Monday, July 31, 2006

Flight of the BumbleBees (FOBB)
July 30, 2006

It was a dark, rainy, and stormy night…..oh, no…wrong time of the year!!


Glen, NK1N, and I hiked the half-mile up to my local haunt, the BearFort Firetower in northern NJ, for this years FOBB. The weather was uncharacteristic clear, sunny, and unfortunately really HOT! In fact “it was at least a million degrees” with humidity not far behind. Actually the temps were in the mid-90’s but very humid. We got to the site about 11:30 am to scramble to get our antennas up in time for the contest start. Glen was going to try a longwire with an appropriate band-specific counterpoise. I was going to try out my recently built W7EL Field Day Special (
http://www.eznec.com/miscpage.htm), a two-element phased beam made of 300-ohm ladderline with significant gain. The plan was to hang one end of the W7EL antenna off the firetower at 50’ or so and the other end connected to a distant tree at the 30’ level. We then could hang Glen’s longwire off my antenna support rope. (Double click the picture and see Glen at the 50' level waving....)

Glen quickly set up a “sun shade” from the rainfly of his tent. I assembled the W7EL and hoisted it up the tower and connected the opposite end to a tree about 150’ away. We later got Glen’s antenna hoisted to this connecting line. I was sweating profusely by now….only a brief very-welcome wind on this ridge but we both hunkered down for the start of the FOBB “contest.”

Twenty meters was hopping and there were some strong stations and I quickly got them in the log. And then the DISRUPTION…..a young couple hiked into the tower site for the scenic views….unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your “viewpoint”) she was clad in a tight-fitted, sweat-soaked, T-shirt. Pamela Anderson, eat your heart out! My CQ’s became unintelligible…I was only sending gibberish. I had to stop…to get my bearings…..and breath again. I ripped my earphones off, jumped up, and explained to the inquisitive young lady (and her boyfriend…was he there?) what we were doing, putting on my “best” ham radio ambassador hat! After the short discussion, they left and I sat down to a cool Pepsi drink and to let my blood pressure come down. Where am I? What was I doing? Oh, yeah…the contest!

We both ground out a number of contacts on 20m and 40m. The bands seemed “reasonable” and I worked a number of west coast stations which were surprised at my “NJ” state but they were copiable and we got through the exchange. We switched antennas about 2-1/2 hours into the FOBB just so Glen could experience the phased-beam. Near the end of the FOBB, we were both “cooked” and more than ready to get out of the sun. It didn’t take long to disassemble, pack up, and hike down to the pickup. Already we have plans for next year’s FOBB…what great stories will emerge?



Monday, July 10, 2006


Indian Fire Lookout in Central Oregon
July 6, 2006

While out in Oregon visiting family, I occasionally break away to explore some central Oregon Cascade Mountain “vista” areas that are also ideal locations for QRP radio! Most firetower locations are chosen for their 360-degree commanding view for obvious reasons. Indian Fire Tower has been decommissioned from active use during the fire danger months and the Forest Service makes it available for “rent” at $40 per night. This tower is about 50 miles east of Eugene at 5,400’ and on a “pinnacle” overlooking terrain that is west of the Three Sisters Mountains (each over 10,000') in central Oregon

I arrived about 8am and quickly set up a dipole center supported from the 30’ high firetower and the ends supported by nearby trees. Unfortunately, the weather was warm (low 50’s) but the mountain was encased in clouds. The light mist wasn’t heavy enough to “rain” but certainly the humidity was 100 percent! To the east there is a 500-800 foot drop off (according to the topo maps!) so my 5w Elecraft K1 signal was enhanced! My first 20m qso was with a “local” in Salem. I had a previous qso with Vern, AA7VW, from the AT in NJ so it was a small world. This time my signal was a good 579 and we had an enjoyable qso. The previous AT qso was a real challenge for Vern due to my weak signal and QRN.

