Amateur Radio and Emergency Comms

First things first. Spring has arrived in the Twin Cities; at long last! I’ve got my first backpacking trip of the season roughed out. I’m looking forward to getting out on the Superior Hiking Trail with my Yaesu 817ND, a LDG 817 tuner, and a homebrew 10-40m random wire antenna using 18 ga speaker wire, a 4:1 Unun, and a counterpoise ground wire -see design by offgridham. I’ll follow-up with my results in a future post.

 

Heading for the SHT with my 817ND

Heading for the SHT with my 817ND

 

Planning the SHT trip is fun, but doing it will be GREAT. Also working out the details of hiking from Crawford Notch to Pinkham Notch along the Appalachian Trail (AT) up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire – The Presidential Range. And that’s just the start of this hiking season! Gotta get out west too!

 

Studying and planning a couple get-aways

Studying and planning a couple of get-aways is always fun!

 

I’ll also get the grand-kids out on the trail this summer. More than ever, I realize that you’ve gotta do it while you can do it. Live life to it’s fullest, and get out on the trail, out along the ridges and up on the mountain tops!

“CQ, CQ, CQ… This is KEØGZT, my handle is Mike, I’m QRP from the Section 13 dome along the SHT on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Is anyone out there? CQ, CQ, CQ. This is KEØGZT, kilo, echo, zero, golf, zulu, tango. Over!

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And now, the main event – Amateur Radio and Emergency Comms. I’ve mentioned my interest in emergency communications (and amateur radio) in past posts. I’ve also mentioned the common concern of amateur radio clubs across the country -how to grow the club membership and foster interest in the hobby -how to attract new folks to amateur radio in general, but young members in particular are sought after.  In fact, it was emergency communications that slowly drew me to amateur radio a couple of years ago. It seems to be a fairly common reason many folks are attracted to the the radio hobby. I’ve also noticed there seems to be a good presence of current/ex-military folks associated with amateur radio -that makes sense as well, speaking as ex-military myself.

I recently ran across a good article courtesy the ARRL ARES E-Letter, of April 19th. [For the non-radio folks, ARRL is the Amateur Radio Relay League – the national association for Amateur Radio. ARES is the Amateur Radio Emergency Services, which is organized and managed by ARRL’s Field Organization.]

Background -The mission of ARES is to provide communications assistance to local and regional government and relief agencies such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and National Weather Service. ARES may also assist local and regional emergency management agencies or even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) if normal communications systems fail.

The article, ‘Emergency Communications Driving Increase in Amateur Radio Operators,’ by James Careless, appeared in the April 11th issue of Emergency Management magazine.  In the article, ARRL VEC Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM, notes that 2016 was the third year in a row that the total number of new licenses exceeded 30,000. Other ARRL managers go on to reference ARES, and describe emergency communications as being a gateway into amateur radio. It is an interesting read.

I’ve met a few local radio operators in recent months who are associated with Minnesota ARES. I’ll look at joining the later part of this year. My first priority is upgrading my FCC license to General, and getting more on-air experience, thus improving my operational proficiency. My second priority is hiking and backpacking this season. My third priority is ARES!

