Monday, May 4, 2015

Uwahrrie Trail Trip Report - KEEP MOVIN'




The End
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!








Thursday, April 9, 2015

Uwharrie Trail Solo Trip Report

FROM KF4LXB - Earlier this week I set out to hike the Uwharrie Trail by myself and in the process operate a little QRP radio from the wilderness. I've been backpacking and hiking for twenty years but I've never gone on a solo overnight trip. I guess secretly I'm still afraid of the dark or something. Anyway, the stars aligned and I got the opportunity to take a few days away for some replenishment. My original plan was to head to the Art Loeb Trail and knock off a few 10 point SOTA summits. That just wasn't in the cards so I opted for the home turf of the Uwharries.

Let me say a little bit about the backpacking first because there is much more good to say there. The Uwharrie Trail is advertised as being 19 miles long from end to end. Personally, I think its a couple of miles longer but who really cares at that point. Now, I've spent alot of time in the Uwharrie National Forest and I have to say, this is some of the finest hiking in central North Carolina - no lie. The route is straight forward and easy to follow and the terrain is easy to moderate in all but a few places.

I chose to hike from North to South starting at the Jumping Off Rock trailhead in Ophir. From here it is straight up Dark Mountain which is not a particularly difficult hike but it is uphill. I've actually operated from Dark Mountain before but it is as far as I'd been on the trail. After coming down from there it is just a matter of putting miles behind you and enjoying the scenery. There are some beautiful creeks through here, one of which I stopped by for lunch. My recollection is that it was called Sandy Branch.
Bridge over Sandy Branch

For me day one finished atop a hill just north of the highway 109 trailhead. I'd love to tell you the name of the hill but apparently it doesn't have one. There were two disused campsites on the summit which I was more than happy to put back into service. I found a great tree to hang my doublet from and when I tossed my wrench over the limb I also found out I didn't have enough rope to make it over the branch and back. Time for plan B - a less than perfect branch. Whatever, we made it work.

Campsite on Night One
Once I started operating I realized exactly how glad I am for the memory feature on my Weber Tri-bander because I would have gotten really tired of send CQ. I wound up playing hopscotch with another gentleman who was making some contacts as well and seemed to be chasing me around but not to make a QSO. It was odd and I'm not sure what his plan was but we ended up making a friendly QSO and moving on. I was able to snag Bill (W4ZV) and have him pass some traffic back to my wife since the cell phone reception was exactly ZERO.

Two things were immediately obvious the first day, as far as radio is concerned. 1) I am eternally grateful for Bill letting me borrow two of his liPo batteries so I didn't have to lug my SLABs. 2)My CW is R.U.S.T.Y. Bill was nice enough to set up a sked for me and was giving me a pretty long message and after a while I just sort of...checked out. I was thinking, "I'm totally lost. There is no hope for me catching up. What am I going to do? Oh rats, was that a question mark?!" It was a mess and it was my fault.

It rained on night one. My tent leaked too.

The second day dawned cloudy but cleared fairly quickly. I wasted no time in breaking camp and heading down to fill up on water from a nearby stream before hitting the trail. Let me tell you, the section of the Uwharrie Trail between highway 109 and Dusty Rd. (1146) is one of, if not the, most spectacular hikes in the Uwharrie National Forest. It starts out in a nice open forest of mostly pines. Then the trail dives down to Watery Branch and looks like something out of a Tolkien novel. I kept wondering if I waited around until nightfall if the woodland folk would come out and dance around the fire.



For night two I decided on a campsite next to Big Island Creek. It was in a valley between some mountains (aren't all valleys?) but I figured I'd give operating from there a go anyway. This time I had a very inverted V but I was still getting fair reports of 559 or so. This time the sked worked beautifully and I was able to work Pete (WH6LE), Bill (W4ZV), Marc (WG8Y) and Pat (KI4SVM). I hated it for Pat because it seemed that my fingers quit cooperating with my paddle and I just couldn't get his callsign out to save my life.

Campsite on Night Two
I rained on night two but not as hard so my tent didn't leak as much.

