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.

Cannon Mountain Intense DX

echo lake nh franconia notch state park

You’re looking at the infamous Franconia Notch as Jim and I ride up the tram to the top of Cannon Mountain. Out west they call these passes. I-93 passes right by Echo Lake and then starts to go downhill towards the Great North Woods in the upper left of the photo. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

“Tell me everything.”

That’s what I heard when I answered the phone yesterday morning. It was my pal and good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID. He wanted to know how we could take advantage of a stunning summer day here in central NH. The forecast was for 80 F and sunny skies.

We both know from experience that in just a few short months we’ll be longing for a warm sunny day as the November cold rains turn into dreadful December snow and ice.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to ride the tram up to the top of Cannon Mountain to work some European radio stations,” I spoke through my new Motorola G7 smartphone.

lafayette mountain

This tiny panoramic photo doesn’t do justice as what your eyes see when looking out across from Cannon Mountain to the majestic Lafayette Mountain on the other side of Franconia Notch. I KNEW we’d have a giant dish of eye candy waiting for us once we exited the tram. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

“What time are we leaving?” Jim blurted out after a momentary pause. His brain was whirring away at the possibilities the adventure might produce. Cannon Mountain is one of the top destinations because of the spectacular views and elevation achieved so easily by the 6-minute tram ride to the top.

He was so surprised by my suggestion he would have left right then if we could have.

mt lafayette nh

This is but one reason Jim was excited to leave to get to Cannon Mountain. This is the view you get of Mt. Lafayette just across from where you sit on the granite ledge. You feel as if you can reach out and touch it. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

What’s So Special About Cannon Mountain?

Cannon Mountain is a spectacular feature in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Old Man of the Mountain used to be on its eastern face, but he crashed to the granite talus in the valley below on May 3, 2003.

The tram to the top of Cannon Mountain is part of the magic. Just about every other peak in the White Mountains you have to invest lots of effort to get to the top. The tram delivers you to the top of Cannon Mountain in about seven minutes from the parking lot!

cannon mountain tram

This is the tram car arriving into the lower base platform. It’s about to hack out passengers from the top like a bad hairball. My biggest suggestion is for the park employees to wash the windows of the tram each night. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

The Kinsman Ridge Trail

Once you arrive at the top of Cannon, you exit the tram building and walk down to the start of the loop trail. You just walk 150 feet, maybe 200, and you intersect where the Kinsman Ridge Trail comes up 1.7 miles from the bottom of the mountain.

Jim and I turned left to go down the Kinsman Ridge Trail for just another 150 feet. There we arrived at a narrow band of solid andesite granite ledge. Here we met two young women who had spent three hours getting from the bottom of the mountain to the top.

kinsman ridge trail

This is the last small section of the Kinsman Ridge Trail just below the summit of Cannon Mountain. These two young ladies were coming up from below just as Jim and I arrived. They had left the trailhead below three hours before but were so fit they looked like they had only been hiking ten minutes. Jim’s hair and shorts telegraph to you how breezy it was up there. I’d estimate a sustained 20 mph wind was blowing from the south. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

Lunch and The Antenna

It was 1 pm when we arrived at the vista point. Both of us were hungry, but I had brought no food. There’s a restaurant in the giant tram station at the top of Cannon, but Jim had offered me half of his vegan sandwich carefully prepared and wrapped in wax paper by his thoughtful wife.

I had never had a vegan sandwich and was terrified there could be wretched green peppers in it. I hate green peppers more than I hate sandworms, especially the ones on Venus.

Jim assured me there were no green peppers and I used my favorite Sog Flash II pocketknife to divide the sandwich in two using the plastic Tupperware® top as a cutting board. The sandwich was delicious, and I wished there were three more.

w3atb and w1pid

I’m in the sunglasses. Jim has the baseball cap on. You can see how serious amateur radio can be when DX QRP contacts are on the line! Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

It’s important to realize that radio communications can be quite serious business. After all, an operator might travel a great distance, set up his equipment in less than ideal conditions only to discover the solar activity has rendered the atmosphere into a slothful sack of ions that have no interest in bouncing our radio signals to other parts of the world.

