El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico Adventure

kelly carter

When it’s time to go on an adventure to discover hidden prizes, you better have an adventure hat on! Left to right: Jessie, Sarah, Kelly

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a story about doing outdoor radio at the El Yunque National Rain Forest in Puerto Rico, but the radio operation was a tiny part of the overall experience. It’s my hope you savor the story and are lucky enough to walk away with prizes like I did.

“Where are your adventure hats? I see your dad is prepared with his sporty wide-brimmed blue adventure hat. How can you expect to have fun on an adventure without a hat? I had trouble myself selecting which hat to wear.”

Sarah was letting my daughter Kelly, and her good friend Jessie, know that they weren’t prepared for our imminent departure to the El Yunque National Forest just east southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“We didn’t get the memo!” replied my daughter Kelly in a slightly sassy but happy voice. Howls of laughter filled the lobby of the hotel as we made last-moment preparations to leave. We had to walk a quarter mile up Calle Del Cristo street to get to our parked rental car. Mila, another young woman who rounded out Kelly’s friends was to meet us at the parked car.

mila

The mysterious Mila. Don’t underestimate her wit and spunk!

Because on-street parking is harder to find in Old San Juan than a sober person, the plan was for Mila to take over our parking space with her rough-and-tumble pickup truck the second we pulled out of it. We executed the plan perfectly, Mila jumped in the car and the happiness volume knob in the car was turned on full.

old san juan

This is typical on-street parking in Old San Juan. Yes, believe it or not, there is a street on the OTHER side of the cars. You bet it’s narrow!

Four Young Chicks & One Old Goat

This was my last full day visiting my daughter Kelly who’s worked in Old San Juan for the past twenty months. She was conscripted to the island paradise with Jessie by Sarah who needed help running a boutique hotel after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September of 2017.

kelly and dad

Here’s my Kelly. It’s hard for her to be so far away, but she’s got to chase her dreams. I get it!

Mila was working at the hotel and it didn’t take long for the four young women to become thick as Caribbean pirates. Their love for each other was as infectious as Yellow Fever as we made our way out of the fortress walls of Old San Juan to the closest gas station to get multiple six-packs of cute small cans of Medalla Light beer to quench the unending thirst the rain forest creates.

old san juan fort

Walls taller than this surround most of Old San Juan. Think of the insane amount of labor it took to build them. No power tools or engines! Manpower and animals only.

Within minutes the day was dubbed Dad’s Day as Sarah had made it crystal clear four days earlier upon my arrival that I was to be her surrogate dad during the stay. “You’re the first parent to come visit any of us!” Thus this old goat now had four vivacious young daughters for the day.

el yunque

Look at the prizes at the end of the rainbow! How lucky was I to be with my daughter Kelly and my three surrogate daughters for the day. Left to right: Kelly, Mila, Jessie, Sarah

You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see right away that lots of lifetime memories were in store as we drove towards the El Yunque rain forest.

Puerto Rican Cuisine & Spirits

It’s important to realize my daughter and Mila are bartenders in Old San Juan. My daughter happens to work at El Batey, the oldest bar on the island. It has a rich history. I was surrounded by four young women who not only knew about drinks, they were experts at drinking. In the previous 72 hours I had consumed more liquid courage than I had in the previous ten years!

el batey old san juan

Here’s the center of the vortex of El Batey – the oldest bar in Old San Juan.

About forty minutes into the drive we pulled to the side of the road to grab some lunch at a typical roadside food stand. This one also served up drinks and it’s a good thing they did. Their supply of spirits prevented the stash of Medalla Light from dwindling down dangerously low.

food stand puerto rico

Here are the four young lasses ordering lunch. Dad picked up the tab. Mila speaks fluent Puerto Rican Spanish being a native and made sure everything was perfect.

Outdoor seating is common and most roadside foot stands have both covered and uncovered seating. After all, you’re in a lush warm tropical climate. We all sat at a nice round table, drank, ate and talked about the upcoming visit to the rain forest. I stuck with water since I was the designated driver.

El Yunque Rain Forest

Soon we were back on the road and the rain forest was but 10 or 15 miles away. El Yunque is only about a one-hour drive from San Juan. As we started up the two-lane road into the mountains, I became aware of the dense jungle vegetation and the wet roads.

el yunque

This is the typical vegetation you’re going to see at El Yunque. Beware of creatures of all types behind that green curtain. That’s not the type of prize to go after on an adventure like this.

“Dad, you need to toot the horn as you approach these blind turns,” Mila recommended from the backseat. Each of my surrogate daughters decided to call me Dad for the day.

Mila is a Puerto Rican native and shared with me that the traffic laws in Puerto Rico are for the most part recommendations. Tooting the horn no doubt helps prevent crashes from other drivers cutting the turn too short. I got pretty good at tooting quite fast!

I also became acutely aware of any number of late-model Jeep 4×4 rental vehicles. Each time I saw one, I looked to see if it had a Jurassic Park logo on the side doors. The rain forest was so dense I thought a velociraptor could pop out of the brush at any moment.

Listen closely enough and you could hear the frightful purring that velociraptors make. We captured it in this video:

Our first stop was a steep rock-wall waterfall. We parked in a small lot just above the waterfalls. A pop-up shelter was just 100 feet away and a young park ranger was sitting at a table under the shelter as we walked to the falls.

el yunque waterfall

Here’s Sarah quite happy about being at El Yunque with her best buds and surrogate Dad I might add!

“Good afternoon! Are you going to drive up past the falls? I just wanted to let you know that I have to close and lock this gate at 6 pm. You have plenty of time to go farther up the road and swim at the waterfalls in Juan Diego Creek.” She said to just be sure to head back from the swimming hole no later than 5:45 PM.

Once at the waterfall just past the ranger, I noticed warning signs that flash floods could create a significant safety hazard as a downpour of rain just a half-mile away could transform the magical placid waterfall into a raging torrent in seconds.

el yunque waterfall

This placid waterfall can kill you in seconds if there’s a downpour just 1/4-mile from you. Don’t underestimate the danger here.

All of us made sure we climbed to the falls to touch the rock wall being washed by the water.

