Belknap Mountain State Forest

belknap mountain topo map

This is Belknap Mountain State Forest in central New Hampshire. I can see it each day from my house. I set up to operate at the tip of the red arrow.

Belknap Mountain State Forest POTA and WW-FF Activation – Best Ever Performance

My guess is at some point in your life you’ve been working to master a skill and it seems like you’re just plodding along. Without realizing it, you’re getting better each day but in small spurts.

Then one day, magic happens and you make a quantum leap or you look back and see how far you’ve come.

Yesterday was one of those days for me as I was alone surrounded by trees, fresh air, and early spring spleandor on the western flank of Belknap Mountain. Spring snow meltwater was serenading me as it flowed across the hard granite rocks in the streambed on its way to Lake Winnipesaukee.

Last-Minute Decision

I had a very busy workday yesterday and just after 2 PM I decided to drive to Belknap Mountain State Forest. It was yet another stunning warm early spring day here in central New Hampshire with the temperature in the shade a balmy 63 F.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I was drawn outdoors like a moth to a porch light on a sultry August summer night.

belknap mountain signs

Little did I know when taking this photo it was to be an epic next 90 minutes.

My mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, also went out to do radio on his own and reported that in the direct sun his tiny thermometer read 90 F. For those of us who live in the frozen great Northeast Kingdom, we long for the soothing infrared rays after months of cold ice and snow. They are delicious comfort food and harken the glorious season of Spring.

40 QSOs in 67 Minutes

I’ve only been sending and receiving Morse code for just over seven years. I’m still a working stiff and for many of those years, I didn’t follow Jim’s advice to work at it at least 15 minutes a day. I put my work and family in front of my hobby. I don’t regret doing that, but as with all decisions, there are unintended consequences.

The result was slow and painful progress. To see how bad I was when first learning Morse, just read about the day Jim was kind enough to take me to one of his favorite places to operate, Old Hill Village.

You need to understand that amateur radio is a hobby as wide as the Grand Canyon. There are many places you can find happiness. For some, it’s contesting, for others it may be bouncing signals off the moon, and for me it just so happened that I became attracted to being on the receiving end of a herd of operators who are trying to put you, or me, in their logbook.

We call them pileups and I witnessed my first one with my jaw wide open on a cold day at St. Gaudens National Historic Site. I’ll never ever forget Jim and Dave Benson, K1SWL, working together to interpret a cacophony of radio signals as we together activated this park as part of the National Parks on the Air event. On that cold day in early February, Jim made contact with 55 operators in 40 minutes as Dave recorded the QSOs on his small laptop computer.

As I drove us home in relative silence that day, all I could think of was, “Jeeez, I’ll never even come close to being able to do that.” I couldn’t even begin to understand all those letters and numbers that make up call signs that were bouncing around on the inside of my trailer hours before like a pinball hitting the bumpers in an arcade.

Without me realizing how far I’ve come, I’m now within striking distance of doing what Jim did that day! Yesterday I was fortunate to make contact with 40 other operators in just 67 minutes.

Never before have I had that many QSOs in such a short time.

W3ATB logbook Belknap Mountain

Here are the 40 QSOs.

Jess – My Go-To Spotter

When I decided to head to Belknap Mountain,  K-4874 for Parks on the Air and  KFF-5200 for World Wildlife Flora and Fauna, I texted my good friend Jess Guaderrama, W6LEN, in California. He’s a power chaser and activator for both POTA and WWFF.

The only way this activation would have a chance is if Jess could spot me on both the POTA and WWFF websites. Radio operators at home who chase us activators in the parks look at these special spotting pages to see who is where and on what frequency.

Jess got back and said he could.

Excellent, I stood a chance at getting the required ten contacts.

I was able to set up in a perfect spot where I could have my vertical 29-foot wire hanging straight down from a tree branch. I was able to get the tip of the antenna 40 feet up in the air.

The only issue is I was just 20 feet from a high-tension electric line that goes to the top of Belknap Mountain to power television and radio transmitters. Trust me, I didn’t want a repeat of what happened the day before at Swain State Forest!

Danny Boy – ON4VT

Once again I was using my Elecraft KX3, my new Begali Adventure Dual paddles, and my go-to BioennoPower 4.5 Ah LiFePh battery. My signal power is a maximum of just 15 watts.

Because CW (continuous wave) is so efficient, this small amount of power allows you to contact other radio operators thousands of miles away, like Danny Van Tricht in Belgium.

I ran into Danny a few years back in the ether. He’s a fantastic operator much more skilled than I am. But Danny remembers what it was like to be a padawan CW operator so he slows down and is very patient with those who aren’t as good as he is. He was kind enough to send me his QSL card years ago and I treasure it.

