Category: Polar Bear Moonlight Madness

Group SOTA Outing to Mont Ste Marie

By , July 29, 2011 11:20 am
Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Saturday 23rd July was the QRP Polar Bear Summer Picnic.   We decided to mount a Summits on the Air activation of  Mont Ste. Marie in Quebec.  I was up there last August, also in November ’09 (my first ever summit) and December ’09, so I knew what to expect.

I met up with Tom VA2EPR (who was with me when we activated McKinstry Peak in June), Ante VA2BBW who was with me when we attempted to activate Devils Mountain and whom I have hiked and done outdoor QRP trips with several times, Eric VA3AMX who was part of the group for our RAC Winter Contest entry last December and with Tom, Ante and I on Field Day last month, Michel VE3EMB who is the past president of the Ottawa Valley Mobile Radio Club and an active outdoors QRP enthusiast.

We started hiking at 8:15am from the parking lot at the base of the mountain.  About ¼ of the way up we stopped to take photographs of a nearby river and hills and to admire the view down to the ski chalet.  About ¾ of the way up we encountered a gazebo which is a new addition and a closet washroom, another (welcome) new addition.  We received a call on the VE2REH repeater network from Bob, VA3QV who had been following our progress on APRS.  Both Ante and I were carrying APRS-enabled transceivers and we were beaconing our location to the digipeater at the top of the mountain.  

Group SOTA, Mont Ste Marie, Jul 23 from Martin Gillen on Vimeo.

We reached the top after an hour of hiking 4¼km and climbing 1,114ft.  We immediately began setting up a jackite pole supported 88′ doublet on the gazebo and we hooked up Ante’s PFR-3 radio to that.  We got on the air using special callsign VA2OTA.  Tom and Eric set up a tripod mounted arrow beam for 2m and a roll up dipole for 6m and hooked those antennas up to Toms FT-817.  We called Bob and told him that we were ready and he called us first on 144.250MHz USB and then on 50.125MHz USB so we all got to have a chat with Bob and earn our first activator points.  Then Mike VA3MPM sent me an APRS message to say that he was following our progress on APRS.  Seeing us at the summit, Mike called us up on the repeater and we coordinated another 2m and 6m simplex contact to his portable location near Mont Laurier to the North. in Quebec.

At the same time, Michel headed over to the other side of the activation zone to set up a 40m station.  He set up a G5RV and he was using an MFJ cub 40m transceiver set to 800mW.  Since I had a spare jackite pole I left Ante working US chaser stations on 20m and took a walk over to the 40m station to see if we could get the antenna a little higher.  There wasn’t enough coax for the G5RV so I set up Ante’s 88′ EDZ doublet which is twinlead fed at 31′ in an inverted-vee configuration so now we had two of those antennas going.

I put some calls out on 40m but the band was in really terrible shape.  At one point I scanned all the way through the band without hearing a single station above the noise floor, the comms equipment was generating a lot of noise on 40m.  Less on 30m and hardly any on 20m but 40m was *tough* going.  After a while I was able to make contact with VE3FUJ and that got the ball rolling on 40m.  Michel used his MFJ cub, Tom used his FT-817 and I used my KX1.  Michel also had a go of the KX1.  At some point my battery died so I was on reserve power (6 nearly empty AA cells internal) and that meant I too was running 800mW same as Michel’s MFJ cub.

All in all we had a very successful day!  We were all able to meet the minimum of four contacts each to get our activator points and some of us ended up making many more QSOs.  Tom made his first ever DX contact (to England) and we worked Greenland on 20m which is a fairly unusual callsign to hear, along with several other DX countries.  We were able to make contact with many of the US chasers, and I was very happy to be giving out chaser points!!  It’s great to hear the same chaser callsigns coming back again and again – thanks, guys !!!

After 5 hours on the mountain we hiked back down, Ante and Tom to enjoy a round of golf, Eric Michel and myself to enjoy a pint of beer at the pub before returning to Ottawa.

73 and I hope that you enjoyed the video.


SOTA Activation Planned: Sat July 23rd

By , July 21, 2011 2:42 pm

This coming Saturday 23rd July, I will be part of a group which will hike to the summit of Mont Ste. Marie in Quebec (1¼-hour drive from Ottawa) and put several radio stations on the air for the ‘Summits on the Air‘ program.  It’s not the first time I’ve done that.  I was up there last August, also in November ’09 (my first ever summit) and December ’09.

This time I’m hiking with:

We’ll be monitoring the VE2REH repeater network on our hike and we’ll be beaconing on APRS (follow us here).

We plan to be at the summit and on the air by 10am (1400Z) using special callsign (kindly provided by JP VA2SG & Jean VE2JCW):




We’re taking a variety of equipment up the mountain, so you may hear us on SSB (14.285MHz +/-), CW (14.061MHz +/-, 7.034MHz +/-), VHF Simplex (146.520MHz). 

