Fall Cleanup -2017

Hiking and Radio… getting it done!

It’s getting to be that time of year again. Like so many others, I’ve got the regular yard maintenance, household repairs and maintenance type activities to complete before the snow arrives. But I’ve also got a few special activities, goals if you will, that have evaded me for one reason or another over the past year. This must cease, I’m taking the bull by the horns… I’ve gotta get it done!


Top of Katahdin, 2014

Top of Katahdin, 2014, photo by Mike Hohmann


The Trail Back Down- Mt. Katahdin

The Trail Back Down- Mt. Katahdin, photo by Mike Hohmann


This blog is billed as ‘a back-country hiking and radio adventures blog.’ I’ve been a ‘backpacker’ for years -hiking in the southwest, the northeast, Alaska and in the Canadian Rockies. However, I’m relatively new to amateur radio – receiving my FCC technician license in Dec., 2015.

I love hiking and backpacking, but each year as I get older, the climbs seem to get steeper. Low-power, or ‘QRP,’ amateur radio is of interest because I can carry a light-weight radio/antenna/battery pk. into the back-country or up on a mountain top anywhere, and communicate regionally or internationally, without cell towers or the Internet. It represents a new area of interest for me -new technology, new challenges that I can integrate with hiking and backpacking, even as the climbs begin to level off in coming years. Amateur radio represents a new, as well as a transition activity for me. But the radio hobby hasn’t been easy for me, time-wise. It’s a common problem, especially with new amateur radio operators. The ultimate limiting factor is time! I know, everyone is busy… yada, yada.


Glacier NP, Montana, -photo by M. Hohmann


Along the trail, Glacier NP, Montana -photo by Mike Hohmann


I recent years, since I’ve retired, it’s just been too easy -as cooler fall weather moves in, the family vacations come to an end, and the kids go back to school -to get a couple of buddies together and head west (usually) for a week or two (or maybe four or five) to do some backpacking in higher elevations… maybe in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, the Sierras, or elsewhere. This summer, I hiked the Presidential Range along the Appalachian Trail in NH in early July, and took a couple grandsons hiking and camping in late July/mid August. It’s been a busy summer. I had a handheld radio along on one trip but didn’t devote adequate time to the endeavor.


Headed to Grinnell Glacier, Glacier NP -photo by Mike Hohmann


The Tetons, Wyoming -photo by Mike Hohmann


Glen Pass, Kings Canyon NP, -photo by Mike Hohmann


This year, those special activities, goals if you will, are placing limits on my ability to travel the trails in higher elevations with the big cats, big horns and the occasional grizzly bear(s). I recently turned down the opportunity to climb King’s Peak out in the Uinta Mountains of NE Utah. King’s Peak is 13,500′ and we’d start the climb at about 9,500.’ I bought and reviewed the topo map, checked the Internet and found what looked to be a great hike to the highest peak in Utah. It would only require 3 days, trailhead-to-trailhead.

The guy I would be hiking with (a friend of a friend) had already planned the trip. He already had an airline ticket to Salt Lake City, and a car rented -he was going with or without me! My first question to him… if he’d done this kind of climbing before -what was his experience level?  I found that he’d already climbed 6-7 of the highest peaks, in 6-7 states out west, including Denali in AK, and Whitney in CA. His quest was to hike the highest peaks in all fifty states.  He sounded like he was good to go!

However, I’d have to acclimate to the higher elevation before attempting to climb King’s Peak. I haven’t been above 10,000′ for any extended periods in a few years. I planned to drive out through Wyoming -stopping to camp and hike for two days/nights in the Bighorns, just west of Sheridan, and again for 2-3 days/nights in the Wind River Range, west of Lander. That would take me a week, including a few days at 5-7,000′ along the way, while providing about 4-5 days and nights at or above 9-12,000+’  -which should make me good to go in Utah! Then about a week to drive home after the climb. And, I’d likely make one or two additional stops on the way home. Thus, this trip would require the better part of three weeks, possibly longer. I’d have to depart on this journey well before Labor Day!

It sure sounded like fun! It also seemed like a significant diversion of my time away from  achieving those special activities, goals if you will. I had to ask myself, seriously -if not now, when would I complete those evasive activities/goals?

