CQ de VA3SIE/P at Big Salmon Lake, Ontario

By , July 21, 2015 11:18 pm
Paddles

Our new paddles

Fariba and I canoe’ed into Big Salmon Lake for a brief 4-day camping trip.   We’re working on our packing skills and I think we did a pretty good job this time around.   We used pretty much everything we brought with us.

Food

We brought cornish pasties individually wrapped in aluminium foil in the cooler for our first night and they were awesome!   We had reconstituted bart chilli on the 2nd night and reconstituted lasagna on the 3rd night.   Breakfast was a tried and true favorite;  Outrageous Outback Oatmeal with either blueberries or strawberries.  Lunch was nutella on pitta bread stuffed with banana slices.   And snacks of course.   Yum!!  We left with only a couple of pita breads and a handful or emergency cliff bars so we got the amount of food just right.

Still, you always learn something and we did learn a few things.  A saw and axe to cut better deadwood and a bigger tarp and more rope so we can completely enclose the tent and the picnic table will definitely be added on our next trip.

Cornish Pasties for dinner

Cornish Pasties for dinner

Location

We canoe’ed in to cluster 4 on big salmon lake.

Park Map

Park Map

 

Weather

The weather was perfect.   Hot and sunny all weekend.  A line of thunderstorms passed through on Sunday evening but we only saw a light rain shower, enough to bring out twice the number of fireflies that came out on Saturday night…  nice!   It also rained on and off throughout the night on Monday night but it started long after we were asleep and the sun came out at breakfast time so the tent cover toasted dry by the time we packed up.

 

Wildlife sightings

Eastern garter snakes on the trails,  an American bullfrog which walked through our campsite, the ubiquitous Eastern chipmunks cavorting in the bush, a beaver grinding it’s nocturnal way through the foliage at the side of the campsite and a pair of loons teaching their kid how to swim.

 

Ham Radio

Operating the radio at the lakeside

Operating the radio

I brought along my Elecraft KX3, with my Heil BM-5 microphone, KXPD1 paddles (recently upgraded), two A123 battery packs, and a few antenna options.   When we arrived at the site, Fariba pointed out a tall jack pine right behind the campfire bench…  perfect!   I threw a weighted line over a tree limb at ~50ft and pulled up my 84′ wire.   When I pulled it back down the other side, the wire snapped and I had to restart less ~5′ wire.

I threw the 17′ counterpoise wire down into the lake.   On Monday night a beaver was working its way along the bank munching on foliage and it gnawed right through the wire causing me to have to re-tune  :roll:  … nevertheless the antenna worked really well.   It’s not often that I can get it up that high.

Elecraft KX3 with campfire

Elecraft KX3

Cognizant of the peace and tranquility of the campsite I opted to operate CW on the first night.   I fiddled with the keyer to attempt to resolve bad contacts and it was improved but I was still having issues from time to time.

There was a line of thunderstorms heading through the area generating ridiculous amounts of static on all bands but especially on 80m/40m.

Thanks to the awesome Noise Reduction (NR) and Noise Blanker (NB) functions of the KX3 as well as the super sharp filters, I was able to complete CW QSOs easily with NG7IL Gil in Utah and Gary AB0BM in Indiana.

Canoe in foreground, Martin in background operating radio

On the air from the canoe campsite

The 20m band was full of exotic DX stations each night, and open well into the night.   Among the more exotic stations I heard were Kuwait, Dubai, South Africa and a couple of different countries in Africa.

On Sunday evening the campsites around us were less busy so I decided to give SSB a whirl.

Rui CS8ABF gave me a solid 5×7 report on SSB, I was very happy with that signal report!  I also made contact with Craig KP2/VE3OP in the US Virgin Isles, he had read my blog in the past so he was able to put a face to the callsign, that was pretty cool.  Craig also gave me a 5×7 report.   The antenna was working!

Nice view of the lake

Nice view of the lake

On Monday morning, John VE3OMA in Picton was kind enough to relay me into the ONTARS net control Ian VA3IC and provide a weather update.   The forecast 30-40% rain overnight did happen but it was a brief rainshower.

Monday evening saw me checking into the Laurentian 80m net and I received a good signal report from John VE3VGI.   Later in the evening I also made contact with VE3MPM up in his cottage in VE2, that was on the 3730 net run by Ray KC1MR.  I heard Bob VA3QV check in but his signal was barely readable with all the lightning noise and I don’t think we would have been able to make contact with each other.

Up on 20m SSB and I worked a special event station II5YOTA (Youngsters On The Air) in Italy.  The 17 year old op was handling traffic like a pro!

I also had a pleasant chat with Mats SM7KOM in Ahus, Sweden.   Mats was at his vacation QTH.  Mats was driving 200W into a 5/8-wave dipole.

