Tag Archives: Travel

John’s KH1 Redeems an Otherwise “Frustrating” Start to a Cross-Country POTA Rove

Many thanks to John (NS6X) who shares the following field report:


Frustrating rove from California QTH to OzarkCon in Branson, MO.

by John (NS6X)

I had great plans for a radio-centric, POTA activation road trip from my home in Camarillo, CA (outside Los Angeles) to my first visit to OzarkCon in Branson, MO. The Four State QRP Club hosts the two-day conference. I recently became a kitter (I put together one of the kits) for the club, assembling the parts and shipping the Cricket20 (see kits a 4SQRP.com).

I had the parks planned out along I-40 where I would stop, overnight stops for my little trailer, and my traveling companion Sachiko (Agnes), my Tortie cat.

Long story, but my wife of 48 years died three years ago from ovarian cancer, so I now enjoy traveling alone. I am calling my trip story, “Traveling with Agnes,” a shout out to John Steinbeck and Traveling With Charley. I seldom plan ahead, so to have night stops, parks planned, and such was something for me.

I packed my Elecraft KX2, KH1, FT-891, Penntek TR-35L, and my 22-year-old KX1. I have multiple Bioenno batteries for power, that I packed in an official QRPer.com/HRWB bag and placed next to the door.

I should have stepped out of the door and put it in my truck or trailer, as I left the batteries at home. I did have a Bioenno solar “generator”, but it doesn’t have power pole output connectors, and I haven’t made power pole-adapted cables for it. And of course, I left my power pole crimpers and connectors at home, too. I didn’t discover this until I stopped at my first POTA park, the US-1058, Homolovi Ruins State Park in Arizona, just outside of Winslow.

My KX2 had a partially charged battery, so after futzing about with the power sources, I set up my KX2 and AX1 antenna. I was able to make 7 QSOs in a little less than an hour, even after spotting myself, but did not have the time to stay longer to complete the activation. My campsite was at a KOA in Albuquerque; it was raining/snowing/hailing, and my next stop at the Petrified Forest was out, too. I was discouraged, so packed up and took off.

I had watched Thomas’, K4SWL’s videos and read about the KH1 being used as a radio for an activation, but after my limited number of contacts in Arizona, I wasn’t too positive about it. However, coming from a suburban lot in a housing tract, the lack of QRN/M noise in the Arizona desert was amazing. I didn’t think that I had turned on the radio, seriously.

So, driving through New Mexico, and part of Texas, into Oklahoma for the evening, stopping at a Harvest Host location for the night, I decided I would listen to the bands, using the KH1. I heard a few signals. My stop was only a few miles from the Washita County Wildlife Management Area, US-8661, so I decided to take the KH1 and mosey over to the POTA site.

I told myself why not, spotted myself on 20 meters at 14.058.2, called CQ and was I surprised. LOUD signals came back. Many stations were calling me. I completed my activation with 12 QSOs in 16 minutes, using the KH1, putting out 4.6 watts. The SWR was about 1.1:1. I was impressed with the stations from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Missouri, and North Carolina that called me. Did I say they were LOUD? And no noise.

I just finished the activation – forgot to take photos. I was a photojournalism major (although my career was as a firefighter and paramedic). How could I keep forgetting to take photos?

My takeaway and lesson learned was to pack ahead of time, with a checklist (I am never that organized), and that the KH1 is a real radio, able to do things like be used for a POTA activation.

It didn’t hurt that I had a zero noise level, and that there were QRO stations calling me, as well as the spotting system that makes POTA and other similar activities workable, and fun.

After becoming first licensed in 1966 at 11 years old, I am once again excited about ham radio. The social aspect of ham radio is a real positive. The fun of POTA and SOTA is invigorating my radio life. I am back contesting, and putting up a better antenna at my house: the CC&Rs are no longer valid as they haven’t been enforced for more than 35 years, no HOA, and the city issued a permit to me.

I will be back at another Oklahoma park in the morning. I am writing this in the early evening after getting back to my trailer. My KH1 battery is charged, ready to go, if anyone else is ready at 8 AM.

Off to Joplin, MO tomorrow, then Branson, MO for the conference on Thursday, beginning Friday morning. The conference is over Sunday. I did make a reservation for Sunday night in Branson to hang over and watch the eclipse as the sun passes over Branson on Monday.

72’s, NS6X, John Kitchens

A Case for Making the Morserino Your Ultimate Traveling Morse Companion!

Many thanks to Paul Patsis (W7CPP), who shares the following guest post:


A Case for the Morserino-32

by Paul Patsis (W7CPP)

Morse Code is more popular than ever now. More and more Hams are discovering the joy of CW and the advantages it brings to communications from Parks, Summits, and remote locations as well as in our own back yards and QTH. It’s astonishing to witness how we can reach far corners of the world on only 5 watts with small and lightweight radios and antennas.

CW is a productive and rewarding mode of operation and like all worthwhile endeavors we get out of it what we put into it. It takes commitment and dedication to become a proficient Morse Code Operator and fortunately for all of us we have more tools available to us than ever before.

One of those tools is a powerful and small training and learning tool called the Morserino. It is a very capable little device that incorporates many features designed to help a Ham achieve proficiency at Morse Code.

When it comes to learning Morse Code, there is no substitute for time and repetition. Akin to leaning a new language the more you can immerse yourself the better you will become. Practice tools on the Internet, the Morserino, Organizations like the Long Island CW Club and “Code Talking” every day are great ways to get up to speed and increase proficiency.

Practice, practice, practice is the key.

