KO4WFP: Was the Third Time the Charm at Cape Breton National Park (VE-0013)?

Many thanks to Teri (KO4WFP) for the following guest post:

Was the Third Time the Charm at Cape Breton Highlands National Park (VE-0013)?

by Teri (KO4WFP)

If you read my previous articles, you know my family and I went to Nova Scotia for a week. You also know that my first two attempts at activating parks in Canada did not go well. At the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site (VE-4841), I was sidelined by weather and site issues. At the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site (VE-4826), extremely poor band conditions and site issues prevented a successful activation. But those who know me well, also know I do not give up easily.

The morning of Friday, June 30th, my family and I headed to Cape Breton Highlands National Park (VE-0013) which occupies 950 kilometers of Cape Breton Island. One-third of the Cabot Trail, a world-famous scenic highway, runs through the park. Talk about amazing scenery! The highway runs along a shoreline reminiscent of the rugged California coast, then moves upward and inland on top of the highlands, a wild landscape with scrubby firs and moose crossing signs, and then descends back toward the coastline with steep ravines and valleys off the side of the road.

We arrived at the Cheticamp park entrance a little before 11 AM. Looking around the information center parking lot, I spied a tree and nearby picnic table perfect for my activation. This arrangement would allow me to watch for people who might walk toward my antennas and provide the use of a table to which I was more accustomed.

I immediately set about picking out a branch (located in the upper part of the photo below) and pulled out my arborist line and weight. Though I know I am not, I am beginning to feel like a pro putting antennas up in trees. I snagged the branch for which I was aiming on my first try. Hooyah!

One thing I have not learned yet is to accurately judge how much distance I need between my tree and my station. My antenna had too much slack so I hiked it up a bit higher in the tree and moved the picnic table about 5 feet.

Now how to elevate the feed-end and the counterpoise? The feed-end just made it to the picnic table. The shorter bungee cord I brought was the perfect length to fit around one of the boards of the table. Now I had something to which I could attach the S carabiner on the feed-end.

As for the counterpoise, I put my backpack on the ground and attached the counterpoise to a piece of the backpack with a S-carabiner and then attached three lengths of flagging tape to the counterpoise. There was only one section of the antenna low enough someone might walk into it and to that I attached a piece of flagging tape.

I finished setting up my equipment on the table, warmed up for a minute, took a deep breath, and got on the air around 11:30. Given the conditions forecast for the bands I viewed earlier in the morning, I opted to start with 17 meters. That band worked for me the previous day so maybe today would be no different.

Source: hamradiofornontechies.com

As soon as I called CQ,  I heard two friends – Jon KC1FUU and Glenn W4YES. A smile spread over my face and my confidence surged. Jon had the stronger signal and quickly I put him in my log. Unfortunately, my 5 watts could be heard in Alabama but not strongly enough for a QSO.

This site in the park is ringed with mountains with a single opening toward the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. I found out later quite a few ops answered my CQ but I did not hear them. I suspect being down in a bowl contributed to that difficulty.

Gradually, one by one, someone would make it through and I would log another QSO including Caryn KD2GUT, my code buddy in New York. Then, in the middle of my activation, a park warden drove up. At first I thought I might be in trouble. There are prominent signs on the picnic tables telling visitors to not damage the trees in the park though I didn’t see how my antenna and arbor line presented any problem for the tree I was using.

Actually, Warden Jonathan Gallant was just curious as to what I was doing. I told him about ham radio and Parks on the Air. He found it amazing I was sending morse code with my antenna. We chatted for about 10 minutes. By this time, my husband walked over and took a picture of the two of us. I assured Warden Gallant I would send him a copy of my article for QRPer.com when it was posted, resumed pursuing my activation, and logged a few more QSOs.

And then, my KX2 died!

I hadn’t paid attention to how much usage it had received or thought to charge it the past few days. My heart sank. Did I have enough confirmed QSOs for a valid activation? I counted them up – 10! However, I know that just because you have ten doesn’t mean you actually have ten because one could be a busted call sign. (I always try to log twelve or thirteen QSOs before calling QRT.)