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If you’re interested in amateur radio, but not an ARRL member, Join ARRL today!  ARRL membership includes QST, Amateur Radio’s popular and informative journal, delivered to your mailbox each month. The ARES E-Letter is published on the third Wednesday of each month. ARRL members may subscribe at no cost.

~~~~~

73, de Mike, KEØGZT

 

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Hiking Urban Wetlands

I’ve been trying to get out and do some hiking, but time seems to always be short. I’ve been getting to the gym a few times a week which is always good, but I need more of a ‘hiking-oriented’ workout, with scenic views to enjoy, and soon some climbing! The snow is gone, the trees are still bare, and traditional undergrowth has not yet greened up either. However, most trails are dry, and that’s all the incentive I need to get out the hiking boots.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been out and hiked around Wolf Lake, a wetland in suburban Minneapolis. Then I spent several hours on two separate occasions, hiking the wetlands habitat along the Minnesota River Valley just a few miles west of its confluence with the Mississippi River near historic Ft. Snelling.  Ft. Snelling includes the State Park and the National Cemetary.

The Minnesota River flows 318 miles from Ortonville in western Minnesota (near the South Dakota border) to its confluence with the Mississippi River in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Some portions are designated a Wild and Scenic River. The river valley was originally created by the glacial River Warren over 10,000 years ago. Most of Minnesota was covered by glaciers a mile deep, and they began slowly melting 10,000-20,000 years ago. The river flows through diverse terrain ranging from granite bluffs in the west to marsh lowlands in the east. There are miles of flood plain forests and vast areas of nesting habitat. Deer and game fish are abundant in many areas of the river valley.

The Army Corps. of Engineers manages the river for commercial barge traffic, while several Watershed Districts manage sections of the river and it’s adjacent drainage as to surface and groundwater quality, soil erosion and other environmental parameters. The Lower Minnesota River Watershed District Board manages the section of river from Carver County, through Scott and Dakota Counties, while Hennepin County covers much of surface and ground water drainage into the river – the lower river watershed!

I also visited Richardson Nature Center, in Hyland Lake Park Reserve, again in suburban Minneapolis, to enjoy the early spring weather.  Highland has 18 mi. of trails to hike, several small lakes, wetlands, hardwood forest, and open tall-grass prairie.  There are also wild turkeys, deer, hawks and eagles, and deer. Some wooded hills border the Highlands Hills Ski Area with its tow ropes, lifts and Olympic high jumps. Hyland Hills is just one of several Parks owned and operated by Three Rivers Park District, which consists of over 27,000 acres of Parks and Trails. I usually snowshoe there a couple of times every winter, it’s a short drive.

I brought my camera along on all hikes, and my handheld radio as well to Hyland Lake Park Reserve. Highland has some relatively high ground (the ski area) and I wanted to see what I could pick up on ‘line-of-sight’ VHF/UHF frequencies with the handheld unit. I’m not sure if I just couldn’t reach my normal repeater, or if no one was monitoring it. However, I did reach one mobile unit on a nearby highway, on 2 m FM simplex, 146.52 MHz. within a few minutes of seeking a contact. I didn’t try for others as I was headed back to the car and still looking for photo ops with the camera.

This is a unique time of the year -that short period between winter and spring. Now that you know something about each area I visited, lets look at some photos.

Day 1  -Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, NWR

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (1)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (1)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (2)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (2)

 

Minnesota River Valley (3)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (3)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (4)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (4)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (5)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (5)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (6)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (6)

 

Low-lands near the river or its backwater channels tends to flood to some extent most years during the high waters associated with spring snow-melt. Every decade of so the flooding can get severe.

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (7)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (7)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (8)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, garter snakes, National Wildlife Refuge (8)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (9)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, towboat pushing long line of barges, National Wildlife Refuge (9)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (10)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, towboat and barges, National Wildlife Refuge (10)

 

Day 2  -Wolf Lake

 

Wolf Lake (1)

Wolf Lake wetlands (1)

 

Wolf Lake (2)

Wolf Lake wetlands (2)

 

This expanse of wetlands serves as home to many small animals and game birds. The area is also home to coyotes and trails are posted, warning hikers to watch their pets. Coyotes are notorious opportunistic predators. They would attack small pets and other wild animals, even small children if the opportunity presented itself.

