Tag Archives: Summits On The Air (SOTA)

SOTA Plan B: An aborted activation followed by an amazing (although gusty) alternative!

On the morning of Thursday, September 23, 2021, I had one thing on my mind: SOTA!

It had been well over a month since my last SOTA activation and I was eager to hike to a summit and play radio.

It had been raining for a few days but overnight, a front moved into the area that swept out all of the clouds. We were finally feeling proper fall weather.

It was gorgeous outside and I made up my mind I’d fit in a summit activation.

I was visiting my parents in Hickory, NC, so I knew I’d have to drive a bit to activate a unique (to me) summit. On top of that, I knew I’d be alone and trails would be very muddy after days of rain. I decided to stick with an easy hike, so picked Flat Top Mountain (W4C/EM-026) off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I announced my activation via the SOTA website and drove about one hour to the trailhead of Flat Top Mountain.

Aborted!

As I drove up US321 to Blowing Rock I noticed that clouds were hangin over the mountains. In the foothills, it was blissful: clear skies, sunshine, dry air, and quite cool. As I drove up the Blue Ridge escarpment, it started getting a little gusty outside–I realized that the mountains were still on the edge of the cold front. Continue reading SOTA Plan B: An aborted activation followed by an amazing (although gusty) alternative!

How I pack out my GoRuck GR1 for POTA and Overnight Travel

As I’ve mentioned a number of times on QRPer and on the SWLing Post, I’m a pack geek.  I enjoy organizing and packing my gear for field radio activities and travel.

Last week, I made a very quick overnight trip to visit my parents. My time during this trip was very limited and I did not plan to fit in an activation, but Monday morning, I was able to knock out an errand very early and that freed up a couple of hours in the early afternoon. Fortunately, prior to leaving my QTH, I decided to pack a few travel items in my GoRuck GR1 pack along with a field radio kit built around my Elecraft KX2.

I never leave home without a field radio kit because I never know when an opportunity to play radio might happen.

On the way home Tuesday, I popped Lake Jame State Park and fit in a quick, last minute activation.  Moments before arriving at the lake, I received a request from one of my YouTube subscribers asking if I would make the occasional video showing what’s in my radio packs and field kits.

I’ve been meaning to make these videos but, frankly, often forget when I arrive at a park or summit because I’m just a little too focused on starting my activation.

Since I had some overnight items in my pack, it wasn’t a typical SOTA or POTA field kit, but I decided to make the video anyway. After all, I love watching videos about how others pack and organize their radio and travel kits. But then again, I’m a pack geek. I did mention this right–?

Although I’m not always the neatest person (my wife is probably chuckling at this gross understatement), I’m a meticulous and very organized pack geek. What you see in the video is exactly how I pack when no one is looking. 🙂

I’ll add here that if you’re interested in field radio kits and packs, I’d encourage you to check out my Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit series; Part 1 has already been published and Part 2 will be posted later this week.  In Part 2, I take a much deeper dive into safety gear I take on SOTA activations.

Gear

In the video, I mention that I would attempt to link to all of the items in my pack. I spent time sorting out links this morning; many links go straight to the pack manufacturer because the packs I use typically have no distributors other than the manufacturer, I have also purchased a lot of the smaller items on Amazon, but many can be found in big box stores like Walmart, Target, Canadian Tire, etc.

Activation items

Extra Travel Items in the GR1

Health & Safety Items

US Pack Companies I love…

  • Red Oxx (my favorite overall)
  • Tom Bihn (brilliant tailored/urban travel bags)
  • GoRuck (note that not all are made in the USA these days)
  • Spec Ops Brand (incredible value for tactical packs)

If I missed something, let me know in the comments.

Video

Like all my videos, this one us unscripted, made in one take (unedited), and also has no ads:

Out of order…

So this video was made prior to an activation at Lake James last week. I’ve mentioned before that my Internet speeds at the QTH are worse than dismal, but since this pack video was relatively short, I was able to upload it ahead of the activation video (it took 1.5 days to upload this 2GB file).

The activation video will be published in another week or so depending on my access to some proper broadband service.

Any other pack geeks out there?

I would love to share photos, descriptions, and/or a video of how and what you pack for field activations.  If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, please do so!

Also, I’d love to hear about your favorite packs and how well they’ve held up with time.

Feel free to comment and thank you once again for hanging out here at QRPer.com!

SOTA Activation: Richland Balsam with the Elecraft KX2 and Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite

Two weeks ago, my buddy Monty and I went on a camping trip near Mount Pisgah off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was amazing.

Monty is one of my best friends and like a brother to me.  We were roommates during my undergraduate years at Western Carolina University. In those days, we were both into mountain biking, hiking, trail running, backpacking, and camping. WCU was the perfect launching point for all of those activities.

These days, we both still do hiking and a little mountain biking, but at–what we might generously call–a more “relaxed” pace.

Although Monty’s family also live in western North Carolina and we keep in touch pretty regularly, we hadn’t seen each other in person for years, so we knew a camping trip would sort all of that out and give us a chance to reconnect while disconnecting from our busy schedules.

Mount Pisgah

You can’t see it in the photo, but my 25 year old four person dome tent about pushed Monty’s two person dome tent off of the camping pad! And, yes, I brought a butane torch to light the campfire–not exactly bushcraft.

We chose Mount Pisgah campground off of the Blue Ridge parkway for a few reasons: it’s roughly halfway between our homes, it’s at a high altitude which equates to cooler nights during the hottest part of the summer, and–you guessed it–it’s on no less than two POTA sites and close to a number of SOTA summits as well!

Another fun fact about the Mount Pisgah campground? It’s also black bear habitat. I believe I mentioned that when I activated Mount Pisgah earlier this summer, I spotted a number of bears in this area.  But hey! Check out the park’s bear traps:

And to be honest? My QTH is also just as much in black bear territory, so this isn’t exactly unfamiliar.

Richland Balsam (W4C/WM-003)

I was up earlier than Monty, so I brewed some coffee, read a bit of my book, and fit in a little early morning POTA!

