Two Different Days at Old Hill Village, NH

Just two days before, Jim Cluett – W1PID, and I had come to the empty fields and lots that just seventy-five years ago were filled with cows, sheep, schools, stores, people and wagons.

But now tall grass, massive trees and peepers call this giant flood plain home. Jim and I were drawn back to the western shore of the Pemigewasset River at Old Hill Village because the temperature was soaring towards 80 F.

“I think it’s impossible that we not go out today, what do you think?” Jim called me while I was putting the finishing touches on my weekly syndicated newspaper column.

“I agree. I need to finish my column and could be ready to go just after lunch. I also need to stop at the post office on the way there.”

“Fine. Let’s meet at the store at 1:15 p.m. I’ll be on 146.52.”

Driving to the relocated Hill Village store down NH Route 3A with the windows down was good for the soul. The winter of 2013-14 had been long, cold and harsh. To feel warm air provided by Mother Nature instead of a furnace was delightful.

Jim was waiting for me as I rounded the bend in his new paprika-colored Subaru. We were at the parking area next to Needleshop Brook in just minutes.

Two days before I didn’t have much time, but today I had the entire afternoon available and we made use of it.

Snow and ice still covered the old roadway down to Old Hill Village, so you had to watch your step. Jim and I made our way down to the old north/south Main Street of the old village in no time. The Needleshop Brook was frothy and furious with thousands of gallons of meltwater.

Little did Jim and I know that billions and billions of gallons of meltwater were headed towards Old Hill Village because of the warm temperatures and rainy day that was just 24 hours away.

Here's meltwater racing down Needleshop Brook towards the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s meltwater racing down Needleshop Brook towards the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

The dry fields filled with grass laid flat by the heavy snows would soon be under 15 or more feet of floodwater!

On my first visit to this tranquil spot, I got skunked. I tried hard to make a Morse code contact, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Much of it is due to my inexperience and the short amount of time I had available. Jim was able to pull QSOs out of the air like one might pull tissues from a box.

On this second visit to Old Hill Village, Jim and I did more hiking than operating and when we did set up for the first time, I was able to snag a quick conversation with KD8WFX, Dan, who lives in Maumee, OH.

We had selected a spot along the west bank of the river along a narrow trail that was used by snowmobilers. Jim was set up about 150 feet south of me.

After I finished my QSO with Dan, I walked down to tell Jim.

“I just got one!” Jim was happy for me and I walked back to try for more. After a minute or two I glanced down and saw Jim was pulling down his antenna and packing up.

“Okay, I’ll stop and pack up too.” I yelled down to him.

“No. Don’t do that. Continue to operate. We have all afternoon.”

Minutes later Jim came down to see how I was doing. He asked if he could share one of the halves of my earphones so he could hear what I was listening to. Then he heard me send my call sign apparently at the pace a snail would traverse the trail we were sitting on.

“You’re scaring them all off. It’s like you have that thing on reverse.” He was talking about my nice HB-1B multi-band QRP (reduced power) radio and the very slow transmit speed I had it set to.

Many experienced operators don’t have the patience to work with newbies like me.

As soon as the words lept from Jim’s mouth, we both erupted in laughter. Jim tried to apologize for teasing me, but it’s all in good fun and I’m never offended.

Truth be told, if you want to become proficient at Morse code, you have to practice. It’s that simple, and Jim knows that I’ve not been practicing as much as I need to.

We decided to get back to more hiking and bushwacked it across a small field to get back to the main road that parallels the river. We headed north.

After about a half mile, we came to a triangular-shaped concrete railroad mile marker that had been moved from the old abandoned railroad right of way to the old roadway that headed north out of Old Hill Village.

Here's the concrete signpost. Walk to the other side and you'd see "F 8". Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the concrete signpost. Walk to the other side and you’d see “F 8″. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Train engineers used these durable signposts to tell them where they were. In our case, we were five miles south of Bristol and eight miles north of Franklin.

Soon after passing the sign post we were met with rising water from the Pemigewasset River that had covered a low spot in the road. We walked over to the riverbank and gazed in wonder how no one was here to enjoy what we were seeing. I was stunned once again at how few people soak themselves in the natural beauty of the area.

After a few minutes we decided to head back towards the cars. Along the way we spotted a giant pine tree whose branches overhung the roadway.

“Do you think you can get your antenna halyard line up over that branch?” Jim was talking about a branch that was just about 50 feet up in the air.

“Sure. I’ll bet I can do it in one toss.” Jim just grinned as he knew it would be more luck than skill if that happened.

The branch we snagged is just above the top of the photo. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The branch we snagged is just above the top of the photo. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

He got out his partially filled water bottle and green cord and proceeded to throw his bottle straight up missing the branch we wanted. His second attempt was right on the mark.

I got out my gear, swung the bottle around in a cicle and let go. Up up up my bottle soared like a pole vaulter on the way to an Olympic gold medal.

My bottle cleared the branch by three feet and fell to the ground trailing my lime-green microcord. It was a fine throw if I don’t say so myself.

“That was a pretty good throw.” Jim proclaimed, my mentor of few words. If only I could garner such praise with respect to my CW (Morse code) skills and magic.

We set up with Jim’s superb Elecraft KX3 radio. It was a teaching moment. He wanted to show me how to snare a contact and what acronyms to use to abbreviate the exchange of information. Within a few minutes he had snagged two contacts, one of them EH4GT in Spain.

Jim worked him and then handed me the Pico Paddles. “Go ahead, send your call sign.”

The paddles were set to a very fast speed and I was nervous.

Moments later it was over. The unnamed operator had heard me and sent back my signal strength report. For most of these operators it’s all about the number of contacts in a given amount of time, not about talking about the wife and kids.

Soon it was time to head back home. Without us realizing it, it had gotten late. We made it back to the cars passing the old rock dam structures that were stacked up the banks of Needleshop Brook.

I was amazed at the giant rusted riveted pipe that carried water down to some mill or factory farther down the stream. Who worked there one hundred or more years ago? What did they make? That’s what dreams are made up of when someone forgets to write it down in history books.

The rusted pipe with the rivets must be 20 or more inches in diameter. Imagine the men who assembled it so many years ago. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The rusted pipe with the rivets must be 20 or more inches in diameter. Imagine the men who assembled it so many years ago. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Fifteen minutes later Jim and I were sitting on a wooden park bench bathed in late afternoon sun eating an ice cream sandwich, sharing a bag of potato chips and slurping down two root beers.

“Oh, I didn’t realize it was so late!” Jim looked at his watch and it read 5:45 pm.

I was also stunned as it seemed more like 4:30. That’s what happens when you walk around the empty fields of Old Hill Village – time gets suspended.

Another Day

The day after working a set of Morse code paddles in reverse and eating ice cream sandwiches it rained.

It was a warm rainy day. The rain ate snow like Jim and I devoured the mostly air-filled bag of chips the day before.

Countless gallons of water streamed down the mountains into the Pemigewasset River causing the employees at the Franklin Falls Dam to restrict the water flow.

Here's the north side of the Franklin Falls Dam on the Pemigewasset River. You can see the floodwaters starting to back up behind the dam. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the north side of the Franklin Falls Dam on the Pemigewasset River. You can see the floodwaters starting to back up behind the dam. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

When that happens, Old Hill Village becomes Old Hill Waterpark. The roadway we sat on just 72 hours ago was now probably 15 feet underwater.

On Thursday, April 17, 2014 I emailed Jim in the morning:

“I’d love to see the water in Old Hill Village.”

His reply email subject line read “how badly” and the text was, “Do you want to see it?”

Plans were made to meet at the Hill Village store of Endless Ice Cream Bars at 1:15 p.m.

It didn’t take long to get to the parking lot at the bridge that crosses Needleshop Brook.

It also didn’t take long to get to the end of the road leading to Old Hill Village as the Pemigewasset River had become the Pemigewasset Sea.

Here you see the shoreline of the Pemigewasset Sea as it laps at the old roadway along Needleshop Brook. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here you see the shoreline of the Pemigewasset Sea as it laps at the old roadway along Needleshop Brook. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Water was creeping up the roadway that lead down to Old Hill Village.

