Monday, December 23, 2019

Getting Ready for a Year of DX in 2020

I had taken a hiatus from DX chasing for about a year.   Hearing 4U1UN brought the juices flowing and a hankering for making DX contacts.  ND7J, trying to revive the SCDXA group, issued a challenge for a race toward DXCC.   First he had to figure out a classification formula.  With input from me, he came up with 5 watts and 100 watts.   The 5W class will have no antenna restrictions.  The 100W class will be limited to simple wire antennas - no arrays or wire beams or Yagis of any kind.  That should level the playing field somewhat.   I seem to be the only one to have entered the QRP category.

Entrants so far

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Worked a new ATNO #314 - 4U1UN - Remotely from a Hospital - 5 Watts QRP

My  Dad had a stroke and so I was doing duty in the hospital (Saint Francis Downtown) and 4U1UN had been on the air.   I have the ability to remotely control my home station via my phone.  I was first alerted that 4U1UN was on the air on 40m CW by HamAlert and my phone by Morse indicated it was an RBN spot.  I quickly dialed into my home station via the browser on my phone.  I listened to 4U1UN work European stations for about an hour or so.  He was calling CQ with the EU at the end of the CQ string.   My finger was ready to pounce on the call button the whole time waiting for the CQ string to stop sending EU at the end.  I had the split frequency all ready to go on the TX.  I was going to transmit exactly 1 kiloHertz up from his TX frequency.AT 2358 UTC on December 8, 2019, he stopped sending the EU string at the end of the CQ.  He was still loud - a solid 599.  Then I pounced - NY4G.  He replied back NY4G 599.  I replied TU 599.  It took about 3 calls and I was in the log.  I later confirmed it through his online log several days later.  It was later confirmed in LOTW for #313.  (Actually #314 but Revillagigedo never confirmed via Card or LOTW despite being confirmed in his online log)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

101 Summit Activations Completed

My blog posts to document the march up to the 1000 point goal is woefully out of date.   If you want to see the detailed blow by blow for every activation - you will have to purchase my book due to be out in October 2019. 

I finally got my Mountain Goat designation after my 97th summit activation of Mount Sterling on July 16, 2019.

In the process i was able to establish the following:

Fastest ever to Mountain Goat (1000+ points) in North America.   The previous mark was held by NA6MG which was over a period of 9.8 months.  The mark I set was 8.9 months.

I was also the 6th fastest to MG ever in the SOTA record books

In terms of number of summits to achieve Mountain Goat - I was able to be among the top 5 fewest summits to achieve it and the only person to have 100 summits or less in less than a year.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Head to Head Test - Center Fed Link Dipole Versus EFHW on 20m

The jury is in.   The same QTH, the same time, the same configuration (inverted Vee), same height above ground at the apex.    There is no significant edge for the link dipole in performance.   The EFHW wins on convenience, ease of deployment, weight (EFHW 160 grams, Link Dipole is 200 grams).

Link Dipole is a Home Brew

EFHW is an LNR 40-20-10

Power : 200 mW

Mode: WSPR

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Week 28 – Clingmans Dome (#58) and Nettle Creek Bald (#59)

It was April 22, 2019, the day after Easter Sunday.  My hiking companion was Dave KE4EA.  The second visit to Clingman’s Dome has long been anticipated since the last time in late fall had really cold sub-freezing conditions.  Monday promised to be a nice sunny spring day after a weekend of severe weather into Easter weekend.   Nettle Creek Bald was the double-header which was conveniently located on US 441 on the way back home.

We left Travelers Rest at 7:00 AM and arrived at Clingman’s Dome at about 9:30 AM and the temperature was around 43 degrees F.  There was snow in the grassy areas.  It was a bright, clear, spring day.    The views did not disappoint.  Tourists abounded on this beautiful day.

Dave and I set up in a wooded area next to the observation tower.  I made some DX contacts on 20m – Finland OH9XX and Sweden SA4BLM on top of the usual chasers.  I also made a summit to summit contact with K9OZ who was on Winding Stair Mountain W5O/OU-002.

The Appalachian Trail goes through Clingman’s Dome and we found a couple of young hikers thru-hiking the entire 2200 mile trail – Dani and Justin.  I explained to them what I was doing and they were intrigued by the idea.  I also told them that I was writing a book and taking pictures of thru-hikers of the AT that I meet.   Since I was next to the paved ramp to the observation tower, I had plenty of people ask me what I was doing.   With earbuds on, no one could here the dits and dahs of the Morse Code I was sending.

Before leaving, we had to trek up the ice covered paved path to the observation tower.  We had to grab the hand rails and looked for patches to step on with enough footing not to fall.  At the top the views were fantastic.

Soon we made our way to the truck to head on to the Thomas Divide Trail just off NC441 and only a few miles away.  The next summit to climb was Nettle Creek Bald which was about halfway to Newton Bald – on the same trail.

Nettle Creek Bald hike to the summit was a 3.83 km hike (approximately 2.5 miles), and we could see the summit from the trail.  Another interesting view is that we could also see where we came from.   From behind the trees we saw the summit of Clingman’s Dome.  The hike was up and down, not very steep.  The trail itself was well maintained.

Reaching the summit itself was sort of anti-climactic – no summit marker, just the end of the track on my GPS device and visually everything sort of fell away - from the ridge side and from the trail side.  The ridge was very steep on either side.   I was able to make another summit to summit contact – this time with NU7A who was 3500 Camas Mountain W7W/CH-228 in Washington State.  I got chased by EA2LU Jorge from Spain along with the usual chasers who always seem to appear in my logs Paula K9IR, Larry K0RS, Bruce W2SE, Dean K2JB and George KX0R.

Dave and I swept through the bands.  Dave usually has the responsibility of 40m while I swept 20m, 30m and 60m.  Soon it was time to go home.  It had been a good day.  

Dave continued up the ladder in W4C, after having completed 16 summits, he was now at 151 summit points.   I was now at 633 summit points towards the 1000 point goal.   I was still #4 in the standings for 2019 with W1PTS still #1 on the leaderboard with 696 points, followed by KN4LRI at 623 points, KS4FX at 558, and me at 500 points with an 11.11 points per activation average.    W1PTS had just become a Mountain Goat when his previous year’s total was added to his 2019 total.  At the time of this writing, during Week 28, W1PTS was at 1079 points.  I was still at #11 in the all-time W4C standings.

Week 27 – No Activations Because of Severe Weather

I spent the early part of the week vacationing with my wife and parents in Kentucky.  I had planned on doing Big Butt W4C/CM-009 with Dean K2JB.   The weather forecast indicated intense storms through Friday with a 50% chance of rain in the Carolina Mountains.  I thought about postponing the activation – but as of April 18, the front has been shifting enough to predict improving weather conditions for the 20th.  I was hopeful that weather improves enough as a Trans-Atlantic Summit-to-Summit event has been planned for that day by the boys across the pond and more alerts have been posted. 

Dean K2JB sent me an email stating that he could not accompany me on the hike to Big Butt as his wife sustained an injury to her knee and would have an MRI on Saturday.   As of April 19, I deleted my alert.    Doing an alternate summit that is a drive up – such as Sassafras Mtn would have given away summit points that I otherwise could have had.  So as it stands, there would be no activations during week 27.

Week 26 – Doubletop Mountain (#56) and Snaggy Bald (#57)

It was April 10, 2019.   Both mountains shared the same starting point which was on gated Forest Service Road 4652 (seasonally accessible between March 15th and December 31).  It started out as a 1 kilometer hike to the summit of Snaggy Bald which is a bush whack of the ridgeline.  There was no trail per se, although there was a logging road which hugged the ridgeline for a little while.  The hardwoods were still leafless at this high elevation which was desirable – as a bush whack with heavy foliage is that much more difficult.  Scott set up on the summit and I setup just below him on the AZ.   The hike was steep – climbing 140 meters in a kilometer. 

Patrick KI4SVM was going to Mt. Hardy W4C/WM-006 and he kept tabs on our progress – wanting to make an S2S contact with us.  I did make contact with Pat from both summits – once with CW and the other on the 2m HT, and so did Scott.  We then descended Snaggy Bald and made a right turn as we picked up the ridge  towards Doubletop.   It was a steep decent on the ridgeline to the gap between the two mountains.    We ascended to several false peaks before reaching Doubletop Mountain.  About 200m from the summit of Doubletop stood a 7 foot high boulder which covered the entire width of the ridge.    We had two options – go around the boulder by descending the ridge or go over it “free solo”.   The ridge was very steep and going around it did not seem like a good idea.   I was the one that found the boulder and I thought going over the top was the better choice. 

Scott and I both safely made it over.   We then ascended to the penultimate false peak – we called Doubletop Junior.    After Doubletop Junior,  the summit of Doubletop was still a distant 200m away.  We were still faced with a steep 60m vertical rise over the remaining 200m.   After we were sure we were within the AZ, Scott proceeded to the summit.   I setup my station just below Scott in the AZ

Scott set up using the observation tower as a support for his vertical.    I tried to call Scott but apparently his HT had died.   Scott tried to text me to tell me about the wonderful views to be had on the summit observation tower.   I was disappointed that I missed the opportunity – only a few meters away.

I set up my station by lashing my mast to a convenient tree.    The difficulty came in getting the antenna trap stuck in a tree limb.   Scott’s pole came to the rescue as he pulled down the tree limb with it to untangle the wire.   With station set up wrapped up and contacts made, now the chore of hiking down was before us.

Scott and I discussed that we still had a long hike back to the car.   It had already taken 3 hours to hike the 4 km from Snaggy Bald and it was about 3:30 PM when we reached the summit of Doubletop.  I stopped and started packing up at about 4:30 PM.  Scott shared  that the view was fantastic from the fire tower and we took a quick glance at the panorama video he had taken.
One of the mistakes we made in going up to Doubletop is not maintaining the ridge line and we paid for it by the steep bush whack to regain the ridge.  We resolved to maintain the ridge line coming down.

The descent went according to plan. We maintained the ridge track and made it back to the logging road.  We followed that logging road all the way back to the truck.   It was almost 7:30 as were underway back to Asheville.

We counted all the ups and downs and by my reckoning, we had ascended a total 750 meters (2453 feet) all in about 8 kilometers (5 miles).
That was an epic hike, Scott and I both were hurting at the end of the day – with Scott clearly the fitter one.

Week 25 Part 2 – Craggy Dome (#55)

It was April 3, 2019.  It had been in the 60’s and foliage was exploding in the lower valleys. One more week and the same would happen in the high mountains.   This was the last week to climb up the scraggly summit of Craggy Dome W4C/CM-007.  I was at the house of son in Greer overseeing some electrical contractors re-wiring a bathroom.   I had a planned meeting with Scott in Asheville at 12:30.   I was waiting for the electrician to complete his work and it was almost time to go meet Scott.   It was still an hour fifteen drive to meet Scott.   Electrician said to me, “Why don’t you go?  Instruct me on how to lock up and leave the key in the lock box”.   I thought to myself “My wife will have a conniption if I leave the keys but I can’t leave Scott hanging, nor can I postpone this hike, last chance to hike Craggy”.  I relented and left the electrician to call me after he locks up.

Soon  I was at the Veterans Restoration Quarters where Scott and his wife volunteer to serve meals to veterans rehabilitating from PTSD, depression and other ailments.   I had a meal with the church volunteers of stuffed potato and cole slaw.

Soon, Scott and I were up on the Parkway headed for Craggy Dome.   Arriving at the overlook where the hike starts, I saw Craggy Dome, a gnarly mess of a mountain full of thick undergrowth and rhododendrons in between the hardwoods.  Within it is a faint manway of a trail probably created by rain water all the way up to the summit.

Scott leading the way, we started hiking on the Mountains to Sea Trail and quickly made a beeline to the left toward the spine of the ridge.   It was shallow at first.   We were only about 600 meters or so to the summit as the crow flies.   It was about a 1 km hike.    The second half was fairly steep

There were no tall trees on the summit.  There was an abundance of heavy brush.  I had my 20 foot mast and fastening it to the trekking pole which was guyed to the shrubs was fairly easy to do.   I was on a rock outcrop where I sat with my radio.  Scott and I split the bands with him starting on 60m and me on 20m.  I had three S2S’s today - with George KX0R on Genesee Mountain W0C/FR194 in Colorado, K9IR Paula on W0M/ES-001 on Webster HP in Amish country near Springfield Missouri and Tom WX4TW on Mt. Mitchell W4C/CM-001.  Scott made contacts with the same summits as I.   
On a summit, it is an amazingly quiet place with signals sounding loud even without tickling the strength s-meter on the radio.

Scott and I headed down the small manway of a trail – and soon we were on the Parkway bidding each other farewell.

Week 25 – Part 1 – Bunches Bald (#54)

It was April 2nd.  Several have just activated Bunches Bald W4C/WM-013, and among them K2JB on March 30, and Tom W1PTS on March 31, to get the last winter bonus points.   I followed Dean’s directions to the letter.   I entered from the Blue Ridge Parkway at the entrance near Big Witch Gap and drove the 3 miles to the campsites near the summit.   Dean pointed out that behind campsite T4, there is a faint trail that leads to the summit.   I got to campsite T4 and found that the site itself, although very nice for setting up a station, is below the AZ by a couple of meters.   As soon as I jumped onto the trail, I was in the AZ.   A walked another 30m and with that steep trail, I was well into the AZ.

Setting up a radio station was tight but very doable. Soon I was on the air.   Propagation was not good as I was getting a lot of weak signal reports.   I could not hear any other summit activators – although folks were calling on K9PM.   I made about 20 contacts with chasers on 4 bands.  Soon I was packing up to go home.   On the way down, I found an alternate approach without bringing the vehicle into the campground.   It would involve a 1 km hike with 200m of elevation gain which is very doable.   There was a large grassy clearing on the shoulder of the Blue Ridge Parkway past the Lickstone Overlook if one is coming from Soco at coordinates  N35 degrees 31.114 minutes and W83 degrees 11.698 minutes which will bring you to within 40m of the dirt road.   One would just walk over the 40m from the grassy area to the dirt road and hike the rest of the way.

While planning the logistics for activating Bunches Bald and setting up my alert on the SOTA reflector, I found several alerts for Tom W1PTS.  It appeared he was planning activations on April 3 and April 4 which will get him to within 2 points of becoming a Mountain Goat.   Stay tuned to see how this played out. The projection was that Tom would just miss setting the North American record for the shortest time to become a Mountain Goat – in the neighborhood of 10.9 months.   The NA record is still held by WA7JTM of 10.75 months established in February 2014.  There I was at week 25 with 585 points – 27 weeks to go, and 415 points to 1000.

Week 24 Part 2 – Cove Mountain (#52), Greentop (#53)

It was March 29, 2019.  Today was intended to be a tripleheader with Cove Mountain W4T/SU-042 as the lead-off followed by Greentop W4C/SU-076 and then by Hall Top W4C/SU-055.  Scott and I met at Home Depot parking lot near Asheville and this time we rode his Subaru to the Cove Mountain trail head near Gatlinburg TN.   It was “Spring Break” and the trail head was full of cars.  We had to park by the roadside about 100 meters away from the trail head.  Families and kids abound on the trail.  There were steep drop offs on the Laurel Falls trail.  The trail was paved all the way to the falls.    With all the spring rains, there was a lot of water rushing down the falls.   This initial section of the trail was relatively flat.

After the falls, the trail started out very rocky then turned into a more even dirt trail.   Only two hikers joined us at the summit while we were up there.   At the summit there was a fire tower.  There were views of Mt. LeConte as we headed up the ridge.

The summit area had a large opening convenient for setting up.   Scott used the tower to drop a line for his vertical.   I set up on the trail using one of the trees as a mast holder.   
The first order was to get Dean K2JB who was on W4C/WM-058 Wesser Bald for a summit to summit contact and both Scott and I quickly got him on 60m (5.332MHz) with CW.  Following that was my first trans-Atlantic summit-to-summit contacts with activators Jorge EA2LU and Ignacio EA2BD who were both on EA2/NV-092 in Spain.   Scott took care of both 60m and 40m while I took on 20m and 30m to sweep the bands.   Soon we were on the long 6 km hike down.   We encountered a few more intrepid hikers trying to summit Cove Mountain on the way down.  Dean K2JB sent us text messages telling us about short cuts for the drive to Greentop.

Greentop is a “drive-up” except that this drive-up was on perfectly paved roads as opposed to gravel forest roads.   With the short cuts that Dean provided, it was a short drive, perhaps a half hour to the summit of Greentop.  We were warned about severe RF interference by Ron KI4TN but I encountered no such problems. Scott and I split the coverage of the bands, him on the low bands of 60m and 40m and me on the high bands of 20m and 30m.   We both made summit to summit contacts with Dean K2JB who is now on W4C/WM-018 Wine Spring Bald.  We did not generate a lot of QSOs but enough with our usual chasers.  Soon we were on our way to Hall Top.

The excitement of the day came in the process of trying to summit Hall Top.  We were both “on the fence” about whether to do Hall Top or not.  We had only one hour of daylight left with Hall Top only 11.5 km away (as the crow flies”.  We decided to do it.  With good cell service Google Maps got us to the gravel Tower Road to the summit.   About a fifth of the way up this long and twisty forest road – we encountered a sign that said “road closed ahead”.  We took a chance that the sign is wrong and the road is really open. 

About 2/3 of the way up, we encountered a washout of the road way.  The washout narrowed the road to about the width of the Subaru track and with trepidation we made our way across.   We certainly could not turn around at that point.  We were hoping that there would be sufficient space past the washout to turn around.   About another 800m and we encountered a barricade.    This was truly our “stop point” and I got out of the car to guide the car around.  We both looked at each other and I asked “Do we hike it?”.  Scott asked in reply “How much more elevation gain?”.   I said – “Another 200m to the summit per the altimeter on my GPS and another 2 km”.  With 30 minutes of daylight left and having to negotiate that washout again we both said “Nah, let’s go home”.

Week 24 Part 1 - Huckleberry Knob (#50), Barnett Knob (#51)

Huckleberry Knob is one of those iconic hikes in the western Carolinas.   It was picked along with its intended pair – Stratton Bald because of the relative proximity of the trailheads to each other.   Also because the Georgia SOTA Association stopped giving winter bonuses after the 15th of March, I had to pick another pair of summits from the Carolinas or Tennessee Mountains.   The Tennessee and Carolina Associations awards bonus points until the 31st of March and this is the last week to cram in those bonus points.   I worked out the logistics.  We were to do Huckleberry Knob first.

On March 27th, Dave KE4EA met at 7:00 AM as usual.  It was a long car ride from Travelers Rest to the Cherhola Skyway in the Nantahala National Forest – about 3 hours.   The banter during the drive seemed to make the drive a bit shorter.  We arrived at the trailhead around 10:30 AM and about ½ hour behind schedule.  Dave was having a little bit of a problem getting a reading from his heart rate monitor.  Dave was conscientious about not pushing his heart rate too high on the climbs and so this would make it difficult to keep tabs on where his high limit would have been.    He eventually decided to do it more or less by feel and not rely on the heart rate monitor.   The trail was a grassy trail and about 1.5 km long.  It was not too steep – we only had about 80 meters of vertical to ascend.   We arrived at the bald summit – just a wide expanse of grass with a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.   The temperature was in the high 40s and very calm.  The sky was mostly clear.   It was just about perfect hiking weather.

Near the summit we encountered a metal cross with a grave stone.   Inscribed on the stone was the short story of Andy Sherman and Paul O’Neill, a couple of lumberjacks who set out on a hike one cold morning on December 11, 1899.  Their bodies were found almost a year later on September 6, 1900.  A jury determined that after having been inebriated they got lost and froze to death.   Andy Sherman’s body was buried there near the summit of Huckleberry Knob.   That was a sobering start to an otherwise beautiful day.

Dave and I set up our radio stations at the summit except that Dave had left his mast at the trailhead by the truck in his rush after fussing with his heart rate monitor.   Dave found a small sapling and the apex of his antenna was only 6 feet off the ground.  There was no cell service at the summit so I could not post a spot to tell our chasers we are ready to make contacts.   I yelled to Dave to get on 7.065 MHz and hope that reverse beacon will pick us up and post us.  I started calling CQ on 14.065 MHz at 1500 which is my usual calling frequency.  At 1530 UTC, my first caller was W1BV Mike Fishman, a young ham from Peabody MA.   He was a random caller, and not a SOTA chaser.   The second caller was Lars Markus SA4BLM from Sweden, a familiar call, finally a SOTA chaser.  I asked him to post me on the SOTA spotting cluster.   He called me at 1533 UTC in response to the reverse beacon network picking up my CQ from just a few minutes before.

One by one they started to call.   Soon it was Jorge EA2LU from Spain and then Jan Lavicka OK2PDT, the most prolific activator in SOTA history, from the Czech Republic, and then another Swede SM4CJM Hans.   Then a whole bunch of familiar SOTA chasers piled in W5BOS, K0RS, VE2JCW, etc.

Dave walked over from his spot.   I asked how he was doing.   He replied – “I had one random call on 40m”.   I said to him to get on 10.113 on 30m and call CQ from there.

In the meantime, I kept getting calls.   I got a call from Alan Shapiro NM5S, a prolific activator from New Mexico.   He was on a summit at W5N/SE-037 and so it was a summit to summit call on 20m.   I changed frequency to 40m knowing that Dave is on 30m.   I started calling on 40m.  The reverse beacons must have picked me up at 1630 UTC and the 40m chasers started to call.   Dave walked over again and said “I have been calling CQ on 30m for a half hour – nothing.  I still have only one”.   I told him to get on 7.065 and my callers will work him.   So I worked a couple of chasers on 40m and told them in Morse twice “QRX, QRX PSE WORK KE4EA”.    I let Dave take over my frequency and he worked the rest of my chasers.    Dave’s activation is now safe.  He will safely get his minimum to score the summit.   After going to 30m for a bit, we packed up and hiked down to proceed to Stratton Bald.

Still not having cell service, we proceeded to the Stratton Bald trailhead using my printed directions.   We were to proceed SW on NC143 for 6.8 miles and find a forest road FS81 on the right.    We found the paved road leading up to the forest service road but found road entrance gated and locked.    We plugged in the GPS coordinates of the summit and it was 5 km away “as the crow flies”.   It was supposed to be an 11 km (6.7 mile) drive on this forest road to the trail head plus a 2 km hike.    We did not plan on walking 13 km one way to the summit.  A 26 km hike – out and back will take a long time.

I told Dave, “It is not the end of world, we just lose out on winter bonus points”.   Dave replied “But we invested so much time driving here, it would be great if we can activate another summit in the area”.   I recalled that Barnett Knob is on the way home not too far from US74 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I also recalled that they had just re-opened that section of the BRP past mile marker 451.   I told Dave, “We can activate Barnett Knob W4C/WM-055.  It is on the way home and it is an almost drive-up”.  Barnett Knob just a short hike from the BRP to summit – about a half mile or 1 km.  We departed from FS road 81 and proceeded back to the main highway US74 heading home and had cell service again.   I had Google Maps find our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Barnett Knob.   I plugged in the coordinates left by Patrick KI4SVM into the GPS for the trail head.   I read over Dean’s (K2JB) notes that the trail head is between mile marker 462 and 463 on the Parkway.   We were only 30 minutes away.   

Soon we were at the entrance of the forest road that leads up to the summit of Barnett Knob.   Ironically, the forest road gate was open.   We could drive all the way up to the top.  We decided to hike it, not letting us be robbed of the opportunity for some more exercise. It was 10% average grade – about 112 meters to ascend the 1 km.

As I was hiking up, I got a call from my aunt “Are you going to pick me at the airport?  I am here in Atlanta ready to board the plane to Greenville Spartanburg.  We were delayed.”  I replied, “Is that today?  I thought it was tomorrow.”  She replied, “No - did you not get my text?”  I looked at the text message she sent me, and sure enough, it was to be today at 5:30.   I thought to myself “Rats, I am at least 2 hours away by car”.   I told her “I will be there as soon as I can – just wait for me”. 

Dave turned to me and asked “Do we turn around and head back to the truck?”  I replied “No, let’s keep going.  I will be late getting there regardless”. 

I told Dave – “we will split the bands – you take 40m and I will take 20m and 30m”.   We finished setting up around 5:30 PM and within about 10 minutes I made contacts with 9 chasers.   Dave was done as well, having made the minimum plus a few more on 40m.  We packed up, and reminisced about our day as we walked down the mountain.   It was a good day.   Dave said “I did get a lot of practice calling CQ” – at Huckleberry Knob.  I just smiled.   It was not per the original plan but things worked out just as well.

Week 23 Part 3 – Another Attempt at Reaching the Summit of Mt. Hardy (#49)

My woes at Mt. Hardy garnered some sympathizers willing to help to find the trail that leads up to the summit – among them Joel Shannon KC4WZB, Scott KW4JM and Dean K2JB.   Dean was amenable to the date that had the best weather Wednesday March 20, 2019.   Dean and I met at Rough Butt Bald Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway at noon.   Dean and I got out of our vehicles, exchanged pleasantries, and admired the view from the overlook.   He pointed out “There is Rabun Bald.  Over there on the right is Wine Spring Bald and to the left of it is Siler Bald and the gap in between is Wayah Gap”.   I considered myself so fortunate to have the “Obi-Wan-Kenobi” of SOTA show me the way to summit Mt. Hardy.   We were soon on the trail and Dean shared stories of the times he got lost and most notable was the time he got lost on Mt. Hardy.   

The time evaporated as I listened to Dean’s stories.   I marked waypoints along the way.   Dean let me lead for a while.   It was so easy to get lost and wander off from the main trail.   It was a good thing Dean was there to rope me back in to the correct trail.   I saw finally where I had erred in the previous attempt.   The hike got steeper during the last kilometer.   When we arrived at the summit, Dean showed me the USGS marker which read “Black Mountain”.  Just a few meters past the summit Dean showed me a clearing which had a view of the Devil’s Courthouse and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  With the clear blue skies, the view was fantastic.   It was so warm under the sunlight.  It felt like 60F.  I asked Dean if I could have the clearing and he said by all means yes. 
It was such a delight setting up in the warm sunshine in that clearing.   I had no cell service.   I would have to rely on RBNHole to pick up my CQ and spot me on the SOTA network.   Sure enough, it did.   Cell service came back and I saw the the RBNHole spot.   I tried to call Dean on 2m simplex to see if he wanted to be spotted but he must have his HT off.  I then saw RBNHole pick up Dean’s CQ on 40m.   I made 4 S2S’s that day and had enough points to make Shack Sloth with the S2S chases.   Dean had been operating in the shade the whole time.   It was 20F cooler in the shade.   Dean came over to where I was and basked in the sunshine to get warm.  He said “I am happy.  I made a lot of contacts on 40m”.   I told him I was able to sweep the other bands and I said “Hey Dean, I made 2 S2S’s with Patrick”.  Dean answered, “Yeah, I got Patrick too on London Bald and got Brad WA6MM on Mt. Herman.  We both decided to pack up and head down the mountain.   The time evaporated once again as I listened to Dean’s stories. We arrived at the trail head and met a couple of gentlemen staring at the view.   Dean shouted “Do you guys know what you are looking at?”  

Dean proceeded to explain all the different peaks in view.  Soon it was time to go home.  Part of me wanted to linger there and enjoy the view.   I said good bye to Dean and I said “see you at the Spring Camp-out if not before!”  Soon I was home relishing the spoils from the day.  For those interested in hiking Mt. Hardy, it is recommended that it be hiked with a partner.  Here are the waypoints leading up to the summit.   To backtrack simply follow the same way points in reverse.

