Sunday, July 17, 2022

Appalachian Trail Golden Packet 2022

Each year ham radio operators gather on the mountain tops from Georgia to Maine in order to form a chain of packet stations along the path of the Appalachian Trail with the sole purpose of sending a data packet from one end to the other. This year I decided to participate as an observer, but due to unforeseen circumstances I wound up being the lone activator for the peak at Comers Rock. 

Comers Rock ATGP22

The ATGP event is an annual attempt to send a packet from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other. I've read about it in the past and a couple of my fellow radio club members started manning the Comer's Rock station last year. So, I decided I would tag along with them and see what it was like. 

The week prior to the event, a big storm dumped enough rain in Buchanan County, VA that it caused a flood. The two hams that were supposed to man the station wound up getting called in to help the Red Cross with the flood instead. I knew the event wouldn't work without the Comer's Rock position manned, so I decided to step up and give it a shot. 

Luckily getting to the summit isn't too difficult. There's a camp ground and lake nearby, so you can drive on a forestry road and park near the top. There's a small trail with a lot of rock steps to get you to the observation point. It's not too bad, but I wouldn't want to make too many trips up and down. 
Comer's Rock Panoramic 

Once at the top, there's a great view unobstructed both north and south. The weather was good, partly cloudy and a bit hot. The event takes several hours, starting at 11:00 AM and going until 3:00 PM unless the decision is made to cut it short.  
Kenwood TM-D710G

The event also relies on a special feature that seems to only be available on certain Kenwood radios, namely the D710 series of radio. I don't have one of these, but I was able to borrow one that was pre-programmed for the event. 

I did run into issues with the radio. Since this is the first time I've ever used this model, I had no idea how to ensure it was beaconing or digipeating. I figured out how the enable the TNC and get beaconing started, but I noticed it didn't seem to be forwarding packets down the line. Fortunately I had a decent cell signal at the summit and was able to call for assistance. The event has a dedicated member who provides support from his personal shack, called the Shack Potato. This was a big help and got my configuration squared away.   

The event is attempted at 1200 baud and also 9600 baud. This year there was also testing of an appliance made from a Raspberry Pi in order to provide an alternative to the special Kenwood radios. Which is a good idea since Kenwood no longer manufactures them. 

My station seemed to work well during the event, however I think we were only partially successful. I noticed I was only seeing beacons from everyone south of me and a couple stations to the north of me. We also had to shut down about an hour early because of bad weather affecting stations to the north. 

Overall it was fun experience. I enjoy packet and digital radio, so it was right up my alley. I'm looking forward to trying again next year. 

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