An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!

This spring, as we planned our two months of travel in Québec, Canada, I jotted down one location in particular that I wanted to visit: Baie-Comeau.

Baie-Comeau is located about 420 km (260 miles) northeast of Québec City on the north shore of the mighty St-Lawerence river. It’s a small city with a population of around 21,000 and is pretty darn isolated. For many travelers, Baie-Comeau is the last major stop before a long, lonely road journey north to Labrador City or further northeast along the St-Lawrence.

I’ve always wanted to visit Baie-Comeau and my wife and daughters were game to make a proper trip out of it!

While in Québec, we plotted the details of our trip to coincide with a good weather opening.

We packed our gear, left the home base near St-Anne-de-Beaupré on July 13, 2022, and drove up the St-Lawrence, crossing the Saguenay River by ferry, and on up to Baie-Comeau with a few stops along the way.

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

It’s a beautiful drive.

We reserved lodging at the Hôtel Le Manoir Baie-Comeau (an excellent hotel, if you ever find yourself overnight in Baie-Comeau). We’re frugal travelers, so this was a bit of a splurge, but the stay coincided with our 20th wedding anniversary, so why not?

I was very happy to see that the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve was on a hill only a short drive from the hotel. It was approaching dinner hour, so I didn’t want to fit in a late afternoon activation with the family; we had other plans that evening. My wife suggested instead that we check out the park and walk the trails before dinner which would allow me a bit of time to scope out an activation site.

Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (VE-0054)

We discovered that Google Maps doesn’t have the trailhead marked very well. It led us to a neighborhood street a short walk from the park. I remembered reading a note from a local (online) mentioning there was ample parking at “the church” so we drove to a beautiful church nearby and immediately spotted the trailhead. If you ever find yourself in Baie-Comeau, here are the coordinates for the trailhead.

Turns out, the church is no longer a church, but has has been converted into the headquarters for the park which is a part of the Jardins des glaciers.

There are some brilliant views of the St-Lawrence from the parking lot.

We quite easily found the trailhead of the sentier which led into the biosphere reserve. I used my GPS to confirm when we were well within the boundaries.

We enjoyed a scenic hike that evening.

As I mention in my activation video, this is one of the amazing things about doing POTA during travels: you discover so many incredible parks that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. My family truly appreciates this particular aspect of POTA. It opens the opportunity to find spots only locals might otherwise know about.

After our hike that evening, I had a pretty good idea where I could set up in the morning. We made our way back to the hotel and enjoyed dinner and a movie.

Morning activation

So that my activation time wouldn’t interfere with family plans that day, I scheduled an early morning activation for July 14.

I left the hotel a little after 7:00 local. Funny thing:  at Baie-Comeau’s latitude and longitude, 7:00 AM felt more like what I’d expect around 11:00 AM back home in North Carolina. It was a clear, sunny day!

As I walked out of the hotel, I decided to turn on the camera and record the drive to the park.  That would give me a bit of time to explain to those who don’t read my field reports what my strategy was for the day.

Once I arrived onsite, I grabbed my field pack and hiked a short distance to the spot I scoped out the previous day.

While there were numerous places to set up within the reserve, there were a few challenges…

For one thing, there were loads of trees (as you can see in the photos), but they were all fairly short and clustered together along either side of the path. When I look for an antenna support, I look for solitary trees that make it easy to launch a line over the top and suspend, say, a 40 meter end-fed half-wave.

Since I was in a biosphere reserve, I wasn’t comfortable venturing off-path, so I found the best option that allowed me to set up without disturbing the flora.

Choosing an antenna

“The chosen tree”

I considered deploying my 40 meter end-fed half-wave.

Conditions had been very poor recently on the bands, so I thought using a resonant EFHW would make sense. Then again, the trees were so short that I knew if I deployed a 40M EFHW in an inverted vee configuration, it would likely perform more like a NVIS antenna.

That wouldn’t be a problem at all back in North Carolina, but Baie-Comeau is somewhat isolated and there would be very few POTA hunters within a NVIS footprint.

