Sassafras Mountain (W4G/NG-040) 09/30/2017

The temps are starting to get cooler, so Lynn and I were really wanting to go camping.
We packed up our big back packs with Mountain House meals (Sodium in a bag as my friend Cris Hayes  calls them), tent, sleeping bags, water and radio gear. Oh yeah, we also took our faithful dog, Sparkles Hound (AKA DX Dawg the 59 K9). We headed to Cooper Gap and hit the trail up the mountain. Not a bad trail, but 525′ elevation gain in 3/4 mile. The Summit is at 3,340′. We were a little late in the day getting going, so I set up the tent, gathered firewood and started cooking dinner. I had to look around a good bit for widow makers (dead or partially fallen trees and limbs) as Irma had wreaked havoc on the mountain. Trees were down all around us. I got the antenna up while dinner was going as well. We chowed down on Beef Stroganoff, which was delicious. After dinner I was able to log 13 contacts. Really cool to do after dark near a roaring campfire. I had installed an automatic antenna tuner in the KX3 recently, so I was able to tune my 40 meter antenna to match up on 75 meters, which is a more active band at night. I tried to contact Doug N4HNH, but I just wasn’t strong enough without a resonant antenna. I was able to contact Doug on VHF though. After wrapping up radio contacts, Lynn, Sparkles and me all sat around the campfire. It was fairly cold out, but we stayed warm by the fire. While we were round the fire we heard coyotes very close to us calling to each other. I had to keep Sparkles close so she would not end up as their dinner. I watched after the fire for a while longer while Lynn went to the tent to get some sleep. I secured the packs and food away from the tent high up in a tree. I had bought a Big Agnus Copper Spur tent  last year, but had not had a chance to camp in it yet. I was very impressed with the tent. It was a very snug fit for Lynn and I in the tent, but we both agreed it was the most comfortable we had ever been in a tent. I had a new ExPed inflatable sleeping pad that kept me insulated from the ground, very comfy and warm all night. I did not sleep very well, as we had very high winds all night long. I would guess at least 30 mph+. In the morning I was able to resurrect the fire and get breakfast going.  We broke camp and headed to the cabin. We didn’t get back in time to make church, but we had a wedding in Cedartown for one of my coworkers to get to. We headed out to the wedding, had lunch and a great time. It was a very good weekend.

Here’s the few photos I took on Sassafras Mountain

Flat Top Mountain (W4G/HC-006) 09/16/2017

I started the morning drive to Blue Ridge GA with a mandatory stop at “That Biscuit Place” in Cumming, GA for breakfast. Yummy!

This is an activation I was really looking forward to for a couple of reasons. First, it was an activation in the Cohutta Wilderness, which is very cool in of itself. I had also tried to do this one once before. I again went without first checking out the maps, rather I had trusted the written guide on the SOTA web-site because it sounded so easy. The problem came when I was trusting my GPS rather than checking Topo’s and trusting the guides. There are at least four different trail directions you could go on from the place you park, but only one leads to the summit. The GPS had the summit shown in the opposite direction than where the guide said to go. I followed the GPS, not to coordinates, but to the named summit. A mountain can be very large and cover a good bit of area, especially with a flat ridge and a false peak or two. As the name states, “Flat Top Mountain”, it has a large flat area near the top. The first time I had gone up I figured out what was going on, but my daughter was with me, had the wrong kind of shoes on and just wanted to call it, so I had to abandon the hopes for getting in the summit that day.  The pics in the Dter Cemetery are from the first attempt with Izzy. The second reason I was looking forward to the summit was to try out my new Elecraft KX3 rig. It is a lot lighter than my Yaesu FT-857D, but only puts out 15 watts with an external battery as compared to 100 watts on the Yaesu. I really thought the difference in power was going to make it really difficult to get the summits activated. I had tested the rig at home calling people I could hear to get a test and had no issues, but would random people all over the country chasing me be able to hear me well enough to make a QSO? I would need to find out.
I went back to Flat Top determined to get it in the bag. The ride into the area has some great views along the ridges through the Northeast side of the Cohutta’s. Hurricane Irma had made it’s way through the area with lots of rain and high winds, so there were tree limbs and trees down everywhere. Most of the trees had been cleared on FS64. At Dyer Cemetery, which is a very old cemetery way out in the woods, you turn left on 64A and go straight up the mountain This is a very rough road, but no challenge at all for the Jeep Rubicon. On the final stretch up the mountain there was a huge tree across the trail, but it looked like I could get under it. I got to the right at the highest clearance point and squeezed under the tree. It was rubbing the top of the Jeep as I went under it. I am definitely going to get a chainsaw to keep in the Jeep. I was by myself on this hike. I went right up the correct trail, which of all the four looks the least like a trail. about halfway up the hill you join the Benton Mackaye trail. A little further up the trail and you arrive at the summit. There was an old concrete foundation where a house had once stood. Pretty cool that there were houses this far back in the woods. I set up on the foundation and got the antenna hoisted straight away. At the top there was almost no cell coverage. A trick Ryan taught me was to put your phone in airplane mode for about 30 seconds, then switch back to regular mode. At the higher  elevations your phone tries to connect to more than one tower at the same time, so it gets confused and wont’t connect. When you come out of airplane mode it will likely sync with just one tower and give you a minute or two of service. I put out a spot and quickly worked 8 stations. Surprisingly I had no issues getting really good signal reports with just 15 watts! The receiver in the KX3 is really good and the filters are very effective. I picked up a plastic food storage container with an air-tight “O”-ring seal to keep the KX3 dry. It works perfectly, protects the rig in the pack and provides a nice base to set the rig on while operating. You can see a pic of the nice new rig in the link below and notice my new clipboard I customized for logging contacts. It is much lighter than the iPad, doesn’t require batteries, has a pencil holder, a watch set for UTC time and a pico-paddle minature set of iambic paddles for sending Morse code. The KX3 has iambic paddles, which work well, but I had already made this set up to work with my Yaesu FT-857D. Some operators like the Pico Paddles better than the KX3 paddles. These additions / changes have really lightened the load. On the way back out toward Epworth there’s a pull out with a big cliff. See the pic with my Jeep parked in front of the cliff. After this pic the rest are of from scouting another summit’s access and meeting back up with Izzy at the cabin. There are a few nice pics of her at one of our favorite spots, the Toccoa river rapids in Aska road.

