This past week I had picked up a new hand held VHF/UHF Yaesu VX-8R radio.
I always carry a VHF/UHF radio on my hikes, as it is what is used for local contacts and reaching repeaters. Great to have in case of an emergency. This radio also has a really cool feature called APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) which you can send text, emails, position info, weather data and much more digitally across radio networks. When I am on summits I sometimes use my cell phone to SPOT (Post my frequency and location). Chasers (People who collect point by making contacts with summit activators like me) watch a web-site so they can know who is on the air and where. This really speeds things up and sends lots of people to your frequency to make lots of contacts. Believe it or not there are actually mountain tops with little to no cell coverage. This makes getting a SPOT out difficult or impossible. The new radio I mentioned earlier has the ability to go across a vast radio network that works many times in areas that cell phones do not. I can key in my location and frequency to the radio and have it post to APRS SOTA which relays this information to the internet and will post my spot. Really cool and nerdy right? Heck yeah! Any way, as you might imagine, there is a learning curve involved with this and some registrations you must also complete. I had tried and failed to get the radio to post my spot yesterday on Buckeye Knob. This week I am heading to Vermont to activate Mount Mansfield. The last thing I want to do is get there and not be able to put a spot out, so I have to get this working ahead of time. It’s a beautiful Sunday for a hike. I had been to church and had asked my daughter if she would like to hike Stone Mountain with me so I could do an official test and get the radio dialed in. She of course said yes and we were off!
Everyday when I was a teenager I would spend my days at Lake Lanier and my nights at Stone Mountain watching the laser show. In my 20’s I would hike Stone Mountain every week night with my ole pal JD WA4EE. Later when I was engaged to Lynn, she and I would meet there to hike the mountain and eat dinner together. At the time she lived in South Atlanta, so this was a good in between spot. Needless to say, lots of good memories at this mountain. It was great to get to go back there with my daughter. The weather was perfect. The climb was about what I had remembered and was very steep in spots. Much more people there than on a typical activation.
I had bought a so-called high gain antenna for the radio. It turned out to be a dud, but I somehow managed to get the minimum 4 required contacts to get the points for the activation. My APRS to SOTA set up worked flawlessly and I was ready to head to Vermont!
Climbing the mountain, getting my radio tested and having Izzy drive me there and back was the perfect ending to a great weekend. Tomorrow Izzy, my mom and I leave for Vermont to visit one of the all around greatest guys I have ever known, my cousin Johnny Bramblett and his lovely wife Mari. We are very excited to get to see them and to get in some incredible hiking with Ham Radio!
Enjoy the pics from Stone Mountain here: Stone Mountain pics
Today Lynn and I headed to the beautiful North GA Mountains to try and knock out two summits. The first was to be Coosa Bald and then Buckeye Knob. We started out from Wildcat Gap and a storm was a brewing. We had gone the wrong way on the trail. Looking at a set of printed directions and even a GPS is no substitute for being prepared with review of maps ahead of time. We figured out fairly quickly that we had gone the wrong way and headed back to the Jeep fast to beat the approaching storm. Turns out the storm went by quickly. We decided to try and run on to the trail for Buckeye Knob.
We found a good spot to jump on the Duncan Ridge Trail and headed to the knob. The trail was fairly steep in parts, but not bad. This trail, or at least this section does not get as much traffic as the AT. We didn’t see anyone on this trail. We saw some really cool Fungi that resembled fan style sea coral. There was also a really awesome tree with a huge burl. We got set up and were able to quickly get the summit activated. Just 7 contact, but we were ready to head out and were getting hungry. Heading back we went toward Dahlonega. My plan was to get to Smokin Gold BBQ, owned by a friend of mine. He is a competitor in Big Green Egg cooking competitions and knows his stuff. We made it to town but my friend was not in. We did enjoy some fine BBQ and visited a few of the local tourist trap stores. I highly recommend this spot if you’re hungry and love BBQ. His brisket and Mac’N’Cheese are my favorites. I am 5 months behind on writing these blogs, so it is surprising what I do remember about these trips. Got to keep typing and get caught up.
Oh yeah, don’t forget to check out the pics here: Buckeye Knob pics
Big Cedar is a short hike from the Woody Gap parking lot on the AT. While we were on our way up we passed a large group of scouts coming down. The most iconic feature on this hike is Preacher’s Rock. Some really incredible views from here. The actual summit is very wooded and not much to see. I thought I had some pics, but they must be on Lynn’s phone.
Our thinking was to hike Big Cedar first, then walk down the road toward Suches about an 1/8th of a mile and take the gated road on the left to Black Mountain Summit. My thinking was, road hike last, should be really easy…Wrong! We were not as fresh after doing Big Cedar and it was afternoon in July in North GA. The road had little to no shade from the mid-day sun and with the exception of one, maybe two turns in the road, it was straight up. Poor Annie, our black miniature Schnauzer. She was so hot going up the mountain. Whenever we would stop to catch our breath she would quickly dart into the tall weeds on the side of the road and lie down flat. She made it to the top and enjoyed a long rest. You can get a sense of how big a summit this is by observing it as you approach Woody Gap coming from Dahlonega on 60 going toward Suches. The summit has a very prominent feature, an old forestry service tower, which now serves as a radio tower. You can see this to the left of 60 a good mile or so as you approach Woody Gap. It is really up there. The pics I took are pretty good, but the ones of the view from the top were nowhere near as good as what I actually saw. The views from the summit are truly stunning. There is a very well maintained area at the very top with a shaded and mowed grass area. This was the perfect spot to operate from and grab some lunch. If you’re not into radio and just wanted a great hike and a place away from all of the crowds, this would be the spot.