“Let’s go off on this trail. I’ll bet there’s a small field to set up in.” Jim knew the area well after exploring it for years. He feels Old Hill Village is one of the most beautiful spots in New Hampshire.

I feel this perception is grounded more in the solitude he finds there, although it is a gorgeous spot. I’m more of a hill and mountain man myself when it comes to views.

It didn’t take long to find a nice spot next to the sea that sported dry grass flattened by the heavy winter snow. Little did we know, but someone must have been there hours before with their best friend.

As Jim started to get out his gear to fling his bottle and cord up into the tree so we could pull up his antenna wire, I proceeded to put my right boot into a mushy pile of you-know-what.

There’s no mistaking it when you step in dog doo. It’s slippery, and you can feel it ooze out each side of your boot.

“Damn it!”

“What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“I stepped in a pile of dog s * * *!”

BWAHA HA HA HA HA HA HA!,” was Jim’s response as I tried to wipe my boot off in the grass. Soon I joined him in the laughfest as what were the odds that I’d find a pile of dog crap in 3900 acres of land.

“Oh man, that REALLY SMELLS.” Jim didn’t have to tell me, even though my nose is not the most sensitive one on the planet.

I had disturbed the outer oxidized layer of poop and now the odor molecules were racing out towards us like bullets from a machine gun.

As Jim continued to set up his radio, I pulled up handfuls of dry grass to cover up the mess and where I had stepped hoping this would slow the escape of the foul molecules that were tormenting us.

Jim was on the air making contacts as I was trying to scrape the goo from the treads of my boot with a dried twig down at the water’s edge.

I came over and sat down next to him to see him operate.

“Do you smell that?” Jim was mentioning that the foul stench was still surrounding us.

“Of course I do.”

“Well, it’s bad. Is there still some on your boot?”

There it is. Need I say more? Can you smell it? Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

There it is. Need I say more? Can you smell it? Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I looked. Sure enough there was some of the brown pudding on the right outer edge of my sole.

I got up, walked to the edge of the open area and used wads of dry grass to clean my boot.

“Go down and stick your boot in the water to clean it,” Jim suggested.

Yeah, right. What was I going to use to scrub the boot?

Moments later I was sitting next to Jim as he rotated the dial to find more invisible radio signals.

Jim sits cross legged when he operates. I’m more a straight-legged guy.

Two inches or so right in front and to the left of my boots was the clear cover to his KX3 with his glasses in it.

See the clear plastic case with Jim's glasses in it? Moments later it was near his backpack as he tried to save it from the offensive goo. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

See the clear plastic case with Jim’s glasses in it? Moments later it was on the other side of the Elecraft KX3 radio as he tried to save it from the offensive goo. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Jim silently moved his plastic case a few inches to the left away from my offensive footwear. I noticed and didn’t react.

A minute or two later I shuffled around and my boots crept nearer to the plastic cover.

Jim picked it up and moved it to the other side of the radio.

“What, are you afraid I’m going to ruin the lid?”

Once again the valley filled with laughter. I think there was more laughter in the air than floodwater in the Pemigewasset Sea. It was the hardest both of us had laughed during any of our outings.

Time was short because I had to run two errands and be back at my home to meet another ham radio operator, Lee Hillsgrove, Sr. Lee was going to help me switch out a front brake caliper on my Ford truck.

Jim and I packed up and headed for the cars.

“You better clean off that boot in the snow to keep the floor mat in that Volvo clean.”

I found some corn snow and proceeded to clean my boot of the last vestiges of the dog dirt.

“Let’s go down and look at the brook,” Jim suggested once my boot was like new.

The water was raging and it was no small feat to navigate the steep bank and get to the water’s edge.

I taped a short video of the rushing water while Jim snapped a few photos.

We celebrated with another ice cream sandwich and it was time to head home.

Our radio outings seem to more about nature and nature’s calls than radio. But that’s okay by me. I enjoy being outdoors and all that goes with it. Jim’s just lucky I stepped in it rather than him sitting in it!

Old Hill Village in Central New Hampshire

Yesterday I visited old Hill Village for the first time. My mentor, Jim Cluett- W1PID, invited me on this scenic and peaceful hike on an early spring day. It was the first day of the year you could be comfortable outdoors in short sleeves.

We were going to try to operate our small portable outdoor radios, but the sun had different ideas. You just never know how well radio waves will propagate on any given day.

Yesterday was one of those days where the 20-meter band was just not working well in central New Hampshire.

Old Hill Village is on the banks of the Pemigewasset River in central New Hampshire, just about six miles north of Franklin, NH. In the 1940′s, the entire town was moved to higher ground to make way for a massive flood control project by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They operate the Franklin Falls Dam to help ease flooding in the more populated areas in southern New Hampshire.

It had been a long, harsh winter and just two weeks before snow covered much of the land in central New Hampshire. But in the past ten days, much of it had turned to liquid heading towards the Atlantic Ocean. There were still patches of snow and ice where the snow had drifted or was shaded by trees.

Here's Jim, W1PID, walking on some hard pack snow that's soon to be on its way back to the Atlantic Ocean via the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim, W1PID, walking on some hard pack snow that’s soon to be on its way back to the Atlantic Ocean via the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

To protect property downstream, nearly 4,000 acres of land on either side of the river north of the dam was purchased by the US Government and transformed into little-used public area. The primary occupants are wildlife and the rare occasional human walking across the land.

Concrete sidewalks, chunks of asphalt and man-made walls along Needle Shop Brook bear witness that this was once a bustling area enjoyed by several past generations. No doubt many a garment or sock was stitched by needles made in Hill well over 100 years ago.

The following photos and video can probably do a much better job of communicating what it was like there yesterday. You’ll hear more about Old Hill Village from me in the future.

jimhill580

Here’s Jim with his favorite and cherished walking stick. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

jimoperatinghill

You can’t see Jim’s small radio in front of him. He was busy doing Morse code and was able to make contact with several other operators in the USA and Europe. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

mainsthill

This is the old Main Street in Old Hill Village. You’re looking south. Most people don’t come here, so if you’re looking for solitude, this is the place. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

 

SOTA Activation Mt. Morgan NH W1/NL-009

 

Author’s Note: My very good friend and mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, said, as I was writing this story, “Why is it taking so long? It’s simple. You hiked, it was hard going in the snow, you got to the top much later than you thought, you were too tired to operate HF and you took some photos. What more is there to say?”

Well, a lot more – maybe too much. Read for yourself and be the judge.

“Short notice. Do you want to do a SOTA (Summits on the Air) activation today of Mt. Morgan? Two of my non-ham friends would come. Be at the trailhead at 12:30ish.” It was April 6, 2014 and a gorgeous early spring day in central New Hampshire.

Cliff’s, N1RCQ, email had more important information in it, but that’s all that my brain focused on. His email made it to me at 10:53 am, so I had to choose what to do and didn’t have lots of time to dilly dally around.

I was excited to do more outdoor radio, especially HF (high frequency) using my HB-1B rig doing CW (Morse code). I had my first SOTA activation eight long months ago so I was itching to do another. Mt. Morgan is part of the Squam Mountains chain that guards Squam Lake’s northern shore and the 210-degree panoramic view from the north northeast to the southwest would be stunning today.

Those thoughts put up a barricade in my mind about what might be in store.

If you were to ask my wife when she saw me crawl through the door just before 7:00 pm, she’d tell you I chose poorly.

I failed to do the math to calculate what I’m calling the Summit Multiplier (SM). When conditions are perfect, you’re in shape, you have all the right equipment, you’ve got plenty of energy and water before you leave and have extra in your pack, the SM is 1.00.

Anything that makes the average outing more difficult adds to the SM.

Cliff’s an expert hiker. I’m not. Put 0.35 in the SM column.

Cliff’s friends, husband/wife team Kirk and Lori, are also very experienced hikers.

We still were in the throws of late winter even though the calendar said spring had arrived two weeks ago and there was not a cloud in the sky to block the warm rays of the brilliant sun.

I knew there was still abundant snow in the woods and on the mountains as I can see it from my home. Around my own house, the snow on the ground was still 18 inches deep in places with piles next to the driveway 4 feet high!

