Amateur Radio Fox Hunts?

This blog has been primarily about backpacking, hiking and camping since I started writing about 15 months ago. However, from the beginning, it was intended to cover amateur radio as well. In recent months I’ve been incorporating some amateur radio-related topics -slowly but surely I’m developing my radio legs! 😉

Most original readers are hikers and backpackers, but several are also amateur radio operators with an interest in the outdoors as well. More recently many newer readers are radio operators first, but quite a few are also hikers and backpackers. Many of the original readers know nothing about amateur radio -just like me 18 months ago! My guess is that over the next six months my readership will grow in the radio demographic, and I expect over half of them will be primarily low-power, QRP radio operators who take their radio(s) into the outdoors -combining their radio and hiking/backpacking pursuits. One big, happy family sharing their adventures on the trail along with their varied radio-related technologies, applications and adventures.

My regular readers come from the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom, but some appear from some of the most unexpected places on earth. I don’t know how they find me, but I appreciate them, one and all. Many are bloggers, and I learn something from them with every post I read -they’ve all been at it for awhile! They describe new hikes that I will someday take just because I read their blog, or their descriptions of new radio technologies they are using, sometimes experimentally. Things I am considering doing, largely because of their blog documentation. I compare notes and experiences. It’s actually exciting!

I do enjoy hiking and backpacking, and plan to continue with it as long as possible.  A couple of years ago however, I decided I’d incorporate amateur radio into the hiking activities. I knew it would take awhile, but last fall I purchased a Yaseu FT-817ND Multi-Mode Portable Transceiver that provides low-power output -a QRP unit providing up to 5 watts of power output. It will operate on the 160-10 meter HF bands, plus the 6 meter, 2 meter and 70 cm bands, while including single side band (SSB) and digital modes like PSK31 which I plan to use at some point in the future. And this is just a partial list of features. This ‘low-power’ radio can make connections hundreds and thousands of miles distant, depending upon frequencies used, mode and solar conditions. The 817ND is known as ‘The Ultimate Backpacker!’ The entire package weighs in at 2.58 lbs. (1.17 kg.) The light weight is important to backpackers and hikers. Higher power radios require bigger batteries, and they get heavy fast!

These low-power, QRP radios require only a small battery, antenna and possibly a small portable solar collector to recharge the battery (another few pounds) -and they’re ready to go. I’ve already got the batteries, parts for my home-brew antenna, but no solar collector yet for the 817. Getting close!

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the fox hunt. I like a good introduction to the main topic, and we’re almost there! One more connection between the radios and hiking/backpacking –Summits On The Air (SOTA).

I’ve discussed (SOTA) activities in recent posts, where a transceiver (transmitter and receiver) like the 817,  is carried to a mountaintop/high overlook site to  make contacts with other amateur operators below, for miles around. In SOTA contests the planned site activations are published for SOTA followers to follow, thus publicizing the event (time/place/frequency, etc.)  See 2017 North America SOTA Events  posted on 1-5-17 by Bob K0NR.  An activator activates the mountain top by transmitting on the planned frequency, and chasers are on the ground below trying to find (chase) the activators radio signals and make contact. The contacts may range from 10 or 20 miles to hundreds or even thousands -depending upon equipment, frequency, mode and solar conditions. Name, call sign, and signal reports are exchanged and documented in a log for personal and contest purposes.

Many bloggers post about their activations, like this one describing the First SOTA Activation of Mount Richthofen (12,940′).  SOTA will be another one of  my connections between hiking, backpacking and amateur radio. I’m studying to upgrade my license to General within the next couple of months, which will allow me broader access to the radio frequency spectrum.

As I get older and the hikes shorter, I can spend more time on the radio in the great outdoors, meeting people across the country and beyond our borders via radio, making friends and learning about other great places to visit -all the while improving my radio skills! Perhaps I’ll even improve my Spanish!

As for the amateur radio fox hunt, referenced above -it’s simply another way for me to connect my expanding radio knowledge with the great outdoors while including more opportunities to meet new friends, and use the radio technology in new ways in everyday life. More options and choices are always good, they keep life interesting!

