Skeeter Hunt 2016

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt LogoThe NJQRP Skeeter Hunt is one of my favorite QRP field contests.  This year, I planned to do some biking along White Clay Creek but the dire weather forecasts made me opt for “Plan B.”  “Plan B,” in this case, was to activate nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park (HP46) and operate from my truck.  This was my first time back at Valley Forge since I activated it on New Year’s Day.

I chose a parking spot that was away from the trees.  I also made sure to face west, so I could keep an eye on the approaching storms.   I took a few pictures before the Skeeter Hunt started, while the weather was still decent.

I used a 30-foot wire vertical mounted on the back.  This antenna, fed with a 9:1 unun and 18-feet of coax served me well on several NPOTA outings recently.  I set up my KX3 on the passenger seat of my truck.

A few QSOs into the contest, a park ranger rolled up next to me and asked what I was doing.  I mentioned National Parks on the Air and he said, “that’s cool.”  He also warned me about the approaching storms.  I assured him that I planned to shut down if there was any lightning.

At about 20 minutes into the contest, the rain started and never really stopped.  It varied between slight drizzle and torrential downpours. When the rain forced me to roll up my windows, the cab of the truck got unbearably warm.  I couldn’t operate with the truck running due to electrical noise from the engine.  Every so often, I took a break from the radio and ran the air conditioner to cool off.

My "stationary-mobile" set up in Valley Forge. You can see the wind bending the fiberglass pole.
My “stationary-mobile” set up in Valley Forge. You can see the wind bending the fiberglass pole.

The bands seemed to be in pretty good shape.  After a little more than two and a half hours of operating, I had 29 QSOs in the log.

QSO_DATE    UTC       BAND   MODE  CALL    RST-S  RST-R  EXCHANGE
------------------------------------------------------------------------
20160821    1701      40M    CW    K3COD   559    559    NC NR145
20160821    1710      40M    CW    K4YA    569    569    TN NR8
20160821    1716      20M    CW    N4BP    599    599    FL NR173
20160821    1718      20M    CW    N0SS    579    579    MO NR18
20160821    1720      20M    CW    AB9CA   559    559    AL NR57
20160821    1727      20M    CW    WK8S    559    559    CO NR156
20160821    1729      20M    CW    NN9K    559    559    IL NR168
20160821    1732      20M    CW    WB4OMM  599    599    FL NR97
20160821    1737      20M    CW    VE3XT   569    559    ON NR162
20160821    1739      20M    CW    K2WO    599    559    FL NR2
20160821    1749      20M    CW    W4MZA   569    579    MN29 NR60
20160821    1750      20M    CW    KX0R    569    569    CO NR166
20160821    1756      40M    CW    N2CX    589    579    NP51 NR1
20160821    1802      40M    CW    NC4RT   579    559    TR10 NR24
20160821    1808      40M    CW    KG3W    599    579    PA NR160
20160821    1809      40M    CW    AA8WQ   599    569    OH 5W
20160821    1816      40M    CW    AA4XX   569    449    NC NR112
20160821    1818      40M    CW    N3AQC   589    569    TR14 NR76
20160821    1823      40M    CW    KY3P    579    589    NY 5W
20160821    1826      40M    CW    W1PID   559    559    NH NR41
20160821    1835      40M    CW    W4MPS   579    559    NC NR163
20160821    1845      40M    CW    WD8RIF  579    559    HP11 NR46
20160821    1850      20M    CW    K7TQ    559    559    ID NR11
20160821    1856      20M    CW    NF4GA   579    579    GA NR110
20160821    1904      20M    CW    AB4QL   569    569    AL NR149
20160821    1911      20M    CW    AD4S    599    579    GA NR56
20160821    1916      20M    CW    WB5BKL  579    579    TX NR42
20160821    1926      40M    CW    VE3LFN  599    599    ON NR28
20160821    1936      40M    CW    W3BBO   559    559    PA NR5

The rain was really starting to come down heavily, so I put on my rain gear and tore down the antenna.  The park ranger was parked in the lot behind me.  He was probably getting a chuckle out of the crazy old guy taking down his antenna in a downpour.

As I was making the 3-mile trip home, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Go figure!  Anyway, I had a fun time, despite the rain.  Once again, a tip of the hat goes to Larry, W2LJ, for coordinating this fun contest.

72, Craig WB3GCK

White Clay Creek Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoBoy, the state of Delaware sure has been good to me this week.  After my failed attempt at activating the Captain John Smith Trail (TR21) in Maryland, I rebounded the other day with great activation at First State NHP (HP12) in Delaware two days later.  I had an even better activation in Delaware today along the White Clay Creek National Wild and Scenic River (WR39).