After thinking about it for several days, I decided to pass on this ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ -climbing King’s Peak! Included in my evaluation, I considered all the ‘opportunities of a lifetime,’ which usually translate to ‘hikes of a lifetime,’ I’ve already completed, and it made me feel a bit better about the decision. There’s always another hike/backpacking trip… I’m not that old yet! But I’m also old enough to know… you just never know. 😉

So what are these special activities, goals if you will? Actually there are quite a few, but two are of paramount importance to me: 1.) studying for, and passing the exam, for the  next level amateur radio license -the general license, by October 31st this year. And, 2) installing the AlphaDelta, DXEE Multi-Band 40m/20m/15m/10m parallel dipole 40′ antenna in my attic by Nov. 15th this year, including all necessary grounding and electrical work. Now, that may not sound like much, but remember, I’m no radio whiz-kid.

I built a couple of wire antennas earlier this summer (a long wire and a dipole, both for 10-40m) for comparison purposes, but I need my license upgrade to really use them. I’ve got the battery-powered, QRP multi-mode portable transceiver covering HF, VHF and UHF bands, and a couple different battery options for it. Both the antennas I built are designed to throw up into a tree, or use on a mast for support outdoors. It all fits in a pack, and weighs less than ten lbs. The AlphaDelta DXEE would be a permanent installation I could use year ’round, which is important in a place like MN.

In addition, I’ve got a good start integrating my ham shack into my office, although it’s still a bit overcrowded. I’ve been making  progress, but too slowly! Hence my renewed emphasis on getting my basic radio-related activities/goals out of the way this fall.

There will be fewer blog posts over the next few months, and they will cover mostly my radio-related projects, those special activities, goals if you will! I may get a good hike in, time will tell. You’ll definitely be seeing some snow-shoeing posts this winter, possibly even with portable radio ops included.

In an effort to make amends to my hiking followers, I’ve included a new link to a great hiking blog in my Recommended section above, (TrailtoPeak -theadventurouspath.com). I started following it about a month ago, and it’s great. Sheri writes the blog from the Canmore/Banff area of Alberta, Canada. Here is the first of five recent posts covering hikes not far from Lake Louise -Enjoy!

Below are a couple of pictures from my earlier travels in Alberta and British Columbia. My photos don’t compare with Sheri’s, so I plan to head north again sometime soon . The adventurouspath blog is one heck of an aid in adventure planning N of the border!


Snaring River, Jasper, NP M.Hohmann

Snaring River, Jasper, NP ’04 -photo by Mike Hohmann


Mt. Robson, BC, -Mike Hohmann

Mt. Robson, BC, ’04 – photo by Mike Hohmann


And last, but not least… those special activities, goals if you will! I’m hanging on to the Kings Peak topo for next year -just in case!


The DXEE antenna and my study guide

My next post will hopefully cover preliminary aspects of the DXEE parallel dipole antenna installation, and other  special activities, goals…   KEØGZT, Clear!

73,  de Mike, KEØGZT



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Mike and Matt Gone Camping


Matt, at 10, is my youngest grandson. He has been tent-camping before with Judy and me and with his mom and dad and two brothers -usually in a pop-up camper, so it’s not all new to him.  But this was his first venture out alone in the woods with grampa Mike -the old backpacking curmudgeon, and connoisseur of all foods dehydrated! I think Matt was the only 7 or 8 year-old I’ve known, that knew what a curmudgeon was, and he can probably spell it correctly by now, and offer examples!

We were short on time for this trip, and the weather forecast was not good, but off we went. You get what you get, I told him as we headed down the highway!  He looked at me kinda funny! It rained quite a bit on the first day (it had already been raining for a couple of days) and most of the night. On day 2 it was cloudy and threatened more rain. Luckily, we both had our rain gear packed.

On this trip, I was taking it upon myself to teach Matt the basics -like the two best ways to drink water: warm or cold, and to be sure the water is potable (clean water that meets drinking water health standards -usually water coming from a faucet or well). It’s always important to carry water on any hike. If you’re going to be hiking more than a couple of hours, you may need several water bottles or a large bladder… and maybe a water filter or purifier.

As any old backpacking curmudgeon knows, we can also drink water from lakes, rivers and streams but it should be filtered or purified first. When purchasing a portable water filter or purifier, it is important to check the technical specifications of the filter -they can vary significantly from one filter to another. We want to get rid of any bad bugs and any harmful chemicals that may be in the water. Bad bugs are harmful micro-organisms (like some bacteria, viruses, Giardia and Cryptosporidia, and many others as well). Harmful chemicals would include pesticides, herbicides, organics, some algae and more). Some filters are very cheap, others more expensive, largely because of the effectiveness of the filtering mechanism. I doubt Matt has had a biology class yet, let alone any microbiology, so the discussion remained pretty basic. You can boil water or add purification tablets -the important point being to do your best to get clean water to drink.