This was a great location! I worked a number of guys in Nevada, Colorado, and Missouri before having to pack up and get back to Eugene. Everyone complimented the “strong” QRP signal! Just what every QRP operator wants to hear!! I plan to revisit this site in August, perhaps for a campover and more QRP field operating. And certainly I had thoughts that this would be an IDEAL Field Day site!! Hhmmmm….more planning and opportunites!!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hunter Mountain Fire Tower, Catskills, NY
June 17, 2006

John NU3E and I planned to hike into a fire tower located on Hunter Mtn about one mile south of the Hunter Ski Area in the Catskills of NY. The mountain is 4060’ and commands a 360-deg view of that area. The hike has about a 2200’ elevation gain over 2 miles so it’s a fairly “rigorous” hike. On the Friday before, the weatherman was predicting severe clear and temps in the mid-80s. Consequently we were expecting a good hike and an exemplary day for QRP radio operating, especially by using the 50’ tower for at least one end of the antenna! Of course, this outing like all the previous ones, will generate a lot of new stories! And we weren’t disappointed!!

John met me at my house where we parked his vehicle and carpooled the 90 miles north to the trailhead in the Catskills. John later described what happened first: “As we approached the NY Catskills the skies grew darker and darker. Then rain commenced and grew heavier and heavier. Hams on the local 2m repeaters began discussing the verystrange, unexpected weather. On the trail, hikers who had prepared for a hot, sunny day were soaking wet.” We couldn’t believe it! And of course I’ve been shrugging off my new moniker of “rain man” based on a similar occurrence a couple of weeks earlier on the AT in New Jersey!

Well, the climb up to the Fire Tower was really a nice hike. The trail was good although somewhat steep and there were only a “few showers” on the way up. By the time we reached the top, the rain showers were replaced by the sun and gusty wind but the temps were in the 70’s. What we didn’t bargain for was the insects! Thousands, it seemed, of swarming little gnats, impervious to 100% DEET, and hungry for human flesh. Nasty little biting buggers that draw little whelts and seemed to crawl up shirt sleeves…. But that was not the worst, however, since we were also plagued by big, HUGE, flies that swarmed around any food, sugar, sweat, anything!!

Since there was a decent wind, I climbed the tower and set up the K1 at the 20’ level or so. This tactic seemed to work for a couple of hours until the wind died down. John setup over near the edge of the heavy woods in the shade which seemed to work for a similar period. We persevered like real Polar Bears! We each struggled for QRP contacts….it seemed that the band conditions weren’t even cooperating!

John later wrote, “By about 4 PM the QRN was starting to become a factor. Also, the wind was subsiding, which increased the aggressiveness of the insects even more, so we decided to pack up and hike out. The descent, on a different trail, was even more "rigorous" than the ascent. It was a memorable adventure!”

Yes, that’s an understatement. I think the site would be a great October or November location but it is not really that accessible without some driving effort and considerable elevation gain but certainly a “vista” location. And at that time of the year, there wouldn’t be any predatory insects!! (That's my official forecast and I'm sticking to it!!!)

Friday, June 02, 2006

The June 2006 AT Hike

We previously had this hike scheduled for May but weather the Thursday before was rainy and the predictions were for more of the same for the weekend. None of us really wanted to get drenched so we choose to cancel and reschedule for June. As it turned out, the weatherman was wrong and that May weekend turned out to be quite nice. Oh, well we thought, so much for the weather predictions!

The Thursday before our planned June trip, the weather was equally harsh with heavy rains and blustery winds but the weatherman this time was predicting clearing and cooler temperatures….so it was a “go” and we made logistic arrangements for Ed WA3WSJ, John Harper AE5X, and myself to do the three day, 29 mile portion of the Delaware Water Gap continuing on where we had left off at the Catfish Fire Tower in March. We were scheduled to meet Glen NK1N at the Mishapahcong Shelter 5 miles south of High Point. Overall this trip would take us to High Point, NJ and the High Point State Park at www.njskylands.com/pkhighpt.htm
John and I shuttled a vehicle to the end of the hike and then drove back to Catfish Fire Tower to meet Ed and begin our hike. We left about 11 am under partly cloudy skies, moderate humidity and temps in the low 70s. Our goal that day was to hike about 10 miles to either Rattlesnake Ridge or the Brinks Road shelter. If the weather looked promising, we were going to camp out on the ridge since it would be a better location for radio propagation and certainly less humid than down at the heavily-treed shelter location. But…..we were watching small thunderstorms build all afternoon and the weather forecast now was for “occasional showers” during the evening.

