POTA and WWFF at Colonel Denning State Park

Our camping season is rapidly drawing to a close. My (far) better half and I took our little camper out to Colonel Denning State Park (POTA K-1343, WWFF KFF-1343) for our next-to-the-last trip of the year.

Located in central Pennsylvania, Colonel Denning was a new park for us. Our campsite for the weekend small but more than adequate. This section of the campground was along a creek and in a valley. There were steep hills directly behind our site. Given the terrain, I didn’t have high hopes for my radio waves getting out.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at Colonel Denning State Park. My antenna is that white object to the rear of the camper.

We arrived on Friday afternoon. After getting the camper situated, I set up my antenna and gave the radio a quick test. Tuning around, I could hear some strong signals. That gave me some hope.

I didn’t get on the air until Saturday morning. It was only 35F overnight, so I hunkered down in the camper to operate. I made a few contacts, so I appeared to be getting out OK. On 40M, I worked WB9WIU in Indiana, some New York QSO Party stations, and had a 2-way QRP QSO with WA1LFD in New Hampshire.

Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park.
Doubling Gap Creek in Colonel Denning State Park near our campsite.

Later in the day, I spotted myself on the POTA and WWFF websites and spent an hour or so working park chasers. I worked a lot of regulars including W6LEN in California. I had park-to-park QSOs on two bands (20M and 17M) with N4CD in Texas. At one point, I received a call from EA2IF in Spain, who mistakenly thought I was a SOTA activator. In any event, I was happy to add him to my log. I ended my brief POTA/WWFF session with 23 stations in the log.

We awoke Sunday morning to a steady rain. According to the local forecast, the day was going to be a washout—they were right. I made one final contact with K9FW on 80M before tearing down and packing up for the trip home.

The bands were in good shape over the weekend. Despite the terrain, my QRP signals seemed to have found their way out of the valley. Colonel Denning is on our list for a return visit next year.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Father’s Day Camping in Maryland

I spent Father’s Day camping in Maryland. My (far) better half and I took our little camper down to Susquehanna State Park (POTA/WWFF K/KFF-1601). It was a beautiful weekend and our first time camping this year without rain.

Susquehanna State Park is relatively small but it’s one of my favorites. Our campsite this time was large, heavily-wooded, and secluded. It was just what we needed after a busy weekend — a peaceful place to relax.

When I wasn’t just goofing off, I was on the radio. My original plan was to put up an inverted L but there were just too many trees (and I was too lazy). So I stayed with my usual 29.5-foot vertical and 9:1 unun.

A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.
A conveniently-placed tree stump made a great operating table.

Instead of doing a formal POTA/WWFF activation, I focused on making SKCC contacts towards my “Senator” award. The bands were up and down but at times they were pretty good. Since we were “dry camping” without hookups, I didn’t have to contend with a bunch of noise from the trailer.

Breakfast time at the "QRP Camper" in Susquehanna State Park (MD).
Breakfast time at the “QRP Camper” in Susquehanna State Park (MD).

One of my first contacts on Friday was Florida on 40M. So, that was a good sign. On Saturday morning, there was some good SKCC activity on 30M. I worked several mid-West stations, including AK9A in Wisconsin. Bob was running 1 watt and putting out a great signal. Later in the day, I caught a good opening on 20M, netting me 579 reports from Louisiana and Manitoba, Canda. At the end of the weekend, my casual operating netted me 19 contacts. Six of them counted towards my SKCC “S Quest.”

Other than that, we caught up on much-needed sleep and ate lots of good food. Now, it’s back to the real world.

Life is good...
Life is good…

I’ll be busy this weekend getting stuff together for Field Day next weekend. I’ll be operating with the Boschveldt QRP Club (W3BQC). Give us a shout if you hear us!

72, Craig WB3GCK

WES Portable in Valley Forge

This weekend is the SKCC‘s monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. When I can, I like to go out and operate portable for at least part of the contest. I headed to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a couple of hours to take advantage of the great weather.

On arrival, I headed for a shady spot that I’ve used a few times before. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up a small table behind my truck. I fired up my KX3 and got on the air.