Even when car-camping like we were, it is important to carry only the necessities and keep your pack light. Whatever we pack in, we pack out, and we discussed why -we don’t want our trails and streams to look like our streets and highways with litter scattered everywhere.

We talked about how to use his new pocket knife with all the blades, without losing any fingers -keep your free hand (the one holding the stick) behind the hand holding the knife, when carving/whittling a stick. The knife always moves away from your body, and the hand holding the stick, etc.

When pitching our tent, we always try to pitch it on the high ground (to stay dry), and near water if possible (for drinking/cooking). We pay attention to nearby trees and sun angles -trying to avoid big dead trees (or branches) that might fall on the tent during the night, and trying to get the tent located in the afternoon shade so it doesn’t get too hot. It might be nice to have a big, flatish rock or picnic table to sit at and eat… and the list goes on.  How to split dry wood with a hatchet… ‘better let me do it…’ followed quickly by ‘…but don’t do it like I do it, you’re too young.’

Most of these discussions took place while we were setting up our campsite.  With rain threatening, we first set up our tent. Then we set up a large plastic tarp on metal poles to shelter the picnic table in case it rained while we cooked and ate our meals. We’d also have shade if the sun came out and it got too hot. Yes, we planned for comfort -rain or shine!

The center pole for our tarp tended to slip on the wet, slippery surface of the picnic table. We found some small branches on the forest floor nearby, and trimmed them to use as a stabilizing mechanism to steady the center pole. It worked surprisingly well. We were now all set to enjoy a nice dinner and evening around the campfire!


Innovative upright pole holder/stabilizer for picnic table tarp installations (view 1)


Innovative upright pole holder/stabilizer for picnic table tarp installations (view 2)


Matt and our campsite


We each grabbed a water bottle and began our ‘look-around hike,’ exploring the Riverway Campground at William O’Brian State Park. We checked out all the other campers, their tents and the big RV’s. Then we hiked along the St. Croix River for awhile before returning to our campsite.

We got our water jug filled, got out some snacks and our cooler and sat down and relaxed with a cool drink and some snacks, continuing our discussions, and watching more campers driving in to pitch their tents or park their RV’s. It was getting crowded.

I’d refer to William O’Brain State Park as an urban campground – being only about 30-40 miles from downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis respectively. It’s about twenty-five miles south of Interstate Park, also on the St. Croix River, where I visited about a week earlier.

We had purchased a couple bundles of firewood earlier in the day, since it looked like better weather had moved in. I began splitting some of the wood and getting the fire pit staged for an evening fire. Since it had been raining so much in recent days, it was hard finding kindling to start the fire but we had it set up so that I figured we could get it lit with a few matches -I usually strive to get the fire going with one match… this fire took four!

After about twenty minutes, the fire was burning well and Matt had his ‘smoke stick’ as they call them – a stick allowing him to poke around in the fire and write his name in the air with smoke.  The curmudgeon kept his eye on the fire and Matt! All was well.


Kids love to pick around in the fire with a long stick, or in this case a split strip of maple.


Campfire smoke seen in the sunlight thru the trees


As the clouds cleared again and the sun came out we talked about using the sun to find directions. His older brothers learned this a few years ago, but they need reminders occasionally.

We talked about the cardinal directions (N-S-E-W), and where the sun rises in the morning and sets at night. Which windows at home get the morning sun, and likewise for the afternoon sun. We watched shadows and how they moved. When the sun was setting in the afternoon we figured out which way the shadows were pointing.

At last it was time to eat. The fire was burning well and everyone was hungry… I thought.


Dinner, hot off the fire.


Matt said he didn’t like Dinty Moore Beef Stew, which was always a favorite with his brothers – we always had it for one meal when we car-camped. Matt liked ravioli, so we had a couple of small cans along with us. But after tasting it he decided he didn’t like it. We’d just opened the cans and heated them on the grill over the fire… stirring occasionally -a carry-over from my days in the military. Maybe he just didn’t like the looks of the heated, discolored cans sitting in front of us at the table? Anyway, I ended up eating a lot of ravioli for dinner that night. He wasn’t interested in hot dogs either. Next time it will be a dehydrated extraveganza. His brother Mikey likes the dehydrated meals -even the scrambled eggs! It was soon time for desert, for Matt anyway.