The weather was ideal on the morning of Monday, August 2, 2021.

Monty actually mentioned in advance that he’d like to accompany me on a SOTA activation or two. He’s an engineer at WCU and I’ve been nudging him for years to get his ham ticket, so how in the world could I pass up a little SOTA/POTA proselytizing?

While Monty cooked up some breakfast burritos, we hatched a plan to activate Richland Balsam first.

Richland Balsam is a very accessible 6,410′ (1954M) summit and is actually the highest peak on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.

Richland Balsam is a great “beginners” SOTA summit because the loop trail is only 1.5 miles long, well-marked, doesn’t require an experienced hiker, and passes through a spruce-fir forest which not only provides shade, but also ample trees for wire antennas. The trailhead is easy to find as well; it’s at the north end of the Haywood/Jackson overlook parking area.

Only one word of caution: being such an accessible loop trail right there on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it can get very busy during the summer and fall–in fact, you might struggle to find a spot to park.  Monty and I arrived early enough that there were only a handful of cars parked at the overlook.

Richland Balsam reminds me of some of the trails in/around Mount Mitchell:  lots of ferns, mosses, and and the smell of spruce-fir. Bliss!

On The Air

I’d forgotten that there are actually a couple of benches on the summit of Richland Balsam which is a proper luxury for any SOTA activator!

Monty had no issue at all setting up the Chameleon MPAS Lite vertical on his own as I prepared my clipboard, Elecraft KX2, and log book.

Gear:

I actually had decent mobile phone service on the summit, so spotting myself was quite easy via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, I assumed I might not have access to spot myself, so I did schedule the activation before leaving the campsite on both the SOTA and POTA platforms knowing both would auto-spot me from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).

I started calling CQ on 20 meters CW and my first contact was fellow POTA activator Steve (KC5F) who was, no doubt, working me via ground wave from his home. Always good to have Steve in the logs.

In thirteen minutes, I worked nine stations on 20 meters–lots of familiar calls. I actually validated the SOTA activation (logging four contacts) in no less than five minutes!

I then moved to 17 meters where I worked K6MW in Washington state.

Finally, I moved down to the 40 meter band in hopes of picking up Mike (K8RAT)–success!–and also worked good ole’ Bill (WB1LLY) in Georgia.

Here’s my full log sheet:

Near the end of the activation (you might note this in the video), Monty and I hear a loud animal noise in the forest–very likely a black bear making itself known. We took that as a cue to pack up and move on.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no-edit video of the entire activation from start to finish. If you’ve been seeking a cure for insomnia, you’ve found it:

Click here to view on YouTube.

A perfect day for hiking

The view from Black Balsam.

After leaving Richland Balsam, we decided to also take in W4C/CM-005 (Black Balsam Knob) which is another 10 point summit on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tried making a video of this activation, but for some reason the camera shut down after nine minutes. I’m uncertain yet if I’ll publish that video with a post. We’ll see! It, too, was a fun activation.

After Black Balsam, Monty and I prepared a late lunch back at the campsite and decided that there was still enough of the day left to take in the Mount Pisgah summit trail. Frankly, it was simply too tempting! There was a trail not even 25 feet from our tents which lead us to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. Since I had already activated Mount Pisgah only recently, I didn’t take radio gear this time.

Turk’s-cap lilies were in bloom along the Mount Pisgah trail.

Funny, but we both underestimated the hike from our campsite to the Mount Pisgah trailhead. In my head, I assumed it was perhaps half a mile or so. Turns out, it was more like 1.5 miles one way!

The Mount Pisgah tower

Combined with the actual Mount Pisgah trail, it made for a decent amount of hiking. I believe we left the campsite around 16:00 local and were  back by 19:00 or so.

That Monday turned out to be a day full of hiking, radio, and hanging with Monty. It was amazing fun.

Thank you

As always, thank you for reading this report and thank you to those who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement–my content is always free–I really appreciate the support.

Here’s wishing everyone good health and maybe even a little outdoor radio fun this week!

Cheers & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Field Report: Some QRP POTA and SOTA at Hanging Rock State Park!

I’m not a summer-heat-loving guy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Give me cold weather and I can hike and camp forever.

On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, it wasn’t cold outside, of course, but I still wanted to fit in a park activation and hike. Despite the forecast highs of 90F/32C. I had almost the entire day to play radio, too–a rarity.

When I have an entire day to devote to radio, I can either hit the road and try to hit multiple parks–perhaps as many as 5 or 6–or I can choose to venture further afield and hit a new-to-me park.

I tend to choose the latter and that Tuesday was no exception.

North and north by NW of Winston Salem, NC, are two parks I’ve always wanted to visit: Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park.

I devised a plan to first visit Hanging Rock, then Pilot Mountain. Both parks are close together geographically, but a good 30 minutes drive apart.

A quick check of the SOTA database and I discovered that there are actually two summits on Hanging Rock State Park’s grounds. One is off the beaten path a bit and would require some light map work, and the other–Moore’s Knob–is on one of the park’s main trails.  Since I was putting this whole plan together morning of, I opted for the “easy” summit as I didn’t have time to double-check topo maps, parking areas, etc.

Hanging Rock State Park (K-2735)

Travel time to Hanging Rock was about 1 hour 45 minutes. Once I arrived on site, I discovered that, like many state parks, the main visitor’s center is being renovated.

I easily found the parking area for the Moore’s Knob loop. It being a Tuesday, the parking lot only had a few cars.

Pro tip: with the visitor’s center out of commission, stop by the swimming area pavilion for some proper restrooms/washrooms!

I planned to take the full trail loop in a counter-clockwise direction.

I’m glad I did, too, as the bulk of the ascent was a long series of steps. I’m not a fan of steps, but I much prefer using them heading up a mountain rather than down.

Near the summit, there’s a very short spur trail to Balanced Rock which is worth a visit not only for the rock, but also the views.

It being a North Carolina state park, there are some obligatory warning signs about how falling off of cliffs can lead to injury or death. These warning signs aren’t as prominent as those at Crowders Mountain State Park, though!

Moores Knob (W4C/EP-001)

You can see my MPAS Lite vertical poking out of my pack. I brought it along in case I had no good tree options. In this case, I didn’t use it.

There’s no mistaking the summit as there’s a large observation tower on top that affords some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the foothills, and Pilot Mountain (my next stop).
There were a number of hikers on the summit of Moore’s Knob and it was actually pretty gusty up there, too. I searched and found a nice little spot to set up that was sheltered from the wind, shaded, and even had trees tall enough to hang my Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna!


Gear:

Set up was quick and easy on the radio side of things, but as with most SOTA activations, positioning my tripod to make a video was the tricky part. Since I’m sitting on the ground, it can be difficult to find the right angle so that the radio, key, and notepad are all in the frame. (See my video below).

I started calling CQ at 16:00 UTC on 20 meters. I had a reasonable cell phone signal on the summit, so I was able to spot myself. Problem was, though, my hiking app seemed to be draining my iPhone’s battery very rapidly (that and my aging iPhone 7 probably needs a new battery at this point). After spotting myself, I shut down the phone to save power.  I forgot to contact my buddy Mike (K8RAT) with a frequency, but he eventually saw me on the SOTA spots.

In a period of 29 minutes, I worked 20 stations on 20 meters.

Next, I moved up to 17 meters where I worked eight more stations in seven minutes.

I love effortless activations like this and part of me wanted to continue operating–even switching to SSB–but looking at the time, I knew I needed to hit the trail, make my way back to the car, and drive to Pilot Mountain.

I called QRT around 16:42 UTC and packed up my gear.

QSO Map

Not bad for 5 watts and a 31′ wire!

One highlight of this activation was meeting Jim (NA4J) who heard my CW from the summit and popped by to introduce himself. Although I trimmed out our conversation in the video (I’m not entirely sure he knew I was recording the activation), you’ll hear him in the first half of the activation.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:

Click here to view on YouTube.

The hike back to the car was very pleasant. It was a bit longer than the path I took to the summit, but the descent had no steps which made it a breeze.

I had a radio topic on my mind during that hike and actually pulled out the OSMO Action camera and made a bit of a “hike and talk” video.  It’s on the topic of ATUs and resonant vs non-resonant antennas. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll post it–the shaky camera might make some viewers sea sick! 🙂 We’ll see–maybe I’ll brave up and post it anyway…

Next, I drove to Pilot Mountain State Park for a quick afternoon activation. Although Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, too, it’s yet to be activated because the actual summit would require proper rock climbing, I believe.

Thank you

As always, thank you for reading this field report! And thank you to everyone who has supported me through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. I truly appreciate it.

I hope you find time this week to take your radios outdoors to play, or to hunt some parks and summits from your shack, backyard or vacation spot!

And for those of you working on your CW skills, don’t give up and don’t stress about it. Take your time and allow your brain to absorb code by simply listening. When you feel you’re able to copy even some of the contacts in the videos of my activations, you’re ready to start hunting CW activators!

You’ve got this!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Activating Anderson Mountain: My first drive-up one point summit

As AA6XA wrote on his blog:

To quote the W4C association manager Pat, KI4SVM, “Anderson is a drive-up with no other redeeming qualities.” This perfectly describes the mountain. It is easy to get to, at the top of Tower Road, right off of Route 16. The road to the top get a bit rough in places, but is passable in any car.

He had me at “no other redeeming qualities”–!

I must admit that all of the summits I’ve activated so far have been pretty amazing: offering up spectacular views, wildlife, and wonderful hiking opportunities. All of them were also on protected public lands like state/national/county parks.

Anderson Mountain (W4C/WP-012)

Earlier this year, I made a spreadsheet of summits I planned to activate. Anderson Mountain was one of them because of its convenient location in my travels to visit family each week. I had also been saving it for the day that I planned to activate a nearby park–Tuesday, July 6, 2021 was that day!

Earlier, I had an amazing activation at Mountain Island Educational State Forest using the Yaesu FT-817ND, T1, and my speaker wire antenna. I completed Mountain Island in enough time I could also pop by Anderson Mountain for a quick activation.  It was literally a six minute detour from my route, if that.

The mountain is directly off of US 16–the main highway between Newton/Conover and Charlotte.

You turn off of the highway onto a dead end road that leads to the summit. About halfway up, it turns into a single lane privately-maintained road that, as AA6XA noted above, is rough but passable in any car (well, save a Lamborghini but I’m guessing most SOTA ops don’t own one of those!).

The road to the summit is a straight–there’re no confusing forks in the road and it’s impossible to get lost.

Once on top, you’re greeted by a few clusters of communications towers. This is actually pretty common sight with smaller one point summits because they typically have superb line-of-sight to populated areas and are easily accessible by vehicle.

When you look around, you can understand why Pat would say it has no redeeming qualities: towers, rusty transmitter buildings, razor wire on chain link fences, and litter all over the place.

Not the sort of spot that would inspire Ansel Adams.

Judgement call

It’s worth noting here that, unlike POTA, you’re not allowed to operate from a vehicle during a SOTA activation–even at a “drive-up” summit. There’s no such thing as a mobile SOTA activation.

Indeed, you’re not supposed to operate in “the vicinity” of your vehicle either (although, there’s no distance noted and I’m guessing this is on purpose to allow leeway and the op to make a judgement call).

I set up in a little island of trees in the middle of a road loop on the summit. While I wouldn’t call it a hike, I did walk the entire summit after arriving to check for other operating spots, but decided to set up near where I parked the car. In fact, it’s really the only safe spot I noted in the activation zone to park since the road is single lane and you would otherwise block access to one of the transmitter sites. I thought about parking further down the road next to one of the transmitter fences, but I felt like that would have been on private property.