I have found the Morserino to be a very valuable tool and wanted to find a way to take it along safely on my travels. Borrowing a page from my fellow hams who are activating parks and summits, I sought a way to protect the Morserino  whether traveling by land, sea or air. Whether in a backpack, suitcase, or other travel bags how could I keep the little Morserino protected and yet be ready for use?

To answer that question I started do some research on how people kit out their gear for field radio operations. I’ve seen good use made of the ubiquitous Pelican Micro M40 Case for lots of Ham Radio Gear and most recently for the Elecraft KH1.  I wondered if the mighty little Pelican case would work for the Morserino? I gave it a try and discovered that  with no modifications it is a great option for bringing your Morserino along on all your travels.

The setup that worked for me required very little to make it a nice and safe fit.

The first thing I did was to remove the very small spacers in the bottom of the Morserino Case that comes with the radio.

Those spacers are generally included to give a bit more space under the unit to accommodate the battery that is put underneath to power the Morserino.

I found that by using Velcro to hold the small battery in place those spacers are not needed, and the result is that it lowers the profile of the Morserino by about ¼”. This is just enough clearance to allow the top of the Pelican Case to close and not be obstructed by the dummy load on top of the antenna.

Alternatively, one can leave the spacers on the bottom of the Morserino and leave off the dummy load. My feeling is that it is better to leave the dummy load on just to be safe and with this setup the spacers are not needed.

Although the Morserino comes with Capacitive Paddles I prefer to use my own paddle which in this case is the Bamakey TP-III.  There is a 3D Printed Case for the TP-III and when the key is housed inside the case the entire package nests nicely inside the Pelican Case alongside the Morserino. I store the Capacitive Keys in the space alongside the battery on the underside of the Morserino as a backup Key.

There is also room for the Key Cable which nests nicely alongside the Morserino towards the back of the case.

I generally bring along a set of small, wired headphones and they sit comfortably atop the Morserio in a small plastic bag. I placed a small micro fiber eyeglass cleaning cloth under the headphones just as an added layer of protection for the Morserino Screen. The headphones are a great option when using the Morserino in a noisy environment or in public places like an airport waiting room or on a ferry.

The bottom line is that everything you need to practice CW with the Morserino is in the Pelican Case and ready to go wherever your travels take you. Most recently I have used it while waiting at an airport to catch a plane and on a ferry headed from a small Island to the Mainland. I also found a little bonus use for the case.

After taking the Morserino out of the case, I found it sits quite nicely on the lid at the perfect angle to view the screen with just the right amount of clearance for my headphones and key cable.

The Morserino is a capable little tool to keep you “immersed” in the learning process, sharpen your skills or dust off the cobwebs if you’ve been away from CW for a while.

The Morserino and Pelican Micro M40 Case…don’t leave home without it!

Gear:

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SOTA and POTA in Japan: Ara combines travel and radio with a little help from friends

Abroad in Japan: SOTA and POTA

by Ara (N6ARA)

Getting the License

Several months ago, my wife and I were planning our first trip to Japan, and I couldn’t help but look at all the nearby SOTA summits and POTA parks and entertain the idea of activating one of them. While stunned by the sheer number of high point summits and local parks (many of which are easily accessible via Japan’s incredible public transport system), I realized one question I hadn’t asked myself yet: Can I even operate in Japan?

I recalled the concept of a reciprocal licenses from the ham test, but never really looked into it. A quick Google search yielded the JARL (the ARRL equivalent in Japan) foreign amateur radio license website, which details the process for submitting your documents to obtain the license.

However, I quickly learned that the application must be submitted at least 60 days prior to the date of operation. Problem was… I was 58 days out.

Around this time, I let my friends, Waka-san (JG0AWE), Kazuhiro (7N1FRE), and Ted (JL1SDA), know that I would be visiting Japan. They leaped into action and helped me figure out if there would be a way to obtain my reciprocal license in time, and advised me on which summits and parks would be doable with my constraints.

Thankfully, Waka-san was very generous and offered to make an appointment with Japanese government to apply for the reciprocal license on my behalf. I was absolutely stunned by this. I struggle to make appointments at the DMV office for myself, let alone for someone else!

Two weeks later, I was surprised to learn that my license had arrived. I was now JJ0XMS in Japan. This news fittingly arrived around Christmas, making it easy to remember the “XMS” part of my call. The reciprocal license I received was classified as “1AM”, meaning 1st Amateur license for mobile. This meant I could operate on all bands at power levels below 50W, which is perfect since I tend to operate QRP most of the time anyway.

It helps to have friends around the world, but please learn from my mistake, submit your JARL-96-04 application at least 60 days (plus margin) prior to your trip and obtain your license the right way. If you have any questions about the form or the process, contact Mr. Ken Yamamoto (JA1CJP) via email at [email protected] 

Band Plan

With my license sorted, the next step was to familiarize myself with the Japanese Band Plan. After careful review, I learned it is entirely possible to accidentally transmit out of band or mode if you are not careful. For example, in the US the 2m band ends at 148 MHz, but in Japan the band ends at 146 MHz. So in theory, an operator with a US radio could accidentally transmit on a forbidden frequency.

It’s also important to note that the calling frequencies are different for all bands and that some bands have dedicated emergency communications frequencies. Thankfully, the translated Japanese Band Plan covers these extensively.

Planning the Activations

I started planning my activations by setting the goal of activating at least one SOTA summit and POTA park. I figured I’d gain the experience of doing both to see how they differ from what I’m used to in the US (and writing this blog post).

