Thursday, December 22, 2005

BearFort Fire Tower for December Polar Bear Outing

The December QRP outing was planned for Dec. 17th, a Saturday. I wanted to test my "fortitude" for snow camping with an overnight at the BearFort Fire Tower site. See some of my previous posts to this site. It is close, about 15 mins from my house, and therefore very convenient. I retrieved my 4-season Jansport Mountain tent and heavy down sleeping bag and was planning for a cold night at the tower. The overnight temps were in the single digits recently but the weather has been clear. Fortunately, the forecast was for temps in the mid-teens, no wind, and clear skies. Sounded about as good as it was going to get for this time of the year! So the go-forward, green light was still on!

It had snowed about a foot a week earlier and much of this snow was still present. So for sure it would be an overnight in the snow and with a full moon expected, the "ambiance" should be spectacular! I parked at the fireroad gate about 2pm or so, loaded my 45# pack and started the trek up to the tower. The road was snow covered but the hike in was easy. It took about 30 mins due to my heavier pack (normally with my daypack it takes about 15 mins) and my desire not to overheat/sweat up and create an over chilling problem. I quickly set up the tent in a nice level spot. (See picture) then put up my multi-band dipole with one end hanging of the fire tower and the other in a tree 200' away. The average antenna heigth was about 35' or so.

With the sun setting at 4:30, it was starting to get cold with temps around freezing. I started out on 40m but due to RTTY and the RAC contests, the cw portion of the band was a nightmare. Out into the cold to switch the dipole over to 30m. Brrrr! It was cold outside. My thermometer was showing about 25-degs. I had 3 candles going inside the tent which kept the temp inside around 35-degs or so. I had plenty of clothes on, hats, gloves, etc. so I wasn't really cold but had to frequently warm my hands over the candles to keep them reasonably warm! I made a number of cw contacts on 30m before the band started getting very long around 9 pm. Temps were in the low 20's by now. It was time to hibernate into the sleeping bag. The only problem was I had to go to the bathroom. So I crawl out of the tent, admire the full moon, and back into the tent. When the temps are in the low 20's, this whole process is a challenge to say the least. Mental note to self: minimize liquid intake in the afternoon to minimize the output in the evening! Unfortunately, this process had to be repeated several more times during the night, the last a about 3am when the temp was in the mid-teens. COLD!!!! Fortunately there was no wind!

The next morning was overcast. The inside of the tent was filled with condensation ice crystals from my breath. Jarring the tent caused a snow storm! Really cool. There was no morning sun to warm the tent! I turned on the K1, made 3 cw contacts, and then it was time to pack up and get some coffee and get warm!! Overall, I was dressed warm enough and stayed plenty warm in the sleeping bag. Next time, I will bring the white gas stove and have more heat for the tent and some tea water for a morning warm up cup.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

High Knob, PA Hike

I had a three day weekend and therefore took advantage of the unseasonably warm (mid-50's) and sunny skies to visit a fire tower lookout in the north Poconos of Pennsylvania. The drive was about 65 miles and took about 2 hrs the first time. It was a beautiful day and I arrived about 3 pm. The access road was gated so I parked and set off with my daypack of my the K1 and my multiband dipole, extra windproof clothes, etc.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon for the hike into the tower site. I could see that there were some commercial communication systems also at the site as evidenced by the at least 3 tall towers. I arrived about 35 mins later and the view was good in nearly 360-degrees but there were a number of commercial installations and there gated towers and service buildings. The fire tower itself was small incomparison at only about 25' tall.

I set up on the grass next to a fenced area, threw a rock and line through one of the tower legs, pulled one end of the dipole up and, using the same rock and line over a telephone pole line for the other end. In all, I estimate the dipole at 20' to 25' above ground. I had much more coax then I needed. I set up the K1, batteries, pulled on the extra windpants and sat down to call CQ. Where's my logbook? Oh, great! I left it home! The best I could do was write on the back of a 3 x 5 card! On my first CQ I got a W8 from Illinois but now my pen won't write because it's too cold! The ink won't flow! Great!