But just days before, I walked on some great hard pack snow with my good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, to operate once more by the mystical Pemigewasset River at Profile Falls. How bad could it be going up Mt. Morgan late in the season?

Bad – very bad.

Cliff and I drove separately to the trailhead on State Route 113. You can find it about 4-plus miles from the intersection of 113 and State Route 3 in Holderness, NH. This is a popular area for hikers as Rattlesnake mountain – it’s really a small hill – is just south of Mt. Morgan on the south side of Route 113. Hikers have their choice of Rattlesnake, Mt. Morgan and Mt. Percival and there is abundant parking on either side of the road at the trailheads.

“Did you bring your gators?” Cliff asked me while he was getting red gortex ones from the back of his Toyota SUV.

“No, I don’t have any.” I’ve meant to get some, but I just put it off the last few years. Add another 0.15 to the SM.

You may be thinking the animal with the big jaws and sharp teeth, but that’s not what Cliff had.

Gators are ingenious clothing accessories that keep snow out of your boots, they keep your lower pants legs dry and they can even be used to keep small stones from getting in your boots as you hike across scree.

Kirk and Lori arrived about ten minutes after Cliff and I and it took just a few minutes for all of us to be heading up the trail.

We soon discovered the snow was about 16-18 inches deep on the edges of the trail and slightly less in the center of the trail where hikers’ footfalls had compacted the frozen flakes that had fallen for months. By this time of the year it had turned to corn.

This is what the narrow trail looked like just down from the summit of Mt. Morgan. Stray from this and your foot's going for a ride. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

This is what the narrow trail looked like just down from the summit of Mt. Morgan. Stray from this and your foot’s going for a ride. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Imagine billions of bags of frozen baby corn kernels scattered on the ground and you need to walk on and up them. With the air temperature screaming towards 50 F, the melting of the snow/ice corn made for tough walking.

I was equipped with my Kathoola microspikes, but I felt more like I was walking through dry sand at OBX – the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

It was 2.1 miles from the parking lot to the summit, but I’m here to tell you it was like walking 5 miles, maybe more.

Late season corn snow definitely deserves 0.50 added to the SM.

A Three-Hour Hike

“When do you think you’ll be back?” Kathy asked me as I was scurrying around to get ready to leave.

“Oh, I should be back by about 3:30.”

Idiot. Did you even do the math? Did you not remember Cliff thought it could take well over an hour to get to the top? Add 1.25 to the SM.

Because I was short on time getting ready and had a late breakfast, I skipped lunch. I had three delicious Peanut Toffee Buzz Clif bars in my backpack so I was in good shape, right?

Wrong. Add 0.35 to the SM.

I was soon to discover we’d not even summit until 3:30 pm and it’s a strong 40-minute drive to get back home to the delicious bacon potato soup that was to revive me from the low-energy coma I was soon to be swallowed by.

No Mile Marker Signs

I now know why most trails don’t have mile markers on them. If they did, most rookie hikers would turn back and go back down to their cars. The rookie hiker’s psyche is very fragile and fatigue screams at you that you’ll never ever make it to the top.

In certain situations, the mental battle that rages in a person’s brain between bravado and sanity causes distress and all too often death. Every year bold hikers die on trails thinking they can do it, when in fact they’re walking towards their doom.

I routinely walk 3.3 miles around the block at my home, so in my head the 2.1 miles was child’s play. Maybe Mt. Morgan miles are measured in Jupiter miles.

You know how one human year is equal to about seven dog years, well, maybe hiking miles are like that because after hiking what was undoubtedly only one mile, I felt like I had gone two.

It was glorious hiking through the forest, but I soon discovered the hard pack snow was only about 12-16 inches wide. If you strayed from that pathway – and it was easy to do in the slippery corn – you post holed.

Post holing is why you wear gators. When you post hole, your foot drops down 16 inches faster than a peregrine falcon dives to get its supper.

Here's a typical post hole made by a hiker. This one was near the summit and about 20 inches deep. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a typical post hole made by a hiker. This one was near the summit and about 20 inches deep. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

If the sudden drop catches you off guard, you can easily go off balance and fall into the snow.

Are we having fun yet? Oh yes, we’re on a SOTA and CW adventure. It’s worth it!

The Ladies

Part way up the trail, Cliff told me to go ahead as Lori and Kirk were struggling a little bit in the corn because they had no ice traction devices on their hiking boots.

I had no issues going ahead alone and bathed myself in the glory of the woods, the natural beauty and the vision of operating soon from the summit. The trail was clearly marked, I was wearing my lime-green Milwaukee heated sweatshirt, so there was no danger I’d get lost or not be found.

Fifteen minutes later I heard a couple of sprite-like voices and there ahead coming down the trail towards me were two fit middle-aged women.

“Hi! Are we pretty close to the summit?” I asked because by now I surely must have gone 1.6 miles.

There was a long pregnant pause and the one woman cast a quick sideways glance at her friend. I knew I was not going to like what she was selling.

“Uh, you’ve still got a ways to go to hit the summit. We crossed the ridge some time ago.”

“(MENTAL GROAN) Oh, well I’m closer than I was a few minutes ago!”

We parted ways and undoubtedly they said, once I was out of earshot, “Oh, that poor old goat’s probably not going to make it.”

I slogged on and put that minor mental setback deep into my mind. I’m going to get to the summit in no time I thought.

Hunger was clawing at me so I stopped and gobbled down one of my Clif energy bars. I wanted to devour a second one, but thought the better of it. I might need it later. That proved to be a very good decision.

Ten minutes later, Cliff caught up.

“Lori and Kirk are behind and will meet us up top. Let’s get going. It’s close to when we’re supposed to be on the air.”

When you decide to do a SOTA activation, you post your intention on the SOTA website and other operators on the ground wait for you to get to the top so they can work you.

It’s smart to put in an approximate time for when you think you’ll summit in case of issues like:

  • snow corn
  • no lunch
  • no gators
  • inexperience
  • first hike of the season

Little did I know, but when Cliff and I had this brief exchange, we were probably standing at mile 1.2. The ladies were right, not only did we have a ways to go, we had yet to tackle the steepest parts of the trail

I decided to get out my cute Baofeng UV-5R HT and I keyed it up to see if anyone was out there on 146.52. This is a small handheld ham radio that costs right around $35.00. It’s a great little radio that does 80 percent of what my more expensive Yaesu VX-7R can do.

Sure enough, KB1RJD, Herm up north, came back.

“Tim, you’re 5 over 9 and sounding great. Are you at the summit?”

Hah! I wish.

“(Huffing and puffing) No Herm, Cliff and I are not yet there. I think it could be another 20 minutes.”

“No problem. Merle and I are here and will just monitor waiting for you to summit.”

Cliff and I pushed on. We were on a mission.

Soon the trail got steeper. My microspikes saved the day. The steep sections were like giant steps. You’d scale a steep section that was about 200 feet long, and then the trail became slightly less steep.

After about 20 minutes we came to a trail intersection indicating we still had 0.4 miles to go.

What idiot came up with that determination. Surely we had already gone 3 miles.

We were at the intersection of another trail and the summit cone was still up a few of the giant steps. The trail incline got even steeper as we marched on.

I was so fatigued by this point, I didn’t even bother to look at my watch. I didn’t want to waste any energy. I was just focusing on moving up. Perhaps 15 minutes passed.

Up ahead was another trail marker. We were now just below the summit cone. In good weather, you have two choices at this point. Climb a very steep rock face plucked by the Wisconsin Continental Glaciers that covered much of North America, or you can add an additional 0.2 miles to your afternoon walk to get to the top.

It was too dangerous to climb the rock face. Cliff decided to sprint the remainder of the way as we were well behind our planned transmit schedule.

I was close. I could feel it. My brain did the right thing and shot some adrenaline into my blood. This magical chemical masked the fatigue and I made it to the summit perhaps five minutes behind Cliff.

When I broke through the trees and saw the deep blue sky I was overjoyed. I had made it!

The stunning views were magic eye candy that rewarded my aching body and growling stomach.

Here's Cliff, N1RCQ, operating at the summit of Mt. Morgan. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Cliff, N1RCQ, operating at the summit of Mt. Morgan. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Cliff was getting ready to transmit as he didn’t want to loose the chance of activating this peak. We had worked far too hard to not get the required SOTA simplex contacts for the official activation.