S’mores -an after dinner treat.


A treat after dinner


After dinner we continued talking around the fire for an hour as it began getting dark. Matt decided he was tired and was going to go lay down in the tent. We went over to the tent and I made sure he knew how the door zippers worked and I gave him a flashlight in case he had to get up during the night. The tent was just wide enough for two sleeping mats. I brought along a 3/4 length mat I sometimes used when backpacking, for him to use -and a full length mat for me. We left our shoes outside the tent under the vestibule fly on each side, so they’d stay dry. It was tight quarters, but it worked just fine!

With Matt down for the night, I returned to the fire and enjoyed a small Dominican Cohiba cigar after a tough day on the trail… ha, that’s a joke! When backpacking over the years, several of us would enjoy cigars at the end of the day and sip a bit of brandy, scotch or whatever, and recount the day’s adventures. We all carried a small flask allowing us a few sips each night over a 5-10 day hike. It became a regular ending to each day -a tradition, and I’m sure we’ll all remember those times forever! As time passes several guys have quit hiking, and those kinds of memories really do begin to mean something, the places and the people!

I made sure the fire was out, and I slid into the tent and my bag, to join Matt for a good night’s sleep. It ended up raining most of the night, lightly. No thunder or lightening. We both slept like logs! I was up a few times during the night – an old curmudgeon thing, and we both finally climbed out of the tent about 8:30 a.m. We were usually on the trail by 8 a.m. when backpacking, and that was after some breakfast!

By mid-morning, after we’d had breakfast, we’d  taken down the tarp we had over the picnic table, shaking it well, and laid it across the picnic table to dry a bit. After we folded it up, we took the rain fly off the tent, shook it good and laid it on the table to dry a bit.

I had to explain why the rain fly was all wet on the bottom side where the rain didn’t reach all night, and that our breath contained a lot of moisture; and that during the night the rain-fly got cold and all that breath-laden moisture condensed on the cold fly -just like how the moisture in the air condenses on the cold container of milk from the cooler, or on my cold beer can last night. It took awhile to explain -I guess they hadn’t learned that in school yet. And now with the cool, cloudy weather, it was hard to get the wet tarps and tent to dry out… yada, yada.  He did seem interested, however, so it was all a worthwhile discussion. And finally the sun popped out to help dry things out a bit.

It’s usually a bit harder to explain why, when you’re wearing rain gear and hiking, you still get all wet inside the rain gear. ‘Then, why do we need the rain gear, grampa?’ Good question, Matt! But as most curmudgeons know, rain gear will keep you warm, when it’s cold or windy, which can be very important.


Breaking camp, and drying things out


We packed everything up by late morning, had lunch on the way home, and Matt was home in plenty of time for dinner. It was a short, but sweet camping trip. It was actually too short given all the gear we hauled along. We could have stayed a few more days with just a few more cans of food or dehydrated meals. Maybe next time!


Mike, KEØGZT  Clear!

Some amateur radio-related news


An interesting article from the ARRL ARES E-letter for August 16, 2017:

Emergency Management Magazine published a very favorable article on Amateur Radio. Check it out here. — Thanks, Ted Luebbers, K1AYZ


From Calling CQ – Issue 100, by Jeff Davis, KE9V:    Ham radio operators provide a valuable service .  Subscribe to Calling CQ here.




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The St. Croix River Valley, revisited

All good journeys begin on the trail! -Mike Hohmann, ’09.


River Trail

River Trail, Interstate State Park, MN


I recently revisited Interstate State Park along the St. Croix River, near Taylor’s Falls, MN and St. Croix Falls, WI. The two parks are located near the junction of Hwy 8, Hwy 95 and the St. Croix River. One park is in MN, the other in WI, each across the river from the other. It may be of interest that neither town is actually located on or near any ‘falls.’  There is a hydroelectric dam at St. Croix Falls, and sometimes, according to a Ranger I spoke with, the dam ‘overflows’ creating a temporary ‘falls. ‘Go figure!


St. Croix River watershed map


The last time I visited the Park, about 6-8 years ago, I was camping with my oldest grandson, Charlie! He must have been 6-8 years old and we also had my Black Lab, Kolby, along for a few days in the woods. We camped on the MN side of the river, hiked a bit, split wood and made fires, and spent a few nights in a tent. What fun!

