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:

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