The temp was now into the 30's as the sun was setting. The sunset was beautiful and very colorful but I learned that I need to bring a pencil because ink doesn 't flow at near freezing temps! Oh well....experience is a powerful teacher. Now I was copying in my head and trying to remember calls and far so good. Time out to stretch, warm up a bit, try to get my hands warm again. The polypro gloves are not adequate to be effective especially if there is any wind blowing. My fingers were really cold and that was impacting my cw keying abilities. I need to find some additional gloves that won't impact my keying requirements.

The sunset was great and I stayed until about a half-hour after it set. The temp was plummeting and the wind still at 15 mph or so but really getting to my cold hands. Although I was looking forward to a night hike out, I decided to pack up early and walk out when there was still some light. A half-hour later I was on the road out and back to the pickup where the temp was reading about 28-degrees. No wonder I was cold. It was probably 25 or so on the top!

Anyway it was a beautiful afternoon and another fun area to scout and consider as a future operating site or campover site.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bearfort Fire Tower, NJ for the Polar Bear Outing:

This was the initial message from Ron Polityka announcing a Polar Bear "outing" on Sunday, Nov. 13th.

Hello, This Sunday, Nov. 13th we plan on having another Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Run. The actual full moon is on Nov. 15th but we are going to do it on the weekend.November is the Full Beaver Moon.Please send me an e-mail if you plan on going out that evening and I will place you on the list.So far we have the following:WB3AAL 40, 30 or 20 CW
WA3WSJ 40 or 20 PSKNK8Q 40, 30 or 20 CWK3YTR 75 SSBKB3JNE VHFKB3JND VHFVE3WMB 40 & 20 CWVA3SIE 40 & 20 CWWA8REI 40 & 20 CWN7UN/2 40 & 20

CWAll frequencies will be around the QRP Freq. + or - due to QRM

72 and Thanks,
Ron Polityka, WB3AALPolar Bear #2 (

I went up to the BearFort Fire Tower which is about 10 mins from my house but is on the BearFort Mtns, actually a ridge, that runs north and south in north New Jersey. It has a great overlook west and east and is about 400' or so HAAT. So the RF takeoff angles are great. It was warm with temps in the mid-50s but a 15 -20 mph south wind will keep it chilly as nightfall approaches. It was clouding up since a weather front was approaching from the west with expected rain after midnight.

It's about a 15 min hike up the fire access road to the fire tower. It was really pretty since about 80% of the leaves have fallen but some leaves on the more hardy trees were still hanging on. The road itself was completely leaf covered. Surprisingly the Fire Tower was manned as there was motorcycle at its base. This was a first for me and kind of surprising for this late in the year. I climbed the tower stairs and connected my dipole rope thru a pulley that I left in place from my last visit. The other dipole end is strung through a tree about 150' away...this is a nice setup which results in my multiband dipole having an average heigth of about 35' or so. Excellent! Sunset was at 5pm and I took about 45 mins to get everything installed. It was starting to get cooler and the wind was steady out of the south. The almost full moon was rising behind the thin overcast in the east. I got on the air on 40m but was inundated with eu RTTY contesters....they occupied frequencies down to 7020. I made a couple of QSO's but was fighting the RTTY guys. No fun. So I lowered the dipole and switched over to 30m. My first with this antenna and at this site. Boy did it work great! I had a number of good QSO's and everyone was surprised at my QRP signal strengths. I was getting colder....I really needed another layer of windbreakers, especially for my legs. I had my gloves on and sending CW was a bit of challenge. It was real dark now; the overcast clouds were blocking most of the full moon light. My "red" LED headlight was doing a great excessive "white" lights to night blind me. I was getting cold and made some mental notes to bring more layers on my next polar bear outing. The wind chill was the challenge and my hands were cold in spite of some poly gloves I had on. I know I would have been warmer if I had a windbreaker layer on top of what I was wearing. The problem is that you are stationary and not moving when operating and consequently getting cold. The highlight of the evening was a call by a previous contact from the same site, CU2JT, Gary, who heard me calling CQ and answered. We had a good QSO for nearly 45 mins or so. It was now about 6:45pm, cloudy, dark, and cold with temps around 45-deg f. The wind was still at 15-20 mph from the south. I was cold so I packed up and hiked out. To disassemble takes about 30 mins total. Not bad at all.
Here's the original call for the Polar Bear outing:

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Pulpit Rock on the AT in PA with WA3WSJ:

I have been corresponding with Ed Breneiser, WA3WSJ, via email for several weeks concerning "scenic vistas on the AT in PA." Ed indicated that one of their local spots, Pulpit Rock, was "just about as good as it gets for the AT in PA." That was good enough for me so I took a vacation day from work, got up at 4 am on Friday the 4th of Nov. and drove the 120 miles to Hamburg, PA. We met at 8 am and drove out to the parking area and began our hike into the site. The fall colors were spectacular, the temps in the mid 50's, sunny and windless. It doesn't get much better than this. The 2.5 mile hike in was painless due to the non-stop conversation and the breathtaking weather and scenic fall colors. The site at the top is part of the LeHigh Valley Astronomy club and consists of a cleared mountain top area for their 4 observatories. The "Rock" itself is a overlook of the Reading valley area. Very scenic and the views south were great.

I set my 20m vertical up in a grassy area near one of the observatories. Ed was nearby on 40m. We made a number of contacts, my best into Europe (Budapest Hungary). After an hour of operating in the HOT sun, we packed up and walked back to the vehicles. Temps were now in the low 70's. Outstanding for this time of the year.

We drove over for lunch at Cabela's who claim to be the "world's largest outfitters". Their PA store is HUGE and an outdoor enthusiasts dream world! Lunch was great and filling. We were then off for the 30 min drive to Round Rock, our overnight destination and a 3.5 mile hike in over "typically rocky" AT trail terrain. We were with full packs now: mine at an overweight, carry everything-you-might-ever-need 45# and Ed's a more seasoned veterans weight of 30-35#. After a mile or so, the rock "scramble" began over challengingly difficult, very rocky and very leaf-covered trail terrain. The heavy leaf cover made travel slow because you were never sure of your footing! We got to the ridge campsite about an hour before sunset (5pm EST), quickly put up antennas and tents. I tried 30m for the first time with my vertical. I was not pleased. I need to check continuity of my elements. I should have brought my new, multi-band dipole instead. Conditions were only "ok" and I had to really work for contacts.

There was a firepit at the site so we made a very nice campfire. I think I enjoyed the campfire as much as the remote, field operating. The temps were still mild and there was very little wind. We both retired to our tents about 8pm. I was tired because of my long day and only operated for about an hour.

The next morning I converted the vertical to 20m and was making a number of contacts with several into Europe. Always enjoyable to work EU on 5 watts! The K1 has such a great receiver! We hung around until about 11:30, then packed up and hiked out. Ed had his daughter's 30th birthday party that afternoon so we had to get him out and I had the 2-1/2 drive back to NJ. All in all it was great overnight and a pleasure to meet Ed and see some great hiking and vista areas on the AT.
Ed's Comments on the Elecraft Reflector were:

"Well I met Guy, N7UN, for the first time on Friday morning. We drove to the Hamburg Reservoir Parking Lot and then hiked the 2.5 miles up to Pulpit Rock. I used my K1 with my VBWFPA. Guy used a vertical too. Guy worked 20m while I worked 40m. Thanks to all who called us. I must apologize. I was using my Palm PDA to log and I just can't get used to it. I will use a paper log and my AT Paddle only for all future trips. We hiked 5 miles Friday morning then drove to Cabela's for lunch. We then drove west to Rt.501 and started the next hike about 2:30pm. Guyand I hiked another 3.5 miles out to Round Head and set up camp there-it was great! Warm sunny weather with a big blue sky. We set up camp just as darkness fell on us. I then started a nice campfire and we just sat there gazing at the fire under a starlight sky. Guys, it doesn't get any better than that! On Saturday morning I made contact with a K8 in MI, but my palm froze up. It gave me some funny memory error that I couldn't clear? So I took the batteries out and reinstalled them. To mysurprise it cleared the error, but also cleared all my apps on the Palm too! I had no way to send cw as I forgot my AT Paddle when I changed packs! The lookout near the camp has a killer view to the west and all the trees look like they're on fire! We could see the entire mountain we hiked out to get to Round Head. We both had a great time, but my feet are feeling the 12 miles we hiked! Guy is looking into a hike this year yet to the top of a 3K+ mountain in NJ or NY. I have decided to upgrade my K1 by putting 4-band board, backlight and tuner into my K1. Guy's K1 backlight was so cool! So that's the rest of the story! More to come later from the Nomad.....72, Ed, WA3WSJ"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Catfish Fire Tower, NJ on the AT:

I have been developing a lightweight, multi-band, dipole antenna for backpacking. Although most vista or overlook locations along the AT have no trees that could effectively accommodate a dipole (which is why I have built the N2XE multi-band vertical), I have designed a simple, connect-and-play dipole for 20m, and 40m. So this past Saturday (10/29) was the target for hiking into Catfish Fire Tower on the AT ( link to web pages) to test the dipole strung off the Fire Tower. A secondary goal was to camp overnight at the site and have some QRP fun on 40m after dark.

I arrived at the Tower about noon after a 2 mile hike in with my 45-lb pack. The weather was mostly cloudy, winds out of the NW at 15 to 20 mph with higher gusts. The temperature was in the low 40’s, making for a chilly day at the relatively exposed Tower location. What I didn’t expect was the numerous “tour groups” of 10 to 15 people who were guided in to “view the fall colors.” Apparently this is a common “activity” for this time of the year. Even the Forest Service was on site provided tours into the “cabin” of the fire tower. Now the steel-structured Catfish Tower is 65’ tall and was noticeably swaying due to the gusty winds. Only a handful of folks were braving the winds and climbing the stairways to the top.

I met Bob Wolf, the local Forest Ranger, who was very intrigued with what I was doing and more than accommodating. We spent about 40 minutes talking about Morse Code, the changes in the industry, and radio communications in general. When I tied one end of the dipole at the 65’ level on the Tower, he invited me into the “cabin” of the Tower and we talked another 20 minutes or so. I threw a rock over a tree limb for the other end of the dipole, pulled everything taunt, connected the K1 and tuned in a loud CW station to let everyone nearby hear “ham radio.” I spent the next 45 minutes in a “show-and-tell” mode for curiosity seekers. At the same time I setup my Sierra Design 3-season backpack tent so I could get out of the wind and cold temperatures.

The tour groups left about 3 pm and I spent most of the next three hours on 20m with about 10 contacts around the east coast. The dipole with one end at 60’ and the other at 40’ played really well, especially since this site has a HAAT of about 450’ or so and sharp drop offs to the east and west. So the K1 was humming along. My plan was to switch to 40m near sundown. I let the dipole down, connected the jumper over to the 40m segments, raised the dipole up again, crawled into the tent, quickly changed bands on the K1 only to get a blast of European SSB stations! I forgot! This is the CQWW SSB weekend and ITU Region 1 and 3 allow SSB down to 7.000! Needless to say, the QRM was miserable and only a few QRO CW stations were on. My 5-watts wasn’t getting anywhere. Now the temps were in the low 30’s, the wind gusts still as strong, and the 40m band a mess. I’m not going to have any fun here. And I was in my 3-season lightweight tent....the wind was buffeting the "house" terribly. Time to reconsider.