Fox Hunts are centered on Radio Direction Finding (RDF). During World War II considerable effort was expended on identifying secret transmitters in the United Kingdom (UK) by using radio direction finding. The secret transmissions were often sent by German agents.

Hidden transmitter hunting can be done mobile or on foot, out in the woods or in the middle of small towns or large cities; even by air. You must to be able to read maps and take/set bearings, in addition to using radio technology- transmitters, receivers, antennas and more. It can be a complicated undertaking or a relatively simple exercise, but either way it requires radio and orienteering skills –maps, compass/GPS and triangulation, and radio equipment. Many of the conventional skills used by hikers and backpackers are used in RDF. And as you might guess, special equipment has been developed to facilitate RDF, home-built varieties as well as commercially available equipment.

Amateur radio operators use RDF to find jamming stations, locate lost hikers (search and rescue), and even to find stolen equipment. Preppers and survivalists may use RDF techniques to monitor their surroundings for unusual radio frequency interference and/or to help hide their radio transmissions via limiting their transmitting power, altering frequencies used and time of transmission. They may use directional antennas and mobile positions –tactics also used by military and police forces globally as well. It’s a cat and mouse game, sometimes referred to as wolf and hound. A recommended paperback reference on RDF is: Transmitter Hunting: Radio Direction Finding Simplified, by Moell and Curlee, 1987.

Amateur Radio Direction Finding is also known as ARDF. There are international radio-orienteering rules for competitions, and many amateur radio clubs in the U.S and throughout the world sponsor their own competitions, usually known as ‘fox hunts’ utilizing various frequency bands in the radio spectrum.

As an example, the ‘York Region (GTA) Fox Hunt 2 – 17′ is scheduled to take place on March 25th, 2017 in a small town just north of Toronto. Start time is 9:00 a.m, duration of the hunt is not to exceed 2 hours, and the Fox must transmit using 1 watt power output. The Hounds start at a local McDonalds. Transmit frequency and boundaries of the hunt are also specified, along with complete contest rules. Further information is available here.

In the case of the above Fox Hunt in Canada, ARRL has information available regarding U.S citizens transmitting from Canada. The US and Canada share an automatic reciprocal operating agreement. US amateurs must carry proof of their US citizenship and their valid US amateur license. Identification for US amateurs is their US call separated by a stroke and the appropriate Canadian prefix identifier (e.g. N1KB/VE3).

Canada-United States Reciprocal Operating Agreement

International Operating- Overview

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Photos credit to wiki.org

Amateur Radio Fox Hunters

Amateur Radio Fox Hunters

 

ARRL sponsored Fox Hunt

ARRL sponsored Fox Hunt

 

Learning how to hunt

Learning how to hunt.

 

DF setup

DF setup

 

DF Triangulation

DF Triangulation

 

Mobile DF Shack

Mobile DF Shack

 

The hunt is on

The hunt is on!

 

Radio Direction Finder Operator, Marine Corps

Radio Direction Finder Operator, Marine Corps – MOS2622

 

Wolfhound in the field

Wolfhound in the field

 

73 de Mike, KEØGZT

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I want to go snowshoeing…

I think I heard the other day that Chicago hasn’t had any snow this winter… boo-hoo, boo-hoo! I’ll have to call my friend Jon in Madison, to see how their winter has been, in terms of snow. We had a decent dump early in December, followed by a week of extremely cold weather -which I missed due to my surgery! But that initial snow all melted within a couple of weeks. Since then, it’s been almost like April. No snow. We got an inch the other night, but it was all gone before noon the next day!  This coming weekend is forecast to have 50-60 degree highs. I haven’t had my snowshoes on yet this year!

Last week my physical therapy was scheduled to end on Friday. The forecast was for a foot or more of fresh powder on Thursday night and Friday. I went to my Wednesday therapy session and cancelled my Friday session. The woman behind the desk said they were getting quite a few cancellations because people didn’t want to go out on the bad roads, and she understood! I laughed, and told her I wanted to go snowshoeing! It would sure beat the hell out of a half hour on the treadmill – I knew that!

