POTA Activation #6 - Prince William Forest Park (VA) (3/19/2022)

When Gersohn, KO4IUK, and I met up at the George Washington Memorial Parkway to operate alongside each other for my 5th activation, we had a lot of fun. At the time, Gersohn was new to POTA, so he was just operating outside as he likes to do. However, when he saw the pile-ups I was working, even though I was running a tenth the power he was, he got a taste of the magic of POTA and was intrigued.

One of the things that makes POTA a bit magical is that you become the DX. What I mean by that is that with the very active community of hunters, you've got a lot of people who want to work activators in the parks. POTA actively encourages self-spotting (announcing on their site that you're activating on a certain mode and frequency) so even if you're operating a fairly modest station, people will know where you're at and will work hard to find you. If you can't spot yourself, hunters will frequently do it for you if they find you, so once you have one contact, more are likely to follow. The developers at the POTA site have even connected up with the Reverse Beacon Network to support automatic spotting if you're working CW or FT8. Yet another reason why I'm working on improving my Morse code skills.

We had two goals for this activation. First and foremost was to get Gersohn started in POTA and get his first activation in the books. Second, I was out to try a new bit of gear. The Icom IC-705 has a built in (removable) battery pack that allows operation at 5W, however, if you supply it with a 12V external supply, it can transmit at up to 10W. Since I'm working primarily SSB (until I get better at CW) I can use all the power I can get, so I have been using my Jackery Explorer 500 battery pack. For this purpose, it certainly works, but it is akin to killing a gnat with a sledgehammer -- my longest activations have not even gotten the battery percentage remaining below 97%. I could run the radio on that system for days -- and if I connect the solar power system I have for it, I could operate indefinitely. There is one downside to all this, of course: It is quite large and heavy. Thus far most of the places I've been activating have been near parking areas and a short hike, so this has not been a problem. In the future though, I'd like to activate more remote locations. To that end, I picked up a Bioenno LiFePO4 12V 6Ah battery pack that is so compact it can fit inside the backpack I use to store my radio, antenna, antenna tuner, tablet, keyboard, and logs. So, with a fully charged battery (and a backup plan in the trunk) I set my goal to make my activation from just the backpack itself. Just as I would do for a remote location.

I picked up Gersohn from his QTH in Alexandria and we made our way down to Prince William Forest Park. The park is a hidden gem in the Washington, DC area near Quantico. It is easily accessible off Interstate 95, but it never seems to be very busy. I've been going to this park since I was a kid going on hikes there with my mom. The park used to be a part of the adjacent Quantico Marine Base and has miles and miles of trails through the forest and along Quantico creek. There is a verdant forest throughout the park with a wide variety of trees, rolling hills, sparkling streams, and even a few cascades to enjoy. There is a loop road that goes around the park and has stops at parking areas providing access to trailheads. Hikes go from short loops to more extensive routes that can give a decent workout. This park is a favorite for me and my daughter -- we often come here for a hike and to make some camp meals outside in all four seasons.

During my last trip hiking with my daughter (just a few weeks ago in February) I did some scouting for some good spots to setup. The most promising one was at parking lot E which has a few picnic tables amongst the trees in a clearing near, but not on top of, a trailhead near a high point in the park. When Gersohn and I drove up, we were disappointed to see that there was no parking to be had at Lot E, so we had to fall back to the other site. On the opposite side of the ring road was Lot H which has a smaller lot, but being on the far side, it is less popular. There is a single picnic table nestled between the trees on a knoll just a feet off the lot and we were able to park and get setup at the table. Once again, we decided to operate in parallel, taking turns on different bands. Since I was doing my "one backpack challenge" I decided to use the MFJ 1984 MP end-fed half wave, so I got out my arborist throwline kit and after a few attempts got a good high line into a tree a few feet away from the picnic table. I easily pulled up the antenna and tied it off using the slick line to a log and connected up my radio setup. Gersohn used his Alpha Antenna Vertical in a clearing in the trees and we were off and running.

I started on good old 40m at 7.280. This weekend happened to coincide with the Virginia QSO party. We had a hard time finding a good spot to operate. Thankfully after some scanning around and looking at the waterfall display on the 705 I found a slot at 7.280 MHz and was able to self-spot and we were off to the races. I had a bunch of contacts come in rapid succession including a couple Park to Park contacts. Then there was a QSO party contester that presumably could not hear me that started operating over my calls. It took me a while to find a new slot, but I went to 7.225 and was back up and rolling again, making a bunch of contacts and a few Park to Parks (including a twofer -- one person that was in two parks simultaneously). Eventually, I had another station start operating over me, so I took a break to stretch my legs and see how Gersohn was doing. He had made a few contacts and moved down to 40 to see if he could get some of the contacts down there. I moved up to 20 briefly, but it was packed, so I decided to do a bit of hunting and made my first contact on 12m at 24.944 with the K7G special event station Park to Park in Wisconsin and then followed them when they went to 17m at 18.150 for another Park to Park. Then I shut down my station and pulled out my tablet to check the spots to help Gersohn do some hunting to rack up a few Park to Parks. Finally we did a 2m Park to Park contact between the two of us for fun and called it an activation.

All told I ended up with 39 QSOs for the activation from VA, PA, NY, OH, CT, NC, SC, LA, WY, and Ontario, Canada and 11 Park to Park contacts. I had a lot of fun on a beautiful day playing radio with Gersohn. Can't wait to do it again.

Gear used in this activation
  • Icom IC-705
  • MFJ 1984 MP Antenna
  • LDG Z100 Plus
  • RigExpert Stick Pro Antenna Analyzer
  • Icom LC-192
  • Bioenno 12V 6Ah LiFePO4 Battery
  • Forester Arborist Throw Line Kit
  • Weaver Leather Arborist Throw Line Storage Bag
  • Sony Headphones
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 Lite Tablet
  • Logitech K380 Bluetooth Keyboard
  • Rite in the Rain Notebook
  • Zebra DelGuard Mechanical Pencil