Sore Butts Potter Place Eagle Pond and QRP

Just after 8:30 am yesterday an email dropped into my inbox from my outdoor radio mentor and friend Jim Cluett, W1PID. Journalism was one of Jim’s many jobs before retirement, and he excels at using a few watts of power with radio waves as well as with words when communicating clearly with the written language.

As you can see, Jim has great skills and magic when it comes to using just a few characters to extract needed data.

As you can see, Jim has great skills and magic when it comes to using just a few characters to extract needed data.

It didn’t take me but a nanosecond to put an X in between the parentheses after the word “yes” and click the “send” button.

After all, it was another much-needed bluebird day here in central New Hampshire and I had been working like a dog all week. An afternoon outside doing QRP (low power) radio was just what I needed to finish off the work week.

Thirty minutes later Jim and I were on the phone coming up with a plan. We had lots of options and it was decided bicycles should be part of the outing. I don’t have a bicycle, so Jim said he had one for me. I’m asking for a bike for Fathers Day, so hopefully I’ll have a nice machine in less than eight weeks.

I had been up and working since 6 a.m. and had a very important proposal to submit before I could head out. We decided to meet just before 1 p.m. and carpool to our outdoor tiny dxpedition.

“It’s good to see you,” Jim said as we pulled out of the gravel parking lot where I stashed my beastly F-250 4×4 Super Duty pickup truck.

“It’s good to see you too old man.”

“What do you want to do? Ride up in Old Hill Village or go over to the Rail Trail in Andover?”

We had been to Old Hill Village the past two adventures and I was afraid that more dogs had been let loose. For years I had wanted to ride on the Northern Rail Trail so it was an easy decision.

“Rail trail. Let’s go there and see what it’s like.”

Jim had biked there countless times, so it was up to him to select a section of the old rail line to explore. Little did I know, he had decided to do the trip from Andover, NH up to Eagle Pond, a distance one way of just under four miles.

This is the route we took. CLICK the image to access the interactive map. Map courtesy of Google Maps and Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the route we took. CLICK the image to access the interactive map. Map courtesy of Google Maps and Tim Carter – W3ATB

The drive to Andover took a strong 30 minutes or more in Jim’s dandy VW vanagon camper. He uses it for our annual Field Day as his private command center and bug-free transceiving station. It’s also a great vehicle for outings like this.

“This would make for a great road trip vehicle, Jim.” I was trying to sow a seed or two for a one or two-day radio adventure later in the summer.

Once at Andover, we were out of the vanagon in seconds and getting ready to ride.

This is the bike Jim let me use. It was a fine machine. This photo was taken on the trail, not in the parking lot in Andover, NH. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

This is the bike Jim let me use. It was a fine machine. This photo was taken on the trail, not in the parking lot in Andover, NH. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

“Do you want a rubber band for your pants? It’ll keep your pant’s leg out of the chain.” I accepted and it turned out to be a good idea.

“Do you remember how to ride a bike?” That was a good question as I couldn’t remember the last time I was on a bicycle. I think Jim said that because it looked like I was going to mount the sleek two-wheeler while the kickstand was still down.

“Sure. I know how to ride a bike!”

“Well, on the other side of that playground be careful of some deep wicked sand.”

We were off. Just past the playground we passed through a large tunnel and I swear Jim was sending Morse code making beeping sounds in the long tube. Maybe it was something else.

“Are you going to ride back there or side by side so I don’t have to turn and yell at you?” Jim was leading the way and I was concentrating on how to switch gears on the 21-speed bike I was piloting.

“Side by side, buddy.” I pulled up to his left and we proceeded to peddle west and slightly  north.

Within five minutes my butt started to hurt. OUCH! But being the typical male, I sucked it up and didn’t say anything so as to not look weak. Little did I know it, but Jim was experiencing the same pain after not riding a bike for at least six months.

