It is likely that - almost no matter where you were - you were aware that a solar eclipse occurred in the Western U.S. in the middle of October, 2023. Wanting to go somewhere away from the crowds - but along the middle of the eclipse path - we went to an area in remote west-central Utah in the little-known Conger Mountains.
|Clint, KA7OEI operating CW in K-6085 with Conger
mountain and the JPC-7 loaded dipole in the background.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Having lived in Utah most of my life, I hadn't even heard of this mountain range even through I knew of the several (nearly as obscure) ranges surrounding it. This range - which is pretty low altitude compared to many nearby - peaks out at only about 8069 feet (2460 Meters) ASL and is roughly 20 miles (32km) long. With no incorporated communities or paved roads anywhere nearby we were, in fact, alone during the eclipse, never seeing any other sign of civilization: Even at night it was difficult to spot the glow of cities on the horizon.
For the eclipse we set up on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land which is public: As long as we didn't make a mess, we were free to be there - in the same place - for up to 14 days, far more than the three days that we planned. Our location turned out to be very nice for both camping and our other intended purposes: It was a flat area which lent itself to setting up several antennas for an (Amateur) radio propagation experiment, it was located south and west of the main part of the weather front that threatened clouds, and its excellent dark skies and seeing conditions were amenable to setting up and using my old 8" Celestron "Orange tube" C-8 reflector telescope.
(Discussion of the amateur radio operations during the eclipse are a part of another series of blog entries - the first of which is here: Multi-band transmitter and monitoring system for Eclipse monitoring (Part 1) - LINK)
Just a few miles away, however, was Conger Mountain itself - invisible to us at our camp site owing to a local ridge - surrounded by the Conger Mountain BLM Wilderness Area, which happens to be POTA (Parks On The Air) entity K-6085 - and it had never been activated before. Owing to the obscurity and relative remoteness of this location, this is not surprising.
Even though the border of the wilderness area was less than a mile away from camp as a crow files, the maze of roads - which generally follow drainages - meant that it was several miles driving distance, down one canyon and up another: I'd spotted the sign for this area on the first day as we our group had split apart, looking for good camping spots, keeping in touch via radio.
Just a few weeks prior to this event I spent a week in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park where I could grab a few hours of POTA operation on most days, racking up hundreds of SSB and CW contacts - the majority of being the latter mode (you can read about that activation HERE). Since I had already "figured it out" I was itching to spend some time activating this "new" entity and operating CW. Among those others in our group - all of which but one are also amateur radio operators - was Bret, KG7RDR - who was also game for this and his plan was to operate SSB at the same time, on a different band. As we had satellite Internet at camp (via Starlink) we were able to schedule our operation on the POTA web site an hour or so before we were to begin operation.
In the late afternoon of the day of the eclipse both Bret and I wandered over, placing our stations just beyond the signs designating the wilderness study area (we read the signs - and previously, the BLM web site - to make sure that there weren't restrictions against what we were about to do: There weren't.) and several hundred feet apart to minimize the probability of QRM. While Bret set up a vertical, non-resonant end-fed wire fed with a 9:1 balun suspended from a pole anchored to a Juniper, I was content using my JPC-7 loaded dipole antenna on a 10' tall studio light stand/tripod.
|Bret, KG7RDR, operating 17 Meter SSB - the mast and
vertical wire antenna visible in the distance.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Meanwhile, Bret cast his lot on 17 meters and was having a bit more difficulty getting stations - likely due in part to the less-energetic nature of 17 meter propagation at that instant, but also due to the fact that unlike CW POTA operation where you can be automatically detected and "spotted" on the POTA web site, SSB requires that someone spot your signal for you if you can't do it yourself: Since we had no phone or Internet coverage at this site, he had to rely on someone else to do this for him. Despite these challenges, he was able to make several dozen contacts.
Back at my station I was kept pretty busy most of the time, rarely needing to call CQ - except, perhaps, to refresh the spotting on the RBN and to do a legal ID every 10 minutes - all the while making good use of the narrow CW filter on my radio.
As it turned out, our choice to wait until the late afternoon to operate meant that our activity spanned two UTC days: We started operating at the end of October 14 and finished after the beginning of October 15th meaning that with a single sitting, each of us accomplished two activations over the course of about 2.5 hours. All in all I made 85 CW contacts (66 of which were made on the 14th) while Bret made a total of 33 phone contacts.
We finally called it quits at about the time the sun set behind a local ridge: It had been very cool during the day and the disappearance of the sun caused it to get cold very quickly. Anyway, by that time we were getting hungry so we returned to our base camp.
|Back at camp - my brother and Bret sitting around
the fake fire in the cold, autumn evening after dinner.
Click on the image for a larger version.
My gear was the same as that used a few weeks prior when I operated from Canyonlands National Park (K-0010): An old Yaesu FT-100 equipped with a Collins mechanical CW filter feeding a JPC-7 loaded dipole, powered from a 100 amp-hour Lithium-Iron-Phosphate battery. This power source allowed me to run a fair bit of power (I set it to 70 watts) to give others the best-possible chance of hearing me.
As you would expect, there was absolutely no man-made noise detectable from this location as any noise that we would have heard would have been generated by gear that we brought, ourselves. I placed the antenna about 25' (8 meters) away from my operating position, using a length of RG-8X as the feedline, placing it far enough away to eliminate any possibility of RFI - not that I've ever had a problem with this antenna/radio combination.
I did have one mishap during this operation. Soon after setting up the antenna, I needed to re-route the cable which was laying on the ground, among the dirt and rocks, and I instinctively gave it a "flip" to try to get it to move rather than trying to drag it. The first couple of "flips" worked OK, but every time I did so the cable at the far end was dragged toward me: Initially, the coax was dropping parallel with the mast, but after a couple flips it was at an angle, pulling with a horizontal vector on the antenna and the final flip caused the tripod and antenna to topple, the entire assembly crashing to the ground before I could run over and catch it.
The result of this was minor carnage in that only the (fragile!) telescoping rods were mangled. At first I thought that this would put an end to my operation, but I remembered that I also had my JPC-12 vertical with me which uses the same telescoping rods - and I had a spare rod with that antenna as well. Upon a bit of inspection I realized, however, that I could push an inch or so of the bent telescoping rod back in and make it work OK for the time-being and I did so, knowing that this would be the last time that I could use them.
The rest of the operating was without incident, but this experience caused me to resolve to do several things:
- Order more telescoping rods. These cost about $8 each, so I later got plenty of spares to keep with the antenna.
- Do a better job of ballasting the tripod. I actually had a "ballast bag" with me for this very purpose, but since our location was completely windless, I wasn't worried about it blowing over.
- If I need to re-orient the coax cable, I need to walk over to the antenna and carefully do so rather than trying to "flip" it get it to comply with my wishes.
* * *
Epilogue: I later checked the Reverse Beacon Network to see if I was actually getting out during my initial attempt to operate on 30 meters: I was, having been copied over much of the Continental U.S. with reasonably good signals. I guess that everyone there was more interested in the DX!
P.S. I really need to take more pictures during these operations!
This page stolen from ka7oei.blogspot.com