 

73 until my next adventure

Here is a Tom Thompson moment captured by Fariba:

Jack Pine at Sunset

Jack Pine at Sunset

73!!!!

Paddles Ahoy

Paddles Ahoy

 

Victoria Day SOTA from Mont Tremblant VE2/LR-002

By , May 19, 2014 9:11 pm

This was the first SOTA summit hike of 2014 for me.    It was also the last summit I’ve activated last year and in fact the last time I aired my KX3, the recorded messages didn’t even need updating (CQ CQ SOTA from VA3SIE/P, Mont Treblant Quebec”    :-)

We hit the hiking trail around 8am and we hiked up leisurely up the Johannsen trail.   It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny.   There was some snow at higher altitudes which made the hike quite challenging – very muddy where the snow had melted, a bit slippery.

APRS Track

APRS Track

The true summit of the Mont Tremblant massif is the Johannsen Peak.  At 968m, it’s an 8 point summit (just 32m short of a 10 pointer).  The hiking trail (Johannsen Trail) to the summit is a 7km trek at a steady 10% incline.  The trail crosses a few streams which have constructed bridges over and a few boggy regions which have also been bridged with planks or branches.  The summit at the top is a cleared area with a summit marker.  There are tall trees all around the clearing.

Just like past July we chose to hike back along the ridge line of the massif to the top of the ski trails along the Summits Trail.  This trail dips down around 100m and then back up to some smaller peaks affording one or two nice view points.  There is no view at Johannsen and only one brief view point about  of the way up the climb.  This trail is 5km in length, dips down to 780m at points but ends up just 50m or so below the elevation of the Johannsen Peak.

By the time we completed all this hiking we chose to ride the cable car back down the mountain to the ski village.

VE2/LR-002 Trail Map

VE2/LR-002 Trail Map

This activation was not without its challenges!    I had not brought any phone with me so had no way of self-spotting.   I would have to rely on chasers spotting me.    The first location I put the antenna was bad, I’m not exactly sure why but the antenna just wouldn’t tune.    So I pulled all the wire/string down, re-oriented the antenna in a different direction.    I got on the air ~1 hour after my posted activation time.

I only had 60 minutes on the summit before we needed to hustle back along the ridge to meet the gondola which was closing at 4:30pm (we thought).    I spent 20 minutes calling CQ on 14.342 with no takers.   With only 40 minutes left, I switched over to 40m and located the trans provincial net.   I completed a QSO with the net controller VE3SAO,  so that’s one of my four required QSOs in the book.   I spent another 15 minutes calling CQ again with no results, so I tuned the band and heard a mobile station K8HGY calling CQ.   Rich gave me a 3×3 report but that was my second QSO on the books.

I spent the remaining time calling CQ on 40m and 60m but with no takers.    As it was time to pack up I tuned over 40m and heard KB1LV in Vermont chatting with KC2DIA in New York.   I broke into the conversation and they were kind enough to exchange signal reports with me to complete my four QSOs.

Yay!

It was a fun day, lovely weather for a hoke, no mosquitoes or blackfly yet and a cool breeze… lovely!

Here are some photos, click to view larger version.

Not Far to Go

Not Far to Go

Snow

Snow

SOTA Yay

SOTA Yay

On the Trail

On the Trail

Martin

Martin

Fariba

Fariba

Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads

On Trail

On Trail

On Trail

On Trail

Start Hike

Start Hike

Bzz de VA3SIE/P … QRP fun in the skeeter hunt 2013

By , August 12, 2013 12:46 am
Martin sitting at park bench sending CW

Park Bench BZZ

The 2013 running of the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt was today.  This QRP sprint-style contest has multipliers for home brewed equipment and operating portable.  There is also a bonus for operating from a body of water.

I own two HF portable radios.  My Elecraft KX3 was shipped factory built and is all mode, all band.  My Elecraft KX1 on the other hand arrived in bags of components and I had to solder the components onto the board, wind the toroids, etc.   It was a tricky radio to put together as it is so small…   you actually have to bend some of the capacitors over so that they make room for other components sticking out of daughter boards.  

The KX1 only does four bands 80m, 40m, 30m and 20m and one mode – CW.  The contest also has a CW-only category.  So my KX1 was the radio of choice today as it is also ultra-portable.

APRS Route to Bate Island

APRS Route to Bate Island

I thought about where to operate near a body of water.  I decided to operate from Bate Island.  This island sits in the middle of the Ottawa river half-way between the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.  It is in Ontario though barely.  The island has picnic benches and tall trees on it, perfect for portable radio.  My bicycle is equipped for APRS.  I packed the KX1 and a dipole into my bicycle and set off for the island.  It’s around a 30 minute ride from home.  The National Capital Commission shut down the parkway on Sunday mornings so it was a fantastic ride to the island on car-free roads!!!