As I was trying to recapture some strength, I was overpowered by the stunning views stretching from the north northeast all the way around to the west.

Here's the view up the Mt. Washington valley looking north northeast. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s the view up the Mt. Washington valley looking north northeast. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

You're now looking pretty much east and that's Red Hill in the center of the photo. One of our club repeaters is on this small hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

You’re now looking pretty much east and that’s Red Hill in the center of the photo. One of our club repeaters is on this small hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

This is the magnificent view to the south. The closer ice-covered lake is Squam Lake where the movie On Golden Pond was shot. The lake farther away is Lake Winnipesaukee and the lake where I live, Lake Winnisquam is a sliver on the right. I can see Mt. Morgan from my deck and back yard. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the magnificent view to the south. The closer ice-covered lake is Squam Lake where the movie On Golden Pond was shot. The lake farther away is Lake Winnipesaukee and the lake where I live, Lake Winnisquam is a sliver on the right. I can see Mt. Morgan if I go up to an observation platform above my house. I slight ridge of land on the east shore of Lake Winnisquam blocks the view from my deck and house. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

This is the view to the southwest. The large high-resolution photos really show detail. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the view to the southwest. The large high-resolution photos really show detail. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Once I caught my breath, I took a few minutes to soak up the natural beauty. It was a perfect day, although it would have been nicer had it been about 15 degrees warmer and no wind. But still, the early spring sun was bathing us in warmth.

I love views as you see in the photos and probably would have been happy with the hike even if I didn’t gather my required contacts to activate the peak. It was time to do it.

I retrieved my Baofeng UV-5R from my pocket and started to log contacts one by one. Cliff would grab them first, then hand them off to me. We were on 146.52 MHz and I was operating at 5 watts with the factory rubber duck antenna. I should have brought my Yaesu VX-7R with the 1/4-wave antenna to ensure maximum transceiving capabilities.

Here's my log for the SOTA activation. You can see I got more than enough contacts to get my single point. I should have received 5 points if you factor in the SM!

Here’s my log for the SOTA activation. You can see I got more than enough contacts to get my single point. I should have received 5 points if you factor in the SM!

 

Here I am talking with one of my SOTA chasers. Those are the operators on the ground or other summits you connect with. Photo credit: Cliff Dickinson - N1RCQ

Here I am talking with one of my SOTA chasers. Those are the operators on the ground or other summits you connect with. Photo credit: Cliff Dickinson – N1RCQ

After making the required SOTA contacts, I finally took time to sit down and enjoy the view. I had been on my feet for at least three hours and it was just great to sit down. It was pretty much impossible to do this on the trail unless you wanted to be soaked sitting in the wet snow corn.

Thirty minutes later Lori and Kirk summited and we all chatted about the stunning views.

Cliff asked me if I was going to set up my HB-1B and do HF, but I was so exhausted, I decided that was for another day when the temperatures were warmer and I had the needed energy to concentrate on the incoming Morse code.

Before heading back down the trail, I inhaled another one of my Clif bars. It really hit the spot.

I looked at my watch and it was now after 4:30 pm. One of my contacts was a club member, Frank Towle – KC1AAQ, and I asked him to call Kathy to tell her I’d be very late getting home. I didn’t want her worrying if a yeti had eaten me like in the older video game Ski Free.

Cliff, Lori and Kirk decided to hangout more at the summit, but I decided to head back. Little did I know it was a wise thing to do.

I started racing down the mountain, and that proved to be almost as much work as it was going up. The snow corn was treacherous, and combined with my fatigue, I started to stray from the trail and post hole.

Soon my wool socks were soaking wet and my feet started to get chilled. The sun was getting lower in the sky and the shadows in the forest got longer and longer.

Believe it or not, I had to take five breaks going down the mountain. I would have never guessed that would be the case, but the walking in the snow was exceedingly difficult.

I thought it would take forever to arrive at the parking lot. My mind was being flooded with thoughts of rest, food and warmth. I can see now why hikers fall, and get disoriented. Your brain does funny things when you stress it like this.

After an hour and ten minutes, I made it back to my truck. I felt like a sack of rags as my friend Jim Cluett would say. Wet, hungry rags at that.

Will I do it again? Will I do more SOTA summits? You bet.

Next time though, I’ll try to keep the Summit Multiplier closer to 1.0 instead of 2.60!

 

How to Talk Simplex on Ham Radio

A few years ago I re-immersed myself into ham radio. The hobby is quite complex and I was born at night but not last night, so how hard could it be to talk simplex to another operator just a half-mile away? Well, sit down as you might learn something.

I passed my technician’s test on March 8, 2003, but it took three days to be officially licensed. The FCC granted me privileges to operate with the call sign – KC8VYI.

I didn’t know squat about ham radio. A business acquaintance in Idaho had urged me to get my license. For about two years I dabbled in radio and attended several club meetings in my hometown of Cincinnati, OH. I just couldn’t get comfortable and the people at the club meetings were distant and not welcoming.

I dropped out of the hobby and boxed up my radios.

Fast forward to June of 2011 where I met Lee Hillsgrove, Sr. at an exciting public service event on the sides of Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in New England – home of the world’s worst weather.

That rainy Friday in June, I was a complete beginner and had no idea how to turn off the European 1750 Mhz burst tone on my brand new Yaesu VX-7R. I felt like an idiot. Lee tried to help me, but as we ran through the settings buried deep in the memory chip of the HT, we got nowhere fast.

I was bound and determined to figure it out and did hours later. It was a good feeling.

But the Talking-Simplex monster was still lurking in that fancy Yaesu VX-7R.

Four months later, I was to meet Lee for breakfast before we worked all day providing communications for the NH Marathon. Driving to breakfast I made a bonehead mistake.

Being a newbie in ham radios, this happens just about every time I touch a radio.

Lee and I were to meet somewhere in Bristol, NH. We were coming from different directions, he from Danbury and me from Meredith. The local repeaters in this area provide so-so coverage in this pretty hilly area, so Lee suggested we use a simplex frequency.

Lee’s an expert radio operator. Because neither of us knew what diners would be open, we decided to coordinate where to eat when we got close to one another. The plan was to be on 146.500 MHz.

You know what they say about best-laid plans, don’t you? Well, I was able to transmit and Lee heard me just fine. However, when he transmitted back to me, I could clearly see his signal via the S-meter on the screen of my Yaesu VX-7R, but no sound came out of the HT. Yes, I did have the volume up. He was deaf to me, if you get what I mean.

Because he was an experienced operator, he instantly knew what the problem was. But alas, he couldn’t tell me how to fix my radio settings because I couldn’t hear him.

It was so easy. I had my Tone Squelch setting set to On and had a preset tone set up.

You may not think that’s a big deal, but the purpose of these Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) tones is to keep a radio quiet until it hears a simultaneous sub-audible tone during the voice transmission.

These CTCSS tones are very low frequency audio tones, usually less than 300 Hz, and are overlaid on the primary radio frequency you want to talk on. These also are helpful in activating repeaters. But that’s a subject for another day.

These CTCSS tones are much like a key is to a door lock. If your radio is set up waiting to hear the tone, it’s not going to *open up* (create audio) unless the transmitting radio is equipped with the *key* (the same CTCSS tone).

Since my radio was set to listen for such a tone, it did it’s job and sat there oh so quietly not letting Lee’s transmission out of my speaker. Remember, I could see his radio signals activating the S-meter, but there was no audio.

It’s also mandatory that you turn off the + / – repeater shift function on the radio. If you don’t you’ll be transmitting out at .600 Mhz higher or lower on the simplex frequency in the 2-meter band you’ve chosen to operate.

For example, if I would have had my HT set to a -, negative shift, setting, I would have transmitted out at 145.900. In this case, Lee would not hear what I was transmitting because my radio was not transmitting on his receive frequency of 146.500!

It’s always those little things.

Lee was smart enough to switch to a local repeater frequency that was able to provide both of us with a modest signal. In a mild panic, I had enough sense to try this and I caught up with him. Minutes later we sat down for breakfast.