For this trip, we mainly stayed with our friend in Tokyo, so I was limited to the summits and parks near the city. To start, I figured I’d take a look at the POTA map since Tokyo is a flat city (read as, no SOTA summits to be found within the city itself), so worst case, I’d only do a POTA activation.

Much to my delight, I learned that Tokyo has 146 POTA parks within the city alone… and best of all… they are accessible via Tokyo’s public transportation system! Overwhelmed with all the options, I figured the best thing to do next is to try and see which nearby parks had the most space and activation count. I figured that would improve my odds of activating without any issues.

To be honest, my main concern was putting up an antenna in a park which I’m not allowed to in, or folks approaching me to ask what I’m doing, only to run into a language barrier issue. After looking through several options, I landed on Yoyogi Park JA-1255. The park was near where I was staying, fairly large, and had almost 100 activations. 

Next was planning the SOTA activation. Since there are no SOTA summits in the city proper, it meant I would have to travel a little to get to one.

Coming from Los Angeles, one of the most car-centric cities in the world, I did not expect to find that most Tokyo residents (including my friend) don’t own a car. Renting one is an option, but I figured it’s not worth the effort. Especially since Japan drives on the left hand side of the road – which I’m not used to. That meant driving to a trailhead was out of the question for this trip. Thankfully, that wasn’t as much of a problem as I initially thought.

Looking through the SOTA map, I found several trailheads to the east of the city that are easily accessible via train/bus and short walk. Again, I looked at the activation count to get a sense of what is attainable and found Mt. Arashiyama JA/KN-032. The summit had 84 activations with a relatively easy 762ft gain across 2.25mi and the trailhead is a 15 minute walk away from the train station. The only downside was that the train ride itself was about an hour and a half away from Tokyo. But as those who do SOTA know, the commute to the trailhead is part of the journey. (I think there’s something wrong with us.)

Packing

With a game plan settled, it was time to configure the kit. One important thing to note here is that when I submitted my paperwork to apply for the license, I forgot to include the radio make/model I planned to use (required for the application process). Thankfully, Waka-san registered the ICOM IC-705, an HF/UHF/VHF all mode transceiver (which I so happen to have). This afforded me the flexibility to work a wide range of bands and maximized my odds of having a successful activation.

With the radio figured out, I thought to pair it with a portable antenna that strikes a good balance between volume/mass and performance. My hope was to cover 10/15/20m for DX and 40m for working locals, so naturally I gravitated towards my trusted K6ARK End Fed Half Wave EFHW with an added load coil, making it resonant on 10/15/20/40m. I like to use this antenna in an inverted-V configuration using a 7.2m fishing pole. Since I had one shot at each activation, I figured it would be wise to pack a back up antenna just in case something broke mid-transport, so I also decided to pack my Elecraft AX1 vertical whip antenna and T1 tuner.

For CW paddles, I couldn’t resist packing my recently acquired Ashi Paddle 45 from Mr. Haraguchi 7L4WVU in Japan. Only seemed fitting! Finally, I thought to print out copies of my US and Japanese ham radio license, and a translated note describing ham radio, SOTA, and POTA just in case someone asked what I was doing.

Packing List:

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Welcome to Japan

As soon as we landed in Japan and settle in at our friend’s apartment, we couldn’t help but go out for a nice bowl of warm ramen at Ichiran. It was a cold night, I was jet lagged, and this was exactly the “reset button” my body needed to adjust to the new timezone. I slept like a log that night. Highly recommend. 

Since this was my first time in the country, I tried my best to absorb as much of the food and culture as possible. From the Yakitori, to the Tonkatsu, to all the various Japanese curries, and Onigiri, I was glad to be walking around the city to burn off all the calories I was consuming. Everything we ate tasted incredible!

One of the first orders of business was to visit Akihabara, the electronic town I had heard so much about. Walking through shops, I found every possible component imaginable. Want a transformer? There’s a small shop that has every variant you can think of. LEDs? There’s a shop with a selection that will make you see floating dots when you close your eyes. It was like living in a Digi-Key or Mouser warehouse.

Walking through streets and multi-story markets, I was constantly running into small radio shops. Some selling commercial radios, many selling various ham radios and ham radio accessories. One golden nugget I found was a shop that sells home-brew radios, one of which was a 47.1GHz Transverter! Where else are you going to find something like that for sale in a shop?!

One last stop in Akihabara was Rocket Ham Radio, one of the largest ham radio shops in Japan (think HRO in the US). I couldn’t help myself from buying a 2m/70cm whip antenna for my IC-705 for portable VHF and UHF operations while in town. Would feel wrong leaving without buying *something*!

POTA Activation and Logging

POTA activation day was finally here, and much to my delight, Mr. Haraguchi (7L4WVU) reached out to say he was available to meet me at Yoyogi Park for a joint activation. Continue reading SOTA and POTA in Japan: Ara combines travel and radio with a little help from friends

Roadside POTA: Pedestrian Mobile with the Elecraft KH1 at Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve WMA

My family decided to take a short pre-Christmas break on the coast of South Carolina in mid-December.

It had been a hectic month, so we looked at our healthy hotel points balance and decided to burn up a few of those on an impromptu four-night getaway.

We decided to stay at the same Myrtle Beach hotel where I stayed only a couple of months prior to attend a family funeral in Georgetown, SC. You might recall my activations at Lee State Park, Myrtle Beach State Park, and Huntington Beach State Park during that particular trip.

In truth, we’re not big fans of Myrtle Beach—we prefer more secluded, less commercial spots along the coastal Carolinas. In the summer, Myrtle Beach is jam-packed with visitors—the traffic is a little insane—but in the winter, Myrtle Beach is relatively quiet. Getting around is a breeze, and accommodation is easy to find.