The therapists and RN’s had a brief celebration/graduation party for me completing (almost) my therapy sessions… kazoos, singing, hugs, good byes, and good lucks! All Fun! All great folks, but I was glad to be leaving! Alas, the storm track shifted south by a hundred miles and we got nothing, nada, zip! So no snowshoeing yet this year! I’m bummed!

March has a reputation for often being very snowy in Minnesota, although it doesn’t look like it within the next week. But I haven’t given up! Thus, I’m stuck with telling you about a great snowshoeing weekend back in 2013… only because I have a few pictures documenting the event.

The Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) sponsored a group snowshoeing hike, probably in January or February that year, and a friend of mine -Tom L. was the designated leader of the event! It took my wife and me about five minutes to decide that we didn’t want to miss that one! There was plenty of snow, and the event was planned for a section of trail near Cove Point Lodge, one of our favorite North Shore haunts -especially in the winter.

It would be about a four hour drive on a Friday evening, to reach Cove Point Lodge. The group would begin the ‘snow-hike’ at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. Cove Point Lodge is about an 90 minutes north of Duluth on Hwy 61. We got a nice room and a complimentary bottle of wine at a good price. We were happy campers, and warm in our room!

Coincidentaly, I’d met the group leader, Tom L., four years earlier when he co-led (with Dick Z.), a SHT-group on a week-long backpacking trip (also sponsored by SHTA) over a fantastic section of the SHT (Caribou Wayside to Tettegouche). I’ve hiked more miles (winter and summer) with Tom over the past 8-9 years than I’d care to calculate… but we’ve had lots of good time and miles together! [That original hike where we all met in 2009 is described here.]   -The first of three posts describing the entire week-long backpacking trip.

So early Saturday morning the group met outside Cove Point Lodge, and we staged some vehicles to get us back to our starting point after we completed the ‘snow-hike.’ We gathered for a group picture before we hit the trail (below). Tom and I are in gray jackets, front and center, Judy to my right. It was a great day, lots of snow, and we had to keep moving to stay warm!

 

Group gathering to snowshoe a section of SHT -2013

Group gathering to snowshoe a section of the Superior Hiking Trail -2013

 

Judy and I snowshoeing on SHT

Judy and I snowshoeing on the Superior Hiking Trail

 

A beautiful day on the trail!

A beautiful day on the trail!

 

A quiet day in the woods!

And a quiet day in the woods!

 

I volunteered to be the ‘sweep’ on this hike. It’s the sweep’s job to make sure no one gets left behind, or lost on the trail. After a short while, I found myself following an older couple, and it was the woman’s first time snowshoeing. I had helped her get her very old, rented snowshoes on before we got started. She followed behind her husband, who demonstrated no patience for her along the trail. Following behind her, I could see when her straps were getting loose and help tighten them before her snowshoes fell off. After a couple of stops, her husband began yelling at her and I told him not to worry about it           – ‘Just relax and enjoy the hike.’  She was having a good time, but we were moving pretty slowly; which was just fine, it wasn’t a race after all!

 

The 'sweep' makes sure everyone finishes

The ‘sweep’ makes sure everyone finishes and enjoys to journey!

 

After a couple of hours, I figured we must be getting close to the vehicles we’d staged at a parking lot/trailhead -our day’s destination! As we rounded a turn I spotted Judy heading toward us up ahead. She was wondering where we were and how everything was going. I introduced her to the couple I was with and we chatted a bit before continuing along. She had said we were getting close to the trailhead. It wasn’t long and I spotted Tom coming down the trail toward us. He was looking for us too. He told us everyone had reached the trailhead and departed in their vehicles. ‘No problem,’ I said.

When we arrived at the parking lot, Tom’s vehicle was there to take us all back to our starting point. The older couple was telling him what fun they had doing the snowshoe hike, and the woman kept thanking me for being so patient with her and helping her with her snowshoes. She really appreciated my help, and they both had a great time.

I really enjoyed the entire experience, and was glad I’d been able to help the older couple enjoy their outing. Since then, I’ve volunteered to be ‘sweep’ on several other hikes. As ‘sweep,’ it seems I usually end up following younger or older, less-experienced hikers, and I don’t mind following slowly, often taking pictures along the route.