My set up in Valley Forge
My set up in Valley Forge

In short order, I logged several stations on 40M, including a POTA park-to-park QSO. (Valley Forge is POTA/WWFF K/KFF-0761.) Moving up to 20M, I made a few more contacts.

I decided to check 15M and I’m glad I did. I found several very strong stations who easily heard my meager 5-watt signal. I called CQ for a while and picked up a few more stations. I seemed to have a pipeline to Indiana and Illinois. It was great to hear some WES activity on 15M.

After a couple of hours, I started to run out of shade. I was getting hot and so was the KX3. I decided to pack up for the day. Besides, I had to do some preparations for a public service event early the next morning.

It was a great day for portable operating and I added a few more QSOs towards my SKCC Senator award.

72, Craig WB3GCK

The Passing of a QRP Legend

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I was sad to learn of Joe Everhart’s passing. If you are at all involved with QRP or Parks on the Air, Joe’s callsign, N2CX, should be very familiar to you.

I first met Joe back in the early 90s, while we were both employed by the same company. With our common interest in QRP, we continued to cross paths through the years.

Joe was a talented engineer and freely shared his extensive technical knowledge with his fellow hams. Joe’s articles appeared in a variety ham radio publications. I particularly enjoyed his ongoing series of “Technical Quickies” in each issue of QRP Quarterly. The next issue of QRP Quarterly will contain his 109th and final “Quickie.” Joe was a tireless tinkerer and we all benefited from his experiments.

Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an "eyeball QSO" with Joe in April 2016.
Joe Everhart N2CX during an NPOTA activation at Valley Forge National Historic Park. I took this picture during an “eyeball QSO” with Joe in April 2016.

As an activator in Parks on the Air (POTA) and World-Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF), Joe was a machine. He traveled all over, activating countless parks at a dizzying pace. As of this writing, Joe was number 3 on the POTA list of Top Activators of All Time. I always enjoyed reading the recaps of Joe’s activations on Facebook or the QRP-L mailing list. He was a natural story teller with a great sense of humor.

So, thank you, Joe, for the advice and guidance you provided to me and others over the years. Looking back at our many QSOs in my log, it’s sad to think there won’t be any more. It was an honor to know you and you will be missed.

Rest in peace, my friend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Leaf Peepers QRP Contest

I was pleased to be able to participate in the first-ever running of the Leaf Peepers QRP Contest. This new contest is the brainchild of Tim W3ATB. Although the Fall colors are barely getting started here in southeastern Pennsylvania, it was a good reason to get out and do some portable operating.

In the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, I headed up to Evansburg State Park (K/KFF-1351) near Collegeville, Pennsylvania. I figured I would work the contest while making Parks on the Air (POTA) contacts. Although this park is only about 25 minutes away from my home, I have never done a POTA activation from there. Today was the day.

The Skippack Creek Loop Trail in Evansburg State Park
The Skippack Creek Loop Trail in Evansburg State Park

I found a nice parking spot across the road from some restrooms. (This is a major consideration for us old guys.) There were very few others nearby so I practically had the place to my self. I put my 19.5-foot vertical on the back of my truck and set up my KX3 in the cab.

My parking spot in Evansburg State Park
My parking spot in Evansburg State Park

I started out on 40M and found some fellow Leaf Peepers but the QSOs were coming at a “relaxed” pace. Given that there were 180 registered Leaf Peeper stations, I thought I would hear more activity. However, I was able to work stations from New Hampshire to Florida and out to Michigan on 40M. The band yielded 7 Leaf Peepers before I switched over to 20M.

On 20M, my CQs yielded one more Leaf Peeper. Since the SKCC QSO Party was underway, I put the KX3 in straight key mode and flipped my paddles on their side to create a straight key. It’s awkward but it works. I picked up two SKCC contacts before pulling the plug.

Here are some of today’s highlights:

  • My second QSO was with Tim W3ATB, creator of the contest and Leaf Peeper #1.
  • I had a park-to-park QSO with Joe N2CX. Joe was at Washington Crossing State Park (K-1634) over in New Jersey.
  • I had another SKCC QSO with Bert F6HKA. He always has a great signal and is usually able to pull my QRP signal out of the noise.

