Winslow State Park Mt. Kearsarge Outing

Yesterday I had a chance to test my determination to avoid a QSO skunk and to eat at least one third of two bags of potato chips I purchased for a special outing with an icon and a titan in QRP (low power) outdoor radio. I was headed to the trailhead of the paths that lead to the top Mt. Kearsarge in Winslow State Park in central New Hampshire.

Joining me on the outing were Jim Cluett – W1PID and Dave Benson – K1SWL. Jim is regarded by many on the East Coast as one of the titans of outdoor low-powered radio. Dave is an icon in QRP radio as he’s the founder of Small Wonders Lab from which the infamous Rockmite QRP radio was borne.

Here's Dave Benson - K1SWL. I caught him with his eyes closed, he's not sleeping though. He's busy adding another entry to his massive log. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Dave Benson – K1SWL. I caught him with his eyes closed, he’s not sleeping though. He’s busy adding another entry to his massive log. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

With abnormal high temperatures over the past week, the devil black flies were swarming like Christmas shoppers on Thanksgiving afternoon. We were about to find out who would win the battle as a less-determined operator would skitter from the stunning overlook skunked with no contacts or QSOs.

The other problem I faced was making sure all the sour cream and onion and barbecue potato chips didn’t disappear down the gullet of W1PID. He eats those flavored wafers faster than a tree chipper gobbles up limbs from cut trees. He almost always reciprocates with copious amounts of ice cream, so it’s a very fair exchange.

The day started cool with the temperatures in the upper 50’s F, but soon the sun peppered us with a strong combination of ultraviolet and infrared rays. That solar heating of the ground generated a much-needed breeze at the overlook providing a natural fan helping to blow many, but not all, of the biting black flies away.

Just north of the parking lot at the end of the road in Winslow State Park is a flat area with a new covered post and beam shelter. In the grass there were fire pits created by giant slabs of native granite honed by the continental glaciers that cut their way from the North Pole down to Cape Cod just 15,000 years ago.

Here's the stunning shelter with Jim and Dave discussing Jim's L-shaped antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the stunning shelter with Jim and Dave discussing Jim’s L-shaped antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Seven or so nice picnic tables in the grass provided excellent places to set up our equipment. Thirty and forty-foot trees were on the edges of the grassy area whose many branches would provide ample support for our thin wire antennas.

I was dying to test a new resonant 30-meter dipole antenna I had made the previous weekend. With a little effort I was able to get it up about 30 feet in the air with the RG-174 coax cable dropping straight down onto a picnic table. Jim used his Elecraft KX3 to determine the SWR. He said it was nearly perfect.

Midday 30 meters can be a pretty dead band. I did hear one or two very strong stations, but they were involved in extended conversations and I couldn’t break in.

Dave and Jim set up at different tables with Jim taking the best spot under the handsome post and beam shelter with a commanding view to the west. Just a few miles away, Mt. Sunapee had a few dangling white ribbons of snow left on her many ski runs.

jimkearsarge

Jim Cluett – W1PID is busy grabbing one of his many QSOs with Mt. Sunapee off in the haze. The photo makes it look much more hazy than it was. Note the bottle of black fly spray on the table and the potato chip flakes on the ground. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Soon the air was filled with dits and dahs from their matching KX3 radios. I intend to buy one as a reward for myself once I master Morse code at 18 or more words per minute.

I was using my trusty HB-1B quad-band radio. It’s a workhorse of an outdoor portable radio and it makes for a great beginner radio for anyone wanting to do QRP radio. If you’re thinking of buying one, I suggest you wait. The manufacturer is introducing a new model with five HF bands that tend to be more active in daylight hours.

Here I am with my trusty HB-1B working 20 meters. Photo credit: Dave Benson - K1SWL

Here I am with my trusty HB-1B working 20 meters. Photo credit: Dave Benson – K1SWL

Jim and Dave are highly skilled Morse operators. They both have been hearing code for no less than 50 years apiece. I’ve only been a serious student of CW for a little over one year and have finally achieved a moderate level of skill. I can hear Morse sent with correct character spacing at about 12 WPM.

It was a Saturday and multiple contests were in progress. This made it as easy for Dave and Jim to make fast contacts as it was for the black flies to bite me on my legs, arms and the bald spots of my head.

I believe Jim got about a dozen contacts in less than 30 minutes and Dave had to have about ten. I spent half my time trying to work the desolate 30 meters, and was fast approaching a skunk.

“Take down that dipole and put up your par EndFedz antenna as a horizontal using the same halyards,” said Jim.

“But you’ve always told me a vertical orientation was the best,” I replied more than slightly confused.

Dave was hovering taking in the back and forth banter.

“Listen. Your multi-band dipole back home works great, right? Didn’t you just do your first Australian contact with a horizontal antenna earlier this week?”

(GRINDING NOISE)

The gears in my head were meshing. DUH!

Of course the par EndFedz would work as a horizontal. I was lucky that in just minutes I could get it up about 30 feet off the ground employing the same multicord halyards that were stretching the 30-meter dipole taut.

