Fall Camping in Gifford Pinchot State Park

With just two more trips left, our camping season is quickly winding down. For our penultimate camping trip, we spent a beautiful Fall weekend in Gifford Pinchot State Park (POTA K-1356, WWFF KFF-1356) in south-central Pennsylvania.

We arrived Friday afternoon, and it didn’t take us long to get things set up. So, my next task was to get my antenna set up. I tried several times to drive my Jackite pole ground mount in, but the ground was just too hard. I ended up strapping the pole to a steel lantern post. 

Leary about having my antenna wire so close to the metal pole, I took care to make sure the wire stayed at least two inches away from it. I used some extra straps and lightweight bungee cords to make sure the wire stayed in place.

This weekend was a busy one for ham radio. The SKCC WES contest, the Pennsylvania QSO Party, and a couple of others were all going on. I opted to do some casual operating in the SKCC contest. 

My daughter lives about 30 minutes away from the Park, so she brought my grand-kids down for a visit. So, I spent Saturday afternoon hanging out with the kids. Along with hotdogs cooked over the campfire, the kids enjoyed making s’mores.

I still found time for the contest. I operated on 40M during daylight hours and 80M at night and early in the morning. There was enough WES activity on those bands, so I never ventured up to 20M.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania

The metal lantern pole didn’t seem to affect my 29-foot vertical wire at all. Running 5 watts, I was getting some strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network on 40M. Even with a compromise antenna on 80M, I was able to work stations from Canada to Georgia and several stations in Indiana and Illinois. 

My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.
My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.

I finished out the trip with an even 30 SKCC QSOs in my log. I didn’t do a formal Parks on the Air activation this weekend, but I submitted my log to both POTA and WWFF. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. I enjoy camping in the Fall, with the cooler temperatures and the beautiful Fall colors. We have one last trip with the camper before it’s time to get it ready for storage over the Winter.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Heads Up – QRP Afield

If you haven’t heard, the annual running of the QRP Afield contest is Saturday, September 19, 2020. This contest, sponsored by the QRP Club of New England, has been around for decades, and it’s been one of my favorites. 

The contest runs from 1500Z – 2100Z. You can get all of the details from the QRP Club of New England’s website

QRP Afield is one of the contests I always add to my calendar each year. Unfortunately, family obligations will probably prevent me from participating this year. However, if you are so inclined, head out to the field and give it a go!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2020

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

Today was the annual running of the Skeeter Hunt contest sponsored by the New Jersey QRP Club. It was a miserable day for a portable QRP contest, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless.

Since it was raining here in southeastern Pennsylvania, I opted to operate from my truck from a local park. I mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of my truck and fired up my KX3.

I started on 40M, and the Skeeters were swarming. It only took me a minute to log my first Skeeter. I had a steady stream of contacts for the first half-hour or so. I heard lots of familiar callsigns, and I added a fair number of new ones to my log.

My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest
My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest

With the steady rain, it was a little uncomfortable in the truck. It was getting warm, but if I opened my window too far, I got rained on. So, after about 2 hours I decided to call it quits. I ended up with 24 contacts in the log. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever done, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. 

WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt
WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt

As always, I extend my thanks to Larry W2LJ for coordinating this great contest. It’s always a good time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Cookie Crumble 2020

After some damaging storms this week, we were blessed with some great weather for the weekend. Today was a perfect day to head outdoors for the annual Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.

The Cookie Crumble is a QRP contest run by Tim Carter W3ATB and Emily Saldana WC3R. It was inspired by the cookies that Emily used to make during the 2016 National Parks on the Air event. You get bonus points for working stations designated as Cookie Monsters. What’s unique about this contest is that you lose points for working Burnt Cookie stations. In any event, it’s a lot of fun.

My set up for the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.
My set up for the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.

This year, I headed out to my daughter’s farm to operate from one of the fields. My setup was almost identical to the setup I used last weekend. I used a half-square antenna made from cheap speaker wire, along with my KX3. I set up my chair under a shady tree—for a while, at least.

I wasn’t out for too long, but I worked 10 stations in the contest. One of those was a Cookie Monster station. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter any burnt cookie stations. 

Some of the highlights from today included:

  • My first QSO was with my old friend, Carter N3AO, down in Virginia. It was great to hear him again.
  • I worked VE2DDZ, who was doing a joint Cookie Crumble and SOTA activation. Malcolm had a great signal into Pennsylvania.
  • Outside of the contest, I worked WD8RIF who was doing a Parks-on-the-Air (POTA) activation from Ohio.
WB3GCK hard at work (or hardly working) in the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.
WB3GCK hard at work (or hardly working) in the Cookie Crumble QRP Contest.