Low-Powered Amateur Radio

Just about one-half mile from the waterfalls was the Yokahu Tower. This ancient-looking 60+-foot-tall round turret tower was built in 1963. It’s just an observation tower that allows you to get a more panoramic view of the north and east. On a clear day, you absolutely can see the deep blue sea.

yokahu tower

Here’s Yokahu Tower. Looking at it you might think it’s 200 years old. Wrong!

I decided to set up my Elecraft KX2 radio on a handy bench just below a magnificent tree that would support my 29-foot vertical wire antenna.

I employed the same technique to get my string up over a branch as I’ve always used. You can see how it’s done in this video that I recorded a month earlier in New Mexico.

While setting up my equipment, a small crowd was attracted to my string halyard and the antenna that dropped about 35 feet from the tree. As always, people want to know how in the world I lofted that string way up in the tree. I told them about the video I had just recorded.

W3ATB El Yunque

Here I am getting ready to deploy my 29-foot wire antenna.

Two of the tourists were Americans who are in the US Army. They were simply amazed at my tiny radio and the ability to communicate great distances using Morse code using a tiny BioennoPower 3 Ahr battery.

Sarah was kind enough to log for me and it didn’t take long to hear a few signals. I knew I didn’t have much time because it was now 4:00 PM and we still had to get to the Juan Diego Creek and hike a short distance to the falls. I had a feeling I was going to be conscripted to do a photoshoot of the four young women that were making my last full day in Puerto Rico extra special

W3ATB El Yunque

If you’re lucky enough to have a companion log for you, outdoor radio and adventures can be so much more fun. Sarah did a great job for her first time. Thanks, Sarah!

As I didn’t want to be trapped within the rain forest behind the sturdy iron gate, I decided to limit my time on the air to no more than 20 minutes. I had visions of becoming a tasty treat for one, or more, of the creatures that were undoubtedly lurking in the dense vegetation that surrounded us everywhere.

It’s important to realize that when I do outdoor radio it’s done with a small radio that has a quite weak signal compared to some home-based amateur radio stations that can transmit with hundreds of watts of power. My Elecraft KX2 is capable of 10 watts output, but normally I operate at 5 watts. That’s just about the amount of energy being output by a soft glowing nightlight.

Within a few minutes I heard a somewhat weak signal from Janusz, SP9JZT, who lives in Poland. We did a quick exchange and his signal report to me was 339 and I gave him the same report. We were on 30 meters as I couldn’t hear any activity on 20 meters.

Sarah must have gotten distracted because the next thing I knew my sweet daughter Kelly was logging for me. I decided to go back to 20 meters to see if anyone was there.

Lo and behold I heard PP7LP, Lucio down in Brazil! But alas, he couldn’t hear my low-powered signal. Such is the life of an outdoor radio operator!

Glancing at my analog wristwatch, it was time to pack up. Sarah, Jessie, Mila, and Kelly had been so patient and they helped me pack up so we could get to the swimming hole beneath the falls at San Diego Creek.

The Photo Shoot

The paved road into the rain forest that we traveled is a dead-end road. The trailhead to the waterfalls at Juan Diego Creek was just a few minutes away from the Yokahu Tower. I expected to have to hike ten minutes or so to get to the waterfall, but surprisingly it was only about a two-minute walk, if that.

juan diego creek el yunque

You’re at the trailhead of Juan Diego Creek.

It was very misty at the falls and the swimming hole was quite large. The water was only about 4 feet deep and it didn’t take long for the four young women to wander out into the water.

juan diego creek waterfalls

Here are the soothing Juan Diego Creek waterfalls.

“Dad, take my picture!” each one cried and soon I felt like a Sports Illustrated photographer as most of them struck goddess poses on the rocks adjacent to the falls. I was having as much fun as they were on this Dad’s day just capturing their happiness with electrons on my smartphone. They were enjoying the water and their day away from the hustle, bustle, and heat and humidity of Old San Juan.

juan diego creek waterfalls

What a great time the girls, I mean young women, had! It’s a day I’ll never forget.

Before we knew it, it was 5:30 PM and time to head out of the jungle. All of them were dripping wet and the humidity of the rain forest would not allow them to dry out anytime soon.

As I drove the rental car down the serpentine roads with the blind corners I tooted the horn as I was taught by Mila earlier in the adventure. Several times the toots produced laughs from the wonderful girls.

“Don’t forget to stop at the one store so we can take photos.” I can’t remember which of the girls blurted it out, but the car erupted in laughter once again. Laughter was the theme of the day.

el yunque

Happiness on steroids. Do you think these four young ladies are going to forget this day?

The tiny roadside store was closed by the time we arrived, but the painted plywood cutouts with the face holes were there for us to create more memories.

el yunque

Kelly and me. I had no idea I was in this particular cutout. Oh my!

We took turns being different characters and decided it was time to get going before it got too dark.

Once back on the main road we were blessed with a stunning sunrise. Little did I know the happiness was just about to ratchet up as our next stop was a very unique mile-long strip of food joints and bars. Every imaginable Puerto Rican delicacy could be had here including the industrial-sized containers of liquid courage.

sunset puerto rico

Yes, this is exactly what the sunset looked like. And yet another prize!

Within minutes a mojito that appeared to be in a small garbage can was placed in front of me. I was thirsty and it didn’t take long for me to make it disappear as the sun had 30 minutes earlier. All of a sudden it felt like a high-speed freight train was barreling around a bend in my head. Whoosh! I was three, no four, sheets to the wind!

We ate, drank, and toasted our never-to-forget adventure to El Yunque. The day was filled with too many prizes for me too many to count. I was blessed to spend a day with Kelly and her closest friends. I avoided the dreaded outdoor radio skunk. I got to visit a rain forest for the first time. I got to drink a mojito that would douse a forest fire. I could list several more, but I feel you get the point.

mojito puerto rico

When you’ve not eaten in six hours, it’s probably not a good idea to drink a 32 oz mojito in 15 minutes.

I highly recommend going to this wonderful National Forest in Puerto Rico. Just don’t forget your adventure hat and take your soulmate if you can because El Yunque is a magical place indeed!

puerto rico

Look who got adventure hats at the end of the adventure! This is just before we ate dinner and I got wasted.