We got to Rattlesnake about 5 pm and the steady rain started. We had several small rain showers earlier in the day but they always quickly blew through. Not with this shower…we could see it to the west and the clouds looked ominous. We were tired and were looking forward to getting into camp and our packs off. “Just a half mile or so,” I assured Ed and John. Shortly we pulled into the heavily-wooded Brinks Shelter, unloaded our packs, and scouted the area for “air hooks” to hang our antennas. Priorities first! What we noticed first was the generally soggy ground conditions due to days of rainy weather and the current showers only added to the muddiness. The mosquitoes were congregating in the shelter so we elected to pitch our tents for protection. Dinner followed shortly thereafter and the rain continued steadily, buffered somewhat by the heavy foliage from maple, oak, and other deciduous trees. Ed’s feet and shoes were soaked and John’s knee was bothering him. Hopefully a good nights rest will help.

We retired to the tents about 8 pm to work some radio on 20, 30, and 40m. I was making contacts on 20m and John on 30m and 40m. Little did I know the important qso John was making with K0RU for a wife-rescue the next morning. You can read John’s story at
http://ae5x.com/at2.htm for details and how Morse code and a good ham operator certainly saved John’s day!

It rained all night! At times the heavy rain pounding on my tent woke me in the night. I was dry but I wondered how the other guys were doing? Morning came and the rain stopped for now. We ate quickly and John told us that he arranged for his wife to pick him up in Culvers Gap which was 3 miles north on the trail. Ed’s feet, socks, boots, tent and sleeping bag were soaked and he also joined John. We got to the Gyps Tavern about 11:30am or so with the last mile in another rain shower. A quick cheeseburger and fries made a big attitude adjustment for me. It was still about 10 or 11 miles more to the Mishapahcong Shelter where we were going to meet Glen N1KN who was going to hike in about a mile from a nearby parking area and then hike north the 5 miles to High Point on Sunday.

I left Ed and John about 12:30, feeling fine and focused on the mileage ahead and “just getting there!” I climbed the 800 or so feet to the ridge where Culvers Lake Fire Tower was located. Unfortunately I mis-read a trail blaze and took a right on the old trail withthe relocated AT trail going left. After following white blazes, 800’ of elevation drop, and a mile later I realized my mistake and turned around to make the climb back to my “last good location” on the AT. Many miles on the AT have been relocated over the years and the “old trails” still exist, white blazes and all. It was surprisingly easy to make this mistake! Now I was at least an hour behind my schedule. I redoubled my efforts on the relatively flat ridge and increased my pace to better than 3 mph.

I arrived at the Mishapahcong Shelter at 4:30 pm. Glen was there, having just arrived about 45 minutes earlier after hiking the 5 miles south from High Point. He was unable to overnight park his car nearby so made the trek south to the shelter. I quickly brought Glen up to date with the “news” of Ed and John’s situation. We stayed in the Shelter as the rain showers were still continuing but got our antennas up, then had dinner. As I watched John unload his pack it became apparent that John is a very organized person….everything had a bag and the bags were color-coded for quick access. Now this is in comparison to my “one bag”, my backpack! Everything I have goes in with some semblance of priority but inevitably what I need is always at the bottom. Not so with John…everything has its place. I was amazed and amused. Surely there was a trailname here…yes, BAGMAN! Glen good naturedly laughed at himself and quickly adopted the moniker!

