Catoctin, Gettysburg and Eisenhower NPOTA Activations

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoSince the XYL was planning to do some Christmas shopping today, I decided to activate three NPOTA sites.  It was a busy day but a lot of fun.

I started off at Catoctin Mountain National Park (DZ01) near Thurmont,  Maryland.  Brian, N3VN, had emailed me to let me know that he would be there at the same time.  On arrival, I headed to their location in the Chestnut Picnic Area.  I chatted with Brian and Mike W3MBC for a while before heading to the Hog Rock trailhead to set up.  I used my KX3 at 5 watts and my trusty 29.5-ft vertical wire and 9:1 unun.

Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor's Center

Catoctin Mountain Park Visitor’s Center

For some reason, the “dit” side of my Palm mini paddles wasn’t working.  Fortunately, I brought my old NorCal paddles along as a backup.

Once I got my paddle issues under control, I worked a steady stream of stations on 40 meters and a few on 20 meters.  After about 45 minutes things slowed down.  I decided to cut my visit short and move on to Gettysburg National Military Park (MP03) to make up some time.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

Brian N3VN recommended a spot at Gettysburg but I never did find it.  I ended up pulling off the road near the New Jersey Brigade monument.  I set up the 29.5-foot vertical and got to work.  Here I again made most of my contacts on 40 meters.  There weren’t many takers on 20 meters so I again left early and headed over to  the Eisenhower National Historical Site (NS13).

At the Eisenhower site, I operated outside the fence along the side of the road.  Many folks have activated NS13 from this spot.  Since there are some overhead utility wires, my 31-foot Jackite posed a bit of a risk.  So, for this site, I went with a 19-foot vertical that I had cobbled together the day before.  I also cranked up the KX3 to 10 watts for good measure.  Because of the shorter antenna, I only worked 20 meters from this location.

Activating the Eisenhower National Historic site. My 20-foot antenna is a bit closer to the utility lines than I would have liked.

Activating the Eisenhower National Historic site. My 20-foot antenna is a bit closer to the utility lines than I would have liked.

Things got off to a very slow start.  I was a little nervous but eventually got the required 10 contacts and then some.  Despite my kludged-together antenna, I worked several stations in western Canada plus one in Alaska.

While I was operating at Eisenhower, I noticed that my SWR was changing a lot.  I had to frequently re-tune the KX3’s internal tuner to get it back down.  As I was taking down the antenna, I found a loose connection on my 9:1 unun.  So, in addition to dealing with the Palm paddles, I have an unun to repair.

Things didn’t always go smoothly but I was happy to successfully activate three sites today.  That made the 2-hour drive home a lot more bearable.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Delaware National Scenic River Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoI made the trip to the Washington Crossing area to activation the Delaware National Scenic River (WR03).  It’s a beautiful area but this wasn’t my best activation.

I had a couple of potential operating locations I wanted to check out.  I first headed up to the Thompson-Neely section of the Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania.  There was a high bluff overlooking the river that was intriguing but didn’t seem close enough to the river.  (In hindsight, I might have been over-thinking the 25-foot requirement.)

I next headed across the very narrow bridge to the New Jersey side.  Intrepid NPOTA activator, N2CX told me about this section of New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park.  I passed on the picnic area (one of a couple of bad decisions I made) and continued to explore the park.  I was thinking about heading back to the Pennsylvania side but I wanted to get on the air.

Washington's Crossing, looking from the New Jersey side. The bridge is barely wide enough for two-way traffic.

Washington Crossing, looking from the New Jersey side. The bridge is barely wide enough for two-way traffic.

I set up in a lightly-used section of the park in a wooded area on the banks of the river.  I could have tossed a wire up in a tree but I took the easy way out and went with my Alexloop.  Since the Alexloop isn’t exactly a barn-burner on 40 meters, I cranked up the power on my KX3 to 10 watts (gasp!).

Operating on the banks of the Delaware River

Operating on the banks of the Delaware River.  I was sitting on a thick, foam pad; otherwise, I wouldn’t have lasted too long.

