While the vast majority of my posts to date on BackCountryJournal.net have revolved around my backpacking, camping and hiking adventures, you will be seeing more posts in the future that include reference to amateur radio. My older adventures won’t include radio because I wasn’t into radio at the time, but the new adventures will tend to include some aspect of amateur radio in each adventure posted. While I still have quite an inventory of the older adventures to write about, I expect that within the next couple of years, the majority of my posts will deal with hiking, backpacking AND amateur (or Ham) radio. In other words, I’ll be using amateur radio on nearly every outing in some way or another, and my posts will reflect that. It won’t happen overnight, but you will see the transition begin in coming months.
My principal amateur radio interests are in low-power (QRP) operation and emergency communications. Those are the likely radio-related applications you’ll read about in BackCountryJournal.net in coming months, along with the backpacking, camping and hiking adventures you’ve become accustomed to thus far. That change will broaden the scope of each adventure and offer something new for many readers.
At the end of my previous post (Hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, 6-20-16), I added some additional information about Field Day 2016. ARRL is the Amateur Radio Relay League- the Ham radio industry trade group. According to ARRL, Field Day is the most popular amateur radio ‘on-the-air event‘ held annually in the both the US and Canada. Field Day 2016 was held June 25-26 this year, the fourth weekend of June as always. It was expected that over 35,000 radio amateurs would gather with their clubs, groups or simply with friends to operate from remote locations. Additional background information on Field Day, can be found at Off-Grid Ham.com, a nicely done amateur radio blog I’ve been following for the past several months. Chris Warren provides a great deal of useful information for the amateur radio enthusiast, especially the off-grid, back-country types.
I’m a relatively new member of a local amateur radio club. I’ve attended a couple of meetings and special educational events, so naturally I was looking forward to my first Field Day. Our activities were held in a large public park fairly close to my home.
I had the opportunity to learn about setting up equipment (antennas, radios, cables, power supply options, etc.), and I met more fellow members. I participated all morning on Saturday, helping with setup activities- trying to get a large HF (high frequency) antenna setup, then again for a couple hours in the afternoon, and I stopped back about midnight since it was a 24-hour event.
I met a half dozen knowledgeable Hams, including one fellow visiting from Israel. Hopefully my new long-distance friendship will continue online and possibly by radio in the near future! All of those I met had good technical knowledge, granted ‘a low-bar to clear,’ given my limited experience with the new hobby.
We had problems getting antennas set up due to excessively high winds. I’d estimate winds all day at 25-30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph, maybe more. We were trying to get guy-ropes up and over a couple of high, light towers, then raise a HF antenna between the towers, tethered to the ropes. We used a home-brew ‘potato-gun’ powered by 35-40# of compressed-air with a fishing reel on the end of the barrel, to launch a weight connected to fishing line, then connected to rope, up and over the light-towers. Very frustrating, given the wind. When I left at noon we had completed one tower and had spent about an hour on the second, with no success. When I returned mid-afternoon, the second tower was still not completed; and the potato-gun was out of order. That antenna was never activated, which was too bad.
Another antenna had been installed during my absence- a concave-ish flattop, center-fed dipole with about 65′ of copper wire on each side, all strung about 25′ high between tree branches. The winds were still howling. It wasn’t working properly, and as I was leaving two guys were headed out with an antenna analyzer to make some adjustments. When I returned at midnight the antenna was operational.
There was also a nice VHF/UHF vertical antenna about 10′ long, mounted on a 12′ mast in a weighted 3′ high tripod that operated all day.
There never seemed to be a lot of radio activity going on when I was in the park building where most of the radios were located. A couple folks stopped by and set up their radios on picnic tables for an hour or two, then packed up and departed with little notice. But I was busy with the antennas most of the time so undoubtedly missed much of what was going on both inside the building and outside.
From what I did see, the low-power QRP operators were probably the most successful in terms of contacts made, but I was only there for limited time periods. Just my observation from when I was there and took my eyes off the antennas to look around.
My Take Away experience from this first Field Day is probably similar to what hundreds of others, especially new operators, experienced across the country. It’s a great opportunity to meet new Ham radio people, learn new things, and share knowledge and ideas.
It can be tough relying on volunteers, but that’s what amateur radio is all about. When the grid goes down and conventional communications aren’t working, volunteer amateur radio operators, usually associated with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), spring into action supplementing the Red Cross and other Emergency services across the country. Floods, fires… the ARES amateur radio folks are likely on-the-scene! The ARES volunteers train for such emergencies on a regular basis, and they even bring their own equipment!
We could have used more volunteers on Field Day, but that’s usually the case in such situations. When I left about 12:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, there was one member sitting behind a big HF rig trying to work several bands and was switching to try 20 m as I said ‘good night.’ He was ‘on-duty’ alone until about 6 a.m. Now, that’s a volunteer!
I can’t wait until next year’s Field Day because I’ll be more knowledgeable, and more helpful in my volunteer role. And I’ll probably log a few hours at a picnic table out in the sun running a low-power (QRP) Yaesu-817nd with a thin-film solar panel recharging my battery as I make contacts around the region- likely a multi-state region depending on my antenna. Maybe I’ll set up a tent in the park as part of Field Day, spend the night and be a happy-camper to boot! If you think you might be interested in QRP amateur radio and/or portable HF radios check out Bob Witte, KØNR, here, and the QRP blog here. Lots of excellent information available at both sites.
I may even try and teach a very basic introductory amateur radio class with an on-air QRP demonstration in a nearby park next spring, as part of an Adult Community Education program in the local high school. I’ve taught other classes in that environment over the years, and we use the term adult very loosely! Two or three nights of background information coupled with an on-air demonstration should be enough to spark an interest in anyone who ever gave it a thought. You never know the feasibility of such a class, until you try!
And then there’s the definite possibility of doing a SHT (Superior Hiking Trail) backpacking trip hitting some of the higher ground along Lake Superior to see what connections (QSO’s) we can make… that could lead to some real fun! It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with 3-6 radio folks that also like to backpack! Actually, one or two is all that’s needed. 😉
Mike, KEØGZT -73 and clear!