After a little less than 2 hours, I had to pack up to run some errands before heading home. All in all, it was a fun outing and my 10 contacts were enough to qualify as a POTA activation. I don’t know why I waited so long to activate this park.

Thanks to Tim W3ATB for coming up with this contest. I always enjoy these QRP field contests and I’m looking forward to operating in this one again next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Camping in Elk Neck State Park

My XYL and I took the “QRP camper” back down to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland for the weekend. We had a couple of days of nice Fall weather but that did little to offset the mediocre propagation. By the end of the weekend, the weather became as bad as the band conditions.

When we arrived on Friday I set up my usual 29.5-foot vertical. I initally gave some thought to putting up an inverted L but I didn’t see a conveniently-placed tree to support the far end. In hindsight, having more wire up in the air would have been a good idea this weekend. I made a couple of contacts to make sure things were working before getting a campfire started.

On Saturday, I worked an assortment of stations (SOTA, special events, SKCC, etc.) but it seemed like almost every QSO was a struggle. With an A Index of 27, that wasn’t too surprising. After several attempts, I finally got through to N8N in Michigan on 40M for a park-to-park contact. Hank N8XX was operating with a special event callsign for National Trails Day. He was operating from the North Country Trail (KFF-1555).  (Elk Neck State Park is KFF-1569.)

The WB3GCK camper on a rainy morning in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. My Jackite pole is strapped to the lantern post on the left.
The WB3GCK camper on a rainy morning in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. My Jackite pole is strapped to the lantern post on the left.

The beautiful weather was short-lived. By Sunday morning, a steady rain had moved in, so I hunkered down with the KX3 in the camper to give the bands one more shot. I ended up with a very nice chat on 80M with NS3X. Mark is located in north-central Maryland and was a new SKCC number for my log. After I signed with Mark, I packed up the radio and began the unpleasant task of breaking camp in the rain.

I only logged a paltry 8 contacts over the weekend but that was enough to reach the 44 contacts needed for a WWFF-KFF activation.

We have two more trips planned for October before it’s time to winterize the camper and put it into hibernation until Spring. Time sure flies…

72, Craig WB3GCK

Recuperating at Codorus State Park

My XYL and I spent the weekend camping at Codorus State Park (K/KFF-1342) in south-central Pennsylvania.  When we were here last year, we had a weekend of bad weather.  This year, it was a tale of bad traffic, bad knees and bad propagation.

With a late start and heavy traffic, it was dark by the time we arrived at Codorus on Friday. After setting up the trailer it was getting late so I decided to wait until morning to set up my antenna.  We were in a heavily-wooded camp site, so my antenna wound up surrounded by large trees.

My antenna at Codorus State Park. The trees helped to maintain a low profile but probably didn't do much for its efficiency.
My antenna at Codorus State Park. The trees helped to maintain a low profile but probably didn’t do much for its efficiency.

The day before we left for Codorus, I injured my knee and paid a visit to the local urgent care facility.  The doctor said I needed to stay off of it for a few days and ice it several times each day.  Following my doctor’s orders, I spent much of the weekend relaxing in my reclining camp chair with my KX3 on a table next to me.

Icing my injured knee while making contacts.
Icing my injured knee while making contacts.

I didn’t do an announced activation at Codorus; instead, I just tuned around making contacts where I could find them.  Along with some Ohio and Kansas QSO Party stations, I worked an interesting assortment of stations.   On Sunday morning, I woke up to the news that there was a geomagnetic storm in progress.  The dead bands confirmed that; I only managed a few more contacts over the rest of the weekend.  Fortunately, I made more than enough contacts on Saturday for a qualifying POTA activation.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • I made park-to-park contacts with Joe N2CX at K/KFF-1461 and K/KFF-1452 in Wisconsin.
  • On Saturday afternoon, Ron WB3KVR answered my CQ on 40M.  It turned out that Ron was also camping in Codorus and operating QRP.  After we signed, I drove over to his campsite for an “eyeball QSO.”  Ron stopped by my campsite the next day to see my set up.
  • On Saturday evening, I worked LZ1146SPS in Bulgaria on 30M.  The unusual callsign is for a special event by the Bulgarian Radio Club Blagovestnik.
  • I wrapped things up on Monday morning with a contact on 30M with K0RU/M in Kansas City, Kansas.  Rob was operating while driving to work.  I’m always amazed by hams who can carry on a CW conversation while driving.  Very impressive!