I started out on 40 meters and quickly received a call from Emily KB3VVE.  Emily is an active NPOTA activator and chaser and is widely-known in NPOTA circles for her cookies.

For the next 20 minutes or so, I was pretty busy until things started slowing down.  I checked 20 meters but it was wall-to-wall with contesters.  So, I retreated to 30 meters.  Thirty is usually a pretty good band for me but not today, for some reason.  Checking the Band Conditions website, it looked like conditions had taken a bad turn.  I went back to 40 meters and picked up one more contact.

Band Conditions Graph

This could be one of the reasons the QSOs dried up on me.

It was heavily overcast today with a steady breeze blowing down the river.  After an hour or so I started to get cold and decided to pack it in for the day.

I ended the day with 13 contacts in the log — all on 40 meters.  It wasn’t a great showing but I had more than enough to qualify the activation.

The heater in the truck felt pretty good on the drive home.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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NPOTA Activation in Havre de Grace, MD

Following my failed attempt at activating the Captain John Smith Trail (TR21) back in July, I figured it was time to try again.  This time, I headed down to Havre de Grace, Maryland, to activate an NPOTA twofer:  TR21 and the Star Spangled Banner Trail (TR22).

I have always had a fondness for Northeastern Maryland.  I went through Navy Radioman School at the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center back in the early 70s and frequently traveled through this area during my working days.  The town of Havre de Grace has always been one of my favorite places.  It’s a scenic little town that is steeped in history.

The Promenade along the waterfront in Havre de Grace, MD

The Promenade along the waterfront in Havre de Grace, MD

For this trip, I made the hour and a half drive down to Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace.  I set up in the parking lot near a marina.  I got as close to the waterfront as possible but some overhead power lines kept me from taking a parking spot at the water’s edge.

A view of the marina at Tydings Park

A view of the marina at Tydings Park

After setting up my KX3 and my 29.5-foot vertical, I started calling CQ on 40 meters.  Things got off to a slow start.  After 15 minutes without a contact, a Havre de Grace police cruiser rolled up to see what I was up to.  I gave him my ham radio/NPOTA spiel but he seemed more interested in the mechanics of my 31-foot Jackite pole.  After chatting for a bit, he told me to have fun and left.

My location at Tydings Park in Havre de Grace, MD

My location at Tydings Park in Havre de Grace, MD

Eventually, I scored my first contact.  Right about that time, K4JDF pulled up.  Bernie, who lives in Havre de Grace, saw my spot on Facebook and stopped by to visit.  After chatting with Bernie for a bit, things got busy on 40 meters.

While working a mini pile-up on 40 meters, I was battling some intermittent issues with my paddles.  At one point, I had to put the KX3 in straight key mode and use one side of my paddles as a straight key.  I eventually got that issue resolved.   A little later, I inadvertently hit the wrong button on the KX3 and put the receive filter in some weird state.  I eventually got that straightened out, too.

After shifting to 20 meters, things got pretty intense for a bit.  The band seemed to really be open to the western states.  After things thinned out on 20 meters, I took a few pictures and packed up for the trip home.

Some other highlights:

  •  Working fellow QRPer, W1PID.  Jim was out on a trail in New Hampshire.
  • Working N3FJP.  Scott is the developer of ACLog (among others), which I use for my main station log.  I think this is the first time I’ve worked Scott on the air.

This was a beautiful Fall day.  It was “t-shirt weather,” for sure.  I’m hoping to squeeze in a few more activations before the end of the year.

72/73, Craig WB3GCK

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Busy Radio Weekend

This was a busy weekend, radio-wise.  First, the Polar Bear QRP Club held their monthly Moonlight Madness Event on Saturday.  Also, the Facebook-based Field Radio group was holding their second International Field Radio Event (IFRE) this weekend.  Finally, the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) was holding their monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest.  To take advantage of all of this, I went portable twice over the weekend.

