Tag Archives: South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

Cheap POTA thrills with my new-to-me TEN-TEC R4020 QRP CW transceiver!

Last year, I made an impulse purchase.

You’re shocked, right–?

Right.

You see, I did something I’d never suggest others do: in a moment of boredom, I casually cruised the classifieds listings found on QTH.com.

One of the very first listings was for a TEN-TEC R4020 CW QRP transceiver. The price, if memory serves, was $120 (+/- $10) shipped.

Ten-Tec Model R4020 (Product Photo: Ten-Tec)

Without even thinking, I sent a message to the seller:

I’ll buy it if it’s still available!

He responded noting I was the first to reply to the ad, so it was mine if I wanted it.

I did, of course.

The R4020 arrived that same week, I opened the box, applied power to confirmed it powered up, then placed it on the top shelf in my shack.

At the time, I had a mountain of review and evaluations in process along with several articles in the pipeline for TSM and one for RadCom, and simply didn’t have time to properly explore the R4020. I thought it might be fun saving it as a little reward for meeting my deadlines.

Then, frankly, I just forgot about the R4020. This spring was a very busy time for me family-wise, then I spent the summer in Canada, and most of this fall has been all about catching up after having spent the summer in Canada. Funny how that works!

Fast-forward to November 11th, 2022 when I was packing a field radio kit to take on an overnight trip and I noticed the R4020 on the top shelf! My reward, finally–!

I quickly packed the R4020 in my Spec-Ops Order Pouch along with a 3Ah Bioenno LiFePo4 battery and a power cable.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

On Saturday, November 12, 2022, I jumped in the car and headed to South Mountains State Park with the R4020.

This past year, I’ve mostly set up at South Mountain’s Clear Creek Access on the west side of the park, but this time I decided to make my way to the equestrian picnic area near the main entrance and ranger station.

Continue reading Cheap POTA thrills with my new-to-me TEN-TEC R4020 QRP CW transceiver!

3 Watts of Fun: Pairing the Elecraft KX1 and PackTenna 20M EFHW at South Mountains State Park!

On Monday, September 12, 2022, I had one primary objective in mind: to test the Eton Elite Satellite portable shortwave radio.

Many of you know that besides being a QRPer, I’m also an SWL or shortwave listener. Over on my other blog, the SWLing Post, we post news, information, guest posts, and reviews covering the diverse world of shortwave radio and international broadcasting.

Occasionally, I evaluate new receivers and the Eton Elite Satellit is the latest shortwave portable from the Eton Corporation.  It was meant to be their flagship, benchmark portable but unfortunately early production units were plagued with a bit of internally-generated noise. On September 12, I was trying to sort out just how much this internal QRM affected the radio’s performance.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

I wanted to go to a known RF-quiet area to check the Elite Satellit and the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access was an easy detour during my errands that day.

The Elite Satellit

First thing I did after arriving on site was to put the Elite Satellit through some basic paces (AM/SSB, Mediumwave, Shortwave, FM, AIR, etc.). I also compared it with the Tecsun PL-990 portable.

I made a long list of notes and observations to send to Eton that afternoon.

After I finished the tests, I checked my watch and–woo hoo!–I had just enough time to squeeze in a short activation. I only had a 45 minute window, so this activation needed to be a very quick one.

I had two radio kits with me: The Mountain Topper MTR-3B kit, and the Elecraft KX1 kit.  I chose the Elecraft KX1 because I had such a blast using it the previous day at Lake James.

I had a number of antennas in my pack, but chose the excellent PackTenna Mini End-Fed Half Wave that I cut for 20 meters. This is one of my go-to SOTA antennas since it’s compact, rugged, efficient, and easy to deploy even if your only option is a short tree or telescoping mast as is often the case on a summit.

I felt like 20 meters would be a worthy band for the time of day and recent propagation trends as well. Hopefully, it would be productive enough to provide the 10 needed contacts to validate the activation.  If I needed, I could use it on 30 meters with either its internal ATU or (more likely) the Elecraft T1 that was also along for the ride.