Although the bands could have been better, I still enjoyed my lazy weekend resting my ailing knee and playing around on the radio.

72, Craig WB3GCK





Father’s Day at Elk Neck State Park

My better half and I took our little travel trailer down to one of my favorite campgrounds for the Father’s Day weekend. Although rest and relaxation was my main objective, I also worked in some QRP, too.

Our destination for the weekend was Elk Neck State Park in northeastern Maryland. After getting the trailer set up on Friday night, I strapped a Jackite pole to a lantern post and set up a 29.5-foot vertical. I did a quick test and found the area to be very quiet from both an audio (i.e., quiet neighbors) and an RF perspective.

On Saturday morning, I fired up the radio while the coffee was brewing and made a few SKCC contacts. I also had a nice CW chat with Butch NM1I in Massachusetts.

After lunch, I decided to do an impromptu Parks on the Air activation. Despite having poor cell service, I managed to post my plans on POTA and WWFF-KFF Facebook pages.

Things got off to a slow start on 40M until Emily KB3VVE found me and spotted me. After that, things began to pick up a bit. Most of my contacts were on 20M but sadly, I didn’t from any of the European regulars. Before wrapping up, I dropped down to 30M and picked up a couple more.

WB3GCK activating Elk Neck State Park from outside the camper.
WB3GCK activating Elk Neck State Park from outside the camper.

After about an hour, I had 13 contacts in the log, including WB9OWN in Wisconsin who worked me on both 20M and 30M. I made another 7 contacts over the course of the weekend. That’s more than enough for a valid POTA activation but I’m still about 6 contacts shy of the 44 needed for a WWFF activation. We’re planning to visit Elk Neck again in the Fall, so I should be able to make the remaining WWFF QSOs I need.

It was nice to finally have a camping trip this year with decent weather and no rain. I more than satisfied my rest and relaxation objective for the weekend.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Camp Run-a-MOC 2018

Mohican Outdoor Center is adjacent to the Appalachian Trail and is a popular stopover for hikersThe loosely organized group of QRPers known as the Boschveldt QRP Club made their annual pilgrimage to the Mohican Outdoor Center (MOC) for a weekend of radios and tall stories. Each year we rent a cabin and use that as a home base for hiking and QRP-portable operating. This year’s participants included Ed WA3WSJ, Ed K3YTR, Ron WA8IYH, John NU3E, Glen NK1N, Walt KB3SBC, Bill KA3RMM and me.

We all arrived Friday afternoon and it wasn’t long before a couple of stations were set up in the cabin. Friday evening’s activities included lots of socializing and a great dinner prepared by Ed K3YTR. KB3SBC set up a small projector and we looked at some pictures from the many WA3WSJ/KB3SBC NPOTA activations. We also saw a preview of WA3WSJ’s upcoming NPOTA presentation at the Four Days in May (FDIM) gathering.

The Boschveldt QRP crew. Seated (L-R): K3YTR, WA8YIH and WA3WSJ. Standing (L-R): KB3SBC, WB3GCK, NK1N, NU3E and KA3RMM. (Photo by WA3WSJ)
The Boschveldt QRP crew. Seated (L-R): K3YTR, WA8YIH and WA3WSJ. Standing (L-R): KB3SBC, WB3GCK, NK1N, NU3E and KA3RMM. (Photo by WA3WSJ)

The Club also had some door prizes, courtesy of Ed WA3WSJ. WA8IYH won a neat little QRPver 20M QRP rig. Other prizes included a QRPver antenna tuner, a set of Palm Mini paddles and a few other goodies. I was surprised when Ed presented me with a uBITX rig for making the most QSOs at past Field Days. (I later traded it to NU3E for the Palm Mini paddles.)