One thing I’ve discovered in the years of going on radio adventures with Jim is that each contact we make with another operator, especially ones thousands of miles away in Europe, is to be savored like the finest gourmet ice cream or candy one might get at Aglamesis Bro’s in Cincinnati, OH.

If you hear a station when they are few and far between on the bands, you want to capture them at any cost because you might not hear anyone else. It’s the same when given the opportunity to taste delicious candy. Fortunately, in the case of great candy, you can get it anytime you want. Aglamesis Bro’s will ship their delicious delights to all points in the USA. Oh what I would have given for a dark chocolate pecande yesterday, but I digress.

After eating, we immediately set up our antenna. We used Jim’s featherlight expanding fiberglass cane pole to hold up a 29-foot thin wire. It was in the shape of an inverted V. One end was tied around a small juniper branch and the other end I tied off to a loop at the top of Jim’s backpack using his explicit directions.

inverted v antenna

It might be hard to see the two thin wires, but they’re there. Being up 4,100 feet above sea level sure helps get our signal out and also allows us to better capture other radio transmissions. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

The antenna wires were flapping in the wind, but they never came loose. Jim connected the one end of the wire to his 9:1 unun and a short coax cable went from it to his Elecraft KX-3. The radio was powered by a small Bioenno 3Ah lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery.

Did You Hear Lots of Stations?

Jim turned on his radio and started out on 20 meters. Twenty meters is the go-to band for long-distance contacts. It was as quiet as a graveyard at three in the morning. Radio operators often lament this condition as the bands being dead.

w1pid cannon mountain

Here’s Jim trying to find other stations on the HF bands. When the weather is this nice, you don’t want to waste these days target shooting, that’s for sure! Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

“Tim, there’s not one signal on 40 meters!”

“Well, did you try 30 meters?” I asked.

“Nothing. There’s nothing on 30 meters.”

“How about 17 meters?” I inquired.

“I checked already. Nothing there either.”

It was looking like a repeat of three days earlier when Jim and I had traveled south to Salem, Massachusetts to help out a special event station. We spent 90 minutes on the air that morning and got skunked. I was in a foul mood driving home that day!

w3atb cannon mountain

Here I am working Bert in France. I had to tilt back my wide-brimmed Duluth Trading hat and drop my sunglasses so Jim could see my eyes. Why was I complaining about lack of food? Hells bells, I’ve got enough under the lower part of my t-shirt to last two weeks or more. Maybe three! Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett W1PID

Bert to the Rescue

Moments later Jim got back on 20 meters and there was our dear friend Bert, F6HKA doing Morse code with another operator. Bert lives in France. What a delight to do DX from Cannon with a tiny radio and low power!

Jim and Bert have conversed countless times and he’s such a gentleman, Bert that is. Jim’s a great guy too, but always keep in mind his priorities when doing outdoor radio!

We both got to work Bert and we were relieved that we avoided the skunk. It’s always fun to send your callsign to Bert and he comes back with, “FB Tim”. FB means fine business in CW or Morse code.

Just as we equate immediately Bert’s callsign to his name, he does with us. This comradery is part of the attraction to the ham radio hobby. Keep in mind many of us have never met face-to-face.

Just after working Bert a husband and wife, we think, came up the trail from below. They were tired but astonished we were able to do ham radio from a mountain.

Germany!

When you set a low-powered radio in front of my dear friend Jim and do it in a stunning outdoor setting on a day where the sky is so blue it hurts your eyes to look at it, be prepared for an almost zen-like experience. Jim convinced me years ago that outdoor radio is magic and I don’t dispute it for a second.

“You know, I think we possibly take it for granted that we can just come out here to an outcrop, set up our radios, and make contact with others across the Atlantic Ocean. When strangers see us do this no doubt they’re very very curious,” I mused.

Seconds later a strong signal was heard! It was a special event station in Germany of all places, DM19BUGA. It was celebrating a national garden exhibition in Heilbronn, Germany. The operator was sending Morse quite fast, most certainly above 20 words per minute.

dm19buga

Here’s the special event QSL card you might get in the mail if you made contact with DM19BUGA. It’s gorgeous and Jim loves flowers. Copyright 2019 DM19BUGA

You can’t allow an operator like this to escape and he had a minor pileup happening. A pileup is when multiple stations answer another station’s signal at the same time. Stronger stations almost always overpower low-powered stations like us. Remember, we were transmitting at a power level, around 5 watts, that you might use to make a night light glow!