Side note: SOTA forbids operators from trespassing on private property without the owner’s permission. I checked the road very carefully for “no trespassing” signs, but the only ones I found were to keep people out of and away from the fenced-in transmitter sites.

I also thought about trying to operate in a spot on that little island where I couldn’t see my car as easily in the cluster of trees–to remove myself from the “vicinity” of the car–but that would have been awkward, too and only separated me an additional 10-15 meters or so. I chose the option where others could see me and I could see them if, for example, a Duke Energy service vehicle approached.

I was fully outside of my car, though, and not using it to support my antenna or any equipment–another important factor.

Sometimes as an operator you have to make a judgement call when you arrive at a site to stay within the rules and the spirit of the program. I’ve never had a SOTA or POTA activation where I felt I was splitting hairs until this one. I decided that this was the best scenario to activate Anderson Mountain in a way that wouldn’t inconvenience other property owners, nor cause suspicion that might lead to a future no trespassing sign on the road. It was the safest set up and I’m willing to bet most previous activators did exactly the same thing. I felt it was within the spirit of the program.

Now where was I–? Oh yes…

Gear:

On The Air

Since I used the speaker wire antenna at Mountain Island, I used it on Anderson Mountain as well. I deployed the entire station within 5 minutes max: herein lies the advantage of using an arborist throw line, a shack-in-a-box transceiver like the KX2, and a simple wire antenna.

I first hopped on 20 meters CW, spotted myself to the SOTA network (mobile phone reception was superb, by the way) and started calling CQ SOTA.

Within three minutes I logged K6YK, KT5X, W5GDW, and K0LAF which already validated this SOTA activation.

Wow–validating this activation was, as my daughters used to say, “easy peasy lemon squeezy.” 🙂

I added WB6POT and N0RZ for a total of six stations on 20 meters within five minutes.

I then moved to 40 meters SSB and worked K8RAT, W4NA, and WN4AT all within about three minutes.

Finally, I moved up to the 17 meter band and worked F4WBN (our well-known French SOTA chaser) and K2LT.

Packing up my gear was as quick as setting it up.

Video

I did make one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire Anderson Mountain activation with no edits. If you need a cure for insomnia, I encourage you to watch or listen to it:

At least one redeeming quality…

I mention in the video that some readers and subscribers have confessed that they feel SOTA is less accessible to them than POTA or WWFF.  I would have to agree that summit activations are much less accessible than park activations.

For one thing, there are flat regions on our planet that lack prominences that qualify for the SOTA program. If you live in the middle of a prairie state, you may have to drive a great distance to reach the closest qualifying summit (although you might have a number of POTA and WWFF parks nearby).

In addition, summit activating generally involves hiking–which is actually the motivating factor for many of us (certainly for me as I love hiking).

Some would-be SOTA activators have mobility issues, however, and simply can’t hike great distances with gear on their backs.

This is where “drive-up” summits like Anderson Mountain come in: they’re much more accessible for those with health considerations.

If you live in an area with SOTA summits, but haven’t attempted an activation because you can’t do strenuous hikes, connect with local SOTA activators and ask for a list of “drive-up” summits. There are many of these around–some, like Anderson, are accessible because there are radio towers on top, other are accessible because they’re on a park with accessible vistas, or some are even in a mountaintop neighborhood.

Thank you

I’d like to thank all of you for reading this field report and I’d especially like to thank those of you who contribute to QRPer.com via Patreon and our Coffee Fund. While my content will always be free and QRPer is very much a labor of love, your support helps me purchase gear and supports my radio travels. With that said, if you’re saving up for your first radio or need to invest in your own kit, I’d rather you support yourself!

My goal with QRPer is to champion field radio operations and encourage others to discover the benefits of playing radio outdoors!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

An amazing SOTA activation on Mount Pisgah (W4C/CM-011)

Here in the Asheville, NC area, there’s one mountain that almost anyone can recognize by sight: Mount Pisgah.

Mount Pisgah is prominent because not only is it one of the taller summits bordering the Asheville basin, but it’s also home to the WLOS TV tower and and a cluster of public service and amateur radio repeaters.

I’ve been eager to activate Mount Pisgah for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Along with Bearwallow Mountain, and Mount Mitchell, it’s one of the most popular SOTA summits in the Asheville area.

One reason for its popularity is because it’s so accessible. Not only is there a dedicated, large parking area at the main trailhead off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s also an easy hike from the excellent Pisgah Inn, restaurant, and camp grounds.

Being so accessible from the BRP, the Mount Pisgah trail also receives a heavy amount of foot traffic. Being locals, our family tends to skip this trail when we’re venturing along the BRP because it can be so congested at times.

Mount Pisgah (W4C/CM-011)

On Tuesday, June 1, 2021, Hazel and I decided to hit Mount Pisgah fairly early and avoid the crowds.

We arrived at the trailhead around 8:15 AM and there were very few cars there–a good sign indeed!

Hazel was chomping at the bit to start our hike!

The trail is only about 1.5 miles with a 700 foot elevation gain, so not strenuous.

It was blissfully quiet and we only passed two other groups of hikers on the way up.

I’ll admit that I was keeping an eye out for black bears, though. We saw bears very close to the trailhead entrance on the BRP that morning. I may have mentioned before that black bears are not something to be feared here in western North Carolina; they typically avoid people and your chances of being fatally injured by a black bear are incredibly slim–right there with being struck by lightening.Still, the black bears that wonder near populated spots like Pisgah along the parkway are often fed by tourists and lose their fear of humans. Not only that, but they even expect people to be food dispensers. Not good. As we say around here, “a fed bear is a dead bear” because feeding bears leads to aggressive behavior and the poor creature’s eventual euthanization.

But I digress!

Hazel and I reached the summit and were happy to find that we were alone. Pisgah’s summit can get very crowded as there really isn’t a lot of space–only a large viewing platform next to the massive tower.

When we arrived on site, the summit was surrounded in clouds.