This morning I drove down to the White Clay Creek Nature Center near Newark, Delaware.  (Thanks to N2CX for recommending this spot.)  I headed to the side of the parking lot closest to the creek and parked under a large shady tree.  Despite the heat wave we’re experiencing, I had a nice breeze through the truck for the first hour and a half or so.  It took about five minutes to set up my 30-foot vertical and KX3.

My "stationary-mobile" set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.
My “stationary-mobile” set up. The antenna is a 30-foot vertical wire supported by a Jackite pole and fed through a 9:1 unun.

I got off to a slow start on 40 meters but once I got spotted, things picked up in a hurry and stayed busy for the next hour.  Propagation on 40 meters was interesting; I worked a lot of Pennsylvania and New Jersey stations with the vertical and then worked Florida.  Go figure.

I was getting ready to take a break before changing bands when a park ranger approached my truck.  Apparently, someone reported some suspicious activity in the Nature Center’s parking lot.  I explained to her what I was doing and what National Parks on the Air was all about.  She was very nice and said she would be back if the Park had any problems with what I was doing.  She never came back.

White Clay Creek
White Clay Creek

I spent another hour working stations on 20 meters before packing up.    I ended the day with 58 QSOs in the log, including a park-to-park QSO with N2CX at AA17 in New Jersey.  I took a walk around the Nature Center before heading back to Pennsylvania.  I need to do a non-radio visit here sometime to explore more of the park.

Obligatory selfie at White Clay Creek State Park Nature Center
Obligatory selfie

So, I had a couple of fun activations this week and one not-so-good one.  As the singer, Meatloaf, would say:  “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

72, Craig WB3GCK

First State NHP Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoAfter my last activation, I sure needed a day like today.  During my last outing just about everything that could go wrong did.  Thankfully, my activation today went off without a hitch.

I made the 45-minute trip down to First State National Historical Park in Delaware and set up in the parking lot of the Smith Bridge Picnic Area along Brandywine Creek.  (Thanks to Joe, N2CX, for recommending this location.)  I operated from inside my truck using a KX3 at 5 watts.  My antenna was a 30-ft vertical fed through a 9:1 unun with 18 feet of coax.  The Jackite pole was mounted on my bike rack mount.

Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park
Obligatory selfie at First State National Historical Park

I operated for about two hours and the bands seemed to be in decent shape.  Splitting my time between 40 and 20 meters, I wound up with 45 contacts in my log.  I hit the west coast 3 times and worked quite a few ham radio friends.

My antenna drew a lot of attention today.  Several people came up to me to ask about the 31-foot pole.  A few times, it happened while I was sorting through pileups.  One fellow couldn’t believe ham radio still existed.  Another said, “No wonder you use ham radio; the cell phone coverage around here is lousy.”

My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.
My antenna drew the attention of several passersby.

I’m going to attempt one more activation this week.  I hope it goes as well as today.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Captain John Smith Trail Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoIt had been a while since I did a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation,  so I decided to activate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (TR21).  The Captain John Smith Trail is a water trail that includes the Susquehanna River up to the Conowingo Dam.  Since I’m a member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I thought I would explore the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail and activate TR21 somewhere along the way.  Despite my best efforts, things didn’t go as well as I had planned.

After suffering through a huge traffic jam due to a downed tree on a major highway, I arrived at the trailhead later than planned.  As I pulled into Fisherman’s Park just below the Conowingo Dam, I was greeted by a large group of vultures.  I think they foreshadowed the type of outing I was about to have.

A group of vultures at Fisherman's Park
On arrival, I was greeted by a large group of vultures. An omen, perhaps?

I unloaded my bike and headed out down the trail.   During my ride, I scouted out potential operating locations along the trail.  The pickings were slim.  For most of its 2.5-mile length, the trail parallels the Susquehanna River.  There is a very dense tree canopy over the trail.  On one side of the trail, there’s a sharp drop-off  down to the river.  The inland side of the trail is mostly wetlands.  I found a picnic table off to the side of the trail and stopped there on the ride back.

Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.
Remnants of the old railway along the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail. The railway was used to transport materials when the Conowingo Dam was under construction.

The temperature today was in the low 90s but it was comfortable while I was riding.  Once I stopped, though, the humidity under the dense tree canopy was unbearable.  I decided to ride back to the trailhead and operate from the parking lot.

This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.
This is where I had originally planned to operate along the trail.

