Two For One: Rocky and Tray Mountains

Two For One: Rocky and Tray Mountains

The title of this post may be misleading because, at first glance, it suggests that this trip was an easy way to grab two activations. Although this trip ended up being my most successful and interesting activation to date, the hiking was physically challenging. My Garmin Fenix recorded 11.6 miles of hiking with 3465 feet of elevation gain, almost 1000 feet of elevation gain over that on my activation of Blood Mountain two weeks ago.

For this combined activation of Tray Mountain (W4G/NG-005) and Rocky Mountain (W4G/NG-011), I decided to start at the Unicoi Gap trail head and first hike to the summit of Tray Mountain and then grab Rocky Mountain on my way back. On Sunday, I woke up at 0400 so I could make some final preparations of my hiking gear before hitting the road at 0600 (as the parking lot for this trail head can sometimes fill up early, and I also wanted to be off the trail well before dark).

On the drive up to the trail head, I was monitoring the Gainesville repeater, which is quite popular, and I was able to jump into a conversation about SOTA activations. Another station was heading up to Springer Mountain, and we started planning out a summit-to-summit activation, as well as chatting about QRP rigs. It was a good way to help pass some of the drive time (~2:15 total time to reach the trail head), and it helped increase some of the excitement surrounding the upcoming activation.

I arrived at the trail around 0830 EST. Although it was cold out, I decided to not bring along my larger coat given that I was way too hot on Blood Mountain a couple weeks prior, and the forecast said it was going to warm up as the day progressed – this ended up being a very good call. After tuning my HT to 146.52 and throwing on my pack, I started for the trail.

The one thing to note about the trail from this parking lot is that it starts with a climb. I’ve hiked it in the past, but I had forgotten just how steep and long the first climb is. I ascended almost 1000 ft over the first mile, and with the weight of my pack, I was far from cold. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think “what am I doing out here?” a few times on that climb. However, there were some awesome ice formations and waterfalls on the way up, so pausing for a minute here and there was at least rewarded with some nice views.

After finishing the first climb on this hike, there is a nice descent down to Indian Grave Gap before starting the climb up Tray Mountain. I was able to cover more ground during this time, which was a nice reprieve from the “warmup” climb, especially since the long climb up to Tray Mountain was about to start.

The climb up to the summit of Tray Mountain was uneventful. I passed a handful of backpackers working their way in the opposite direction, but I mostly had the trail to myself. Once I was approximately 3/4 of the way done with the climb to the summit, I heard N1RBD calling on 146.52, and I was eventually able to make contact with him. He was heading over to another summit, and we planned out a summit-to-summit contact because we anticipated reaching the summits around the same time. We were able to check in with each other regularly to make sure our timings worked out, which was nice because it gave me an excuse to stop and rest every once and awhile.

I finally reached the summit of Tray Mountain around 1100 EST, and I had the summit to myself. The views were amazing – there were no clouds, so I could see for miles. Also, compared to Blood Mountain two weeks prior, it was much warmer on the summit, with considerably less wind. I quickly set up my N9TAX slim jim, and that’s when things got interesting, in a good way.

My good friend and Elmer, W4HYC, lives approximately 100 miles south of Tray Mountain, and prior to this trip, he mentioned that he wanted to see if he could hear me when I was on the summit. He was monitoring 52 when I called CQ, and sure enough, he heard me (about a 3-5 signal). Right after calling CQ, I got my first contact, but W4HYC doubled with them a bit, so I had to navigate multiple stations for a few minutes. I was able to get W4HYC to standby while I worked the waiting stations, and in under 10 minutes, I had 9 solid contacts, including a summit-to-summit with N1RBD.

After getting my contacts, I switched frequencies to chat with W4HYC a bit, and it was awesome being able to work someone close to home on simplex when I was 2 hours north in the mountains. Although he was able to hear me, we decided to try using a repeater located close to his house, and he said I was able to get into it with full quieting. I quickly realized that I should have setup my J-pole at my home station for KO4KVG before heading out because I’m fairly confident I would have been able to contact her as well. I did have W4HYC relay her a message that I was on the summit of Tray and that things were going well (given that the cell reception on this hike was almost non-existent).

After a quick bite to eat, I started packing all my gear and headed down back toward Indian Grave Gap. I did touch base with N1RBD again because he was heading to another summit, so we wanted to coordinate for another S2S contact. The hike down was a very nice reprieve, and I passed a number of hikers on their way to the summit (my timing was perfect as I had the summit to myself during my entire activation). Once I reached Indian Grave Gap, I was able to get a text out to KO4KVG asking her to monitor the repeater close to our house (her HT has no trouble accessing that repeater), and then I started the climb up to the summit of Rocky Mountain.

The climb up to the summit of Rocky Mountain was very difficult. It was quite steep, and it felt like it was never going to end. I’m sure part of this perceived difficulty was simply because I had already climbed quite a bit over the course of the day, but it was exhausting nonetheless. N1RBD checked in with me a few times just so we could coordinate timing, and our timings were actually spot on, as I reached the summit about 5 minutes after he reached the summit of Bell Mountain. I quickly contacted him for our S2S contact, and then I hung my slim jim in a tree so I could get setup for more contacts.

While waiting for N1RBD to finish his activation on 146.52, I called KO4KVG via our local repeater, and she had no trouble hearing me. This was our first time actually trying to communicate via radio while I’m hours away in the mountains, and the effectiveness far exceeded our expectations. It was great being able to provide a progress report and to coordinate my timing for getting off the mountain. After a few minutes of catching up, I switched back over to 146.52, quickly got my last required contacts, and then jumped back on the repeater to let KO4KVG know that I was about to head back down the mountain and back to the house.

Overall, while this trip was more physically challenging than I initially expected it would be, it was a very successful trip. I easily acquired all the contacts I needed to activate both mountains. More importantly, I was really able to test the limits of my equipment by contacting W4HYC and KO4KVG (via the repeater located nearest to our house, although I also learned that I need to make sure my J-pole at home is setup before leaving). I also made a new SOTA friend, N1RBD, who I’m sure I’ll be talking with a lot over activations in the future.

Until next time,