We made a last-minute decision on Thursday evening to go see the fall foliage in VT at the weekend. That sent me chasing off to the SOTAwatch website to see whether we could combine leaf-peeping with some SOTA. Looking at the listing of W1/GM summits, it wasn’t surprising to see that the major ski peaks had multiple activations listed. However, I immediately recognized several hills we’d hiked in years past which were SOTA summits, including several which had no record of SOTA activation.
Antone Mountain is a 2600-foot peak in southern Vermont which I first visited in 2000 and have been back to since. It’s in a large tract of preserved land managed by the Merck Forest and Farmland Center, an educational nonprofit organization. The higher elevations were once farmed, but have long-since reverted to forest. However, some of the old farm tracks still head up into the hills and now form part of a network of hiking trails which include an easy route to the top of Antone Mountain. The distance from the visitor center parking to the top of the hill is about 2.5 miles with around 900 feet of elevation gain.
The trail is broad, fairly smooth, and generally not too steep if you stick to the Antone Mountain Road. We varied things a little this time, ascending via the Ski Trail and returning via the McCormick Trail. There are zero route-finding issues, an excellent map is available at the visitor center and all the trails are very clearly signed. The whole area is very popular with day hikers and families so expect to have plenty of company. Antone is the highest point in the Merck Forest lands and has a great lookout at the top, so it’s one of the most popular destinations within this preserve.
Mid-October is peak leaf season, and this year the fall colors were quite impressive throughout the parts of mid and southern VT which we visited. When we arrived at the parking it was around 40 F and cloudy. We’d brought plenty of clothing to keep warm whilst SOTAing, so our daypacks were pretty full. The hike up via the Old Town Road and Ski Trail took around 90 min. The lookout at the top of Antone Mt. allows a fine view of the farm which you walked past on the way up. We picked a spot to set up near the trail just beyond the lookout, a few yards away from the trail itself. The antenna used was a 33 foot vertical; since there are many low trees on the summit, we didn’t bother guying the DXwire pole, just telescoped it up through the branches and let it rest there. The antenna wire was fed through the center of the pole, and exits the pole near the base via a small hole drilled in the side of the bottom section. We laid out a dozen radials of varying lengths (12 – 33 feet) and connected the coax to the antenna via a switchable direct feed (on 40/15, bands where it’s resonant) or a 4:1 unun (20/17/15). Rest of the gear included a KX3 with Begali Adventure paddles, and a piglet and iPad running the hamlog app for logging. Power was from a LiFePO4 battery.
I started calling CQ on 17 m around 1530 UTC. There’s marginal or no cell coverage on the summit so I couldn’t send an alert, but after a few moments it was clear I’d been spotted because there was a flurry of calls. Ten QSOs later things slowed down; there was QRM on 18.085, turns out a W1AW station was getting busy 1 kHz below, and the pile was spreading out. No problem, let’s try 15 m. Once more, good conditions, with QSOs into the central and western US, and across the pond. After 15 m was tapped out, up to 40 m for some more local QSOs. A few CQs on 146.520 produced no response. While I was operating my XYL explained to curious passing hikers what we were doing, what is ham radio, what’s a SOTA, etc. Then off to 20 m; a few calls, but relatively slow going, so back again to 17 m. The first contact of this session was with UR5UID, the best DX of the day. We finally figured it was time to pack up and go around 1700 UTC; W7USA was the 46th and last contact in the log from this first activation of S1/GM-199. 16 Qs were with EU stations, the rest from the USA. Timing was good, because just as we finished up a large group arrived at the summit.
Down by the farm, there were lots of woolly bear caterpillars crossing the Old Town Road, going from west to east. Apparently there’s a woolly bear caterpillar myth which relates the severity of the coming winter to whether the caterpillars are going north or south… unfortunately these fellas were going west to east, so no predictions for the winter of 14/15. At the top of the mountain, this caterpillar was sat on a fern near to the operating position – didn’t realize, but it turns out they’re not good to touch since they can cause a nasty rash, like after exposure to poison ivy.
All in all, a very pleasant hike, and a productive SOTA activation. We topped the trip off by purchasing a gallon of maple syrup made on the farm at the Merck Forest preserve.