We both operated our K1’s. I was on 30m and John tried 40m. Band conditions were terrible and we struggled for a few qsos. No fun! It continued to rain occasionally, dark set, and we both crawled into our sleeping bags. The stalled weather front responsible for the incessant rains finally moved east, dropping overnight temps into the 40’s. I had my “lightweight” sleeping bag and was cold during the night….I finally covered up with my poncho and then stayed warm.

Morning came early and we both got up around 6 am or so. The rain stopped and the skys were partly cloudy. We quickly ate, packed up our antennas and camping gear and hit the trail about 8 am or so. I walked at Glen’s pace and we had a good time talking with day hikers and section hikers on the AT. We met “Hansel and Gretel”, trailnames for an elderly (late-60’s or so) German couple who had flown over just to section hike the AT for a couple of weeks! Their English was very good and we had an enjoyable conversation for 10 minutes or so.

We got into High Point about 12:30pm and unloaded our stuff into Glen’s car. We then drove into the Park to find John who was up at the High Point Monument working CW on the bands. We traded stories for 20 minutes or so then John gave me a ride back to my pickup at Catfish Fire Tower. Another hike completed, more stories, pictures, and memorable field radio times! QRP operating from the AT makes the hike more enjoyable especially for the wonderful qsos with folks who invariably exclaim “YOUR DOING WHAT!!” and then spend the next 20 mins or so telling us their story of operating from the field!!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Delaware Water Gap on the AT!

To keep the hiking/camping/QRP activities foremost, I’ve been trying to schedule monthly treks to not only activate AT segments but to enjoy the outdoors in different seasons and combine that with Elecraft QRP operating. In the past six months or so there has been a lot of good fun, stories, and great HF in the field operating from a lot of very scenic areas along the AT in PA, NJ, and MA.

For the month of April, WA3WSJ, NU3E, and N7UN started at the Delaware Water Gap April 15 for a two day, one way hike and campout going north on the AT. After shuttling cars, we hiked the first day about 3.5 miles with an elevation gain about 1000 ft to a “backpacker campsite” in the Worthington State Forrest on the AT. It was a large campsite, certainly able to handle 50 or more campers, albeit a bit crowded. Fortunately, we’re still early in the season, so the “hoards of Boy Scouts” we all chided each other didn’t materialize. We started hiking about 9am and the weather was clear and in the mid-60’s, perfect for the climb the lay ahead of us. Earlier in the morning we all experienced very heavy fog on the roadways so it took much longer to get to the starting point than planned. Ed, WA3WSJ, had it most difficult due to heavy fog in PA. John, NU3E, and I arrived first and shuttled vehicles while Ed was still on his way. By the time we got back the sun was out, we donned our packs and started on the trail north. Except the bridge crossing the Dunnfield Creek was washed out so we found a crossing requiring “a small jump” to get across. The adventure was beginning! About a mile into the hike, some hikers told us about a black bear just ahead. We saw him maundering about 100’ off the trail and oblivious to us. I tried to get a camera shot but the bear got in heavy brush before I could get a shot off. I had my new Garmin eTrex GPS unit with the route and waypoints programmed in so it was fun to track our progress as we labored up the trail. Soon we got away from the Dunnfield Creek and were heading up a ridge towards the campsite. Conversation was light and we all enjoyed some light, but well intended, verbal harassment, especially for John, NU3E, our “Rookie” and his efforts to reduce the weight in his pack. Still a “lot of room for improvement” John!!!

The temperature was now in the 70’s, clear and with a light wind. You couldn’t ask for much better hiking weather and before we knew it we were coming into camp. We looked around and quickly set up tents and antennas after a short rest. There was a Forest Service wooden deck tent platform with a great view to the west overlooking the Delaware River. The sun was shining brightly, it was warm, and it was enjoyable. (Notice how Ed succumbed to band QSB!) The weather forecast predicted a cold front to pass near midnight so we knew it would be chilly by morning. What we didn‘t anticipate was the heavy wind! Here we go again, everyone was thinking after our February “hurricane” at the Catfish Fire Tower! I decided “it couldn’t be that bad” so elected to campout on the tent platform “to see the heavens” and the full moon rise around 10pm. We all operated occasionally on various bands for several hours then Ed and I took a short hike to Sunfish Pond while the “Rookie” succumbed to a short nap. Sunfish, a clear water pond and about ¾ of a mile from camp, is one of the day-hiker destinations along the AT because of its scenic beauty. The trees were just coming out of their winter hibernation so it was quite pretty to see the newly minted green colors on the trees.