Seconds later a dad and his son came up the trail. The dad was most interested in our setup and I started to answer his questions as Jim focused all his energy on trying to make contact with the German operator.

With the wind blowing, and the real possibility that the German station’s signal could disappear into the ether, the intensity level grew faster than a speeding bullet. We HAD to make contact with the German station, but at the same time, I was trying to be polite to the hikers.

Looking back, I should have probably had a simple laminated sign that read, “Ham Radio – Harmful RF Waves – Move Along RAPIDLY for your Safety”. Nah, that’s too scary.

I think I’m going to have some small business cards printed up that say:

INTENSE Radio Comms in Progress

Please go to https://w3atb.com/qrp for details about what you see, especially a video about how the antenna was put far up in the air.

CLICK or TAP HERE to see all of the photos from our adventure yesterday.

Winnipesaukee River Trail Radio Adventure

W1PID and W3ATB

Jim is wearing the ball cap with the Elecraft KX2 in his hand. I’m deeply entranced with the selfie phone making sure both of us are in the frame. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter

Today my mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, took me to one of his favorite hidden places to operate. We were along the bank of the Winnipesaukee River near the boundary of Tilton and Franklin, NH.

We had to hike about 1/4 mile along an abandoned spur of the Boston & Maine Railroad line. The mainline tracks have been removed and a hiking and bicycle trail now runs where steam engines used to travel loaded with freight and passengers back in the 1800s.

The parking lot, as well as the trail, had an abundance of wild daisies, goldenrod in full bloom, and yarrow. There was also poison ivy galore. Jim and I are both very allergic and I’m always on the lookout for that wretched plant.

The portion of the trail we were walking along wasn’t that close to the river and I was wondering if we’d ever see it. Then, just as I was getting frustrated, Jim turned left at an old non-descript gated area. We headed into the forest at this point.

“Do you hear the river?” Jim exclaimed after a minute.

“You bet,” I replied.

Within minutes this is what we saw.

winnipesaukee river trail

This is looking upriver from the tiny cape we were sitting on. The sound of the rapids was quite soothing. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett

We walked down to the bank of the river and there was a small cape that stuck out into the river. I’d estimate the cape was about 25 feet in diameter.

The upstream side of the cape was protected from erosion by large boulders. Local teenagers have made it into a party location including a nice boulder that serves as a firepit.

Jim decided to try to get his halyard up to hoist the antenna. His first throw failed. I got out my water bottle and string and was fortunate to get a perfect throw. There was minimal space to belay the cord and the throw had to be just right. I’ve gotten pretty good at throwing the water bottle and within minutes the 29-foot wire antenna was dangling perfectly over a large rounded boulder we both sat on.

I politely asked Jim to connect the dangling end of the 24-gauge wire to the 9:1 unun while I unpacked the radio and other gear.

It was a hot and humid day but we were in the shade and there was a slight breeze to keep us comfortable. Luckily we heard signals as soon as we turned on my Elecraft KX2 powered up by a freshly charged BioennoPower 3 Ah LFP battery.

I let Jim use the radio first and within minutes he had snagged GB19CWC and W5LNI. Here’s a very short snippet of the conversation Jim had with W5LNI.

Getting QRP contacts using a tiny thin wire in solar minimum conditions is always a treat. We were lucky to get three total QSOs in less than 30 minutes.

w3atb

Jim captured me concentrating on Bunky’s message. He was sending a bit faster than I can copy at this time, but I got some of it. Copyright 2019 Jim Cluett

I then took control and within a few minutes had Bunky on the hook, K4EJQ. Bunky was contacting us from Bristol, TN. His signal was so strong I thought it was going to break the tiny speaker in the KX2. My tiny 5-watt signal was good enough for a 599 signal report, so that was quite nice.

We decided to pack everything up after my short conversation with Bunky. I told him we were on a hike and low power. After I publish this story, I’m going to email Bunky to let him see where we were. Often other operators are amazed at what Jim has done for years and has been kind enough to share with me – the magic of making contact with people outdoors in the most wonderful places.