Red Hill aka Haleakala (KH6/MA-001) 10/22/2017 and Maui Trip

Lynn and I have been blessed with the opportunity to go to Maui a second time. This time around I am getting to work in some portable ham radio work. Our company belongs to an association that was having their annual conference, so we got to go. The entire week was great. We had been in 2014 to Maui with the same group and had chocked every single minute with getting to see and do everything you can think of, so this trip was a lot more laid back to relax. We had been to Haleakala before, but had not gotten on the radio there. It is a drive up, but is above 10,000′. There are a ton of trails if you had time to make a longer hike. I had read from several hams that had activated this summit that they had no issues with the park service. I guess it depends on who’s on staff that day. In order to activate on HF and make long distance contact you really need to put up an antenna and it draws attention to you. I hiked up the hill and tried to get off the beaten path. I was able to tie off my fiberglass mast to a sign post and only partially extend it. I suspended my inverted V from the mast and was able to get on 40 meters. At the time of day I was activating, at best I could only reach folks on the surrounding islands. I only got three contacts and you need 4. I switched to 20 meters and was hearing foreign stations and west coast stations, but before I could get another contact in a ranger came by and ask me to wrap things up. I did then had to rely on getting my 4th contact on VHF/UHF with my small handheld radio. I had to call out on a local repeater and get a guy to meet me on a simplex frequency for the last contact. This took some time and perseverance, but it was worth it. My wife is very patient with me and is also really supportive. I now officially had a Hawaiian 10 point summit in the bag and the highest elevation for me so far. The views from Haleakala are sublime. You are above the clouds and it looks like you are on the surface of Mars, hence the name “Red Hill”
Our stay was at the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria hotel. Top notch and nicest on the island. Most expensive too I might add. We get travel credits through the association, otherwise this might be out of reach. There were many more receptions and dinners this time due to one of our chapter members being sworn in as the national president of the association. There were quite a few educational events to attend, so our free time was limited a bit. Still a great trip. I am posting several pics in the link. During this week we also went to the Big Island. I will post those details separate from this post.

Enjoy the pics by clicking here

Piney Mountain (W4G/HC-021) 10/18/2017

On a Wednesday Lynn and I decided to leave the office a couple of hours early and head to the mountains for a quick hike, radio activation and hit our favorite local restaurant in town.  We also would stop by the cabin and check on things before we head out in a few days for Hawaii. Piney Mountain is almost a drive up summit. You have to park at a gate and finish the hike to the summit, where there is a Forestry Service tower. There are some of the best home site mountain views I have seen going up this mountain. We got to go inside a house being built really close to the gated FS road. Really nice.
We headed up the hill and got set up pretty quickly. I had 11 contacts in the bag in no time. We headed back down and made it to the cabin before dark and got a nice sunset pic. Then on to Chester’s for a great meal and back to Suwanee in time for bed. I am going to miss these long days with daylight when the time changes. Fall has not quite got here, but that’s OK. Heading out later this week for a great time in Hawaii on the island of Maui and the big island. Hoping to get in at least two SOTA activations while I am there. 73 DE KC4WZB

Oh, don’t forget to check out the pictures by clicking here.

Rocky Top (W4G/NG-053) & Trip to Mercier’s Apple Orchard 10/14/2017

Today Lynn, Izzy and I were at the cabin and decided to hit Mecier’s for a tour. We got there, ate breakfast, then went out for the tour Not much of a tour. We heard a few interesting facts from a really nice man about the farm. He told us what apples were in season ready for picking, pointed out their locations in the orchard and dropped us off for picking. We picked several apples and had a great time. We got some fresh popped kettle corn and headed back to the cabin. I am pretty sure Izzy had homework and Lynn wanted to sew, so I headed out to a drive up summit. These are quicker and easier than ones you have to hike to. I don’t like them as much and refuse to do the ones that are in subdivisions. The one for today involved getting off-road in the Jeep and climbing Rocky Top, a nice summit with radio towers. I was able to set up my KX3 and make a bunch of contacts, 30 to be exact. I had several good conversations and really enjoyed the activation. I headed back to the cabin and we were able to have a fire in the fire pit and relax and hang out with John. I love weekends like this, where everyone gets to enjoy themselves and have fun.

Check out the pics from this weekend. click here

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