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Appalachian Trail long distance hiking w/ SOTA

Hi all,

so, if the pandemic allows, we will be over to the US from mid June to mid November, hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail. We will start in the White Mountains, finish at Mt Katahdin (which my girlfriend needs to be a 2000-miler) and then head south, starting in Damascus, VA, finishing at Springer Mountain, GA (which will make me a 2000-miler).
Since I got my license in June last year, I’d really like to do some SOTA activations, if our “hiking schedule” allows. Right now, I have a lot of questions, trying to find out if my plan would work out.

  1. I know I’m allowed to operate with my German CEPT Novice license in the US. The FCC website says “Amateur radio operators who will be in the United States for extended periods of time are encouraged to obtain an FCC-issued amateur service license grant.” - Do ~5 months count as an extended period of time? Or shall I start learning for the US-license now? :wink:

  2. Gear wise I will be limited. We’re no ultralight-hikers, but of course weight is an important matter. I was thinking about a HT for 2m + a roll up Slim Jim antenna. Since we won’t be able to charge batteries every day, I would need a HT which has either a good battery or is able to be charged via an USB powerbank - charging via USB would be a huge plus nonetheless, since I don’t want to carry another charger. Any ideas?

  3. Will I have fun with that setup on 2m? I’m just wondering - 2m simplex is pretty much dead most of the time in Germany. I already watched some videos, read some threads about 2m SOTA and came to the conclusion that this might be worth a try in the US.

Thanks for your help!

73
Lukas

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Can’t comment on the licensing aspect, but in terms of the usability of an HT and slim-jim antenna, you will have a ball on SOTA summits with that. The AT crosses many SOTA-legal summits and I’ve never had a problem activating such summits here in VA with a “mere HT” and improved antenna.

Do you have the HT yet? I don’t know of any that can charge directly from a USB power bank without a bunch of extra stuff in between, but if you get an HT that runs full power off AA batteries (some older Icoms and Yaesus for example), you can get AA cells that charge via USB. That said, my old Icom IC-V8, running off NiMH AAs, lasts multiple activations and performs great.

You’ll be heading away from the Shenandoah Valley, which is a shame as the summits crossed by the AT there are well within range of the major population centers in VA. You would definitely have success with your HT on those. :slight_smile:

ETA: The Slim-Jim will work, but not all summits will have trees to hang an antenna from (or they’ll be so low as to be useless for that). I’ve found these antennas work as well as a slim-jim unless you can get your slim-jim more than 10’ above you:

That is the SMA-male version, but they make one for BNC and SMA-female.

This way, you don’t have to deal with coax or worrying about an antenna support. I used mine this past Friday to activate a summit, Hogback Mountain, entirely on 2m with my HT.

Chris

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That’s a recent change then. You used to need a CEPT 1 licence to operate overseas.

Anyway, you can only operate under CEPT for 3 months max. So if you are there for 5 months, you are there for longer than CEPT operation allows which is reasonable to assume you should look at getting something from the FCC.

Of course, if you make sure that the time between first operation and last operation are no more than 90 days apart, you meet CEPT rules. But that would mean 2 months when you couldn’t operate.

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Thanks for the clarification. That means I have to do at least the Technician class then.

As for the CEPT Novice license: I’ve got that information from the DARC website; stating that ECC/REC/05(06) is implemented in the US. See Cept_Laenderliste.pdf

That sounds good!

I have a Kenwood TH-D72, mainly for working OSCARs. It’s pretty heavy, comparing it to my Baofeng RD-5R which I use for DMR, which would be okay terms of weight.
We’ve been in the Shenandoahs in 2017, back then I didn’t have a license :slight_smile:
Thanks for the antenna suggestion, I might give it a try, first have to see if it’s available in Germany.

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Cheers for that link. It can be hard to keep up to date :wink:

Sounds like a great adventure.