Day three was a relatively short hike out of about 4 miles. It was also some of the most intense and rugged terrain of the trail so far. I passed through one area that looked like a war zone with trees down everywhere. I assume it was from a terrible storm that rolled through about a year and a half ago. So, at about 9:30 am on Wednesday I made it back to my car having thru-hiked the Uwharrie Trail.

Conclusion

1. If you haven't hiked the Uwharrie Trail I highly recommend it. I do not think you'll be disappointed.
2. It can definitely be done in two days. I stopped early Monday and Tuesday but I like being in the woods.
3. I wound up making far fewer contacts than I had hoped in order to achieve the Uwharrie Thru-hiker award.
4. Thanks so much for the guys who listened out for me and worked me.
5. It was a marvelous trip!

72,

Christian KF4LXB 


Monday, March 16, 2015

UQRPC at the Charlotte Hamfest

FROM KF4LXB - This past weekend, March 13th and 14th, was the annual Charlotte hamfest held at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center. Two years ago a group of us put on a forum introducing SOTA to the hams in attendance. Apparently it was, at least, somewhat well received because they asked us back again this year!

This year Pat Harris (KI4SVM) lead the discussion and gave a great presentation on SOTA. For all who know Pat and his pictures you'll understand how much they added to the presentation. Pete Larson (WH6LE), Bill Tippett (W4ZV) and myself were also in attendance for moral support and additional commentary.

Pete (WH6LE) and Pat (KI4SVM) sharing some Mountain Goat wisdom on activating.


There were about 30-40 people at the forum and many had participated in SOTA as activators or chasers. As with two years ago the show-and-tell afterwards was a big hit and we were able to let people get their hands on some of the equipment we use for activations. Overall this was a nice event and my hat is off to Pat for putting together and delivering a stellar SOTA talk.

Friday, May 16, 2014

UQRPC Member Makes Mountain Goat!

A big congratulations goes out to Pat Harris, KI4SVM, for achieving Mountain Goat status with the Summits On The Air program. Pat crossed the 1000 activator point mark on May 9th, 2014 making him the ninth Mountain Goat in North America. For those of you who work SOTA you know that Pat is one of the hardest working activators in W4C, and NA for that matter. Not only that but he is also one of the nicest guys you'll ever come in contact with. Kudos to Pat and keep up the great work for amateur radio!

72,
Christian KF4LXB

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January K4URE Hunt

This month begins our annual K4URE Hunt on Saturday, January 25th. Please note the information in the sidebar and get on the air looking for the "lost" station. Rules for the hunt are posted here and Randy has this to say:

"Hello the Group,
This is fair notice of K4URE being on the loose the 25th of January, 2014. That would this coming Saturday. 
Weather permitting, I'll be loose in the Uwharrie Forest calling CQ URE. I plan to mostly operate CW but may throw in some SSB and PSK31.
I plan to operate in the General portion of 40 meters around the ARRL QRP frequencies. 
If I can get the hang of sending PSK/Paddle mode on the KX3 I'll be in the digital portions. I will be on from approx. 0700z to 1200z (2:00pm-5:00pm local)
If I change bands it will be posted here:
http://www.cwfun.org/funspots/ncpota/
I will post band only. No frequency in accordance with the URE qrp club rules."

7.030 - 7.040 - QRP CW calling frequency
7.070-7100 - PSK 
7.285~  - QRP SSB calling frequency


NOTE: There are now two new shirts available in the UQRPC Cafepress store for the annual hunt. One is for those who act as the "hunted station" and the other is for those who achieve "Ranger" status by the end of the year. As always there is no markup on the products so you only pay what Cafepress charges to produce the shirt.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

UQRPC Members in QST!

So I was browsing through the latest issue of "QST" (October 2013) and as I was looking at the W1AW qualifying run note my eyes caught a familiar picture that I had seen on QRZ.com. Lo and behold, there was Tommy (W4TZM) along with Marc (W4MPS), both UQRPCers. The scan is not the greatest so if you haven't seen the "Strays" on page 95 the text is as follows.

During the 2013 North Carolina QSO Party, at exactly 1500 UTC, contact was made between Special Event Station W4C, operated my Marc Sullivan, W4MPS, and an expedition station operated by Tommy Mitchell, W4TZM. Tommy was at the summit of Wesser Bald mountain in far western North Carolina. The brief exchange counted as a Summits On The Air contact for W4C and a North Carolina QSO Party bonus point for W4TZM - two for the price of one contact!
"QST" October 2013 p. 95.