ON4VT qsl card

Ten minutes after getting on the air I heard his call sign. I said out loud, “Danny, WOO HOO!” If anyone was nearby, they must have thought I was nuts.

Why is this important?

Years ago I remembered Jim rattling off call signs of friends of his. I marveled at how he could remember the cryptic brew of letters and numbers. “I’ll never be able to do that,”

Well, I’m doing it now much to my surprise.

Still Learning

Once the other operators had satisfied their thirst for this site that had never before been activated, I decided to pack up and leave. It was just after 4:30 PM and I was tired.

As I was winding up my antenna and lanyard string on my wonderful Trident finger reel, I was euphoric. Many past adventures were swirling through my head and I knew Jim would be proud of me. Just twenty-five minutes before he contacted me on the radio a second time asking, “How many Qs?”. Hurriedly I counted and sent back, “25”.

belknap mountain trail topo map

This large topo map shows where I was and was under a small shelter next to the parking area. I was at the blue and white P marker towards the left of the map.

WOW” was his response. I went on to finish the run-up to 40 total contacts.

It’s important to realize Jim was my 16th contact of the adventure. When I put him in the log, I was really busy as I had all sorts of other operators calling me. Jim came back with some message but I didn’t decipher it.

Lo and behold he had NO IDEA he was contacting me, but I had no idea this was the case.

He was out on a sunny hill in Sanbornton, NH on his radio and stumbled across all the other operators on 14.062 who were trying to work me.

Because Jess had spotted me, I thought all the other operators not only knew my call sign, but that they knew where I was.

But as happens, other operators can be just out turning their VFO knobs and stumble upon the melee. This is what happened to Jim.

On the drive back home he boxed my ears about being more cognizant of what’s in play. He suggested that every fifth contact I should send out my call sign after sending the signal report to the operators who are desperately trying to get me in their logs.

As always, Jim is filled with excellent advice and sage wisdom.

I think you can see where this is going. My goal now is to match what he did five years ago on that cold day inside the trailer. I think I can do it by the end of this summer.

But as Kenny Chesney sings in his hit song, “…only time will tell, but it ain’t talkin’.” Listen for yourself:

Swain State Forest

swain state forest

Swain State Forest | I reached out to the NH State Parks Department about the deplorable condition of the state forest signs. It’s been a week and no one has gotten back to me.

Swain State Forest POTA Activation – Tough Going!

I activated Swain State Forest K-4969 today. New Hampshire has quite a few state forests and this one happens to be directly across Lake Winnisquam from my home. I should say I barely activated it getting the required ten contacts in 90 minutes.

We were blessed again with rare deep warmth for early spring. The temperature was 63 F but in the direct sun you could easily be in a purple polo shirt and khaki shorts. My mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, was dressed in this attire a few miles away on Johnson Hill in Sanbornton, NH.

He was doing outdoor radio too and I logged him not once, but twice today. It’s so magical to contact another operator who’s doing low-powered radio outdoors!

swain state forest

This magnificent tree held my 29-foot vertical antenna. My 25-foot coax cable was 10 feet in the air so the tip of the antenna was up 40 feet.

No Cell Service = No Self Spotting

After I got my antenna up in this wonderful tall pine tree, I decided to text Jim to see if he could spot me so other radio operators would know the frequency I was on. I was stunned to discover there was no cell service. You’ve got to be kidding me.

swain state forest

This is the rock I used as an operating platform. It was not too comfortable!

I set up on a moss-covered rock thinking it would be somewhat comfortable. I was wrong. Within a few minutes my rump was aching and I knelt down on the soft bed of pine needles on the forest floor.

swain state forest

I used my Elecraft KX3 again because it can transmit with 15 watts of power. Attached to it is my Begali Adventure Dual paddles. Powering today’s activation was my trusty 4.5 Ah BioennoPower LiFePh battery.

Jim Finds Me

A moment after turning on my radio, Jim found me. The trouble was there was another operator camped out very close to that frequency so I needed to move. He spotted me and a few Parks on the Air chasers found me. I’m talking just a few. This could get ugly fast.

Once the few operators made contact, I started hunting for others calling CQ. I even tried calling CQ for minutes on end with little luck. I switched to 40 meters and gathered a few more contacts.

I heard IK2CKR in Italy. He had a very strong signal so I thought he’d hear me. Nope, not today. So much for living a pure and simple life.

After nearly an hour and a half I needed just one more contact to make the required ten. I wandered up to 14.062 and heard Jim contacting my second contact of the day, WA3GM. He was also a POTA activator. I was desperate to talk with Jim, but couldn’t break in as that’s not polite.

swain state forest logbook

Here are my ten contacts. It was a skin-of-the-teeth POTA day to be sure.

