Tuesday, May 24, 2016

SOTA Activation of Lamb's Knoll (W3/WE-007)

Last April 10th I activated my first SOTA Peak in Maryland.  This is a belated activation report from that day.

Why Lamb's Knoll?  Well, it wasn't too far from my home QTH (less than a few hours' drive), and it's outside of Shenandoah National Park.  I don't mind Shenandoah National Park, but, frankly, my wife and I greatly miss the peaks in California.  California had wide-open spaces, and numerous mountain ranges to choose from, and generally a different attitude in the inhabitants than is here in the D.C. area.  On the eastern seaboard, things are a bit different.  The peaks are much lower, and almost all of them are connected by the Appalachian Trail, which, when you hike in spring and summer, feels like a long, buggy, spider-webby green tube that you hike through.  There aren't the same vistas, nor is there the elevation gain.  The A.T. is well-traveled by humans, so you don't even get the solitude.  It's a bit of a downer, but it's what we have until we're able to move back out west.  I've already activated a good number of Shenandoah Peaks, but now I want to get out a bit further from home.  That basically means I head northwest to the Appalachians in Maryland or Pennsylvania, or head southwest to other Appalachian peaks in Virginia or North Carolina.

(Just so you know, I've gotten more than 50% of the way to Mountain Goat status by activating peaks in California, so I maintain my SOTA membership as part of the W6 association, not he W4V--the Virginia SOTA association.)

We set out early that Sunday morning to activate this summit, which is really a bump of South Mountain, a long ridgeline which forms the northernmost terminus of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Our plan was to pick up the Appalachian Train at Gathland State Park, and hike north a few miles to the peak.  Overall, it was an easy hike, although the trail is fairly rocky in places so be careful not to roll and ankle!  Only the first bit of the hike up the A.T. from Gathland State Park was particularly steep. 

We saw a few people out, but I think that many of the hikers stayed inside owing to the cool temperatures as measured by the Jeep, parked at Gathland State Park:
Chilly.  36 Degrees F.  But it was sunny and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

The A.T. was rocky on this hike.
Near the use trail from the A.T. to the Lamb's Knoll summit, there is a single rock outropping with a halfway decent view.  My lovely bride and I snapped a selfie.  (Yes.  I said it.  Selfie.)
The summit is not particularly scenic...there are many trees that obscure any possibility of a view, and the summit also has a few buildings on it that are surrounded by fences.

Nearby the summit where I activated there was a very closely guarded government facility.  The facility had literally dozens of security cameras covering virtually every possible angle, an oddly-large parking lot--far more expansive than necessary to provide parking for any of the visible buildings, and an absolutely massive log periodic array, likely used for HF.  Of note, in my short time at the site I saw the antenna rotate, so clearly there is some sort of government-operated radio activity occurring there (collecting SIGINT or MASINT, perhaps?)
Here's a Google Earth view of the summit.  My activation location is on the southern edge of the southern-most cluster of buildings.  The other access-restricted government facility is north of my location.  Notice the massive parking lot.
Here's a Google Earth image of the MASSIVE log periodic array.  I saw it change azimuth, so somebody was doing something with it.  The boom of the antenna was actually an aluminum truss--it was a very large antenna.

Back to the SOTA activation:  I recall that conditions weren't particularly good.  I was content to get the required four contacts and then move on.  AT&T cell coverage was plentiful, so I self-spotted.  Here's my log:
Note the gap in time between talking to W0MNA (Gary) and W9MRH.  Conditions weren't very good.  I also attempted CW but didn't make any CW contacts.  Got 'er dun, though!

My QTH on Lamb's Knoll.  By the way, I really like my Thermarest Z-Seat.  I know it's just foam, but it's very comfortable.
We hiked back the same way we came.  Here are view's of my APRS-laid breadcrumbs from APRS.fi:

The packets from the first portion of my hike apparently weren't picked up my an iGate.
Here's the view of the contour lines.
I'll speak a bit now about what's in the area around South Mountain.  During the Civil War the area was critical to the Battle of AntietamGathland State Park was the location of a particularly bloody duel between Confederate Artillery batteries and infantry companies, which held the pass, and infantry regiments from New Jersey.  The New Jersey troops took the pass at great cost, earning a tactical victory, but the Confederates succeeded in their strategic aim of delaying the Union advance.  The State Park itself is the former estate of an American journalist, and it is also the site of the War Correspondent's Memorial.  If you're in the area, the park is worth visiting.
Here's the War Correspondent's Memorial.

Burkittsville is nearby, which has the dubious distinction of having the fictional Blair Witch fictionally inhabit the area around the actual town in an fictional documentary which was an actual movie.  The town is small but historic.  If you approach Gathland State Park from the east, you will travel through the town.

The area around South Mountain today is home to some cottage industries, including the production of apples, hard ciders, and meads.  (We sampled both the cider and the mead after hiking.  It was delicious!)  There is a also an excellent potter who lives just down the west side from the pass where Gathland State Park is.  After returning to the Jeep, my wife and I visited the potter and she bought a lovely coffee mug there.

It was a good day.  A nice brisk hike, some radio fun, pottery shopping, some mead and cider...it was all great.



  1. Nate, great report, I felt like I was there with you. I, like you, prefer a cooler day to hike. It keeps the bugs to a minimum and removes some of the humans as well. Thanks. 73 from Frank K0JQZ

  2. Thanks, Frank.

    Yes, my Norwegian and German blood is thick, and my upbringing in Minnesota and Wisconsin upbringing makes me tolerate the cold much better than the heat.

    73 Nate N0PCL