So about 8:30 pm I packed everything up, disassembled the antenna system, put my LED headlamp on and started the hike out. Fortunately the clouds had given away to a beautiful clear sky. Mars and Venus were both very bright in the sky and the stars were magnificent. The view of the night sky alone was almost worth the trip. Now I need to add the 30m segment to the dipole for times precisely like this!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mt. Everett, Mass.

Part of my longer term goal is to hike a majority of the "highest locations" on the AT, particularily in the NE. I had been to Mt. Everett about 5 years ago when I was a VHF Rover contester. At that time you were able to drive almost to the top and the Fire Lookout tower was still in place. Mt. Everett is located in the SW corner of Mass on the border with NY. You can drive to within a mile or so and then the access road is gated and you must hike the remaining way. The road is level and smooth so the hike is easy and fast. There's a good campground about a 1/2-mile in with a porta-potty and fire pits. A good future camp site but would have to be in the fall after the mosquitoes have died since there is a lot of standing water. An early spring camp would also be fun.

The drive is about 2-1/2 hrs and is especially beautiful in the fall with the trees turning all colors. This was going to be a day trip for me, so I left early in the morning and arrived mid-morning at the entry sign which dates from the 20's or 30's. I parked at the gate and started the hike into the site. You can see the road in is well maintained. Camping is allowed if you are on the AT. I had my vertical with me since there were no tall trees to hang a dipole. The day was beautiful; clear, sunny, and warm with virtually no wind and view in all directions.

Apparently there have been two fire towers here. One in the early teen's and a second in the 40's. In talking with several local hikers, this last tower was removed about 3 years ago. I set up at the last tower site. You can still see the tower footings. It was a great site and I had a number of great QSO's around the NE on 20m. Nothing into Europe. There were a lot of day hikers so I was
busy talking with those folks which is about as much fun as CW QSO's on the K1. About 3pm the local hiker visitors dropped off and I was able to concentrate on QRP QSO's. It's always fun to tell folks where you are, especially portable on the AT, and get their reactions. Almost all folks wish they could be there! I tell them to get out of the house...go to a park or anyplace and set up on a picnic table and have some fun! Of course CW makes it easier to be portable, but a good location and 10w or so of SSB can be equally stimulating. I packed up around 6pm for the hike out and the longer drive back. It was a great day and fun to get "up north." Now I have to start planning for a Mt. Graylock QRP Dxpedition!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mt. Tammany

Located at the southern most end of the AT in New Jersey, Mt Tammany "looked" interesting based on reviewing a topo map of the Delaware Gap area. Shown as a high point with a "vista star", I planned on an QRP activation from the area. Parking at the picnic area on the Jersey side of I80, I climbed the steep Mt. Tammany Trail going east out of the parking lot. It was seemingly going straight up! There were a number of other folks, families, groups, etc. climbing in the same direction. Something had to be spectacular for all these folks to climb this relatively arduous trail. After about 45 minutes I got to a very rocky overlook of the Delaware River and the "gap" between NJ and PA. The corresponding viewpoint on the PA side is called Mt. Minsi and it looks like there is some sort of monument over there. A future trip opportunity.

The view was spectacular; seemingly a straight down look at the river from about 700' or so above it. There were a ton of people here. Mt Tammany is about another 1/2 mile up the trail. I was hoping to breakout of the trees for that "vista" promised on my trail map. Unfortunately a 1/4 mile later, I was still socked in the trees; perhaps 20 years ago when the map was first made there was a view but not today. Hmmm, what to do now? A careful look at the map showed some more "vista stars" a bit north on the trail. Oh well, let's go. Trails criss-cross this area and it would be easy to make a loop hike. A few miles north, I came out on a clearing used by the Forest Service for helicopter landing for either supplies or people. Nothing really great here also. Let's go a few more miles and do the loop and pass by Upper Yards Creek Reservoir.

