This coming Saturday 6th August, I will be part of a group which will hike to the summit of Mont Morisette in Quebec (1¾-hour drive from Ottawa) and put several radio stations on the air for the ‘Summits on the Air‘ program.
We had posted an alert indicating that we would be on the air from 1500Z (11am). We had arranged a sked with some other peaks on 40m at 1600Z (12pm). I got confused and I thought that 1500Z was actually 10am local time and 1600Z was 11am. Consequently I missed my sked … but we did both manage a summit to summit contact anyway
We arrived at the Luskville falls trail-head at 8:15am with plenty of time to reach the summit. I was trying an experiment today. I knew that the digipeaters were 80-100km distant and especially difficult on the face of the escarpment, so I decided to try a roll-up J-pole. I mounted it on two sections of fiberglass fishing pole on the side of my backpack. This experiment enjoyed mixed success. The J-pole kept catching on tree branches (not surprising really!) but on the other hand, the extra gain of this antenna meant that the digipeaters heard me very well, even on the upper portion of the escarpment face. I did figure out that collapsing the fiberglass in the most heavily forested areas was possible.
(Press the ‘Play’ icon in the center to view)
The trail climbs 800ft up the face of the Eardley Escarpment, first passing the Luskville falls then a short steep scramble climbs up to the pontiac lookout. I found that VE3TST was the strongest repeater from the trailhead so I dialled that repeater in for the climb. Part way up, I heard a call from Jim VE3XJ who is an Ottawa Valley QRP Society member, it’s been a while since I’ve spoken with Jim so it was a welcome QSO. Shortly thereafter, Ante VA2BBW figured out the CTCSS tone and joined Jim and I on the repeater.
A comedy of errors!
We managed to complete the 800ft climb to the fire tower in 1 hour, we got there by 9:20am and (since my brain was not working) I thought that we only had 40 minutes to get to the summit and get on the air. Actually we had 1 hour 40 minutes… Suddenly I realized that I had left my spare H/T battery at home, so I had only one battery to last all day… So I decided to select low power. But I couldn’t remember how much power the different levels represent. I chose to set the radio to the L1 setting. Jim and Ante had trouble hearing me. Not surprisingly! When I got back to the house I checked and L1 is 0.05W (1/20th of a watt!) … . Serious QRP!
On the Trail
It’s a 2.5km hike along Ridge Road (trail #1) from the fire tower to McKinstry cabin and the summit lies ½km further along the trail. The ridge road trail is mixed use, in Summer it is mostly used by mountain bikers. The trail passes by a beautiful lake which I didn’t notice on the way in but which I spotted on the way out. Maybe a place to swim? Perhaps not. As we walked towards the summit, we saw hundreds of dragonflies sunning themselves on the road. Hmm, what do dragonflies eat? There must be a lot of dragonfly food up here. erm… dragonfiles eat mosquitoes! The mosquitoes were horrendous. Both Tom and I liberally applied DEET and I still got bitten many times.
The VE2/OU-003 summit is at 422m and the VE2 SOTA association manual allows for operation within 25m of the summit. The ridge road trail intersects the southern limit of the 400m contour line and this portion of the trail is therefore valid for a SOTA activation. This is a good thing for two reasons. (1) The summit is heavily forested, it would not be possible to get a horizontal antenna up at the summit. (2) The Eardley Escarpment is a fragile ecology; It is a unique microclimate. The southern exposure and lack of moisture produce the growth of atypical plants for this area and a recent study (the Gatineau Park Ecosystem Conservation Plan) places the summit in the “Integral Conservation Zone” so we don’t want to undertake a damaging bushwhack.
I had prepared two W3EDP antennas for Tom and myself (84′ of wire with a pair of 16′ and 32′ counterpoise wires). I used fishing weights and nylon string and I was able to get Tom’s antenna up as an end-fed inverted-vee with the center at 45′ and my own up as an inverted-L at 50′. This is the highest I have been able to get antennas… ever and I think it’s the fishing weights which made all the difference. The only reason that we were able to get the antennas up so high was because we used tall trees lining the sides of the trail. We set our stations a few feet into the bush to not get in the way of the mountain bikers.
We arrived at the zone at 10:05 local and we were set up and on the air around 10:30 local. My brain wasn’t working and I thought that we were half an our late (we alerted for 1500Z) and we had half an hour until our S2S skeds (planned for 1600Z) but of course I was confused . Actually we beat our alerted time by 30 minutes and we had an hour and a half before our sked.
I spent some time with Tom at the beginning and did some listening around to kill time before our sked. Then an hour early ( ) I spent a half hour calling CQ on 7.032MHz and never got any replies while Tom was operating on 20m. I heard Tom stop calling CQ on 20m at 1530Z so I QSYed up to 20m and made a super quick series of contacts with fellow SOTA activators and chasers and the icing on the cake was a summit to summit QSO with Chuck K4QS who was up on The Pinnacle (W4/SH-005), a Summits on the Air Summit in Shenandoah Park, Virginia. Excellent!
Tom @ Firetower
Since this was Tom’s first SOTA outing, I really wanted him to experience Summit-to-Summit so I dropped my radio the instant I signed with Chuck and dashed over to Tom’s position. Just as Tom got him tuned in, he quit, so I went back to my station and left 20m to Tom. I tuned back to 40m and who was there but Chuck! Cool! I popped off a quick QRPSPOTS SMS to alert the chaser community and then I dashed back to Tom’s locartion. This time, Tom was able to get Chuck in his log – Yay!!
A break for lunch and then back to the radio, but my QSO rate dropped considerably after lunch.
Band conditions were a bit strange. I was hearing all stations very strong both on 20m and 40m. But invariably my signal report was terrible, RST 339 being typical. Didn’t seem to matter which states. That’s rather odd – more absorption on signals travelling South vs signals travelling North? Maybe I should check my finals with a power meter Still thanks to the hard work of the chasers, I did manage to get 10 QSOs into the log.
The Return Trip
The clouds started to come over and they were looking rather gray. Forecast was for rain starting at 4pm local time so Tom and I bugged out at 2:30pm. On the way back, Tom mentioned that the June ARRL VHF contest was underway so when we reached the edge of the escarpment, I raised my J-pole to maximum extension and put out a call on 146.520MHz. I got a call back from Jamie VA3JME, he was driving through Almonte, Ontario heading for the West Carleton Club‘s VHF contest site. He was RST 53 over a 40km path, not bad. He mentioned that WCC were monitoring 146.580MHz so I put out a few calls there but never heard any reply.
We made good time back to the car and the rain started when we got back home.
We both had a super fun time activating VE2/OU-003, despite the bugs
Thanks Marc, Hope to work you when you are /P in Éire some day!
Nice to work you again, Jack!
Thanks, Scott. I love your Wilderness QRP website!
Nice to work a fellow activator…
Thanks for S2S, Chuck. Hope you had fun on the Pinnacle W4/SH-005
Another fellow activator
Hmm, I *think* this was 40m… correct me if wrong please!