I went to 14.060 and called CQ. Jim heard me! It was a miracle. I sent: QSY 7030  7030. He’s a pro and knew that I needed to work him again but on a different frequency. Moments later we finished the QSO and I packed up and left.

I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make more contacts because my antenna was fantastic. The only thing I can think of is that I was only 30 feet away from a high-tension electric line that services all the houses on the eastern shore of Lake Winnisquam.

Jim told me on the phone when I got home that he heard other operators trying to contact me, but I never heard them. Without Jim’s help today, I would still be over there gathering up dry pine needles to make a bed to stay warm tonight!

I’m going to try an inverted V antenna tomorrow on my next activation. Stay tuned.




Endicott Rock Ham Radio

Endicott Rock

Endicott Rock | This bronze plaque tells you why this historic site is pretty darned important.

Endicott Rock Parks on the Air K-8017 Activation – Delicious Warmth & Sun

Today was another stunning late-winter day here in New Hampshire. I was sitting at a picnic table just 20 feet away from a solid granite structure that protects and preserves the infamous Endicott Rock for future generations. The temperature got up to 62 F. To put this in perspective, it could just as easily have been 20 F and snowing.

endicott rock nh

This is the structure that protects the historic Endicott Rock.

I’ve become active again in Parks on the Air and to the best of my knowledge, I’m the first ham radio operator to activate this entity. You need to complete a minimum of ten conversations with other radio operators to officially activate it and I logged fourteen in just over an hour. The band conditions were not the best, to put it mildly.

endicott rock radio

I’m all set up and ready to gather signals out of the ether. You’re looking at my Elecraft KX3 equipped with my Begali Adventure Dual paddles. Yes, that’s a Rite-in-the-Rain logbook. Just to the left is my 4.5 Ah BioennoPower LiFePh battery. The Ossipee Mountains, a rare circular volcanic ring dike, are the main mountains you’re looking at over the water. Mt. Chocoura is above the last white channel marker to the left.

Spotting – It’s Critical

I was scheduled to be on the air at 1 PM Eastern Time or 1700 UTC. I made it with one minute to spare. I texted my mentor, Jim Cluett W1PID, to have him spot me on 20 meters at 14.062 MHz.

He was successful and a few other POTA operators found me. I was hoping for ten or fifteen operators trying to reach me at once, but only three or four were there. I could tell it was going to be a little bit of work to get to ten contacts!

endicott rock plaque

Read why Endicott Rock is so famous. Realize there was a huge Native American village right here along the shore. One wonders how the Indians felt about some strangers chiseling initials, names, and numbers in the exposed smooth solid granite bedrock. Part of the chiseld characters are in the red oval washed out by the sun.

I exhausted the few contacts on twenty meters but still was far from my minimum goal of ten contacts. I switched to forty meters and Jim re-spotted me. Once again I got a small handful of POTA chasers who were at home looking for activators like me out in the field.

DX on a Sunny Day

I was quite lucky to log three international (DX) contacts. Actually you can say I had five as I scored two Canadians. But for me, Canada is closer to me than Pennsylvania so they just don’t feel like DX.

The first was DL8ZT, Wolfgang in Germany. Next up was CU3BL, Manual, in Portugal. He is a POTA chaser I’m quite sure. Thirty-five minutes later I logged Dr. Ian, G4MLW in the UK.

It’s always a thrill to communicate with other operators thousands of miles away using just enough power to illuminate two standard night lights. Jim tells me it’s magic and I have to agree.

begali adventure dual

This is my new Begali Adventure Dual. I had my callsign engraved on it because you just don’t know if someone might want to borrow it. This makes it easier to find.

I got just two more contacts after Dr. Ian, KC4TVN and KU8T. Ignore the K after the T in that call sign in my logbook.

I decided to pack up and head home to enjoy more sunshine on my own deck. I ate a Honeycrisp apple and a naval orange once I got home. I think there’s an old radio saying, “An apple a day keeps the bands alive.” We shall see.

endicott rock logbook

That QSO on page two doesn’t count. It’s a broken call sign. UGH!

Chemung State Forest Ham Radio POTA Activation

chemung state forest

Chemung State Forest | I’ve driven past this sign hundreds and hundreds of times in the past ten years and only ten days ago I saw it on the tree! I have to drive up and down Chemung Road to get to and from my house to town. The State of New Hampshire Parks Division uses that brilliant teal blue paint to blaze all the trees and mark boundary corner trees. Copyright 2021 Tim Carter

Chemung State Forest K-4884 – POTA Activation

Today I completed a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation at Chemung State Forest on Chemung Road in Meredith, New Hampshire. Rumor has it this forest has the only nesting site of the last pair of mating New Hampshire flamingos. I have a picture of the nest in the tree at the bottom of this tale.

