Hawksbill Mtn. APRS Appalachian Trail Test

For the third year in a row, Northern Virginia hams from the Fauquier Amateur Radio Association participated in the, now annual, Appalachian Trail Golden Packet (ATGP) event.

This event has a simple goal… stitch together Packet Radio nodes up and down the east coast roughly following (and eventually servicing) the Appalachian Trail with a goal to relay packets from each end of the AP using only these stations.

The various linear links are shown on the Radio Links page for the ATGP. Our station is #6 in the list and in 2009 and 2010 was on White Rock Cliff. The link margins north and south from White Rock Cliff were S20+ spectacular. In 2011, we decided to try something new. Using Radio Mobile we found both Hawksbill and Stony Man mountains have good to excellent link margins both north and south. Hawksbill was the slightly better of the two so we made plans to hike there.

Being this is a ham radio exercise with an Appalachian Trail theme, and since the AT passes Hawksbill within 100 feet or so, the new Hawksbill Station 6 location made good sense.

Plus, Hawksbill Mountain is on the Summits on the Air (SOTA) list as W4/SH-001. We could kill two birds with one stone and participate in two different ham radio events. In fact, some of the ATGP 2011 participants were recruited from North American SOTA regulars. Eric made good use of our time on peak to make some SOTA contacts as shown below.

Needless to say, ATGP 2011 Packet Relaying was the best effort so far. Here are some pictures from our outing. Click on each for more details.

Lessons learned from this activity include:

  • Most of the peak to peak 100 mile or so links work quite well on 2m and 70cm. Given the elevation this is no real surprise, but it pays to research the peaks carefully to avoid terrain blockage. Bob Bruninga did the initial research using Google Earth with further work done with Radio Mobile and SRTM elevation data.
  • Packet traffic is on VHF 144.340 while voice comms use UHF. The Kenwood D710A seamlessly provides both. You may have noticed a single dual-band antenna might be a better choice for this activity. Your right. My personal enjoyment, however, is designing purpose built antennas for a given activity. The 2m Collinear J-Pole was built in 2009 and used every time. UHF comms were not possible with the 2m antenna alone. The second 70cm collinear J-Pole was brought along in 2011. A Diplexer made this easy.
  • The 2m antenna works as designed needing only three or four guys for proper deployment. I had no such solution for the last minute 70cm antenna addition. After some thought, Eric simply twisted one of the 2m guys around the top of the 70cm to hold it up. Simple. Done. One of the photos above shows the simple twist.
  • Wind? Well yes it was quite windy. This antenna does quite well in the wind. We never have problems.

Kudos to Rob and Jay for their help before, during and after the event.

Thanks to Eric, W4EON, who knows these local peaks quite well from his SOTA activities and provides great insights helping ensure success.

Special thanks go to Mark, KD6AKC, who recorded APRS packets from his home QTH down in the “low-lands” of Fauquier County leaving us free to simply deploy the APRS system on the mountain.

The next ATGP is Sunday afternoon 22 July 2012. Join us. Visit www.aprs.org to learn how.

1 thought on “Hawksbill Mtn. APRS Appalachian Trail Test”

  1. Hey folks, I'm not a ham. I'm a medic on a special forces mountain team. We just got back from a mountain exercise last weekend. We have a lot of communications options. Harris 152s are light and have SATCOM capability. That has been our go to for dismounted operations for some time. However it does not have HF capabilities. We want to use low powered HF for an alternate long distance communications plan. Our HF capable radios are large and not practical for carrying in mountainous terrain. If any of you could recommend a light weight, compact HF transceiver(if there is one) and accessories (antenna package, batteries, etc) it would be much appreciated. You folks are the subject matter experts of your field. I look forward to hearing back from you. I hope all is well.

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