It didn‘t take Ed or I much time to take our boots off and soak “those hot puppies” in the winter-cold lake water. We hiked back to the campsite, played QRP radio for a while although the bands were in terrible condition and contacts few, then cooked dinner. The wind was increasing but it was still very warm and pleasant. Sunset was around 7:30 pm so we got our tents and sleeping bags ready. I pitched my tent in a grassy area in away from the ridge and tent platform “just in case.” The wind was now picking up, accelerating up the ridge and then overtop of the camp area but the tent platform was directly in its path. I used my rainfly to cover my sleeping bag, tied the bottom of the rainfly to the tent platform and anchored the edges with 10 or 15 pound rocks to hold it down as the wind was now picking up. I was still holding to my conviction of “sleeping under the stars” but carefully eyeing my tent that was out of the wind. Well……the wind was now “substantial”, probably 20 mph with gusts in the 30’s! I hunkered down in the bag about 9pm and was drifting off to sleep when John was coming around to tell of his contact with a mutual hiking friend, Glen, NK1N. “Ok, great, thanks John. See you in the morning,” I sleepily replied!

The wind was picking up but the stars were out in full brightness and the full moon was peeking through the trees. Far off city lights were visible on this crystal clear night. You could hear the wind gusts in the trees coming up the valley then accelerating up the ridge then to blast across the tent platform. Each gust lifted the rainfly and the anchor rocks were rattling like a marimba rhythm shaker. I was sleeping between major “gusts”. It was about 1 pm or so that the cold front came through. The wind was now gusting to 40 mph or more. My anchor rocks were in constant motion sounding like a 3rd grade drumming squad. Sleep was impossible so I moved into the shelter of my tent set up earlier “just in case.” I quickly crashed and woke up around 7am to a clear day with temps in the 40’s. Not too bad.

A quick breakfast, some hot tea and a return to the tent platform for some 40m activity and a couple of quick QSO’s with folks in the Midwest. The bands had returned and there was a lot of activity. We had to pack up for we had about a 8-1/2 hiking mile day ahead of us. We cleared the campsite and heading to Sunfish Pond to filter some water and soak our feet. We hiked on and stopped at a few vista spots but the most scenic was called Mohican Mtn which had unimpeded views in all directions and especially scenic views of the Delaware River in the valley below. We met a Detroit husband and wife hike team that came out to section hike the AT for a few days. They were fun to talk with and we ran into them several times until we got to Camp-Run-a-MOC about 4 more miles north. Ed rates Mohican Mtn as a “9 on a scale of 0-10” in terms of vistas on the AT. We pushed on with several stops to talk with day-hikers. We got to our previous February hike-in spot, Catfish Fire Tower, about 1pm or so and rested and chatted with several folks while there.

You can always tell the state of a good hike by the food dreams you have…..and we started talking about what we were hungry for! I couldn’t get “DQ banana splits” out of my mind and my comments must have been infectious since the other guys quickly agreed to stopping at the first DQ we saw for refreshments! From the Fire Tower, we only had about 1 mile left and our feet were ready! All of us were tired and the downhill to the parked shuttle car was welcome relief. We grinded on, got to the pickup, threw our packs in the back, and headed down from the AT towards our starting point. It wasn‘t far before we spied a DQ. I can’t even begin to tell you how good that banana split tasted as we all three basked in the afternoon sun quietly enjoying our feast and thinking we had made it through another adventure! And we were already talking about next month and continuing where we left off at Catfish and continuing north High Point State Park….maybe a three day hike this time! What adventures lay ahead? Come back next month for the update to the next chapter!!

