The last weekend was too rainy to operate outdoors. So I welcomed the public holiday on Thursday, which allowed me to take a day off on Friday and have four days off. We call such days “Bridge Day” in Germany, they “bridge” a public holiday to the weekend.
Some time ago, I have suggested a new protected area to the WWFF, the World Wide Flora and Fauna program. The nature reserve Eybtal covers an area of over 1331 hectares / 3300 acres and is the largest nature reserve in the Stuttgart administrative district. The nature reserve is on the edge of the Swabian Alb, and the ruins of the medieval castle Helfenstein are well within the WWFF activation zone.
The Helfenstein Castle is a historic fortress can be traced back to around 1100 AD when it was constructed as a strategic stronghold to protect the surrounding territories.
During the 13th and 14th century it was the seat of the Earls of Helfenstein. After a lost battle in 1372 things went south and in 1396 the family of Helfenstein had to sell a large part of its territory, including its family seat.
The new owners expanded the castle into a formidable fortress. They extended the castle walls to include a fortified tower and a second ring of walls.
Around the year 1400, a tower was built on the nearby rock. It served as a lookout and was intended to prevent the castle from being cannon-fired from that location.
During the Second Margrave War in the 16th century, Helfenstein Castle was besieged and heavily damaged. It was subsequently abandoned and fell into ruins. In the 19th century, there was a renewed interest in medieval architecture, and efforts were made to preserve and restore Helfenstein Castle. The ruins were partially reconstructed, and today, visitors can explore the restored sections. Continue reading Park and Castle activation at the medieval Helfenstein castle→
The weather on the morning of April 4, 2023, was absolutely outstanding!
I woke up that morning, drank a cup of coffee, looked outside and knew what would be in store the day: a SOTA activation!
My schedule was actually open that fine Tuesday because my daughters were on spring break from school, so the only problem was deciding which summit to activate. A good problem, in other words!
After staring at the SOTL.AS map for a while, I decided to activate Flat Top Mountain (W4C/EM-026) near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. One of the main reasons I chose Flat Top was because the roughly five mile round-trip hike is such a pleasant, casual one. My left ankle was recuperating from a bit of a strain, so I knew Flat Top’s flat, wide carriage trails would fulfill my need for exercise without straining my ankle (which, by the way, is doing much better now).
The drive to Flat Top is a beautiful one–a good third of it is on the Blue Ridge Parkway including the Linn Cove Viaduct which offers up stunning long-range views. I made my way to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, at BRP milepost 294, where I parked the car and put on my hiking boots.
The park was pretty active for early April, no doubt because the weather was so stunning.
I checked out the beautiful Flat Top Manor to see if renovations had been completed.
It looks very close to completion, I have to assume they’ll be open again soon. The old manor was looking beautiful against clear skies!
Flat Top Manor was built by in 1901 by Moses Cone who was a very successful local textile entrepreneur, conservationist and philanthropist. It’s so fitting that this beautiful bit of architecture and these expansive grounds (which includes no less than two SOTA summits) are now protected by the National Park Service for all to enjoy.
A completely under-prepped SOTA & WWFF activation which turned out to be perfect
In preparation for a tough conversation a good friend once told me: “You know what, just walk into the fire. If you have bad news to deliver, don’t sugar coat it and do it right away. You’ll be fine.”
“Just walk into the fire.” I believe this can be applied to many other situations in life. While I would consider myself to be well-prepared on most trips, hikes and activations and getting a lot of joy out of optimizing my kits I try to stay open-minded. Imagine the things you would miss out on if you wouldn’t be spontaneous or only do things while fully prepared and 100% safe – even if it means taking risks.
Last Wednesday, I kind of walked into the fire. Not fire as in fire-fire but fire as in Latvian winter storm. In general this wouldn’t be such a big deal had I brought the right clothes, gear and shoes to my short business trip to Riga.
Due to very strict luggage restrictions I could only bring one small backpack for three days. Inside I had enough room for a laptop, washbag, spare clothes and the compact QCX-Mini Kit I built for exactly these occasions. I was wearing sneakers and jeans. At this point I had not planned a specific activation but I wanted at least to be able to operate YL/ & /p maybe 30 minutes from a nearby park – not a problem if you can jump right back into the warm hotel afterwards.
During our stay, my schedule for Wednesday morning freed up so I decided to try activating one out of only three SOTA summits in Latvia: YL/YL-003. It turns out this summit is also located within WWFF territory YLFF-0007 about a 1,5h drive from Riga. Big Thanks to Val (YL2SW), Latvia’s WWFF manager, for assisting me with local rules and processing my log. A quick look at the weather forecast showed freezing temperatures, 90% chance of snow, heavy winds and overcast. Many of you will understand why a SOTA&WWFF combo in a rare country could be a small reason not to use the hotel’s sauna on a day like that. Sometimes things just need to get done.
I got up early the next morning and was very happy to be able to grab a Bolt rental car from the street and get going quickly. The drive went by without issues up to a point just about 3km away from the mountain (well, 1-pointer hill I should say). The roads were completely covered in snow so I could barely see where I was driving. Latvia is a rather flat country but here it started to get a bit hilly and the tires were certainly not cut out for that. Continue reading CQ From Latvia with Love→
On Monday, March 8, 2021, I had a very rare opportunity: nearly a full day to play radio!
I debated where to go the night before and I had a lot of ideas. Do a multi-park run? Activate some new-to-me parks a little further afield? Hit a SOTA summit?
While it was very appealing to plan a multi-park run for POTA/WWFF, I really wanted to stretch my legs and activate a summit. The weather was glorious and it dawned upon me that we’ll soon be entering the season of afternoon thunderstorms which will, no doubt, have a negative impact on my summit plans for the next few months since afternoons are typically when I have time to do activations.
After examining the map, I decided to go to Elk Knob State Park. The summit of Elk Knob is a SOTA site and the park is in both the POTA and WWFF programs.
When people tell me running QRP is like “trying to play radio with both hands tied behind your back” I’ll show them this video. 🙂
While the hike, the weather, and the signals were all in my favor, I’ll admit I wasn’t on my “A Game” that day. We all have days like this where we struggle to copy, to keep up with the flow of contacts, and to send correctly.
In recent weeks, I’ve gotten a number of emails from readers and viewers who said they had a less-than-smooth SOTA or POTA activation and felt a wee bit embarrassed on the air when they struggled copying.
But you know what?
This is all about having radio fun in the field, enjoying a hike, taking in the views, and soaking up the beautiful weather! It’s not a contest and we have nothing to prove to anyone.
I can also promise you that any chaser/hunter who has ever activated a field site will completely understand if they have to send their call a couple extra times or if they (heaven forbid!) have to re-send their call after you incorrectly copy a character.
This is totally normal.
Be easy on yourself and enjoy the ride. Even on days when I don’t feel like I’m 100% in the groove, I find doing a summit or park activation clears my mind and resets my soul.
My policy? When a mistake is made laugh it off and move on!
Here are a few extra photos from the Elk Knob hike: