My friend Ryan WG4I invited me to join him for an activation or two in North Carolina and a visit to the 4-Lander’s VHF/UHF contest group at the mile high campground.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the contest group, but I love activating mountains, especially along the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I said heck yeah! Ryan is a great guy with over 100 summits under his belt. He got me started in SOTA. I would hear him talking about his trips and I would discuss these with him on the local VHF repeaters. I love to hike, love the mountains and love ham radio, so I knew I had to get into this. Ryan is very passionate about SOTA and has done a lot to promote this fun activity. He has spoken at local club meetings and even set up his own booth at the Gwinnett TechFest. I got a chance to see his gear first hand, which got me off to a great start. By far, I have enjoyed SOTA (Summits On The Air) more than anything I have done before with ham radio. Thanks Ryan for getting me and many other hams going in this great part of the hobby. Oh yeah, back to the story about the trip. We had to get going really early, so Ryan picked me up very early, somewhere around 5:30 am! We headed out with a stop in Rabun County for breakfast at McDonald’s. Ryan mentioned that there were tons of summits nearby our location. We looked on a phone app and they were all around. Ryan is planning on getting a group of hams together for a camp out to work lots of summits, have an opportunity for summit to summit contacts and SOTA completes (activated and chased/contacted the same summit) and he plans on renting a cabin some day that is on an actual SOTA summit and do the same things. Anyway, we head on to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you have read my blogs from earlier you know I have already activated this summit. You don’t get points for activating the same summit in the same year, but I went along and hiked up with Ryan. He had not activated this one. The temps were in the 40’s and the wind was high. It was still really hot in Atlanta, but in the Mountains it was starting to get cooler. I was really glad I had packed my long hiking pants and a pull-over top. Hurricane Irma had really destroyed a lot in the Caribbean and was wreaking havoc up the eastern seaboard. There had been gas shortages in the area due to damage to refineries and the winds and rain were expected to arrive later that night. Ryan’s car runs on a blend of Bio-Diesel and the gas hand never came off of full the whole trip, so fuel was not an issue for us. We went up the steep slope to Waterrock’s summit. Ryan had been having issues with his dipole, so he had built a 20 meter (14.3 Mhz) vertical antenna and was wanting to test it on the trip. He brought an A/B switch so we could use my dipole and his vertical to test the effectiveness of each. We set up both on the summit and found an active Hurricane Net for passing info between affected areas to other parts of the world. Any way, we found a clear frequency, posted our location and frequency, then Ryan started calling CQ (a call out to any hams that might be around) Ryan was working stations in no time. The vertical antenna was working very well. When signals were stronger on the vertical than the horizontal antenna and they started to fade we would switch antennas and you could hear the polarization changes. One would be quieter as far as band noise was concerned, but was receiving better. The horizontal was not high enough off the ground to be completely effective, due to the short trees at the summit. We were pretty high up at 6,247′ above sea level. We started our morning in the clouds, but that started to burn off as the morning passed. The views from there are incredible. After Ryan had worked stations on 20 & 40 meters we packed up and headed down. We then drove to the Mile high campground to meet the 4-lander’s. I didn’t know what to expect, so I was amazed when we arrived to see a very organized group of hams with large trailers full of radio gear, amplifiers, computers with networked servers for logging of multiple operators and a cooks trailer to boot! The trailers are all wired and lighted, powered by a very impressive generator. The group all pitch in to provide help building, operating and funding the whole operation. These guys are always at the top of the leader boards. Oh, did I mention they have multiple crank-up towers with phased antenna arrays? Well, they do! The coolest thing is the mess trailer. These guys eat in style. Bob Lear W4ZST saw I was a guest and treated me like royalty rather than as a stranger. I got the grand tour. They made me feel right at home. Bob is a wiz with physics, building and operating. Everything they had was pretty much a custom build. Very impressive. Ryan had helped them out last year and they were glad to see him again. Ryan is also a top contender for single operator contest and won first place in the last VHF round-up.
The views from the campground are amazing. In the same campground there is a trail to a SOTA summit, Bunches Bald. Ryan hiked up to the summit with me and help string my antenna through a gazillion tree branches. The hike is pretty much a short bush wack. Ryan hiked back down to the campground so he could work me on VHF and get a SOTA complete. I worked 18 stations from the summit, then packed up and headed down to the campground. On the way back I heard the campground caretakers telling an arriving guest that the parks system was most likely going to shut down the Blue Ridge Parkway due to hurricane Irma. This meant it was mandatory to close the campground if the parkway closed. This would cut the 4-lander’s weekend short and keep them from operating enough to win the contest. (These guys operate around the clock). When I got back to the campground Ryan and Bob W4ZST leader of the group and the camp chef had fixed me a huge sandwich with chips and a bottle of water. I shared with the group the news I had heard hiking back. They had gotten wind of this as well. They would have to pack all of this stuff up quickly to get out. I had hoped that this would not happen. We found out later the next day they did in fact have to pack it up. We headed back through Cherokee, NC with the windows down. It had warmed up nicely and we made it back before dark. Thanks to Ryan for a great day. The only pic I have of Bunches Bald is the actual benchmark. There was nothing else there to take a pic of as it was thick, and I do mean thick with trees. I do have lots of nice pics of the 4-lander’s set up and of Waterrock. Enjoy the pics of this great whirlwind day.
Amazing pics of the 4-lander’s, Waterrock Knob & Bunches Bald here