After a while, I began to lose my shade and I was starting to get a little sunburned. Right before I started tearing down, I heard another old friend, Dan KA3D, very faintly. I gave him a couple of calls but, sadly, he couldn’t hear me. We were probably a little too close for 40M. Maybe next time.

It was a great day to be outside playing radio. I also got some more on-the-air experience with my homebrew half-square antenna, which I’ll document in my next post.

Thanks for Tim W3ATB and Emily WC3R for running this fun contest. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Winter Field Day 2020

With family coming in this weekend, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to participate in this year’s Winter Field Day. I did, however, manage to get out for a couple of hours at the start of the contest.

It was raining cats and dogs when I arrived at Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my favorite operating spots. I had my usual stationary-mobile set up ready to go a few minutes before the starting time. 

My antenna bundled up for a rainy Winter Field Day.
My antenna bundled up for a rainy Winter Field Day.

I mostly operated CW on 40M and 20M, but I did manage a couple of rare—for me, at least—SSB contacts on 40M. I ended up with 20 contacts in my log. There were quite a few familiar callsigns from previous Winter Field Days. 

It was getting hard to find new CW stations to work, so I decided to head out and get some errands done. I hope everyone who stuck it out had a fun—and warm—Winter Field Day.

73, Craig WB3GCK

QRPp in the November WES

Years back, I regularly ran QRPp. It’s been a while, so I had some fun getting re-acquainted with QRPp during this month’s SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES).

On Saturday, I headed out to Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my favorite spots for a quick stationary-mobile outing. The temperature was in the 30s, so I operated from my truck. I mounted my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and set up the KX3 in the cab. I turned the power down to 1 watt and got busy looking for WES stations.

My set up at Black Rock Sanctuary during the November WES
My set up at Black Rock Sanctuary during the November WES

The 40M band seemed to be in good shape, but there were RTTY stations all over the place. Despite the RTTY interference, I didn’t seem to have much difficulty making contacts. I didn’t have as much luck on 20M, but I did pick up two stations (Florida and Georgia).

After an hour and a half, I had to pack up to run some errands. I ended up with 8 contacts in the log. That’s better than I expected.

I didn’t have much time for radio this weekend, but I did pick up a couple more contacts from home on Sunday. It was a bit more of a challenge at home with my rainspout antenna. My final tally was 10.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with 1 watt. Thanks the great operators who managed to pull me out of the noise.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Out of the Crypt – Zombie Shuffle 2019

WB3GCK QRP Zombie credentials

Last night was the annual Zombie Shuffle, one of my favorite QRP contests. The QRP zombies weren’t too scary, but the band conditions were frightful.

For the past two years, the Zombie Shuffle coincided with our last camping trip of the year. Since I put my little trailer into hibernation after last week’s trip, I had to operate from home using my meager rainspout antenna.

I tried 20M during daylight hours, but I never heard a single zombie there. The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) showed I was getting out but not very well. I bagged 4 zombies on 40M, but that was a struggle at times. My noise level was high, signals were weak, and there was a lot of fading. One of those zombies was VE3MGY who was one of the bonus stations with this year’s Titanic theme—MGY was the Titanic’s callsign. I also ran into fellow Polar Bear QRPer, Mike VE3WMB.

Signals were a bit stronger on 80M and I picked up 5 zombies there. For some reason, my rainspout gets out well on that band. Towards the end, though, my KX3 had some issues keeping a match on 80M. I guess that means I need to do some maintenance on the rainspout antenna.

My QRP buddy, Ed WA3WSJ, used the Boschveldt QRP Club callsign (W3BQC) as an MGY bonus station. I was tracking him on RBN but I never heard him. However, I did work a another Boschveldt QRP friend, Glen NK1N. I also ran into an old QRP friend, KA3D. It was great to hear Dan again.

So, with a total of 9 zombies, I didn’t have my best year, but it sure wasn’t my worst. I was only 2 off from last year’s effort in the QRP camper.

Many thanks to Paul NA5N and Jan NØQT for another fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Frances Slocum State Park

My (far) better half and I hitched up the “QRP camper” and headed north to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Our destination for the weekend was Frances Slocum State Park. It was our first visit there and we had a great time. As a bonus, our trip coincided with the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.

Frances Slocum State Park, located north of Wilkes-Barre, covers 1,035 acres. The centerpiece of the park is Frances Slocum Lake. The campground is relatively small and very quiet. Ours was one of the larger sites available and was nicely secluded.