The Pemigewasset River Adventure

W1PID Jim Cluett

Here’s Jim praying for great band conditions so we don’t get skunked. Doing outdoor low-powered radio when sunspots are taking a nap makes it challenging to fill a logbook. Actually, Jim had just launched his water bottle into a tree adjacent to the picnic table we were using.

Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I took a walk down to the banks of the Pemigewasset River this afternoon. We were parked at Profile Falls, a recreation area under the supervision of the Corps of Engineers just south of Bristol, NH.

The day started off with a magnificent sunrise and when the adventure plan was hatched just after 8 AM we had both hoped that the day would remain sunny.

sunrise lake winnisquam

This is the dreamy sunrise I captured this morning sitting alone at the top of the stairs above my dock on Lake Winnisquam. It’s hard to enjoy these sunrises alone.

The weather was cool but not cold. There was nary a puff of wind which can cut like a knife this time of year. It definitely wasn’t scarf weather. That’s just a few weeks away as November in New Hampshire can come in like a happy baby goat, but leave like a honey badger that hasn’t eaten in a week.

As Jim started to unwind the string from his reel to get his antenna up in a tree, I wandered to the shore of the Pemi as locals call it to listen to the tumbling water and enjoy the glistening diamonds on the water as I faced southwest. The day had become a light overcast so there was enough sun to grace the fast water with countless glittering diamonds.

Pemigewasset River

It was a diamond day next to the Pemigewasset River. I’ve heard different translations for this Native American river name and don’t quite know which one to believe.

“Do you think the ragged bark on that branch is going to cause problems?” Jim has so much experience launching his nalgine water bottle to get a string up and over branches, so I didn’t understand why he was asking me.

Up his water bottle went, but it didn’t want to come back down to the ground without a fight. It took about three minutes of tugging back and forth before it dropped far enough where I could grab it with my hiking pole while standing on the picnic table. At least I didn’t have to put Jim on my shoulders as happened last winter at Potter Place!

We got the 29-foot wire attached to Jim’s 9:1 unun which he connected to his Elecraft KX3. A dandy BioennoPower 3 Ahr NFP battery provided the needed electrons into the miserly Elecraft radio allowing us to capture and send the invisible happiness waves.

W1PID Jim Cluett

Here’s Jim finding the SOTA operator. It’s like being at a church carnival when you spin the VFO knob on a radio. You never know what prize you might win!

Jim at first heard another operator who was on top of a mountain trying to activate a Summits on the Air (SOTA) mountain. He decided to send out a rare CQ call to attract other operators who were trying to contact the SOTA operator. After sending CQ for a painful 45 seconds, maybe more, Jim gave up. Patience is everything when it comes to low-powered radio operations I’ve come to discover.

Soon Jim found a really strong signal where one operator was talking with another. In these situations, you need to be polite and wait until the conversation is over before you call the operator.

“What good is a strong signal if he’s writing a novel!” Jim said exasperated after waiting about 30 seconds for the conversation to end. It was time to spin the VFO knob once more for a prize.

Not too long after this Jim found Paul, KW7D in New Mexico who lives somewhere out in the woods. Paul and Jim had a somewhat long conversation and that allowed Jim to avoid the wretched skunk. No one likes to go do outdoor radio and not make at least one contact.

W1PID Jim Cluett

This is what happens when Jim makes a QSO with another operator. Can you feel his happiness? I’ve been the recipient of this long-distance endorphin injection! It’s bliss I tell ya!

I decided to capture part of Jim’s conversation using the video software on my Moto G7 smartphone.

“I got some great video,” I told Jim.

“We’re not putting up any videos.” Jim hates video more than getting skunked.

“Oh, yes we are.” I retorted.

“No, we’re not.”

Too bad Jim doesn’t know the code to break into my phone. Here’s the video I shot of part of Jim talking with Paul:

After signing off, Jim handed me the tiny Pico iambic paddles so I could add Paul to my logbook. Paul must have been running automagic software as the instant I sent my callsign he came back, “Great to hear you, Tim.”

W3ATB Tim Carter

Here I am talking with Paul in New Mexico. Why yes, I did take a shower today and my hair was combed this morning, thank you. I happen to love tousled hair!

I did a fast exchange with Paul telling him I was with Jim and we were on a hike next to the Pemi River in New Hampshire.

Today I was in a really happy place and when that happens, the sarcasm between Jim and I ratchets up two or three levels.

W3ATB Tim Carter

I’m pretty happy but would have been happier if Jim had told me my hair was all tousled. I wonder how that happened?

After signing off with Paul, Jim tried to find a few other stations but gave up after two minutes or less. It was time to walk back the half-mile to our vehicles and head to Dunkin’ for a cup of coffee.

“It’s nice to walk on the ground.” Jim stopped and spoke looking down at the dirt road carpeted with brown leaves.

“Soon we won’t see it until April.” He finished. Jim’s right. Any week now the first full-cover snow can happen and you won’t see the ground or tread across it until the sun climbs high enough in the sky so Mother Nature can send the frozen water to the fish and lobsters in the Atlantic Ocean.

We had a really fun afternoon adventure and my only wish is that you could join me one day to hear the Pemi as it talks to you. It’s magical.

 

 

QRP from KP4 – Puerto Rico

qrp from KP4

Off in the distance is Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It’s a massive fort that’s just part of the several that guarded San Juan back in the 1700s from English invaders. The red arrows point to my horrible wire antenna held aloft by a nasty sticky palm tree.

 

QRP Radio from KP4 – Puerto Rico

On Thursday, October 17, 2019 I found myself gazing out across acres of green lawn washed by the early morning sunlight at Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

I had come to Old San Juan Puerto Rico to visit my youngest daughter and re-enact some of my youth when I used to be able to imbibe vast quantities of liquid courage.

Lesson Learned

I set up my Elecraft KX2 using a 3 Ah BioennoPower LFP battery, a 9:1 unun, a 17-foot counterpoise and a 29-foot wire that was drooping down from a nearby palm tree.

Palm trees are the worst possible choice when using a wire antenna held up by a string halyard. The palm leaves have little saw teeth edges and they want to grab onto the string not allowing the water bottle to fall to the ground. I almost lost my water bottle up in the tree.

qrp from KP4

This was my setup. I was ready to capture invisible waves from afar on this balmy morning.

