it, and the tube is coated in heat shrink for protection when I cram it into the rocks for support.
In the end, it’s quite a capable kit for just 12.1 oz (343 g) of pack weight.
Tuesday, September 5, 2023, was a gorgeous day. A hot day, but a beautiful one!
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to fit in a quick SOTA activation and the most accessible summit that day was Bearwallow Mountain.
Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)
I was in South Asheville all day, so Bearwallow was only about a 25 minute detour.
Since it was a Tuesday in the latter part of the morning, there were few others parked at the trailhead. Had it been a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? It can be difficult to find a parking spot. Indeed, the previous day (Labor Day) I’m sure it was packed!
I practically had the place to myself, though.
The hike up was most enjoyable although it was hot and humid, so sweaty I became.
That said–and I think I even say this in the activation video below–I really wished the hike was a bit longer. The Bearwallow trail is maybe a mile long.
I wanted a longer hike, but in truth, didn’t have the time for one anyway.
Bearwallow’s summit is a large pasture. It does offer up some spectacular long-range views.
Bearwallow is also home to a lot of comms towers including a number of local repeaters.
Days off from work can be a really great thing. And for someone who spends most of his time indoors at a computer, I try to find plenty of excuses to go outside and get some fresh air. Labor Day is one of those days I get off from work, so I decided I would do a SOTA activation, but I wasn’t entirely sure where.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools out there to help with planning a SOTA activation, namely sotl.as, which shows all the summits on a map along with additional information about the summit.
I wasn’t entirely sure which one to pick, so I just searched around and came across Evergreen Mountain, which has the reference designator W0C/FR-076. Doing some research showed that it was about a 2-3 mile hike to the summit from the parking lot, which was perfect. The air around Denver, CO can be somewhat thin and these hikes can be strenuous if you aren’t used to it. I have been living in the Denver area for 2 years and I still am not used to it!
After a small amount of planning, I pack my radio and antenna into a bag along with the usual hiking gear and drive to the base of the mountain. There were a lot of cars already parked there, so I had to park on the side of the road. It seems other people had the same idea that I did!
The trail to the summit of Evergreen mountain was comparatively easy due to the trail being designed for mountain biking. Mountains in Colorado tend to be incredibly steep, which can make them quite the workout, even if the hike is short. This trail consisted of plenty of switchbacks, which made the hike incredibly easy, trading steepness for distance. This was a massive bonus from my perspective!
As you might have guessed, Evergreen Mountain (and the town) get their name from the impressive number of evergreen trees in the area. As you drive towards the town, it almost becomes exclusively pine trees everywhere!
As I walked, I couldn’t help but notice all the fallen pine trees, which concerned me, but I quickly came across a sign explaining the reason.
I really got to enjoy walking through these trees, and listening to the wind howl through the mountains. It also had the benefit of keeping me nice and cool in the reasonable 83° temperature outside.
The trees also blocked the views of the mountains to some extent, but my research showed me that we get plenty of gorgeous views closer to the summit!
Right before the summit loop, I was rewarded with a small glimpse of the views that were to come!
I made it to the summit loop trail, and advanced to the last little bit before the summit. Right before the true summit there is a tenth-mile little trail that leads to a scenic overlook. I, of course, had to go and take a look.
I went back and made it to the summit. The top of the mountain was pretty flat so I just went to what I thought was the summit and set up my station there. Searching around showed that I was well within the activation zone. The area had some nice rocks to sit on as well as trees for me to lash my crappie pole to with para-cord.
I unpacked my gear and started to set up. The gear I brought was as follows:
With SOTA, I have the opportunity to use my VHF/UHF equipment to make some QSOs. I find it quite rare for me to do simplex communication on VHF or UHF these days as I almost exclusively operate on HF. Also, I like to try to operate in the parts of the bands with the lowest license requirement so that the less experienced hams have an opportunity to work me. With this, I can give our technicians a chance to chase SOTA! Continue reading KM4CFT: A Relaxing Labor Day SOTA Activation→
On Tuesday, August 1, 2023, I only had about 2.5 hours to fit in a hike and SOTA activation. That was plenty of time to hit Bakers Mountain!
