March Mountain Topping Report

Every March, in far east Tennessee, right on the North Carolina boarder there is a group of amateur radio enthusiasts that spread out on different peaks along the Appalachian Mountains to make contacts using the advantage of high elevation and low noise levels.

Last year I had just gotten my Ham license and all I had was a hand held. Not deterred, I still made the hike up Lookout Mountain and made a few FM contacts with just an aftermarket whip antenna. This year, I came better prepared and had a very relaxing day on Raccoon Mountain.

Mountain Topping Station

The following are the basics of my station –

  • Yaesu FT2Dr HT combined with an N9ATX Labs roll-up j-pole 2m/70cm 20 feet up in a tree.
  • Yaesu FT-818nd combined with an Arrow 2 handheld yagi.
  • Powerwerx 60 watt tri-fold solar panel to keep it all running.

The weather was just short of perfect with temperatures in the upper 50’s to 60’s. The sky was perfectly blue without a cloud in sight. The wind was a different story, up on the mountain it was howling with gusts I would guesstimate around 30mph. At least I was on the leeward side of the mountain.

I wound up making five QSOs for the log. Three of these were my first 2 meter SSB contacts which I was thrilled about. If you haven’t ever played with 2 meter SSB, you need to do it once. Its a very under utilized mode that is affordable to operate, provides consistent results, and is very portable. I was also able to open up an FM repeater just outside of Knoxville with my HT plugged into the rollup J-Pole antenna. An operator came back and told me I was getting into it loud and clear. I was surprised! With clear line of sight to Wauchessi Mountain, that group was booming in. The group that was on Beaver Dam Bald was a little harder to hear and required the yagi pointed their direction for good reception.

Path between myself and one group of Mountain Toppers

Conclusions –

  • We need to start drumming up interest in VHF and UHF SSB for the reasons listed above. So from now on, when I plan a POTA activation that has some elevation, I am going to try and get the word out so that interested operators will know to be listening.
  • APRS is awesome! This mode is one of the reasons I got licensed. If you don’t have an APRS capable radio, I would strongly encourage you to look into it (see screenshot below). It is an awesome tool that provides excellent awareness between operators and can make the difference in the outcome if someone gets in trouble. Just because you have a cell phone doesn’t mean you will be able to make the call. Think about it.
  • While I really enjoy Parks on the Air, this experience has made me realize that I need to get out and just try to solicit some random contacts through different modes. Anyone can spot themselves to a site and harvest the pile-up. When is the last time that you went out and listened around and made some random CQ’s to find someone locally through simplex? You never know who might be out there doing the same. Sometimes the random stuff is the best stuff.
  • Finally, this is all about having fun. It is called “Amateur” Radio after all. I have noticed there is a certain element that focuses all their time on the “Emergency” aspects of this hobby. Don’t get me wrong, the emergency aspects has its place; However, at the end of the day this is a hobby and should be thought of as such whenever possible. If you make it a job, you will eventually get burned out. Tinker, make contacts, make friends, and have fun!
My drive up and hike in tracked on APRS
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