Over the weekend of 13/14 April 2019 I was in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia with Tony M5OTA activating some SOTA summits. This was a new one for me. I once tried to activate a summit near my UK home but failed at the first hurdle when I was unable to connect the antenna to the radio!
We set out to complete as many summits as we could. In the end we achieved successful activations on 5 Of the 6 summits we hiked to. On the Friday evening the weather was grim while driving down to Luray, VA. I was staying overnight in a hostel in the town while Tony was staying at the Skyland resort in the park itself. The rain was pretty constant driving from Elkridge, MD and Google Maps took me West to Frederick, MD and then down Rt340, saving some 45 minutes over the more direct I-95/495/66 route which skirts round Washington DC.
Saturday was a glorious day, mostly blue skies and sunny. A perfect temperature for hiking and we chatted to a few curious passers-by on the first peak as we were setting up. One guy commented that ham radio and hiking was better than Instagram!
We did 3 summits on Saturday starting at 0930 and finishing by 1800. There was also some driving to do to get between them. We did 2x 10 pointers and an 8 pointer, smiles all round.
Sunday was a different story. Just as I was about to drive away from Luray having been to the store to buy lunch, I got a text message saying it was pretty rainy in the park and not to rush. The heaviest of the rain passed over me as I drove to the park and was very precipitous. When we got to our meeting place the worst of the rain had passed and we both got another 8 points on the first summit. Onward to the next one.
Similarly, the weather on summit 2 of the day was grim, but not actually raining. We were in cloud and visibility was poor. Like driving through pea soup in fact. This summit had a comms site on the top and was only a short walk up from the nearest overlook. As I managed to find my 4th CW QSO before Tony had found his 4th QSO I borrowed his Elecraft AX-1 antenna and went down the hill to give him his qualifying contact.
Summit #6 started again in cloud and we’d had to drive through some pretty heavy rain to get there, gradually heading North through the park. We decided that once the rain stopped we would attempt the summit. It was only 0.8 miles each way and would have had some great views goad it not been so cloudy. However, on the ascent I’d heard some distant rumbles of thunder and when we got right to the summit the lightning came overhead.
After the 2nd set of lightning had lit the Clouds, followed very soon after by the thunder we decided to abort, lest our radios get zapped. I then rather foolishly made a flippant comment about hoping we didn’t get the rain that was customary with aforementioned lightning and thunder. How I wish I’d stayed quiet. A week later my boots were still not dry inside. The rain came on so fast it was too late to put my waterproof trousers on, so I got thoroughly drenched. Thankfully my backpack stayed largely dry thanks to the cover, but the pole meant the cover didn’t fit properly. My KX2 bag did get a little damp as found on my notepad pages, but the radio was dry. Perhaps it’s a British thing, we were both too polite to say we wanted to call it off sooner.
The trouble with waterproof boots is that as well as keeping water out they also keep it in when it runs down your socks! All I can say is that I am glad I packed an extra change of clothes and the back of my car has tinted windows and is big enough to get changed in… Then followed a 30-minute drive up to Front Royal and dinner at a BBQ place in a converted petrol station. That was a good meal! Followed by a drive back home through some torrential rain on I-66 as well.
Interestingly on the first peak Tony made all his QSOs on 20m before I’d even worked one on 40m. Then the next two summits I worked my CW QSOs before he had worked his. Rather surprisingly CW didn’t always beat SSB in making QSOs the fastest. On one summit I’d made all my QSOs in under 20 minutes, on others it took me over an hour. Not what either of us had expected.
It has already cost me a few extra $ in improving my set-up, but certainly be doing it again.
Both of us had Elecraft KX-2 radios. I was using a 40/30/20m link dipole and was also carrying a 10m travel pole. The pole was way too big and heavy and I only actually needed it on one summit, trees provided support on the others, but it was all I had at short notice.