It was a delightful sunny late-winter day. The temperature was just about 50 F when I set up at 12:35 PM, and later rose to a balmy 53 F. That’s remarkably warm weather for New Hampshire in late March.


Solitude in the Cemetery

Chemung State Forest is an expansive piece of land that I’ve called the Land of the Dead Trees ever since I moved up here in 2008. It stretches between Chemung Road to the west and all the way to the northwestern shoreline of Lake Winnisquam. My house is just 2 miles south of here on the western shore of Lake Winnisquam.

chemung state forest

I was sitting on a bench right at the tip of the red arrow.

chemung state forest

There are hundreds of dead trees that are standing in the marshy wetlands of this state property.

Most of the land appears to be a very shallow marshy lake bed that’s filled in over the years. I set up in a small cemetery that’s directly across from the Wickwas Lake boat-launch ramp. There was no one around me and just a few cars went past me the entire time I was here. It was very peaceful.

chemung state forest

This is the cemetery sign with the graves just on the other side of the fence.

There was still about six inches of snow and ice covering the grave markers. I was able to set up comfortably on a nice bench that people must use when they come to visit their dearly departed loved ones.

chemung state forest

This wonderful bench kept me dry as I made contact with 16 other radio operators.

There were quite a few 50-foot tall birch trees next to the bench and they were perfectly situated to accept my halyard string that would hoist up my 29-foot vertical wire antenna.

chemung state forest

This is my halyard string carefully deployed so it doesn’t tangle as the water bottle rises in the air, goes over a few branches, then drops to the ground. Tangles in the string are death on a stick and can cause quite a bit of stress on cold days.

9:1 unun

This is my 9:1 unun. The yellow 29-foot antenna wire attaches to the top wingnut. The coax cable that stretches to the radio attaches to the threaded connector on the bottom. Next to that is another wingnut you can put a counterpoise wire on if needed. A counterpoise can help increase the efficiency of the antenna so maximum power is radiated out into the ether. CLICK or TAP HERE to see an assortment of wonderful 9:1 ununs.

My mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, taught me years ago how to make a small nalgene water bottle soar into the air up and over tree branches. Done expertly, you can have an antenna up in a tree in just a few minutes. Watch this video to see how it’s done:

chemung state forest

This was my setup for the day. My Elecraft KX3, a 4.5 Ah BioennoPower LiFePh battery, my PowerWerx power analyzer, my Rite-in-the-Rain logbook, and my new magical Begali Adventure Dual paddles. I had the KX3 on for an hour and only sipped 0.46 Ah from the Bioenno battery.

begali adventure dual paddles

Here’s a better shot of the Begali Adventure Dual paddles. They’re a dream to use. I store this exquisite work of art in a durable Plano waterproof gear case so the paddles never get damaged.

Spotting is Everything for POTA Chasers

The POTA program has grown by leaps and bounds over the past four years. Thousands of amateur radio operators in the USA and other countries are involved. Many are chasers and make contact with people like me who actually go out to the parks to do outdoor radio.

The POTA organizers have developed a wonderful website that allows me or other radio operators to publish what frequency I’m on and where I am. This is called spotting.

Once spotted, an activator like me can almost always count on being pounced on by chasers lusting to get a new rare park entity into their logbook. Just about every POTA location in New Hampshire is rare. There simply aren’t many operators who do outdoor radio who are interested in POTA. You need all these things to come together to have a POTA activation.

chemung state forest

I didn’t have to walk far. The bench was just 100 feet away from the fence behind the sign.

No Spotting = Crickets

If you don’t get spotted, you can transmit CQ POTA forever and no one contacts you. It’s like yelling for help in the deep forest or sitting on the porch on a warm summer night listening to the crickets rub their legs together.

Today, Jim tried to spot me from his house with no success. I tried to use my cell phone to spot me and the POTA website wouldn’t co-operate. 

After calling CQ for twenty minutes on different QRP frequencies, I thought, “Heck, I’ll just do it the old-fashioned way. I’ll go hunting for my own contacts.”

Fortunately, it was a Saturday and a big international Russian DX contest was in full swing. The airwaves were filled with operators calling CQ. It only took me about 35 minutes to make fourteen contacts and five of those minutes I was talking on the phone with Jim.

You just need ten contacts for an official POTA activation and I walked away with sixteen. It would have been nice to have a bunch of POTA chasers in my logbook and me in theirs’ but that’s going to have to happen on another day.

chemung state forest

The red arrow points to the flat platform of the nesting flamingos. The male flamingo was standing on the platform when I took this photo. If you want the high-resolution copy of it CLICK or TAP HERE. When you view the high-resolution image you can clearly see the outline of the flamingo’s body. If memory serves me right, I believe my former next-door neighbor here in NH said a friend of a friend of his recalled seeing a citation on NH state park website years back that the flamingos were fourth-generation twice removed from the ones at the beginning of the video just below.

