Tag Archives: National Parks On The Air

National Parks On The Air: Activating two sites simultaneously today

I'll hike to the point where the Overmountain Victory Trail meets the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I’ll hike to the point where the Overmountain Victory Trail meets the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Today, I plan to activate both the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01) and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (TR10) two-fer for the National Parks on the Air (NPOTA).

I should go on the air sometime between 16:00-17:00 UTC (12:00-13:00 EDT), weather permitting.

I’ll plan to start on the 20 meter band (14286 kHz) then move to the 40 meter band (7286 kHz). If I can’t operate on those frequencies, I’ll move to something clear +/- 6 kHz or so.

elecraft-kx2-in-field-npota-ns07

I’ll be operating SSB, using the Elecraft KX2 transceiver and EFT Trail friendly antenna combo once again. Since I’m hiking to my operating site, this pair will offer the lightest multi-band option.

The REI Trail Stool

The REI Trail Stool

Side note: yesterday, I picked up an REI Trail Stool to replace my foldable camping chair.

The camping chair is fantastic if you don’t have to lug it very far, but on long hikes it becomes heavy and cumbersome. This stool will get me off the ground and hopefully allow me to operate with the clipboard and transceiver on my lap. The REI Trail Stool weighs next to nothing.

If you’re an SWL and hear me (K4SWL) on the air, please comment! Note that I’ll be transmitting a max of 10 watts–so pretty much “flea power.” Still, in the past, I’ve worked all corners of North America and into Europe with this same transceiver/antenna combo.

Propagation conditions are pretty favorable today as well. I just hope we have no pop-up thunderstorms–I’ll most likely be near a ridge line and can’t take any chances.

If you’re a ham radio operator, I hope to log you for this activation!

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A quick recap of yesterday’s Carl Sandburg Home NPOTA activation

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Yesterday, I fit in yet another activation of the Carl Sandburg Home (NS01) for the ARRL National Parks on the Air. You might recall, I activated the same site last Sunday.

The lake at the trail head.

The lake at the trail head.

Second time’s a charm!

Since I had already scoped out the site and the trail where I operated last time, I took a minimum of supplies: My Elecraft KX2, EFT Trail-Friendly antenna and the accessories in my go kit:

LowePro CS 60 Closed

I didn’t even need a folding chair as I hiked further into the trail system and found a bench in an ideal shady location where I could hang the EFT antenna without any part of the wire being close to the trail itself.

The only negative was that I had to fight off a few mosquitoes–par for the course!

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After firing up the KX2, I found that both frequencies I announced (14,286 and 7,286 kHz) were occupied. I tuned around and found clear frequencies then posted the changes on Twitter and the ARRL NPOTA Facebook page. Fortunately, I was spotted on the DX clusters after my first contacts (thanks, Mike and others!).

In short: this was about the busiest I’ve ever been on the radio.

In 43 minutes, I logged 41 stations: many stations here in the southeast US, and stations from New Mexico to Italy! Propagation and timing were certainly in my favor.

The rubber band held my KX2 to the clipboard, but I hope to sort out an even better way of securing it.

This red rubber band held my KX2 to the clipboard, but I hope to sort out an even better way of securing it in the future.

The pileups were heavy enough that I didn’t even have time to properly pull log sheets once I had completed them–instead, I folded them over the KX2 and continued writing.

I was very pleased that I logged at least one SWLing Post reader: Randy (KS4L). Thanks for the contact, Randy!

Not all portable operations go so well…but when they do, it’s energizing!

I might be able to squeeze in a 30 minute activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01) this afternoon.  Listen for me (K4SWL) around 14,286 kHz SSB sometime between 20:30-21:30 UTC. That is, if propagation and my schedule cooperate again!

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NPOTA: Activating the Carl Sandburg Home (NS07) today

Elecraft Kx2 ON Clipboard

This afternoon (September 8), I should have a chance to activate the Carl Sandburg Home again for the ARRL National Parks on the Air program. You might recall, I activated the site Sunday as well.

I’ll plan to use the Elecraft KX2 and EFT TRail-Friendly antenna combo once again.

I should be on the air starting sometime between 20:00-20:30 UTC (4:00 – 4:30 PM EDT). I’ll plan to operate SSB on two frequencies: 14286 and 7286 kHz. I should be on the air for one hour or so, if all goes well. Listen for my amateur radio call sign: K4SWL.

It would be fantastic to log some SWLing Post readers. If you do manage to hear my 10 watt signal, or work my station, please comment!

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Labor Day Fun: A hamfest, an NPOTA activation–and a new Elecraft KX2 QRP kit

NS07-Carl-Sandburg-Home

My station location on the trail near the Sandburg farm is indicated with the small grey marker (lower left quadrant).

I’ve enjoyed an especially “radio-active” Labor Day weekend.  Here’s hoping you did, too.