The par EndFedz is a pre-tuned antenna good for 10, 20 and 40 meters supporting up to 25 watts of transmit power.

As soon as I connected it to my HB-1B I was in the center of the jungle. There were strong signals and QSOs happening everywhere on the 20-meter band.

Within twenty minutes I had three Qs!

NEVER before had I gotten three QSOs on an outing. It was a new first for me. Most of that was due to it being a contesting day as there were just more operators to choose from. I don’t attribute much to my poor skills.

As we packed up to leave, I noticed that 95% of the potato chips were gone. I don’t think that Dave and I ate 66 percent of them, but it didn’t matter. I was basking in the glory of my three contacts and being in the company of two of the top QRP radio operators in New England.

Not even the devil black flies could ruin my day, even though they gave it their best shot.

I hope I’m blessed to do more outings with Dave and Jim. It’s humbling to be in their company. Next time I’ll get three bags of chips.

Antigua Call Sign – How to Get One

In early April of 2015 I discovered I needed to go back to Antigua to testify in a court case as an expert witness. I’ve done expert witness work for years in residential construction cases, but this was my first international foray.

I had visited the gorgeous island three years earlier to do the required inspection of the defective workmanship, but I was not skilled at that time in QRP HF radio and I had zero Morse Code skills.

Fast forward to this year and all that had changed. I’m now in love with outdoor QRP (less than 5 watts power) radio and my Morse code – CW is the parlance used by operators – skills are greatly improved. I’m by no means an expert, but I can hear code sent accurately with the proper spacing at about 13 words per minute (WPM).

My trip this time required that I’d be on the island for a full week with lots of time to kill. I had read stories about how having an antenna next to salt water enhances its capabilities so I was dying to try it.

The small hut where I’d be staying is only 30 feet from the ocean so it would be a rare lifetime experience to help a weak QRP signal get a boost from a body of salt water.

I had operated a small handheld radio five years earlier in western Canada on a road trip trying to get into a repeater with no success. My research showed at that time that there was no need for me to get a Canadian radio license. I could just use my USA-issued license followed by a few letters indicating I was a USA ham operating in Canada.

I thought this was all I had to do in Antigua.

I was wrong as my QRP mentor and outdoor radio mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, informed me.

Getting the Antiguan Radio License

My first stop in the process was a visit to the ARRL website. There they have an entire section on International License requirements and agreements. There’s a gold mine of information there, including facts about frequencies in other nations you’re allowed to operate on!

This is the section at the ARRL website that deals with International Operating. It's rich in facts and information. Image credit: ARRL.org

This is the section at the ARRL website that deals with International Operating. It’s rich in facts and information. Image credit: ARRL.org

After reading much of that material, I discovered I needed a new separate license from Antigua. A quick search turned up their webpage that dealt with Antiguan radio licenses, but for some reason the link to Amateur was broken and still is at the time I wrote this.

After a little more searching I located an email address to an Antiguan government official, Mr. William Henry, and he proceeded to help me. He was very professional and one of his last emails to me said, “We have a saying in the Caribbean that goes like, ‘good friends better than money in the pocket.’ I think that it might just apply to Teresia.”

The Teresia he was referring to is my host in Antigua. She and her husband hired me to come to Antigua and she went to Mr. Henry’s office to complete the transaction and get the hard copy of my license. This cut weeks off the normal process of me sending money to them in the mail and them mailing me my license.

The first step was to fill out a simple application form.

I had to make a copy of my first two pages of my US passport and one of my FCC amateur license to show that I’m in good standing with the USA. The officials in Antigua also wanted to verify my USA license privileges.

I now notice, reading the new application, that they also want copies of the technical specifications of the radio equipment you intend to use.

The cost, in April 2015, for a one-year amateur license was $30 US Dollars.

It only took about a week to get the license once I submitted the application and all the items they asked for.

If you live outside of Antigua, you can do everything via normal postal mail, but my guess is that would add about a month to the process. How lucky I was to have my friend Teresia do the legwork for me down there to ensure I had my license before my visit.

You can request a vanity call sign, I did, but someone already had: V2ATB. The country prefix for Antigua call signs is V2.

Mr. Henry issued me V25TB instead.

With a simple request to the folks at QRZ.com, they allowed me to register it there and manage it out of my W3ATB account. I listed my US home address for the license since I don’t have a permanent Antiguan address.

The hut or house you see in the photo is where I’ll be staying. Let’s hope all they say about salt water and antennas is true!

Wish me luck. I’ll be on 20, 30 and 40 meters with my HB-1B.

V25TB

QRP in Milwaukee

Day One:

Yesterday I flew into Milwaukee, WI on business. The marketing folks at Briggs & Stratton invited me to their factory to see new products and to discuss ways to help each of our businesses to grow and thrive.

I was lucky to get flights that allowed me to land in the early afternoon so that I’d have about three hours to do some outdoor radio in the upper Midwest. But a 90-minute mechanical delay caused by a pesky pressure starting switch in the right engine of the my Southwest Boeing 737-700 engine cut into my plan to visit a local park.

Fortunately there were some trees at the front of the Radisson Milwaukee West hotel where I was to call home for the next 38 hours.

