Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Activation Reports: Pass Mountain (W4V/SH-013) and Knob Mountain (W4V/SH-017)

This past Sunday the XYL and I decided to bag a couple peaks in Shenandoah National Park.  We selected Pass Mountain (W4V/SH-013) and Knob Mountain (W4V/SH-017), as they can both be accessed along Skyline Drive, making navigation to the two trailheads simple.

We departed the home QTH at around 0700 local, reaching the Behms Gap parking area (just north of the Thornton Gap park entrance) a bit after 0900.  Pass Mountain is a tree-covered bump between Thornton Gap and Behms Gap, with the Appalachian Trail snaking up and over the summit.  Trail navigation is very easy, as the AT is a wide, well-used, and groomed trail.  From Behms Gap the summit is under two miles away.  Weather conditions were pleasant:  Generally cloudy skies, temps in the 50s, and the occasional raindrop.
Pass Mountain as seen from the jeep.  View from just north of the Behms Gap parking area, looking south.

The summit was rounded, with lots of trees, fall colors, and a few large rock outcroppings sticking out of the soil.

As always, I started on 146.52, followed by 223.5 and 446.0 MHz FM.  No takers.  I then set up my portable HF station and slung my wire antenna.  The HF bands were reasonably cooperative, but with the CQ World Wide Phone contest going on, the SSB segments of the non-WARC bands were very crowded.  I heard Croatian, Polish, English, and German stations booming in on 20 meters. I moved to 17 meters phone to see who I could get, and then moved to 30 meters CW.
Fuzzy picture of my Pass Mountain operating position.  I set up on a log.  The leaf-covered AT crosses between the log and the rock outcroppings in the distance.
Close-up view of my operating position on Pass Mountain.  FT-817ND.  Autotuner.  Key.  Mic.  Logbook.  Notebook.

While I activated the XYL continued hiking over the peak toward Thornton gap, allowing me about an hour to activate.

I worked the following stations:
Not great, but also not bad.  9 stations worked over 27 minutes.

The new batteries continued to hold up well.  On previous batteries I would typically have the radio set for 2.5 watts of output power, but today I operated entirely at 5 watts.  Again, I'll note that, like my last activation, the battery voltage barely dropped even when transmitting the 5 dahs of the "0" in my callsign.  Solid.

AT&T cell service was good for both SMS and 3G data services.  APRS connectivity was also good.

After I worked the small crowd of stations and the XYL returned, we returned to Behms Gap via the same route as the ascent.

We next moved north along Skyline Drive to Elkwallow Gap, where the trailhead for Knob Mountain (W4V/SH-017) is.  Knob Mountain is a bump along a northeast-to-southwest running ridge which is an offshoot of the Shenandoah range.  The specific route we took basically went from Elkwallow Gap northwest and downhill to reach the Appalachian Trail, and then Jeremy's Run.  Crossing Jeremy's Run you climb a steep ridge to reach the Knob Mountain Trail, which heads southwest along the ridgeline that Knob Mountain is on.  The trail is well-groomed and marked.  Printable map here.

Overall, the hike is under 6 miles round-trip for the hike described.  Of course you could easily lengthen the hike to about 13-14 miles if you do the entire Jeremy's Run Loop hike.

Oh--and we saw three black bears near the trail.  Sorry, I don't have good pictures, but they were there.  It was a bear day.

Knob Mountain is the highest bump on the right.  The Shenandoah Valley can be seen to the left.  The peak is a high point on a ridge protruding southwest into the Shenandoah.

Elkwallow Gap has services available--bathrooms and a small overcrowded gift shop.

There were humans at Elkwallow.  Most of these people don't venture too far into the woods, which is just fine by me.

Weather conditions stayed pleasant.  Cloudy skies, slight breeze, temperature in the upper 50s.  There was the occasional rain drop.

Nice fall colors, particularly the red leaves.  This is not an altered photo.

XYL crossing Jeremy's Run.  There were fish hopping in the run, and the run was a good bit wider than it looks, but the surface was covered with leaves.

N0PCL crossing Jeremy's Run.  Yes.  That's a Lodenhut.  A Lodenhut is to Germany as a cowboy hat is to Texas.  It's the hat of my ancestors.  Considering its Alpine origin, it's ideal for SOTA expeditions.  It's made of Loden (a type of wool), so it's actually quite warm, and is just fine in the rain.  Word.

N0PCL making the final steps up to the ridgeline from Jeremy's Run.  It's about 500' of gain over about 1/2 mile.  Decently steep.  I was working up a sweat so I'm climbing hat-in-hand.  XYL photo.

More nice fall colors.

Almost there!  Knob mountain summit only 250 feet away.  The trail system in Shenandoah NP is very simple to follow.  These posts are at most of the trail junctions.
XYL hiking up the final couple hundred feet to Knob Mountain summit.

The QSOs on Knob Mountain came quick once I set up on HF.  But before that happened I had a pleasant chat with Brian, KE8AZF, in the panhandle of West Virginia, about 40 miles away on 146.52.  I made unsuccessful calls on 223.5 MHz FM and 446.0 MHz FM with no joy.  I then slung my wire antenna, laid out radials, and set up my shack on a nearby log.  I sent a quick spot out on my iPhone--and the calls came fast.  The pileup continued for a solid 20 minutes on 30 meters before picking up a couple QSOs on 10 meters to stations out west.  A few of the stations went into straight "contest mode", sending my "5NN" reports to expedite the process.

Overexposed iPhone pic of my homebrewed EARCHI matchbox.  Used with a tuner and some decent radials, it can put out a good signal on 40-6 meters with a tuner.  With a superb radial system and a perfectly vertical radiator, I've occasionally gotten it to load up (albeit inefficiently) on 75 and 80 meters, too.

Close-up view of the matchbox.  It's contained in a Hammond enclosure, and I use simple alligator clips to make the electrical connections.  The radiating element is the black wire.  The radials are just some #22 speaker wire.  Works great.

My Knob Mountain operating position.  Logs make good places to sit and have some QSOs.

Here's my logbook as it appears on the SOTAData website:
After working KE8AZF I worked 18 CW stations in 30 minutes.  While not stellar at all by contesting standards, this is pretty good work.  Lots of fun!
AT&T cell service was good for both SMS and 3G data services.  APRS connectivity was also good. 

No after-action items for this hike.  It was a very pleasant activation, a great way to spend a fall weekend, and a fun 12 SOTA activation points to earn!

As always, thanks chasers!  No activation is successful without you.  73!

1 comment:

  1. Nate, loved the colors in the photos, the leaves look great. Nice to have the operator in a few photos too, thanks to having a second photographer.
    Andrew VK1DA