Once Lee had my HT in his hands, he was  able to get my radio working perfectly in less than 30 seconds. He turned off my tone squelch, pressed my talk button and it automatically made his radio chirp.

Additional Simplex Operating Tips:

Altitude is everything. When you operate in simplex mode, you want your radio waves to reach out as far as possible, especially if you’re working with a low-wattage handheld (HT) radio like the Yaesu VX-7R. It only transmits at 5 watts. But 5 watts broadcasting from on top of a mountain can carry quite a distance indeed.

If you’re blocked by terrain, trees, buildings, etc. simplex might only reach out a mile or so and even less.

Remember that propagation changes as the sun rises into the sky and excites the atmosphere. You may be able to work simplex early morning and evening with great success at a given distance, but have issues at high noon and midday.

QRP Radio, Snow and the Pemigewasset River

“What are you doing?”

Jim Cluett, W1PID, was calling me at 10:00 a.m. on this brilliant sunny day just after St. Patrick’s Day. Just hours before it was only 9 F outdoors, but the temperature was climbing rapidly as spring is nearly here.

“Well, my to-do list is pretty long, why do you ask?”

“I have a larva idea. Let’s do one of your proposed tiny dXpeditions. We’ll eat lunch in Bristol and then head down to do radio along the Pemi next to Profile Falls.”

Here's where we were. Click the map. It takes you to an interactive map.

Here’s where we were. Click the image. It takes you to an interactive map you can zoom in and out to see where this magical place is.

I had been begging Jim to take me on one of his outdoor radio adventures. Just two days before I had tried to tempt him to do a six-hour trip to the seacoast to do QRP outdoor radio.

Because the trips are small, I called them dXpeditions instead of the grand DXpetitions that are real honest adventures.

A dXpedition with QRP radio? Calm winds. The sun is blasting out infrared waves like water from a fire hose. My first QRP outing with my mentor?

Only an idiot or someone who’s incarcerated would say no to that. Fortunately I make my own hours and don’t wear an ankle GPS device stamped “Property of the Belknap County Sheriff”, so it was an easy decision.

“Okay. Sounds good. I’ve got to go top off the battery in my HB-1B. Where do you want to meet in Bristol?”

“Bring some matches so we can start a fire. Be on 146.52 and we’ll talk ourselves in.”

“Oh, I’ll bring some firewood too.”

“We don’t need firewood. There will be plenty there.”

Obviously Jim was in a daze about what deep snow does to wood. Several things come to mind:

  • it buries it
  • it can encase it in ice this late in the winter
  • it soaks it with water making it impossible to ignite

What Jim didn’t know is that I was fascinated with everything fire as a youth. I became an expert at starting campfires on all my Boy Scout campouts.

If a fire is involved in some outdoor activity and the temperature is 60F or below, that’s like icing on the cake for me. That inner Boy Scout in me was screeching to get going.

In my garage I’ve got a dandy box of kindling wood. In the box are slats of oak from shipping pallets. I quickly cut them up into 7-inch long strips of different sizes and stuffed them in a thin cardboard box. The cardboard would help get the oak burning. I put this box in my backpack so Jim wouldn’t see it.

Here's the fire Jim, W1PID, ended up building while I was trying to make QSOs. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s the fire Jim, W1PID, ended up building while I was trying to make QSOs. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I have a special Klein tool backpack that’s perfect for taking on outings like this. It’s got all sorts of great compartments and holds everything I need for an afternoon doing outdoor ham radio.

Jim’s a fantastic mentor. I’m so very lucky to have him help me. He’s got a great sense of humor and loves to tease me. I’ve been told I’m an easy target because I don’t get offended by jokes and general sarcasm.

He and I are exact opposites. I’m the type of person that will talk to you on an elevator. Jim’s not one to do that and he’s very much a private person. That’s okay. We need all kinds in the world. I’m blessed that he’s decided to share his wealth of ham radio and outdoor skills with me.

I also feel Jim’s a magician for any number of reasons. Magicians are masters of illusion. A great magician will never ever do the same trick twice, nor will he tell you how magic’s done.

Jim treats some information like magic. It’s not important for me, or others, to know all the details. If you were to ask Jim, I suspect he’d just say certain details just get in the way. Or he might be like my old German plasterer, Jack Betsch. Jack’s favorite line was, “Less said is better.”

Realize Jim’s an expert operator and loves outdoor radio, QRP and Morse. Suffice it to say, all those things I enjoy as well. Morse to me – and I’m just beginning my journey – is mesmerizing. I find it challenging and mystical at the same time. There’s something magical, in my opinion, communicating using a simple interrupted tone.

Before long it was time to leave. I double checked and had all my gear, sunglasses, and my high-visibility heated Milwaukee jacket. I didn’t think I would need to turn it on, but one never knows. I had no idea where we’d be operating from, so I wanted to be prepared for anything.

“W1PID, W3ATB calling.”

Jim came back right away. “Meet me in the Park-n-Ride lot next to 1-93. We’ll take just one car from here.”

I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed my gear and jumped into Jim’s nice red Subaru Outback. He had a big smile on his face and I thought I could sense he was as happy to be going on the outing as I was. Before long, we were in Bristol, NH hunting down the Pub and Pizza restaurant.

Lunch flew by with our conversation touching on a multitude of topics including hungry zombies flowing up from Boston, MA. Once we boxed up Jim’s leftover mushroom pizza, it only took a few minutes to get to the parking lot below the stunning Profile Falls. Jim is intimately familiar with the area as he hikes, rides his bike and does outdoor radio in this area almost year round.

The trail from the icy parking lot was packed snow, but I wore my Kathoola microspikes anyway. A few years back I slipped in similar conditions and hit my head hard on some glare ice hidden under the innocent snow. No way would I ever take a chance like that again and I’ve discovered the microspikes are simply wonderful accessories to prevent falls on ice.

Within five minutes we broke out of the woods to a giant clearing next to the crystal-clear waters of the Pemigewasset River. The sky was so blue it hurt your eyes to look at it. I spied two picnic tables under an 80-foot pine tree.

“That’s where we’ll set up,” Jim said.

The snow was still deep on the level ground and fortunately quite hard. Only now and then would my foot sink in about 6 inches.

But surprisingly, at the picnic tables, there was no snow on the ground nor on the tables. Everything was dry as a bone, including a thick bed of pine needles and leaves that hung around since last fall. What’s more, I spied plenty of dead branches scattered about that would be ideal for a fire. No wonder Jim told me not to bring firewood.

“You set up at this table. See that one branch up there? I want you to get your antenna up there so it drops straight down to the table. You only get three chances. After that, I’ll take over.” Jim knows that my par end-fedz  multi-band antenna works best when it’s nearly vertical.

Jim brought all his own gear and was set up and ready to operate before I had my microcord unwound. My first attempt at slinging the partially-filled water bottle generated a huge belly laugh from Jim because I let the cord go an instant too soon. The bottle sailed over a much lower branch.

“Remember, if you can’t do it, I’ll get it up there for you.” This teasing comment was followed by his loud laughter that probably echoed throughout the river valley.  I didn’t need to be reminded about how I was still a newbie at slinging water bottles up into trees.

I would have joined in the laughter, but I was too intent on getting the partially-filled water bottle over the branch.

Here's my water bottle in the soft pine needles under the giant tree. It was a perfect throw over the branch 30 feet above me if I don't say so myself! Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s my water bottle in the soft pine needles under the giant tree. It was a perfect throw over the branch 30 feet above me if I don’t say so myself! Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Bingo! My second throw was perfect. I got the water bottle up over the correct branch and moments later lowered it to the ground. Within minutes my 125-feet of 1/16-inch microcord was operating as a handy halyard pulling my par end-fedz multi-band antenna into position.

I was ready to go. Here's the HB-1B, earphones, my micro Pico paddles, notebook and pen. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I was ready to go. Here’s the HB-1B, earphones, my micro Pico paddles, notebook and pen. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I had my HB-1B unpacked in no time as well as my small Pico paddles. I was ready to go.

While I was doing all of this, Jim had already worked at least two Russian stations and I believe one in Belgium. He’s very very talented and just snags other stations when they finish up a QSO with someone else. He rarely sends out a CQ.