Here's the front of the hotel and the tree just ahead supported my miserable sloper antenna.

Here’s the front of the hotel and the tree just ahead supported my miserable sloper antenna.

I was worried that the traffic and all the nearby buildings would cause too much noise and RF interference to be able to score a QSO. I was wrong.

My first attempt at throwing my water bottle into the tree to get my micro-cord halyard up almost ended up in a disaster. I was in such a rush because I was running out of time, that I threw the bottle up not thinking about WHERE it would land.

As it climbed into the sky over the tree, I suddenly realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to land in some car’s WINDSHIELD!” Quickly I grabbed the streaming micro-cord line to stop the bottle’s descent into the heavy traffic just 12 feet to my right. What a rookie mistake!

I adjusted my throwing position so the bottle would now end up on the porte cochere roof of the hotel instead of the rush-hour traffic on the busy street next to me.

The red arrow points to where I was set up. It was a very steep small section of grass between the hotel parking lot and the busy street.

The red arrow points to where I was set up. It was a very steep small section of grass between the hotel parking lot and the busy street.

My next throw wasn’t bad, but it could have been better. I decided that it would have to do as in just 40 minutes my ride would be here to take me to dinner. My multi-band Par EndFedZ antenna was a drooping sloper who’s last five feet hung over a branch that came down directly on top of where I was set up. I was sure it wouldn’t work.

I was wrong.

As soon as I turned on my HB-1B 5-watt radio, there were signals everywhere on 20 meters. Several were so strong I thought they were around the corner.

You can see how close I was to the road. Cars and trucks were zooming past.

You can see how close I was to the road. Cars and trucks were zooming past.

I found a couple of operators who I wanted to reach out to, but they were in extended QSOs. I was running out of time.

I called CQ CQ on 14.060, but no one heard me.

I texted my QRP outdoor radio mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, but he didn’t get back.

I was desperate. No way was I coming 1,100 miles to get skunked.

With just 16 minutes left, I went down to 14.035 and called CQ.

Nothing.

I called again.

Nothing.

I called a third time. BOOM!

There was Rob, KW4HR coming back to me. He was so strong I thought my ear buds would break.

I told him I was QRP in Milwaukee and his signal report to me told me everything I thought about my antenna. Somehow he magically pulled me out of the ether with a 229.

Thanks Rob for coming back and it was a pleasure to work you avoiding the skunk!

I quickly packed up, went back to my room and got down to the front door just 90 seconds before my ride showed up. It was very fulfilling to do radio on that tiny sliver of grass in such a busy place!

The wonders of QRP and what more and more to me is becoming true magic.

Here's the electronic QSL card Rob sent me after the QSO.

Here’s the electronic QSL card Rob sent me after the QSO.

Day Two:

My day at Briggs & Stratton was action packed. I tested all sorts of their new equipment and the innovation is astounding. The day started out sunny and the warm spring sun shot the temperature up to 75 F before lunch.

By 3:00 p.m. I was headed back to the hotel to get my radio.

I had a good two hours to operate from a local park, and I was anxious to get there.

Using Google Maps I located Dineen Park about four miles away.

Here's Dineen Park. I was operating under a large tree next to the locked restroom bu

Here’s Dineen Park. I was operating under a large tree next to the locked restroom building.

Once there I noticed that the few people there had strange large rear-oriented fanny packs. Lo and behold, this was a frisbee golf park.

Within a few minutes I had my antenna up and I was ready to get on the air. A few young men approached me very inquisitive as to why I was throwing a water bottle up into a tree.

“I’m getting ready to talk to people all around the world.”

“Really? How are you going to do that?”

I showed them the little HB-1B and their eyes got as big as silver dollars. One of them was a nice guy named Fred Pagel. He’s a brick tender. Back in Cincinnati, we called them hod carriers. Fred works on construction sites and makes sure that masons have all the brick, mortar, block, wall ties, etc. they need to keep working.

Here's Fred and I. He

Here’s Fred and I. He wasn’t bashful and jumped right into the photo. You can see my green microcord that’s holding up my par EndFedZ antenna.

The 20-meter band was as desolate as MayFair Avenue in Milwaukee at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. But I was determined NOT to get skunked.

I texted by good friend Jim again, and he tried to listen for me, but there was no pathway between us. He was booming out at 80 watts to me and I heard nothing.

It was time to call CQ. I tried on 14.060, but it was like being alone in the forest. No one came back.

I drifted lower on the band trying CQ again. Nothing.

Then I spun the VFO knob on the trusty HB-1B and shazam!

I heard a booming signal calling CQ and he was blazing fast.

I estimate he was at 25 WPM, but the code was clear to me.

W0W.

Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 8.41.50 AM

Immediately I sent back my call sign and he came right back with a fast 599 RST.

I gave him the same and rejoiced.

No skunk! But being the rookie I am, I didn’t realize who I had worked. The 1X1 call sign had not sunk in.

It was a special event station that was honoring all Native American Code Talkers that have served in all USA conflicts.

I texted Jim and moment later he called me.

“Do you realize who you worked?”