Congratulations Tommy and Marc for making the pages of "QST"!


Monday, September 30, 2013

QRP Portable in the UNF 9-27-2013

Dark Mountain is the two peaks in the center of the map.
From KF4LXB - One of the great benefits of living in Stanly county, NC is the proximity to the Uwharrie National Forest. Though none of the forest is actually in Stanly county it is just on the other side of the Yadkin/Pee Dee River. Generally my portable radio operations revolve around SOTA activations but every so often it is nice to just head into the woods and throw up an antenna. Last Friday was just such an occasion. The weather, of late, has been absolutely perfect with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70s. Thus, I decided I'd take my portable rig, strike off into the heart of the Uwharries and head for Dark Mountain near the community of Ophir. Dark Mountain is located near the northern end of the Uwharrie Trail and is easily accessible from the Jumping Off Rock trailhead. Since I forgot to reset the tracklog on my GPS I don't know exactly how far the summit is from the parking area but I would estimate it at about 1 mile. This is a place I have frequented in the past during hiking trips and in the winter months there are some nice views to be had from the summit.



The hike from the parking area to the top of the mountain is moderate to easy. The first hundred yards or so is basically straight up but then it levels off for about 1/3 mile and then continues upward leading to a small saddle between two peaks. There is a splendid campsite in the saddle with an established firepit which was still smoldering, presumably from campers the night before. From the saddle you turn right (southwest) and make the final, short push up to the summit. Like many of the peaks in the Uwharries Dark Mountain is topped with a field of exposed rock and old hardwoods.



After gaining the summit I scouted around and found a perfect operating position that was right next to a large oak tree that would act as my antenna support. Back in April or May I decided to try a method of erecting my antenna that I had read about on the SOTA reflector which involved a small wrench rather than a slingshot. On this trip it proved to be an excellent method as it only took me two tosses to get the fishing line over the branch I had selected. This allowed my Norcal doublet to reach about 25' at the feedpoint. I used the same method to get the two legs of the dipole into the trees in a nearly horizontal position. As you can see from the picture below, my operating position was pretty doggone awesome. I was able to sit in between two boulders with one acting as a "desk" from my radio equipment.



On the Air:

Once I got on the air I did an awful lot of calling "CQ" on 20m and 40m. Finally I heard N0DA come back to me and received a 559 report. Making contact with 0-land is not all that unusual for portable operations for me but I was shocked to hear that he was located in Oregon! To be sure, that is a nice haul for QRP so I felt sure that my signal was getting out there just weren't that many people there to hear it. 20m also granted me a contact with K8MXC in Michigan. 40m was equally as profitable and I logged contacts with WH6LE and WG8Y, both UQRPCers.

Observations:

1. The first thing that I noticed on this trip was that not being SOTA meant the QSOs were fewer, I suppose because there is no tangible reward for chasing regular ol' contacts. Being a SOTA activator gives you the feel of what it is like run a pile-up and there was definitely no pile-up for me on Friday. 

2. This was the first time I had used my new paddle. Heck, this was the first time I had used a paddle on the air period! First of all, I really like using one and I am definitely hooked on that mode of sending CW. The funny part was that I got really good at sending "CQ CQ de KF4LXB KF4LXB K" but it all fell apart when I had to send something else. As I told Bill afterwards, "There was alot of 'dit dit dit dit'." It will take some more practice to get really proficient using the paddle but I can now feel comfortable using just about any form of key (paddle, straight key, or bug). As I mentioned in my initial review of the Whiterook Mini-paddle, mine came with a leg strap for portable operating. The strap worked perfectly and was truly indispensable. One thing I realized was that you don't have to strap it to your leg...you can strap it to anything! So, after a while a attached it to the Tupperware container that I keep my batteries in and placed it on the boulder next to my radio. This worked out really well and gave it more of a natural, "in the shack" kind of feel.

3. The low QSO count did not detract in any way from the beauty of being in the woods. Even if I had not made a single contact the trip would have been well worth it. There is just something about being in the woods on a perfect fall day.