Trail Head N35o 18.24’, W82o 56.552’ (1) N35o 18.608’, W82o 56.178’ (2) N35o 18.621’, W82o 56.162’                                              (3) N35o 18.628’, W82o 55.915’  (4) N35o 18.638’, W82o 55.903’ (5) N35o 18.624’, W82o 55.832’ (6) N35o 18.597’, W82o 55.708’ (7) N35o 18.560’, W82o 55.619’ (8) N35o 18.515’, W82o 55.594’ (9) N35o 18.535’, W82o 55.554’ (10) N35o 18.530’, W82o 55.527’ (11) N35o 18.531’, W82o 55.520’ (12) N35o 18.407’, W82o 55.503’ (13) N35o 18.313’, W82o 55.620’
Summit: N35o 18.186’, W82o 55.656’

Week 23 – Part 2 – Mount Pisgah (#48)

Mount Pisgah is only an hour away from where I live.  I decided to activate it while the weather was good.   It was 1 PM on March 19 as I hustled it up Interstate 26 to the Blue Ridge Parkway.   I sent out an alert just before leaving to drive out.  I scampered up the trail - averaging 25min/km which is a pretty good pace.   I was at the summit after 50 minutes and 2 km.   The last kilometer was pretty steep as it climbed 300m.   I quickly set up on the observation deck and no one was there for the longest time while I operated.  I swept through 20m, 30m and 60m skipping 40m as people were making their way to the summit observation deck.  It became obvious that my antenna setup was cramping their ability to view the scenery.  So I quickly broke down my setup and I quickly made my way down the mountain.  I was home well before dusk, still with enough energy to mow the grass.  Point status – 516 points

Week 23 – Perfect Day – Glassy Mtn (#44), Wildcat Mtn (#46), Brasstown Bald (#47) Triple

It was March 18 and a perfect ending to a picture perfect day – Dave KE4EA and I operated from Brasstown Bald W4G/NG-001 culminating a tripleheader activation .... with the temperatures in the high 40s and calm winds - it was cool enough to be nippy but very comfortable.   On Brasstown I had an S2S with Joel Shannon KC4WZB who was on Rabun Bald W4G/NG-002, and with KE5AKL who was on W5N/SE-050.   Earlier in the day while on Wildcat W4G/NG-020 I had an S2S with KW4JM Scott while he was on High Rock W4T/SU-024 and KX0R George who was on W0C/FR-061.   Earlier yet still I had an S2S with George KX0R on FR-061 while I was on Glassy Mtn W4G/NG-031.   As icing on the cake I had DX calls from Sweden SA4BLM and Australia VK4TJ. With the S2S chaser points I just need 4 points to become Shack Sloth at 996 and I reached the halfway mark towards Mountain Goat at 503. Dave KE4EA completed his first triple activation - hiking all three summits including Brasstown. We had all the usual chasers including the YL's K9IR Paula, AG6V Donna, and W0ERI Martha.

The day started very early at 7 AM.   Dave was a little late having missed his turn into my development.  It was a 2 hour ride into the North Georgia mountains via SC11 and we saw the temperatures climb slowly from the low thirties while enroute.   The road to Glassy Mtn on Glassy Mountain Road was a very narrow forest road with steep almost 90 degree embankments.  My 4WD truck negotiated the twisty turns slowly and carefully.  When we arrived at the trailhead, the map confused us as it indicated a second road on the right.   I thought it had to be the road with the gate as it was headed up and on the correct side of the ridgeline per the track left by KI4SVM and we confirmed we were correct as we hiked up the forest road to Glassy Mountain summit.

Soon we had to make our way to Wildcat Mountain.   This hike was to be on the Appalachian Trail starting at Hogpen Gap.   At Hogpen gap we encountered a group of sectional hikers completing a 22 mile sectional hike from Unicol Gap and a couple of thru hikers trying to make their way to Maine (the full 2188 mile trek).  The trail was steep in the early section rising close to 100m in the first half a kilometer and then flattening out and reaching a false summit with 400m to go.  It seemed visually far but soon we were on the summit proper.  Dave found his clearing and I staked out mine.  Dave and I split the bands – he was focused on 40m while I swept 20m 30m and 60m.  At the end of the day I had 503 activator points.  I was halfway to become a mountain goat with more than half of the year remaining – 29 weeks – or a 6 week time margin.

Friday, March 15, 2019

W4C/WM-010 Steestachee and W4C/WM-004 Waterrock Knob

Proceeding from Mt. Hardy on March 13, I arrived at the Grassy Ridge Mine Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.   I read the notes from Dean K2JB and Patrick KI4SVM – with emphasis on keeping an eye on the fence line on the right for navigation for summiting Steestachee Bald W4C/WM-010.   I got on the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) for about 50 meters and began the bush-whack after I passed the cut-up dead fall which crossed the trail.  I saw the fence line that Dean mentioned and kept it within eyesight as I trudged on up the steep summit.   There was no definable ridge so this fence line was important to keep an eye on.   I dodged many fallen trees on the way up.  Being leafless, the hardwood thicket was easy enough to bust through.   Only 750 meters or so to the summit and before long I was there.  I found a small clearing at the summit to set up my radio station.   The climate was pretty temperate and comfortable and I settled into my sweep of the bands from 20m to 30m, then 40m and 60m and generated a lot of QSOs.  I did get a summit-to-summit call with AC1Z who was on W1/HA-010 which was a nice bonus.   Time to head back down the hill and go on to Waterrock Knob.   I took a track favoring ease of footing and lost track of the fence line.  I did not realize that I was veering away from the fence line track.   I should have generated more way points on the way up.   I only had two way points – one half way and one back at the car.    I tried to navigate to the most recent way point and realized that it was to the left of me and almost behind me.   I knew I had to scoot sideways to recover to the fence line.   My footing was either soft or hard depending on whether I was stepping on rocks or fallen leaves.   I kept on sliding over to the left as I carefully and slowly made my way down.   Soon I found out that I had to climb out of the hole I was in back to car for about 200 meters to the left.   I never did see the fence line and just saw my truck above me about 50 meters away.  It was a relief to hear the sound of cars passing on the Blue Ridge Parkway and seeing my truck again.

The start of the hike on the MST.  There i a cut up log about 50 meters away where the bushwhack starts

A look back to the truck as I got started

Summit is heavily forested but there is a good cell signal

The summit is not that big

The overlook where the truck was parked

Getting ready to go to Waterrock Knob

I got in the car and noticed the soreness of my quads from the effort of the bush-whack.  I proceeded on to Waterrock Knob W4C/WM-004, another 10 pointer.   This was a civilized hike with a partially paved walk up of 800 meters or so and 138 meters of vertical.   It was short but steep with large rocks as stepping stones.  With my sore quads, I slowly made my way up the trail.   Soon I was on a familiar summit.  Scott KW4JM and I had been here the year before and this was one of my first few summits.   I recognized the trees and the bench that had been there previously.   Set-up now is second nature and I was on the air in just a few minutes, swept the bands as usual.   No summit-to-summit QSO’s while on the summit this time.   After the sweep of the bands, it was time to head back down and savor the day.   It was still a pretty good day with 2 out of 3 summits successfully activated.   I was both tired and hungry.