However, I don’t like being ‘sweep’ on SHT-group backpacking trips. On the SHT-group hikes, you’d usually hike with strangers with varied skill-levels. In fact, I think they have stopped offering the group backpacking trips due to the uncertainties of hiker competence, etc. I like keeping up a good pace, taking short breaks, and arriving at my daily destination in a timely manner. I don’t like carrying a heavy pack any longer than necessary.  And as described in the 2009 hike above,  some hikers need a sweep, and some shouldn’t even be out on the trail as they can be a risk to themselves as well as others on the hike. (Don’t confuse Boston John (’09 hike) with my friend Madison Jon, referenced above.)

Here’s hoping for heavy snows in March… the more, the merrier! I think 18″-20″ of fresh powder would be great! And if we get lucky, I’ll be sure to get lots of pictures for the blog post! And this spring, I’ll start getting some radio-oriented adventures posted as well!

Think snow! 😉

73,  de Mike, KEØGZT

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Climbing Mount Katahdin

Mount Katahdin is located in Baxter State Park, about 100 miles north of Bangor, Maine. The Park covers more than 200,000 acres. Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine, at 5,268 feet. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT)See Mt Katahdin map here (see AbolTrailhead .pdf to view Katahdin Stream Campground and the Hunt Trail to Baxter Peak -aka Katahdin peak).

My wife and I had some nice travel plans for the summer of 2014. I’d planned to solo-hike a section of the AT in New Hampshire and then meet my wife Judy, for a week in Acadia National Park, up in Maine. After Acadia, she would fly home and I’d go up north a hundred miles or so (from Bangor) and climb Mount Katahdin.

My plan was to hike the AT from Franconia Notch north to Crawford Notch, through the Presidential Range to Pinkham Notch, all in the White Mountains of New Hampshire -approximately 55 miles.

Liberty Spring Trail

Franconia Notch and Liberty Spring Trail

 

The trail to Franconia Ridge

The trail up to Franconia Ridge

 

Wooden platforms serve as tent pads

Wooden platforms serve as tent pads

 

I was carrying about 60 # in my backpack including four liters of water. It was hot and humid, and the hike was steep and tough -lots of bouders and rocks along the trail. Alas, I injured my knee, and after a few days I decided to abort the AT portion of the trip. I thought it best to get out while I could under my own power since I was hiking solo. [This is a good example of why people always tell you not to hike solo. I usually hike in a group,  but if they can’t make it, I’ll often go it alone.] Anyway, I hiked down to catch a shuttle back to my vehicle, about a four or five hour ordeal. I’d never experienced any problems with my knees in the past, so this was very frustrating and disappointing to say the least.

Judy’s airline reservation, and our lodging reservation in Bar Harbor were still a few weeks out yet, as was my camping reservation in Baxter State Park, near the Katahdin trailhead.  I called my daughter in Washington, D.C. to see if I could drive down and visit over Labor Day weekend. She said they would be in town, and they had room for me, so I decided to head south and visit our nation’s capitol. I could visit my daughter, rest the knee a bit, and also hike around and see the sights in Washington. Thus, while I missed out on my AT adventure,  the rest of the trip was salvaged!

 

Father and daughter seeing the sights

Father and daughter seeing the sights in Washington, D.C.

 

After spending five days in Washington, I determined my knee was ‘healed,’ and it was time to get back on the road. I headed back north toward Maine.

I made a camping reservation for three nights in Baxter State Park that would cover me until my reservation at Katahdin Stream Campground opened up. I ended up camping on the north side of Mount Katahdin, at South Branch Pond Campground, which was about an hours drive from the Katahdin Stream Campground. I took the Hunt Trail to the peak. The Abol Trail is steeper and entails crossing a lot of scree fields.

 

Mount Katahdin in the distance

Mount Katahdin in the distance, viewed from the south

 

I drove north from Bangor, through Milllinocket to enter Baxter State Park. I’d recommend a couple of maps: 1) Main Mountains Trail Map w/ ‘Baxter State Park -Katahdin’ on one side and the ‘100-Mile Wilderness on reverse side, available from Appalachian Mountain Cub – ISBN 978-1-934028-57-5.  2) Baxter State Park, Mount Katahdin and Katahdin Iron Works, Trail/Topo Map by National Geographic.