Here's Jim, W1PID, snagging far away stations faster than I can send CQ and my call sign. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s Jim, W1PID, snagging far away stations faster than I can send CQ and my call sign. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

“Why are you sending CQ?” Jim could hear my CQ CQ CQ ghost signals on his rig.

“You don’t send CQ. You go find a strong signal and then work him. Sending CQ is a huge waste of time. When you hear a station strong here, there’s a great chance he’ll hear your weak 5-watt signal.”

Can you see why I’m so lucky to have Jim as my mentor?

He sat down next to me, took over my rig and within minutes worked W1AW/8 in OH. Jim told me this operator was part of a club participating in an ARRL Centennial contest trying to make contacts in all the states.

“Go ahead. Work him now. Send him a 599 and be sure to add NH. He’ll know what’s going on.”

I did as commanded and BOOM, had my first QSO by the Pemi. The sun reflecting off the gurgling water of the Pemi made it look like a thousand diamonds were shimmering on the surface. It was a perfect  environment to capture my first NH outdoor radio contact. To say it was very satisfying, would be a gross understatement.

That's me! I've got a smile on my face because of the weather, the company and I just completed my first outdoor QSO next to the Pemi! Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

That’s me! I’ve got a smile on my face because of the weather, the company and I just completed my first outdoor QSO next to the Pemi! Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

“Go ahead and work some other stations. I’ll start a fire.” Jim already had satisfied his QSO appetite and was thoroughly enjoying watching me, the grasshopper, get one or two more.

“Where are the matches I asked you to bring?”

“Oh, they’re in my backpack. Get out that cardboard box too.”

Jim opened my backpack and pulled out both the matches and the box and said, “What’s the box for?”

“Open it and see.”

Jim opened the flap, shook his head and mumbled, “I thought I told you not to bring firewood.”

“How was I to know we’d be in a location where a giant pine tree would act like an umbrella?” The 80-foot-tall evergreen we were under did a magnificent job of deflecting most of the snow. Jim, of course, knew this was the case as this picnic area was as familiar to him as his own backyard.

Soon I smelled the fragrant aroma of a fire that was roaring inside a metal cooking stand positioned next to the picnic area. Jim had a splendid fire going using all natural materials to start it. Not one piece of my oak or cardboard was used to build the blazing fire.

The sun, the smoke, the companionship of a mentor that has the patience of Job and a sense of humor dryer than a tub of alum was the ideal brew for the soul on this spectacular late-winter day.

An hour passed like it was five minutes. I gathered two other QSOs and it was time to pack up to go back.

Jim and I walked 500 feet downstream in the deep snow that was now softened by the sun so that every now and then we sunk down 8 inches or so. He wanted to show me another location where he and N1LT and W1JSB had operated alongside the Pemi and where the smaller Smith River surrenders itself to the much larger Pemigewassat River.

As we were walking back, Jim proclaimed, “You know at the end of the day it’s been a good day when you’ve had fun in the middle of the day.”

I’ll second that. Thanks Jim for inviting me to one of your very special places to gather invisible radio waves from the brilliant blue sky. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

 

Carl, VE3DZB, Canadian Club and a Hustler Whip

CW, or Morse code, is a magical form of communication. You just hear a single tone that’s interrupted by spaces of different lengths.

If you’re listening to a person, you can often sense emotion by the changing tone and pitch of her/his voice. While it’s possible to do this with CW, it’s not practical.

That said, I brought this point up with my CW mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID and he had a much different perspective.

“Morse is one of the most intimate modes. Words… spaces…. circumstances. What’s not said. You can feel things in a fist. You’d be surprised. If you want emotion, listen to the tapes of Morse at sea during a rescue or a sinking. It’s really unbelievable.”

Because I’m so very new to Morse, I don’t have enough experience to have sensed emotion yet in my few QSO’s, but I do know that Jim has yet to be wrong.

The lens I look through at this early stage of my ham radio journey has a short depth of field because my QSO’s are so abbreviated. I’ve had but one 25-minute rag chew and at a receive rate of just 7 or 8 WPM not much can be said when each operator only has about 12 or 13 minutes of the conversation.

I’ve come to discover, so far, when you have a CW QSO, you don’t know the rest of the story, or even much of the story of the person you’re communicating with.

Sure, they might share some of their tale, but it’s rare you glean lots of details about them in that first encounter.

Part of Carl’s story leaked out last week during a CW QSO.

But a few hours ago I was blessed to discover some amazing and humorous details about what was happening in Carl’s life before and during our short QSO.

It was such a profound letter, it choked me up when I read it to Jim over the phone.

The first part of the story is fairly simple. Last week I was in my shack and fired up my ICOM-7000 to see if someone would answer my slow-speed CW.

It was one of those moments in time, like two ships passing in the night.

Little did I know it, but a 90-year-old man in Canada, Carl – VE3DZB – was wanting to get on the air too. He was on a very personal mission.

We both were trying to get something. Me practice. Him validation.

I transmitted my CQ, and Carl came back. I could hear him quite well and he had a great fist.

After exchanging our RST reports, he sends:

“TDAY MY 90TH BDAY.”

WOW! I sure hope I’m able to be on the air at 90. Heck, I hope I’m on this side of the grass when I’m 90!

I sent congrats, we exchanged 73′s, and it was over as fast as it started, both of us steaming towards the horizon.

I was ecstatic because Carl was a DX contact for me being in Canada. He was my third DX contact.

Sure, Canada is not that far from me in New Hampshire, but you know what, I’ll take what I can get.

I sent him my QSL card the next day and pretty much forgot about the QSO.

Then today, I get Carl’s letter and his QSL card – the other side of the story.

There’s no sense me sharing the details. Just dip yourself in the magic waters of a 90-year-old man who satisfied a deep personal goal on his birthday and what he had to do to be able to fulfill the aspiration.

But before you splash yourself with Carl’s story, I hope you take away from it what I did.

You just never know how much pleasure you may bring to someone with a simple QSO.

Carl’s letter is going to be framed and put in my shack on the wall.

Tell me if you don’t think that’s a good idea.

Happy Birthday – again, Carl! And many many many more for you OM!

This is a scanned copy of Carl's letter. I cut off his postal address and email address. That's nice-to-know information, not need-to-know.

This is a scanned copy of Carl’s letter. I cut off his postal address and email address. That’s nice-to-know information, not need-to-know.

A European CW Pileup

Yesterday was a cold winter afternoon. I had been working all day and decided to go up to the shack before leaving for afternoon mass. I had maybe 40 minutes or so of play time before I had to jump in the shower.

Twenty meters was hopping. I started to listen and copied a few QSOs that were clear as a bell. These guys were going my speed. At this early stage of my CW apprenticeship, I just copy at about 7.5 WPM. I was happy to capture, hear and understand the conversations.

I didn’t have much time left, so I dialed up to 14.059 Mhz and found that frequency wide open – at least here in New Hampshire.

If you’re new to ham radio, realize any given frequency can be as busy as the New York City subway on a Monday morning at 8 am, but you may not hear a thing. It’s all a matter of what the ionosphere is dropping on top of your antenna at that given moment.

My confidence has been rising weekly doing CW. I only started in the beginning of November, 2013 and hit a brick wall right away because I was too impatient. I wanted to get on the air right away without being able to really hear each of the letters, prosigns and punctuation instantly in my head. That causes enormous frustration, believe me.

If you’re a pro CW operator, you’re probably laughing at my grasshopper status. I ask you to stop and think back to when you were just starting. I’m willing to wager you weren’t hearing the code at 25 WPM or better. But I digress.

I sent out my CQ and right away, here comes Steve Gee. Welcome to my shack, Steve!

Although I’m new to CW, I new INSTANTLY he was a DX contact. DX means international.

Steve’s call sign is M0GNG. That’s a zero, not the letter “O”.

Rock on! I’m getting into the northeast part of the UK. SWEET!

How did I know Steve lived in that part of the UK?

When I’m on the air, I have my computer fired up and have a page open to QRZ.com. There you can enter in any operator’s call sign. If you have an account at QRZ.com, you get to see the operator’s address. If you don’t have an account, you can see some information about the operator, and validate their call sign.

Steve said my signal was strong and gave me a report of 599. I gave him a 559 only because he was not super crisp. I was transmitting at about 75 watts.