I parked in the only shady spot I could find and set up my trusty 29.5-foot vertical.  My chosen spot had three major problems:  1) The shade was only short-lived, 2) the noise levels were very high,  and, 3) there was a steep hill behind me.  Undeterred, I started out on 40 meters and immediately got a call from  a station in South Carolina.  I continued to call CQ with no takers.  After that, I switched back and forth between 40 and 20 but no luck.  I made some changes to my antenna but still no luck.

My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.
My eventual operating location. Notice the receding shade and the large hill behind me.

The heat was starting to become too much for this old man.  My cell phone was overheating and going into some sort of self-protection mode.  Even though my KX3 was only set for 5 watts, it started feeling a bit warm.  On top of that, some biting flies decided to have lunch inside my truck and I was the main course.   After an hour or so, I had enough and packed up.  I waved goodbye to my vulture friends and headed home.

The Conowingo Dam
The Conowingo Dam

Although it wasn’t a successful NPOTA activation, I at least had a nice bike ride on an interesting trail.  I didn’t make the minimum number of contacts for a valid activation but, then again, I didn’t get skunked.   I’ll have to give TR21 another try later this year.  Next time, I’ll move further downstream from the hydroelectric plant.

I plan to do two more activations this week.  Hopefully, my luck will be better.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

Hopewell Furnace NPOTA Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoOn Good Friday, I found myself with a free afternoon.  I decided to take advantage of the great Spring weather and make a spur-of-the-moment trip to activate the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (NS37).  I hastily threw some equipment into my truck and headed out.

About 45 minutes later, I was on site and ready to get started.  But first, I  had to resolve some antenna issues.  For some reason, my SWR was higher than normal and not very stable.  I found a loose BNC connector on my 4:1 unun that I think was the culprit.  I eventually managed to get things stabilized enough to operate.  I was using my FT-817 at 5 watts into a 29.5-foot vertical wire antenna with two counterpoise wires.  I operated all CW.

The somewhat cramped operating position in my truck.
The somewhat cramped operating position in my truck.

I couldn’t spot myself due to lack of a cell signal, so I just started calling, “CQ NPOTA.”  After about 35 minutes with no takers, I was pretty close to packing up and heading home.  Finally, I worked a Wisconsin station on 20 meters.  I tuned down the band a bit and heard N4CD activating a park in Texas.  I got him on the first call.  So, at least, I was getting out to somewhere.

I moved down to 40 meters a worked stations in New York and Michigan.  One of them must have spotted me because things picked up quickly after that.  I spent the rest of my time on 40 meters and wound up with 30 contacts in the log (including 2 park-to-park QSOs) after an hour and forty-five minutes.

My 31-ft Jackite pole supported with a drive-on mount
My 31-ft Jackite pole supported with a drive-on mount

After I packed up, I stopped by the visitor center and chatted a bit with the park rangers.  They were very welcoming and happy to have their park activated again.  They were curious about how many contacts I made and how far I was able to get out.  As I was leaving they thanked me for putting their park on the air.

Hopewell Furnace visitor's center
Hopewell Furnace visitor’s center

I have some repair work to do on my antenna but it was a nice afternoon for an NPOTA activation.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Delaware Water Gap Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoEach year, I spend a weekend in January with some QRP friends in the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area.  We’re all members of a loosely-organized group of QRPers known as the Boschveldt QRP Club.  We stay in a cabin at the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) near Blairstown, New Jersey.  We have come to call this annual trip, “Camp Run-a-MOC.”  This year, the Boschveldt crew convened Camp Run-a-MOC over the weekend of January 15-17.  There were four QRPers in attendance:  WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC and me.  As a bonus, this year’s trip coincided with the National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) event.

Mohican Outdoor Center is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club.  It is located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and is popular stop-over point for Appalachian Trail through hikers.

Our home for the weekend at Mohican Outdoor Center
Our home for the weekend at Mohican Outdoor Center

Day 1

I rolled into camp around mid-day on Friday and the others were waiting for me in the parking lot.  I got out of my truck and threw my backpack into WA3WSJ’s truck and we took off for a hike up to the Catfish Fire Tower.  We hiked up the Fire Tower road and connected up with the Appalachian Trail. This location was an NPOTA “twofer.”  It encompasses both the Delaware Water Gap (RC07) and the Appalachian Trail (TR01).

Hiking to Catfish Fire Tower. L-R: KB3SBC, NK1N, WB3GCK. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
Hiking to Catfish Fire Tower. L-R: KB3SBC, NK1N, WB3GCK. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

While the others were operating pedestrian mobile, I hiked a little further down the trail in search of a good place to hang my EFHW antenna.  There weren’t a lot of good options.  There were a lot of dense woods up on this high ridge and the trees weren’t particularly tall.  I eventually got my antenna up in an inverted vee configuration.  It was NVIS at best.  I set up my YouKits HB-1B on a convenient flat rock and got on the air.