Thanks for reading. enjoy the pics here: Big Cedar & Black Mtn.
Today’s hike was an exclamation point on a great week. Richie, my right-hand man from the office joined me today as did my wife, daughter, son and two dogs.
We got an early start right after a great breakfast at the cabin Lynn had prepared.
Our start was from the parking area below Neel Gap. Here the Byron Reese trail leads to Flatrock Gap. At this point you can catch the AT to the right up the steepest ascent of Blood Mountain, go to the left on the AT to Neel Gap, or go straight ahead on the Freeman trail. The Freeman Trail goes half-way around Blood Mountain to rejoin the AT at Bird Gap. To the left takes you South toward Turkey Stamp & Gaddis Mountains. Woods Hole Shelter can be reached not far from this point from a side trail. To the right on the AT from Bird Gap takes you up the less steep side of Blood Mountain. It is still steep, just not as bad as the other side. When you reach the foot of the mountain just before the steep ascent you will see the Slaughter Creek trail off to the left. This leads down to lake Winfield Scott. Continue up the mountain on the AT until you reach the Blood Mountain Shelter at the summit. This shelter was built by the civilian conservation corps in 1934, later restored by the GATC. Click here for an informative piece about it’s history and restoration. The summit is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in GA at 4,459′ and is the sixth tallest mountain in GA. There are great views atop of a large rock formation at the top known by regulars as picnic rock. This where I set up a 20 meter inverted V. My first contact for the day was the Czech republic. Others around the US and Canada followed. 11 QSO’s in all. A group of young engineers from NASA in Huntsville were on the summit and were really impressed with the set up and contacts I made. We packed up and headed back down the Mountain. This side has some really great views close to the top. As I have said, it is very steep on this side. If you take this loop route I highly recommend you walk a few hundred yards further on the AT and see the balancing rock. Very cool formation shown in my pics link below. Also not to be missed is the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center at Neel Gap. You can hike back to the parking area, or continue straight on the AT to Neel Gap and from there walk on the road back to your car. Be careful if you do. The drivers on this road are wide open. The safer route would be to drive back up to Neel Gap to visit the Center. This is the first mail drop for North bound thru-hikers on the AT. There is a hostel here and a great store for quality hiking gear. Traditionally many thru-hikers will mail the store their boots when they finish the entire AT. There are a lot of boots hanging from the ceiling signed by their former owners. They must fumigate these or else the store would really stink. Here’s a link for more info on the center.
Some maps have this loop at 8 miles, some guides say 6. My wife’s hiking app said 9 miles. I intend to pull the track from my Garmin GPS and post here in the future with an accurate mileage. All in all a classic great hike to add to your list.
Pics from the hike
Back in GA from Asheville and man is it ever hot. We were spoiled with the cooler temps and lower humidity in NC. We arrived at Unicoi Gap, threw on the gear and hit the AT. Immediately we could feel the heat and knew this was not going to be a walk in the park. The climb was very rocky with several switch backs. We also saw quite a few hiker and none of them were day hikers. We arrived at the top, which is a GA typical hardwood summit. The trees on this summit were plentiful and large, just like the bugs. First toss with the throw bag and I had the antenna suspension line high and ready to go. The elevation of this 10 pointer is 4,020′. I quickly made six 40 meter contacts. I had checked to see if the frequency was in use, but evidently there was a net somewhere on the frequency. Rather than re-spot or go to 20 meters the wife and I looked at the dark clouds and decided to pack it in. A decision we would not regret.
Lynn had eaten her lunch while I was operating and I ate my sandwich while hiking down the trail. After years of hiking and camping with Lynn’s dad, AKA “The SlogMaster”, who guarantees you will get wet and after a week of soggy hiking down summits with his daughter, I surmised he had passed the torch to her. I said as much to her half way down the trail, to which she replied “At least it’s not lightning” and as if on cue out of no where 3 lightning bolts in a minute strike within 100 yards of our location. She then says “At least it’s not raining” and again on cue as if from the old testament we are in a flash flood. This was not an easy trail to remain surefooted on down hill in the pouring rain. We made it back to the truck and started literally wringing out our clothes. A hard earned 10 points indeed!
Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in GA and an easy 10 pointer was very close by. We drove a short distance there and when we arrived the bottom fell out again. We sat in the truck until the rain had passed. Lynn’s shoes were soaked and she had a pair of flats made out of a very cheap rope material. I had changed from my soaked boots into my Chaco sandals. Mine were suitable for the .6 m hike up from the parking area, but hers were not. We took the easy road and rode the last shuttle of the day up the mountain. In 5 minutes the last shuttle down would leave. Lynn rode the shuttle down without me and I set up my rig quickly to get the activation. She has been responsible for many of the pics of me operating and I did not want to leave her hanging out below too long, so I only have a picture from below at the parking area while we were waiting out the storm. I was able to get nine contacts on 20 meters. Several stragglers up top stopped to see what I was doing. Unfortunately all of my SOTA leaflets has been ruined by the rain all week. It was a great day to break the 100 total point mark, but I was ready to get back to our cabin in Blue Ridge.
Link to Pics
Lynn and I awoke refreshed from our night at the Super 8 in Asheville and were both hangry. (A mixture of hungry & angry) A quick trip across the street to the Waffle House cured the hanger. The restaurant was very clean with great service.
Our original plan was to hike Big Butt, another nice 10 pointer and a longer hike, then hit Mt Mitchell since it was a short trail and a 10 pointer. The Summit guides were conflicting for Big Butt and we did not have detailed maps with us. A lesson learned the hard way. In the future I will be using CalTopo to create a PDF to take with me a review a little more ahead of time, but I digress. The guides referred to Yellow Blaze on the trail from the Walker Knob overlook/parking area. The trail crosses the road and neither guide gave a direction of travel, nor the side of the road to use. There were at least 4 paths there all with white blaze circles or diamonds. We picked one and used my GPS, which did not have detailed local sections. After a tenth of a mile it appeared we were heading in the correct general direction with a heading for two peaks we had to cross to get to Big Butt. After a few switch backs we figured we were heading the wrong way, but the trail was so nice we just kept going. We had a very strenuous climb to an upper ridge line. The whole ridge smelled like Christmas Trees. There was an abundance of Spruce and Fir Trees. Cool looking mushrooms and ground cover so nice you would have thought you were at a manicured garden. Without a doubt the prettiest and most enjoyable hike of my life thus far. My wife calls it the fairy tale forest. There were some incredible views from the ridge. You could really see the affects of the wooly adelgids, which have killed so many trees.
We arrived at the summit at an elevation of 6,320′. Unfortunately it was not a SOTA summit, but a hike I do not regret at all. We had lunch up top and headed back down. You’ll be shocked to know it rained on us coming down. What an amazing hike. I need to check the track for the distance, but I am guessing this was easily a 6 mile round trip.
Pics from Blackstock Knob
We headed out excited and wet to Mt. Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi river at 6,684′
The trail round trip from the visitors center is only 0.60 mile, but is a little steep. I found a little cozy opening in the trees past the crowded viewing area. My antenna was only about 6′ above the ground. I made 2 contacts on 40 meters and 11 QSO’s on 20 meters.
The summit was shrouded in clouds by the time we headed down, but it did not rain on us coming down.
Pics from Mt. Mitchell
Our travels then took us to Green Knob. This was a short but steep hike to a forestry service tower at the summit. Lots of biting bugs and ants. I suspended the apex of the antenna at about 8′ from a cross brace of the tower. We had lots of thunder and dark clouds around us. I scrambled and managed to get five logged contacts on 20 meters.
I broke things down quickly with Lynn’s help and got back to the truck with just a few sprinkles. We had ice cold water in the cooler and an afternoon snack. The day was just amazing. We headed back into town for a great dinner, then called it a night. What a great day.
Pics from Green Knob
Another two activation day! Clingman’s dome lies on the Tennessee/North Carolina Border and is the highest mountain in Tennessee. There is a steep hike up from the parking lot to the summit, but it is paved and is not too bad. The summit is very crowded with tourist, but just a few feet away from the path to the observation platform is the MST (Mountains to the Sea Trail) I found a little area within the activation zone to set up. 24 QSO’s on 40 meters in short order. The clouds completely surrounded us by the end of the activation and it rained on us most of the way down. This would happen to us many more times throughout the week.
We were headed to Asheville and had planned to activate two lower point summits that afternoon when I decided to check my SOTA Finder app. Turns out we were a half a mile from Waterrock Knob. This was a great find. Fairly steep hike to the top with amazing views. Of course I started hearing thunder when we got to the top. I decided to try and activate 2 meters only if I could. I had to call CQ for quite a while to get the first three.
I then went to a couple of local repeaters to find a station willing to QSY and try a simplex contact. Thanks to Michael WB4MJ for the 4th QSO to activate the summit. And of course it rained on us on the hike down. The visitors center there was very nice with lots of souvenirs and some maps/gear.
The day was a great success. We arrived in Asheville and stopped into the Asheville Brewery and Pizza. We ordered the Hummus plate as an appetizer. When it arrived Lynn and I made a full meal out of it. Very delicious. Great place. Sat in a nice outdoor area. We stayed on Tunnel road in the Super 8. The price was great. The room was spotless and recently updated. Asheville is a great town. My ole pal JD, WA4EE used to live there and I had lots of great memories hanging out with him in Asheville. Its a great base to do multiple day hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is what we did.
Click here for pics