I deployed the PackTenna within three minutes. Very easy and straight-forward setup.
Continue reading 3 Watts of Fun: Pairing the Elecraft KX1 and PackTenna 20M EFHW at South Mountains State Park!

QRP DX: Pairing the MM0OPX EFHW & Icom IC-705 during an impromptu activation

Turns out, if you go to Canada for nearly two months, when you return home you’re going to have about two months worth of catch up.

It’s all explained in one of Einstein’s theories. If memory serves, Einstein stated:

“One cannot simply ignore stuff for two months and expect no repercussions. Time lost must be accounted for due to the principles of the conservation of energy. Plus…what in creation were you thinking?”

When we returned from Canada in early August I had some pretty big plans about the parks and (especially) summits I would hit here in North Carolina. But after returning, I quickly realized I had so much work to do around the house and a number of DIY jobs I’d postponed at our investment property. They all immediately took priority.

Indeed, in the one month span after returning from Canada, I only performed three park and no summit activations. There was a three week period of time without activations of any sort. I simply didn’t have the time to fit anymore in my schedule. This all gave me a serious case of activation withdrawal.

If you’ve been following my field reports, you’ve no doubt noticed that I never do multi-hour activations at one site unless I happen to be camping at a POTA park.

I’m asked about this fairly regularly (why I don’t do longer activations to achieve Kilo awards, etc.) but the truth is I make POTA/SOTA fit in my busy family schedule. This often equates to short (30-60 minute) activation windows.

Then quite often, I’m on the road or doing errands in town and realize I have a short opening for an activation, so I squeeze it into the day. This is why I always have a fully self-contained field radio kit in my car. At a moment’s notice, I can set up a station, and play radio.

In a way, I find this style of quick activation fun, too. “Can I seriously validate a park during this short window of time–?”

These activations remind me of that scene in A Christmas Story where the father gets a small thrill out of timing himself as he changes a flat tire on the side of the road. I totally get that.

Except with me it’s deploying antennas instead of managing lug nuts.

Hamfest time!

Friday, September 2, 2022 was a big day for me. On the way back from visiting my folks that morning, I spent a couple of hours at the Shelby Hamfest.

The Shelby Hamfest typically has the largest outdoor tailgate market in all of North Carolina and likely one of the larger ones in the southeast US. I had no items on my wish list, I just wanted to see what was there.

This was the first hamfest I’d attended in a little over a year. It was a lot of fun and I got to meet a number of friends and readers/subscribers.

If you’d like to see the treasure I found at the Shelby Hamfest, by the way, check out the large photo gallery I posted over on the SWLing Post.

Back to the topic of impromptu activations…

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

Driving home after the Shelby Hamfest that early afternoon, I realized I was passing dangerously close to the Clear Creek access of South Mountains State Park.

I had a couple of errands to run back home before the post office closed at 17:00 that day, but in my head I believe I had just enough time for a quick activation. The total amount of detour driving would only be about 15 minutes; I’d just need to keep the activation (including most set up and pack up) under 45 minutes or so.

At the last minute, I took a right turn and headed to the park!

Fortunately, the one lonely picnic table at the Clear Creek access was unoccupied.

I grabbed my IC-705 kit and a new antenna!

The MM0OPX QRP End-Fed Half-Wave (EFHW)

A few weeks prior, Colin (MM0OPX) reached out to me and asked if I would consider testing a new high-quality, highly-efficient QRP EFHW he’d designed.

Of course, there’s nothing new about an EFHW–it’s one of the most popular field antenna designs on the planet–but Colin’s goal was to make one with the lowest insertion loss possible in a compact, lightweight (50g), and durable format.

I say he succeeded.

In fact, this activation was actually the second one where I used Colin’s QRP EFHW. The previous day, I paired it with a then very Beta version of the Penntek TR-45L at Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861).