Outdoor Ham Radio

ellacoya state park

Outdoor Ham Radio. Lifeguard Chairs on the Air! – This is Jim Cluett, W1PID, my outdoor ham radio mentor. What a view Jim had from his perch on the beach at Ellacoya State Park in New Hampshire! He’s busy setting up getting ready to do Morse code with Bert in France. Copyright 2021 Tim Carter

Outdoor Ham Radio – Talk Around the World Using Nightlight Power

You may be on this page because I handed you a small business card while I was doing outdoor ham radio. Or, you may have just stumbled across this page because you want to do what hundreds of thousands of us do all across the world – take our small radios outdoors, breathe fresh air, and talk with people we can’t see. Believe me, it’s fun.

What questions do you have about outdoor ham radio? Enter them as a comment below and I’ll add them and the answers to this page.

Is Ham Radio Still a Thing? 

You bet it’s a thing and it’s really fun. There are millions of amateur radio operators all over the world. Advances in technology have made the radios smaller and more reliable. You can talk on the radio as you do on your phone, you can send Morse code, or you can use your computer to make contacts with other operators all over the world.

How Did You Get the Antenna Up So High?

Hah, watch the video:

Is Morse Code Still Used and Why?

Morse code is experiencing a rebirth. It’s actually the original digital means of communication. Sending messages using Morse code is more efficient and a signal can travel farther using less power. I prefer to use Morse code because it exercises my brain and it’s nostalgic being the original way wireless radio signals were sent and received.

How Popular is Outdoor Ham Radio?

Outdoor ham radio is very popular. Radio operators donate their time, equipment, and skills to provide safety and emergency communications for thousands of events all across the world every year. Countless marathons, bicycle races, foot races, parades, etc. have ham radio operators spread out over the courses or race tracks. For example, I’m the Chief of Communications for the New England Forest Rally. Watch the video just below to see what that’s all about.

Some operators combine ham radio with climbing mountains. That program is called Summits on the Air. Other operators take their radios out to different state and national parks. Those programs are World Wildlife Flora and Fauna and Parks on the Air.

How are Outdoor Radios Powered?

Outdoor ham radios can be powered any number of ways. You can use a gasoline-powered generator to create 120 volts of electricity. I happen to use small lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. You can use a simple 9-volt battery or even two AA batteries for tiny radios. Some operators incorporate solar panels to power their radios.

Opechee Bay State Forest POTA Activation

opechee state forest nh

The giant blue body of water is Opechee Bay. The red arrow points to the state forest and where I was set up.

Opechee Bay State Forest POTA Activation K-4939 – Spring is Here!

Today I did a very fast activation of Opechee Bay State Forest in Laconia, New Hampshire. I’ve driven by this parcel of land for twelve years and never realized until the past week it was a state forest! I thought it was just some farmer’s fields as most of the land is well-manicured pasture.

Not Much Time

I was only able to be on the air for about 30 minutes today. I had to drop my wife off at church in Laconia just before 3 PM and then pick her back up precisely at 4 PM. The weather was superb. It was 53 F, sunny, and no breeze.

I was in a mad rush to get to the site. It’s normally a simple five-minute drive from Sacred Heart Church in downtown Laconia, but the traffic today was crazy. One would think they were giving away money along Route 106!

Once I arrived at the state forest, I thought about taking the two-track road down to the water so I could set up by the water. After going 200 feet, I abandoned this hair-brained idea for a better view. The hard-pack snow and ice were getting worse the farther I went and I didn’t want to get stuck.

My Ford F-250 4×4 is a beast, but it’s not a 6×6. I put it in reverse, turned around in the field next to me, and proceeded across the street to the south part of the state forest.

Go For the Field

I decided to set up next to a rock wall in a giant field where we always park for the annual Laconia Sled Dog Races. The frost was still in the ground and there was no issue with traction. Next Tuesday may be a different story as weather in the 50s is forecast the next few days. Spring is here!

I used my Elecraft KX3, a 29-foot vertical wire hanging from a tree branch attached to a 9:1 unun, and powered the operation with a 4.5 Ah BioennoPower lithium-iron-phosphate battery.

Opechee Bay State Forest

The tree line along the rock wall was a perfect place to do the activation. I just set my KX3 on the tailgate of my truck and stood the entire time. The 30 minutes on air felt like five.