Saturday:
It was a bit chilly here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I operated “stationary-mobile” from a local park.  I used my KX3 with a 29.5-foot vertical on the back of my truck.   When I powered up the radio, I immediately heard fellow Polar Bear, Chuck AF4O, calling CQ from a park in Tennessee.  I gave him a shout and had a nice chat.  His HB-1A sounded great.

My "stationary-mobile" location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

My “stationary-mobile” location in Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

I tuned around listening for stations operating in the International Field Radio Event. Not hearing any, I called CQ on 20 meters and got a call from HA3NU.  I think he was search and pouncing in a contest but he gave me a contact anyway.  I shifted over to SSB (which I don’t do very often) and worked 4 stations that way on 20 and 40 meters.

Since the SKCC WES was also going on, I put the KX3 in straight key mode and laid my Palm mini paddles on their side and used one paddle as a straight key.  I made two contacts that way, including F6HKA,  (Bert always has good ears.)

I ended my session by working Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation (Fort Necessity National Battlefield in southwestern Pennsylvania).

I wound up with 10 contacts total including 1 Polar Bear, 2 SKCC WES, 1 NPOTA and no IFRE stations.

Sunday
I took a bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail, which connects to the Perkiomen Valley Trail.  I stopped at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to set up the radio.  This is one of my favorite spots for QRP portable.  I put a 29.5-foot wire up in a tree and set up my KX3 on a conveniently located bench.

My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.

My bike was again used to tie off my antenna.

The bands were definitely not as hot as yesterday.  I tuned around the Field Radio calling frequencies but didn’t hear any IFRE activity.  I called “CQ IFR” on both 40 and 20 meters but had no takers.   The SKCC WES contest was still going on, so I made a few SKCC contacts.  One of those was with F6EJN.  It took a few tries to complete the QSO but Bob was able to pull me out of the noise.  While tuning around 40 meters, I had an NPOTA contact with WK2S.  Art was in the Pinelands National Reserve Affiliated Area (AA19) in New Jersey, which is a new one for me.

Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park

Operating from a bench in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park

The weather was absolutely beautiful today but, as the sun began to set behind the trees, it started getting cold.  So, I loaded up the bike and headed back down the trail.

This was my second IFRE with no contacts.  Oh well, maybe next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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White Clay Creek NPOTA Activation

I took advantage of another nice Fall day and did some hiking along White Clay Creek.  Since White Clay Creek is a National Wild and Scenic River (WR39), I did a short NPOTA activation along the way.  I previously activated this unit but I figured I would make a small contribution towards getting the NPOTA program to the 1 million QSO mark by the end of the year.

White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River. Taken on the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve.

White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River. Taken on the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve.

I hiked a section of the Mason-Dixon Trail that runs between Pennsylvania and Delaware and closely follows the creek.  As I traveled down the trail, I searched for a decent place to put up an antenna.  Not finding one, I eventually came to the Delaware state line.  About a quarter of a mile into Delaware, I got lucky.

Obligatory selfie at the Delaware state line on the Mason-Dixon Trail in the White Clay Creek Preserve

Obligatory selfie at the Delaware state line.

I came across a clearing that was well within the 25-foot requirement for activating a wild and scenic river.  There was a tree branch that was just begging for me to hang my antenna there.  Using a water bottle for a weight, I got my line over a 35-foot branch on the first toss.  Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often.  I strung up a 29.5-foot wire with a 9:1 unun and 18-feet of coax.  I quickly set up my KX3 and was on the air a few minutes earlier than planned.

Operating along the Mason-Dixon Trail in White Clay Creek Preserve. The creek is behind me just beyond the trees.

Operating along the Mason-Dixon Trail in White Clay Creek Preserve. The creek is behind me just beyond the trees.

I started out on 40 meters.  Despite all the Sweepstakes contest stations, that turned out to be the best band for me today.  I quickly got the required 10 contacts and then some.  I eventually moved up to 30 meters and worked a couple there.  I next moved up to 20 meters but the band was going crazy with the contest.  I tuned up to 14.102 MHz and eventually worked a California station.  With no other takers, I headed back to 30 meters and picked up one more there.  I ended my brief session with 21 contacts in my log.  I packed up and enjoyed a leisurely hike back to my truck.

