Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Remote (POTA) operation from Canyonlands National Park (K-0010)

As I am wont to do, I recently spent a week camping in the "Needles" district of Canyonlands National Park.  To be sure, this was a bit closer to "glamping" in the sense that we had a tent, a flush-toilet a few hundred feet away, plenty of food, solar panels for power and didn't need to haul our gear in on our backs - at least not any farther than between the vehicle(s) and the campsite.

While I did hike 10s of miles during the week, I didn't hike every day - and that left a bit of "down time" to relax and enjoy the local scenery.

As a first for me - even though I have camped there many times and have even made dozens of contacts over the years on HF - I decided to do a real POTA (Parks On The Air) activation.  In the days before departure I finally got around to signing up on the pota.app web site and just before I left the area of cell phone coverage (there is none at all anywhere near where we were camping) I scheduled an activation to encompass the coming week as I had no idea exactly when I would be operating - or on what bands.

Figure 1:
The JPC-7 loaded dipole at 10', backgrounded by red rock.
Click on the image for a larger version.

* * *

It wasn't until the day after I arrived that I finally had time to operate.  As it was easiest and most convenient to do so, I deployed my "modified" JPC-7 loaded dipole antenna (an antenna I'll describe in greater detail in a future post) affixing it atop a tripod light stand that could be telescoped to about 10 feet (3 meters) in height - attaching one of its legs to the swing-out grill of the fire pit to prevent it from falling over.  Being only about 10 feet from the picnic table, it offered a relatively short cable run and when it came time to tune the antenna, I simply disconnected it from the input of the tuner, connected it to my NanoVNA and adjusted the coils:  In so-doing, I could change bands in about two minutes.

The radio that I usually used was my old FT-100 - typically running at 50 watts on CW, 100 watts on SSB, but I would occasionally fire up my FT-817  and run a few contacts on that as well.  As you would expect, the gear was entirely battery-powered as there is not a commercial power line within 10s of miles of this place:  Often, one of my batteries would be off being charged from a solar panel, requiring that I constantly rotate through them.

* * *

For reasons of practicality - namely the fact that I would be operating in (mostly) daylight - and for reasons related to antenna efficiency, I mostly operated on 30 meters and higher.  Because we were outside, this made a computer screen very difficult to see so I logged on a piece of paper - also convenient because this method required no computer or batteries!  The very first contact - a Park-to-Park - occurred on 15 meter SSB, but I quickly QSY'ed down to 17 meters and worked a few dozen stations on CW - breaking in my "CW Morse" paddle for the first time on the air:  It would seem that my scheduling the activation and my Morse CW being spotted by the Reverse Beacon Network caused the notice to go out automatically where I was quickly pounced on.

In using this paddle - made by CW Morse - for the first time I quickly discovered several things:

  • I've seen others using this paddle by holding it in their hand - but I was completely unable to do that:  I would get into the "zone" while sending and inevitably put my fingers on the "dit" and "dah" paddle's tension adjustment screws, causing me to send random elements:  At first I thought that something was amiss - perhaps RF getting into the radio - but one of the other folks I was with (who are also hams) pointed out what I was doing.
  • Since my CW Morse paddle has magnets in the base - and since the picnic table's top was aluminum - I stuck it to the bottom of a cast-iron skillet which solved the first problem, but I quickly discovered that the bottom of a well-used skillet is really quite smooth and lubricated with a fine layer of carbon.  What this meant was that not only did I have to use my other hand to keep the key from sliding around, I started looking like the carbon-covered operators of high-power Poulsen Arc transmitters of a century ago:  My arm and hand quickly got covered with a slight residue of soot!  I then made it a practice to at least wipe down the bottom of the pan before operating.
  • During contacts, I would randomly lose the "Dah" contact.  I was presuming that this was from dust getting into the contacts (I'm sitting outside!) as it usually seemed to "fix" itself when I would lean over and blow into the paddle, but in once instance when this didn't work at all I wiggled/rotated the 3.5mm TRS jack on the back and it started working again.  I'm thinking that the issue was just a flaky contact on the jack.

At some point I'll need to figure out a better means of holding this paddle down to keep it from sliding about - perhaps a small sheet of steel with bumpers and rubber feet - or simply learn to use the paddle with a much lighter touch!

Figure 2:
Operating CW from the picnic table, the paddle on a skillet!
Click on the image for a larger version.

With a few dozen CW contact under my belt I readjusted the antenna and QSYed down to 20 meter SSB where I worked several pages of stations, my voice getting a bit hoarse before handing the microphone over to Tim, KK7EF who continued working the pileup under my callsign.

* * *

After a while, we had to shut down as we needed the picnic table to prepare dinner - but this wasn't the last bit of activation:  Over the next few days - when time was available - I would often venture out on 40, 30, 20 and 17 meter CW - occasionally braving 17 meter SSB:  I generally avoided 20 meter SSB as the band generally seemed to be a bit busy - particularly during the weekend when some sort of activity caused the non-WARC bands to be particularly full.

* * *

By the end of the trip I had logged about 387 total contacts - roughly 2/3 of them being CW.  When I got home I had to transcribe the paper logs onto the computer and learned something doing this:  If you do such a transcription, try to avoid doing so late at night when you are tired - and always wait until the next day - whether you were tired or not - and go back and re-check your entries BEFORE uploading the logs to LOTW, eQSL and/or the POTA web site!  Being tired, I hadn't thought the above through very well and later had to go back and make corrections and re-upload.

This page stolen from ka7oei.blogspot.com


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