I briefly considered operating from the viewing platform, but knew I would have to cope with a lot of curious hikers while trying to operate CW. Since I’m not a good multitasker, I decided to do what many SOTA activators do: carefully pass under the tower and find an activation spot on the other side of the summit.

Hazel and I found a small overgrown trail used primarily by those working on the tower. I deployed my station in a small clearing.

Gear:

For this activation, I chose my Elecraft KX2 and paired it with the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite which has quickly become one of my favorite SOTA antennas.

I deployed the CHA MPAS Lite perhaps 15 feet away from my operating spot, in the middle of a spur trail. I was able to extend the 17′ vertical without touching any branches. I rolled out about 20-25′ of counterpoise wire along the ground.

After setting up, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten my clipboard.  No worries, though! I simply flipped over my GoRuck GR1 pack and used the back as an operating surface.

On The Air

Not only was this a summit activation, but also a park activation–indeed, a two-fer park activation at that! The summit of Mount Pisgah is in both Pisgah National Forest (K-4510) and Pisgah State Game Land (K-6937).

If I’m being honest here–since I’m not a “numbers guy” and don’t follow my activation counts closely each year–it’s very tempting not to announce or count this activation in both the SOTA and POTA programs since K-4510 and K-6937 aren’t rare entities. The main reason for this is because, back home, I end up doing double entry with my logs: loading them via the SOTA online log submission tool, then entering them in N3FJP or TQSL for submission to the POTA and WWFF programs. It can be very time-consuming doing this.

I am working on a way to “massage” the ADIF file data so that I can submit it to both programs with less effort.

But, of course, I announced the activation on both SOTAwatch and the POTA site. At the end of the day, I’ve never *not* announced a dual SOTA and POTA activation because I can’t help but think it might offer up the sites to a new POTA hunter. It’s worth the extra log entry later.

Another plus with activating a site in two programs is that you’ll likely be spotted in both thus increasing your odds of logging the necessary contacts to validate your activations.

Turns out, snagging valid activations that Tuesday morning was incredibly easy. And fun!

Fabulous conditions!

I started on 20 meters CW and logged fifteen stations in eighteen minutes.  The band was energized because not only did I easily work stations from France, Slovenia, and Spain in Europe, but also stations all over North America from the west coast to as close as the Ohio valley and into Canada.

I wanted to play a little SSB, so I moved to the phone portion of 20 meters and spotted myself on the SOTA network. I worked five stations in eight minutes. Fun!

Next, I moved up to the 17 meter band and stayed in SSB mode. I worked five more stations in nine minutes. Had I only activated this site in SSB on 20 and 17 meters, I could have obtained both a valid SOTA and POTA activation in 17 minutes.

Even though I knew I needed to pack up soon, I decided to hit the CW portion of 17 meters before signing off.  I started calling CQ and was rewarded with sixteen additional stations in eighteen minutes.

Phenomenal!

All in all, I logged 41 stations.

Here’s the QSO Map of my my contacts–green polylines are CW contacts, red are SSB (click to enlarge):

A welcome interruption!

If you watch my activation video, you’ll note that as I moved to the 17 meter band and started calling CQ, another hiker popped in and introduced himself.

Turns out it was Steve (WD4CFN).

As Steve was setting up his own SOTA activation on Mount Pisgah next to the observation deck, his wife, Patty, heard my voice off in the distance giving a signal report.

Steve and I had a quick chat and coordinated frequencies so we wouldn’t be on the same band at the same time and interfere with each other.

 

After finishing my activation, I stopped by the observation deck and spent some time with Steve and Patty as Steve finished his SOTA activation and packed up his gear.

Steve was also using an Elecraft KX2 and strapped his telescoping fiber glass mast to the side of the observation deck to support a wire antenna. Very effective!

Hazel and I hiked back to the trailhead with Steve and Patty. It was so much fun talking ham radio, QRP and SOTA with kindred spirits. What an amazing couple!

Steve and Patty were actually on a multi-day camping trip in WNC and planned to hit two more summits by end of day. In fact, I got back to the QTH *just* in time to work Steve (ground wave!) at his second summit of the day. It was fun hunting someone I had just spent time with on a summit!

Steve and Patty: Again, it was a pleasure to meet you both!

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire Mount Pisgah SOTA activation:

A memorable activation indeed

Hazel and I both needed a little trail time that Tuesday morning. Hiking to the summit in the low clouds, taking in the views, enjoying a stellar activation and then meeting new friends? It doesn’t get any better than this.

I’ll say that I do love the Elecraft KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite combo. It makes for a compact and effective SOTA pairing that can be deployed so quickly.

A couple months ago, I ordered a SOTAbeams Tactical Mini fiberglass telescoping pole. I plan to pair it with my QRPguys tri-bander kit antenna.

If I’m being honest, though, I find that the CHA MPAS Lite is so quick to deploy–like 2-3 minutes tops–I’ve yet to take the Tactical Mini and Tri-Bander to a summit.  No worries, though, as I will eventually deploy this pair on a summit. Admittedly, I need to work on my mast guying skills in advance–let’s just say that I’m still in that awkward stage of struggling to manage each guy line as I try to keep the Tacmini vertical during deployment. I welcome any tips!


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DAY4: A SOTA Adventure To Remember (Conclusion)

I hope the first two parts of my SOTA journey with Mark, NK8Q, has been interesting reading. It is really tough to put into words what the trip meant to me. Back in November I had my left knee replaced, and was preparing myself to possibly not be able to enjoy the luxury of being able to walk, run, hike and backpack. I never would have dreamed by the time this SOTA journey started that I already would have walked a half marathon on the new knee, nor be able to hike up summits. I have been truly blessed to be able to continue to do the things I enjoy. SOTA and POTA over the past year has renewed my interest in the hobby.

After we left Stony Man Mountain, we headed to the campground we were staying at along Skyline Drive. We lucked out earlier in the day by randomly arriving around 11:45 a.m. at the campground and even though the sign said it was full, the park ranger said to wait 15 minutes because there could be some checkouts right at the cutoff. We waited it out and at noon the ranger confirmed we had a campsite! Perfect…after 2 days of staying in motels, I finally got to camp in my new tent.