It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.  I need to get back down to this area to explore some of the other trails.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Monocacy Hill Hike

After a week of mostly chilly temperatures, we were blessed with some unseasonably warm temperatures today.  With temperatures approaching 80 degrees (F), I decided to do a little hiking on Monocacy Hill.

Monocacy Hill Trailhead

Monocacy Hill Trailhead

The Monocacy Hill Recreation Area is a little gem of a place, tucked away in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  Even though it’s only about 10 miles away, I had never heard of it until I worked WA3WSJ there in December of last year.   This area has some beautiful hiking trails.

Monocacy Hill Trail

Monocacy Hill Trail

I hiked in about a mile so to the top of the hill and set up my KX3 in the middle of large group of boulders.  Since I didn’t know what to expect, antenna-wise, I brought my AlexLoop along in my backpack.  In a few minutes, I was up and running.

My operating position on top of Monocacy Hill

My operating position on top of Monocacy Hill

I started out on 20 meters and immediately came across Joe N2CX who was doing an NPOTA activation from the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial Affiliated Area (AA03) in Philadelphia.  Joe had quite a pile-up going, so I waited until it thinned out a bit and worked him.  I amazed that I was able to work Philly on 20 meters.  I guess my elevation might have helped.

Monocacy Hill Trail. I encounterd a rock or two on the trail.

I encountered a rock or two on the trail.

After that, the bands seemed to fade out on me.  I tried calling CQ on 30 meters and 40 meters with no luck.  In between attempts, I had some nice chats about ham radio with some of the curious hikers going by.  I checked the Band Conditions website and it looked like propagation had taken a turn for the worse.  I decided to pack up and enjoy the hike back to the trailhead.

It was a great day for a little hiking.  There probably won’t be any more days like this one for quite a while.  A few more contacts would have been nice, though.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Zombie Shuffle 2016

Official QRP Zombie BadgeLast night was the annual running, or should I say shuffling, of the Zombie Shuffle contest.  I participated in the Shuffle for the first time last year and managed to squeeze out 6 QSOs.  My goal for this year was to top that meager score.  No such luck.

I saw reports that the 20-meter band was pretty active during daylight hours.  Of course, I missed all that.  By the time I got on the air around 2230Z, there was very little activity.  I picked up 2 contacts on 40 meters.  After that, zombie activity on the bands vanished.  I briefly heard some zombie stations on 80 meters but they faded out or went back to their graves.

Thanks to NA5N for organizing this fun event.  Thanks to AB8DF and AI4IC for keeping me from getting skunked.  I look forward to shuffling with the zombies again next year.

72, Craig WB3GCK
QRP Zombie #1177

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Polar Bear Moonlight Madness – October 2016

I went out in search of some polar bears this afternoon.  The Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME), sponsored by the Polar Bear QRP Ops group, is a very informal QRP field event.  It occurs monthly from October through March on the Saturday closest to a full moon.

For this month’s event, I traveled to Towpath Park near Pottstown, PA on the banks of the Schuylkill River.  This was my first time operating from this park, so I did a little exploring when I arrived.  I set up my KX3 and AlexLoop on a picnic table underneath a little pavilion.

My pavilion at Towpath Park.

My pavilion at Towpath Park.

Polar Bears generally hang out near the traditional QRP calling frequencies so I started out on 14.060 MHz.  I called CQ for a while with no takers.  I was about to change bands when I got a call from OK1DVM.  Miro had a very nice signal and gave me a 559.  I moved down the band a bit and worked PF30EUDXF, a special event station in the Netherlands.  At least I was making it into Europe.

My operating position. My AlexLoop attached to the picnic table.

My operating position. The AlexLoop is attached to the picnic table.