Friday, March 17, 2006

“A Lot of Opportunity for Improvement”
March 11, 2006

This outing was the “last of the season Polar Bear Full Moon Madness Outings.” Ed Breneiser, WA3WSJ, and I had talked about going up to Mt. Everett for a “true winter camping experience.” But Mt. Everett is about 2-1/2 hours north of me, and about 4-1/2 hours for Ed. Consequently, we postponed that trip in favor of a hike to Round Head just north of Bethel on Rte 501, about a 2 hr trip for me and 1 hr for Ed.

Round Head, a promontory in the Blue Mountains, is about a 400’ elevation gain from the road to a vista point overlooking the Schulkill River valley. The AT traverses the area and heads NE along the Blue Mountain ridge. One of the strong points of this area, besides the views, is the camp has a rock fire pit which makes overnight camping very enjoyable because you can have a fire.

It was a hot March Saturday for this time of the year. Daytime temps were in the low 70’s which was almost uncomfortable. We congregated at Cabela’s for breakfast at 9am. Ron, WB3AAL; Ed, K3YTR; Ed, WA3WSJ; John, NU3E, and myself all ate heartily then spent an hour shopping. Ed, John, and I then headed for Round Head about 20 minutes west of Hamburg and Cabela’s. The other guys went to a drive-to location on the AT to participate in the Polar Bear event.

We got our hiking gear together as we were “cautioned” by John that he “hadn’t been hiking in 20 years and brought along his old HW-8 and an 7 amp-hr gel-cell battery and an assortment of ni-cads. Ed and I were thinking “heavy!” but when he took his 30 yr-old external-frame backpack, it didn’t look THAT heavy and I said so. John immediately replied “that this was only half.” Hmmm, both Ed and I thought. As John pulled out his 16” by 30” sleeping bag I was getting concerned. Then the 12x12x16 Tupperware container containing all the radios, batteries, and other stuff added to our mild alarm. Hmmm, we wondered, how heavy was this gonna be? John “roped” everything onto the frame backpack. I test lifted the final pack….wow, it was HEAVY!! Ed asked me “how heavy was it?” I replied, “Well, let’s put it this way, there’s a lot of opportunity for improvement!!” John's backpack was definitely QRO! As you can imagine, this started off our weekend with a great deal of levity!! We were going to have some fun.

We hiked onto the access trail and started up the mountainside. About a ½-mile in we got to the infamous “500 stairs” dedicated to an early 1920’s hiking group in central Pa. The “stairs” were really famous AT rocks generally arranged in a stair-step fashion to go up a ½-mile rock scramble to the top of Round Head. It was fun but challenging, especially for John with his later-weighed 50 pound QRO pack.

But we made it without much challenge. The campground was as it was last November when Ed and I were at this site. We quickly set up our antennas (I used my tri-band dipole for the first time in a heavily wooded area) and then our tents. We all got on the air before getting ready for dinner and nightfall. The bands were in pretty good shape and I made a number of 20m QSO’s, especially with the Elecraft QSO Party going on. It was fun to make a number of QRP contacts but no real opportunity to talk about our portable location on the AT. I did mix in a number of contacts where we could talk about “hiking on the AT and having some QRP fun!”

Dinner (a can of beef stew heated in the fire) went quick and we all had a lot of fun talking and giving John, NU3E, a hard time about being “a rookie” with all of his 20-30 yr old camping gear.

We quickly retired to our tents and some QRP activity. Light rain was forecast after midnight so we were all prepared for some rain. It was a brief shower that momentarily woke me at some indeterminate dark hour but I quickly went back to sleep. I awoke at my customary time of around 5:30 or so. I changed my dipole over to 40m (which was a pain because of all the tree limbs, etc….gotta be a better way) and crawled back into the tent and worked a bunch of Elecraft QSOp stations and a number of non-contest QSO’s with folks mostly in the south. I then got up and started a fire in our pit, gathered some more wood, and chiding our “rookie” for not keeping a “firewatch” all night and letting the fire go out. Then it started to rain again. This time it was not a shower but a heavy rain. We all persevered in our tents but wondered if/when it was going to stop. Finally after about an hour we decided to pack up and leave anyway….it didn’t look like we would get a respite from the rain.