Enjoy the pics here:Flat Top Mountain pics

Thanks for reading.

Bunches Bald (W4C/WM-014) 09/09/2017

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

Yonah Mountain (W4G/NG-048) 09/02/2017

This hike was killer. Breathtaking views! Just Izzy and I went up and hiked this one.
The day we went the parking lot at the base was packed. The hike starts off pretty easy, but goes to some pretty good bouldering in no time. The hike is fairly steep and it is easy to get off track. There are numerous trails once you get up to the latrines and grounds the Ranger’s use for training. We stayed to the right side which is definitely the best for amazing views. The wind there on the edge was very intense and the visibility could have been better. I look forward to going back on a clear day to get some better views in. The Ranger’s do a good bit of training on Yonah, as it provides a perfect spot to rappel. There are lots of permanent anchor points/bolts for fixing ropes. Yonah is a very iconic peak around Cleveland GA and stands out from all other peaks, due to it’s shape and sheer cliffs. The actual summit is just a big flat grassy field with no real views in the summer time. You have to go more to the edges to get the grand views. There were a couple with a drone on the mountain and a church group throwing Frisbee when we were up top. I set up my hammock and was able to get in 14 contacts. This summit is only a 6 pointer, but a harder hike than many of the 10 pointers I have done. One of my favorites and it is my daughter’s favorite hike.

Enjoy the great pics:  Yonah pics


Levelland Mountain (W4G/NG-014) 08/20/2017

This hike is the opposite side of the road from the popular Blood Mountain side of Neel’s Gap. Parking at the Byron Reese parking area and hiking back up to Neel’s, then on to Levelland, you gain about 1,070′ in about 2.2 miles. Not too much memorable about this hike except that there aren’t many views in the summer. I have hiked this section several times in the fall and winter and the views then are much better. I did see a bearing tree marker and a property corner marker. We also found a salamander on the trail under a log. Elevation at the summit is about 3,900′. As for the radio activation, I was able to make 12 contacts fairly quickly. The pictures usually jog my memory a bit more and on this one I do not recall much more. It has been about 4 months, so details are a bit foggy. I hiked this section with a cousin of mine several years ago and camped on the trail. Lynn and I also hiked this section when we were engaged all the way to Cowrock mountain (I snuck in some photos from that trip about 22 years ago). Nice memories of those hikes. I have a few cool pics to post, which include pictures of the famous Mountain Crossing Walasi-Yi store/Hostel. I have some interesting facts about this site on my Blood Mountain hike. In the pics for this post look above the sign in the trees and you can see the boots that thru hikers have come back and thrown into the trees.

See pics here: Levelland Mountain Pics

Related previous posts from Blood Mountain hike: Blood Mountain


Wildcat Mountain (W4G/NG-020) 08/13/2017

Lynn and I decided to try and get in a late Sunday afternoon hike. We had been hoping to get one in and dodge the rain. We decided on Wildcat Mountain. You hop on the AT at Hogpen Gap from the Richard B Russell Scenic Parkway GA-348. Heading south on the AT you ascend pretty quickly from Hogpen. There are several side trails where people have shortcut the switchbacks. I hate it when people do this. The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club works hard to fight erosion and maintain a safe trail. These side tracks are dangerous, destructive and can even lead to someone getting lost. Enough of my soap box rant. Heading up the mountain there is an official side trail that runs 1.2 miles over to Whitley Gap shelter. The summit of Wildcat Mountain is about 1 mile in on this side trail. We saw quite a few interesting fungi along the way. There is a very nice collection of laurel and rhododendron along the trail. The summit is a mixture of rocky ledges and grassy areas. The views from here into the Ravencliff wilderness area are spectacular. We managed to get the hike in with only a few sprinkles. Not a bunch of contacts, just seven, but good enough to get the points for the activation.

