N2CQ's Appalachian Trail report

Why should a person who is 63 years of age decide to take an extended trip to the Appalachian Trail within a week from retirement?  My family wanted to know too.  I always wanted to return to the Skyline Drive and the Trail since we were there about 20-25 years ago.  The new Trail Awards sponsored by the Eastern PA QRP Club also gave me the spark to do it.  The weather all summer were such that kept me in the shack but at the end of the season I could wait no longer.  Just for the record, I had no plan to hike from Maine to Georgia with a radio as many asked on the air.  I only plan to use the Old Chevy to do most of the mountain climbing.

Thursday, Sept. 7, through Sunday, Sept. 10, 2000: Virginia

The trip started from Woodbury, NJ about 10:30 AM EDST to Big Meadows Campground with a tent, equipment and food for a week or so.  Almost all the QRP equipment I had came along too.

The route was via I-95 and then I-66 west from Washington, DC to US29 then US211 to enter the Skyline Drive.  The Old Chevy was working a little to get up the mountains but not like it was before when we used to come with a travel trailer.  Since I was convinced I would come back or go to other national parks, I bought the "Golden Age Pass".  The $10 price for a lifetime pass can't be beat.  On the way on the Skyline Drive I stopped at many overlooks to see the views.  The nice day made it very worthwhile to see. 

At Big Meadows I picked a campsite closest to the Trail.  Mine was Y5, a very good site.  If you plan to camp there try Y14.  This is the best view to the mountains.  My campsite was close enough to count as a trail station for the awards.  I setup the tent and then the station. 

In VA the station was a dipole fed with twin lead held up with a "Black Widow" fishing pole up about 18'.  I used the MFJ 971 tuner. The 18' mast was not a big help but the elevation at camp at 3600' above sea level definitely did!  The other equipment were the OHR 100A rig for 40m at 5 watts, the NW20 for 20m at 4 watts, 38 Special for 30m at 4watts and the Green Mountain 15 on 15 meters at 1 watt.  Each had a QSO on the trail but 40 meters was the mainstay.

About 7 PM I was on the air making a few QSOs .  I decided to cook some
soup and move the station into the tent since it was dark.  About 13 QSOs were made until 11 PM EDST.  The first night weather was about the worst at 2 AM with strong wind and mist all night.  I wasn't that sure the tent was going to stay up so I covered the equipment and slept in the car.  It was chilly most nights but cozy in the tent after that.  The rest of the weather was much better.   Sunday afternoon got a bit warm and the activity dropped off with the football so I spent some time hiking in the area.

Big Meadows is an excellent day trip from Washington or Baltimore and others.  Many came on Saturday to camp too.  There is a lodge with a dining room which I used several times, a camp store and grill room near the drive and an excellent visitors center with movies about the Shenandoah N.P. history and area.  Ranger programs are just the thing for anyone especially kids.  Good hiking trails are nearby which I enjoyed.  Ice cubes and hot showers were available which are not found on the A-T very often.

Most of the operation on Thursday through Sunday afternoon was playing radio.  The Saturday evening contesting put me on 30 meters working some DX and new states on the trail.  3B8CF and U5WF happened to be there and answered on the first call. Some interesting QSOs were on the Tuna Tin xmtrs of which went into the log.  W9JOP/4 was worked with his TT2 more than once and N4UY also.  Jake's QSOs were with his Manhattan style TT2.  A contact with W2PE/2 was a kick for me.  Their location was aboard the USS Little Rock, now at the Naval Park at Buffalo, NY.  I was a sailor years ago as part of the crew of CLG-4.  On Sunday morning I was happy to work WB3GCK/AT.  Greg took a trip to the border of PA/MD on the A-T.  Trail to Trail QSOs are the most rare of Trail contacts. 98 QSOs were logged on this stop with most rag chew contacts and some more than 30 minutes.

Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 11&12, 2000: West Virginia. 

