In May, we met up with our friends Paul/KF9EY and Beth/KB9DOU for a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Joyce/K0JJW and I had been on the parkway before but had not completed the whole route. We all thought it would be a great trip to do together, in about a week, so we would not be in a rush. Both couples have Class B RVs (camper vans), which are well-suited for such a trip.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is part of the National Park Service, construction started in the 1930s and took decades to complete. The basic concept is a scenic road with a maximum speed limit of 45 MPH connecting Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Shenandoah National Park. We met at the Smoky Mountain end of the parkway and traveled north to Shenandoah.
Of course, we included some Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA) activations. The Blue Ridge area is target-rich with SOTA and POTA opportunities.
Our first Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation was from Clingmans Dome (W4C/WM-001), the highest spot in the Great Smoky Mountain NP. This is an easy activation with a half-mile hike (one way) to an observation tower. See my previous trip report here.
We opted for a simple VHF SOTA activation, using a Yaesu FT-2DR handheld transceiver and an RH-770 whip antenna. The observation tower was not too crowded and we were able to make a surprising number of 2m FM radio contacts. We just called CQ on 146.52 and raised a number of home stations, mobile stations, and a few campers. Joyce, Paul, and I all completed at least 10 contacts so we decided to submit the activation for both POTA and SOTA.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Then we headed up the parkway, stopping along the way for photo opportunities, a winery visit, lunch stops, and short hikes. We stayed at different campgrounds for three nights along the parkway. To activate the parkway for POTA (K-3378), we stopped at a picnic area for lunch and set up for 20m SSB. We used our typical POTA setup: Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed-halfwave antenna supported by a fishing pole.
The station worked well for us but it was a little slow completing contacts on 20m. A 20 AH Bioenno battery supplied the DC power for the FT-991 and we kept the RF output at around 50 watts. I used HAMRS on my Windows PC for logging and it worked well for me. (That logging program keeps getting better with each revision.) Paul and Joyce preferred to log using old-fashioned pen and paper.
Loft Mountain Campground
We camped the last two nights of our trip together at Loft Mountain Campground in Shenandoah NP. This is a rather unique spot in that the campground is located on top of a broad SOTA summit and is inside a national park. The SOTA summit is appropriately named Big Flat Mountain (W4V/BR-009), while Shenandoah NP is park K-0064. This makes for an easy SOTA plus POTA activation.
The summit is located inside the National Radio Quiet Zone, which may require you to coordinate with the NRQZ before operating. However, the W4V Association Reference Manual says that “the typical SOTA activation does not require coordination,” mainly because it is a short-term, temporary radio activity.
Once again, we operated midday on 20m SSB and had reasonably good propagation. Joyce and I made some stateside contacts but when Paul took over, he snagged a couple of European stations. That might be due to his superior operating skill or maybe the band just shifted. Between the three of us, we made 45 QSOs in about an hour or so.
We had a fun time on this trip, which is another example of blending SOTA and POTA activities with a camping vacation. Our “leisurely pace” strategy worked out well and we were never in a hurry. Of course, there are always more things we could have done. The Blue Ridge Parkway has plenty of interesting tourist, hiking, and SOTA/POTA opportunities. Too many to do in a week.
73 Bob K0NR