If you want to contact us via IRLP/echolink here are the coordinates:

IRLP – 2018
Echolink – 198724

We’ll try our best to keep twitter & qrpspots up to date with our status.

You may also find us spotted on SOTAWatch.

Here are some tracking maps and resources to help you make contact with our group.

We should appear on this map on Saturday!

QRP Spots

Grrr! A ‘Solar’ PBMME this time!

By , February 27, 2011 1:27 am

Saturday February 26th was the February running of the QRP Polar Bear Moonlight Madness (PBMME).  It was overcast with a light wind, the wind chill was -13°C (9°F).  Michael invited me to join him at the Super Secret Location (SSL #2) in the Central Experimental Farm.

The Solar

This past week I received a backpacker solar panel kit from Modern Outpost.  I am very impressed both with the kit and with the company!

… So I was keen to put it through its paces!

There wasn’t much sun on Friday so the Novuscell 25Wh battery was about halfway charged up.  I noted that the battery voltage was 11V.

I charged it from the mains and when it was full, the battery voltage was 12.5V key up and 12V key down, producing 2.2W on 80m, 2.5W on 40, 3W on 30m and 2.5W on 20m.

I’ll be interested to see how long 6600 mAh lasts with the KX1 :mrgreen:

Antenna Stuff

Dapper Bear with the Flag

Dapper Bear with the Flag (TNX Jean for the Flag!!)

Dapper Bear was already at the Super Secret Location #2 when I arrived.  Michael had an inverted-vee dipole set up and he was using his K1 on 17m and 30m.

I set up a W3EDP in an inverted-L configuration with two counterpoise wires, a 16′ and a 36′ wire.  I was interested in characterizing the differences between these two counterpoise lengths.  I connected the Novuscell storage battery and hooked up the KX1 to the antenna and then I made some measurements:

36′ Counterpoise Measurements 

Band SWR
80m 6.5 : 1
40m 1 : 1
30m 1 : 1
20m 1 : 1
16′ Counterpoise Measurements 

Band SWR
80m 2.2 : 1
40m 4.5 : 1
30m 1 : 1
20m 1 : 1

The Bears

VA3SIE with the Flag

VA3SIE with the Flag (Thanks Jean for the Flag!)

So… with the 16′ counterpoise, the W3EDP doesn’t match too well on 40m.  What about with the 36′ counterpoise? … well, it matches well on 40m but not on 80m.  So I guess I need to switch from one counterpoise to the other.  On 30m and 20m, the KX1 tuner matched 1:1.

But is there any difference in the far field signal strength between the two ??

My first contact was with Scotty N0AZN Polar Bear #266 on 20m.  I had the 16′ counterpoise connected initially.  Scotty could tell that someone was there but after about 5 attempts at getting my callsign, he sent SRI… could not pull any part of my callsign out of the noise.  So I disconnected the 16′ counterpoise and connected the 36′ one, retuned and called again.  This time Scotty was able to get VA3.  After another couple of resends he had my full callsign.

So:  Scotty was hearing me better with the 36′ counterpoise.  Does EZNEC agree?

EZNEC Comparison 16' vs 36'

EZNEC Comparison 16' vs 36'

EZNEC does indeed predict a 2.5dB difference in the far field signal strength, the 36′ being stronger than the 16′ counterpoise (even although both are lying along the ground).  I should compare the two counterpoise lengths on other bands also!

Scotty gave me an RST 249 from the ice shelf in Lincoln, Nebraska.  I was very pleased to have made at least one QRP Polar Bear contact, I was thinking that my late start may have meant missing all the other bears.



After the QSO with Scotty I called CQ for a while on 20m and when no one came back I scooted down to 40m and the RTTY wasn’t bad at all so I parked on 7039kHz and started calling CQ over the Odessa single letter beacon.

Shortly thereafter Gary K8NYG in West Virginia came back to my CQ call.  Gary wasn’t a polar bear and I wasted no time in letting him know what the Polar Bear activity was all about.  We struggled through the 40m QRM and completed a pleasant QSO.

I went back up to 20m and called CQ for a bit on 14.060MHz and then I got 2 calls at the same time.  I asked the weaker of the two to come back to me first, it was Mitch NA7US running 3W from the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range.

I had another ham start calling ‘CQ’ without any ‘QRL’ with a very strong signal, and it made life tough.  I send QRL QRL QRL and then we got back into the QSO.  It got dark while I was chatting to Mitch and the wind got stronger… I was starting to shiver.

After Mitch, I called in Dennis KB7ST who was patiently waiting.  Dennis had seen my spot on   I enjoyed a few minutes of chatting with Dennis then I got a loud carrier which wiped him out.  I sent QRL a couple of times.   Then the carrier again – *OUCH*, my volume was up full to pull in Dennis’s QRP from the other coast so it *hurt*.

