On a Scale of 1 to 5
Packtenna Mini Dipole
Anker Battery Pack
On The Air:
Number of QSO's
Yes: LOTW, SOTA, POTA
After several months of being stuck at 499 points, I needed to activate a SOTA summit so I could reach the 500 point milestone. The last activation I completed was Mt Katahdin in Maine back in August so I was long overdue for a hike.
I chose Blue Mountain since Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park was closed, cutting off access to several potential SOTA sites.
Blue Mountain is located on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia about an hour west of Washington, DC on Interstate 66. The trailhead has a nice parking lot with picnic tables and a newly refurbished bridge that crosses over a stream. I decided to hit the trail on Saturday morning and brought my dog and a very heavy overpacked backpack full of warm winter gear. The forecast had temperatures with lows in the 20’s and highs in the mid 30’s.
My plan was to walk 4 miles from the trailhead to Blue Mountain and do a SOTA/POTA activation. Considering the temps, I planned on making my radio operation time very short (less than hour). I find that operating in cold temperatures for over an hour that I tend to get stiff joints and slightly hypothermic.
Overall the hike was planned out for 8 miles round trip and 1600 feet in elevation gain. I had hiked this part of the AT on several occasions as this part of the trail I often use to set up my hammock and try out new radio gear as the trail has easy access and plenty of space to relax.
Arriving at the trailhead that morning and getting my gear out, the 20 degree temps were a rude awakening after being in a warm car. I got the dog suited up with this winter jacket and grabbed my gear. In my experience when hiking in cold temperatures, if you start out cold you will have a better chance of thermoregulation than starting all bundled up and warm. Winter hiking is tough…too much clothes and you sweat which leads to being cold. Too little clothes and you are miserable. It is a balancing act in keeping moisture and temperature in check.
As far as gear, I was wearing Patagonia thermal top/bottoms, gloves, hat and wool buff. The wool buff I used around my neck to keep my neck blood flow warm. No sense cooling off the blood flow to my brain.
After an hour of hiking I was seriously debating if this hike was a good idea or if I should just bail on it all together. Truth be told I was pretty miserable, between the elevation gain and cold temperatures. The dog seemed to be doing okay so we continued.
Part of the reason I enjoy hiking is getting myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself.
This hike was no exception. Along with the cold was some decent elevation gain. Along the way I passed the Manassas Gap AT shelter, and made my way towards Blue Mountain. This SOTA site is a large commercial radio tower site that sits right along a road. To get the the site from the AT, I had to bush wack up the side of a pretty steep hill. Since it was winter, it was easy to see the antennas on the tower making for easy navigation.
Once I got the top, I set up along the trail that runs a perimeter along towers. This site can also be driven to as well, but I like the challenge of hiking much better. After getting out the sleeping bag for my dog, I quickly got my Packtenna mini dipole into a tree and got on the air. 20m sounded open and active so I found an open frequency and spotted myself. My method spotting myself is using my Garmin InReach to spot via Twitter and a friends list that I use. My good friend, Larry Burke (K5RK) spotted me on the spotting networks and even answered my CQ SOTA. After several QSO’s I decided to quickly wrap things up as I was getting frigid.
A note on the equipment failures. My KX3 microphone PTT button is broken. Along with my CW paddle (both bought from Elecraft), both become non-functioning. I worked around the broken PTT button by using the XMIT button on the radio, crisis averted! I need to send back my microphone and let Elecraft fix it.
Another issue I encountered that I hadn’t accounted for was the fact that it was currently hunting season in VA. As a result I kept stumbling across hunters, while realizing that I had on zero bright colors, mostly greens and blacks. I won’t make that mistake again.
Overall the hike ended up being close to 11 miles and 5 hours. My pace at 34 minutes/miles was to be excepted with the terrain. While the scenery is boring on this hike, the AT is well defined and easy to follow. The short bush wack up the hill to the towers was pretty easy. The road that ran parallel along the AT made for a good exit strategy in the event of an emergency. While not the most fun hike in the world, it does give me some miles to hike and a summit to activate.
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