My plan was to start out on 20 meters, even though it was not yet 7:30 am in the morning. That’s somewhat early for the band to be open, but I thought I’d see what might happen.

Spinning the VFO knob produces few results. With the assist from modern cellphone technology, I texted my mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, back in New Hampshire to see if he could hear me. I could barely hear him calling me, but he couldn’t hear me.

We switched to 40 meters and got the same exact result.

Moments later Jim texted, “Go to 10.110.”

QRP from KP4

Here’s another view of the horrible sloping antenna.

Victory. Jim was a solid 559 into me and I got an identical signal report.

He told me about the rainy and windy weather back in NH where a bomb cyclone was pummeling the Northeast.

After signing off with Jim, I texted another radio buddy who lives in Massachusetts and he also heard me calling CQ on 18.079.

While I only logged Jim, I felt it was a victory to be able to make a contact with such a poor antenna.

Sandia Peak SOTA Activation

Sandia Peak SOTA

Tim Carter, W3ATB, activates Sandia Peak in Albuquerque, New Mexico for Summits on the Air. Tim passed out 130 chaser points in less than 30 minutes. Sorry to all chasers not heard in the massive pileup. 🙁

Sandia Peak SOTA – See 11,000 Square Miles At Once

On Saturday, September 28, 2019, I found myself riding up the Sandia Peak Tram.

Here’s a video of the tram about to dock at the top of Sandia Peak.

This was the last stop in a week-long vacation to northern New Mexico. It was a gloriously warm day with a very light breeze at the summit.

Sandia Peak SOTA

This is the view to the northeast from Sandia Peak in New Mexico. The structure is a very nice restaurant at the top of the mountain with affordable food. The summit temperature was the upper 60s F but standing in the sun felt more like the upper 70s F. Fortunately there was no harsh wind.

Sandia Peak is a 10-point peak in the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. This almost guarantees any activator will generate a pileup if she/he posts the activation on the SOTAWatch listings page.

I posted my plans there as I wanted to relive all the excitement of working through a pileup that I enjoyed three years earlier when I participated in the popular National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) program. You can find many stories here on this blog about my NPOTA activations.

How Do You Get The String Up There?

As frequently happens, my antenna halyard attracts the attention of people like pollen attracts bees. I had several people politely stand next to me while I was pounding brass answering other operators. All they wanted to know was how in the world I got the string that high in the tree next to me.

Sandia Peak SOTA

That’s the tree just below the summit that held up my antenna. The tip of the yellow arrow points to the exact branch I tossed my water bottle over the first try. The base of the yellow arrow is where I was sitting. It was so easy because there was nothing on the ground to snag the cord on my Trident Finger Reel.

It’s so easy. Watch this video showing how it’s done. My buddy Dan helped me make the video four days earlier in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

On the Air Just 23 Minutes

I had planned to be on the air at 2015 UTC, but was about thirty minutes late. Far-away chasers were patient and waited as they know delays happen. It didn’t take long for them to hear my CQ SOTA.

Sandia Peak W3ATB Log

Here’s my simple log for the activation. Thirteen contacts in twenty-three minutes aren’t too bad for me. There were at least ten more trying to crash through in the pileup. It was chaos, to put it mildly. Next time I might work split.

I was only able to transmit for about 30 minutes because we had to head back down the mountain. We knew there could be a wait to take the tram back down and that was just the case.

I had lots of fun and hope to activate Cadillac Mountain next on Mt. Desert Island in Maine.

Sandia Peak SOTA

Here I am focused on the pileup. I was doing just CW using my Elecraft KX2. I’ve got a 9:1 unun attached to the end of my 29-foot sloping wire. A Bioenno Power 3Ah battery flung my signals out into the ether. Just four years ago I thought I’d never be able to handle a pileup after hearing it inside a cold trailer at St. Gaudens National Historic Site with W1PID and K1SWL. It’s all about being patient and not losing your cool. Remember, you’re the activator and you’re in charge. Most chasers are patient and you work through them one at a time. Don’t forget – you’re supposed to be having fun, not a heart attack for goodness sake!

Sandia Peak SOTA

This sign is what you see if you’re in the tram arriving at the top of the peak. Oxygen is limited at this altitude. You can definitely feel it when you walk around if you’re a flatlander like me!

Sandia Peak SOTA

You ride up and down the mountain in these fine cars. Sometimes you’re quite high above the rocks below.

Sandia Peak SOTA

One of the two towers that hold up the cables is, I believe, 280 feet tall. This is not the one, gulp! My buddy Jim Cluett, W1PID wouldn’t want to be looking down from the windows in this tram!

Antenna in Tree Video

Antenna in Tree – A Water Bottle Makes it Possible

I recorded this video with the help of my good friend Dan Murray in Santa Fe, NM on September 26, 2019. We were at the Randall Davey Audobon Center just up Canyon Road. We had decided to give our wives a well-deserved break and set out on a little-man self-discovery trip.

Links to Water Bottle and Finger Reel

CLICK or TAP HERE for the nalgene water bottle. Be SURE to select the 8 oz size. Believe me, order two or three of them as you may get one stuck up in a tree if you get your line snagged.

CLICK or TAP HERE for the wonderful Trident Finger Reel.

Thanks, Dan for your great videography skills!

randall davey audobon center

This was a great place. Very peaceful and very few humans.

randall davey audobon center

These are hollow log links fashioned into a birdhouse pueblo project. We couldn’t locate the kiva, but I’m sure it’s there nearby!

I hope you liked the video!

Tim the Telegrapher

Ashland Railroad Station 150th Anniversary – Tim Carter the Telegrapher

On September 14, 2019, I had the distinct honor to sit at the actual telegrapher’s desk in the historic and restored Ashland NH, railroad station as part of their 150th anniversary.

A member of the Ashland Historical Society, John Dufrat, applied for a special event callsign from the FCC. I used W1A all day instead of my personal callsign.

Real telegraphers sent their messages over miles and miles of wires that ran along the railroad tracks.

Those wires have long since vanished, so I re-enacted the part by sending Morse code using a traditional brass straight key and the invisible electromagnetic waves traveled through the air across the Atlantic Ocean and to other operators in the USA.