I was in my rain gear and comfortable as was Ed. The “rookie” however was not really prepared for the rain. An occasional "drip bucket of water” would come out of his tent….John had several leaks but got his gear together and we all started down the mountain, now more cautious because of the rain-slicked rocks. As Mr. Murphy would expect, it stopped raining.

Ed got some good videos of the overall weekend which I’m sure will appear in the upcoming “Polar Bears Gone Wild” DVD!! We got back to the vehicles, loaded up our stuff and then drove up to Dunkin Donuts for some late breakfast and coffee and to start talking about our April “full moon” outing into the Delaware Water Gap, to a site that I had day-hiked into last fall. We reiterated an earlier discussion that “these events are all about the stories”, had a laugh about our numerous fun moments then head back to our familiar home haunts with thoughts about what will our next trip bring…..????

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

January 2006 PB Adventure: “The Ghost”

I was planning another camping overnight to the Catfish Fire Tower on the AT in western NJ for the Jan PB Madness event. In an email to Ed, PB #2 and WA3WSJ, on December 22, 2005, I described the site as:

“There is plenty of flat area around the tower for camping. The only challenges might be wind as the site is very exposed. The only constraints for me would be extreme cold, i.e. 0-degs or less, a heavy rain storm, or an icing event. I'm prepared for a snow event.”

Little did we know that we’d get to experience all THREE “challenges”!!!!

It started out as a unusually warm for this time of the year (in the mid-50’s) but foggy day. Visibility was about 100 yds or so due to the heavy fog and slight misty rain. We four, Ed (WA3WSJ), Glenn (NK1N), John (NU2E), and myself started our hike into the Catfish Fire Tower about noon Saturday after parking at the gated access area at the bottom of the hill. It took us about 30 min or so to hike the 1+ mile into the tower site since each of us were carrying a full backpack load. It was still misting as we set up our tents to operate the January PB Madness event starting at 3 pm locally and lasting 4 hours. Most folks set up quickly; I setup up on top of the hill and hung my multi-band dipole off of the 65’ firetower….really an ideal antenna location for QRP activities since the average antenna height exceeds 35’.

The weather forecast was for a cold front to pass in the late afternoon with the temperature to drop into the high 20’s overnight. I was planning to spend the night on the ridgetop; the other guys were going back to the cabin at 6 or 7pm or so. So I was hunkered down for somewhat of a storm but not like anything that actually occurred…..

The bands were in good shape. I was making a number of Q’s on 40m and having a good time in spite of an increasing wind and now a moderate rain. I peeked out of the tent to see how the other guys were doing; the sky was very dark to the west and the clouds looked menacing, similar to those violent thunderstorms of the Midwest. The wind was picking up and I re-anchored my tent pegs; I also tied the tent to several large 100-lb rocks as added assurance. Then the gust front of the weather front hit! I sounded like an on-coming freight train….to say “all hell broke loose” is an understatement. My four-season, mountaineering tent was bending in half and “thumping” loudly as it recovered between gusts. The wind was whistling through the steel framework of the firetower about 40’ away from tent site. Then the rain started, driven by the 60+ mph winds. It pounded my tent; the noise was unbelievable. I set aside my radio efforts…no way I could operate in these conditions. My concern turned to protection and survival. I pulled on my heavy raingear and went outside to find more 100-lb rocks to anchor my tent pegs and to check on the other guys. You could hear the heavy wind gusts coming up the ridgeside from the west as they tore through the trees lower down. And then I watched the fire tower swaying with each gust….

