2020 Golden Packet Event on Apple Orchard Mountain

SOTA Stats

  • When: 2020 from 1442Z to 1600Z

  • Where: Apple Orchard Mountain - W4V/RA-001

  • Who: Just me

  • Ascent: Hike Up

  • Equipment: Kenwood D-700, Opek HVU-500 antenna

  • APRS Coverage: Excellent

  • Contacts Made: 7

Mistakes were made; success was had.

As in years past, the goal of the Golden Packet Event is to create an APRS network, along the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. My spot in this fifteen-station link is number five. I suspect all fifteen summits are a little different to get to and operate from. While Apple Orchard is one of the most beautiful summits I’ve visited (ranks in my top five), getting there…​ sucks.

Twas the Night Before…​

I left Maryland the day before, since my drive would take me around five hours (ha ha ha ha). I made it roughly 45 minutes away from the house when I remembered that I had forgotten feedline. Not sure how I was expecting to connect the antenna to the radio but I figured it was important enough to turn around and return home to retrieve[1].

My routing engine told me that it would be fastest to go via I-66 and I-81. I’m not sure why I continue to go that way as every single time I use those two highways bad things happen[2]. This time it was just a lot of traffic combined with road construction.

When I finally arrived at the gated entrance to the mountain there was just enough daylight left to make a quick run up the mountain. I pulled together my antenna supports, antenna, and battery and made the 20-minute trek up the mountain to cache it all for the night. I was greeted by a nice sunset once I finally made it to the top and had stowed my stuff.

Figure 1. Sunset on Apple Orchard Mountain

That night I attempted to sleep in my car. I’ve done it before and, being alone, I just didn’t want to deal with a tent for just a few hours. I may deal with a tent next time. It was uncomfortable. Not unbearable, mind you, just uncomfortable.

The next morning I was up with the sun (literally) and found a nice grab-n'-go breakfast at the Peaks of Otter Restaurant just down the road. With breakfast in my belly, I returned to the mountain for my journey up for the day.

The event

Getting up to the summit is a 20 to 30-minute hike up a paved road with a ~300 foot altitude change. It doesn’t sound bad but when you’re trying to haul gear up, it’s not a happy time. Coming down, by the way, is much easier.

I was setup and on the air at 9:17 (EDT) and was hearing a station on 1200 baud (we were all going to be operating at 9600 baud). Turns out it was KM6BWB-10 (yes, I decoded it), a balloon at ~35k feet in altitude over DC! At 10:39, my friends down at Comers Rock (KJ4OAP) came online and we chatted a bit on UHF[3].

Things started coming together fairly quickly then. At 10:44 I was seeing Maryland Mountains which meant that Hawksbill had to be on the air as well. At 11:05, Roan showed up followed by Clingmans Dome at 11:37. The best part was seeing Katahdin on my screen at 12:25! I did, eventually, see all of the stations on my screen and even received a QSL from VE1WRG in Nova Scotia!

We were asked to obtain signal strengths of our neighbors. From AOMTN-5, I was receiving COMERS-4 with roughtly 8-9 bars and HAWKSBILL-6 with roughly 3 bars. I was never able to reach Hawksbill on UHF voice which goes to show that this is probably the shakiest path on the network.

Figure 2. AOMTN-5 Station in 2020

At 2:00PM, everyone packed up and headed off of their summits. I was very ready to get down. Even though temperatures were supposed to be in the upper 70Fs to lower 80Fs, the sun beating down with very little shade, made it nearly unbearable. The flying insects were bad, too. I need a better plan for that summit…​

SOTA Activation

I figured that while I was up there and waiting for everyone else to get setup I might as well try to make some contacts on VHF. I managed to make seven contacts (six on 146.520) with three contacts being to other summits! I almost brought out my HF radio but it was just too darn hot.

Thanks to WS4W, KG4OYS, W4MW, KJ4OAP, N4LXP, KN4CFT, and W4BVB for making my SOTA activation a success.

1. At least I didn’t forget my radio, right Bob? :)
2. And by that I mean car crashes, flooding, and even large boulders in the middle of the roadway.
3. The path between Apple Orchard and Comers Rock is fantastic. Very little loss of signal on VHF and UHF. Am able to work them on an HT with 5 watts on 445MHz!