FROM W4ZV - Christian's trip in early April was the inspiration to do this. I've been wanting to do it because Charlanne and I have been on different sections of this 20.5 mile trail for many years. Being a basically lazy person, I got the idea to do it in one day so I wouldn't have to tote a heavy pack, wouldn't have to sleep on the ground, etc.
My idea was to leave early (i.e. sunrise at the latest), pack light and follow one simple rule...KEEP MOVIN'. I also chose the date carefully...clear weather (no raingear), cool temperatures, and coincident with some contests or other operating events. My reasoning for the latter is that making 20 contacts would be a challenge when not on a SOTA peak and running QRP. In contests there are plenty of strong stations with "good ears" CQing so hopefully I could make my quota quickly (i.e. within 1 hour).
May 2 looked like the perfect date...the weather forecast was clear with cool temperatures and several state QSO parties were scheduled for Saturday afternoon (New England, Delaware, Indiana and W7 plus even an Italian contest if conditions allowed). It's now or never before the hot weather begins!
I decided to hike the trail from South to North because I wanted to end up at Dark Mountain (trail's highest point) about a mile from the Northern end. I scouted this location a few days earlier with my dog Poppy to see if there was cell coverage. This was important to my plan since I needed to alert Charlanne to pick me up (and didn't know exactly when I would arrive). Coverage was marginal but allowed texting and while there I identified a nice operating site.
I hit the trail at 6:30 AM on a crisp clear Saturday. The hike is mostly a blur in my mind because I found it necessary to concentrate on obstacles in the trail. Loose rocks, exposed tree roots, downed trees, mud holes and snakes (fortunately none seen) kept me from daydreaming too much although I did manage a couple of face plants when my mind drifted. How in the world some can run this trail at an 8 minute mile pace is beyond me!
There were some easy stretches where I could enjoy the beautiful spring scenery God has blessed us with after a harsh winter. Crested dwarf iris and mountain laurel were in full bloom (see photos). I mostly kept my phone off to conserve its weak battery and it took too long to reboot it for everything I saw...KEEP MOVIN'.
I had picked up a used Camelbak pack with 100 ounce capacity at a gun show the previous Saturday. My pack weighed about 15 pounds with radio gear, food and about half of that was due to the water...however I felt the weight was worth it because it would allow me to KEEP MOVIN' while drinking from the attached hose and not need to stop to purify water along the way.
The miles rolled by: Dusty Level Road at 9.0 miles by 10:30, NC 109 at 12.5 miles by noon with a 30 minute break for lunch, Tower Road at 18.1 miles by 3 PM and finally Dark Mountain summit at 19.4 miles a little before 4 PM. I was definitely getting weary by this point and was happy to take a 1 hour break for some rest and operating fun!
To minimize weight I used my Weber TriBander with a LNR Trail Friendly EFHW. It was mounted vertically with a good shot in all directions since I was near the 953' summit (unfortunately not SOTA qualified). Even though it's much heavier than my ATS-3, I chose the TriBander because it has a knob VFO and is much more agile for doing S&P in the QSO parties. All of my 21 QSOs were on 20m (mostly W1 with a few W7). I tried 40m but the W1s and W9s I could hear were apparently too distant to hear my QRP. I also spent about 10 minutes CQing on 40 using K4URE around 5 PM for any locals who might have wanted that for the K4URE Hunt. Although I was spotted by RBN 11 times I didn't get any takers so it was time to pack up and KEEP MOVIN' down a very rocky and steep trail to the end where Charlanne was waiting.
It was a LONG day for me and my feet knew it but I was happy to have completed the requirements for the URE Thru-Hiker!