“No. Tell me.”

“It’s a special event station down south. You’ve reached a new plateau today. I’m so proud of you!”

“Well, Jim, it’s all you. Your patience, help and guidance is what made it happen. Without your support I would have floundered long ago.”

Here’s what Jim’s taught me about outdoor QRP radio.

It’s as hard as it gets. You’re using low power. Your antenna setup is rarely ideal. The WX can be your foe and it’s simply a hard hard way to score a QSO.

But by gosh I was determined NOT to leave that park until I got a QSO.

“That’s the mark of a true QRPr, Tim. The determination to stay out until you make a contact, any contact.”

Well, all I can say is that it’s immensely rewarding. I was beaming as I packed up my gear to head back to the hotel.

I now wonder what the next level of outdoor radio will be. No doubt something even more rewarding.

New Hampshire Old Man Collapse Special Event

Here is an illustration of the Old Man. It's fitting to use this image on the QSL card we'll be sending out because the postage amount matches the date of his demise and our event. Image credit: US Postal Service

Here is an illustration of the Old Man. It’s fitting to use this image on the QSL card we’ll be sending out because the postage amount matches the date of his demise and our event. Image credit: US Postal Service

The iconic granite face of the Old Man of the Mountains was created by the last continental glacier 15,000 years ago. He collapsed alone in the middle of the night to the base of Franconia Notch, NH on May 3, 2003.

The Old Man is the NH state symbol and his image is on road signs and countless other objects around the state.

The Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club is honoring the sad day of the Old Man’s demise by operating both phone and CW at a location very close to Franconia Notch.

Here are the facts you need to know about this one-day event:


When: May 3, 2015 14:00 UTC – 21:00 UTC

Where: White Mountains – New Hampshire

Event Call Sign: N1H

Frequencies: We’ll be on or around these frequencies.

CW
7.053
14.053
21.053

SSB:
7.253
14.253
21.353

QSL: We’ll be printing a special color glossy QSL card for the event featuring the postage stamp image of the Old Man.

This is a small version of the 4 x 6 glossy QSL postcard we'll be sending out.
This is a small version of the 4 x 6 glossy QSL postcard we’ll be sending out.

We encourage you to send your QSL card so we can put it in our club archives.

To receive the special Old Man QSL card, please send $1 to cover all costs. The special Old Man card will be sent to you in an envelope to protect it from damage.

Be sure to include your call sign, name, address.

Send your QSL card (or above information in lieu of a card) and your $1 to:

Tim Carter – W3ATB
Old Man Event
100 Swain Road
Meredith, NH 03253-4614

If you have questions about the event, contact me at:

tim the at sign and then my call sign followed by dot com. You have to do this to stop spambots from harvesting email addresses.

 

Install MFJ Cub 20M Transceiver in a Clear Box

A little over two years ago I saw the coolest radio ever. It was a small QRP rig in a clear plastic water-resistant box built by Hanz Busch, W1JSB. I wrote about the experienece of seeing this magical radio and you can read my previous post here. At the bottom of the page is a video where you see the radio in action.

I was INSTANTLY HOOKED. I had to have one of these super-cool one-of-a-kind QRP radios.

I had never built a kit radio nor soldered a resistor to a circuit board. As a master plumber, I’d soldered thousands of copper fittings with an acetylene torch, but I thought that would be a little overkill for an electronics project.

I love to hike and spend time outdoors and I discovered that several of my club members blended hiking with amateur radio. Some of them did Summits on the Air and others just did casual low-impact hiking.

One thing I knew for sure is that radios and water don’t mix well so if I wanted to do outdoor radio and not ruin my equipment I had better figure out a way to protect my investment. The water-resistant clear box I saw seemed to be just the ticket.

Here is what the Cub looks like if you just go with the kit from MFJ. It's small and compact, but it's not too sexy and doesn't have any extra stuff. Photo credit: MFJ Enterprises
Here is what the Cub looks like if you just go with the kit from MFJ. It’s small and compact, but it’s not too sexy and doesn’t have any extra stuff. Photo credit: MFJ Enterprises

My CW and outdoor-radio mentor Jim Cluett – W1PID suggested that I buy the MFJ Cub 20-meter transceiver as that band is very reliable in daylight hours.

I like to do outdoor radio in daylight hours rather than doing radio at night from a tent. You may enjoy doing radio at night, so pick whatever band favors your optimal time of operation.

Plus, the MFJ Cub is a solid little radio and the kit is not too tough for a beginner.

I placed my order, it arrived in no time and Hanz came over to my house to tutor me about how to build a radio in a box. We had two work sessions in February and March of 2013, but after that the project languished as Hanz got busy.

Fast forward two years!

Two weeks ago at the beginning of March, Hanz and I got together to get the radio finished. Last weekend Hanz started to work on the clear Lexan panel where all the controls go.

Last night I went to Hanz’s house and started to assemble the Son of Zerobeat kit.