On Saturday I headed out the door at 4:15 AM to meet my buddy Vlado (N3CZ), the inimitable radio doctor; we aimed our headlights through the morning mist to the Shelby Hamfest. Though it took quite a bit more coffee to keep me going, the hamfest was a load of fun. Check out the photos I posted yesterday.

ARRL-NPOTAOn Sunday, I enjoyed some family time. Conveniently, our weekend travel took us near the Carl Sandburg Home in East Flat Rock, NC.  I managed to carve out a little time for a quick–very quick– NPOTA activation of the site.

I realized I would only have about an hour, though, to find a suitable site, setup my radio kit, make at least the minimum of ten contacts, then pack up and clear out.  Not an optimal amount of time, but certainly a fun challenge.

This was also a good excuse to try out my new Elecraft KX2 portable transceiver kit in the field. I haven’t even had the KX2 for a full week, but I quickly put together a field kit with the Elecraft as a centerpiece.  If you’re curious, the kit consists of the following:

  • The Elecraft KX2, with internal battery and ATU options
  • An LnR Precision EFT Trail-Friendly antenna (purchased at the Dayton Hamvention)
  • An assortment of connectors and adapters
  • A six-foot coax cable
  • An Elecraft hand mic, borrowed from my KX3
  • A CW paddle (the KXPD2)
  • A clipboard, log sheets, and mechanical pencil
  • Fishing line and a weight (to hang the antenna)

All of this, save the fishing line and weight, was protected by the compact and perfectly portable LowePro ViewPoint CS 60 padded case, and fit it like a glove.

LowePro CS 60 Closed

Let’s talk packs…

Those of you who know me, know that I’m a bit of a pack junkie.  So I’m kind of picky about what I choose to hold my gear. There are a few manufacturers whose packs pass the test, and that make gear here in the States, like Spec-Ops Brand, Red Oxx, and Tom Bihn. Their packs are sometimes pricey, but they’re nearly bullet-proof and guaranteed for life.  Timbuk2, based in San Francisco, is a more economical company with good gear, as well.

After purchasing my KX2, I searched but couldn’t find a suitable pack from my prefered manufacturers. I had remembered that at the Dayton Hamvention, Elecraft was actually selling two models of a LowePro pack that fit the KX2 exactly: the ViewPoint CS 40 and CS 60.

While I like to go as compact as possible, the CS 40 is just  a bit too small to hold everything I like to carry to the field (antenna, paddle, and mic). The CS 60, on the other hand, could hold everything and has a fold out panel organizer to hold connectors.

I knew the CS 60 would fit the KX2, and I knew the CS 60 was padded to protect its contents.  I also could see that the pack has excellent (and apparently genuine) ratings on Amazon, so I ordered one.

I’m pleased to report that the CS 60 is very well built indeed, and what’s more, accommodates everything I need. In fact, the only thing the CS 60 won’t hold is my reel of fishing line and 6′ coax cable (and yes, I daresay you could adapt both items to make them fit with a little effort).

I carried the CS 60 and reel in my trusty 20-year-old Dana Design lumbar pack:

Dana-Design-Pack

There was room to spare inside for water bottle and snacks, and the whole package was very lightweight.

The Carl Sandburg Home

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The Carl Sandburg site was fairly teeming with visitors, also enjoying the warm weather of the Labor Day weekend. After arriving and (fortunately) finding a parking spot, I hiked 20 minutes to one of the trails, where I was given permission to hang an antenna and operate.

Knowing that I needed to rejoin my family soon, I wasn’t too choosy about my site this time. I just needed to get on the air and work the minimum of ten contacts. In truth, I wasn’t sure if all of this was possible in the one hour I had available.

I setup on the right side of this trail, near one of the park benches.

I setup on the right side of this sunlit trail, near one of the park benches. It turned out to be a pretty good spot.

It took me perhaps ten minutes to set up, with a few brief asides to explain what I was doing to passing hikers.

Since I configured my little Elecraft KX2 with an internal battery and antenna tuner, I had no need for extra power cables, connectors, ATU and coax.

Elecraft-KX2-Clipboard-NPOTA

Yep, my entire station easily fit on the clipboard I was using to hold my log sheets. On my lap, the clipboard became my operating table.

As soon as I sat down in my folding chair, I turned on the KX2, set the frequency to 14,286 kHz, and pressed the ATU button which gave me a 1:1 match (since the EFT is resonant).

Thank you, voice keyer!

Next, I recorded my CQ call into the KX2’s built-in voice keyer by:

  1. pressing and holding the MSG button,
  2. assigning the voice message to “memory allocation 1” by pressing the PRE (1) button,
  3. pressing XMIT to start the recording,
  4. reading off my CQ call “CQ, CQ, CQ, this is K4SWL calling CQ for National Parks on the Air…”, and
  5. pressing XMIT again to stop the recording.