Many coyotes have taken up residence in parts of Minneapolis and some neighboring suburbs in recent years. They have entered these urban areas in migrations following river valleys, streams and creeks since they can often find traditional sources of food (small mammals and birds) in such areas. Then they find raccoons, squirrels and the occasional small pets, plus urban garbage in the city, and soon become permanent urban residents. Sometimes coyotes are downplayed by local police and animal humane society advocates, but they should be recognized as dangerous wild animals and treated accordingly, i.e. don’t feed them!

 

Wolf Lake (3)

Wolf Lake wetlands (3)

 

Wolf Lake (4)

Wolf Lake goose (4)

 

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (5)

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (5)

 

I always enjoy watching the blue herons and white egrets stalking dinner in the shallows of small lakes and ponds; their slow, deliberate movements and quickness to pounce when dinner is found!

 

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (6)

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (6)

 

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (7)

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (7)

 

Wolf Lake turtle sunning (8)

Wolf Lake turtle sunning (8)

 

Likewise, it’s always fun seeing painted turtles and mud turtles up on logs, out of the water and away from predators, sunning themselves on warm days. When they get warmed, they slide back into the cool water, find something to eat while they have the energy, and cool off. Then they repeat the process… what a life!

 

Wolf Lake goose (9)

Wolf Lake goose (9)

 

Wolf Lake goose (10)

Wolf Lake goose (10)

 

This fellow, and his mate, took a liking to the photographer this day. They watched as I took pictures, and swam right up to the shore where I stood.

 

Wolf Lake goose (11)

Wolf Lake goose (11)

 

Then they proceeded to exit the water heading right at me. I slowly, then not so slowly, backed up and away as I continued taking pictures. They got closer and closer, kinda right in my face… you get the idea. I eventually stood down and departed the area. Tough birds!

 

Wolf Lake goose (12)

Wolf Lake goose (12)

 

Wolf Lake more turtles sunning (13)

Wolf Lake more turtles sunning (13)

 

It should be noted that Wolf Lake is only about three blocks from one of my favorite craft breweries, Steel Toe Brewing. And my gym is about four blocks from Steel Toe in the opposite direction. Is that a coincidence or what! No, just rhetorical facts me thinks! 😉

 

Day 3  -Richardson Nature Center -Hyland Lake Park Reserve and Ski Area, part of Three Rivers Park District

 

Richardson Nature Center - Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Richardson Nature Center – Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Three Rivers Park District

 

Small saplings and larger, wind damaged trees

Small saplings and larger, wind damaged trees

 

Older branches decaying on the forest floor

Older branches decaying on the forest floor

 

Early mushrooms on a hardwood tree

Early mushrooms growing on a hardwood tree.

 

Young hardwood forest

Trail passes through a young hardwood forest.

 

Small birds are everywhere

Small birds are everywhere

 

Wetlands support a diverse array of wildlife

Wetlands support a diverse array of wildlife

 

Birdhouse up on a post, protected from predators

Birdhouse up on a post, protected from predators.

 

Oak tree surrounded by prairie grass

A stately Oak tree surrounded by prairie grass.

 

Hardwood deciduous trees border tall grasslands

Hardwood deciduous trees border tall grasslands

 

Mixed grasslands

Mixed grasslands prairie

 

Two birdhouses in the grass

Two birdhouses in the grass

 

Prairie grass seed pods and birdhouse on the hill

Prairie grass seed pods and birdhouse in the distance, on the hill.

 

Different varieties of grassland seed pods

Different varieties of grassland seed pods

 

Another variety of grassland seed pods

Another variety of grassland seed pods

 

Yet another variety of grassland seed pods

Yet another variety of grassland seed pods

 

There are some controlled prairie grass burns scheduled at Hyland Lake Park Reserve this spring. They want to get rid of some weeds and unwanted grasses. I remember seeing a ‘controlled burn’ in a State Park about five years ago when hiking with  my grandson, Charlie. I explained what was going on with the ‘controlled burn.’ A few weeks later his teacher in elementary school was talking about ‘controlled burns’ and started with a picture, asking students what they thought was happening. Charlie surprised her by explaining exactly what was going on and why. Needless to say she was surprised by what this eight year old already knew about ‘controlled burns.’ Kids theses days!

 

More turtles sunning on logs

More turtles sunning on logs. They seem to be in every body of water soaking up the sun this time of year.

 

Majestic Oak along the trail

Majestic Oak along the trail.

 

Woodland marsh with bird houses

Woodland marsh with two bird houses on posts, protected from sneaky predators.

 

Day 4  -Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, NWR   Bass Ponds and Hogback Ridge Trail

 

Bass Ponds Trail

Bass Ponds Trail (1)

 

Bass Ponds Trail

Bass Ponds Trail (2)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (1)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (2)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (3)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (4)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (5)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (6)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (7)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (8)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (9)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (10)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (11)

 

Very soon all these areas will change dramatically. When the snow melts everything is drab for a few weeks, then BANG, everything comes alive in color.