Catfish Fire Tower
Catfish Fire Tower

I worked one station on 20M CW but I didn’t hear much other activity.  I moved down to 40M and started calling CQ.  I fired off a quick text message to my friend, Carter N3AO, down in Virginia.  A few minutes later he answered my CQ.  After he spotted me on the cluster, I was soon met with a hoard of very strong signals calling me.  However, the pile-up was short-lived and the activity quickly slowed down.  About that time, the wind was blowing across the top of the ridge and it started getting cold up there.  I packed up and rejoined the others for the hike back down the hill.  I ended the day with 17 QSOs, most of them on 40M CW.

Operating along the Appalachian Trail near Catfish Fire Tower
Operating along the Appalachian Trail near Catfish Fire Tower (Photo by NK1N)

Day 2

After breakfast, we all packed up and headed out to the Crater Lake area to activate RC07.  While, the others continued on to Crater Lake, I pulled off into the Blue Mountain Lake trailhead parking lot.  It was a bit colder than the day before, so I opted to operate “stationary-mobile” from my truck.  I set up a 30 foot vertical on the back of my truck, using my bike rack mount, and set up my station in the truck.

Stationary-mobile setup at the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead
Stationary-mobile setup at the Blue Mountain Lakes trailhead

I worked several stations on 20M including WA3WSJ who had hiked up to Kittatinny Mountain for a combined SOTA (W2/NJ-003) and NPOTA activation.  I heard a lot of activity on 30 meters, so I moved there next.  That turned out to be a very productive move.  I finished out my session on 20 meters.  I worked NK1N who was with KB3SBC several miles away at Crater Lake.

The Boschveldt QRPers at Crater Lake. L-R: WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
The Boschveldt QRPers at Crater Lake. L-R: WB3GCK, WA3WSJ, NK1N, KB3SBC. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

The skies were starting to look threatening, so I started packing up.  Over 2m simplex, WA3WSJ told me he had started hiking back down to Crater Lake.  I drove over to Crater Lake to join up with the rest of the crew and we soon headed back to the cabin for lunch.  It was a short session but I ended with 21 QSOs.

Once again, we had a great winter QRP getaway at Mohican Outdoor Center.  The Boschveldt QRPers are already making plans for next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

New Year’s Day NPOTA Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoA few years ago, I started a tradition of going out on January 1st for some QRP portable operating.  Since the ARRL National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) program kicked off today, I headed over to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park to operate.

I set up in the parking lot for the Wayne’s Woods area of the park.  I picked a secluded corner of the lot so I would be away from hikers and bikers using a nearby trail.  I used my drive-on mast support to support my antenna.  I used a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot pole.  I laid out two 29.5-foot radials.  One was run around my truck and the other was laid out in a grassy area behind the truck.  The antenna was coax-fed through a 4:1 unun.

My “stationary-mobile” location
My “stationary-mobile” location

I used my FT-817 at 5 watts, along with a Z-817 tuner.  As mentioned in an earlier post, I used the YFKtest logging program on my little Linux netbook computer.

My somewhat messy operating position
My somewhat messy operating position

I started out on 20M and my first contact was with RA1M/MM who was also running QRP.  After making a second contact on 20M things slowed down.  I dropped down to 40M and started calling, “CQ NPOTA.”  It took a while before I got a response.  I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to make the requisite 10 contacts to validate my activation.  Just then, Dave Benson, K1SWL, called from New Hampshire, followed by Jim W1PID.  After Dave spotted me on QRPSPOTS, I had a mini pile-up on my hands.  I’m normally a “search and pounce” kind of operator, so I wasn’t prepared to hear a bunch of stations calling me at the same time!

YFKtest logging software on my Linux netbook computer
YFKtest logging software on my Linux netbook computer

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only Valley Forge activator today.  Fellow QRPer, Walt KB3SBC, was parked on Mount Joy about a mile or so away.  Walt and I worked each other on 2 meters simplex.  Walt was running SSB and had a good morning.  He logged about 38 QSOs until he ran out of paper!

After two hours, I was starting to get hungry and a little chilly.  I packed up and headed home.  I ended my activation with 25 CW QSOs and the one FM contact with Walt.

National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge
National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge

My next activation will be the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area and Appalachian Trail in New Jersey in a few weeks.  Walt, KB3SBC, will be there also.     This is going to be a fun year!

72, Craig WB3GCK