This trip was all about family time, so I didn’t pre-plan a single activation, and I didn’t pack several radios. In fact, the only radio I brought was my Elecraft KH1, which lives in my everyday carry backpack.

The KH1 is a constant companion these days. It was really fun to take it on one of the balconies of our room and hunt parks and summits. Despite a little QRM, I was able to make a number of contacts just using the KH1 whip and dangling the counterpoise.

I remember working my friend Alan (W2AEW) while he was activating a park in New Jersey. I sent him the photo above. What fun!

Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve Wildlife Management Area (K-3903)

On Wednesday, December 20, 2023, we decided to spend part of the morning and afternoon in Conway, South Carolina, which is about a 30-minute drive from Myrtle Beach.

My wife asked, “Surely, there’s a park you can activate along the way?” (She and my daughters fully support my POTA addiction.)

After a quick glance at the POTA Map, I determined that indeed there was!

Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve WMA was essentially on the way to Conway, and I could tell based on a quick Google Map search that one of the access points (a huge gravel parking lot) was conveniently located next to the highway. Score!

I grabbed my backpack and camera (of course I brought along the camera just in case!). We drove 25 minutes to the access point which was easy to find.

As luck would have it, as I parked, I noticed that a motor grader was resurfacing part of the parking lot and the main WMA access road. This wouldn’t affect my activation, of course, but it was incredibly loud—especially the constant back-up alert.

So that my KH1 audio would be audible over the grader noise and the highway noise, I connected it to my Zoom H1N recorder.

Setup was quick despite setting up the audio feed and arranging the camera position under the shade the open hatch of my Subaru provided.

Gear

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On The Air

I started calling CQ POTA on the 20 meter band and it didn’t take long before hunters started calling back. Continue reading Roadside POTA: Pedestrian Mobile with the Elecraft KH1 at Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve WMA

N2YCH: January POTA Travel in Frozen Alaska!

Many thanks to Conrad (N2YCH) who shares the following field report:


Conrad’s January Alaska Activation

By: Conrad Trautmann, N2YCH

Why would you go to Alaska in January?” is what everyone asked me.

I’ve wanted to see the Northern Lights for as long as I can remember. The best time to see the aurora borealis is between late August to late April in Fairbanks, Alaska. Days are short in January, sunrise is at 10:24am local time and sunset is at 3:38pm. It’s twilight before the sun comes up and after it sets so it’s not pitch dark, but it’s mostly dark for about 19 hours a day in Fairbanks at this time of year. Once I began researching, I learned that peak viewing times for the aurora are between 10p and 2a local time even with the extended darkness. Check aurorasaurus.org for more information.

So, the answer to the question is, “The odds are better to catch the Northern Lights in the winter.”

Cold weather and snow doesn’t bother me having lived in Syracuse, New York for ten years. I have experience with winter weather and driving. Fairbanks is one of the best places in the state to see the aurora since it is directly below the “Aurora Oval” and it has over 100 days a year when the aurora is visible. Except for January 12th through the 15th, 2024, when the sky had 98% cloud cover and it was snowing. Aurora viewing was not happening during my visit.

However, this trip was not a total loss by any means. There are things to see and do here, including activating parks! I activated three parks in three days, Denali National Park (K-0022), Chena River State Recreation Area (K-7228) and Creamer’s Field Wildlife Refuge (K-9697). I’ve heard stories from hams in Alaska that propagation can be spotty, that there can be total radio blackouts from solar flares and that bands we don’t usually worry about in the lower 48, like 20 meters, can be useless at times. I packed enough equipment and antennas to activate on any band from 40 meters to 6 meters, up to 100 watts using my Elecraft KX3 with the Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier. On the first day at Denali, I used the amp for the entire activation, but I realized at the end of the day that Thomas, K4SWL, who runs “QRPer.com” wouldn’t be too happy with a field report from “QROer.com” Conrad, N2YCH. To remedy that, I activated my second park using just my KX3, no amp. At K-7228, my first 11 QSO’s were QRP and the park was officially activated using only QRP power. I activated my third park QRO, read on and I’ll explain why.

[Thomas here: For the record, readers, I gave Conrad a Special Use Permit to mention QRO on QRPer! Ha ha! Of course there’s no problem going QRO from time to time!]

Back to propagation, I emailed one of the most active POTA activators in the area prior to my trip to get a sense of what to expect. I highly recommend doing this for anyone planning to travel somewhere and activate. Look at the POTA pages for the parks you want to activate and you’ll surely see a repeat activator with a Kilo award or many visits to those parks. They know the parks the best and also what to expect for propagation. They also share your passion for POTA and are usually very happy to help. The advice I received was that it would be difficult to make contacts on 20 meters and that watching the MUF (maximum usable frequency) charts would serve me well. (Check out hf.dxview.org) The activator said 10 meters would probably be the best band during daylight hours. He was exactly right. Even with QRO power, 20 meter reception in Alaska was noisy and my signal did not get out very far on FT8 watching the pskreporter.com spot map. I moved to 10 meters and quickly had a steady pile up. I stayed on the air until I depleted a 9ah and a 3ah battery I brought. What fun!

Okay, so for the QRP activation, I was at a trailhead parking area out near the Chena Hot Springs resort. Before the activation, I stopped and did the tour of the Aurora Ice Museum and took a dip in the natural hot springs. I do recommend the hot springs if you ever go to Fairbanks. It was -10F degrees when I was there, quite an experience.