The general public that came for the festivities really enjoyed hearing the di’s and dah’s. Many asked me all sorts of questions, not the least of which was why telegraphers wore green visors. Do you know the answer? I do. Put your guess in the comments below to see if you’re right. Tell me why they also wore the sleeve socks you see me wearing.

Here’s a photo of the page from my logbook.

W1A logbook

Here are all the stations I contacted from the Ashland Railroad station on September 14, 2019 using the W1A callsign.

Dearborn Pond Adventure

dearborn pond nh

This is the well-hidden gem of Dearborn Pond in Sanbornton, NH. I recommend you do your best to avoid it. I saw very large hoof prints of a giant mammal just below where I took this photo.  You’re looking northwest at a southeast-facing flank of Hersey Mountain. Copyright 2019, Tim Carter

Dearborn Pond NH – A Mystical Mountain Oasis

“I’ve not yet done my required walk today, so that’s number one on my list of things to do,” I said as I answered Jim’s phone call.

“Listen. Let’s go hike up to Dearborn Pond. It’s the perfect length and I’ve not been there for going on ten years or so. We can do some radio from a cabin up there.”

That was the proposal my good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, made to me mid-afternoon yesterday. I accepted his proposition as I had not been to this heretofore unknown oasis.

class 6 road to dearborn pond

This is a section of the Class VI road you wander along to get to and from Dearborn Pond. The Town of Sanbornton NH owns the road, but it’s not maintained. A decent 4×4 vehicle can traverse it in good weather. Snowmobiles overtake the road in winter as they claw their way up and around Mt. Hersey. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

It was about a one-mile hike up a class VI road from where we parked Jim’s paprika-colored Subaru. Class VI roads in NH are not paved and can be almost impassable in good weather because of severe erosion. This particular road was in quite good shape and the vegetation was trimmed so your vehicle wouldn’t look like it had been in a catfight.

Ancient stacked stone walls lined the road as we marched up the steep first section. I constantly marvel at how the homesteaders 160 years ago positioned some rocks that weigh well over 700 pounds.

dearborn pond nh stone wall

Here’s a typical stone wall along the road to Dearborn Pond created by rounded rocks tumbled by the continental glacier that covered all of New England 13,000 years ago. There are miles of these stone walls in the forests as the homesteaders cleared the land to make pastures for sheep. It was easier to stack rocks to control the wandering sheep than put in fenceposts and rails. The wool sheared from the beasts was used to make woolen items exported to Europe before the Civil War. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Before long the gravel road started to head down to a stream crossing.

“There’s a trail here to the left that will take us up to the pond.” Jim remembered it clearly even though it had been ten years since he had last been here. Vegetation grows fast and thick in the short summer season in New Hampshire. I think Jim forgot that part.

dearborn pond cabin

This is what I saw when we finished bushwhacking the last 100 yards to the pond. Not a soul was near us. The blue sky of the morning yielded to quite a few clouds in the afternoon. It’s truly a magical place, but as I said earlier, you probably don’t want to come here. The 70-foot tall tree with the thick trunk in the photo would hold up my antenna just five minutes after taking this photo. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Neither of us could see any sign of a trail, but that wasn’t to stop us from bushwhacking our way. I knew the pond was above us as its overflow no doubt fed the trickling stream. It’s now the dry season in New Hampshire and some streams shrivel to tiny rivulet ribbons. This one was no exception.

dearborn pond gps track

My Backpack Country Navigator phone app captured our adventure. I marvel at being able to use this remarkable technology. You’ll soon see more of these graphics in future blog posts.

The Throw

“You set up your gear this time since I used all my stuff on Sunday.”  Jim was right, it was my turn.

bald ledge trail

You can see Jim in the shadows taking a photo looking south towards Lake Waukewan in Meredith, NH. He was standing at the steep edge of Bald Ledge just two days earlier. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Just off the corner of the cabin was a 70-foot-tall straight maple tree. Its crown was narrow, perhaps just 12 feet.

“Do you think you can get your water bottle up there?” Jim knows better but asks because I’m convinced he loves to get a rise out of me.

“Whatever. Just watch and see.” I murmured as I was coiling up my halyard string so it wouldn’t get snagged in the tall grass or a twig.

Moments later I was swinging my water bottle just as David did before he slew Goliath. I released my water bottle at the precise instant so as to go nearly straight up and sail over the tallest branch of the tree. There was virtually no margin for error.

“Oh my gosh! That was the best throw I’ve ever seen you do!” Jim exclaimed.

It was a remarkable throw and it’s just about the only thing I can do better than Jim on a routine basis. He’s an expert radio operator as well as a marksman. He still can make perfect throws too, and I often wonder if he’s just toying with my ego when he makes a ho-hum throw of his own.

But just ten days ago he did have a major failure at Potter Place. One of his Nalgene water bottles decided it much preferred to dangle 50 feet up in the air for the near future near the historic railroad station rather than come back down to be stored in his dark backpack. The trees at Potter Place have an appetite for water bottles. But I digress!

w3atb dearborn pond nh

It doesn’t take but a few minutes to set up my Elecraft KX2 radio. As usual, I had a 29-foot wire attached to a 9:1 unun to help tame the impedance in the short wire. Fortunately, there were a few strong signals on 20 meters. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett W1PID

“When I used to come up here years ago I’d sit on that porch and make contacts. Now it’s screened in.” Jim mused thinking of past excursions to this most wonderful location so close to his house.

“Well, I think this place would make a perfect location for Field Day next year. We should reach out to the owner to see if he’d let us sit on the porch.” I pondered.

“Do you think you could get your truck up here?” Jim wondered.

“Are you serious? It’s a Ford Super Duty 4×4. It’s not even a test of its skills and magic.” Tsk tsk, I thought.

Jim decided he didn’t want to do radio so I sat on the steps and got on the air.

w3atb dearborn pond nh

Jim is also damned good at taking great photos. It looks like I just woke up with my frazzled hair! There wasn’t any room for him to sit on the steps with me so he was banished to the rocks at the edge of the pond. My Elecraft KX2 is powered by a mighty Bioenno LFP 3 Ah battery. It allows me to be on the air for hours of fun. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett W1PID

“I’ll just sit over here on the hard rocks near the ants and other bugs. Don’t worry about me.” Jim is quite talented at throwing a blanket of guilt over me. My mother would be so proud of him! RIP mom!