View of the parking lot from the summit

Mount Hardy Fail

It was March 13 and still week 9.   It was bound to happen sooner or later.   It was perhaps my inexperience, or maybe just bad luck, or just maybe it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.   I came within 750 meters in distance and within 100m of vertical to the summit of Mt. Hardy when I decided to abandon and back track my way to the trail head.  I followed what I thought was the main trail of the Mountains to Sea Trail but other than the blue blaze at the trail entrance, there were no other signs that this was the right trail.   It seemed to follow the published track by KI4SVM in terms of direction but the expected feeder trail to the ridge line of Mt. Hardy did not turn out to be the right one.   I followed what I thought was a lightly treaded trail to the right as expected.    The tread got lighter and lighter until it vanished.  It became a potential bushwhack as the summit is clearly visible from my vantage point.   A bush whack at this point would eat up a lot of time and energy which put the subsequent two planned summits for the day in jeopardy.  Also I could get lost in this vast wilderness and take the entire day to find my way back.   I thought that the better part of valor and the more sensible one is to abandon, back track to the trail head and proceed to the other summits.   I had 6 kilometers invested into the hike to be invested as exercise – live and summit hike Mt. Hardy another day.

This is a quote from Mountain Goat Joel Shannon KC4WZB “This is an easy hike to get confused on. I knew to look for the side trail to the summit, saw one, checked my GPS, it said I wasn't there yet so I kept going, just like many others had. Had to backtrack 0.10 mile, but got on the right track. There is no cell coverage at all on this summit. SMS did not work and without hunt and pounce, RBN, or APRS it might be a bust anyway. Several places to get off track on this one. K2JB Jimmy Dean Blair said this one was a summit that made him decide to not activate alone if there's not a really good trail. I barely got 4 contacts and had to come down in the pouring rain when I did this one. Several others have had a tough time on this one. Let me know if you want to do this one again and I would be glad to tag along. 73-KC4WZB”

The trail head across the street from Rough Butt Bald Overlook

Rough Butt Bald Overlook Parking - 

One of the many small streams to cross along this trail

Another stream to cross

So close yet so far - I was within 750m and 100m of vertical at this point on the trail

Distant and nearby peaks as identified by Peakfinder

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Max Patch Mountain and Snowbird Mountain Doubleheader

It was Monday morning March 11, after the “spring forward” time change.   Feeling a bit disconnected and lacking the hour of sleep, I woke up later than usual and forgot to put out alerts for the day’s activations.  It was a two hour drive from my house to the trailhead in the mountains near the TN/NC line via Interstate-40.  Dave came to my house at 7:00 AM on time for our departure and we rode together.   I noticed that cell service was very spotty as we made our way through the twisty mountain roads.   Realizing we still needed to put out alerts, I tried using the SOTAgoat iPhone app to do it via the internet – no luck.   I texted Scott to do it for us.   The text made it through and he gladly obliged.   Thank you Scott.

We made it to the GPS coordinates for the trail head on Max Patch Road without any issues.   I looked at the map and the GPS track.   The trail starts on the other side of the road.   After a little bit of hunting, we found the white blazes of the AT and we were on our way.   The weather was perfect – almost spring like, in the low fifties and calm winds.   The trail was mostly dirt – packed down North Carolina clay and loam, slightly moist from the recent rains.  Our footing was pretty solid the whole time.  We had a great view of the right side of the ridge as we were going up.   Soon we were above the tree line as we made our way through the 1 kilometer or so hike up to the summit.   With clear skies, the view on the right side of Max Patch ridge was fantastic.   Dave and I made a left turn into a long set of stairs made from logs and dirt and climbed another 100 meters or so of vertical before making it onto the final ridge line to the summit.   It flattened out a bit on that final approach and by now we had spectacular views of both sides of the ridge and we had just 200 meters to go.   We saw the summit from there was completely devoid of trees – a true bald summit.  We approached the US Geological Survey summit marker and took photos of it.   We gazed at the views in wonderment.   Wow – a full 360 degree panorama of the surrounding mountains and hills.   We started to set up and 3 hikers approached us from the east of the ridge.   They were hiking 20 miles from Hot Springs North Carolina and they have been on the AT for two days camping and hiking.   Their names are Sheila, Andrew and Christine.    Sheila and Andrew are visitors from Canada.   Christine works for an outfitter as a guide and is very familiar with the North Carolina Mountains.    I spoke to them that Dave and I were radio amateurs and that we were summit activators in the SOTA Program.   They asked what that was all about and spent about the next 10 minutes explaining about activators, chasers, and the points system, who gets credit and how.  I told them that if they stayed for a few minutes, and it takes us no time at all to set up and soon they can hear me making contacts with our chasers.  They stayed a bit longer – and as soon as I started calling “CQ” in Morse, the callers started piling in.

Stairs leading up to the ridge

Summit marker placed by the USGS

Sheila and Andrew - visitors from Canada and Christine their mountain hiking guide 

Makeshift shelter at the summit of Snowbird Mountain

About noon time, we broke setup and headed back down to the trail head so we can go on our next activation – Snowbird Mountain, about an hour’s drive.   It is only 10 miles away “as the crow flies”.
Suddenly, the weather changed as we were driving to Snowbird.   Rain started falling – a bit of a drizzle at first and then more steady.   As soon as we got off Interstate 40, we proceeded on gravel roads mostly.  With about 5 km to go – we were still only at 700 meters elevation.   This only means one thing – over the next 5 km miles we will gain close to 600 meters of vertical ascent.  We were hoping the weather would get better or at least stay as a light rain.   When we reached the summit, we arrived at a VORTAC station with a large wood fence surrounding it.  Dave came up with the idea and said “I have a tarp.   We can string it up along the fence line for shelter and we can operate from there”.   We quickly set up the make-shift shelter, using the highest fence posts for support.  Dave extended his trekking poles and placed it inside the grommets to give one side some height.    We pushed up the mast and erected an inverted V antenna from the end fed wire that we typically use and we are good to go.   Cell service was good, so no problem getting a spot out.   I said to Dave “Let’s take turns.   I will go on 20m – get at least the required number of callers, then you take it over from there on 40m” as I started to call “CQ” on the KX2 using only the internal batteries.  It worked out as planned and we had more callers that wanted to call us but with the wind kicking up, it was hard to hear the callers because of the fluttering sound of the tarp being buffeted by the wind.  So I announced in Morse “QRT, QRT, high winds and rain, 73 73”.  It was a successful activation day for both summits and both of us were delighted.   I said, “One more thing remains, making it down safely down this mountain on the narrow mountain road in the wet.”  We took our time coming down, being careful not to slip in the wet switchbacks.   Before too long – we were on Interstate 40 on the way home.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Activation of Mt. Mitchell W4C/CM-001 and Green Knob W4C/CM-020

The activations took place on March 7, 2019.

The Craggy Gardens section of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville had been closed all winter.  The easy access to Mount Mitchell is through this section of the Parkway near Asheville.   I would have to enter the Parkway from Marion NC through the torturous and slow NC80.   Weather conditions somewhat dictate the order I do the activations.   I would have to save Mt. Mitchell for the warmest temperature during the day, knowing it would be coldest at that very high elevation close to 2000 meters.