Arriving at South Branch Pond Campground, I set up camp immediately since it was overcast with light showers. It had been a lot of driving and I planned to hit the sack early.

 

South Branch Pond Campground

South Branch Pond Campground, Baxter State Park, Maine

 

Tent set up, time for a quick meal

Spacious tent set up, time for a quick meal and a walk around the campground.

 

Practice hikes to check the knee

Practice hikes to check the knee

 

Beautiful country to enjoy

Beautiful country to enjoy

 

Boulders and scree always make it interesting

Boulders and scree always make it interesting, just follow the blue blaze.

 

The knee feels good on the trail

The knee feels good on the trail.

 

Lower South Branch Pond (1)

Lower South Branch Pond, Baxter State Park, Maine. (1)

 

Lower South Branch Pond

Lower South Branch Pond, Baxter State Pond, Maine. (2)

 

Great hiking

Great hiking. I’m ready for Katahdin!

 

My knee feels good. Time to pack up and move to Katahdin Stream Campground on the south side of the mountain.  I just hope the weather is good; there’s a lot of rock to climb!

 

Campsite at Katahdin Stream Campground

Campsite at Katahdin Stream Campground, Baxter State Park, Maine

 

Katahdin from the Campground

Mount Katahdin, seen from the Campground.

 

I planned an early start in the morning, just after sunrise.  I’d hike the Hunt Trail up to the peak. Carrying a light daypack with raingear, warm jacket, hat and gloves, first aid kit, water filter, headlamp w/ extra batteries, energy bars, three liters of water, bear spray, pocket knife, map and compass, and my hiking poles. Lets do this!

 

Katahdin Stream crossing

Katahdin Stream crossing.

 

Looks like a good day and no rain!

Looks like a good day and no rain!

 

Leaving the forest

Leaving the forest, starting to climb

 

Getting scenic

Getting scenic

 

Still hiking in the shade!

Still hiking in the shade!

 

Follow the white blaze

Follow the white blaze

 

A father and son climbing

A father and son climbing

 

Watch your step

Watch your step

 

The blazes aren't always visible

The blazes aren’t always visible. Sometimes you must search for them.

 

No handrails here.

No handrails here.

 

Almost there!

Almost there!

 

Feels good getting to the top!

Feels good getting to the top!

 

Just a little further!

Just a little further!

 

It's getting flatter, just a few rocks!

It’s getting flatter, just a few rocks!

 

Where's the top?

Where’s the top?

 

Henry David Thoreau was here!

Henry David Thoreau was here!

 

Just over the horizon!

Just over the horizon!

 

Alright, we did this!

Alright, we did this!

 

Top of Katahdin, 2014

Top of Katahdin, 2014

 

A weathered sign!

A weathered sign!

 

More boulders and scree

More boulders and scree, on top yet!

 

Watch your step, again!

Watch your step, again! This is known as the ‘Knife Edge.’

 

 Me and my shadow, we go everywhere together!

Me and my shadow, we go everywhere together!

 

Nice trail.

 

Looks different going down than it did coming up!

Looks different going down than it did coming up!

 

Glad I'm not wearing my trail runners!

Glad I’m not wearing my trail runners!

 

This must be 'the stairway from heaven.'

This must be ‘the stairway from heaven.’

 

For sure!

For sure!

 

Ahh, some shade! I can top off my water!

Ahh, some shade! I can top off my water!

 

My main concern when I began the hike, was getting back down before dark. It was not a problem at all. I was slower climbing up, and I seemed to almost fly over some sections on the way down. I was back a few hours before dark, and had plenty of time to cook a nice dehydrated meal. I even had a small fire, sipped some brandy and enjoyed a small Cohiba, as I thought about the hike, the climb and the stairway down. What a day! One of those days I’ll never forget!

And for you amateur radio operators, I’ll bet you could make some very good hf contacts from the top of Katahdin. If I ever return, I’ll be sure to have my 817ND and a couple long wires. I’m sure it would be amazing!

73  de Mike, KEØGZT

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