He told me it was cold there and I replied back it was “VERY cold here in NH.”

We said 73 (goodbye) to each other and then it started.

The pileup. The European pileup.

I should have been prepared.  Steve gave me a clue.

My signal report was 599. That means my 20 meter signal was BOOMING into Europe at that precise instant of time. My radio waves were blanketing European ham radio antennas like snow has covered my lot all winter long.

All of a sudden a flood of operators were pounding out my call sign. One can only think they were as happy to get a USA contact as I was to connect with Steve in the UK.

WOO HOO!

The one that stood out the best had another non-USA call sign: IK7LKK.

That’s Italy. WOW! My first Italian contact!

It was Vic Panniello calling me from Foggia, Italy. He’s just about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of the Adriatic Sea, so it was magical for me to snag him.

Here's Vic Panniello in his cozy ham shack in Foggia, Italy. TNX Vic for the QSO! 73 Photo credit: Unknown friend of Vic!

Here’s Vic Panniello in his cozy ham shack in Foggia, Italy. TNX Vic for the QSO! 73 Photo credit: Unknown friend of Vic!

The protocol during a pileup is for the other stations to stand by as I complete the QSO with who I decide to select. That’s what happened, so it was cool to see that side of ham radio in acton.

I was so excited about the pileup and back-to-back European QSOs I called my CW mentor, Jim Cluett, W1PID.

“Jim, I just did TWO European QSOs back to back. I had a pileup of guys trying to get me!”

“Tim, that’s fantastic! Who were they?”

I gave Jim Steve and Vic’s call signs and he looked them up while we were on the phone and he said, “Did you see Vic in his shack?”

“Oh yes, I had the page up during the QSO.”

“Did Vic say Dear Tim during the QSO? Some European operators after making contact with you often will say ‘FB DR TIM’ – you know, fine business dear Tim. I would have expected Vic to say CIAO at the end of his QSO.”

“Yes, I believe I copied that, but was so excited I missed some of the QSO. I got the important stuff – his call sign and my RST!”

Because I was running tight on time and had to get ready for church, I had to end my call with Jim.

Who knows, I might have had three, four, five or ???? more European contacts in the logbook yesterday if I could have hunkered down and clawed my way through my first European pileup.

Well, that’s what tomorrow is all about, right?

The hunt is on! I hope you’re my next QSO. Remember, we can try to schedule one. Just click my Contact page and let’s set it up.

D-STAR Repeater Repair Franklin, NH

 

Doink.

I glanced down and my chat window had opened. Who was it but W1DDI, Mark Persson.

Mark is the repeater coordinator for the Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club and he was planning a trip to the club’s W1JY 147.3000 FM repeater and the W1VN 449.6750 D-Star digital voice repeater site, to see why the D-STAR connectivity suddenly stopped working.

Mark was going to go with Jim Cluett, W1PID, as they both are in the early stages of dipping themselves in the magic waters of D-STAR. They’ll both tell you it’s a fascinating aspect of the digital part of amateur radio.

After watching their demonstration of D-STAR at the last club meeting I have to say I’m in full agreement. I’ll be getting a D-STAR radio within a few months if all goes well.

“Do you mind if I tag along?” I’ve got an interest in the club’s repeaters and had never seen where the Franklin repeater is located.

“Heck no, grab your snowshoes as we’ll be hiking to the top of the hill,” Mark said.

Mark contacted Jim and it was decided we’d try to meet at the parking lot of the Veterans Memorial Ski Area on Flaghole Road in Franklin, NH at 2:15 p.m.

This is a great little map hanging on the outside wall of the base lodge - the only lodge! - at the ski area. Our repeater is in a little shed at the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

This is a great little map hanging on the outside wall of the base lodge – the only lodge! – at the ski area. Our repeater is in a little shed at the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I carpooled with Jim to the site. We rode in his sweet red Subaru Outback, one of my top three colors. As usual, I tried to to a Vulcan mind meld trying to suck as much knowledge from Jim as possible in the short ride as we drove south on NH State Route 127 from Sanbornton to Franklin.

Suffice it to say it’s not hard, as he’s only too happy to foster the sharing of hard-earned tips about the ham radio hobby.

“It’s a marvelous day, isn’t it?” Jim exclaimed as we made our way up the ice-encrusted-normally-gravel Flaghole Road. His AWD Subaru maintained steady footing with Jim at a safe speed.

“Mud season is going to be wicked with as deep as the frost has penetrated this year,” Jim said while rounding a bend.

I remember my first mud season in New Hampshire back in March of 2009. When I saw a temporary warning sign emblazoned with ROAD IMPASSABLE – Travel at Own Risk placed where the blacktop stopped just 100 feet from where I turned onto my street, I realized NH mud deserves respect. Staring at 12-inch-deep ruts in the gooey stone-and-sand stew, my mud season baptism was official.

As we drove to the repeater site, Mark and Jim were in radio contact. Mark had a five-minute lead and was getting his gear out when Jim and I pulled into the parking lot.

“I don’t think I need poles, what do you guys think?” Mark was emulating Johnny Cash dressed completely in black with his stylish snow pants, black hat, and black Hollywood sunglasses standing in his black Ram truck that Darth Vader would covet.

Mark Persson, W1DDI, is looking back asking if I'm OK while Jim Cluett, W1PID, blazes the trail to the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Mark Persson, W1DDI, is looking back asking if I’m OK while Jim Cluett, W1PID, blazes the trail to the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

“We don’t need no stinkin’ poles,” I replied as I was confident the snow grooming machine had compacted the snow so it would be easy walking both up and down the slope. We proceeded up the hill staying along the edges of the ski areas so as to not be in the way of skiers.

This quaint ski area is a hidden gem. It’s off the beaten path and is what many small ski areas in New Hampshire used to be like in the 1950′s and 60′s. You feel like you’ve stepped out of a time machine when you walk into the cozy lodge with the picnic tables, snack bar and roaring fire. The entire operation is staffed by volunteers, just like our ham radio club.

In no time we were at the top. As I pulled up the rear I looked over to my left and saw a woman in the telltale red ski patrol jacket with the white cross. She was with another man and I could tell they wanted to say something.

I gave them strong eye contact and pulled my Baofeng UV-5R HT from the pocket of my lime-green heated jacket with the 3M reflective stripes to communicate we were on a mission. They quickly skied down the small slope to talk with me.

“Hi! I’m a ham radio operator and my buddies and I are checking on one of our repeaters,” I said to Ellen and Dave Coulter, wife and husband team, who were now next to me.

“Oh, all of us on the hill were talking on our radios wondering who you were as the three of you clawed your way to the top. Too bad you didn’t bring skis. You could have used the lift and then glided back to the bottom,” Ellen said in a very cheery voice.

It looks far colder than it was. Ellen Coulter and her husband Dave were very cordial and didn't run us off the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

It looks far colder than it was. Ellen Coulter and her husband Dave were very cordial and didn’t run us off the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

By the time I made it to the repeater shack, Mark and Jim were inside troubleshooting. For at least a week they were unable to make the D-STAR components connect to the Interweb allowing them to fully utilize their sweet ICOM D-STAR radios.

It didn’t take them long to narrow down the problem to the USB modem.

Jim Cluett, W1PID, is in the red jacket making sure Mark Persson, W1DDI, doesn't get in over his head. :-) Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Jim Cluett, W1PID, is in the red jacket making sure Mark Persson, W1DDI, doesn’t get in over his head. :-) Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

There wasn’t much to do after that so Mark locked up the shed and decided to see if his tongue would stick to the cold 60-foot-tall antenna mast. Much to his surprise it almost did!

Mark Persson "hamming" it up at the base of the Franklin repeater antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Mark Persson “hamming” it up at the base of the Franklin repeater antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

As we started back down to the base area, we gazed to the north at the stunning view of the White Mountains. No doubt I was looking at snow-capped Mt. Lafayette in the distance. Too bad I was so distracted as to not get a photo!

“I’ve come here with Judy to toboggan. You’d be surprised how fast you get going on that slope just in front of the lodge over there,” Jim stated as we got closer to the parking lot.