Here I am at Hanz's great workshop soldering away. I sure enjoy putting together these circuit boards! Photo credit: Hanz Busch - W1JSB
Here I am at Hanz’s great workshop soldering away. I sure enjoy putting together these circuit boards! You can see the clear water-resistant box in the bottom of the photo that the radio will be in. Photo credit: Hanz Busch – W1JSB

I had a BLAST soldering and almost made a mistake after a couple of hours. A small blue round thing that looks like a farmer’s grain silo had to be soldered in a certain way as it was polarized. I failed to see that in the great instructions, but luckily I had the correct orientation!

This radio is the MFJ Cub on steroids and human growth hormones. The kit from MFJ just has two knobs and the power, key and phone input jacks. My radio will have that and much more.

It’s going to have an LCD digital frequency readout, it’s got the Zerobeat kit so you know when you’re right on frequency, it’s got a built-in high-performance lithium-ion battery, and an electronic touch keyer! All you have to do is open the lid, attach the antenna and turn it on to operate.

Here is the partially complete Zerobeat circuit board. Only a few more parts to go. The LEDs will not be on the board but up in the control panel of the radio. Photo idea Tim Carter - Photo credit: Hanz Busch - W1JSB

Here is the partially complete Zerobeat circuit board. Only a few more parts to go. The LEDs will not be on the board but up in the control panel of the radio. Photo idea Tim Carter – Photo credit: Hanz Busch – W1JSB

Hanz is in the business of building even better radios in a box. He now uses the super durable Pelican boxes and installs an HB-1B quad-band radio in the box. It has all the stuff my radio has and MORE. You can ORDER Hanz’s radios by simply CLICKING HERE.

Here’s his latest version. His craftsmanship is SUPERB:

This is a quad-band QRP radio in a waterproof Pelican  box. CLICK the image to discover MORE. Photo credit: Hanz Busch - W1JSB

This is a quad-band QRP radio in a waterproof Pelican box. CLICK the image to discover MORE. Photo credit: Hanz Busch – W1JSB

UPDATE – March 21, 2015:

Yesterday afternoon, Hanz and I continued to work on the project. I was hoping to get it finished, but boy it’s a lot of work.

Here is Hanz working on the control panel. He's a wizard and his attention to detail is stellar. CLICK this photo to see Hanz's radios! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB
Here is Hanz working on the control panel. He’s a wizard and his attention to detail is stellar. CLICK this photo to see Hanz’s radios! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I spent 40 minutes completing the construction of the Son of Zerobeat circuit board while Hanz worked diligently on completing the clear panel that has all the control knobs, LEDs, LCD frequency display, switches, and input jacks.

After I finished the Son of Zerobeat board, Hanz then had me wire up all of the LEDs for the board. Hanz feels the radio looks better if you use small round LEDs and space them out on the panel. I have to agree. You can see them below in the photos.

Hanz is installing a LED into the clear Lexan control panel. That's what's so cool about this radio is that once complete, you can see all the internal parts! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Hanz is installing a LED into the clear Lexan control panel. That’s what’s so cool about this radio is that once complete, you can see all the internal parts! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

It took a solid 90 minutes to daisy chain the positive leads of the LEDs and then solder on the negative feed wires to each LED. I really enjoyed doing it, even tinning the small tiny metal pins of the LEDs!

We hope to complete the project on Sunday, March 22, 2015. All that’s left to do is just make all the connections from the radio and other circuit boards to the control panel components.

This is what the radio looked like on March 20, 2015 as I walked out Hanz's door. You can see the Son of Zerobeat board in the lower right corner. Just to the left of it are the acorn nuts on the outside of the box that are connected to the electronic touch keyer. Remember, all you need to operate this rig is an antenna! Everything else is built into the box! I know you want one of these bad boys. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB
This is what the radio looked like on March 20, 2015 as I walked out Hanz’s door. You can see the Son of Zerobeat board in the lower right corner. Just to the left of it are the acorn nuts on the outside of the box that are connected to the electronic touch keyer. Remember, all you need to operate this rig is an antenna! Everything else is built into the box! I know you want one of these bad boys. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

 

A Cold But Sunny Day Next To the Pemi

Last year the first day I operated outdoors was on March 17th. My outdoor radio colleague, Jim Cluett, W1PID was itching to get out because it’s been such a wretched winter here in the Northeast. The brilliant sun spoke to Jim in the morning like a singing siren serenades a sailor.

We were soon both to discover that Mother Nature can be such a teasing temptress.

Here's Jim on the trail. If you stray from the path, you post hole down into the snow up past your knee! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim on the trail. If you stray from the path, you post hole down into the snow up past your knee! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

We had to hike about a quarter of a mile from the parking lot at Profile Falls to the edge of the Pemigewasset River. The walk through the woods was magical even though you had to look down almost all the time to stay on the narrow hard-pack snow trail. If you strayed from the trail, you post holed up past your knee in cold snow.

Today the only condition that was the same was the sun. Last year it was 37 F and today it was 21 F. Last year there was no wind, this year a stiff breeze was lashing Jim as he was trying to get the halyard up into the tree to pull up my par end-fedz antenna. I was busy getting my HB-1B rig set up.

