This past weekend I was planning on a solo SOTA run up into NC since I have Friday’s off the rest of the year. When the XYL2b found out I was planning on Clingman’s Dome, she asked if she could tag along. I made sure she was aware that my SOTA was a priority on the trip and she had to give me radio time on the summits, to which she agreed. So, we make it into a mini-vaca.
We hit Standing Indian (W4C/WM-014) first and did a hit and run on VHF since we wound up leaving 90 minutes late and it was a 2.5 mile hike back to the truck and then another hour to the next summit. Garnered a 90 mile QSO with a mobile station back near the QTH and a S2S in TN literally as I was reaching to turn the HT off!
Afterwards, we hit Wine Spring Bald (W4C/WM-018) about 30 minutes before sunset. It was about a 15 minute hike to the AZ. I’m glad I checked the AZ on Google Earth with the Flood Tool because a wide open space was about .15mi before the summit and was begging for the SOTAbeams BandHopper to be set up. I worked 40m CW and was chased by my Elmer, N4HNH via ground wave. Nice surprise there! I lost sunlight and missed a great sunset photo op, but garnered 14 QSOs. Darkness and the drop in temperature prevented me from trying any more bands.
The next day we hit Clingman’s Dome (W4C/WM-001) which is the highest point in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We had some drama on the way up the entrance road because the XYL2b noticed her low fuel light was on! Here we are, 30 miles from the nearest fuel station! Oh well, we’ll deal with that later.
I caught three other SOTA buddies on a neighboring summit, Mount Mingus (W4T/SU-008) on their way up LITERALLY on their hands and knees. Made some VHF contacts from the summit and then set up HF at the base of the observation tower thanks to a suggestion from K2JB. It was a perfect spot. No noise, a rock to sit on, and surprisingly no one even gave me a second look. I used a newly tuned linked EFHW to be a bit inconspicuous and started on 40m CW. Got a good number of contacts and then heard K2JB and company over on Mingus come through on the HT so we worked S2S. Switched over to 20m and the fun began. I had a nice little pileup going and wound up working three DX stations. One in France and two in Spain. My first SOTA CW DX! I learned later that this qualified me for the 1000mi per watt club! My MTR3b puts out 4.2w on a LiPo charged to 12v, so it was around 1050mi/watt if memory serves. I’m absolutely loving CW and the MTR. After the pileup subsided, I powered off the MTR and called on VHF, picking up another random mobile on .52. After packing up and starting to head down, I was at the edge of the AZ and made one more call. I was shocked to pick up another buddy KN4ZKT on 146.55 over at Rabun Bald (W4G/NG-002) for one more S2S! After this QSO, a guy in his early 20s asked me what frequency I was on. Turns out he listens a lot on WebSDR and is going for his technicians license next month. I gave him a card I had about SOTA and POTA and he was very interested since he is a hiker as well. We may be hearing a new OP on the air next year!
As for the fuel situation, we decided to go for it. After all, we are on the highest peak in the area and it has to be downhill! We literally coasted in Neutral all the way to the main road, and it was about 20 miles back to Cherokee from that point. I would estimate we coasted a good 10-12 miles of that in Neutral. She had to brake a little more than usual since we couldn’t use compression braking and I warned her what to expect with steering and braking if the engine died on us. We did wind up making it back to Cherokee, most likely on fumes.
We fueled up and then hit Barnett Knob W4C/WM-055. K2JB had told me that the gate to the summit road may be open. There is an old fire tower and a current antenna farm at the summit. Well, we got there and the gate was open! Good thing, since the XYL2b was tired. We drove up and operated VHF only. She walked around next to me swinging my Arrow 3-ele Yagi around. Picked up the same 3 SOTA buddies that had been on Mingus for my first three contacts. After about 15 minutes we finally made the 4th and headed down.
Cowee Bald was on the schedule for Sunday, but got nixed due to rain.
Great SOTA time, awesome scenery and hikes, delicious food at some local eateries, and got to try some local brews in Bryson City.
Standing Indian Summit
Bryson City - View from the back deck where we stayed