I didn’t have to deal with mud like I did last week at Ahern State Park just across the street. I got my antenna lanyard up perfectly the first throw using my water-bottle method. Watch this video to see how it’s done:

My New Begali Adventure Dual

I was using my new tiny Begali Adventure Dual paddles today. I was in such a rush to set up, work the never-ending pileup, and break down to pick up She Who Must Be Obeyed (SWMBO) that I failed to get a photo of it connected to my Elecraft KX3. Not to worry, I’ll get lots of photos and video of it in future POTA activations.

Begali Adventure Dual

The key is not only a piece of art, but it’s also the absolute best key I’ve ever used. Only 680 other operators own one as my serial number is 681. It’s so smooth to operate. I’ll be doing a full-blown review of it very soon.

I protect this investment with my wonderful Plano waterproof gear case. If you’ve got small gear that you don’t want damaged, get one.

plano gear case 144900

Twenty-One in Thirty-One

I got twenty-one QSOs in the logbook in just thirty-one minutes. I had others wanting to work me but I had to stop so I wouldn’t be late picking up SWMBO. I apologized after my last contact sending, “I’ll be back!” This is an easy POTA site to activate and I guarantee I’ll be back to work all bands as well as SSB.

Opechee Bay State Forest Logbook

Pretty soon I’ll be doing one QSO per minute. I’m going to stop sending back the park designator. Heck, all chasers/hunters know where I’m at, right?

I thought I had a broken call sign with my second contact. TI5JON

But my mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, found him in a database I’ve never heard of before. What fun to contact an operator from Costa Rica!

TI5JON Costa Rica radio operator

POTA parks on the air logo

Ham Radio and Road Rally NEFR

Ham Radio and Road Rally – Come Work the NEFR

I was the former Chief of Communications for the New England Forest Rally (NEFR). It’s a two-day event each summer featuring fast cars, world-class drivers, dust, and top-tier ham radio operations.

Watch this video and tell me if you have the right stuff:

Ahern State Park K-2641 POTA and KFF Activation

Ahern State Park mud

Ahern State Park – Mud was the theme of today’s POTA and KFF activation. Lots of mud.

POTA parks on the air logo

Ahern State Park K-2641 POTA and KFF Activation – Wind and Mud!

Today was another rare late-winter stunning warm day here in central New Hampshire. After doing yesterday’s activation of Ellacoya State Park I knew I’d go out today. After all, Ahern is just across and down Lake Winnisquam from my house!

Ahern State Park NH

There are only two 911 centers in NH. One of them is just behind the sign up on the hill. It turns out that years ago AT&T decided that Laconia, NH was to be a giant hub of hundreds of thousands of telephone lines. Need I say more? Yes, the sky is that blue here in NH. It almost hurts your eyes to look at it.

I pass the entrance to Ahern State Park on my way to church each Sunday. You need to drive about one-half mile to get to the beach. This time of year with mud season upon us you better have a 4×4 as I do.

Easy or Scenic? Choose Wisely

When I arrived at 12:30 PM or 1730Z, I thought I just might set up just south of the main entrance. A giant naked deciduous tree was stretching its limbs over the road making it so easy to get my antenna up in the air.

Ahern State Park and Tree

That giant tree to the left would have been perfect. I could have been on the air in just five minutes and barely gotten any mud on myself. But no…

But I then thought, “Gosh, it’s such a beautiful day. Let’s see if the gate to the beach is open.” Off I went down the bumpy dirt road to the gate. Sure enough, it was open.

There’s still lots of frost in the ground and over the past three days, about four inches of the ground has thawed. If the ground was fully thawed there’s no way I would have chanced going down the road. It would have been impassable but for a National Guard 6×6 or bulldozer.

My Ford F250 Super Duty 4X4 with marginal tire tread could handle the 4 inches of mud, but not much more. I switched the truck into 4×4 High and off I went to the beach.

Ahern State Park NH Beach

This was to be my office location for the next 90 minutes. It was so windy! You’re looking at ice-covered Lake Winnisquam and my house is directly behind the large tree trunk but up the lake about two miles.

Gale-Force Wind

I got out of my truck and found myself in the middle of a fierce gale. Yes, you can have a gale with no rain and no clouds.

“No problem. I can get my water bottle up in the tree with no issues.” I’ve gotten pretty good at throwing my water bottle up 40 or 50 feet as my friend Jim Cluett will attest to. Here’s how I do it on a normal breezy day:

But today, Mother Nature decided to bat at it like a cat toying with a frightened mouse. Each time I’d throw it up, the wind would catch it and blow it sideways about 8 feet.

I lost count of how many throws it took. Four times the fierce wind carried the lanyard string onto the top of a chain-link fence. Its talons at the top grabbed the string and I had to use my walking pole to help get it off the fence each time.