First thing was to break camp and get going to the next Trail spot.  I started early to take the tent down before the possible rain came.  It looked like it would.  I haven't found it fun to pack up a wet tent or sleeping bag so the early start was successful.   I stopped at some overlooks on the drive but the mist made it hard to see the mountains on the other side of the valley.  I did stop at Skyland and check out the lodge and cabins. Doug, W4IDW had recommended it and I would too.  An excellent vacation or a day trip.  I also hiked the Limberlost Trail across the drive.  This is one of the few locations where the Hemlock groves still stand before most were lost as lumber.  This hike is excellent for anyone including the handicapped.  The great Hemlocks make a trail one can't forget.  I have a picture on the shack wall I hung about 20 some years ago of them. Beautiful!  Moving on the drive, the fog became heavy and one couldn't see much ahead.  It is like being in the clouds.  I decided to take US211 down the mountain toward Luray, VA to improve the travel.  The fog cleared up half way down the mountain.  The next planned spot was at Key's Gap between Charlestown, WV and Leesburg, VA  where the A-T crosses Rte 9 at the VA/WV border.  It is a good spot to park and setup the station.  I walked the trail for a short time to find the Skeeters were plentiful and active.  I decided to put Key's Gap as a first choice for Tuesday and have the repellant in use.

I went on down to Harper's Ferry where I had reserved a room at the Comfort Inn.  The Inn is close enough to the trail to be a Trail Station. Unfortunately, the lower price rooms are on the wrong side of the building to put antennas up.  I had to move to the pricey room to get the antenna erected.  This time I used the N2CX Gusher 2 for 20 and 40.  This fan dipole was also on the "Black Widow" mast, up 18' or so.  When I set the station up and called CQ at 5 PM, it sounded like they were waiting for me.  For the 2.5 hours thereafter, I didn't have to call CQ.  I quit at about 10 PM to enjoy the shower and catch the Monday Night Football.  Yes, not the expected amenities for the A-T but I'm a senior ya' know!

Tuesday continued to be a busy day to continue giving QSOs from the trail from WV.  The morning rain kept me at the room instead of going to Key's Gap.  Early afternoon I took a break from the radio to visit the Harper's Ferry N.P.   I was able to use the Golden Age Pass again to visit.  I seem to be more interested in the history of the area than I was 20 years ago when there.  The park has been upgraded very well and the info is presented interestingly.  I hiked the A-T on the foot bridge over the Potomac into MD.  It is an excellent view of the two rivers and the mountains above.   Harper's Ferry being a transportation center in the 1700s seem to be so today with the CSX freight trains coming through every 10-15 minutes.  It's a neat view of them when they pass when you are on the foot bridge.  I actually hiked most of the trail in WV by going up to the Jefferson Rock.  WV is the shortest run of the A-T in any state probably less than 2 miles.

Back to the radio and more QSOs.  I was lucky to narrow my needed states for the Trail Award to one left, GA.  KB1ENS responded from VT needed from the help posted by my friends on QRP-L.  Thanks John.

I logged 51 QSOs on this stop in WV.

Wednesday,  Sept. 13, 2000: Washington Monument S.P., MD

The park is near to Boonsboro, MD to help locate the site.  It wasn't far from WV.  When I arrived, I hiked up the Trail to Washington's Monument itself.  There are signs as you go up showing George's history.  The monument was built by the local citizens of Boonsboro after Washington passed on.  It has been kept in good shape by the state since.  At the monument the view is striking.   It is a complete overlook of the valley and mountains.  It must be a sight to see at night from the valley with the lights placed on the monument

I found a good picnic table close to the Trail and set up the station. Again it seems the folks were looking for me when I came on about noon. This afternoon I spent more time on 20m looking for GA.  I kept hitting around it but no GA.  Coming back on 40m, I worked WB3AAL/AT at his usual AT location in PA.  He called earlier at home to be sure I would be here. The weather was perfect at the park but I had to move the station into the shade.  The OHR was drifting badly in the sun.  Toward late afternoon I was not sure GA was going to show up at all.  With a QSO with WD3P, Larry let me know he would post the GA need on QRP-L so I thought I had a chance. After working the remaining stations on 40m I moved to 20m and the first CQ was answered by AD4S.  John was reading QRP-L and GA was in the log in the last hour left in MD.   I logged 25 QSOs at this stop.  Time to go home for a few days before heading out on A-T in NJ and NY.

The interest on the trip the first day and thereafter was very surprising.  The good folks at the NJQRP Club, Knightlites in NC, the EPA QRP Club, QRP-L  Zombies and others,  brought me more QSOs and  concerns of my condition.  A couple of operators in the NTS offered to relay traffic to home also.  Many thanks to all!