As we peddled on the trail, we passed all sorts of great scenery. Within the first mile we came up to an old covered bridge across the Black River. Suspended from that bridge, as well as the heavy iron railroad bridge that held up the bike path over the river, were vertical red and blue plastic tubes that stopped about one foot short of the water level.

“Those must be for the Proctor School kayakers,” Jim said. Proctor School, an exclusive private center of influence and networking, was located in Andover, NH. My guess is he was right.

As we continued the journey towards Eagle Pond, we passed large granite mile markers used by the old railroad engineers. On one side you might see “B 103” and the other side “WRJ 40”. That meant from that point it was 103 miles to Boston and 40 miles to White River Junction, NH. I would soon discover Eagle Pond was just northwest of the WRJ 37 mile marker.

“Potter Place is just up ahead. Let’s pull over there.” Jim didn’t say his butt hurt, but I now know that was the primary motivation for the stop at the quaint restored railroad station at Potter Place, NH.

In the summer, all sorts of railroad carts, luggage carriers and other gear is outside. Jim said you could tour the station during normal hours. We sat on the dry grass just opposite this station to the right of the photo to munch on peanut M&Ms hoping that would provide pain relief. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

In the summer, all sorts of railroad carts, luggage carriers and other gear is outside. Jim said you could tour the station during normal hours. We sat on the dry grass just opposite this station to the right of the photo to munch on peanut M&Ms hoping that would provide pain relief. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Once at Potter Place, I was glad to get off the bike. Either I was a sissy, I had overly sensitive gluteus maximus muscles and/or the bicycle Jim lent me was left over from the Spanish Inquisition.

We rested up, looked at Richard Potter’s headstone and munched on a large bag of peanut M&Ms I had brought along for the ride. At our last outing, Jim had purchased a small bag of them at the Hill Village store and shared six of them with me. There are not many in those small bags.

If my math is correct, Richard Potter was born in 1783! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

If my math is correct, Richard Potter was born in 1783! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

After ten minutes at the rail station we got on the bikes and made the final dash to Eagle Pond. By the time we got there, my butt was screaming like a newborn baby for mother’s milk.

Eagle Pond was glorious. The sun was still high in the sky even though it was after 3 p.m. A  small dirt road that crosses the Northern Rail Trail led to a popular parking area that the local teenagers must use on Friday and Saturday nights to neck and advance the human species. Fishermen park there too to cast into Eagle Pond.

Jim, W1PID, is pondering how he's going to loft his water bottle up into the tree trailing his green halyard that will pull up his thin 33-foot antenna wire. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Jim, W1PID, is pondering how he’s going to loft his water bottle up into the tree trailing his green halyard that will pull up his thin 33-foot antenna wire. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Jim got his antenna up in a flash. It took me three attempts at slinging my water bottle up about 40 feet over the exact small branch that would allow my 10, 20 and 40-meter end-fedz antenna to drop straight to the ground. Jim’s taught me that a perfectly vertical antenna provides the best performance.

By the time I had set up and was ready to operate, Jim had already captured invisible radio waves with his Elecraft KX3. Here’s who he connected with while I was preventing getting skunked:

  • HA9RT Hungary
  • EM90WF Ukraine
  • HA8FK Hungary
  • KA4RRU Virginia
  • 4Z5IW Israel

I connected my HB-1B quad-band QRP radio and jumped on 20 meters. I heard several strong signals but after 15 minutes I was unable to get a contact. I tried jumping into an ending conversation, but either the other operators were tired or they couldn’t hear my 5-watt signal.

Finally, I was able to have an exchange with KG9HV. It was John in Lafayette, IN. Jim’s able to get DX (international contacts) with ease and I struggle to go 1,000 miles. I simply need to get better and faster listening to Morse code. That’s the issue. It’s not the radio, it’s not the antenna, it’s me.

“I didn’t get skunked!” I tooted my horn to Jim as he was all packed up and ready to ride back to Andover.

“Good.” Jim was probably pondering how far we could get before his butt would be screeching at him to stop.