Check our the pics here: Wildcat Mountain

Standing Indian Mountain (W4C/WM-014) 08/05/2017

What an awesome weekend for a hike. When we got to Deep Gap trail head it was 62ºF in August! A welcome relief to the hot summer days. Our hike to the summit would be 2.6 miles with around 1150′ elevation gain. The summit altitude is 5,499′
Traveling to the trail head from Blue Ridge was very scenic. Today I was accompanied by Lynn, Izzy and our two dogs, Sparkles & Annie. Lynn always makes sure you don’t go hungry when you hike with her. Today was no exception. We hiked to Standing Indian Shelter and took a nice break for lunch. We had sandwiches and veggies with hummus dip. Then it was time to hit the trail again. The trail was a nice steady climb, with only a few steep spots. One side of the mountain had been involved in a recent fire and you could really tell. There was an absolutely beautiful section that went through a canopy of rhododendron. Though it was damaged by the fire it was still a sight to see. I can’t imaging how breathtaking it must have been before the fires. Several overlooks along the way provided views along ridges that had been claimed by the fire. Fire can be destructive, but also healthy if managed. It clears lots of undergrowth to promote a healthy canopy of larger trees. Some areas around the country recover quicker than others from fire. I guess it all depends on how hot and uncontrolled the fires are. We took in the views in near perfect weather. The summit has a large grassy area and some great overlooks. We set up our hammocks. The girls relaxed while I made several radio contacts. Then we all kicked back for a bit in the hammocks. We packed up and headed back down. There were quite a few hikers and campers on the trail. At least one hiker was at the gap awaiting a shuttle when we returned to the Jeep. I am so blessed to live so close to these areas of adventure and vast scenery. God’s handiwork is truly amazing!

Enjoy the great pics of our fun trip: Standing Indian Mountain

Talona Mountain (W4G/HC-026) 08/04/2017

I had today off, which makes for a nice three-day weekend. After hiking Kennesaw yesterday and with plans to hike today and tomorrow, my SOTA points are adding up. I am trying to get some lower point value summits out of the way and saving this higher point value summits for the winter time bonus. On select summits I can get three additional points for winter time activations. Talona Mountain is a drive up summit in Ellijay, so this one is super easy. If you are ever in Ellijay and want to see some really incredible views, but don’t want to hike, then I highly recommend this summit. If you drive there, from Atlanta to Ellijay on 575/515, on the right just before getting into the town you will see two Apple Stores on the right, Panorama Orchards and Penland’s Apple House. In between these two is Talona Mountain Road. This is a paved road that goes all the way to the top. At the top are commercial radio towers. There is a giant cross at the top as well. You can see this and more in my link to the pics below. I have heard this is the broadcast tower site for a local Christian radio station and that they sometimes have a loudspeaker at the top so you can hear the broadcast. The day we went they did not have the speaker on. There is even a small observation deck you can set up a chair and have a picnic, or just hang out and enjoy the views. There are not any trees at the summit proper, so I had carried my telescopic mast to suspend the antenna from. It was a nice sunny day and a great day for operating ham radio. I made 9 contacts fairly quickly. I packed things up and headed out to see my in-laws. They have a summer home in Ellijay. In the winter they are in Florida. We headed over and enjoyed a home-grown tomato sandwich. Yummy!  We would later head to our cabin in Blue Ridge to get ready for a nice hike tomorrow.

The views at Talona were very good. Check out the pictures here: Talona Mountain Pics

Kennesaw Mountain (W4G/CE-001) 08/03/2017

I decided to get in some exercise and an activation on a week night after work.
There were a fair number of people there. So many that I had to park in the overflow parking lot.
This hiking very often is starting to pay off. I made it all the way to the top without even having to stop and catch my breath. The historical background of this site make it even more interesting. I saw several civil war cannons on the way to the summit.
I found two benchmarks at the top.
The views from the top are really nice as well. I made 10 contacts then headed down the mountain.  Great way to wrap up a workday at the office.

See pics here: Kennesaw Mountain Pics

Tooni Mountain (W4G/HC-015) 07/30/2017

It was nice to get back on the trail after a great trip to Vermont. Lynn was back on the trail with me as well. I have got her into listening to Pod Cast. She hangs out while I am making contacts and she listens to programs about investing. Thankfully she has a knack for investing and has something to keep her occupied while I activate.

We started the hike from the back side of the of the mountain close to the Toccoa River swinging bridge. The bridge is very nice. It was the first time Lynn had hiked to the bridge. Izzy and I had been together last year. We did make it there together last year via the river on a kayak float. We had lunch that day on the river bank right at the bridge.
Oh well, back to this trip… This was a short diversion, but very worth it to see the river. We back tracked a bit and caught the Benton Mackaye trail up Tooni mountain.

The band was in great shape. I made 20 contacts, some DX (Distant) contacts as well. On this trip I shed the table and chair for the Eno hammock. This worked pretty well. I am starting to fine tune what I carry and have lightened the load a bit. We saw some neat plants and fungi growing on trees. All in all a great day.

Click here for the pics: Tooni Mountain Pics