The Tufteln EFRW antenna is super compact when on the winder.

I decided, instead, to deploy the Tufteln random wire antenna once again. It was short enough at 31′ feet that it could be set up as a vertical. I also attached a 17′ counterpoise.

This antenna would give me a lot of options in terms of frequency agility and, frankly, I’d gotten wonderful results with it so far on this trip.

Gear:

On The Air

Honestly? I wasn’t sure what to expect on the bands.

I had never activated a park at this latitude at this time of the morning. In my experience, morning activations can be a real crap shoot: sometimes they’re wildly successful because you’re one of the very few activators on the air. Other times? Yeah, you’re up activating while the hunters are still asleep or eating breakfast!

I needed this activation to go quickly. I was motivated: our family had some sight-seeing and hiking planned later that morning!

Fortunately, once I started calling CQ POTA on the 20 meter band, the hunters answered in force! (Thank you, hunters!)

In nine minutes, I logged the 10 stations needed to validate this ATNO park activation. Woo hoo!

Twenty meters treated me well–after I logged a total of fifteen hunters in 14 minutes, I decided to QSY to the SSB portion of the 20 meter band.

I logged K3ES once again (I believe our very first SSB QSO) and then K9ICP. I made these SSB contacts using the KX2’s internal mic which worked a charm (I didn’t bring my Elecraft hand mic on this trip).

Next, I moved to the 17 meter band where I logged ten more stations in 9 minutes. Absolutely brilliant!

A special thanks to Brian (K3ES) who worked me on two bands and two modes!

I worked so many POTA friends and family that morning.

I called QRT, turned off the camera, and packed up my station at this point…but turns out, I wasn’t done with the activation just yet.

Before leaving the hotel room that morning (while everyone was still asleep) I had turned on my daughter’s Yaesu FT-60R HT, tuned it to our family simplex frequency, and made sure it was squelched *just* enough. I left it on the coffee table next to the window.

After packing up my gear, I walked down the path a bit further, then called my daughter on 2 meters. I was so pleased to hear her reply! I ended up adding K4TLI/VE2, K4GRL/VE2, and K4MOI/VE2 to the logs that day.

Here’s my complete log sheet from VE-0054:

QSO Map

Here’s what this activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map (click to enlarge):

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, there are no ads and I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. This turned out to be quite a long video–especially since it took a few tries to get the antenna in the tree. Note that there are chapters embedded to help you navigate it.:

Click here to view on YouTube.

What fun!

That activation turned out to be the best shot of positive energy I could have gotten that morning.

It was such a privilege to play radio in such a stunning setting.

The view from our campsite.

After a couple days in Baie-Comeau,  we drove southwest along the north of the St-Lawrence to the little town of Bon Désir, just north of Tadoussac, Québec.

We spent a few nights tent camping right on the shore of the St-Lawrence and enjoyed an unlimited amount of whale-watching. Along this part of the coast, whales surface very close to shore because the waters are feeding grounds and incredibly deep.

I remember one night while falling asleep, we heard a pod of whales breaching one at a time just off the coast. Does it get any better? This is one of many reasons we’re so fond of Québec.

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this activation!

I hope you enjoyed this (rather lengthy and rambling) field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them.

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

In fact, your support is what has made this extended family road and camping trip to Canada possible. I apply any funds above and beyond the costs of running the website, producing the videos, and purchasing review equipment, to our family travel fund. This not only gives me an opportunity to play radio well outside my home area, but my family also gets to benefit from the work I put into producing activation videos and content on QRPer.com.

Thank you so very much for joining me!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (VY2SW / K4SWL)

5 thoughts on “An amazing QRP POTA ATNO at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Québec!”

  1. Sounds like that was a unique adventure. Well done.
    I have acquired all of the components of my portable station and am waiting for the weather to cool a bit. Looking forward to my first activation. I have hunted some in the past. Been a ham for 42 years and I am 76 yo.
    WE4G

    1. Excellent, Harold!

      I look forward to hearing you on the bands. I must warn you: this POTA stuff is addictive! 🙂

      72,
      Thomas
      K4SWL

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