Once settled in, I thought it would be a good evening to set up my antenna and operate a little “late shift” on POTA – Shenandoah National Park (K-0064). I was just a bit too far off the A.T. to make it a “twofer”.  This yielded 16 QSOs and then called it  a night.

The next morning was also the last day of our SOTA trip. I woke up after a pretty restless night due to the fact my old body cannot tolerate being so low to the ground. I believe the last time I slept in an actual tent was in 1981 in boot camp at Parris Island. I am now a hammock camper and it sure feels much better on the back. So, back to the story. After breakfast we packed up and drove to the first of two SOTA summits before heading home.

The first was Pinnacle Overlook (W4V/SH-005). The climb took an unexpected wrong turn from the parking lot but quickly rectified. The hike to the summit was fairly steep, but there was beautiful flowers and rock formations and the summit was aptly named The Pinnacle. What a beautiful view of the Shenandoah National Forest.

We saw several thru hikers on our hike both up and back down the mountain after the activation. Several were interested in our ham radio operations. I found a perfect spot to operate from right along the Appalachian Trail and off to my left I could look over and see the view. I had 20 QSO’s and the bands were in decent shape.

It was time to head back down to the parking lot and continue our journey to the next stop, Hog Back Overlook (W4V/SH-007). There wasn’t much of a view once we climbed to the top of Hog Back, but met more through hikers, including one lady who was wearing a hat from Boston Marathon. Her trail name was GiGi, which is her Grandma name, which is also my wife’s Grandma name. She decided at age 65 she was going to hike the entire A.T. and had already run the Boston Marathon, so this was a bucket list item for her. I told her hiking the entire A.T. is my goal in 2026 when I’m retired and was nice to know there are hikers in our age group that are still able to accomplish these things. We gave her some trail magic, and Mark and I continued on our way to the top of the summit. There wasn’t much besides an old building which may have been a ham radio shack at one time, and some towers but not much of a view. We did a fairly quick activation and I had 12 QSO’s before packing it up. (I almost thought I heard the sound of banjos playing up there.)

We made a couple of other stops along the Skyline Drive, one was for the tunnel that was built along the route, and another stop to see the scenery from the outlook. It was time for me to start heading back to Lancaster County, which was about a 4 to 5 hour drive and Mark had two other summits he wanted to visit. What I did not expect to see at the one stop to look at the views was a lady who was sitting along the rock fence painting. I asked her if I could take a picture of her holding the picture she was painting and she gladly agreed. It took her about an hour to paint it and was finishing up when I arrived. After I left I regretted not thinking to ask her if I could have purchased the picture!

I arrived home around 5:30 pm on that Sunday evening and was completely exhausted. Mark sent me a text and told me at his next summit he was on the trail and saw GiGi again.

Thankfully, I had taken Monday off for a vacation day because I was exhausted from all the traveling Mark and I had done in 4 days. In addition to the driving, we did a lot of walking to the summits and operating. It was an experience neither of us will ever forget. We are already starting to plot our plans for next year for another adventure.

I’d like to thank Mark for putting this trip together and plotting out which Summits to do on each day and the best way to navigate to each destination. The hikers on the trail were all wonderful, and some of them asked questions about what we were doing, especially when we had our fishing poles at the summit with no trees. I used the HAMRS program for the 4 days, and other than some operator error, the program worked flawlessly. I especially would like to thank Thomas Witherspoon for allowing me to share my story on QRPer. Tom is an awesome ham and we share many of the same interests for POTA or SOTA, and we both enjoy antenna experimenting and our passion for QRP operating. Thank you again Thomas for the opportunity to share my experience, and I hope you enjoyed my SOTA experience.

73 Scott Lithgow
KN3A

SOTA: Activating Bearwallow Mountain with the KX2, MPAS Lite, and Hazel

The MPAS Lite vertical has an impressive view!

I’ve been receiving a lot of comments lately from readers and viewers asking to see more Hazel in my reports and videos.

Hazel, if you’re not familiar, is my brown, white, and freckled canine shadow.

Hazel requires absolutely no prep time to go on a hike and summit/park activation. She’ll go from a deep, dreamy sleep where she’s chasing squirrels and her paws are twitching, to wide awake, tail wagging and nose pointed at the door in 2 seconds flat.

All it takes is the sound of me putting on my hiking boots (which must be louder that I imagined).

On Monday (May, 24, 2021) the weather was beautiful and I decided to finally add Bearwallow Mountain to my list of SOTA activations. Hazel was ready for a short hike!

Bearwallow Mountain (W4C/CM-068)

Bearwallow is one of the most popular summits to activate in the Asheville/Hendersonville area of western North Carolina. Any semi-seasoned local SOTA activator probably has Bearwallow in the logs. Why?

The Bearwallow antenna farm is extensive!

For one thing, Bearwallow is a ham-friendly site. A number of local repeaters are on this mountain and some of our local clubs have access to the summit. Once–I can’t remember the year–I even spent time with a club (I believe it was the Roadshow ARC) on Bearwallow for the ARRL Field Day. It was a blast!

Bearwallow is also a very accessible summit.

The trailhead to the summit (Google Map) is tucked away in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge area–and there’s ample paved parking unless you happen to pick a very busy day (basically, any weekend with good weather will be busy!). Hazel and I were hiking on a Monday morning, thus there was very little activity and loads of parking spaces.

Some years ago, Conserving Carolina acquired the summit and much of the land on Bearwallow Mountain. Their conservation easement protects this area from future development and opens it for the public to enjoy.

Conserving Carolina maintains the trail system to the summit and all of the hiker information and blazing.They do a brilliant job!

There are two options for hiking to the summit: a proper foot trail, or you can take the Fire Tower Road which is the best choice for hikers who need a more gentle incline and flat gravel hiking surface.

Click here for a map of the trails (PDF).

