Hawksbill APRS Station

for the Appalachian Golden Packet Event

Bob Bruninga, WB4APR@amsat.org, Annapolis, MD

2014 SUCCESS! John Huggins reports on his AT Blog "Simple is as simple does. We hiked, we setup, we flipped the switch, set to the PM#5 preset, and that’s about it. Most of our time was spent explaining what we were doing to the many other hikers. A few were hams and enjoyed understanding what we were doing… especially the ham from Germany."

John simplified the antenna this year to a Diamond X50 dual band from Mark Lindsey (KD6AKC) vertical on a commercial SS7761B speaker stand. This is perfect for setting up on the convenient platform at Hawksbill as seen in the 2011 and 2014 pictures. The other equipment was the TM-D710A radio, Tenergy 10 amp-hour LiFePO4 13 volt battery, and 12 feet of RG58 coax. They had one heart stopping moment as they prepared to leave the campground for Hawksbill – They cranked the car and… nothing – dead battery. Thankfully lots of folks in campgrounds are ready to help so with a quick jump, they were off. The only “gear” glitch was trouble finding a correct coax adapter; Eric (W4EON) pieced together something jiffy quick and off they went.

RF Path Observations and Logging:VHF wise, they had no issues with links to the north or south. VHF packet RF quality was strong, reliable and boring – just what they wanted. UHF voice simplex was crystal clear to Dick at Maryland Mountains. UHF to Apple Orchard was 2 bars and he could not hear them at all unless they went to high power – which worked without issue, but was used only sparingly. UHF communications to folks in Northern Virginia was 1 or two bars, but they could converse with them all at 10 watts UHF. John setup an I-Gate at home (KX4O-10) to augment Chuck Gould’s permanent I-Gate (N4YXW-10) using Chris Phillips’ (K4FAA) loaner dual band antenna. The Igate was operated by James Huggins (KJ4FAJ) during the event.

Tranquility Preservation: Hawksbill Mountain is in a park setting so particular attention was paid to the volume settings on the D710A to keep the packet volume off unless demonstrating what packets sound like and keeping the UHF channel as quiet as possible. Some folks come up to these peaks for tranquility, peace and reflection, and the goal was to adamantly respect this. About two dozen or so fellow hikers passed by with many asking about the project. People seemed to appreciate what they were doing and why the team was doing it. Except for the high interest of the German ham, no further interest was noted, but that was okay. They were glad to discuss lots of different topics with everyone.

The highlight for John this weekend was actually camping at Big Meadow’s campground just ten minutes away from Hawksbill north parking lot, but the successful Golden Packet topped things off nicely. Apparently the Golden Packet did, in fact, make it all the way this time. John thanks everyone involved and especially the previous hikers and other folks helping with logging this year and in the past including…

  • 2009: White Rock Cliff – John Huggins(KX4O), Dr. Jay Gundlach, Rob Searles, James Huggins (KJ4FAJ)
  • 2010: White Rock Cliff – John Huggins(KX4O), Dr. Jay Gundlach, Rob Searles, Eric Nystrom (W4EON)
  • 2011: Hawksbill Mountain – John Huggins(KX4O), Dr. Jay Gundlach, Rob Searles, Eric Nystrom (W4EON)
  • 2012: Stony Man Mountain – John Huggins(KX4O), Eric Nystrom (W4EON), James Huggins (KJ4FAJ), Dylan Huggins – Logging assistance from Mark Lindsey (KD6AKC)
  • 2013: Stony Man Mountain – John Huggins(KX4O), Eric Nystrom (W4EON) – Logging assistance from Steve Martin (K3KQ)
  • 2014: Hawksbill Mountain – John Huggins(KX4O), Eric Nystrom (W4EON), Chris Wisehart (KJ4GUU), Dylan Huggins – Logging assistance by James Huggins (KJ4FAJ) and Chuck Gould (N4YXW) – Equipment assistance from Mark Lindsey (KD6AKC) with his summit antenna and Chris Phillips (K4FAA) with another antenna for the KX4O-10 I-Gate used to collect packets.

    2013 Planning: John Huggins, our main RF plotter is leading the effort this year. See the summary spread sheet.

    2012 Report: Eric (W4EON) and John (KX4O) manned a new peak called Stony Man on the 21st of July Saturday. The link was a few dB down, but was still good. See their report for 2012

    2011 Success! Eric (W4EON) and John (KX4O) manned this area, this time on Hawks Bill Mountain, assisted by Dr. Jay Gundlach and Rob Searle, (not hams). This time they chose the 410' climb on Hawksbill instead of the 1600' climb on White Rock Cliffs. The links to Hawksbill were slightly worse than from White Rock Cliffs, but they were closer to home and easier to get to. See their 2011 report

    2010 SUCCESS! John formed his team. And has filed his report for 2010. The good news is that they found shelter from the rain! And see the rest of their photo album.

    2009 Report: Back in 2009, White Rock Cliffs (also called West Virginia Mountains in some of our documentation before we ended up on the VA side of the line) was operational for the event, and in communications northward, but not to the south due to problems at the next station. See 2009 report. and also see K4XO's web page and photos.

    See the Golden Packet plan. . This is one of the 15 hill-top sites from Georgia to Maine activated for 6 hours on 26 July 2009 and planned for 25 July 2010 to attempt to relay a text message using hand-held radios the 2000 mile length of the Appalachain trail. This is to be a no impact Leave-No-Trace type of event of a few individuals at each site. . Other hikers equipped with APRS ham radios are welcome to participate after the initial golden packets are successful or after 2 PM..