Chena Hot Springs

I intentionally wanted to delay my activation from early morning to closer to sunset to see if operating during the evening gray line passing over would help improve the number of contacts I could get. The short answer is that it was worse…way worse. I went back to activating closer to sunrise on my third day and had similar results as I did the first day, much better. Sunrise wins.

The map above shows my initial ten QRP QSO’s from K-7228.

What really continues to amaze me is just how far my signal can reach with the portable equipment I was using. I brought the Buddipole so I could configure it as a vertical or a dipole. I tried it as a vertical on 20 meters on my first day and as I said, the reception was poor. The beauty of the Buddipole is that I could quickly reconfigure it to a 10 meter dipole. With the tripod, it’s roughly 10’ off the ground. There was no wind to speak of, so I didn’t need to guy it. If there was, I would have used a bungee cord to secure it to the car bumper or side mirror.

It breaks down and fits in the bag I bought with the Buddipole tripod and I tossed it into my checked bag on the plane. With the tripod and mast, it’s just a little too long for the carry-on bag. I could have brought a fiberglass push up mast and wire antennas in my carry-on, but I decided on the checked bag and brought the Buddipole to have as many options as possible. After all, I was traveling all the way to Alaska. Continue reading N2YCH: January POTA Travel in Frozen Alaska!

2,112 miles as AI7LK in the US Pacific Northwest

by Vince (VE6LK/AI7LK)

As always there are links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! 

In December of 2023, I found myself with a surplus of vacation from my employers, and my Brother who’s move-in date to his new home got suddenly moved forward to just before Christmas. I was able to get time off work and make an epic road trip with POTA stops along the way to both allow me to have some radio fun and to give my body a stretching break. My trip would take me from my home in Alberta, westward through British Columbia, southward into Idaho, Washington, Oregon and I even made it as far as Northern California to see the Pacific before turning around and heading back home.

Along the way, I activated at 14 stops which totaled 21 parks in all after factoring in the 2-fer, 4-fer and 5-fer stops! This was a total of 301 actual QSOs netting 508 after the x-fers were computed in. It was a mix of CW and voice with an average of 21 contacts per stop.

There were many highlights of the trip, and naturally spending time with my brother and his wife were at the top of the list–despite the work of moving into a house–followed by the simply spectacular scenery along the route and the route planning itself. While this trip was decided upon on a Thursday evening and I was on the road the following Monday, I still found about 10 hours to research points of interest along my routes and look for POTA entities that had either not been activated yet or were CW ATNO, having only had a Phone or Digital activation previously. For the most part, these were the stops I targeted as my waypoints.

The Columbia River is nearly a mile wide at Rooster Rock SP

Driving along the Columbia River Gorge on I-84 approaching Rooster Rock State Park felt like driving along the base of the Grand Canyon, given the 1000′ height of the cliffs beside me. Rooster Rock State Park (K-2850), is notable for two reasons. 1 – it’s a 5-fer activation point – my first 5-fer stop ever doing POTA, and 2 – it’s windy as heck as you can see in this short video I took for Charlie W7RTA who told me, via Discord, it would blow [what’s left of my hair] off my head.

Click here for 7 seconds of the Columbia River Gorge wind whipping the hair off my head!

Certainly Rooster Rock was a highlight given it’s the only 5-fer activation I’ve ever done. It was activated two hours after a 4-fer at Willow Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area (K-10646). I only learned about the multiples after chatting with folks on the POTA Discord server.

It was a short drive from Rooster Rock SP to the home of KJ6VU in Oregon City, Oregon. While I’ve worked with George on the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast for nearly three years, I’d never met him in person until this trip. It was such a treat to spend time with him.  George is the creator of the Packtenna that so many of us love to use. As luck would have it, the KJ6VU repeater was due for a replacement and scheduled for the next morning, and I was able to put my skills in racking (installing) repeaters to good use. After we finished the repeater I departed and did some performance testing while southbound on I-5 to test its range.

The repeater crew. L to R: Josh K6OSH, Nick KF7SOM, the Author, and George KJ6VU

Along the way I got to have a coffee break with Nick Smith NT3S who I had met via Discord. Nick can be found activating parks and going overlanding on weekends. Thanks Nick for the time to have a break with you!

Over the next several days I spent time in Grants Pass Oregon assisting my brother and his wife to get moved in. Grants Pass even has a Harbor Freight Tools and I was able to get some shopping done! So as it turns out I wouldn’t be slugging boxes every day and there was a bit of a break during my visit to go out and play radio. I know the POTA program is especially popular in the United States and I’d heard that every entity has been activated at least once, which is very different from here in Canada where many parks are untouched. In my research and thanks to the parks added in the autumn of 2023, there are some in the system that had never been activated. On one Saturday afternoon I was able to visit one of these parks -Cathedral Hills Trail System- and work 72 contacts in under an hour on SSB.

Cathedral Hills Trail System, Grants Pass Oregon
Tall trees at Cathedral Hills Trail System, Grants Pass Oregon

On the following Tuesday, I headed out from Grants Pass to head to California if only to tick off the box on POTA’s website saying I’d activated there. I had no idea that Highway 199 would be so scenic. I activated six entities on this day.