Hazel and I decided to go up the foot trail and descend via the Fire Tower Road to make a loop.

We spotted a number of plants in bloom on the way up.

The foot trail is an easy one to hike, too. It’s well-maintained, as I mentioned, and there are only a couple of steep-ish sections.

There are even opportunities to take in views on the trail.

When you reach the top of the trail, it opens onto a pasture.

And the views are panoramic!

There are cattle all over the summit, so give them wide berth.

Speaking of cattle, Hazel is quite fond of them…or at least what they leave behind.

She’s been known to roll in cow patties when she has the opportunity (or if I’m distracted with something else…like performing an activation!).

Hazel and I found a nice spot to set up the station well within the activation zone. On summits like Bearwallow where there are clusters of communications towers, I prefer not to set up next to them. This is where that 25 meter SOTA activation zone (AZ) comes in handy.

Gear:

I had actually planned to use my Elecraft KX3 on this activation, but after setting it up, I realized quickly that my power cord had developed a fault.

Fortunately, I packed a spare radio.

Knowing in advance that this would be a short hike–before leaving the QTH–I also packed the KX2 kit in my backpack as a backup. I don’t always have the luxury of packing a second radio, but wow! Am I glad I did that Monday!

Setting up the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical, of course, was super easy.

On the Air

I started the activation on 20 meters and spotted myself to the SOTA network via the SOTA Goat app. Of course, before leaving home, I had also set up an alert on SOTAwatch so that the spots page would auto-spot me via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) if I didn’t have mobile phone coverage.

In short? The contacts started rolling in. I was very surprised to have this sort of response on a Monday morning.

In 22 minutes, I worked a total of 19 stations including one summit to summit (S2S)–thanks for that, Eric (VA2EO)!

I was very pleased with the number of contacts logged in such short order because I only had a max of 25-30 minutes to be on the air before I needed to pack up and head back to the QTH.

Here’s the full log:

Activations like this one remind me of what one can do with QRP power and a modest antenna.

Sure, at one point–after I had worked at least my first four to achieve a valid QRP SOTA activation–I increased the power from 5 watts to a cloud-scorching 10 watts! 🙂

Here’s a QSO map of the contacts:

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life (a.k.a. it’ll put you to sleep) video of the entire activation:

I must apologize for the audio in this one–it’s a little weak due to how the camera was set up.

Hazel at it again

So I brought along a retractable leash/lead for Hazel for this particular outing.

This leash allows her to roam more freely during our actual hike. On the summit, I locked the leash and attached it to my pack so it would keep her within 4 feet or so of where I was sitting which was cow patty-free.

At one point, near the end of the activation, when I was trying to manage a few calls, off-camera Hazel discovered that the leash unlocked, allowing her more flexibility to roam.

I looked up to discover that she found a semi-moist cow patty I somehow missed and was preparing to “enjoy” it. While sending CW and trying to keep from knocking down the camera, I used my left foot to put the brakes on her leash. She knew I was struggling, though, and tugged more.

I managed to stop her before even one paw plopped in the patty. Somehow. It was a very close call, though.

If you’ve watched my activation videos before, you’ve no doubt gathered that I’m not a multitasker. This little event really tested my ability to hold it all together on and off camera! 🙂

After packing up the station, Hazel and I took the Fire Tower Road back to the car. It was a very pleasant stroll and cow patty free.

Thank you for coming along with me on this SOTA activation and making it to the end of the report. You deserve an award! Please treat yourself to a local summit or park soon!

Thank you & 73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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Days 2 – 3: A SOTA Adventure To Remember (Part 2)

I would like to thank everyone for their positive and kind comments from my first part of the SOTA adventure with NK8Q. I have a slight correction to make, Cole Mountain was the first summit we did on Day 2. As you can see below in the pictures, there were no trees to hang our EFHW antennas, so we brought along our fishing poles. This generated a lot of interest from the A.T. thru hikers asking what we were doing. On particular hiker told us he’s seen others doing SOTA at summits throughout his journey from Georgia until that day. This was a fairly steep climb to get to, but the scenery was fantastic and well worth the walk. We offered trail magic to several of the hikers and we had very good conversation with them all.

Heading back down from the summit are a couple of other views we saw. There were some trees outside of the activation zone.

We packed up and started heading down the mountain to the parking lot around noon with the next destination Rocky Mountain (W4V/BR-001).

We drove almost 3 hours to get to this drive-up summit. The “S” turns and elevation changes were worth it though as there was so many spectacular views of the mountains. The last 4 or 5 miles was up a very steep gravel road that had me white knuckling until we got to the top. This was a site with several towers for different things and not a lot of view. I was able to get 10 QSO’s at the summit. I recall it was getting very warm that afternoon and I was not looking forward to the drive back down the mountain on the access road. I figured out how to do the manual shifting in my Tucson and Mark followed me down the hill. It was a non-issue and then we had a long drive to where we thought we would be able to camp on Skyline Drive.

I got my 4 SOTA QSO’s, time to relax.

When we finally got back onto paved roads and eventually into cell phone coverage briefly; we were hoping to find a place to get ice for the coolers and maybe a place to eat. Well, we found a gas station in the middle of nowhere with ice and a little store and they happened to be selling their own fried chicken and fries. When we got to the south end of Skyline Drive entrance, the sign showed all of the campgrounds were full. Since it was already getting dark, we made the decision to get on I-81 and head north and found a Super 8 Motel in Newmarket, VA for the night with the plan to get back to Skyline Drive at the Thornton Gap entrance. We got up early and looked for a gas station and a place to eat. Conveniently, Dunkin Donuts has a gas station as well (we didn’t realize that until after we got gas) but had a good breakfast sandwich each and I got a large coffee. I believe Mark is only the second person I’ve ever known who does not drink coffee. I believe my large cup was consumed before we got to Skyline Drive that morning, which I believe was about 18 miles.

First Summit of the day was Hazeltop Mountain (W4V/SH-004), which was south on Skyline Drive. The scenic outlooks were beautiful on the way to the summit.