Frances Slocum Lake
Frances Slocum Lake

After getting the camper situated, I went about setting up my antenna. I had a bit of trouble driving in my Jackite pole ground mount. The ground was very rocky and it took 5 or 6 tries to find a spot to drive it in. I wound up putting it at the edge of our site near a large stand of pine trees.

My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.
My antenna at Frances Slocum State Park. It took 5 or 6 tries to find soft ground to drive in the ground mount.

I got on the air Saturday morning just as the WES contest was starting. In general, it seemed like my 5-watt signal was getting into the southern states with good signal reports but reaching New England was a problem at times. I’m guessing that the mountainous terrain surrounding the park was a factor.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating inside the camper at Frances Slocum State Park

After operating on and off on Saturday (and a little bit early Sunday morning), I ended up with 20 WES contacts in 12 SPCs. Not too bad, considering the time I spent on the air. I also worked KX0R out in Colorado. This was the second camping trip in a row where I worked George during one of his SOTA activations.

All in all, it was a very nice weekend. The weather was great and the radio wasn’t too bad.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Skeeter Hunt 2019

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

I was still recovering from a long drive home yesterday but I wanted to get out for this year’s Skeeter Hunt contest. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I managed to catch part of it.

Like last year, the Skeeter Hunt fell on the day after the trip home from my annual Outer Banks family vacation. I took some time off from unpacking and putting things away and headed out to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a bit.

I found a parking spot near a picnic table in an almost deserted area of the Park. The temperature was in the 90s today, so I made sure to pick a table under a shady tree. I mounted my 19-foot homebrew vertical on the truck and ran a coax cable over to the picnic table. I fired up my KX3 just after the contest started.

My set up in Valley Forge Park for the 2019 Skeeter Hunt. The table was well-shaded and close enough to the truck for 18-feet of coax to reach the antenna.
My set up in Valley Forge Park for the 2019 Skeeter Hunt. The table was well-shaded and close enough to the truck for 18-feet of coax to reach the antenna.

There was quite a bit of activity on 40M, so I spent most of my time there. When things started to thin out on 40M, I changed bands and picked up 3 more skeeters on 20M.

WB3GCK hunting skeeters in Valley Forge National Historical Park
WB3GCK hunting skeeters in Valley Forge National Historical Park

I packed up after an hour and a half but it was a fun time. I ended up with 22 QSOs in the log, including 19 skeeters and 14 SPCs. As always, it was nice to work some familiar callsigns.

Thanks to Larry W2LJ and the NJ QRP Club for sponsoring this contest. It continues to be one of my favorite QRP events of the year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Cunningham Falls State Park

My (far) better half and I took our little camper to one of our favorite campgrounds for the weekend. Our destination was Cunningham Falls State Park in north-central Maryland. Our trip coincided with the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES). So, I spent most of my ham radio time operating in the contest.

Our site was wooded and nicely shaded but not large enough for the larger antenna I planned to use. Instead, I strapped my Jackite pole to a lantern post and used my trusty 29.5-foot wire and 9:1 unun.

I got on the air on Saturday at 1200Z when the contest started. The noise from my trailer was very low (for reasons unknown) and I heard some strong signals on 40M. Things got off to a good start but got a bit more challenging as the day went on.

I worked the contest on and off over the weekend with mixed results. I was able to easily make some contacts while others were difficult, if not impossible. Cunningham Falls is located in a very mountainous area. That, coupled with some sketchy band conditions, made it an interesting weekend.

I’ve been working towards my SKCC Senator award but I’ve been in a bit of a slump the past few weeks. I decided to increase my KX3’s power to a whopping 10W to improve my odds. This was the first time I haven’t been in the QRP category for a WES contest.

WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland
WB3GCK working hard (or hardly working) during the SKCC WES contest from Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland

Despite the terrain and propagation issues, my casual operating resulted in 28 contacts in my log. Most were on 40M with a couple on 80M.

Here are the highlights:

  • I managed to add 12 more QSOs toward my Senator award. I only have 65 more to go.
  • On Saturday evening, I heard R7DA calling “CQ WES” from Russia on 40M. I gave him a call and got a “WB3? AGN.” It took quite a few tries before he had my full callsign and we were able to complete the QSO. Alex deserves major props for his patience and persistence in pulling my puny 10W signal out of the noise.
  • On Sunday morning, I got on the radio for a few final contacts before packing up. As I was tuning around looking for WES stations, I found N4ZN doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation in New York. I gave him a call and had a park-to-park QSO. After that, I pulled the plug and started packing up for the long drive home.

Despite the occasional frustrations, it was an enjoyable weekend of camping and ham radio.

73, Craig WB3GCK