Each time I head to a park or summit, I have a goal in mind.
With summits, it’s getting to the summit and activating it because, sometimes, that can be a challenge in and of itself. I’m not exactly Sir Edmund Hillary, so I’m happy when I make it to the top of any summit!
Parks, however, offer me the chance to experiment with transceiver/antenna combos, test gear, and explore hikes. Parks tend to be more accessible and spacious than summits and even have shelter options if weather is questionable.
I don’t even attempt afternoon summit activations if they require a decent hike and there’s a good chance of pop-up thunder storms.
On Monday, June 7, 2021, it was hot and incredibly humid in the Piedmont of North Carolina. That early afternoon, little patches of showers were passing through the region delivering brief, isolated downpours.
The weather forecast also predicted a high likelihood of thunderstorms that afternoon. (Turns out, they were correct.)
Those were not conditions for a SOTA activation, rather, I decided to pick out a park I knew could offer up some shelter options. Lake Norman was an obvious choice–there’s a very nice covered area at their visitor’s center and also two large picnic shelters at the other side of the park. Lake Norman it was!
I drove to Lake Norman State Park with one goal in mind: deplete the Xiegu X5105 internal battery. I had assumed the battery would only power the X5105 for perhaps two activations on one charge.
Boy, was I wrong.
I charged the X5105 before this activation on May 17, then I completed this short activation on May 18. I never expected the battery to keep going, but it did.
Now three full weeks later, I decided I would deplete the battery at Lake Norman because that afternoon I had a decent amount of time to play radio in the field. In my head, I was prepared to squeeze perhaps 30-45 minutes more air time out of that one May 16 battery charge.
Lake Norman (K-2740)
I arrived at Lake Norman State Park and scouted out a site. Fortunately–it being a Monday in the early afternoon–it wasn’t busy and all three shelters were available.
I chose to set up at a shelter at the far end of the main picnic area.
The humidity was so thick that day, I was sweating just walking around the site. I noticed in my activation video (see below), I was breathing as hard as I would hiking to a summit even though I was just tooling around the picnic shelter.
I had no doubt in my mind that if a thunderstorm developed, it would be a doozie! (I was right about that, too–keep reading.)
On The Air
I paired the Xiegu X5105 with my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 mainly because I wanted to see how easily the X5105 ATU could match this multi-band vertical. Turns out? Quite easily.
I expected the X5105’s battery to deplete to the point that I would need to use an external power source to complete the activation, so I connected my QRP Ranger battery pack, but didn’t turn it on. I knew that when the radio died, I could flip the QRP Ranger’s power switch and perhaps only lose a few seconds of air time.
I hopped on the air and started calling CQ. I planned to operate the X5105 until the internal battery died, then (if needed) continue operating with the QRP Ranger until I logged my 10 contacts for a valid activation. Post activation, I planned to hike one of the Lake Norman loop trails.
Normally, I would mention the number of contacts I made perhaps noting the bands that were most productive. Instead, if you’d like to experience this activation with me, you might consider watching the activation video.
Here’s my real-time, real-life, no edit video of the entire activation including my full set up. My summary of the activation follows–keep scrolling if you’re open to a spoiler.
Please note that this is the longest video I’ve ever published, so don’t feel any pressure to watch it in its entiretity:
Let’s just say that the X5105 sold me.
The activation was incredibly fun and I logged 20 stations (18 CW and 2 phone) from Alaska to Spain with my 5 watts and the MPAS 2.0 vertical. Propagation conditions were only “meh” but since I had the time to play radio longer, I was able to take advantages of little openings as they happened.
The X5105 won.
I simply gave up on trying to deplete the internal battery because I was running out of time to fit the activation and a much needed hike that afternoon before thunderstorms moved in.
I operated over 90 minutes with constant CQ calls and the battery never made it below 10.2 volts.
A most welcome surprise.
No mic, no problem!
During the activation, I remembered that I had been asked by readers and viewers to include more SSB work.
Problem was, I left my X5105 mic at the QTH (nearly 2 hours away by car).
I remembered though that, like the Elecraft KX2, the X5105 has a built-in microphone.
I decided to give that mic a trial by fire and, by golly, it worked!
Not only did it work, but it worked well.
The X5105? A keeper.
It was at Lake Norman that day, I decided the X5105 was a keeper.
That evening, I reached out to Radioddity–who lent this X5105 to me–and offered to pay full retail price for it either in cash or via ad credit
Since Radioddity is a sponsor on my other radio site–the SWLing Post–we decided that, since their ad was coming up for renewal soon, I would simply extend their ad time an equivalent amount of months as the full value of the X5105 ($550 US). This saved them from having to cut a check in two months. Worked for both of us.
I have much, much more to say about the X5105 and will do so in an upcoming review.
In short, though? It’s not a perfect radio by any means, but I feel like it really hits a sweet spot for the QRP field operator.
I enjoy putting it on the air and it’s an incredibly capable little transceiver.
I’m very pleased to now put it in rotation with my other field radios. Look for it in future reports!
Here’s the QSO Map for this activation (click to enlarge):
Hike and dodgy weather
After packing up my gear, I walked over to a nearby trailhead and checked out the trail map. I was prepared to take a very long hike that afternoon despite the heat and humidity, but I also knew conditions were ripe for a thunderstorm.
I decided to take what appeared to be a fairly short loop trail along the lake. Looking at the map, I assumed the trail might be 1 mile or so long.
The hike is well-worn and well-marked, so there’s no getting lost here. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t bother looking at my GPS map or even consulting the trailhead map in detail.
Instead, I simply started hiking the Lake Shore Trail loop. It was gorgeous. Here are a few photos (click to enlarge):
The skies started getting dark, though, and I heard a little distant thunder.
I decided it might make sense to consult my phone for the weather map.
A line of thunderstorms had developed and they were sweeping toward me. Time to pick up the pace of hiking!
It was at this point I realized I had underestimated the length of this loop trail. Part of me was quite pleased that it was longer than I anticipated, but the part of me that didn’t want to be caught out in a t-storm wanted to get back to the car ASAP.
I checked another weather map a few minutes later.
I decided that jogging the rest of the trail made sense!
Turns out the 1 mile loop was something closer to 3 miles when I included the walk back to the car.
I did make it back to the car in time, though, right before the heavens opened.
It’s no exaggeration to say that I was sincerely concerned about the possibility of tornadoes in that storm front.
The skies were dark enough that streetlights turned on and the rain was incredibly heavy with strong wind gusts. I saw flash flooding and driving conditions were nearly impossible. I parked next to a brick building in the town of Catawba and waited for the strongest part of the storm to pass. I was also very grateful I wasn’t still on the trail by the lake!
Of course, the storm passed and I expected conditions to be a little drier behind that front, but I was wrong. I think the humidity level increased to 150%. Ha ha! No worries, though, as I was on my way to air conditioned space!
Thanks so much for reading this field report and stay safe out there!
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