Monday  & Tuesday Sept. 18/19, 2000: New Jersey

Ed Breneiser, WA3WSJ had rented a cabin at the Mohegan Outdoor Center in the northwest part of NJ.  It is operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club.  He invited me to go along to play radio some more.  Being the marvelous host that he is, I jumped at the chance.  The cabin is about mile off the A-T.  I went up early to get my stuff situated in the cabin and go out on the Trail on 20m to work some new states.  Ed came about an hour later. Not much going on 20 so I went back to the cabin.   Ed had set up the K2 and was in the process of preparing an excellent meal for the evening including big steaks with mushrooms and corn.  Man, this is way better than when I was doing the cooking for myself in VA!  Not only that, I get to play with Ed's K2!  Did I mention Ed is a marvelous host? 

In the AM Chef Ed did a repeat with a great breakfast with eggs, bacon and potatoes.  After enjoying that, I went to a good AT location where it crosses route 602 above Blairstown, NJ.  I liked that location better than the one near the cabin.  Ed was packing his K2 for a hike to set up on the trail.  My antenna this time was the twin lead dipole I used in VA, up 30' in a tree thanks to the EZ Launcher.  The name "Slingshot" is not to be used in Jersey by the way.    Just as I got it up, the rain came down.  I threw the feeder in the car and set up the station inside.  Everything tuned up ok and worked several stations including W9JOP/4 with his TT2 again.  He came in as 579!  I was worrying about Ed's situation hiking along with little cover.  Just then two hikers came by to let me know he had been at the fire tower about a mile down the trail and he had climbed up to the top of the tower to get some shelter.  He shortly answered my CQ to make another Trail to Trail QSO in NJ!  It was raining all day so I stayed dry in the car working anyone who would call.  After 4 PM I tried 20m.  This time I worked IZ1BLE/QRP.  I think having the antenna at 30' may have helped even the altitude was about 1500'.   The rain stopped a little while so I thought I better shut down when I can, and head back to the cabin.  I logged 29 QSOs on the trail from NJ.  Ed was back at the cabin drying out and resting.  He looked like he was glad to be out of the Great Outdoors.   Ed had also started another creation for the evening meal. This time it was chicken breasts and big ones that he had marinated all day.  Did I mention that Ed is a marvelous host?  After enjoying the banquet, more K2 contacts off the trail and plans to get to the trail in the morning.

Tuesday Sept. 20, 2000: NY/NJ border on the A-T south of Uniontown, NY. 

At Chez Ed, breakfast is always at the ready to begin the day and this was no exception.  It was just the thing for us to get rolling to the next A-T location. 

This part of NJ is never a quick trip.  To get up there and find the Trail took at least 1 - 2 hours.  We went by the trail crossing the road several times until a neighbor happened to pull out of the driveway and got directions.  Yes, Ladies, we asked for directions.  It was about 1 PM before I was on the air.  The antenna this time was an end fed half wave wire up about 15' in a tree and using the fish pole.  First QSO was who else but WB3AAL/AT.  He knew we would be here as many others did.  Another Trail to Trail QSO and Ron logs two states for this award.  The second QSO was of course WA3WSJ/AT.  Ed was down the trail with the K2.  Each logged two states for Trail to Trail award.  Lots to go though for that one.

Conditions seemed poor today based on the signal from W3BBO.  I worked Bob at every stop with his strong signal.  This time the QSB took over but still made a QSO.  I really couldn't raise anybody so we had lunch.  The entertainment for lunch was to watch the beekeeper across the road doing his thing with the bees.  Since he had his beekeeper suit on it didn't seem a good idea to go over and ask questions just then.   Instead we hiked up the trail for yet another fantastic view to the east.   There are many of these on the A-T, Folks.  A couple more contacts and that would be the end of the A-T traveling before Fall comes.  (Really it was the next day!). I was ready for the road at 4 PM, hoping to get home by dark.   Ed's hospitality had made the trip one that should not be missed.  Thanks, Ed! Where are we going next time? ;-)

Thanks to all for the interest on the trip and the Trail itself.  I hope to work many of you who can get your rigs into the Great Outdoors!

72 de
 Ken Newman - N2CQ


Last Modified Sept 30, 2000

Last Modified Sept 30, 2000