Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Blue Mountain Adirondacks Adventure!

My winter hiking friend, Joel Miller (W2TQ) and I have hiked into several "vista" locations, primarily firetower sites, in the Adirondacks these past few months. Part of the "fun" is to get out in the winter and experience popular summer hiking sites during snowy winter conditions. Secondly, it is an opportunity to improve cold, winter camping skills and test equipment in harsh or challenging weather. Blue Mtn at 3,760' and located in the central Adirondacks and the firetower atop the peak provided for great vistas in all directions. Blue Mtn receives around 15,000 visitors in the summer months and is a popular snowshoe site in the winter. Part of my fun is to hang a dipole off the Firetower and operate QRP with my trusty K1. And to make our campout even more interesting, a large Nor'easter was headed our way so we were expecting some "challenging" weather!

We started the 1500' elevation gain climb Friday about 12:30. The sun was out and the temps were in the low 30's. Nice! The Nor'easter was already raging through the Ohio valley with record snowfalls and temps in the single digits. We were on the "warm" side of the low pressure but the A'dacks create their own weather. So we were anticipating snow, sleet, freezing rain and maybe even high winds. I had my trusty N7UN sled with the new brackets for using my ski poles as "arms" to steer, lift, and guide the sled particularily on downhills. Joel, W2TQ, was using his new sled for the first time.

The climb to the top was uneventful. If we stayed on the snowshoe-packed trail, the two feet of snow was not problematic. If you stepped off the trail, you postholed a couple of feet. It's a 2 mile climb to the top of Blue Mtn and the Blue Mtn Firetower. The top area had a couple of feet of crusty snow, was fairly open, and the firetower somewhat ice-crusted over. And it was just in time 'cause you could see the dark clouds out of the south heading our way! With tents up, my multiband antenna up, we battened down the hatches as it began to snow. I had hoped to be on 20m for an hour or so to make a contact with N0TU. I made two contacts on 20m before a heavy pulse-noise interference overloaded the K1 AGC and drove me to 40m. But this required a very quick change of the multiband dipole in the now heavier snow storm. A few minutes later, I was tuning on 40 which was challenging since a 1/4 of the dipole was laying across nearby trees about 15' off the ground. But the K1 tuned up with a 1.6 swr and 4 watts out. 40 mtrs was hot! I had a nice chat with Ken WA8REI who had a strong signal with me. I was on 40m from 6pm to 7pm and worked a lot of folks but no other Polar Bears.
It was snowing hard now and in an hour or so we had 2"...looked like a foot or more by morning if this snowfall rate kept up. But around midnight it started to sleet followed by freezing rain for a while then quiet and calm from 2am on. By morning, we had about 6" of new snow and an inch of ice on my dipole and temps around the high 20's! I shook the coax and knocked some ice off but not much. Fortunately the trusty K1 tuned up ok which amazed me with the inch of ice on the dipole wires. I made some fun contacts in the midwest with folks getting a lot of snow and bitterly cold temps, e.g. -5 f. in Wisconsin! The Nor'easter was heading our way but not forecasted to hit until later that Saturday nite. Fortunately we were hiking down that day and would miss the worst of the weather and the forecasted 50-60 mph winds, heavy icing and then a significant snowfall.
We had breakfast (love my gourmet roasted oats, christened with sweet spices...ok, ok, oatmeal!) and then started to pack up. The forecast was for freezing rain or just rain until a change over to all snow later Sat. evening as this fairly powerful Nor'easter moved up the Ohio valley. And just in time because it started to rain! With temps now in the low 30's the rain was cold but our activity kept us warm.

We got back down the mountain quickly, loaded up the gear in the pickup, had a great lunch at a local resturant and then started our 4 hr trip back to NJ. Wow, did it ever rain hard almost the whole trip back. Flooding for sure for northern NJ and SE NY. So it was a grand adventure not only to QRP operate from a new location but to experience some "challenging" weather. And it proves that with relatively simple QRP equipment and an antenna "in the trees" you can effectively communicate, even in the worst of conditions.

Guy, N7UN/2
RainMan, PB#15

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Improvements to the N7UN Sled:

A number of folks have inquired about the N7UN sled that I’ve been using for carrying my backpack on snow during winter hikes. The use of a sled significantly reduces the amount of work during the hike since the backpack is carried in the sled which slides almost effortlessly on snow. Added benefits are the reduction of “wear-and-tear” on the body due to carrying a 35-45 lb pack on your back over 3-5 miles and climbing or gaining a lot of elevation.

Coming down hills is more challenging although. The sled “nips” at your heels since it's sliding down hill. I was holding my ski poles behind me against my pack to control it. I later added some aluminum brackets to the sled and drilled a hole in each bracket just larger than my ski pole tip. The idea was to put my ski pole tips in the bracket holes thereby providing a tighter connection with increased positive control of the sled during the downhills.

This worked great on the trip to Blue Mtn recently. In fact my ski poles would “wedge” themselves in the bracket holes thereby allowing me to lift the front of the sled which is very helpful in crossing creeks or trail obstacles. The problem however is the wear-and-tear on the ski pole tip due to being wedged in the bracket hole. During the Blue Mtn trip, after several hours of downhill control of the sled by use of the ski poles, the tips broke off. It seems on my Black Diamond poles, the tip is connected to the aluminum shaft by a hard plastic shell which becomes the weak point and eventually cracks and then breaks off.

Joel Miller, W2TQ, my winter hiking friend, suggested that I might adapt some sort of ball joint to connect the ski pole to the bracket. Good idea! So a google search later for “small ball joints” I found a potential solution at Small Parts, Inc. in a ¼” thread swivel ball joint with an overall length of 1-13/16”. I then threaded the ski pole shaft end to fit the ¼” thread, bolted the ball joint to the bracket and screwed in the ski pole shaft and “eureka!” a positive control to the sled with a swivel joint. The sled front end can now be lifted to clear terrain obstacles and the ski poles act like arms to the sled for very positive control during steep downhill sections of a descent.

Although I haven’t tested this improvement yet in actual snow/hiking conditions, it should work great. Now I can control the sled during the downhills, and still have the rope-to-waist belt for pulling the sled during the uphill sections of the hike and my poles free from the sled to assist in the uphill climb.

Until you try a sled to haul your gear, I can’t tell you how much less work is required which in turn results in a much more enjoyable winter hike over longer distances.

The Small Parts, Inc. part number for the swivel ball joint I used is: BJS-06-01 and costs $4.75 each. An engineering drawing of the part can be seen at: Hopefully these ideas can make your winter hiking more enjoyable!