Bakers Mountain Park has a nice long-ish loop around the perimeter of the park called the “Bakers Mountain Loop”; it’s about 2.75 miles long and has a reasonable amount of elevation change over the topography.
Adding in the spur trail to the true summit of Bakers Mountain, I’d say my total hike is about 3.25 miles or so.
Note that I actually include a bit of my hike to and off of the summit in the activation video below.
Once on the summit, I chose a spot to set up. Since I planned to deploy my 40 meter end-fed half-wave, I looked for a branch overhanging the summit perimeter trail.
Next, I deployed my trusty 40 meter EFHW that Steve (MW0SAW) made.
Many thanks to Dale (N3HXZ) who shares the following guest post:
SOTA and POTA in the San Juan Islands
by Dale Ostergaard (N3HXZ)
My wife and I like to take educational tour vacations from time to time. The outfit we mostly use is Road Scholar.
The tours are geared around education and immersion in local cultures and experiences. In addition, you meet a lot of like-minded people on the tour and make new friends. Last summer we wanted to take a vacation to the pacific northwest. We had never been there and came across a tour through the San Juan Islands. The islands are located north of Seattle and east of Vancouver. Touring the islands is made easy on a guided tour as they arrange for all transportation between islands and on land.
Washington State has an excellent network of ferries serving the island which makes for easy connections to the islands.
After we booked the vacation I began wondering if there were SOTA and POTA opportunities on the islands. I quickly looked up sites on the SOTA Goat app and the POTA website. Low and behold there was a treasure trove of parks and summits!
Realizing the opportunity, I cross checked our itinerary with the parks and summits. The difficulty of course is that when you are on a guided tour, you have very little flexibility in the schedule, let alone transportation to go off on your own. After researching, I found 4 opportunities that included 3 parks and 1 summit. The parks were K-0061 San Juan National Historic Park, K-3223 Lime Kiln Point State Park, both on the island of San Juan, and K-3232 Moran State Park and summit W7W/RS-065 Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. The Summit lies inside the park so I had the opportunity to grab both with 1 activation. Continue reading N3HXZ: SOTA and POTA in the San Juan Islands!→
Many thanks to Bob (K4RLC) who shares the following POTA field report from December 2022:
K4RLC’s December 2022 Adventure: Stone Mountain State Park North Carolina
by Bob (K4RLC)
As 2022 was coming to an end, I wanted one last Summits on the Air/Parks on the Air (SOTA/POTA) activation. Stone Mountain North Carolina is around 3 hours away in Northwestern North Carolina, near the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a huge state park of over 14,000 acres and some wilderness areas.
A little background about this year might be helpful.
Earlier last year, both Alanna K4AAC and I were diagnosed with COVID, which turned into long serious COVID, lasting almost 3 months of acute illness, followed by several months of recovery. We are both healthcare professionals, and were vaxed and boosted and being very cautious, so it’s somewhat of a mystery what happened. One of us does have multiple medical risk factors which may have added to the complexity.
Nevertheless, we did what a lot of Americans did last winter and spring, with buying RVs and campers, and bought a Winnebago Solis camper van.
The Solis is Winnebago’s smallest van, built on a Dodge Pro Master commercial chassis. What appealed to me is that you can be completely self-sufficient, boon-docking with it. It has a 140 Watt solar panel on the roof which charges two 100 amp hour AGM batteries.
Off the grid, this powers a small refrigerator, house LED lights, water pump, and a ceiling fan.
The Solis also has a 20-gallon propane tank, which runs a two-burner stove and a really nice furnace for cold nights. It sleeps two comfortably with a Murphy bed. Also has a sitting area with a table for dining, which can be used as a desk or an operating position for the radio.
Since getting the Solis, we have really enjoyed making trips to the beaches and mountains of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. In addition to enjoying exciting POTA/SOTA activations, we have been replenished by nature’s beauty and feeling safe in the fresh air.
Returning to my Stone Mountain adventure, I guess not many people camp in the middle of the week in December in the mountains. Initially, I was the only person in the large campgrounds. Eventually, a couple with their dog and a trailer set up at the far end. We never had any contact. It was really eerie, especially with the pea soup fog that hung around.
The most prominent feature of Stone Mountain State Park is Stone Mountain itself.