I’ve discovered working with Jim in cold weather that you need to waste no time getting antennas up into trees. If your fingers get cold, it’s hard to operate and the fun of the adventure diminishes as rapidly as water puts out fire.

Once the antenna was connected, I started to check the 20-meter band for activity. It was dead to me only because I had the filter on the HB-1B set too tight. Jim rotated it counterclockwise and then we could hear operators.

jimhandwarmWhile I was trying to find a strong signal, Jim got out his small camping alcohol stove and lit it with a match.

It was just what we needed to take the chill off our hands. We both had thick wool mittens and gloves and it’s just about impossible to operate the radio and paddles with them on.

“Do you want to go? Are you cold?” Jim asked me as I was tuning around.

“No way. We’re not going to get skunked,” I replied.

Jim scored first lassoing NM2L/M. He was 599 into us and he gave Jim a 599. “I’m all warm now after that QSO, so it’s your turn!” QSOs do that to Jim. He loves CW contacts.

Moments later I was able to sneak in my call to W9JVW and he came back. He gave the little HB-1B a 459 and I gave him a well-deserved 579.

“Let’s get out of here!” Jim didn’t get an argument out of me.

Here I am on the way back to the car. we operated just under the large evergreen tree in the top center of the photo. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am on the way back to the car. we operated just under the large evergreen tree in the top center of the photo. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

As we walked back towards the car, we stopped in the large field to just soak up the sun. The wind had died down a bit and the rays of the sun revived us and erased the pain we had just ten minutes before.

It didn’t take long to get back to the car and we both agreed it was the lower limit of us being able to operate outdoors.

Without the sun, it would have been impossible. In just a few weeks, bare ground will start to appear and our operating options will be as broad as the side of a battleship!

 

FYBO Ham Radio Freeze Your Butt Off 2015 NH

Yesterday was the 2015 Freeze Your Butt Off amateur radio contest hosted by the warm and cozy members of the AZ ScQRPions Club. Let’s see, it was a frigid 81 F in the valley yesterday in Phoenix, while the mercury in central NH was clawing it’s way at Noon past 20 F.

It’s no wonder the boys in Phoenix want us to freeze our butts off so they can snare QSOs poolside with their paddles. But I digress.

The past ten days in central NH had some bitter cold weather, with morning temperatures at or below 0 F. It did get near 32 F about three days ago, and it felt like a spring day to be honest.

So when my outdoor radio mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, suggested we go out and try to see if we could compete in the Freeze Your Butt Off contest, I was all in. Without Jim knowing it, I invited a newbie ham, John Haven, KC1AAG to come see what outdoor radio was all about.

Jim suggested we go back to the picnic shelter at Profile Falls where we operated on a cold and rainy day before Christmas.

The shelter is at the center of the photo. It's much larger than it seems, with three standard picnic tables under cover. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The shelter is at the center of the photo. It’s much larger than it seems, with three standard picnic tables under cover. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

We decided to meet for lunch before and then head off to see what we could do. Jim brought along some nice hand warming alcohol-fueled camping stoves that would do well to keep our hands from locking up. We had a problem starting the first one, but the second stove put out a robust flame that really took the chill off our fingertips.

Jim's hands are bare and the black-gloved hands are those of John Haven, KC1AAG. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Jim’s hands are bare and the black-gloved hands are those of John Haven, KC1AAG. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Jim’s resonant dipole antenna trimmed for 20 meters worked well for us. He made a nearly perfect throw with his water bottle to an overhanging branch immediately next to the shelter to hoist the one end of the dipole up into the trees above. I thought the throw was perfect, but he would have preferred it to be 4 feet to the left.

This is moments before Jim's amazing throw. He's making sure the knot in the throwing line doesn't produce a tangle in the tree. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is moments before Jim’s amazing throw. He’s making sure the knot in the throwing line doesn’t produce a tangle in the tree. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Surprisingly, the Smith River, which is immediately adjacent to the shelter, was frozen. It’s a fast-moving river and I was shocked to see it encrusted with a layer of ice. But since the WX has been so cold, it made sense.

As soon as Jim connected the antenna to his KX3, he heard KS8M, Mike, booming in from OH. We had decided to share the antenna so as soon as Jim signed off with Mike, he handed me the antenna so I could work him on my trusty little HB-1B four-band transceiver with built-in battery.

“Hurry, send him your call!” Jim was worried I’d miss him. I worked my tiny micro Pico paddles but only heard dahs and no dits.

“My darn plug isn’t in all the way. Calm down.” Outdoor QSOs to Jim on a frigid day are quite possibly more valuable than gold bars are to Tommy Thompson.

Within seconds I was up and running and had completed a valid QSO with Mike.

I should have had my nice wool gloves on right there by my backpack. You can see the HB-1B next to my left elbow. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

I should have had my nice wool gloves on right there by my backpack. You can see the HB-1B next to my left elbow. Photo credit: Jim Cluett

Fortunately there was little wind and I was not getting cold at all. I should have had my gloves on more often, but I found it hard to use the paddles and write. It was so cold, the ink in the ball point pens froze so we switched to traditional pencils. John was kind enough to use his pocket knife to sharpen them.

