SOTA/POTA Activation of Wildcat Mtn. and Chattahoochee-Oconee NF
Another nice February weekend was upon us, and Ben (KO4KVH) and I decided to enjoy it with another ham radio adventure! This time, we traveled up to Hogpen Gap for a hike to Wildcat Mountain (W4G/NG-020) for a SOTA activation. Since I had not made a SOTA activation nor hiked in the North Georgia mountains over the past 2 years, I was looking forward to getting back into the swing of hiking while playing radios! What I wasn’t looking forward to was getting up at 0400 EST to leave our house by 0600. Because the parking lot at Hogpen Gap can fill up pretty quickly, especially on a nice day, we wanted to get to the lot around 0800 so we could spend more time hiking and less time driving around to find a parking spot. Thus, I set my alarm for 0400! As we had hoped, we arrived at the parking lot by ~0815 and were able to easily find a spot. Glad to see that waking up that early wasn’t in vain, we grabbed our packs and got ready to hike. While getting our gear together, we did check to see if the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (where Wildcat Mountain is located) was a POTA reference, and we were elated to see that it was (K-4473). A hike that gives us a POTA activation as well as a SOTA activation?!? We’ll take it!
The hike to Wildcat was a short yet punchy climb (it is accessible from the Appalachian Trail after all, so not surprising), but it was nothing too difficult or strenuous. I enjoyed seeing trees with wavy tree trunks forming a tunnel along the trail, as well as the greenery, which is a reminder that Spring, and thus warmer weather, are rapidly upon us (I don’t like cold all that much). Once we arrived at the summit of Wildcat Mountain, I was amazed at how breathtaking the views were up there!
Since it was early on a Sunday morning, we had the summit all to ourselves, which meant that short of getting in the way of people using the trail, we had our pick for where we wanted to set up the radios. Eager to see how my 40 meter antenna would perform, I voted to set that one up first. In spite of the SOTABeams wire being pretty easy to handle, the length of wire needed for a 40 meter EFHW can easily get tangled. After untangling the wire, we decided that we’re getting an antenna winder before our next trip (as we really don’t have the room to carry my yarn winder and swift)! Once the antenna was hanging, we affixed it to our NanoVNA for a calibration: despite getting a 1.6 SWR at 7.200 MHz when we tested it in the backyard, we measured an SWR of ~2 at 7.200 MHz at the summit, with the SWR minimum located at a higher frequency, meaning that our wire was too short. Fortunately, we had more wire in our packs that we spliced to the existing antenna to provide extra length. This modification resulted in an SWR of 1.4:1 at 7.200 MHz, which should perform well for phone activations.
After calibration, we quickly set up our Slim Jim antenna (N9TAX Labs) for our HT (Yaesu FT-60R) to see if we could make a few QSOs on 2 meters.
We started calling CQ SOTA on 146.52, but since there was no immediate activity, we went back to the Yaesu FT-818, fired it up, and reached out to our Elmer, W4HYC, for a performance check: he gave us a signal report of 57, so we were good to go on 40 meters! Within 15 minutes, we were able to make 4 QSOs with operators from Atlanta to Ohio, successfully activating Wildcat Mountain for SOTA for 11 points (8 for the summit plus 3 winter bonus points). Six more left for POTA!
After putting out a POTA spot at 7.287 MHz, it took ~15 minutes to get our remaining QSOs for a successful POTA activation. Since it was a nice day, we decided to spend more time on the summit to make more QSOs: we switched to 20 meters, where we were able to make a few Park to Park (P2P) QSOs. Happy with all of the contacts we made on HF, we began taking the antenna down and packing up the radio. While breaking the HF equipment down, we heard someone calling CQ SOTA on 146.52, giving us each an additional S2S QSO and our first POTA QSO on 2 meters. Immediately following, we heard N1RBD calling for Ben, giving us our final QSOs for the day. Another successful activation in the books! As we were on the summit of Wildcat Mountain for ~2h, we did learn a few lessons with the activation:
- We should bring a little table/stool to hold the radios, clipboards, etc., although this may not always be feasible depending on the hike.
- Having extra wire on hand in case you need to modify an antenna is helpful.
Making the most of a nice day, we decided to hike to Cowrock Mountain. No activation points here, but I heard that the views on Cowrock are worth seeing. Since it wasn’t a terribly long hike, I had no objections! The hike was really beautiful, with breathtaking views along the way.
The summit was just as beautiful as expected, and we were able to eat a quick lunch while enjoying the surroundings.
Once we left the summit, we had a nice, brief descent back to Tesnatee Gap before the 1 mile climb back to Hogpen Gap (i.e., the car). Yes, it was just one mile…but it was just one mile. For reference, I routinely exercise, including running ~15 miles a week, and that climb was rough! I clearly need to hike in the mountains more often to get my stamina back. Despite the discomfort experienced from being out of practice, the hike was absolutely worth the views and the POTA/SOTA activations. We really enjoyed our day hiking and playing radios and look forward to the next adventure!
Until next time,