Green foliage will fill trees and brush. The tall prairie grasses will grow three – four feet tall across the prairie and colorful wild flowers will appear everywhere. Birds and butterflies will fill the air. It will look totally different -totally beautiful!

I’ll post a few shots again in 3-6 weeks to show the contrast. It’ll be amazing! Maybe I’ll get a shot of the ‘controlled burn’ as well.

73 de Mike, KEØGZT

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Spring Cleaning 2017

Yes, it’s already Spring, 2017. Time to get organized and make some plans for the upcoming hiking season, including some outdoor radio fun. While I can’t call this past winter boring, I’ll simply say, “I never even had my snowshoes on.” It was the Lost Winter of 2016-2017! I’ve been cleaning up/out my office, making room for my Ham Shack in the corner – dedicated space for radios and ancillary equipment/supplies. I’m getting organized! It will be nice.

I got an update from the Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) a few days ago, advising that the trails were still snow packed and icy, but muddy in a few areas. It’s sad to think of ‘muddy’ as being promising, but that’s where I’m at! It sounds like another three weeks minimum until I head north with my backpacking gear and radio. Needless to say, I’m getting anxious to get out on the trails again! I’ll check back w/ SHTA in a couple of weeks for an update on trail conditions.

Last weekend I attended the 36th Annual Midwinter Madness Hobby Electronics Show, aka the Buffalo Hamfest. I drove out to the Show with a couple of Ham friends, and met more friends at the Show -all members of two radio clubs I’ve joined in the past year. I was a big spender and bought a magazine and a book, but I also did a lot of window shopping and talking with folks. As for my purchases:

The February 2017 issue of CQ magazine included many articles dealing with various aspects of QRP/low-power radio operation, using HF, VHF/UHF and several modes:

– A QRP Backpacking Adventure in the High Sierra Wilderness, by K6MTS

– Guerilla QRP Portable, by Z35M

– Homing In: Results of the 2016 CQ World-Wide Foxhunting Weekend, by KØOV

– Wire Antennas: A Primer, by W6BNB

– CQ World Wide: Australia Dominates the Headlines, by AA6TS

– Emergency Communications: The Tools You Carry, by WA3UVV

– Learning Curve: Propagation, Eggs and Beacons, by KOØZ

…and much, much more!

ARRL’S HF Digital Handbook (Fourth Edition), by Steve Ford, WB8IMY will be my introduction to the world of HF Digital. I’ve heard a couple people speak about digital and I have interest in PSK-31. All I need is a dedicated laptop, a sound card and some software …I think. Several knowledgeable people in my radio clubs have recommended this book, and it was a steal at $4.

 

CQ, February 2017 -The QRP Special , and ARRL's 'HF Digital Handbook'

CQ, February 2017 -The QRP Special , and ARRL’s ‘HF Digital Handbook’

 

And of course ARRL’s General Class License Manual for Ham Radio has also been keeping me busy in my spare time. 🙂

I’m planning to attend the Brainerd Area Hamfest on April 22 at the Brainerd National Guard Armory from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’m looking forward to meeting some radio folks (hopefully hikers too) from the Brainerd area.

Then, I’d like to get up on the SHT and put on some practice miles carrying weight, as I’ve got a trip planned to backpack the Presidential Range out on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire later this summer. Radios will accompany me on all these outings.

I’ve been hiking around the city lakes and going to the gym regularly, trying to get back in shape after my heart surgery in December. Things are looking very good and I’m feeling great. But I know the Presidential Range will be work, and I want to be ready for it. I’ll probably get up on the SHT 2-3 times prior to heading east!

Earlier this week I got over to Radio City, our semi-local radio retailer. I went with my friend, my Elmer, Don KCØTJ, the former President of one of my radio clubs. [For you non-radio folks, an Elmer is a radio-knowledgeable teacher/facilitator for newbies to the hobby.]

I’ve been shopping headsets the past few months, thus our trip to Radio City. I’d decided to get a Heil Pro 7 Headset (headphones w/ attached microphone) to facilitate my radio communications. I wear hearing aids, and have significant hearing loss (acoustic and traumatic hearing loss and tinnitus) in both ears. I feel this headset will help me immensely. It will also reduce the sound of wind on mountaintops, and various other distracting noises. I’ll report back on how they perform.

[On a related note, the digital mode PSK-31 uses typed communications that are then sent via radio waves to another person using the same digital mode. The bandwidth required is much less than with voice communications, thus being more energy/bandwidth-efficient (more bang for the buck, or more communication per watt output.)  And it eliminates poor hearing as a limiting factor in the communication process. There is no question about what is being communicated because there is a written record of the entire communication. Being radio-based, PSK-31 allows communication when the telephone or Internet systems are not functioning, similar to voice-based radio.]

 

Heil Pro 7 Headset

Heil Pro 7 Headset

 

I’ve been looking at various mobile radio unit options for my vehicle over the past few months, and Don has been very helpful. I’ve looked at single-band, double-band and quad-band units, but haven’t yet decided which way to go. I’ve thought a 2 m unit would be nice, but so would a four-band, or a two band – you get the point. More on that in the future. One thing I do know, I’m anxious to get beyond my HT (handheld radio), and back on the trail again with my 817ND! But I may just carry the HT in the mountains out east! Go figure!

73 de Mike, KEØGZT

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