It was time for me to hand back the antenna coax, and once again within a minute Jim, the pro, had found John KB2HSH. Jim and I were both able to work him and we got a generous 579.

I gave him a 599 RST as his signal was so strong I thought it might break my nice little AYL portable mini speaker that I use to hear the sweet CW sounds that seem to pour out of my easy-to-use HB-1B.

This was John’s first outdoor radio experience and he came prepared with snacks and all sorts of gear to make the expedition more comfortable. John’s always willing to pitch in to help and he seems to be excited to get deeper into amateur radio, although his busy travel schedule makes it tough.

What John doesn’t realize yet is that he can be traveling all through the Southwest with his new soulmate Trudie and be on the air with a thin wire and small radio at any number of gorgeous scenic locations. I think he’ll catch the bug just as soon as he upgrades his license privileges to General class.

After 45 minutes of the sub-freezing temperatures we decided to go get a cup of coffee and a fat pad (doughnut) at the nearby Dunkin Doughnuts in Bristol, NH.

It was agreed we had a great time, although we’d never win the fun Freeze Your Butt Off contest with so few QSOs. Maybe next year we’ll do it on my lower deck next to a roaring outdoor fire! We’ll show those boys from the valley how it’s done.

The Ham Radio Teepee, Cold and Wind

There’s not much I can say with the written word that would outdo what you can see in the video below.

Suffice it to say we had lots of fun building the teepee frame. Jim Cluett, W1PID, was not feeling well that day and even still we completed the frame in just 45 minutes.

The teepee is on some land I own and has a great vista to the south. The plan was to take advantage of solar radiation inside the teepee much like a greenhouse gets abundant warmth on winter days from the sun.

Three days passed after we constructed the frame and we decided to try shipping plastic wrap to protect us from the wind. It did a pretty good job, but a solid sheet of plastic will be better. That’s what you’ll see in the next outing!

Profile Falls in the Rain and Snow

“This could go on record as the worst day of the year to operate. I used to do this on my own years ago just to see if I could operate in bad weather. I’m only out here today because you’re here,” proclaimed Jim Cluett, W1PID.

It was a raw day indeed here in central New Hampshire with a steady rain and the temperature hovering around 35 F. I worked outdoors for years as a homebuilder and have to tell you that days like this one simply chill you to the bone more so than single-digit days. Mother Nature would not disappoint us.

We decided to go to Profile Falls just south of Bristol, NH to operate. It’s a delightful place and especially busy spring, summer and fall. But today Jim and I would be the only ones brave, or foolish, enough to venture to this outdoor playground.

You can see the whitewater in the image. That's the stunning Profile Falls. Just to the right you'll see two parking areas carved from the forest. We parked in the one closest to the falls. Image credit: Google Maps

You can see the whitewater in the image. That’s the stunning Profile Falls. Just to the right you’ll see two parking areas carved from the forest. We parked in the one closest to the falls. Image credit: Google Maps

“I’d love it if we could find a place with a shelter and picnic tables under it. There were many public parks like that in Cincinnati, OH where I grew up. One in particular was close to my home. There was a grand stone and wood picnic shelter in French Park that even had a huge fireplace. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have a fire going today,” I said to Jim as we drove in the rain.

“Well, I don’t think we’ll find anything like that and we’ll have to operate in the car,” Jim said.

Within a few minutes we were turning off Route 3A onto a gravel road that leads down to the massive park area that’s managed by the US Corps of Engineers. Profile Falls is at the north end of a huge flood-control project that tries to tame Mother Nature’s water in the Pemigewasset River as it flows south towards the big New Hampshire population centers of Concord and Manchester.

“Look! There’s a shelter!”

Here's Jim inside the shelter. The only thing missing was a nice fireplace! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim inside the shelter. The only thing missing was a nice fireplace! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I spied one as we came down the park road just west of the parking areas at Profile Falls. It was exactly what I envisioned and would provide a nice dry spot to operate from on the spacious picnic tables.

It didn’t take long to set up. Jim threw his water bottle up into a tree branch on the first try. It was a perfect throw and we had plenty of altitude to put up his resonant 20M dipole antenna. We set it up as a sloper with the other end tied to the water bottle in the snow.

Jim got on the air first with his Small Wonder Labs DSW rig putting out a stout 2 watts. Within a minute he had snagged Ben, DL5ANT in Germany. Jim got a 569 and Ben was into us with a booming 599.

Here's Jim doing his QSO with Ben, DL5ANT. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim doing his QSO with Ben, DL5ANT. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I was next up because Jim had said he only wanted to do one QSO.

I plugged in the antenna to my HB-1B and immediately heard G3VBS coming in from England! He was right there on 14.058, the frequency I was on when I last used the HB-1B.

timatprofile

I’m pretty happy making a DX contact seconds after turning on the radio. Sometimes the band is deader than a doornail. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

I had some trouble hearing him, but it was all me and my inexperience. I still have a long way to go on my CW journey. I did hear my RST at 549 and I gave him a well-deserved 599 as his signal was strong.

We packed up as soon as I finished up and headed for a warm cup of coffee.