The plan played out perfectly as planned.   Dave KE4EA and I headed out just after breakfast from the restaurant we meet at for an early morning bible study with a group of men from our church.  With Dave “riding shotgun” in the truck the two hour plus trip up windy NC80 did not feel so long with the conversation and banter on the way up.   The weather turned out better than expected with really calm winds, sunny and temperatures in the low thirties on the Blue Ridge Parkway.   We did not have any trouble finding the Green Knob trailhead on the Mountains to Sea Trail using the instructions from KI4SVM.   We were up on the summit after 39 minutes.  Dave set up his station near the fire tower and I set up about 50m away on the trail.   It was kind of tight, but the 40 foot end feds we used were just perfect for such conditions.  Dave and I swept the bands from 60m to 20m and made contacts with our chasers.  First contact was with another activator on a summit, NM5S, who was on summit W5N/PW-027 in New Mexico.  I even got a call from chaser Jorge EA2LU, from Spain.  We were under very pleasant weather conditions on the summit on Green Knob and we savored the moments there.   Soon it was time to pack up and head to Mt. Mitchell.   We made it down in about 25 minutes and after the 9 mile drive – we were up on the summit of Mt. Mitchell.

We were not alone on the summit and there were a few intrepid visitors.   A group of four college age visitors from New Hampshire were fascinated with what we were about to do.   I told them that I had a bunch of chasers anticipating our activation and that in 5 minutes – a small pileup will ensue.   They waited patiently as I sent out my spot.   I started calling CQ, and after the first CQ call, mayhem ensued on the 40m band as eager chasers wanted to make contact.   I translated to the visitors the call signs and where they were from as I dispatched each contact one by one.  They said – “Wow, this is s-o-o cool!”  I gave them the web address of the SOTA website and my blog since they were interested about knowing more about SOTA.  The balmy, windless weather changed all of a sudden and turned sharply colder with intermittent gusts of wind.  Dave and I decided to pack up as our hands started to feel really cold.   I missed the text from John Paul AB4PP wanting to have a contact on 60m as Dave and I proceeded to travel back home to Travelers Rest SC.   Dave and I remarked that it had been a good day to be out on the mountains today.

QSOs from Green Knob CM-020

Mt. Mitchell QSOs

Solo Activation of Big Bald W4C/WM-046

I did Bald Knob, as a solo activation, on Tuesday March 5.   It is a nice gentle hike with 200m (660 feet) elevation gain over 3.2 km (2 miles) or roughly 6% grade.   The trail is a gated forest road on Explorer Road just off NC215 and a couple of miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway.   The upper portion is grassy while the lower portion has heavy equipment tracks all over.  I averaged just over 30m/mi on the way up and about 27m/mi on the way down.  It was cold but not bitterly so – low thirties with about 10 mph winds.  The summit had a clearing that was large.   I decided to use my trekking staff as a mast holder and it worked perfectly using just 3 guy ropes.  I swept the bands as usual and made 29 contacts.   I was able to make contact with three other summits – George KX0R who was on W0C/FR-107 in Colorado, Keith KR7RK who was on W7A/PE-068 in Arizona, and John K1JD who was on W5N/SI-017 in New Mexico plus a DX call from chaser EA2LU from Spain.  It was a very productive activation.

Friday, March 1, 2019

High Rock Activation W4T/SU-010

The activation took place on February 27.   It was still week 9 and I needed to make up for not having activated Grassy Ridge Bald.   I still had a couple of sunny days left in the week before the rains come back and fortunately Dave, KE4EA, was available as a hiking companion.   The trailhead for High Rock W4T/SU-024 is accessible from Interstate 26 near the TN/NC line at Sam’s Gap.   Just a few minutes from Sam’s Gap is the Ski Resort at Big Bald W4T/SU-010.  It would be an extra bonus if we can make it into a double.   When we left my house in Travelers Rest SC, it was raining steadily.   The rain abated as we travelled up to North Carolina.   When we arrived at Sam’s Gap near the TN/NC line, there was still a hint of a drizzle which quickly gave way to partly cloudy skies as we made it up the Appalachian Trail (AT).   The AT crosses over the summit of High Rock.   The weather was ideal for hiking – temperature in the low 50s, calm winds.  The trail was especially well groomed.  We ran into a few hikers “thru hiking” the entire AT.  We met a Mr. LaPierre who was “thru hiking” the entire length of the AT (2200 miles) for the third time.  We finally made it to the summit about noon.  Dave and I set up our stations and we started making contacts.   I even got a chaser from Belgium ON4VT.   Dave is now comfortable again with CW and is making contacts with hardly any trouble at all.  After we had swept the bands and the chasers have “dried up”, we made it back down the mountain and proceeded to Big Bald.   We stopped at the gated guard shack for the moment of truth.   The guard asked us concerning our business there.   I said we wanted to visit the ski resort.   The guard said that the ski resort is closed and he turned us away.   The desired “double” was not to be this day.  But at least, I made up for not having activated Grassy Ridge Bald.

Grassy Ridge Bald Busted Triple

This all took place on February 25.   Grassy Ridge Bald shares the same trail head as Roan High Knob.  Getting to the Grassy Ridge Bald trail head is a two hour drive from my house to Carvers Gap.  I left my house at 6:45 AM and went to the old law office of Scott, in Asheville (about halfway) to meet and carpool up to Carvers Gap.   We arrived at Carvers Gap about 9 AM.  We got out of the car and the wind was a steady 25mph or so with higher gusts.   We took a look at Grassy Ridge Bald.  The trail is out in the open.   It is appropriately named “grassy ridge” as there are few trees to provide any wind break.   We started up the trail.    A gust of wind almost knocked us down.    I was already wearing a balaclava and the wind penetrating it was very cold.   It was in the thirties without the wind chill.  We paused.   Scott then told me, and I am paraphrasing, “We can’t do this. Let’s go up Roan High Knob instead.  There we will be sheltered by the trees”.  I agreed and went back to the trail head for Roan High Knob just 50 meters away.

So, the so called “triple” has now become a “double”.   We rationalized, we will have another go at Grassy Ridge Bald during the spring campout.   We looked for blazes signifying we are on the correct trail.  Finding none, we relied on the GPS and our instincts that we are in the right direction.   Eventually, our trail met with the main trail, the Appalachian Trail (AT for short which - stretches from Georgia to Maine).  Water flowing down the mountain formed as ice on the trail, as the trail itself channels the flow down.   Some stretches were downright treacherous requiring us either to straddle walk or walk along the sides above the ice.   We did a lot of the latter.  I slipped on the ice on one of the stretches, no injury sustained.   Scott, almost fell on another stretch.   Good boots with good ankle support are a must.  We were walking from rock to rock above the ice – had to be careful the rock surface was not glazed.   Hikers with their dogs caught up to us.   They were thru hiking from Carvers Gap to a parking area about 6 miles away.   One of the hikers was a “ham” (short for radio amateur) and his name is David.  His call sign is KF4DKW and he is the Emergency Coordinator (EC) for the area.   Some radio amateurs belong in organizations that respond to emergencies during natural disasters.   David belongs to one of those.