It was snowing hard near Seattle this afternoon – real *POLAR* weather :-) .

I dialled the KX1 filter down to its narrowest but the constant carriers were very troublesome and after a few more minutes of chatting with Dennis, it was too much and I had to say 73.  Desnnis’s QRPSPOT says it all:


QRM ended it

QRM ended it

After Dennis, I went back to calling CQ but the carrier kept popping up sending the occasional super-strong dah.  It was so strong that I had to keep dialling down the volume to protect my ears from pain.  It was very frustrating!  Finally a VE3 called me (I think) but I had the volume down and I was distracted and missed his call 😕 .  I did ask a couple of times QRZ but he didn’t hear me.  Oh well…   maybe next time.

By this time, I was getting way too cold so I decided to pack it up for the night.  All in all a very enjoyable PBMME, and I got at least one bear in the log – yay!


Time Band Callsign Name SPC RST In RST Out Notes
2205Z 20m N0AZN Scotty NE 249 569 Tough Copy but we got there in the end for a BSO!
2315Z 40m K8NYG Gary WV 529 569 Some QRP from tuning up on freq.
2345Z 20m NA7US Mitch WA 569 569 Tough to coordinate QSO but we got there…
2315Z 20m KB7ST Dennis WA 549 579 Nice 2nd 2XQRP QSO into WA tonight…

October 2010 Polar Bear Moonlight Madness

By , October 24, 2010 1:11 pm

Wow the first PBMME of the season was super fun!

I hiked up from the parking lot near Black Lake and got to my operating position near the summit of King Mountain on the Eardley Escarpment at 2100Z, took a half hour to get an 88ft doublet up to 30ft and put on some keep-warm layers (Calpilene and Merino Wool), set up my Elecraft KX1 and then I spent 3 hours making QSOs BSOs.

The Eardley Escarpment is the most fragile ecosystems in the park so I had to be very careful to tread only on bare rock.

Time Band Callsign Polar Bear Number Signal Report Comments
2150Z 20m N0EVH 144 (12 Squared Bear) 459 (QSB) John was out in his /M along the Missouri River.
2200Z 40m WA8REI 21 (Blackjack Bear) 579 Ken was in the Den (Teddy Bear).
2230Z 40m VE2JCW 241 (Jean) 589 Looking forward to doing a SOTA hike with Jean.
2245Z 40m VA3CMD 143 (Patrick) 599 (QRM) In his /M in Ottawa, 2.5W from an FT-817 to a Huslter.
2320Z 40m N9SKN 126 (Aaron) 579 I was logging by the light of the full moon by this point!
2330Z 40m VA2NB 19 (Dapper Bear) 589 (Flutter) Polar flutter on Michael’s signal (Groundwave?)
2345Z 40m KB3CXQ Shaun 579 (QRN) Monongahela Forest.
0045Z 40m NI9Y 218 (Dan) 589 (QRN) Dan was in Mishawaka, Indiana.

7 bears in the bag, not too shabby!

VA3SIE/P Moonlight Hiker

VA3SIE/P Moonlight Hiker

I had a flask of water, a flask of hot green tea, some kettle chips, some chocolate almonds and a cliff bar for dinner, which I munched on while making my QSOs.  I had a portable camping chair so I was quite comfortable!  As the full moon rose in the sky, visibility steadily improved to the point that I was able to log contacts using moonlight alone… cool!

The weather conditions were just perfect!  Started out around 42°F (5.5°C) with a light wind and by the time I left it was 38°F (3.7°C) and the wind had died down.  The sky was mostly clear so I had a pretty good view of the Ottawa Skyline as well as being nice and dry.  When I started to get a little shivery, I put on a couple of caps and dropped a pair of glove warmers into my jacket pockets so I could put my hands in there and warm them up between QSOs.

It was super fun, got several new polar bears in the log for the first time – bonus!

Michael VA2NB had a very interesting signal, it had a large component of flutter on it, sounded like a polar path, except that he was 30km away, there must have been ground wave combining with NVIS reflections?  Anyway whatever the technical reason for it, “polar” flutter was exactly the right thing to hear on the premiere PBMME!

At 9pm I decided I had enough bears in the bag, so I (again careful to walk only on bare rock!) retrieved all the antenna strings/wires and took a last photo.  As the full moon was high in the night sky, it was so bright that I could turn off my headlamp and hike back to Black Lake by the light of the full moon. VA3QV who accompanied me the week before kept me company on the VE2CRA repeater for the hike back to the parking lot.

Many thanks to all the bears who made it out to the trail or participated in the PBMME today, the 2010 season got off to a great start – it’s gonna be a good one!

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