If you want to add some additional flesh to this skeleton story, watch this video of our adventure!

 

Winter QRP Challenges and Staying Warm

At 7:35 a.m. this morning I was greeted with an email from my great QRP mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID. He’s always pithy and often has secret messages embedded his email.

Here’s what he sent:

“There is some chance I’ll go up the hill in Franklin today.”

That cryptic message really meant:

“Do you want to come with me out in the cold, claw our way to the top of the ice-crusted Veterans Memorial Ski Area hill to see why the Franklin 147.300 repeater is operating on battery power and do some QRP radio at the same time?”

Nine days earlier we had a wicked snowstorm in New Hampshire that caused massive power outages because of a heavy wet snow that brought down power lines all over the state.

It was cold when I read Jim’s message, just 15 F, but I saw the forecast was temperatures that might make it up to 30 F. It never made it, topping out at a brisk 26 F.

Jim and I met for lunch at the Tilton House of Pizza and he was kind enough to pay for the great food. We needed the energy for our adventure.

Mark Persson, W1DDI, joined us for the last half of lunch. He’s the repeater coordinator for our Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club and was happy we were going to go up to see what was going on with the repeater.

Jim and I had planned to take advantage of the altitude of the hill we were about to climb and do some HF work on 20 meters once we determined the problem with the repeater.

It didn’t take long to get to the site. You park at the base of the quaint Veteran’s Memorial Ski Area in Franklin, NH. This tiny ski hill is a piece of NH ski history as most ski areas fifty or more years ago were just like this before the mega resorts and taller ski hills sucked customers away like a tractor beam.

Just a day or so earlier we had a moderate snowfall followed by some freezing rain. This made the snow very slippery and crusty. To ascend the 225 feet of elevation change, you needed some sort of traction devices on your boots. Jim wore Yak Tracks and I put on my Kahtoola MicroSpikes.

 

Here's Jim putting on his Yak Tracks. They really give great traction on icy surfaces. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s Jim putting on his Yak Tracks. They really give great traction on icy surfaces. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

“I think we should use this trail made by the snowmobile to get to the top,” Jim said. It was a wise choice as the belt chewed up the snow and made the walk up the hill much easier.

The climb to the top only took about fifteen minutes with a few rest stops along the way. In no time we had determined that the power was out to the repeater shack. It was now time to set up an antenna before we got too cold.

While Jim was unpacking, I got out my tiny Baofeng UV-5R HT so I could attempt to help a fellow ham, Herm Weber – KB1RJC, activate a mountain 50 miles northeast of where Jim and I were. Herm’s a SOTA fan and was on 146.520 Mhz. When I heard him, I was in the middle of a minor pileup of hams waiting to talk to him.

As all this was going on Jim was getting ready to erect his 20-meter dipole antenna. We had decided to put it up as a sloper because it was faster and easier. One end of the antenna needed to be hoisted up into a juvevnile tree next to us.

We’ll never know what happened, it could have been a vitamin deficiency or a snowflake that flew into Jim’s eye, but his first attempt at getting the halyard line up and over the correct branch in the tree resulted in a wretched tangled water bottle stuck up just out of reach.

Here's Jim getting ready to hoist the amazing dipole antenna up into the tree. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s Jim getting ready to hoist the amazing dipole antenna up into the tree. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Jim saw I was finishing my QSO with Herm and politely asked for my help in getting the water bottle down from the tree and the antenna up in the air. Within minutes we were on the air.

“We don’t have much time. By fooling around with this antenna, our hands are going to be too cold to operate,” Jim lamented.

“Quit your whining. Let’s get on the air and do a few QSOs,” I exclaimed ready to test out my improving CW skills.

It didn’t take Jim long, since he’s a CW and QRP pro, to snare XE1RK down in Mexico. Ralph was in Mexico City and gave Jim a solid 559. That’s not bad from the so-so antenna we had erected.

Next up was my QSO with Vic, WB2U. He was calling CQ and Jim helped me decypher some of Vic’s fist as I either had fluff in my ears or he was running his di’s and dah’s a little too close to one another for me.

Here I am working WB2U. The entire QSO was maybe 90 seconds. Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

Here I am working WB2U. The entire QSO was maybe 90 seconds. Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

I was using Jim’s outdoor key for the first time that works like half a paddle. I had a hard time hearing the side tone and my fist must have sounded horrible.

It was Jim’s turn next and he quickly found Sam, WZ4L down in TN. Sam gave Jim a 599 so the propagation, the little Yaesu 817 and the antenna were doing a superb job working south on that day.

“Let’s get going. My feet are cold and a cup of coffee sounds good about now.” Jim always is full of good advice and within a few minutes, all the gear was back in his day pack and we were headed down the hill.

Earlier in the day when the adventure was first floated, I thought it might be too cold to operate, but I was wrong. Had it been windy, we would have been frozen in minutes, but fortunately the wind was light. If the sun had been been out, we would have been snug as bugs in a rug.

As we were drinking our coffee and munching on our doughnuts, we relived the experience and were laughing out loud. I’m sure the young sales clerk thought we were two crazy old goats. Perhaps she’s right!