It was bushwacking a bit on the trail as it was not recently maintained but I got to the fenced in reservoir and hiked along the fence until I got to the Sunfish Pond Fire Road which took me to Sunfish Pond, a popular day-hike area in the summer for picnics and swimming. Now I was back on the AT, about 7 or 8 miles into my loop and still looking for a suitable site to be QRP portable. Heading south now on the AT, after a mile or so, I came to "Backpacker Site #2", a camping area for folks on the AT. It had a nice view to the west so I set up here. It was pretty in the woods but there was still a lot of day-hiker traffic.
After 3 or 4 hours of operating with the verticle, it was time to pack up and head back to the parking lot. I still had about 4 miles ahead of me and I wanted to get back before dark as I didn't have any flashlights with me. The hike is near the Dunnfield Creek which looks like it can be spectacular after heavy rains since for the last mile or so, the trail is in a canyon and fallen or washed down trees are rather high along the creek. I'll have to come up here when we've had some extended rains to see the swollen creek. All in all it was a long about 10 or 11 mile hike.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bear Mtn, NY
Sept 4, 2005

This was an outing to Bear Mtn which is the highest point on the AT in NY and part of the extensive Harrimann Park system. Access is easy and I parked at a public picnic area below the Harriman Lodge at the bottom of the hill. Since it was a holiday weekend, they were charging $10 per car for parking. Being relatively cheap, I elected to walk about 1/4-mile from the public area.

It was going to be a warm day. The climb up was hot and there were a number of day-hikers on the AT from the Lodge up to the Lookout Monument at the top of the mountain. About an hour later, I got to the top via the Trail. This area is accessible by car and there were many people wandering around. I took some pictures and then headed east looking for another "star vista" as shown on my Harriman Park hiking map. On the way I ran into the "QSY Ham Radio Club" operating the ARRL VHF contest from atop Bear Mtn. What a great location for the contest. There's no higher location in this area and they had a 30' Rohn tower setup with a 6m and 2m beams on rotors. Outstanding! They even got permits for overnight camping! I t was a bunch of real friendly guys and I talked with them, sharing stories, doing an Elecraft show-and-tell, etc. There were some HF guys so we had a good time.

I then hiked about 1/4-mile east of there site, setup the vertical and K1, and started to have some QRP fun. It was hot and this site overlooked the Hudson River to the east. I made a number of QSOs, packed up about 6pm and hiked down the very steep "alternative" trail to the lodge area. All in all, it was a fun but hot day!!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Mary's Peak, Oregon

Mary's Peak at about 4,097' is the highest point in the Oregon Coast Range of mountains. It is near Corvallis, Oregon and is quite prominent, rising up from the valley floor of about 500' or so. It has clear vistas in all directions; it is possible to see the Pacific Ocean about 30 miles away, as far north as Mt. Rainier near Seattle and I've heard from some folks that on a really clear day, Mt. Shasta in northern California. Of course, most of Oregon's Cascade Mountains are readily visible. The access road takes you to within 3/4-mile of the top and from there it is an easy hike up to the top.

I was fortunate because it was beautifully clear, no wind, and temps in the 60's to low 70's. The top is a grassy knob with ample room to set up a verticle antenna. I've seen pictures from the 50's and 60's when there was a Fire Lookout Tower here and the local hams would come up here for Field Day. That must have been a spectacular outing!! I was up here on a weekday so there were not many people which cut down on the curiosity discussions. I set up my vertical and began to have some QRP fun! I had to be back in the early evening for some family events otherwise I would have stayed well past nightfall. This is a great operating site, especially weekdays and of course when the weather is clear and the temps and winds cooperating.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Huckleberry Mtn Fire Lookout

At 5,549' this is a spectacular site for both 360-deg vistas of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, but a great QRP operating site. This Fire Lookout is located north of Oak Ridge and most of the road is paved then well graded gravel for the remainder. The directions can be obtuse and the signage not easy. It is best to get a copy of printed directions from the Forest Service office about 1 mile west of Oak Ridge proper. If the tower is manned, the gate will be open to the top parking area; otherwise it's about 3/4-mile hike into the site. On a clear day, the views are spectacular in all directions. It is one of the highest sites in this general area.