In short, the antenna made for a wildly successful QRP activation. Here’s the QSO Map (you’ll need to click and enlarge to see the number of contacts):

QSO Map from the previous day with the MM0OPX QRP EFHW

The Penntek TR-45L was still quite new at the time and even though  I got John’s (WA3RNC) blessing, I didn’t post the activation video and mini overview on YouTube. Keep in mind the TR-45L was still in Beta so not all features had been finalized.

I did, however, post the entire TR-45L activation video on Patreon.

Quick side note: Why this video only on Patreon?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve now invested in a Pro account with Vimeo that allows me to post completely ad-free videos  that my Patreon supporters can enjoy and even download. I recently discovered that YouTube unfortunately inserts ads even though I have monetization turned off. I pay for Vimeo’s bandwidth and server space, so I also can control the ad experience completely (basically eliminating any possibility of ads!).

My Patreon supporters are the ones making it possible for me to pay the annual $420 fee to Vimeo and I am incredibly grateful, so I pass along the benefit to them.

Continue reading QRP DX: Pairing the MM0OPX EFHW & Icom IC-705 during an impromptu activation

Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

The entire time I was in Canada this summer–about two months–I  used two field transceivers: the Elecraft KX2 and the Discovery TX-500.

I did sneak in two extra radios under the floor of my trunk/boot space, but they both were limited to three watts and conditions were so rough during many of my activations, I wanted the option of a QRP “Full Gallon” (5 watts). Thus, I stuck with the TX-500 and KX2 (which are both actually capable of 10 watts output).

When I got back to the States, I was eager to do a POTA activations with my other radios–many of you know I like to rotate them–but there was one, in particular, I was eager to put back on the air…

The Mountain Topper MTR-4B.

This MTR-4B V2 is on loan to me from a very generous reader/subscriber. In fact, get this: he ordered the MTR-4B early this year and had it drop-shipped to me directly from LnR Precision. He knew I’d be in Canada for the summer, so has been incredibly flexible with the loan period (basically leaving it open ended).

My review of the MTR-4B will be published in the November or December (2022) issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Then I’ll be sending the MTR-4B to its rightful owner!

In the meantime, I built an ultra- compact field radio kit around the MTR-4B and in my Tom Bihn HLT2 EDC pouch.

This kit is nearly identical to the one I made for my MTR-3B (just a different color, really).

It contains the radio, a battery, an antenna (although I used a different one during this activation), fused power cord, paddles, earphones, RF choke, RG-316, logbook, pencil, and even a full throw line and weight. I’ve listed all of the components with links below.

It’s hard to believe it all fits in such a compact kit and it works so well. It’s nice to know that with the kit it in my backpack, I’ve got everything I need to play SOTA or POTA at the drop of a hat.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

On August 8, 2022, I drove to my hometown to check in on my parents. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to fit in a quick activation with the MTR-4B along the way.

One of the easiest parks for me to hit en route is the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access–it’s maybe a 10-15 minute detour off of Interstate 40.

The weather was amazing that day, although I’ll admit I had to get used to the heat and humidity after spending so much time in Canada this summer!

This access point of South Mountains only has one picnic table. I’m always prepared with a folding chair if that table is occupied, but so far it’s always been available. I’m sure the reason is because this particular South Mountains access point is way less popular than the main entrances. Most of the visitors here come to fish at the reservoir.

Setting up

The great thing about having your whole station in a pouch is that setup is quick and easy.

Continue reading Taking the Mountain Topper MTR-4B on a quickie activation at South Mountains State Park!

Moody weather and a trailside activation with the amazing Discovery TX-500 and PackTenna EFHW

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m starting to sort out the gear I’ll take on a long road trip this summer. I still haven’t quite decided which radio will accompany my Elecraft KX2, but the lab599 Discovery TX-500 is on my very short list.

I pulled the TX-500 yesterday to do a firmware update and found my logbook for an activation I made on February 16, 2022. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember writing the field report for that activation.

I checked my YouTube channel and, sure enough, buried at the bottom of my video list was the activation video marked as “unlisted.”

That bit of time between mid-February and mid-March was crazy for me. I was in isolation for a week (thanks Covid) and had a very hectic family schedule. I accumulated a small backlog of videos then and this one was lost simply lost in the shuffle.