Martin at Park Bench on Bate Island

Martin at Park Bench on Bate Island

Upon arrival at 12:50pm local time, I wasted no time throwing up the dipole.   This is an 88′ doublet made from #26AWG teflon coated, silver plated wire fed with 300Ω TV twinlead.   Setup consists of throwing a fishing weight connected to bright yellow string over one tree, then over another.  The string is tied to the ends of the doublet.  I then pull the wires tight and tie the strings off on low branches while leaving a little for tree movement.  

I have 50′ of twinlead attached and if the trees are a little short or if I deliberately do not throw the weight very high to limit the risk of hitting other park users, parked cars or a highway bridge running over the center of the park (as was the case today!) I am left with some spare feedline.  I try to drape it over bushes or otherwise keep it from running across the ground for any significant length.  Today I taped it to the top of my bicycle 2m antenna to keep it off the ground.

I was on the air by 1:15pm, 15 minutes into the contest.  It’s been a while since I last used my KX1 and it was a real pleasure to use it again.   The KX1 does not produce very strong audio on 20m well at lest mine doesn’t.  I really had to strain to hear most of the stations.   The band however was in great shape.  I was hearing stations all across the US.  AB9CA and KX0R were consistently strong throughout the day.  I worked those two stations and 3 others in the first half hour of operating.  I was able to contact stations in Wisconsin, Alabama, Colorado and New Jersey on 20m.

Martin Bike & Feedline

Martin Bike & Feedline

I was scanning from 14.060 to 14.064 hunting skeeters.   Every time I would go past 14.060 I would hear a strong contest station just below the QRP watering hole on 20m.  I recalled that there were more points for contacting DX stations so I threw out my callsign and TF/LX1NO heard me from Iceland…  cool.   I really like the extra gain from the 88′ doublet on 20m where it acts as an extended double-zepp.

I jumped down to 40m for a bit and made contact with skeeter #1 KX9X in CT who had a blasting strong signal.  Both Sean and W3BBO were consistently string, buzzing around 7.040 all afternoon.  I also made contact with a station calling CQ SOTA on 7.033MHz.  Dave had a very strong signal also from his summit in NJ.  Highlights on 40m included WQ4RP making a massive effort to complete our QSO (he just keep asking me to repeat my call and exchange, maybe 15 times!! until we got the QSO done – *Thanks*)   and also working VE2DDZ in QC.  Malcolm is also an active SOTA activator rounding out the first hour.  After this 40m jaunt I had added Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina and Quebec.

Dipole feed point

Feed Point

I flipped the switch back up to 20m and almost immediately stumbled across Bob VA3RKM.  Bob had set up his KX3 portable station just a little farther up the Ottawa River from me.  Bob had a nice strong signal on 20m :-)  I managed to work a few new states on 20m in the second hour.   Missouri, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and even Pennsylvania and of course Ontario rounding out the second hour.

 

For the 3rd hour I popped back down to 40m and started calling CQ.   I got a call from Bob just up the river and added Ontario to my 40m states/provinces.   My wife dropped by at that point with lunch.   A couple of sandwiches from an Italian deli and espresso to go.  Yay!!  I took a break from the radio to enjoy lunch.   I rounded the 3rd hour out with another couple of contacts on 20m (no new states) and some 40m contacts adding New York State.   I also made another couple of contacts with stations in Quebec and Ontario.   Further afield this time.

The final hour had me calling CQ more and soaking up a few more contacts in addition to some rays…  Just as the contest was about to end I tuned across the 40m band and encountered Larry W2LJ.  I was very happy to be able to squeeze Larry into my log as it have me the opportunity to say a big 73 and THANKS for organizing this contest.

Martin standing beside park bench at Bate Island, river in background

Martin at Bate Island

Here is my log summary:

Martin – VA3SIE/P – ON
Skeeter #52 – CW Only 
Skeeter QSOs – 27
Non-Skeeter QSOs – 5
DX QSOs – 1
S/P/Cs – 18
Station Class Multiplier X4
Claiming Bonus – Yes

 Claimed Score:

(27 × 2) + (5 × 1) + (1 × 3) =  62 QSO Points × 18 S/P/Cs = 1116 × 4 (Portable, Kit mult) = 4464 + 500 (Body of Water bonus) = 4,964.

 

QRP Portable from Cedar Lake, Algonquin Park

By , August 5, 2013 1:15 am
Martin playing radio at a park bench, Cedar lake in the background

Playing radio by the lake side

Back in the middle of winter, when the snow was deep and the nights were short, Fariba and I discussed where we should camp this summer.  

One of the trips we booked was to the Brent campground on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park.  