    The West Virginia Mountains are not on the AT, but are across the very long and consistent I-81 valley gving a great height above average terrain. The path from Apple Orchard Mountain on the AT near Roanoak has a clear 100 mile + shot to these WV mountains. But the problem is that none of the convenient peaks have any drive-up access and are fully tree covered. There are plenty of hiking trails, however, and this station will be one of the best challenges (next to Katahdin in Maine) for the rustic outdoorsman ham operators or a troop of scouts. The image to the right shows the bottom part of the 5/8ths wave J pole and the view to the Maryland Mountains. Further down is the Google Earth view of that path.

    ALTITUDE: . . . . . . . . . . . . 3300 feet (Mill Mountain) 2900' (White Rock Cliff)

    POSITION:. . . . . . . . . . . . . 38-58-31N / 78-35-08W (38-58.52N / 78-35.14W for White Rock Cliff

    LINK NORTHEAST:. . . . . Maryland Mountains (70 mi). See RF details by KX4O
    LINK SOUTHWEST:. . . . .Apple Orchard Mountain (111 mi, near Roanoke). Test with 146.685 T100. See RF details

    REPEATER: . . . . . . . . . . . 147.300 Mount Weather repeater
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147.165+ 167.9 W4VA Warrenton Repeater. (Echolink #473997,KW4VA-R)

    ECHOLINK NODE: . . . . WB3GXW-L #16504 on 147.195 T179, Same for voice.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W3ICF-R #14613 Frederick Md

    INTERFERRENCE:. . . . . None, nothing for miles

    TEAM LEADER: . . . . . . . John Huggins KX4O, john*johnhuggins dot com (3rd to RT)(2010)
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . David Bern W2LNX*amsat.org - also intrested in Hawksville Mtn in Shenandoah?
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Also attempted to contact Eastern Panhandle Simplex Net on 147.54 MHz (EPSN)


    John Huggins, KX4O has volunteered to be the team leader for the White Rock Cliffs which are on the VA/WVA state line area and he has really gotten onboard with some RF terrain analysis which shows us exacly what to expect from each site. Initially a Cabin on top of Mill Mountain was considered a possible site because of its peak altitude. But it is covered with trees and so we expanded the search for a site that would take less of a mast to the two desired directions.

    DETAIL LINK ANALYSIS BY KX4O: Be sure to follow the two RF links at the top of this page to see the excellent and very detailed RF link analysis performed for every link in this project by KX4O John Huggins. Each RF link shows the terrain map elevations, the AT trail in yellow, the RF path loss itself including fresnel zones and finally a statistical plot of the probabilities of link availability. We will very much be looking at the results of this project compared to the pre-eventanalysis and predictions.

    All of his links are shown on his AT Links Page.

    Pete Lascell, W4WWQ reported from Forest, VA: Little Sluce Mountain on the VA/WV line west of Front Royal doesn't have a road to the top. It is a 112 mile path from Apple Orchard. It might be better to look at the peaks west such as Sugar Knob and Mill Mountain.

    Chad Rudolph W1CAR [chad*chadrudolph.com] reports: Mill Mountain is only accessable by hiking trail. I've hiked it before from Wolf Gap to Sugar Knob ...and the cabin is Sugar Knob cabin which is owned by the PATC and normally closed unless rented by PATC hikers. You can see it in the image below. Sugar knob is about 4 miles from the trailhead. There is a side trail from a fire road to Big Schloss on Mill Mt. that is about 2 miles....but it is very steep and takes about 2hrs to ascend.

    WB4APR comments: The view above (April without trees) shows the cabin on the left and the trails. Chad confirms that these trees would need a 60' mast or more to clear. The view above is looking Northeast to the Maryland Mountains and easily clears the highest point (L.Sluce) only about 5 miles out for a clean shot the rest of the way to Maryland.. Below are some photos provided by Chad:

    . .

    Based on Chads comments and the trees in three images and the fact that everything will have to be hiked-in, the alternate site called White Rock Cliffs was fouind on the eastern side of Little Sluce Mountain shown below:

    From this view and the radio paths from Apple Orchard and then on to Maryland Mountains shows that operating on this rock out-cropping will eliminate any need for antenna masts since both links are on this same side of the mountain. We need boots on the ground to confirm this site. The white lines in the image are the VA/WVA state line.

    The image below is a trail map that Chad scanned for the project to help the team find the closest road and parking place for their assent...

    The trail map indicates there are two trail approaches to White Rock Cliff. I have highlighted one in Red and the other in Blue. The yellow lines show approximately the 112 mile path to AO and 70 or so miles to the Maryland mountains. Looks like we will need some good hikers to make this site work.. This next view to the Southwest shows the 112 mile long path down to Apple Orchard Mountain near Roanoke.

    In this view, I have the Google Earth atmosphere turned off, so the sky is black even in daylight. Notice how much more revealing these views taken in April contrast with the heavy tree foleage of the first summer view. Operating from White Rock Cliff will solve the tree problem because both links are to the same side of the hill and the Cliffs will give us a station with no trees.

    The image above is a plot of APRS mobile coverage on I-81 using 144.39 existing APRS system. In purple you can see the path we hope to use for the AT special event.

    Bob, WB4APR

    See my other GENERAL page on APRS applications and Ideas on the AT

    Return to the APRS HOMEPAGE or SiteMap.