We also made a couple of trips into nearby (25 mi) Stillwater, MN -a great old ‘small town’ located right on the river. We went in for lunch one day because I wanted to show Charlie the lift bridge that crossed the St. Croix, and we ate at a small restaurant on the corner of where you turned to cross the river -excellent burgers and malts! We walked Kolby in the nearby city park adjacent to the bridge -I’m hoping I can find an old picture of the lift bridge to include in this story.

I also took my youngest daughter there camping about 25 years ago -I have a couple of great pictures but they’re not digitized so you’ll just have to take my word for it! So yes, I’m revisiting.

And, one day in a few more years, I just may be lucky enough to take my grand daughter camping there as well, although I’m sure her mother (and maybe dad as well) would accompany us!  A family affair… Maybe a family reunion of sorts? 😉


A foggy morning on the river.


On this trip, I arrived about 8 a.m. on a very foggy morning. This St. Croix River, I’m sure there are many others, is a tributary of the mighty Mississippi. It’s about 165 miles (275 km) long, and flows in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The lower 125 miles (210 km), forms the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Much of it is a National Scenic Riverway.

The St. Croix begins at Upper St. Croix Lake, about 20 mi. south of Lake Superior in WI, and it flows southwest. It is joined by the Namekagon River, and then becomes much wider. It joins the Mississippi just south of Stillwater, at Prescott, WI. Interstate Park is about 60 mi. NE of Minneapolis.



Fog in the St. Croix River gorge




St. Croix River, MN


St. Croix River, MN -the morning fog is lifting


Glacial Potholes, St. Croix Dalles, MN


There are many glacial potholes in the Interstate Park, as described above -a tale that begins over a billion years ago with volcanic activity, then followed by glaciers about two million years ago, and their melting about 12,000 years ago creating wild glacial rivers which created the St. Croix Valley and the potholes like Lilly Pond and hundreds of others.


Lily Pond Pothole, Interstate Park, MN


Lily’s Pond pothole was very dark in the heavy shade, and was covered with lily pads and dense algae. The smaller pothole below is much more descriptive, although it is less than a tenth the size of Lily Pond. The center, round pothole below is about 3′-4′ in diameter.


Pothole, St. Croix River, MN


The St. Croix, as the fog is finally lifting



Nature’s forces split this boulder


Split boulder, another view.


The trail continues…



A close-up across the river




Interstate Park, St. Croix River, MN


Trees growing in rock (1), St. Croix River, MN


Amazing how such trees continue to grow and thrive in such conditions. We see this continually, and I am always amazed. Of course we also see others that have lost the fight and succumbed -hanging off a cliff by their roots or laying below rotting or waiting to be washed downstream in high-water conditions. It’s that way in the wild, and in everyday life to an extent -only the strong survive!


Trees growing in rock (2), St. Croix, MN




Mid-morning -the boats are out on the St. Croix River


Kayaks on the river



Earlier I mentioned the Stillwater Lift Bridge. In the past month, the Lift Bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic, and is now only open to pedestrians and bicycles. However, it still operates as a lift bridge to facilitate river barge and boat traffic.

There is a new bridge a few miles south of the Lift Bridge, that has opened to carry vehicular traffic across the river. It is much larger and can handle vastly increased traffic flows. The new bridge connects with MN Hwy 36.

Construction of the new bridge was very contested by many groups and local communities, and issues were addressed in various courts over the past decade. The older lift bridge had traffic tied up in Stillwater on a daily basis, and weekends were especially bad. The decades-old design, running through narrow city streets could no longer operate effectively, and it was impacting local businesses along the congested streets. The issues were argued, and the new bridge was built.

I took the picture of the new bridge shown below, and I found those pictures of the old lift bridge (along with Charlie and Kolby) -from 2010.


The ‘new’ Stillwater bridge replacement, ’17


Stillwater Lift Bridge, 2010


Charlie and Kolby, Stillwater Lift Bridge, 2010


I hope you enjoyed my quick revisit of the St. Croix River Valley.  As the cooler weather of fall moves in, I’ll likely head out again for some more vigorous backpacking -out west or in the southwest. I hope to obtain my General radio license from the FCC in October, thus I should be on the air AND on the trail before the snow flies!

73, de Mike, KEØGZT



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