Return to Lamb’s Knoll

Three years ago, I paid a visit to Lamb’s Knoll Summit in Maryland (as detailed on this very blog). At that time, I went up the Appalachian Trail to the summit with a handheld to test my VX8GR handheld and a 70cm hand-held yagi. I verified that I could hit the VWS 2 meter and 70 cm repeaters in Virginia even with the Comet SRH320A antenna, a short whip. I also checked out possible operating positions and access paths with the intent of returning at some point for a SOTA activation. I also verified that from the summit I had good cellular connectivity and could hit a bunch of APRS digipeaters. Today I returned with my FT817 and activated the peak, W3/WE-007.

Battlefield marker across the street from the parking lot at the base of the mountain
Battlefield marker across the street from the parking lot at the base of the mountain

The peak has been activated thirteen times, so not new to SOTA, but it is my first time activating it. Last time I came, the trail was muddy and it took quite a while to climb the winding trail. This time, since I was lugging my QRP gear, I went up the access road. As described by W3AAX, I went to the top of the road and around a gate on the left fork, continuing upward on a paved but apparently infrequently used road which leads to a large antenna installation at the very summit. A fence surrounds the installation, which consists of several outbuildings (of one of which is literally a port-a-john) and a large tower with microwave dishes and vertical antennas. Just beyond that enclosure, the path ends.

Just off to the left of the service road, not very far up the mountain, is a civil war monument. It’s on a small path off the road, and I only knew it was there because it showed up on my Ingress scanner.
The soldier seemed to be wearing something familiar looking on his waist, so I took a closer look. I’m not sure what it is, but it looked just like the FT817 in its carrying case, complete with rubber-ducky antenna.

I could tell from a GoogleMap that the left spur that winds behind the fence is only about 75 meters from the Appalachian Trail, just to the South and there is a side trail (perhaps a deer trail?) that connects the two. I followed that to the Appalachian Trail and looked for a clearing that would give me a shot at line of sight to DC and VA. In summer, though, the foliage is dense and no clear shot exists from the summit. Nonetheless, I was able to check in with VWS members AF4PD, W2WCM/M and W3HXF over both repeaters. To be valid contacts for SOTA purposes, however, QSOs need to be direct, so I tried calling on 146.520 — no luck, even after spotting myself using my cell phone to update sotawatch.


HF yielded better results: 13 contacts on 20 meters (including one summit-to-summit QSO) and 5 more on 40m. I tried SSB on 20 meters, but got no responses. I’ve never had good luck with QRP phone, so I didn’t have high hopes. I gave 10 meters a shot on CW and saw that I was being picked up by the reverse beacon network in Brazil, but did not hear any replies.

This is the operating position: butt on a log, radio on the right knee, log book on the left, phone (for time) on the ground at my feet, antenna suspended from a short feed line. The antenna went up at about a 45 degree angle to a tree.

Equipment this time consisted of an FT817, a meter of BNC-terminated coax, and the trail-ready LNR 40/20/10 end-fed dipole. I ran 5W for the whole session, powered by a 5Ah lead acid battery — about as much as I wanted to lug 2 miles up a hill on a hot day.

Radio selfie
Radio selfie. I didn’t realize the dial light was on — it should have been set off the conserve power in daylight.

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