Then I started calling CQ by simply pressing the MSG button and selecting my message stored in memory allocation 1 by pressing and holding the PRE (1) button.

By pressing and holding the PRE (1) button, I initiated a loop-playback of my CQ call where my KX2 would transmit my call from memory.  Then I waited a few seconds to listen for any replies, and played it again. (In loop-playback mode, the KX2 will repeat my CQ call until I interrupt it by pressing a button or keying my mic.)

It’s a brilliant and easy function which saves my voice! By automatically calling CQ, it  gives me an opportunity to answer questions from curious passersby,  naturally fascinated by a guy sitting on the side of a trail, talking into a little box connected to a tree-branch suspended wire.

In the end, I didn’t even need to use the voice keyer that much. I was spotted on the DX cluster and within moments had a small pile-up of stations. Remarkably, I worked my minimum of ten stations within six minutes! Of course, I continued to call CQ until I worked everyone in the pile-up (including stations from California, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Mexico). Though I was running out of time quickly, I did switch to the less-active 40 meter band and called CQ. In a period of a few minutes, I worked two stations on forty: one from Alabama and one from Florida. Not bad for 10 watts of power!

Elecraft Kx2 ON Clipboard

Packing up

Normally I would have stayed on the air for at least an hour to give chasers an opportunity to work my station, but I was pleased that I’d managed to fit this activation into a very busy schedule. I was glad to have racked up so many stations, so quickly!

Taking down the antenna and packing up my portable station took all of eight minutes.

Without a doubt–once I had hiked to my operating site–this was my fastest deployment, activation, and pack-up to date. It was all possible because:

  1. the KX2 has a built-in battery pack and ATU, and is so small it fits on my clipboard,
  2. the EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is a breeze to install, take down and pack, and
  3. the CS 60 pack organizes the radio and accessories so handily.

LowePro-CS-60-Open

In short: I’m totally pumped by my new QRP field kit!

More radio adventures await…To the field!

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NPOTA activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A crowd gathers as Vlado (N3CZ) works station after station in CW!

A crowd gathers as Vlado (N3CZ) works station after station in CW!

I’m not sure what I’m going to do after the National Parks On The Air event is over at the end of this year. I hope the ARRL organizes something equally as fun for 2017.

Truth is, I love playing radio outdoors and I love National Parks. The two are a perfect combo.

Vlado (N3CZ) on left, and me (K4SWL) on right.

Vlado (N3CZ) on left, and me (K4SWL) on right.

My buddy, Vlado (N3CZ), and I decided to do an NPOTA activation on Sunday. The weather was fantastic–a little foggy with mild temperatures and the HF bands were open!

We arrived at our site–the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area (PK01)–at 14:30 UTC or so.

KX3-PK01-NPOTA

We brought the following antennas and supports:

  • a self-contained  20 meter band telescopic fiberglass vertical (I recently purchased at the WCARS Hamfest for $40–!) and
  • a 31 foot fiberglass Jackite pole (the fluorescent orange on in the photos) which we used to suspend a homemade 40 meter doublet Vlado built the day before.

Setup was quick. We were both especially pleased the 20 meter vertical. It was so easy to install, even considering it was the first time either of us had used it.

I powered the LD-11 and the KX3 with my QRP Ranger.

The 20 meter vertical antenna.

The 20 meter vertical antenna (in foreground).

I operated SSB from a picnic table using the LnR Precision LD-11 transceiver, connected to the doublet on 40 meters, and the mono-band vertical on 20 meters.

LD-11-QRP-Ranger-NPOTA-PK01

Vlado started by operating CW with his Icom IC-7000 which was installed in his car, but later moved to the picnic table and logged a number of contacts with the Elecraft KX3.

N3CZ--NPOTA-PK01

We easily logged the number of stations needed to activate the site.

The 40 meter band was hopping and a good path was open into Ohio, Virginia and other surrounding states. The 20 meter band was serving up some excellent QRP DX.

Vlado-KX3

Vlado operating CW on the 40 meter band.

When I moved to the 20 meter band, the noise floor was so low on the LD-11, I thought perhaps the band was dead.  Not so!

LD-11-NPOTA-PK01

It’s hard to believe that with a mere eight watts in SSB  I worked Rhode Island, Texas, Montana, Manitoba, Washington, California and Slovenia from a picnic table on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Reports on the LD-11 audio were all very positive. I’ve used the LD-11 for eight NPOTA activations this year and can say with confidence that it’s a brilliant & fun little field radio. (FYI: I’ll be publishing a full review of the LD-11 in the October 2016 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.)

Vlado and I are planning on several more activations together this year. Our next one will most likely be at the Carl Sandburg Home-. I can’t wait!

Any other post readers participating as an activator or chaser in the National Parks on the Air event?

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