Here's the cozy Veterans Memorial Ski lodge. Come during the week and you have the entire hill to yourself. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s the cozy Veterans Memorial Ski lodge. Come during the week and you have the entire hill to yourself. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Minutes later we were back at the vehicles with the fried USB modem in Mark’s pocket. He intended to put it on his test bench to determine why it might have failed.

It was a grand excursion and everyone was in a great mood. You can bet if we go up again in the winter on a weekend, I’ll have my K2′s, boots and poles with me!

I’m going to ski down that hill, not walk!

Failed SOTA Activation – W6/CT-226 Cerro Negro Benchmark

On Valentines Day, February 14, 2014 I found myself 3,000 miles away from my sweetheart trying to activate a Summits on the Air (SOTA) peak in southern California. My goal was to get at least three contacts from the summit of Cerro Negro Benchmark, W6/CT-226. I failed miserably at both the activation and having a Valentines Day present for my wife back home.

Here's the summit. It's a small knob next to a large flat area. The concrete monument holds the actual USGS bronze benchmark. A shrine was also on the summit. More on that in the story. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s the summit. It’s a small knob next to a large flat area. The concrete monument holds the actual USGS bronze benchmark. A shrine was also on the summit. More on that in the story. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I hiked to the summit with two of my very good friends, Dan Murray and Steve Loyola. Steve lives just four miles away in Altadena, CA, as the hawk flies, from the Cerro Negro summit. Because everything is relative, I called this summit a mountain, but native southern Californians call it a bump, or small hill. After all, Cerro Negro is only 575 meters, or 1,886.48 feet, tall. The mountain peaks in the photo above are about 5,000 feet above sea level.

Steve is a technology wizard and had his smartphone EveryTrail application running to track and chart our entire hike. You can see a map, trail statistics and exactly what we did by visiting the page at the EveryTrail website.

It was a very warm day, with abundant sunshine, when the three of us started up the gravel maintenance road communication workers use when they need to service all the commercial antennas crowding the summit.

Lots of antennas up on this hill that cover the Pasadena, Glendale and Altadena, CA vicinity. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

There are lots of antennas up on Cerro Negro blanketing the Pasadena, Glendale and Altadena, CA vicinity. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

The day before we climbed to the top of Cerro Negro, I tried to login to my SOTA account to announce I was going to be there. For some reason, it would not accept my password.

When you publish your intentions to climb a SOTA peak in order to activate it via the SOTA website, the website publishes your itinerary to other ham radio operators. The ham operator climbing the peak is called an activator.

Back on the ground, the other hams who want to talk with the activator are called chasers. They can be in their houses, cars, outdoors in their backyard, or even on other SOTA summits waiting for you to get on the air.

SOTA awards the activator, the person climbing the SOTA peak, and the chasers points if they make a valid communication or contact with each other. It’s a fun way to blend hiking with ham radio.

Active SOTA chasers can amass many points in a day as they sit in their shacks in their skivvies while the activators have to often invest hours to get one or more points climbing, setting up their radios, and descending from a peak. Each SOTA summit has a point value based on all sorts of factors including the height and difficulty of scaling the peak.

I brought two radios with me as I wanted to try long-distance HF using Morse code and then use a small handheld radio on the local 2-meter frequency.  My HB-1B four-band transceiver was perfect for the job as it’s a compact rig made for hiking and outdoor radio.

The multi-band thin wire end-fed antenna allows me to make contacts using Morse code on the 20 and 40-meter bands.

To work other operators in the southern California Los Angeles basin on 2 meters, I also had packed my Baofeng UV-5R. With all of this equipment I was confident I’d be able to gather the three needed contacts to activate the peak to get my two points. But without having my intentions published on the SOTA website, it was a crapshoot.

It didn’t work. I was able to hear plenty of Morse code conversations on 20 meters, but when I transmitted my 1.5 watts of power couldn’t be heard or other operators decided not to come back at the slower CW speed I’m using at the current time.

I then jumped on 2 meters with my HT, but was only able to get one contact. The operator who came back was in the midst of an ARRL 100th anniversary contest trying to get as many contacts as he could. He was kind enough to let me take over the national calling frequency, 146.520 Mhz, to see if I could get my three contacts. I was not successful and yielded the frequency back to him.

On the summit there was a nice sitting bench. Next to the bench was a poured concrete pedestal that held the official USGS bronze benchmark. Someone had built a shrine with four white plastic skulls, a smaller painted blue skull, color photographs, a tiny elephant, piece of pottery, and a metal cap to a beer bottle.

This is the shrine that was erected in the honor of some man who was in the photos we found. Cerro Negro must have been a special place for him. RIP. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

This is the shrine that was erected in the honor of some man who was in the photos we found. Cerro Negro must have been a special place for him. RIP. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I still had a great time with Dan and Steve. I got back to Steve’s house, and waiting for me in my email inbox from SOTA were instructions on resetting my password. I did that and now am ready to try again!

 

CW Pileup Story and Tips

It happened so fast it was over before I knew it.

I had about ten minutes to kill before I had to eat dinner and scoot to my monthly Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club meeting. Moments before I had raced up to my shack to drop off some 1-cent stamps for my QSL cards.

I jumped on 20 meters and went to 14.050. Nothing. Deader than a doornail.

I went up to 14.055 and had the same results. My CQs were like trees falling in the forest.

No one was listening, or if they did hear me, there was no pathway back to my zepp dipole 80/6-meter antenna.

I decided to give 40 meters a shot.

I tuned my antenna and was 1:1. Sweet.

After tuning to 7.058, same thing. Nothing. I was beginning to think everyone was eating dinner.

I gave it one last chance at 7.050.

CQ CQ CQ DE E W3ATB W3ATB K

Seconds later I hear someone tuning up.

Bingo. Even though I’ve only been doing CW for four months, I knew what was coming. This guy or gal was cracking his/her knuckles getting ready to come back.

I send out: CQ DE E W3ATB K

Immediately, I hear back:  N1EFX

Cool! I’m going to get this QSO in.

He sends his call one more time, then KABOOM!

All of a sudden, I hear three maybe four other operators pounding my call sign.

GULP! What do I do now?

N1EFX was trying to transmit, but I could hear nothing as the frequency was jammed tighter than two 16d sinker nails driven into a 1/4-inch concrete hole at the same time.

I panicked. How could I answer all of them? What should I do?

I did the stupid thing and turned off my rig thinking it was some ferocious animal that was going to bite me.

But as I was exiting the shack, I let out a huge Yahoo! and the grin on my face must have been wider than the 405 in west LA.

Down the steps I went and proceeded to make a quick salad with turkey cubes and croutons. I inhaled it and sailed out the door headed to my meeting.

Once in route, I turned on my 2M Yaesu 8900-FT and called to see if by chance my mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, would be listening.

“W1PID this is W3ATB calling.”

“W1PID”

“Jim, can I call you in about ten minutes? I’ve got a story that I’m sure is going to make you laugh.”

“I’m driving now and can’t talk. I’m headed to the meeting.”

“Oh, okay, I’ll just talk to you there.”

Well that’s rare. Jim usually doesn’t go to the meetings, but then it dawned on me that tonight the topic was D-STAR and Jim is just getting into that part of the hobby.

I get to the meeting and just a few are there. Jim had beat me and was standing alone looking at his cell phone.

“I’ve got to meet with Adam for a few minutes, then I’ll catch up,” I said.

“Sure.”

Jim is a man of few words most of the time. I can’t say as it’s a bad policy.

Once Adam helped me see if my new multimeter was accurate, I cornered Jim.

“Guess what happened?”

“Did you try to transmit and your antenna was down?”

“Oh no, I had my first pileup. It was amazing. I had no clue what to do so I shut off the radio.”

I fully expected him to break out laughing.

Nothing. Stone face.

Hmmmm, I wonder if his blood sugar is low?

“Well, pileups are normal. Did you at least get any portion of one of the operator’s call signs?”

“Oh yes, I got the first guy out of the chute, N1EFX.”

“Well, all you had to do was wait till the commotion died off and then call him back. The others would step aside and wait to work you once you finish up.”

And there you have it. The words of wisdom of W1PID dispensed matter-a-factly.

Now I know what to do and I can’t wait for my next pileup baby!