Minutes later we were headed back to Andover. We had almost 4 miles of downhill biking in front of us. Railroad grades are very slight in most cases, and this stretch of the Northern Rail Trail appears flat but it’s not. I could tell it took less effort to ride the bike towards Andover and the comfort of a large seat in the vanagon.

“Hey, look down at that river. It’s got to be 70 or 80 feet down wouldn’t you say?” Jim was straddling the center bar of his bike and had stopped where the bike trail was just above the Black River. The slope down to the clear rushing water was very steep.

“No way. I’d say it’s maybe 35 or 40 feet. Perhaps 45 feet at the most,” I replied. There was no way it was 70 feet. Jim had shown me earlier in the ride how his plastic-lensed glasses had been damaged by the high heat of his coal stove when he opened the door years ago. Perhaps the micro cracks were distorting the view.

“Well, do you have a timer?” I posed this question to Jim and he indicated he had his nice analog wristwatch as well as a digital timer on his cell phone.

“I’m going to throw this rock to the water. You time when it splashes. Give me a 3, 2, 1 countdown so we can time it accurately.”

“Three, two, one.”

I flung a piece of railroad ballast out horizontally and it immediately succumbed to the pull of gravity and kerplunked right in the middle of the river.

“1.5 seconds,” Jim said.

“Well, what’s the square of that?” Jim looked slightly perplexed.

I said, “Well, it’s less than 4 and probably less than 3.”

Jim got out his cellphone and fired up the calculator. The result was 2.25.

“Multiply that by 16,” I said.

“It’s 36,” Jim said.

“Well, it’s about 33 feet from the ground up here down to the water. You need to subtract the 3 feet the rock was above the ground at as it left my hand.”

“What? How did you figure that?” Jim was visibly disturbed.

“It’s easy. The physics formula to determine how far an object falls under the force of gravity is:   s = 1/2at².”  ( s = distance in feet, a = 32 ft per second squared and t equals time in seconds)

There was silence. A long pregnant pause as Jim processed this factoid.

“Well, I’ve possibly been wrong about many things in my life as I’ve been estimating vertical distances inaccurately for decades.”

“It’s no big deal. I was taught how to do this back in college by my geology field professors.  We’d have to throw stones to measure the thickness of a rock formation.”

Jim had me toss another stone to check the timing. We got nearly the same result.

It was time to get back to the vanagon.

As we peddled, Jim said, “Is your butt sore?”

“You bet it is! That’s why I stand on the peddles every five or ten seconds to lift my butt up off the seat.”

I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one suffering.

Soon I could see the tunnel up ahead that marked the spot we started. There was still a patch of soft snow and ice leftover from the bitter winter. It would be gone for sure within 48 hours.

The parking lot and vanagon was just on the other side of the tunnel. You can clearly see Jim and the remnant snow and ice. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The parking lot and vanagon was just on the other side of the tunnel. You can clearly see Jim and the remnant snow and ice. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Minutes later we were back at the vanagon and both our butts were singing “Hallelujah!” as we got off and loaded them into, and on the back of, the vanagon.

Jim started up the vanagon, backed out and headed up the slight hill to turn right to head into Andover.

“Hanz and I came up here in the winter to ski on the trail once. They hadn’t plowed the parking lot and the snow was 3 or 4 feet deep is my guess. Once we parked I thought it wasn’t such a smart idea to do that. We just barely got out.”

I’ve driven quite a bit in snow and know that if a car or truck gets into deep snow where it drags on the bottom of the car or truck, you’ll not go anywhere, much less up a hill.

Jim looked at me sideways and said, “Well, maybe it was only 6 inches. You’ve shown me that I’m not too good at judging distances.”

We laughed and stopped at the corner to get our requisite reward of an ice cream bar and a Dove bar. Sitting on the wooden bench outside the store looking across at the Proctor School, we both reflected on the fine adventure.

Soon we were back in the vanagon headed for home.

NOTE TO SELF: Purchase bike with comfy seat.

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!