At the end of Highway 199 is Tolowa Dunes State Park (K-1202). The photo at the top of this article is on the dunes and at the coast of the Pacific Ocean near Crescent City CA. Yes, I walked along the surf despite the threatening weather. It also allowed me the luxury to park within the dunes themselves to do my activation with a spectacular view. Continue reading 2,112 miles as AI7LK in the US Pacific Northwest

K3ES Activates Waco Mammoth National Monument

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:


The National Park Service welcomes you to Waco Mammoth National Monument

Activating K-0975, Waco Mammoth National Monument

by Brian (K3ES)

At the end of November 2023, my wife and I loaded her minivan, and headed out into the first significant snowfall of the season.  I had already been out that morning in my 4WD truck to pull a friend’s car out of a ditch, so I was driving carefully.  Our drive took us from our home in northwest Pennsylvania to Baltimore, MD.  Happily, weather conditions improved as we went south and east.  We were meeting our son, daughter-in-law, and 2-1/2 year old grandson for a family trip to Waco, TX (we flew out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport early the next morning).  My wife and daughter-in-law are particular fans of Fixer-Upper and Chip and Joanna Gaines, all based in Waco.  Us men-folk were to be educated in the finer points of appreciating this pop-culture phenomenon.  Ultimately, we certainly did appreciate the finer points of dining in Waco.

One side-trip that amazed us all was a 10 minute drive up the road to Waco Mammoth National Monument.  This relatively new addition to the National Park system is also listed as Parks on the Air (POTA) entity K-0975.  Back in the days when the area occupied by the National Monument was private land, two exploring teenagers, who may not have had proper permission, found a bone, a big bone.  This bone was delivered to a local museum for identification, and ultimately determined to have been the femur of a female Columbian Mammoth.  Legalities being as they are, it took a while longer for the location of the discovery to be made public.  An interested and civic-minded land owner made the process less traumatic than might have been, particularly for the wandering teenagers.  He also started the process to preserve the site and its archaeological treasures for the public, ultimately leading to its designation as a National Monument.  Over subsequent years, archaeological excavation discovered a lot more bones – skeletons from an entire nursery herd of Columbian Mammoths, along with skeletons from other species that visited what was apparently a dangerous waterhole during the last ice age.

A view of the interior of the building constructed to protect the archaeological site.  Near the entry door is a full-sized artist’s rendition of a Columbian Mammoth.  Standing up to14 feet high at the shoulder, Columbian Mammoths were significantly larger than their better known Woolly Mammoth cousins.  This site is unique in that the bones of an entire nursery herd, including multiple females and their young, were found together here.
Some of the partially excavated mammoth skeletons contained in the enclosure building.
Also found in this excavation site was a Western Camel skeleton.  It is thought that the large number, numerous species, and wide range of ages of the skeletons discovered at this site resulted from entrapment in thick mud that formed the bottom of a persistent waterhole.

Since the discovery, many skeletons have been excavated and removed for study, but many more remain at the site awaiting future recovery.  A building has been constructed to cover the excavation and protect the remaining skeletons, and this building is the amazing focal point of the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  Ranger-led tours are available, and very much worthwhile.

Operating QRP CW on a beautiful afternoon at K-0975, Waco Mammoth National Monument.  My station is set up in a grassy field sometimes used for overflow parking.

Setting Up to Activate K-0975

After the tour and a look at the excavation site, I excused myself and set up to activate K-0975.  Before the trip, I had sent an email to Phil – WA5PQL, who is the most frequent activator at K-0975.  He was gracious and helpful in providing information about the park, the staff, and the locations most suitable for activating.  His assistance made a quick, low-stress activation a near certainty.  After checking in with the Park Rangers, I had directions and permissions, so all that remained a concern was HF propagation.

While the previous day had been overcast with drizzle, Friday, December 1, 2023, was sunny and warm.  It was perfect for walking around the site, and for an outdoor activation.  Unfortunately, the same sun that gave us the bright, warm day, had been active producing solar flares that could interfere with radio communications.  The only way to know for sure that I could make contacts was to set up my station and call CQ, so that is the path I chose.

Field kit contained in a re-purposed Peltor 4” x 6” x 9” padded headset pouch.  This compact kit was easily packed in a carry-on backpack for airline travel.  The pouch’s integral handle also made for easy transport to the activation site.

Field kit contents from the upper-left (click image above to enlarge):

  1. 33 gal trash bag for dry seating,
  2. 15 ft RG316 feedline with BNC male connectors,
  3. Two pieces of nylon cord,
  4. Medium-sized pill bottle to be filled with dirt or stones and used as a throw weight,
  5. 80 ft of Marlow Excel 2mm arborist’s throw line,
  6. BaMaTech TP-III paddles with connecting cable carried in an Altoids tin,
  7. Nail clippers as a TSA-approved tool,
  8. Elecraft KX2 transceiver with SideKX end-panels and polycarbonate cover,
  9. Tufteln 9:1 end-fed random wire antenna with 35 ft radiator and 17 ft counterpoise,
  10. Generic ear-bud headphones,
  11. Homebrew VK3IL-designed pressure paddles with adjacent protective sleeve sitting atop a plastic ziploc bag,
  12. Rite in the Rain notepad for logging,
  13. Pentel Twist-Erase 0.9mm mechanical pencil,
  14. Miscellaneous cable ties.

Not pictured is a Packtenna 10m collapsable fiberglass mast that was available, but not used for this activation.