Once we reached the summit, there was not much to see. I set up a few yards off the A.T. and made 15 contacts. The band conditions were pretty decent. This was my set up at this location.

Next stop – Hawksbill Mountain (W4V/SH-001).  It was just after 12 noon when we got to the parking area, and there was a good mile or so of steep uphill climbing. The reward at the top was worth the climb! I got another 20 QSO’s in the logbook at this summit.

This dial pointed to the many summits within view of Upper Hawksbill.

Final summit for the day was Stony Man Mountain (W4V/SH-002). This was another steep climb, but the reward was also a beautiful view.  I made 8 QSO’s and Mark and I shared the antenna and radio due to the limited space and all the people walking around at the summit.

I will continue with Part 3 of our journey to the Summits in Virginia in the next post. I hope I have half the writing skills that Tom Witherspoon has and that I was able to hold your interest in the SOTA journey that Mark and I did. I will wrap up the story with a Part 3. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Scott Lithgow
KN3A

Scott Lithgow (KN3A) is a contributor on QRPer.com. Click here to check out his previous posts.

A memorable Bakers Mountain SOTA activation with the Elecraft KX2 & PackTenna 9:1

Besides Lane Pinnacle, there’s been one SOTA summit, in particular, I was eager to activate this year: Bakers Mountain (W4C/WP-007).

I practically grew up in the shadow of this little outlier mountain in Catawba County, North Carolina–my home was only a couple miles away as the crow flies and it has always been a bit of a landmark in my childhood stomping grounds.

Growing up, the land in/around Bakers Mountain was basically off-limits and privately owned. In the late 1980s, one of the land owners gave a large tract of land to the county to protect it from development (which started booming in the area around that time).

In June, 2002, while I was living in the UK, Catawba County open up the 189 acre park and its 6 miles of trails to the public.

I love Bakers Mountain park. Even though the mountain isn’t terribly tall (1780 feet/543 meters ASL) parts of the trail system are fairly strenuous. When I want to escape and clear my head, the Bakers Mountain trails are the perfect medicine.

Bakers Mountain: What’s in a name?

An interesting tidbit about Bakers Mountain that I learned from one of the park rangers: it was originally called “McBride Mountain in the late 1700s, but as more German settlers moved into the area, German family names became predominant.

The Baker family had large tracts of land in/around the mountain and, locally, people started referring to it as “Baker’s Mountain” sometime in the 1800s and the name stuck.

Officially, the name of the mountain is “Bakers Mountain” although, I suppose, it should have been called “Baker’s Mountain” or maybe “Bakers’ Mountain.” An apostrophe was never added, though.

It’s a source of confusion for those who make maps and refer to the mountain. In the SOTA database, it’s referred to as “Baker Mountain.” That is incorrect, of course, but the SOTA database is likely built upon one of the topographic map databases where it’s incorrectly labeled.

So there you go. Tuck away this bit of trivia and sound like a local next time you’re in Catawba County!

Now where was I? Oh yes…

So on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, I packed my Elecraft KX2 and PackTenna 9:1 UNUN antenna in the GoRuck GR1, and hit the Bakers Mountain trail system.

The weather was perfect, although the humidity was incredibly thick that day.

Mountain Laurels were in bloom and flanked portions of the trail.

I took the main red-blazed loop trail.

The trail is very well-marked and maintained with maps posted throughout.

At one point, you’ll happen upon the old home site.

The trail has a few steep sections, but overall is pretty moderate.

There’s no missing the summit trail.

Following the orange mountain top trail will take you to a gazebo and observation deck near the summit.

Keep in mind, though, that this is not the true summit of Bakers Mountain and isn’t close to the 25M SOTA activation zone. Still, the views are fantastic here, so take a breather and soak up the Catawba valley.

Click the pano image below to enlarge in a new window.

To find the trail to the real summit, you must follow the path crossing under the power lines near the observation area–you can’t miss it. While the public isn’t encouraged to take this path–and it is not a part of the Bakers Mountain trail network–a park ranger told me that the current owners don’t mind the odd SOTA activator following the trail to the summit.

The path–since it’s not a part of the public trail–is a bit overgrown. Follow this path until you intersect an overgrown narrow access road. At the intersection take a left and this will lead you to the true summit. The ring road around the summit is well within the AZ.

I found a little spot to set up among the trees on the summit. No views, but it was the perfect space to deploy the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN!

Gear:

On The Air

This being my first time activating Bakers Mountain, of course I made a real-time, real-life, no-edit video (see link below). Sorting out a way to set up the camera position took me longer than deploying the antenna and unpacking the radio! It can be a real challenge on a stony mountain summit.

The KX2 paired beautifully with the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN. I got a great match on 20 meters.

I started calling “CQ SOTA” and spotted myself on the SOTA network using the SOTA Goat app.

My first contact was SA4BLM in Sweden–I almost fell off of my rock!

Next, I worked KR7RK in Arizona, AE0XI in South Dakota, and HA9RE in Hungary! All in eight minutes.

Wow!

Next, I moved up to the 17 meter band where I logged AC1Z in New Hampshire, F4WBN in France, and KT5X in New Mexico.

Finally, I moved down to 40 meters where I worked K3TCU in Pennsylvania, K8RAT in Ohio, W4KRN in Virginia, and K4MF in Florida.

My total activation time was about 25 minutes.

QSO Map

Here’s the QSO Map plotting out my QRP contacts. I must say, that modest PackTenna did a lot with my 5 watts! That and some good Bakers Mountain mojo! 🙂

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, unedited video of the entire activation from start to finish:

Click here to view on YouTube.

That was fun!

When I hike at Bakers Mountain, I add spur trails and connectors to make it as long as can in the time frame I have. The trip back to the car was actually a longer hike than it was to the summit.

But I had a spring in my step.

I was absolutely chuffed that my first activation of this particular summit was so exciting and fun. It still blows my mind what can be accomplished with 5 watts and a modest wire. I can’t wait to go back again.


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