Did you find this page:

Especially the summit list:
Summits – AT-on-the-air

For yaesu handhelds there is a USB charger so you can use your powerbank.

Slim-jim is a great choice. I did a multiday hike using only solar charging also on HF with a FT-817nd.

Learning CW will reduce weight even more. But I know that is not so easy.

73 Joe

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Hi DO4SKY,
Sounds like a fun trip! I have done a lot of SOTA/hiking on the AT in both the Mid Atlantic and New England so I can give you some pretty good advice.
I carry a USB power brick that has PD capability. That with an adpater gives me 12VDC that I can use with my HF radio and HT. This video explains it: Powering a HF Radio off of a USB PD Battery - YouTube

Most AT summits (with the exception of the Whites and Katahdin) will have trees that you can hang your J-pole from. I always carry a lightweight collapsible fishing pole that I can use in the event there are no trees at the summit. Considering the length of your hike, the weight might not be worth it.
I personally carry an Arrow antenna that I have modified for weight and space savings. Due to the higher directed gain, I get better results with it. Ultimate Arrow Antenna Modifications - YouTube

2M used to be really good in New England, but it seems like in the last few years it has started to die off and not be as popular. If you can, bring a small HF QRP radio which will guarantee your success in SOTA activation’s.

Some AT resources: Appalachian Trail Google Map
LongTrailsMap
You should download the Far Out app for the AT. This pretty much what everyone is using on the trail.
‎FarOut (Formerly Guthook) on the App Store

2022 Hostels Page: https://whiteblaze.net/forum/articles/2022-hostels.pdf
*Though if it was me, I would stealth camp instead. Your risk may vary.

Lastly, I have done a bunch of AT SOTA activation trip reports. Click on the state that interests you:
https://kb1hqs.com/state-map/

Have fun and be safe!
73,
Stuart, KB1HQS.com

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Hi Lucas,

Email me for a list of AT SOTA Summits. k2jb (at) bellsouth.net

2-meters may be disappointing in some areas due to the lack of simplex activity, inability to spot or remoteness. An MTR or similar rig with readily available 9V batteries might offer a greater chance of a successful activation.

Dean ~ K2JB

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Does your handheld cover the American frequencies? I think the FM simplex frequencies are above 146MHz so you might not be able to transmit there with a European handheld.

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Check to see if your HT needs a mod for the higher 146 Mhz range. You’ll need the slim Jim to give you the extra range for sure. I always take a small HF radio, either my MTR v2 or KX1 to “guarantee” a successful activation along the AT. I’m hoping to be over there early June.

Watch out for the ticks!
GL & 73
Roger

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I would agree with Dan K2JB. Just a quick look at the map shows that most of the AT is nowhere near a populated area. 2M might be nice to chat with other hams on the trail, but if I was planning on activating a SOTA site, I’d take an HF radio.
If you need 12V to charge an HT, there is a company on Amazon called DROK that makes a lot of buck/boost converters that are small and quiet enough to boost 5V from USB up to whatever the HT needs.

Good luck
Dave AA3EE

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Wow, thanks for all your replies!

@KB1HQS Thanks for the hint regarding the PD charger/power bank, I will have a look at that. For the hiking: We’ll stay in motels/hostels roughly once a week, depending on weather and availability. The rest of the time, we obviously will stay at shelters/tent sites. We’ve used the Guthook App on our last 1000 mile-hike in 2017 and it’s a really good source for recent information about water sources etc. :wink:

@G4TGJ & @MW0IDX my TH-D72 doesn’t have the mod (yet) - but anyway, like I said before, I’m not sure if I will bring that or something else. Did you have any trouble at customs with “non-US” radios?