The hiking group went off trail to a shelter near the summit.   We proceeded on our trail on the AT and found the trail descending.   Scott paused.   This is not right, we should be going up.   The summit coordinates on the GPS is supposed to be 100 meters away pointing to our left and not along the trail line.   We concluded, the AT does not cross the summit.   We hiked back to where the other hikers entered a trail to the shelter and joined them there.  We were supposed to be at 1917m ASL at the summit and we were at 1910m at the shelter.  Clearly we were in the Activation Zone or the AZ.  We met the other hikers at the shelter and took photos of each other at the shelter.   Scott proceeded to walk another 50m or so away from where I was to set up his radio station.    I set up near the shelter.   The wind was still gusting around us but the trees provided a good wind break.  Still we could feel the chill.   My feedline was too short to allow me to operate in the shelter.  I picked a sunny spot to set up my 1 pound camp chair.   There was no cell service.  We could not send a spot to the SOTA spotting network thru the internet alerting our chasers that we were ready to make contact.   Being about noon, I went on the 20m band and started calling CQ.   The frequency that was published on the alert I had published earlier in the day was occupied by a couple of hams having a long conversation.   So I parked myself a few kilohertz below them at 14063 thinking that one may look for me there.  After calling CQ for about 10 minutes, a Canadian ham VE1WT called me.  We exchanged pleasantries and signal reports. 

I politely asked him (in Morse) to spot me in the cluster.  I am not sure where he spotted, but I started getting calls.   Next was Jorge, EA2LU, a frequent chaser from Spain.  He came in really loud.   I knew he was a chaser, so I asked him to spot me on the SOTA cluster.   My mind must have had brain freeze.   My mind was still fixated that our first summit was Grassy Ridge Bald – and I gave him the wrong summit reference to post, W4C/EM-005.   We were actually in W4T/SU-005.   A wrong summit reference we can fix later.   We can always email our callers to correct their logs.   The callers kept coming and after about 10 minutes I had a dozen.  They were all familiar chaser calls except for the one from England.   This was a first for me to be chased by someone from the UK.  It was G4OBK, Philip Catterall.   I read in his page bio that he is in the ARRL Honor Roll (as one who has made contact with all 340 current DXCC entities) and the first SOTA activator to summit all 176 summits in the British Isles and to chase the same 176 summits from his home station.   It took him 10 years to do it.   He was HF contest champion in England for 5 years but most of his activity now is dedicated to SOTA.   Philip is #3 in the all-time activator score with over 3000 points from the G (England) Association.  I am sorry for digressing and now back to our Roan Knob experience.  Scott walked over to me.   His voice sounding desperate.  “Did you get any calls?” he asks.   I said “Yeah, I have about a dozen and I even have one from the UK”.   He asks, “Can I jump on your frequency, and make calls from there?  I only have one call and it is from David KF4DKW on 2m FM.   I have been calling CQ on 30m for 30 minutes without a single call”.   I said “Sure, let me tell my callers, to listen for you”.   I then got on the paddle and said in Morse “QRX, QRX, KW4JM WILL BE CALLING CQ NEXT PSE CALL HIM”.    As soon as I finished sending that message in Morse, I heard Scott, very loudly calling CQ, and started making contacts.   I got up, walked to the sunlit areas seeking warmth.   My fingers were numb despite gloves.  I then walked inside the shelter, thinking it would be warmer there.  No, it was better in the sunshine.   I removed my gloves and put them in my pants pocket hoping the body heat will thaw it.  All this time I can hear Scott making contacts even from 25 meters away as I was desperately trying to get warm.    I then later saw Scott walking to me saying “I am done! Let us get the hell off this mountain”.    Those were the very words I wanted to hear.  Without hesitation, inside of 5 minutes, I was packed and ready to go down that ice covered trail.  We reached the comfort of my truck in about 3 hours and 42 minutes from when we set out at the beginning.   We actually were on a good hiking pace of about 35 minutes a mile, despite all the ice.  We hiked 4.17 miles, and climbed 784 feet of vertical.   I record all my GPS tracks and upload it to a site called STRAVA so I can later study the hike statistics.

We sat in the truck contemplating our next move.   I said “So I guess we are not doing Grassy Ridge Bald today”.  Scott answered, “You could not pay me money to go up Grassy Ridge Bald under these conditions”.   I jokingly said “If I gave you a million dollars, would you go up Grassy Ridge Bald?”   Scott replied “For a million dollars, maybe I will do it, but I would not do it for a half million”.
Since Locust Bald is next, we proceeded down the road towards Locust Knob.   Fortunately, Scott had written down directions, since there was no cell service to activate Google Maps on the cell phone.  Locust Knob is a “drive-up”, a summit where one can drive all the way or very close to the summit.  It is invariably through a windy and steep road, with many switchbacks, often dirt or gravel covered, almost always narrow, and during rain, very treacherous.  We were lost for a while searching for the right roads, when all of a sudden, cell service came back and Google maps directed us to Bernie Lane, in Bakersfield NC.   We proceeded up the windy forest road and about 150 meters away from the summit, we saw two big posts with prominently placed purple paint and no-trespassing signs on it.  We hesitated and stopped for 20 minutes.  We texted Dean Blair K2JB who has activated Locust Knob before and asked if he has seen these no trespassing signs.  Dean had not seen this before, but had a more liberal interpretation of the “no trespassing signage” and still thought the summit was fair game.  We conversed that we still had Phillips Knob, another 6 pointer, as a backup and it was still early.  So we abandoned Locust Knob and proceeded to Philips Knob, which was not very far.

By the time we summited Philips Knob, another drive-up, the weather had changed to the mid-forties at the summit with calm winds.   The summit had wonderful views from the fire tower.  Celo Knob was very prominent on the southern horizon.  We set up our stations quickly and before too long, we were able to “sweep the bands” and make contacts with our chasers.   I was fortunate enough to make two summit-to-summit contacts with an activator in the Colorado Front Range on the summit of W0C/FR-064.   It was George KX0R.  He was very faint about a 1 or 2 on the signal strength on the 40 meter band but intelligible.   I asked him for his summit reference repeatedly just to be sure I had it right.    He called me again on a different band, 30m, and he was louder there perhaps a 4 or 5 on the strength scale.   I asked him if we was still on FR-064 and he answered yes.   Gary and Martha Auchard (W0MNA and W0ERI) from Kansas, are amongst our most loyal chasers, called us, as did Dean Blair K2JB, our friend. Amongst those who called me are also Paula, K9IR, from Illinois, Karen K4KRN from Tennessee, and “Super Sloth” Bruce W2SE.   (Super Sloth is a designation given to a chaser with 10000 chase points).

On the trip down, we conversed about the salvage operation we did that day, abandoning both Grassy Ridge Bald and Locust Knob, which were on the original plan.   Thanks to Scott’s and Dean’s knowledge of the surrounding area, we still had a “Plan B” to resort to.  Scott and I drove down to Asheville where his wife Jeannette was patiently waiting to take Scott home.   The first words out of Scott’s mouth as he met his wife was “It was c-o-o-o-l-d and I am glad it is over!!.”