Adventures in ham radio

For last year’s field day I headed to Lion Rock Spring campground on Table Mountain, just north of Ellensburg, WA, and about 6,150′ above sea level. The road conditions and snow prevented me from actually summiting the mountain in my econobox car, but I found a great location anyway a bit below the summit.

Later that summer, a large forest fire swept through Table Mountain, resulting in the area being closed to motorized traffic until June of this year. It opened again about a week before field day, and the Ranger encouraged me to return to the location, if only to see what is left in the wake of such a fire. Snow would not be an issue this year.

One big difference from last year, is that I now have a 1988 Toyota 4WD pickup truck that makes rough terrain easier to traverse. Here is the rather inelegantly packed truck shortly before departure for Table Mountain.

I got a late start at about 4:00 pm Friday afternoon, just in time for rush hour. The trip to Table Mountain itself was about three hours, including stops for gas and food. The drive up the mountain revealed large patches of burned trees. Some trees had toppled, others were shedding their burned bark to reveal blond wood underneath. There were plenty of campers in undamaged areas at lower elevations. As I climbed toward Lion Rock campground, the damage was more severe. I saw nobody else anywhere near the summit. I got there around 7:00 pm.

I arrived to find a breathtaking panoramic view from south to Mount Rainier south to the N. Cascades to the north. The first order of business was to find a place to camp. The area was extremely rocky, but I found a nearby spot that previous campers had cleared of rocks. The tent was nestled among small, lightly burned, trees.

After that, I began setting up antennas until well past dark. Clouds rolled in after sunset. The rocky terrain and dark night made the going slow. And Around 10 pm, it started drizzling, coating anything touching the ground in a thin layer of mud. I hit the sack at 1:00 am.

The set-up continued to the next morning. By 9:00 am, visitors started arriving, and continued trickling in between sunrise to after sunset over the next 30 hours. Many visitors were there for the summer solstice—apparently looking for a druidic experience. They found technology instead. Other folks stopped by because the area had only recently been re-opened to motor vehicles. They were interested in the fire damage. In any case, I was surprised, and at times distracted, by the number of cars, motorcycles, and ATVs that stopped by. The up side is that this very public place qualified for the 100 point bonus for “Set-up in a Public Place”.

Shortly before 11:00 am local time, the antennas were up. The mast in the truck bed supports a 20-15-10 meter hex beam. Below it is an 8-element 222 MHz yagi.

The mast in the foreground held the antennas I usually use for VHF contests out of an airplane. From top to bottom:

  • 2 meter, 5 element quagi
  • 6 meter, 3 element yagi with a half-folded dipole feed
  • 222 MHz, 6 element “cheap” yagi (right)
  • 432 MHz, 11 element “cheap” yagi (left)
  • 927 MHz, 10 element “cheap” yagi (left)
  • 1296 MHz, 10 element “cheap” yagi (right)

Attached to the ends of a steel frame forming the base of the mast were two home built screwdriver antennas–one tuned to 40 meters and one tuned to 80 meters. The radials consisted of three 100′ tape measures and three 30′ tape measures connected to the base of each antenna. For some reason, both screwdriver antennas quit working, so I found myself hand tuning them for the CW portions of each band, minutes before the operating event started. This delayed my start by about 25 minutes.

The weather was cooperative during the contest….

The contest itself went the way contests go. Lots and lots of working stations. I primarily worked 20 meters, and mostly CW.

Phone was a problem on 20 meters because I was hearing too much—sometimes even hearing two stations, oblivious to each other, calling CQ on the same frequency. As I found last year, this mountain-top perch gave me incredible reach into the entire continent.

At some point I met Scott, N7FSP, from W. Seattle. Scott was not there for field day, rather he was there to take photographs during the summer solstice, and he stayed until after sunset. He had VHF/UHF equipment in his car, so we made QSOs on 2m and 432 MHz. Another couple had noticed his ham plates and pointed out that they were hams, so he pull out an unused HT for them and I got two more 2 m QSOs with Scott’s help (the “family rule” allowed both of them use the same rig for the QSOs). And then Scott ended up talking to some folks on 2m simplex travelling up the mountain that he put me in touch with! So…I Scott was very helpful for the contest, and it was a lot of fun to chat with him during breaks.

I kept going until things slowed down at 1:00 AM. But I was back at it (after a surprisingly refreshing bout of sleep) at 6:30 AM. I slept too long, because 20 meters was hot on Sunday morning! I got a 50 minute CW run in that yielded 60 QSOs. An hour later, I repeated it with a 70 minute run resulting in 82 QSOs—still on 20 CW. After some smaller runs going on 15 CW and phone. I went back to 20m CW for the final 30 minutes and still worked 32 new stations.

Did I mention the weather was spectacular during the event? As I made the last couple of QSOs, I noticed sprinkles on the windshield.

Indeed, the drizzle returned for the teardown. The coax was totally coated in thin layer of mud. In fact, everything that touched the ground was coated in mud. I think it took 2.5 hours to get everything packed up, loaded and secured. I drove home with a big ol’ smile on my face.

Results

I ended up with 515 CW QSOs and 92 phone QSOs for a total of 607 QSOs. Here is the breakdown by band and mode:

Band  CW    PH
40m 35 0
20m 387 39
15m 89 7
6m 4 29
2m 0 14
222 MHz 0 1
432 MHz 0 2

All QSOs were with 150 watts or less (usually 100 watts).

The score was computed as 1122 QSO points plus 250 bonus points for a score of 1372.

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