I brought a very small, but capable, field kit based on my Elecraft KX2 and a Tufteln End-fed Random Wire antenna.  A couple of CW keys, a short feedline, and generic earbuds completed the station.  I also brought a notepad and a pencil for logging, a plastic garbage bag for seating, and some cordage.  The most peculiar part of my kit was a small pill bottle with a hole in its lid.  I filled the pill bottle with dirt, passed the end of a 2mm line through the lid and secured it with a knot.  I was able to use the dirt-filled bottle as a throw weight to get the line over a tree branch for raising the antenna, then I detached the bottle and returned the dirt.  All elements of the kit worked as intended, and TSA asked no questions during my trips through airport security. Continue reading K3ES Activates Waco Mammoth National Monument

Learning from the best – a perfect SOTA morning with K6EL

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 2

by Leo (DL2COM)

I can’t remember if I have ever walked through a eucalyptus forest before but I am pretty sure I have not as I would have instantly remembered the intense and pleasant smell.

eucalyptus trees
High eucalyptus trees on the north side of Mount Davidson (W6/NC-423)

The morning sunlight and a few scattered low clouds created a rather mystical atmosphere as I was hiking up a narrow and slippery trail on the north-east side of Mt. Davidson in Central San Francisco (W6/NC-423).

sun, fog and trees
This here? Yes please.

My research regarding the trail system of this compact urban mountain was barely existent so I did not end up using the south entrance (Landsdale Ave. & Dalewood Way) which would have taken me to the summit in only a few minutes on a dry and tidy path – but then sans the nice forest panorama. Not worth the tradeoff I’d say.

Mount Davidson Cross
Mount Davidson Cross – memorial to the Armenian genocide in 1915

Due to its proximity to the city center, Mt. Davidson is as easily accessible as pretty much anything in SF for visitors who don’t want to travel further than say a 30 min bus/Uber ride or so. Activators will be rewarded with stunning views of the bay area and the city’s skyline as well as a majestic cross, apparently a well-known SF landmark.

plateau on the summit of mount davidson
The big plateau on the summit of Mount Davidson

I had contacted Elliott (K6EL) prior to my trip to the U.S. who according to the SOTA database has been on Mt. Davidson many times (and on many other summits as I only learned later). This morning I got up early, texted him and was very happy that he agreed to join me spontaneously for my first U.S. activation. Elliott arrived only a few minutes after me as I was struggling to tie a rope to a stone slightly squinting from jetlag. Neither did I bring a throw weight nor a mast due to cabin luggage restrictions. I now know why I cherish these things so much but Elliott assured me that we’d get that wire up eventually and we started to chat.

It turned out that Elliott has done a lot of work for the SOTA and ham radio community. For example, as part of the SOTA management team and being a super active activator (only scratching the surface here): e.g. no.4 Honor Roll Summit-2-Summit (S2S) world-wide pushing almost 10k S2S QSOs. Wait what? That’s a hell of a lot of mountain-top radio experience, so his reassuring words instilled a high degree of confidence for my improvised antenna setup. Not only did we manage to get the 31’ random wire up in a high tree but he also brought a 2m HT which I had (I admit) forgotten in Germany.

While I was still busy setting up the station he had already bagged a handful of FM S2S QSOs. That’s how it’s done.

wire antenna in high trees
31′ random wire to 1:9 unun & 17′ counterpoise in a sorta inv. v-to-l’ish-shape

Suddenly two police officers showed up on motorcycles and I started gathering a number of arguments in my head as to why our activation is a completely legitimate thing (strange reflex or comprehensible?). They approached us in a very kind way and after we greeted each other Elliott pointed to our wire antenna and let them know that “We are ham radio operators and this will be our antenna for the next hour.” Full stop. Ha.

In fact the two officers didn’t need any arguments from us, instead they showed genuine technical interest and at some point we were all joking around together. I believe they were just happy to find everything in good order and maybe also catch a few warming sun rays. Still I loved the way Elliott presented our activity as the most natural and non-optional thing. I guess I just didn’t know how local police would react at first. A good reminder that mutual respect goes a long way.

By now the fog had cleared and blue skies showed all around. I was itching to get on the air! To break the ice I logged a quick S2S contact with WD4CFN on Max Patch, a mountain on the NC/Tennessee border. Off to a great start! Elliott suggested starting on 10m so that’s what I did.

ham radio operation from mountain top
Random rock – the best shack

CQ SOTA DE W6/DL2COM K…uff I needed a few attempts to get that W6/ prefix into a somewhat natural CW flow but then first contacts started rolling in.

F4WBN, Chris, with a strong signal from France. So cool to hear him on the other side of the planet as well. He was shortly followed by LW2DO from Argentina and then a bunch of US operators including four more S2S QSOs before S57S (Slovenia) and JG0AWE (Japan) topped off the log with a warm DX rain. WOW!

Today’s QSO Map

I could have called CQ forever but decided to call it a day after 27 QSOs and rather enjoy the sun, view and good company. After all, I also needed to get back to the city in time.

ham radio operators on a summit
Good times atop la montagna

Elliott kindly offered to give me a ride so we had some time to discuss – how could we not – the KH1, current DXpeditions, and various topics around SOTA, U.S. ham radio and the city of San Francisco.

san francisco park rules sign

I am thankful for this perfect SOTA morning.

Gear used:

vy 73 de Leo W6/DL2COM

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

by Leo (DL2COM)

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 1

“No way!” I said to myself when I saw that Alcatraz Island is an official Parks-on-the-air (POTA) reference which has only been activated four times by two operators.

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island / POTA reference K-7888 & 2fer K-0647

It surprised me that such a historically relevant site hasn’t seen more ham radio activity in the past – or maybe it has, just not for POTA. I then got super excited as I was packing my bags for San Francisco.

I have missed this foggy beauty so much and it has been many years since I visited the city. I won’t bore you with the ordeal of our travel but it included canceled flights, multiple delays and rescheduling via Berlin and London the next day due to a hostage situation at Hamburg airport. So our already super short trip of 4.5 days shrunk into a good 3 days in SF. So which things to cross off the schedule now? It was clear that this unfortunate situation was certainly not going to eat into my activation budget. Hell no!