At first, I heard Hristo, LZ2HR calling CQ from Bulgaria. His signal was very strong. I sent my call sign, but other stronger stations drowned out my meager 9-watt invisible digital transmission.

Next up was Bernie, KB4JR, who was in Lake Wales, FL. We had a nice slow back-and-forth conversation. I told Bernie I was “on a hike near a pond in NH”. I don’t think he quite believed me, but he surely will after he reads this tale!

I wanted to get at least one more contact in my logbook before we left as it was starting to get close to 5 PM.

I went back and found Hristo and other stations were trying to contact him as well. I tried to sneak in between a few conversations but my weak signal wasn’t cutting it.

There was no way I was giving up. Just as he finished up a short contact with another operator and before he sent his CQ again, I cast my callsign into the ether right into his radio.

BOOM! Hristo heard me and gave me a respectable 559 signal report!

We decided to pack up and get back home as dinner time was fast approaching. Outdoor hikes and radio make for a delightful time. You might want to try it, but for goodness sakes don’t do it at Dearborn Pond!

After I got home, Jim sent me the following photo he took. Ansel Adams would be proud no doubt!

Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett W1PID

 

 

Cannon Mountain Workout

W3ATB Tim Carter Cannon Mountain

Here I am standing on the east face of Cannon Mountain soaking up the stunning view to the south. I was pointing to where I live just 43 miles away. You can actually see Mt. Lafayette, which is out of frame just to my left across the valley below, from the top of my street on a clear day. The roadway below is the infamous I-93 where it’s just a simple two-lane road up through the Franconia Notch just to my left. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett

Cannon Mountain – Capturing Contacts Challenging

My good buddy and friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I made a return trip to Cannon Mountain yesterday. It was important for me to be there as I needed to minimize the distance between me and the ionosphere. When you do this, you’re above the fray and all of your signals have a better chance of being heard.

We once again set up on the Kinsman Ridge Trail just a three-minute walk from the tram building at the top of the summit. Riding the tram is free for old goats like us. It’s a benefit only available to New Hampshire citizens of distinction who have offered their protection to the state for a minimum of 65 years past their natal days.

W1PID Cannon Mountain

Here’s Jim logging one of the many stations we heard, but they didn’t hear us. The first 90 minutes were frustrating, but the scenery soothed the pain. The top of Mt. Lafayette is just above Jim’s hat – the bare rock peak. Mt. Lincoln is the peak in the upper right corner of the photo. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

After we ate lunch, we set up the antenna. We started with my 44-foot twisted-wire dipole that had a 25-foot feed line. My extendable fiberglass panfish pole held the center of the antenna about 12 feet in the air. We had to lower it from its normal height for fear of breaking off the thin last two sections of the pole.

We heard quite a few stations with the first one being Kuwait, 9K2MU. His signal was so strong we were sure he’d answer us. It was not to be. Jim said he had worked him at least a half a dozen times before.

W3ATB Tim Carter Cannon Mountain

Here I am trying to snare a signal out of the air. This shot was taken after we kicked the 44-foot dipole antenna to the curb. That’s my Elecraft KX2 powered by a 3 Ah Bioenno LFP battery. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett W1PID

Here’s a list of stations we heard but alas, they didn’t hear us. Note how all of them but one were over 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic Ocean:

  • DK8IT
  • N5DCC
  • G3VBN
  • G3VBS
  • ON5UK
  • PA1FP
  • DF5KA

Switching Antennas

We tried for no less than 45 minutes to get someone to hear us. Jim thought the issue could be the feedline of the 44-foot dipole antenna. We had too much coiled up and close to the ground because we were unable to get the center of the dipole 25 feet up in the air. That’s a bad practice for sure. When you use low power, 5 or 10 watts as we do, to fling radio waves into the ether, you can’t afford to have any signal loss into the ground.

We decided to take down the dipole and put up my reliable 29-foot wire that we connect to a 9:1 unun. I store my antenna attached to the string I use as a halyard to hoist the wire up into tall trees. The string is coiled up on a dandy Trident finger reel used by scuba divers. I own two of them and have them with me all the time when we go out on these little-man self-discovery trips.

“Are you sure there’s an antenna wire on this spool?” Jim quizzed me as he was unfurling over 100 feet of green string onto the ground.

Not looking over at him I replied, “Yes, the antenna is on the spool. For goodness sakes can’t you see it?”

“I don’t see it.” Jim has a long history of yanking my chain to generate a rise out of me.

“Whatever!” I replied thinking how could he be such a dolt.

As Jim was working on switching out the antenna wires, I had spied a 10-foot tall dead tree log laying in the short evergreens near us. Once jammed into a crevice in the granite, it would create a fantastic secondary antenna support. It’s important to realize you want your antenna wire as high off the ground as possible.

W1PID Jim Cluett

Here’s the 29-foot wire antenna with an assist from the dead tree. You have to contort yourself to get comfortable after sitting on the hard-ass granite for an hour or more. Jim has a leg up on me as he has much better radio skills. Note the 17-foot yellow counterpoise wire deployed along the granite. It’s connected to a post on the 9:1 unun. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Moments later I noticed he had grabbed the WRONG halyard reel out of my Pelican 1200 case that I store most of my gear. The CORRECT Trident finger reel that had the antenna wire at the end of the string was still in my backpack!

“You’ve got the wrong reel, you idiot! Didn’t you bother to look through the handy holes on the side of the reel to see all you had was string?” I chastised Jim.

“Maybe you need to put an antenna wire on the reel that’s a different color than the string!” Jim quipped.

“Whatever!” You can count on a snarky response from me from time to time. We both burst into belly laughs that I’m quite certain could be heard across the notch to anyone on top of Mt. Lafayette.

W1PID Jim Cluett

Jim’s no dummy. He’s a great operator and given enough time he can serve up a dish of revenge cold as the Wisconsin continental glacier that carved the valley you’re peering at 20,000 years ago. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Target Practice

Mother Nature has been doing a great job over the past 13,000 years of turning the giant piece of bedrock that comprises Cannon Mountain into small pea-sized pieces of granite. The giant continental glacier that covered all of New England and most of the Midwestern USA all those years ago had retreated to just north of where we were sitting. Once the ice melted off the top of Cannon Mountain with no trucks, buses, factories around belching CO2, the hard granite was exposed to the elements.