During the evening, we lost power to the cabin, including heat and running water. The Team channeled their inner MacGyver and collected rainwater for flushing toilets, firewood for the fireplace and battery-operated lights. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside, the cabin stayed remarkably warm through the night.

Ron WA8YIH inspecting the QRPver transceiver he won as a door prize.
Ron WA8YIH inspecting the QRPver transceiver he won as a door prize.

On Saturday morning, KB3SBC and KA3RMM made a much-needed coffee and donut run. A few folks stayed behind at the cabin, while the rest of us drove up to High Point State Park. At 1803 feet above sea level, this is the highest point in the state of New Jersey.  Since the rain from the night before was now ice, we opted to forego hiking on this trip.

WB3GCK operating from the cab of the truck.
WB3GCK operating from the cab of the truck.

The road up to the High Point Monument was closed and it was too cold and windy for hiking, so we stayed in the parking lots and operated from our vehicles. WA3WSJ did a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. NK1N set up his portable satellite equipment to work the “birds.” I put my 19-foot vertical on my truck and operated in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. By this time, the temperature was in the teens with a wind chill in the single digits. Needless to say, putting up antennas was a real challenge. Despite the challenges, everyone had a successful day. After a few hours of operating, we packed up and made the hour-long drive back to the cabin.

Glen NK1N ready to work the "birds" at High Point State Park. My truck with my vertical is in the background.
Glen NK1N ready to work the “birds” at High Point State Park. My truck with my vertical is in the background.

On Saturday evening, power was restored to the camp and we all headed into town for a great dinner. The evening concluded with more tall stories and some more radio operating.

Ed WA3WSJ operating from High Point State Park.
Ed WA3WSJ operating from High Point State Park.

On Sunday morning, we had a huge breakfast before packing up and heading out. John NU3E made his famous Belgian waffles, while Ron WA8YIH made some incredible omelets. Needless to say, our little group includes some amazing culinary talent.

After packing up and saying our goodbyes, we closed the book on another fun Camp Run-a-MOC weekend. We’re all looking forward to coming back again next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Susquehanna State Park (Again)

I’ve been a little under the weather and haven’t done much radio stuff lately. A weekend of camping in Susquehanna State Park in Maryland turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. I worked some of the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest and I did a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation (KFF-1601).

During my last visit a couple of months ago, my results were less than stellar. This weekend, the bands seemed to be in better shape. My results this time were much improved.

The WB3GCK "QRP" camper at Susquehanna State Park (KFF-1601)
The WB3GCK “QRP” camper at Susquehanna State Park (KFF-1601)

On the WES front, I worked a lot of the SKCC regulars and added a few new ones to my log. In particular, 80 meters was very active Saturday night and Monday morning.  Tony K6ELQ in California managed to hear my QRP signals on two bands.  One of those bands was 40 meters, so he really must have good ears.  It was also good to work Bert F6HKA again.  Bert also has great ears.

My POTA activation got off to a slow start. I had poor cell phone coverage from the campsite, so self-spotting on Facebook and the DX cluster was difficult. I attempted to post a spot on Facebook but I’m not sure if it actually got through the first time or not. I spent about 30 or 40 minutes calling CQ on 40 and 20 meters with no takers. I knew that Joe N2CX was activating a park up the Susquehanna River from me so I set up on a frequency just below Joe’s usual 40M hangout. My hope was that folks looking for Joe would also stumble across me. It worked! I started getting some calls from POTA regulars who spotted me on the DX clusters.

When I wrapped up for the weekend, my log included France (3 QSOs), Croatia (2 QSOs), Netherlands, Belgium and park-to-park QSOs with N2CX and F4GYG. Coupled with my earlier visit, I amassed enough QSOs to exceed the 44 QSOs needed for a Worldwide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) activation.

After spending a relaxing weekend in the woods playing radio, I’m pleased to report that I’m feeling much better now.

72, Craig WB3GCK