Most of you have written to bring a HF radio. The problem with that is: I can only operate in SSB, because my CW knowledge is, well… more or less non existent. With only 5 months from now until starting the hike, I think I won’t be able to improve that much, unfortunately. Keeping in mind that I’ll also have to do at least the Technician class now. As a Technician I would also only be able to operate on 10m in SSB (correct me if I’m wrong!).
Like I said, we’re not that much into ultralight hiking, nevertheless: Weight is really an issue. So it’s more like a decision between VHF or HF :confused:

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I’ve never had a problem with a non USA radio, e.g Kenwood HT/FT857 getting through customs in the past. Keep in a box marked HAM radio with your callsign (home licence) along with your carry on.

Before I got my general licence (K3IDX) I just signed W3/MW0IDX etc which gave me more privileges than my general licence does now. Although the rules might have changed since, best to check.

Plenty of time to learn CW before you go, even if rudimentary, you’ll still make plenty contacts.

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In just 1 month after a one hour a day Monday to Friday training on 2m FM, I went from zero to making my 1st CW QSO with a German station on 10m back in 1985.
You have time to do it as long as your other duties and priorities let you some daily time to work on it. But you know priorities can always be changed… :wink:

73,

Guru

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You would be amazed what progress you can make doing say, 10-15 minutes every couple of days practicing Morse. Once you have learned to copy and send the basics (letters, numbers, and a few pro-signs like VA and KN) you won’t need to get very fast.

Most chasers will be more than happy to work you the activator at 5 - 12 wpm. For the few that won’t slow down to match your speed, simply ignore them or send PSE QRS.

Good luck and have fun.

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I just wanted to pop in and say that long distance hikes is an entire subgerne on YouTube. I got sucked in real deep a few months ago. The only reason I bring this up is this - when long distance hiking the AT you have a couple of options for places to sleep.

  1. Carry sleeping gear with you and where you end up is where you sleep. On a few sections of the AT I have hiked signs will tell you that you can’t camp after certain heights.
  2. ALOT of hostels / towns along the way you can plan it out so that you don’t have to sleep outside all the time.

I bring these things up because you won’t always have to carry a lot of heavy stuff with you or worry about power to recharge your gear. Sure powerbanks will be helpful but you will also need to charge those.

I thru hiked the the AT 2 years ago. I was with a guy who videoed the entire trip. As far as power went, he had one power block which he would recharge when able. About every 4 or 5 days there was a chance to plug in. From Georgia to New York. A lot of the shops and cafes have charging strips out front since they know people will be looking to recharge device. Sometimes parks had plugs ins if you looked.

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I’d suggest the Yeasu VX6R (waterproof and tough) a extra LiPo VX6R battery and the AA battery tray so you would have 3 power sources. AA batteries are easy to transport and find.

For antennas a Roll-Up Jpole (I have a N9TAX) and a Signal Stick or two. The signal sticks glow in the dark (very important trust me!) Both of these antennas are compact, Rollup and are lightweight.

If you can get your code skills up to speed the MTR or similar is, in addition to the HT the way to go!

Good luck! I plan to be on the AT a lot this summer activating summits and hope to run into you!

Erik
KE8OKM

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I learned enough CW in about three months to make SOTA QSOs. It doesn’t have to be fast or sexy, just enough to get the requisite SOTA exchange of info. I only spent about 30 min a day on my commute to get to that point. Yes, you can do it.

Also when you have Wi-Fi access at Hostels, take full advantage of the ‘Alert’ feature on the SOTA site to let people know when you plan to be on which summit. You can set up alerts several days in advance, with a freq and time in mind. That will increase your chances of getting QSOs when/where you can’t spot. In the comments, ask chasers to spot you.

Sounds like a rad trip man, have fun.

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I started studying CW in August 2020 and completed my first SOTA CW activation in Dec 2020. The only thing I could do was copy callsigns (usually with a repeat) and signal reports, but that’s the minimum of what you need to know how to do. I just used a script for my part of the CW exchange and since I was the activator that drove the chasers to send what I was expecting.

Long Island CW Club (https://longislandcwclub.org/) is a great option for getting started if you can!

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