The small pieces of granite are like ball bearings on the exposed ledge. You need to be damn careful not to slip and fall. Twice yesterday Jim almost tumbled because of a combination of the stones and wet rock from overnight heavy rainfall.

We switched off taking turns at the radio trying to avoid the skunk.

“Are you sure this thing is transmitting?” Jim asked.

“Yes, see the blinking red LED when you key up?”

“Well, that doesn’t mean much. You could have blown the finals.” Jim offered up his sage wisdom.

“Whatever!” That’s my standard reply when he mansplains things to me.

BOOM! Bulgaria!

Finally, Jim got a station to answer him! LZ50ZF. It was a fine DX contact from Bulgaria. The operator heard us perfectly giving us the best signal report you can get: 599

That proved my little Elecraft KX2 was doing just fine.

Jim surrendered the radio to me so I could also avoid the skunk. I think he decided to do some trail maintenance so others might not fall.

W3ATB Tim Carter Cannon Mountain

Here I am hard at work trying to avoid the skunk. The 29-foot wire was doing a superb job. Note how my hat resembles a round shooting target. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett W1PID

I was bound and determined NOT to leave until I had at least one contact.

Soon I was tightly focused on spinning the VFO knob on the radio and all of a sudden I felt something hit my head.

It was a damn stone thrown by Jim! I chuckled and went back to work trying to get a contact. Then another stone hit my hat. And another.

“I’m starting to run out of small stones up here!” Jim announced.

Once again giant howls of our laughter filled the valley. We do have so much fun going out, it should be illegal. Surely we’re stealing the happiness from some others, but who knows?

Happy for Hungary

Moments later, I made contact with HA8QZ in Hungary. Oh, that was a great feeling!

Then both Jim and I made contact with Paul, a second Hungarian – HA8JV. We’d been at it for over two hours and it was after 3 PM. It was time to head back down the mountain.

W1PID Cannon Mountain Tram

Here’s Jim soaking up the scenery from the Cannon Mountain tram platform just before the tram arrived to take us back down. It was a splendid day. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Jim Cluett

Here’s Jim strolling down memory lane. He’s standing next to the glider his daughter flew when she was just 14 years old. We were at the glider port at Franconia, NH. We decided to go there as we had time and it’s so close. It was just ten minutes up the road from Cannon Mountain. No one was there as the glider activity happens only on the weekends for the most part. Jim showed me all the planes his daughter flew. She was flying gliders solo before she could drive. What a fantastic feat. I’d love for her to take me up in one of those gliders. Who knows, maybe it will happen one day when she visits NH. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

A Fun Day

After leaving the glider port, we headed home. It was a fun and exhausting afternoon. I think laughing makes you tired and I know for a fact Jim’s going to have a sore right arm from flinging all those stones at me.

80 Meter NVIS Antenna

80 Meter NVIS Antenna – Don’t Get Hung Up on Theory

Watch the following video to see how to build and erect a basic 80-meter NVIS antenna. After watching the video, please read the field test stories below the video as this design flies in the face of theoretical 80-meter NVIS antenna design.

I’m the Chief of Communications for the New England Forest Rally and we need to rely on NVIS to solve a tough comms problem. CLICK or TAP HERE to read about it.

CLICK or TAP HERE to download a simple plan and material list of this antenna.

Field Testing Tales

I was first introduced to this simplistic antenna five years ago when I first started to learn CW. My mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID told me about his discovery of this low-to-the-ground antenna because he used it to get onto the NH-VT traffic net each night from his home in Sanbornton, NH.

I’m the Chief of Communications for the New England Forest Rally and we have a very difficult communications issue on one of our stages in South Arm, Maine. CLICK or TAP HERE to read about this tough comms problem. This year, 2019, was my second year in the job and I decided to do an experiment with 80 NVIS with two other operators.

I set up this same antenna as you see in the video above, but it was even more wretched. It averaged just 18 inches above the ground. I was transmitting at 13 watts on my Elecraft KX3 and two other operators heard me crystal clear ten miles away. It’s very likely the success was due to ground wave.

However, during the same test, my mentor 100 miles away was monitoring the test out of general interest and he heard me just fine. I had a conversation with him while I was waiting for my fellow operators in Maine to set up their 80-meter NVIS antennas just 10 miles away.

We were operating phone (SSB) because that’s how the comms would happen during the race. I’m doubtful my meager 13-watt signal would travel 100+ miles via ground wave over some semi-mountainous terrain, but I could be wrong. It absolutely might be why the other two operators were able to hear me and I hear them just ten miles away.

A week prior to the test at South Arm during July of 2019, I did a similar test with this antenna design in my backyard. That antenna was probably only 30 inches above the ground. I had successful SSB communications with my mentor who was 8 miles away and another old friend, Dave Benson, K1SWL, who was about 40 miles away. Once again, I was fairly low power, 10 watts, and I don’t believe that ground wave would make it 40 miles.

If you’re an antenna expert and can point me to a document that really shows how far an 80-meter ground wave can travel at different power levels, I’d be forever grateful. Please add those links in the comments below. 73 Tim Carter – W3ATB

A Perfect Day on the Pemigewasset River

Today was another grand summer day here in central New Hampshire. Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I went to one of our favorite hidden gems, the picnic tables next to the canoe and kayak launch ramp along the Pemigewasset River at Profile Falls. The locals call it the Pemi.

You can drive right up to the picnic tables from the main parking lot at Profile Falls, but Jim wanted to walk the quarter-mile from the parking lot to the picnic tables just above the bank of the Pemi. I arrived at the parking area about ten minutes before Jim and immediately became the smorgasbord for a swarm of junior mosquitos. They were the smallest I’d ever seen. Within seconds ten, or more, were feasting on my tasty neck, arm, and leg meat.

While waiting for Jim, I sprayed on my effective eucalyptus mosquito and tick repellent. I hate products containing DEET, and REPEL is the best product I’ve discovered so far.

