The ARRL is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service by doing a year long event called “National Parks On The Air” or NPOTA.
It’s where operators go to National Parks and “activate” them by making contacts from the NPS site/unit. Chasers that make contact with the activators will get points which encourages more operation.
From my point of view it looks like the ARRL got the NPOTA idea by combing SOTA (Summits On The Air) with POTA (Parks On The Air). SOTA is very popular with portable operators but POTA is not as known. The POTA website hasn’t been updated in a long time but locally there is a group that are trying their best to keep POTA alive and well. Hopefully with NPOTA, it will get more people in POTA and hopefully it will improve.
I wanted to give NPOTA a try because there are a couple places locally that I can activate. It also seems that NPOTA is quite active on social media with their Facebook Group. I figured a dual SOTA/NPOTA would be perfect. Be able to do what I know and give NPOTA a try at the same time.
Short Notice Activation
Like usual, I decided the day of that I am going to do a dual activation. The weather forecast for the next week included cold, rain and snow. I figured this was my only shot but there was strong winds. I thought I could fight it and decided to activate Bare Mountain (SOTA W1/CR-014) in Hadley/Amherst Massachusetts as it’s close by and is on the National Scenic Trail (TR06).
Due to my past SOTA activations, I knew it’s best to spread the word so that I’m certain that my activation will count. I posted SOTAwatch, ARRL’s NPOTA upcoming activations page and numerous facebook groups. I am set!
Fighting The Wind
As I started my hike, the wind started to get worse and worse. There would be moments of calm followed by this huge gust of wind. I was worried that I wouldn’t even get my antenna up but it wasn’t stopping me. The hike wasn’t bad at all really. I was proud because I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath at all. Not sure if it was because I’m hiking more or that I am used to doing these hikes on snow and ice covered trails.
Setting up against the wind did prove to be a pain. The end insulators on my homebrew G5RV acted as a kite and cause some funny moments of me trying to secure the wire ends. Even the twin lead took to the wind.
Finally On The Air
The true reason why I did the activation was that I just purchased a new battery from Bioennopower through Hamsource.com . I wanted to test it out.
I found a nice quiet frequency on the upper portion of 20m and sent out a self spot on the SOTA cluster. Some operators get grumpy when someone self spots but this isn’t the CQWW contest. It’s some guy running low power and is portable on top a windy mountain.
After a few CQ’s some of the SOTA regulars come onto frequency and made contact. It was great to hear them because it confirms that I can at least get into the west coast since they were out of Washington state and Oregon. However I wanted those NPOTA pileups I hear so much about.
Thankfully someone from the SOTA group spotted me on the AR cluster. You can tell because it’s like someone opened up the flood gates. Calls were pouring in which put a huge smile on my face. I love pileups.
Since I was very excited because of the pileup, something had to go wrong. After 6 or so contacts, the pileup was silenced. I was hearing nothing. Due to the wind I had earbuds in my ears which blocked out the sound of my antenna falling. I scrambled to get everything back up and running. I picked up the antenna, added more straps/cord and got back on the air. During my first contact back on the air, the antenna mast collapsed. Once again I am scrambling to put it back up and making sure to tighten each telescoping section as best I can. I didn’t even have a chance to make it back to the radio when a big steady gust of wind came and pulled the BNC connector off the ladder line.
At this point I had enough contacts for a SOTA activation. I decided it was best to packup and leave. I didn’t even last 15 minutes on the air and I didn’t even make it to 0:00z or even to the other bands. It was getting dark and didn’t want to deal with it.
NPOTA Nut Jobs
Since I had to cut it short, I wasn’t able to get on 40m that I stated I was going to be on. In the SOTA world, it’s common for an activation to be cut short for weather reasons. However it doesn’t fly with some of the NPOTA chasers.
I attempted to post on the NPOTA facebook group that I had to go QRT due to the wind. However it didn’t stop people messaging me on Facebook and E-Mailing me. They were chastising me because I wasn’t on the air long enough and were upset because they were waiting for me on 40m and didn’t make enough contacts on 20m.
There was also a lot of poor operating during my short time on the air. There were at least 3 operators who didn’t seem to listen. I am not even sure if they heard me because they kept calling and calling even though I was in mid Q with someone else. I was also hearing other operators yelling at them to “Shut Up”.
I was very upset by the comments and poor operating at first until I realized that a good portion of these chasers probably never did a true portable setup before. A lot of the NPOTA activators are doing these activations from the comfort of their own vehicles and RV’s. They have the comfort to stay on for hours at time. I think the SOTA crowd is more understandable because they know what it’s like to be portable on top of a mountain. SOTA ops tend to make as many contacts as possible and get moving. However there is no excuse
Thoughts about NPOTA
I love the idea behind NPOTA. I hope it encourages more portable operating with POTA and SOTA after the event is over. But with what I see on the NPOTA Facebook group and my own personal experiences, there needs to be improvement.
Honestly I don’t think I will be publicly advertising that I am doing NPOTA activations in the future. The attitudes of some of the operators was just outright rude. Both on and off the air. You can’t “Turn the big knob” in this situation.
These are just my opinions, I very well could be wrong.
Thanks for reading,