A fellow radio ham and QRP aficionado, Scott, had told me about Cedar Lake.   He had made a youtube video of his trip there 2 years ago.  This camp ground is reached by driving 3½ hours up past Petawawa and Deep River and then driving for another hour on a gravel forest road.  

The campground does not have electricity (other than generators) or phone/cellular service.   It does not have shower facilities nor flush toilets.  It does however offer campsites which are very large and secluded (in comparison with other Ontario Parks).  Our site (#28) and the site next to it were the only sites on that part of the lake shore and there was a beach at the sites for accessing the lake with the canoe.   The vault toilets were only a short walk from the site.

Canoe paddles up against park bench with KX3 radio, jerky and camping stuff, lake in background

The campsite, KX3 and paddles.

We arrived at 7pm on Friday evening and quickly set up our tent and grabbed dinner (3 bean chilli) because we knew rain was in the forecast;   we had driven though some fairly intense thunder showers on the way to the park.   Rain started out light as we cleaned up after dinner and sat by the fire.   By 10pm it had gotten a bit heavier.   Throughout the night, the rain intensified and was accompanied by thunder and a few strokes of lightning.   Our new car camping tent (A Eureka Bon Echo Tour 500) withstood the rain very well, we remained dry and comfortable.

 

I also took the time to set up an HF antenna before the rain started.  A W3EDP-esque inverted-L with an 84′ driven element up 31′ using a jackite pole and the remaining 53′ horizontal across the top of the camp site.  Along with breakfast (Mary Jane’s Farm Outpost Outrageous Outback Oatmeal and Nescafe 3-in-one cooked over an LPG stove and a banana) I tuned in the Ontario Amateur Service Net (ONTARS) on 3.755MHz SSB.  I checked in using 12W and started chatting with the net controller.  The KX3 speech compressor really makes the most of the 12W signal and using a Heil microphone helps to produce punchy audio.  I received very good signal reports on Saturday morning.

Martin playing radio, tent in background

CQ on SSB from VA3SIE/P

Another station (who was VERY strong – 59+30dB) popped in and asked:  “Did someone just check in from Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park?”   well…    by coincidence it was Scott, the same fella who had told me about Cedar Lake last year and he was out camping on one of the islands in the middle of the lake!   I hadn’t checked our local QRP club reflector recently so I did not know that our trips would crossed paths.  

It was a very pleasant surprise indeed.  

I was able to share a weather report which I had grabbed on my way through the park office the previous evening and after we finished chatting, the net controller provided us both with a freshly updated weather report right there and then.  Thanks for letting us monopolize the net frequency and for the weather reports, ONTARS!!

Fariba and I spent the day canoeing on the lake, collecting firewood for kindling.  We did not venture far because the weather forecast called for higher winds and isolated showers…  we didn’t want to get stranded.  Once we got back to the campsite, I fired up the radio again and spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying back country QRP (zero noise floor!).  The bands were in fantastic shape, 15m was wide open, 12m was also active though that was the limit.   One highlight of the afternoon operating was making 20m CW contact with a Summits-On-The-Air station, KX7L was on Mt. Gold in Western Washington State.  We exchanged 569/579 reports.

In the evening, we popped the cork on a lovely bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and as we were preparing dinner, I checked in with ONTARS again then listened along…  We received a visit from Larry and Sky, two of the Park staff who were doing a firewood run and while I was chatting to them about ham radio, I heard Scott check in to the net.   It was fun to demonstrate QRP radio to the park staff by making contact with Scott  8-).  We moved off the net frequency and reduced power to 1W with my KX3, Scott dialed his all the way back to 300mW and we still had a 5×9 contact  :mrgreen:    Scott confirmed that the winds were very strong, indeed near gale force in the Southern part of the lake.   I’m glad we never ventured far.   It was fun catching up…

I checked into another couple of 80m nets later in the eveing.   I caught the tail end of the sandbox round table net on 3.733MHz SSB and then the 3730 net on 3.730MHz SSB.  Waves of light sprinkles of rain started up around 10pm and after the 3rd time packing up the KX3 and then unpacking it again, I gave up and hit the hay.  

On sunday morning, over breakfast (Warm granola with raspberries and milk to which I added dried blueberries) I checked in to ONTARS again and the net controller passed along a rather surprising weather forecast.  The forecast overnight temperature was +4°C.  We did not encounter Scott on the ONTARS net on Sunday morning, probably just missed each other.  At any rate, we decided not to stay for the last night because we did not bring very much in the way of cold weather gear.  We were not expecting this kind of cold.  A huge THANK YOU to the ONTARS net for being there and providing us with weather updates.

We took the tent apart, drying it out in the sunshine, had lunch at the camp ground and then drove back to Ottawa.   On the way we stopped at the Brent Impact Crater to visit and also to log the earth cache.

Plus Four

Plus Four

 

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