Lunch Then Launch HF Signals

“I want to eat a picnic lunch along the Pemi. I’m sick of sitting on plastic chairs next to plastic tables or sitting at filthy tables outside restaurants with passing cars and trucks,” I informed Jim earlier in the morning when we hatched the Pemi plan.

lunch pemi nh

Here’s part of my lunch. Shaved fresh turkey breast, tantalizing Raye’s Sweet and Spicy Mustard, cheddar cheese and romaine lettuce on whole wheat. Jim’s a vegan. My 21 oz Hydro Flask water bottle keeps my water ice cold. It’s super durable and fits well in a side pocket of my backpack. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

I also brought a small bag of fresh cashews that Jim and I split. He devours them and I do the same as they’re so tasty. For dessert, I brought some vegan chocolate coconut macaroons. They were so delicious I wished I had another bag. Jim and I split these as well.

Wire Antenna Works Well

“Listen. What kind of antenna do you want to put up?” Jim is always filled with questions.

“I brought my 44-foot twisted-pair dipole, but let’s just go with a vertical 29-foot wire.” I’m about simplicity on some days. Erecting a dipole is twice the work as you need to put up two halyards and the tree branches need to be far apart.

A vertical wire is perfect for this location because the giant evergreen tree at the picnic table allows the wire to hang straight down to the table. The first throw of my water bottle worked even though it bounced around the branches like a polished ball inside a pinball machine. Two strangers watched us and were stunned a person could get a string 40 feet up into a tree in seconds.

w3atb pemi river

Here I am at one of the picnic tables. I’m concentrating on invisible electromagnetic waves that are being captured by the 29-foot wire hanging from the branches in the massive pine tree to my left. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett W1PID

No Signals At First

As Jim put up the antenna using my halyard throw, I got out my Elecraft KX2 equipped with Elecraft iambic paddles. As usual, I power the radio with the lightweight Bioenno 12-volt 3Ah LFP battery.

The magic of HF outdoor radio and indoor radio for that matter is you don’t know what you’re going to discover once you power up. There could be scores of operators you hear or it can be as quiet as Badwater Basin in the middle of a winter’s night.

Once everything was connected I went to 20 meters and there were just one or two signals. I decided to let Jim use the radio first and his decades of experience paid off.

w1pid pemi picnic

Here’s Jim focused and ready to add another QSO to the logbook. The strong breeze was keeping the midget mosquitos at bay. You can see the 9:1 unun in the black box on top of my backpack. This important component lowers the high impedance of the 29-foot wire. It’s all magic I tell ya’! My KX2 and all needed gear fit in that orange Pelican 1200 case. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Soaking Up the Pemi’s Splendor

The Pemi cast a spell on me yesterday. I’ve been to this location quite a few times but only walked down the kayak and canoe launch ramp two other times. Today a siren song drew me once again to the bank as Jim was making contacts with the radio.

pemigewasset river

Yes, the Pemi is this beautiful. The water is crystal clear. Did you watch the video above? Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

A few years back Jim and I put in his aluminum canoe at this very spot. I was thinking about that adventure and was happy the mosquitos were not biting me as they were that day.

w3atb chernobyl

I’m happy as a clam in my new Chernobyl t-shirt. Granite is abundant in NH and no doubt there’s radiation, but I doubt I got 3.6 roentgen worth of exposure today! If you want great photos that show the true shape of your face, you need to use an 85mm lens, not the wide-angle BS lens smartphone cameras have! Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Signals A Plenty!

Somehow ninety minutes had already passed by. How did that happen?

In the meantime, the 20-meter band had come alive. The logbook was starting to be awash in ink.

We worked Ric, KA3LOC in Kansas along with K9FW, Al in Indiana. But as sometimes happens, we heard stations but they could not hear our low-powered 10-watt signal. We usually operate with just 5 watts of power, but with solar conditions being what they are, we need as much power as the KX2 will muster so other stations hear us.

Here’s who we heard, but couldn’t make contact with:

  • W6JL
  • DL4NAC
  • LZ1NK
  • W26Y
  • KX9DX
  • LZ1MS

Lou on Long Island

Jim surrendered the radio to me and I worked Lou, N2JPR, on Long Island after hearing him call CQ. Little did I know it but Lou was recording our conversation and was kind enough to send it to me via email. The wonders of technology!

He said in his email, “Thanks for the nice QSO today! Conditions were good and you had a nice signal here to central Long Island. Thanks for answering my CQ call. Surprisingly, minimal QSB and QRN allowed solid copy. Your Pemi River hiking portable setup sounded good. Please find the MP3 recording attached of our QSO. You can hear your signal and what conditions were like on my side. Your fist was easy, armchair copy.  No need to reply QSL. According to my log, this was our first QSO.”

Bert Once More, Well Maybe

After signing off with Lou, Jim took over the radio again. It didn’t take long to find an old friend.

“Hey, that’s Bert!” I blurted out hearing his familiar call sign, F6HKA.

Jim and I routinely work Bert who’s six hours ahead of us in his house in France. Bert was in an extended conversation with another operator and we could only hear Bert’s Morse code.

“I wonder how long this is going to take?” Jim has many positive qualities and his unending patience is one.

Wanting to put another DX contact in the logbook I uttered, “Oh, not to worry. Bert would walk over hot coals to work us. He just needs to know we’re here.”

It was not to be. We called Bert after he ended his conversation with the mystery operator, but he didn’t hear us.

Time To Go

After failing to contact Bert, we decided it was time to go. We had been there almost two and one-half hours but it seemed more like thirty minutes to me.

In just nine weeks all the trees along the Pemi will be ablaze with color. Reds, oranges, yellows, crimson all offset by the evergreens. The color so brilliant you think it’s fake.

How lucky I am to live where Mother Nature has some of her best work on display. Come visit. You can hold the sign Jim and I display for strangers to keep them safe that says:


! DANGER !

High-Frequency Radio Radiation

Loitering May Be Dangerous to Your Health

Keep Moving

Do NOT Stare at Equipment or Antenna


For those inquisitive and doubtful visitors that ask why we’re not affected by the radio waves, we always answer that we’re wearing lead underwear. I carry a small piece of sheet lead in my Pelican case to show them. Seriously.