I struggled for 25 minutes to get the antenna up. Each time the string from my Trident finger reel, water bottle, and antenna got more covered with mud. It was frustrating and had Jim been with me I would have no doubt asked if he had any suggestions!

Ahern State Park NH beach

You can see the wind putting a belly in my antenna. Cold air from Canada is on its way. Today is the last warm day for ten days or more.

Finally On the Air

I was in the truck setting up my Elecraft KX2 with the Elecraft paddles at 1805Z. My 3 Ah BioennoPower battery was called upon today to send my Cool Waves into the ether. The 29-foot wire antenna and the 9:1 unun once again delivered a perfect SWR of 1:1.0. Life doesn’t get much better. Well, I could have had two dark chocolate pecandes and a companion to log for me but I didn’t.

It didn’t take long for the hunters to find me. I started out on 20 meters on 14.058 MHz. That’s close to the 14.060 MHz low-powered watering hole. I always do low-powered, or QRP, radio for these activations.

Jim, W1PID, was my second contact and I put eleven other operators in my logbook while on 20 meters. Twenty meters was pretty good and I was having little trouble hearing operators today. What’s interesting about making contact with Jim is he was at home just about five miles as the bird flies directly across the lake. Normally my signal would have traveled over him so the only way, I think, we heard each other was by a ground wave.

One of my 20-meter contacts was Bill, K4NYM. He was out activating a park himself. He was at K-6297. The park-to-park contacts are getting more frequent as the POTA program continues to attract operators who love doing outdoor radio as I do.

Switching Bands

Different radio frequencies tend to have different characteristics. Twenty meters is preferred by many for long-distance communications. A signal on twenty meters can easily travel many thousands of miles.

If you want to contact operators who may be within 1,000 miles of you it’s best to try a higher frequency like 40 meters. There were quite a few hunters at home who were waiting for me to make the move.

I switched to 7.030 MHz on 40 meters and ended up contacting eight other operators. One was Peter Kobak, K0BAK. I was thrilled to hear him! I’ve never met Peter in person but feel like he’s an old friend. Peter and I were pretty active in the National Parks on the Air event in 2016. He was, and still is, a true road warrior going out to activate countless parks. He’s even outfitted a used TV-news van for the purpose.

I was lucky enough to make contact with N8EU on 40 meters. He was also activating a park! He was at K-2940.

W3ATB Ahern SP Logbook

Here’s my Rite in the Rain logbook page for the activation. These are the best logbooks in the world. There are numerous sizes and formats and the paper is waterproof. You can actually write in thee in the pouring rain. Lots of fun!

After 45 minutes I had exhausted the hunters and no one else wanted to work me. I decided to pack up and go get the mud off everything, including my truck. It really needed a bath.

I can tell you that I’m happy to be doing POTA and KFF activations again. It’s great to get familiar call signs in the logbook. As Jim taught me years ago, “It’s simply magic.” Yes, it is.

Ellacoya State Park K 2651 Parks on the Air

Ellacoya State Park

I did a Parks on the Air (POTA) and a World Wide Flora & Fauna (WFF) radio activation from this park today. I expected a pileup and wasn’t disappointed.

Today was a remarkable weather day here in central New Hampshire. It got up to 61 F but to us locals, it felt like a sweltering 90 F summer day. When you’ve been tolerating below-freezing weather for months, anytime you get sunshine and temperatures in the 60s with snow still on the ground, it’s hot for New Hampshire.

Meredith Weather March 11 2021

I was drooling to get outdoors to do low-powered radio. My last outdoor radio adventure was just six weeks ago for Winter Field Day and it was a balmy 10 F that day.

I’ve known for days that spring is just around the corner because the chipmunks have been skittering around my house and yesterday I stood outside and soaked myself in the sounds of a morning dove cooing. It was almost surreal to be standing in the sun without a heavy jacket on. Spring traditionally comes late to New England.

Back From the Dead

I decided to treat myself to an outdoor radio adventure doing an activation of one of New Hampshire’s state parks. I selected Ellacoya State Park because it’s only a 30-minute drive from my house and there was a possibility I could be operating from the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee soaking up the sun.

Ellacoya State Park is on the south shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, better known as the Big Lake. It’s got 72 square miles of surface area. The only issue is that the entrance to Ellacoya is just off a major roadway, Route 11. The torrid WX yesterday brought out the motorcycle enthusiasts just and it drew me outdoors. I had a very hard time hearing the radio signals over the roaring throaty Harleys that would zoom past every 90 seconds or so.

Lake Winnipesaukee New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee – It’s still covered with ice, but it’s getting thinner. I predict ice out on April 13, 2021. This is the view I would have had while doing radio had I wanted to trudge through the snow. I opted not to do this. Easy access to the beach parking lot was blocked. It was a stunning bluebird day as you can see.