Ed, WA3WSJ and John, NU3E were on the leeward wind shadow of the ridge; the heavy wind was going over top of them as they huddled in Ed’s tent. It was still raining hard but nothing like on top of the ridge. Glenn, NK1N, was up top on the ridge next to me. I went to check on him and found him a bit shaken but persevering. This was Glenn’s first trip with the Polar Bears….surely he was wondering if it’s always like this!! Or correspondingly, what have we got him into??

We got a break in the rain storm so Ed, John, and Glenn packed up quickly to get off the mountain. I had earlier communicated that “I was going to spend the night” so I stubbornly held to that conviction notwithstanding the gazillion mile-per-hour winds and heavy rain. The guys were quickly gone and the wind showed no signs of abatement. My dipole was still swaying heavily, the winds still gusting well over 60 mph, and now the rain turned to sleet and was pounding my tent. Soon there was ice covering everything and it had become nightfall or at least dark an hour before scheduled sunset due to the black, roiling clouds from the storm. My tent was under constant attack, rolling to-and-fro as the wind collapsed the windward side and the loud “thump” as it recovered. By now I had 6 large, 50 to 100 lb rocks holding each tent peg down. The ice pellets on the tent was like the sound of a huge hail storm on your car.

Ok. Let’s see who’s on the bands. The radio still worked and I was searching the 40m for a QRL frequency when the radio went dead….it was still on so it wasn’t the batteries. A few minutes of sleuthing narrowed to the antenna….I got my flashlight out and peered outside but really couldn’t see anything so I reluctantly went outside. It was sleeting heavily now and the ice pellets hurt as they pummeled my face and hands. Where’s my dipole? Well, the worst has happened. The dipole iced up and the heavy winds broke it loose from the fire tower connection at 60 feet. No way was I going to put it up, especially since you could HEAR the tower groaning and squealing as the winds buffeted the riveted steel structure. With no antenna, why I am I here? The answer was easy….let’s pack up and get out of here! First I tried to let the guy’s in the cabin know that “I was cumin’ in!!” but no answer to my FM call. Interesting, the link was a 59 copy before, why not now? Notwithstanding that “small problem”, I crawled back into the tent and stuffed everything into the backpack. The tent was gonna be another problem….it was covered with ice and no way was it even going to roll up! The temps were now in the high 20’s, the wind still howling, and the sleet seemingly heavier than before! So I just “folded” the tent into this big box-size, cradled it under my arm and headed down the mountain. I’ll hike in tomorrow to get the dipole and coax!

As soon as I got below the leeward side of the ridge line, the wind was going over the top and it was another world, albeit somewhat eerie because the trees were groaning, branches falling, the sleet still sideways, and the trail icy. Most would say this “isn’t in the fun category” but I was really enjoying it. What a great story this was. I got back to the pickup, threw the tent in the back, and started back to the cabin. I tried raising the guys again on FM….where were they? They’re supposed to be monitoring this frequency? After a bit, I pulled into the Camp-Run-A-MOC area and gave them a call again….this time they came back on FM….apparently they didn’t change modes to FM after working some 2M SSB folks…so I wasn’t even breaking squelch! Ha! So much for emergency preparedness!! I told them “I was coming in….the storm got the best of me.”

When I walked in there was a “big welcome” and Ed related that “they really didn’t expect to see me alive again. They were planning to retrieve my remains in morning!!!” “He’s gone for sure,” said Ed! After warming up and getting some of Ed’s, K3YTR, beef stew I was feeling much better. In table chatter, Ed told the story of how “he had tried to work me when we were on the hill.” He could hear my CW signal great and kept calling, and calling on 20m but with no response from me. How was this possible? Then a few minutes later it dawned on him that he was trying to work my 2nd harmonic since I was on 40m at the time. And later, since they had jokingly given me up for “gone on the mountain”, when I walked into the cabin, it was as if a “ghost” had appeared. And that became the basis for my new, AT nickname, “the Ghost.” Anybody want to go on another N7UN-arranged hike? The weather will be great….”I promise!”