I admit since watching “The Rock” (1996) Alcatraz has always been a place of mystery and fascination to me. Those who are interested in reading more about the former fort, military prison and federal penitentiary can do so here.

After I learned that it was also a CW ATNO I instantly said: “Done deal. The ink is dry. I will activate with morse code in the shadows of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris”. Of course I would do it plain vanilla style throwing good ol’ wires in trees and staking pointy things in the ground. Yeah right. Sometimes passion does tend to carry you away a wee bit so a little later I gathered myself and started doing some research.

K-7888 log so far

Apparently the first POTA pioneer on Alcatraz was KC1MIJ who managed to get 5 QSOs in with an FM HT in July 2021. I’d say that’s pretty awesome for a location almost as low as sea level. The first successful activation was done on December 3rd 2021 by Elizabeth “Liz” N6LY and her husband Kevin K6YD. Since then both of them had only been back one time in December 2022 for another day to achieve a whopping cumulative 761 phone QSOs in only two days of total operation. Wow! What an achievement. No other hams have tried to activate Alcatraz since.

National Park Service Badge
The entire island is under management of the National Park Service (NPS)

I didn’t hesitate to write Liz an email and ask about her experience operating from the island as I knew it would probably require some preparation. The POTA website also stated that a permit from the National Park Service (NPS) is required. Luckily Liz replied swiftly with a lot of helpful information and I am very thankful for the email exchange. She specifically pointed out that it is in fact necessary to get a permit (even for simple HT activity) and that she had already applied in July for another day activity this coming December. They are still waiting to hear back from NPS’s office so it does seem quite hard to get approval for a “proper” activation. It is understandable that folks there want to have control over an organized operation where antennas, 100w radios, chairs etc. might need to be set up. With so many tourists visiting each day they also want to make sure that any activity doesn’t interfere with their core business especially on weekends.

Since I really didn’t want to spoil any of the hard preparatory work with NPS that Liz and Kevin had done for the ham radio community as well as respect local processes I wrote an email to the Alcatraz Rangers Office asking for a permit only a few days before my arrival. I knew it was a long shot and highly unlikely that they’d get back to me in time. So I called them every morning and afternoon the days after to follow up but was unsuccessful reaching them on any channel. By that point I had almost given up. However there were plenty of other options for activations so I had a blast in/on several SOTA/POTA references in SF which I will report on later.

Alcatraz Island Ferry
Alcatraz Island Ferry @ Pier 33

On our last day I woke up and thought “Man, I can’t just leave the Bay Area and not activate Alcatraz.” Since one of my appointments got canceled short-term I didn’t think long, jumped on an Uber to Pier 33 and off I was (yeeeees, online tickets were still available).  Continue reading DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

A welcome POTA layover with friends at Lee State Park in South Carolina

On September 30, 2023, my uncle Reggie passed away at the age of 83. I was incredibly fond of him. His funeral was to take place in Georgetown, South Carolina on Tuesday, October 3rd.

The funeral time was confirmed on Sunday evening (Oct 1), so I made all of my travel plans that night. I decided to leave early Monday morning and drive to Myrtle Beach where I’d reserved a hotel room for one night. I’d then attend the funeral the following day and drive back to my home in the mountains. Round trip, this would amount to about 12 hours of driving.

This, of course, was a pretty somber reason to take a road trip–although it would be nice to spend time with my SC family. I wanted to make the most of my travels and fit in a little “radio therapy” along the way. I glanced over the POTA map for a park that might make for a nice break from travels.

Before hitting the sack Sunday evening, I remembered that many months ago Keith (KY4KK) told me to give him a heads-up anytime I planned to pass by Florence, SC. I knew that Florence would be a simple detour on my journey, so I reached out to Keith and asked if he and his POTA buddies Tommy (N4GS) and Steve (W4JM) might, by some chance, be available for a quick POTA activation. Of course, this was very late notice.

Keith wrote back and recommended that I activate Lee State Park–he and Tommy were both available but, unfortunately, Steve had other plans.

Monday morning, I hit the road and arrived at Lee State Park in the early afternoon.

Lee State Park (K-2905)

I pulled into the park driveway and was greeted by a number of Halloween displays. Evidently, the park staff loves decorating for holidays.

At first glance, this looks like a POTA activator that never never got their ten logged.

I pulled into the visitor’s center parking lot and immediately met Keith and Tommy.

After a quick greeting, Keith said, “Thomas, our job here is to get you on the air as smoothly as possible so you can continue your trip.”

Keith, KY4KK (left) Tommy, N4GS (right)

Herein lies what I love about amateur radio and POTA specifically: even though Keith, Tommy, and I had only just met in person, they were instant friends.

I must say, Lee State Park is the perfect POTA park; there are loads of tall trees, covered picnic areas, open spaces, ample parking, and ham-friendly staff. It just doesn’t get better than this!

We walked to a large covered picnic area and Keith suggested that we deploy his 40 meter EFHW antenna.

I agreed without hesitation!

Unlike me, Keith is adept at using a slingshot to deploy his antennas.

As I started setting up the radio, Keith aimed his slingshot and snagged a really high branch on the first go. This 40M EFHW was being deployed as a vertical!

I decided to bring along my Penntek TR-45L on this trip. I’m glad I did: it was ideal for this sort of POTA activation! Continue reading A welcome POTA layover with friends at Lee State Park in South Carolina