Ellacoya State Park NH

I wasn’t about to walk all the way to the beach from here. See where the snow ends? You need to walk through the woods another 100 yards or more post-holing all the way so when you get there your pants and boots are soaked. My mentor Jim Cluett might do it, but not me. Not today.

Back five years ago I experienced my first park activation with two of my mentors, Jim Cluett and Dave Benson. We activated St. Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire as part of the enormously successful National Parks on the Air all-year event in 2016.

After that day, I was hooked. I went on to activate 30+ more parks all across the USA in 2016. Many of those stories are here on the blog. Just type NPOTA into my search engine to locate them.

The following year, 2017, I extended the run getting involved in the fledgling POTA and WFF programs. I quickly discovered these two groups didn’t yet have the critical mass to keep my interest so I stopped activating parks near my home.

Until today, that is. I had seen months ago on social media that both groups had grown significantly, especially POTA, and I was certain today would bring back the excitement I used to feel as my radio speaker would explode with incoming signals from other operators who wanted credit for contacting me.

Ellacoya State Park NH

This is where I decided to set up because the gate to the beach was locked. The tall tree next to the flagpole is what supported my antenna.

Ninety Minutes and 28 Contacts

I decided to be on the air at 1 PM local time and just play radio for 90 minutes. I figured that would satisfy my appetite. My normal setup is either my Elecraft KX2 or Elecraft KX3, using a 4.5 Ah BioennoPower lithium-iron-phosphate battery. Today I opted to use my Elecraft KX2.

Elecraft KX2

I was sitting in my truck doing the activation. The front was pointed south and the sun was pouring in. At first, the radio was in the sun and it overheated causing the electronic keyer to send Morse code fast then slow then fast. Once I figured out it was a heat issue, I moved it into the shade on my lap. Everything calmed down within minutes. I started out using the paddles on the radio and when the keyer started having a hissy fit, I switched to my micro Pico Paddles that are on the BioennoPower battery.

My antenna is a simple 29-foot wire that dangles from a tree branch. I attach a 9:1 unun to the end of the wire to help tame the resistance and keep the radio happy.

Ellacoya State Park NH

That tall tree was going to support my antenna.

Ellacoya State Park NH

My lanyard string is all laid out and I’m ready to hurl my water bottle up and over the top of the tree. My first throw was perfect. See my Trident Finger Real at the top of the photo in the snow? My antenna wire is still on it tied to the string. It will all make sense in a moment when you watch the video below to see how I do it.

Once I was on the air, the magic happened. I had posted on the POTA website that I was going to be at Ellacoya State Park, so lots of operators were at home waiting for me to get on the air. The operators at home are called hunters and they lust for new parks they’ve never put in their logbooks. The New Hampshire parks haven’t been activated that many times so you can expect lots of activity.

Jess W6LEN From California

Back in 2017 after NPOTA was over and I was doing lots of POTA parks, I became virtual friends with Jess Guaderrama, W6LEN. Jess has been doing radio for 65 years and he was instrumental in me activating many parks in Oregon and California that summer. You can find all of those stories here just typing POTA into the search engine here on this website.

As soon as I got on the air at 1:00 PM, other operators were clawing at each other to make contact with me. We call it a pileup quite similar to what happens on a football field with players trying to get at a fumbled ball.

I wish I would have had a video camera on me when I heard, W6LEN come through the KX2’s speaker. “There’s Jess! WOO HOO!” It was such a thrill to work him and I said a quick “Hello” as I knew the other operators waiting for me wouldn’t much like Jess and me to chew the fat.

The Europeans

Both POTA and WFF have really caught the attention of radio operators all over the world. I was stunned to make contact today with operators in Germany, France, and Finland. I hope it’s as thrilling for them as it is for me.

W3ATB logbook Ellacoya State Park

This is my logbook from the activation. I’ll transcribe it to make it look neater and submit all this data so all operators get credit for making contact with me.

Time Disappeared

The ninety minutes vaporized. It felt like I was on the air for only ten minutes. That’s what happens when you do these activations and you have lots of operators trying to contact you. I find it hard to verbalize how much fun it is. It used to be stressful, but now I just answer each operator as I can.

I’ve decided to get back into the POTA and WFF activation game and as Jess said to me, “He’s back from the dead.” You’ll see more stories about my activation adventures as the year progresses.

Author’s Note: A week after the activation I got a wonderful QSL card from Andy Lach, KD9KHA. It turns out Andy is quite the artist. Look for yourself.

His card made my day as I wondered, “How many people in the USA received something in the mail today that was hand-drawn just for them? Ten, a hundred, even two hundred?”

I can assure you, it wasn’t many.