I didn’t work any bears down on 40 meters but I did work a couple of stations in the New York QSO Party.  Thirty meters seemed to be open but I had no takers there.  Back on 20 meters, I worked a station in the Iowa QSO Party before calling it quits.

Sadly, I didn’t work any of my Polar Bear friends today but it was nice to be out on this beautiful Fall day.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to give it another shot next month.

72, Craig WB3GCK
Polar Bear #7

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SKCC WES October 2016

I spent the weekend camping in French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania.  The Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) was held this weekend, so I spent some time making straight key contacts.

I was set up in my pop-up camper using my KX3 at 5 watts on battery power.  My antenna was my trusty “Pop-up Vertical.”

Working the SKCC WES contest from the camper

Working the SKCC WES contest from the camper

Prior to the start of the WES contest, I had a nice 2-way QRP chat with John W3FSA up in Maine.  John’s YouKits HB-1B was putting a great signal into Pennsylvania.

Working the contest on and off over the weekend, I logged 39 contacts.  Some of the highlights included:

  • Working F6EJN and DK7OB.  Both were new additions to my SKCC log.
  • An early morning QSO with Tony K6ELQ in California on 40 meters.  I have to admit, the credit needs to go to Tony and his phenomenal station.  It’s not the first time I’ve worked the West Coast on 40 meters during daylight hours but I always like when that happens.
  • Adding enough new contacts to my SKCC log to qualify for the Tribune x3 level.  I was stuck at the Tx2 level for a while, so I was pleased to finally get to the next level.

While tuning around 40 meters on Saturday afternoon, I heard my old QRP buddy, WA3WSJ, making some contacts in the Pennsylvania QSO Party.  I gave Ed a contact and let him know I was camping not far from his home.  A little while later, Ed stopped by the campsite for a visit.  He even came with some food items he acquired during one of his NPOTA trips.  It’s always fun to do some catching up with Ed.

Our pop-up camper on its final camping trip (with us, at least).

Our pop-up camper on its final camping trip (with us, at least).

I had a bittersweet moment this morning as I was taking down the Pop-up Vertical for the last time.  My XYL and I decided to retire the pop-up camper and go with something different next year.  Over the past 19 years, my ham radio setup in the camper has evolved to where I could be up and operating in minutes.  The Pop-up Vertical has always performed well for me.  So, I’ll have to start all over working out a new antenna setup for whatever kind of camper we end up with next year.  That should be fun.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Peanut Power Sprint 2016

I operated in the Peanut Power Sprint for the first time today.  This sprint is sponsored by the good folks of the North Georgia QRP Club.  It’s a short, two-hour sprint, which works nicely with my short attention span.

I headed out to a nearby park to operate portable.  Since the Peanut Power Sprint is a short contest and I was pressed for time anyway, I kept my setup simple.  I used the same setup I have used for some recent NPOTA activations.  I operated from my truck with a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot Jackite pole on my bike rack.  I fed the vertical wire with a 9:1 unun and 18 feet of coax.  I set up my KX3 on the passenger seat of my truck.

My "stationary-mobile" setup at the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The Jackite pole is mounted on the rear of the truck.

My “stationary-mobile” setup at the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. The Jackite pole is mounted on the rear of the truck.

Before the sprint started, I worked AB7RW who was doing an NPOTA activation from the Curecanti National Recreation Area (RC06) in Colorado.  So, it looked like the antenna was working.

Propagation on 20 meters was a little flakey and 40 meters was plagued by wall-to-wall RTTY contest stations.  Despite the challenges, I ended up with 19 contacts in the log.  Even though my operating location was along the Schuylkill River and I didn’t have the benefit of altitude, I managed to work the west coast (WA).  I also worked N8XX and WD8RIF who were both operating from the North Country National Scenic Trail (TR04).  My last contact was with Greg N4KGL who was operating pedestrian-mobile from Florida.

I’m glad I decided to operate in this year’s Peanut Power Sprint.  It was a fun way to spend a beautiful Fall afternoon.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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