Here’s the report and video from that activation:

Clear Creek Trail

It was Wednesday, February 16, 2022, and I was driving to my parents’ house to help them with a few projects. I had enough time to make a little detour to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (K02753) and had two things in mind: a good hike and trailside activation.

The weather? Man oh man was it was fickle.

On the interstate, I got caught in a proper downpour and traffic slowed to a crawl.

I thought about throwing in the towel then, but I made a promise to myself that I would continue driving to the park if it wasn’t raining when I approached the park exit on the interstate.

You know what? The rain stopped maybe 3 miles before the exit. So I continued my drive. Continue reading Moody weather and a trailside activation with the amazing Discovery TX-500 and PackTenna EFHW

Video: Taking the new (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver on a CW POTA activation!

As I mentioned in a post published three days ago, I’m now the proud owner of a (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver.

The (tr)uSDX has been a much-anticipated QRP transceiver for those of us who love playing radio in the field.

What’s not to love? It sports:

  • Up to 5 watts output power
  • CW, SSB, FM, and AM modes
  • A built-in microphone
  • Five bands: 80, 60, 40, 30, and 20 meters
  • A super compact and lightweight form factor
  • An open-source hardware and software design
  • Super low current consumption in receive
  • A super low price of roughly $89 US in kit form and $143 US factory assembled (via AliExpress, but there are numerous other group buys and retailers)

Frankly speaking, this sort of feature set in such an affordable package is truly a game-changer. Back when I was first licensed in 1997, I could have never imagined a day when a general coverage QRP transceiver could be purchased for under $150 US. The price is almost unbelievable.

My initial impressions

On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, I took the (tr)uSDX to the field to attempt a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation. I had only taken delivery of the (tr)uSDX about 15 hours beforehand and had only had it powered up for a total of 30 minutes the previous day. Most of that time, in fact, was checking the power output at various voltage settings into a dummy load. I did make one totally random SSB POTA contact shortly after hooking the radio up to my QTH antenna.

I knew that taking the (tr)uSDX to the field and making an activation video might not be the best idea having had so little time to play with the radio and get to know it in advance, but then again, I was simply too eager to see how it might perform.  That and I always believe there’s value in sharing first experiences with a radio. Continue reading Video: Taking the new (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver on a CW POTA activation!

POTA Fun: Pairing Mike’s “Oreo” Balun/EFHW with the Venus SW-3B

A few months ago, Mike (KE8PTX), contacted me with info regarding his latest 3D-printed creation: a compact housing for an end-fed half-wave balun.

Mike’s 3D drawing

He called it the “Oreo Balun.”

Once printed, and after he wound the coil and installed the BNC, he sent this photo:

It’s cute, isn’t it?

He then surprised me by putting it in a padded envelope and sending it to me as a gift. Wow–thanks, Mike!

Oreo plans

End-Fed Half-Wave antennas are popular portable antennas for a reason: they’re effective!

They’re compact, easy to deploy, and resonant.

I only needed to attach some wire to the Oreo Balun, trim it, and hit the field!

Earlier this year, my buddy Vlado and I built two doublets with some scrap wire I had in my antenna parts box.  I measured the amount of wire I had left from that same spool. I knew it wasn’t enough length for a 40 meter EFHW, but I did think there was enough for 30 meters.

After giving it a bit of thought, I liked the idea of having a dedicated 30 meter EFHW. For one thing, 30 meters is a great band for field deployments and in the past this band has saved my bacon when either 40 meters or 20 meters was wiped out. Thirty meters is also a refuge WARC band during contest weekends.  In addition, a 30 meter EFHW is short enough that it could be deployed on most SOTA summits (which often have shorter trees).

Fortunately, I had just enough wire for 30 meters. IN fact, after trimming the antenna, I only had about two feet of wire to spare. It’s as if I had planned it! I would have never guessed that spool of scrap wire would have made two doublets and one 30 meter EFHW.

The next logical thing to do was take the Oreo to the field and play radio! Continue reading POTA Fun: Pairing Mike’s “Oreo” Balun/EFHW with the Venus SW-3B

Amazing Fun with 3 Watts: Pairing the MTR-3B, T1, Speaker Wire, and a 9V LiFePo4 battery at South Mountains

I’ve been spending more time with my Mountain Topper MTR-3B (“Tuppence”) recently and have been thoroughly enjoying this little radio’s companionship.

Since I made a dedicated ultra-compact field kit for the MTR-3B, it has also been even easier to toss it in my backpack and take it on little field adventures. The field kit is truly a grab-and-go and even includes a throw line and weight.

On Friday, January 28, 2022, after a total of six individual park activations during the previous two days (a POTA RaDAR run and my first 2020 Antenna Challenge activation) driving back to the QTH I thought, “surely I can skip doing an activation today.

That quickly turned into, “Wait a minute…I’ve got enough time to fit in both an activation and a hike!

So I made a quick detour off of I-40 to visit the Clear Creek access of South Mountains State Park.

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

I pulled into an empty parking area; not really a surprise on an early Friday afternoon. In addition, I figured many were out grabbing bread and milk since winter weather was in the forecast.

I decided to do my activation first, then pack up and take the full kit on a hike. Continue reading Amazing Fun with 3 Watts: Pairing the MTR-3B, T1, Speaker Wire, and a 9V LiFePo4 battery at South Mountains

POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains with the new N6ARA TinyPaddle!

On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.

I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.

This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.

Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!

Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!

First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!

I love this compact Weaver throw line bag!

The new N6ARA TinyPaddle

This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.

He calls it the TinyPaddle:

An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:

As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.

He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.

Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:

Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.

I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.

Gear:

Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.

On The Air

Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.

I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.

Hazel asks, “Got any doggy treats in that pack, daddy?”

The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.

Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.

I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.

I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.

A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S,  WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.

With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.

QSO Map

Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):

Video

Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!

Click here to view on YouTube.

And the TinyPaddle?

In short? I love the TinyPaddle!

Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.

The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.

That time the KXPD2 failed me…

I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.

This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!

KXPD2 missing one of the two center posts.

I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out.  They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).

I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations.
Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.

A proper backup!

But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!

When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!

He’s made a storefront on his website N6ARA.com and is now selling the TinyPaddle as a kit for $15 or fully assembled for $20 US.

I’m certain he could actually fetch much more for these paddles, but he wants them to be an affordable, accessible backup paddle for anyone doing CW field activations.

He even includes a link to his Thingiverse page where you can download and 3D print accessories (including a TinyPaddle holder) and replacement parts at home free of charge.

Ara, thanks for making your project so available and accessible to everyone!

Click here to check out the TinyPaddle at N6ARA.com. Note that he’s doing these production runs in batches, but you can pre-order them.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.

I’d like to send a special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support.

Thank you!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Bonus photos!

My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!

She took this candid photo of me as I packed up the KX2. Check out my KSKO (McGrath, AK) tee shirt! Thanks for that, Paul Walker!

Field Report: Let’s play POTA with the Ten-Tec Argonaut V!

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently purchased a Ten-Tec Argonaut V transceiver. It was–being honest here–an impulse purchase. This is what I get for randomly browsing the QTH.com classifieds!

Truth be told, I’ve always loved the design of the Argonaut V and I knew, being a Ten-Tec, it would be a proper CW machine.

As soon as I received the Argonaut V, I put it on the air and chased a few parks and summits from the shack. It seemed to work brilliantly, but of course I was eager to take it to the field!

Around the same time, my buddy Max (WG4Z) mentioned that he’d discovered a new access point for South Mountains State Park and had enjoyed performing an activation there. He wrote,

It is a part of South Mountains State Park custom made for a Thomas Witherspoon visit.  A great site for an activation, video, and photos. If you haven’t been there, please put it on your list!

On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, I packed my Argonaut V and headed to the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access. Continue reading Field Report: Let’s play POTA with the Ten-Tec Argonaut V!