About half of the QSOs were with ops already in my log so I knew their call signs were valid. As I double-checked the others on QRZ, I came across one in MN that didn’t add up. Ugh! However, today I remembered to use my digital recorder for just such an occasion. I found the QSO on the device, listened to it, and realized what I heard as an “X” was actually a “Q”. I typed the correct call sign into QRZ and guess what – Eureka! Joe KF0DQU is indeed in MN, the state he gave me in the exchange.

Success! I had done it! A valid activation in Nova Scotia, despite difficult band conditions, my rig dying, and a call sign I didn’t hear correctly. I spoke on the phone with my friends – Glenn W4YES, Jon KC1FUU, and Caryn KD2GUT – who knew of my first two failed activations and we celebrated! Unbelievable! You would have thought I won an Olympic medal. Given all I had been through the past few days, it felt like it!

It just goes to show, you never know what POTA is going to give you. Those unsuccessful POTA activations are learning opportunities. One needs to remain positive and remember, as a friend said, “the next successful activation is in the bag – it just hasn’t happened YET”. When victory does come, it is amazing.

This is why some of us pursue this endeavor – that rush you feel when you actually surmount all the challenges thrown at you and have a successful activation. Amazing what 5 watts and a wire can do!

19 thoughts on “KO4WFP: Was the Third Time the Charm at Cape Breton National Park (VE-0013)?”

    1. Alan: I have an Olympus WS-6005. I am using it because I already had it on hand from when I homeschooled my son when he was much younger. I’d like to replace it eventually but it works for now.

  1. Thank you for an inspirational article. Perseverance won the day and you (along with Thomas and many other posters here) have inspired me to get started with POTA! Hope to “see” you on the air sometime. 73 N3JWM

    1. John – This was my main motivation for writing these trip reports – inspiring others to get on the air with POTA just as others have inspired me. So glad to hear the reports are having their intended effect. I wish you success with POTA and hope to see you on the air.

  2. Wonderful that you’ve activated some very fascinating and historical parks, outside your home area, in a foreign country even, and on CW! As a new (old) ham, I am amazed at your tenacity, goal setting and achievements in the hobby. You’ve set the bar high for those of us who have taken up the hobby later in life. Well done! Someday soon I’ll get back to Nova Scotia and activate some of these parks too! Maybe even on CW.

  3. More good info here! I use a digital recorder for logging when I’m pedestrian mobile but never thought about just leaving it running to have a backup record for picnic table portable.

    FB on your encounter with the Warden. Glad it was a pleasant experience. Thanks for being a good Amateur Radio ambassador.

  4. The Icom IC-705 has an option to record both sides of a QSO onto SD card. You can get about 50 hours of recording onto a 32GB SD card so perhaps I’ll enable this option and give it a try on my next POTA activation. Thanks for the tip.

    I am glad to hear that things worked out on the third attempt. Every outing is a learning experience.


    Michael VE3WMB

  5. Way da go Teri!

    Great report, and congrats! POTA activations aren’t always as easy as Thomas makes it looks in his QRP’er videos.

    Looking forward to your next post!

    72 de W7UDT (dit dit)

  6. Teri:

    You are in inspiration to the friends you know and the friends you have not made yet!

    It is important to let your CW friends know what you are up to so they can be additional eyes and EARS on your activation.

    YES, when Teri had that “break through” activation, her collection of friends (“Team Teri”….do we get shirts? hihi) all celebrated as if we had ALL won an Olympic gold medal. When you ask us our “sport”, it’s CW ham radio!

    73 de KC1FUU

    1. Jon – Thanks for your comment. Having friends in my corner during these challenging activations was wonderful. Ham radio is about relationships. I am grateful for all those I’ve met and have become friends. Yes, it IS our sport and a wonderful one at that.

  7. What a good news!
    Finally a successful activation in Nova Scotia.
    Keep on Teri!

    73 de Simone IU3QEZ

  8. Teri, probably a stupid question, but since you didn’t mention it in your posts, I need to ask it; do you spot yourself on the POTA site before starting an activation as Thomas does ?

    Then, as for the “cup” shaped location, a way to overcome the limitation is to try leveraging NVIS by installing the antenna as an inverted vee

    The above being said, kudos for your tenacity and compliments for your successful activation

    1. Andrew – Yes, I usually do spot myself unless I don’t have cell service. Since the trip to Nova Scotia was quite an undertaking, I had friends that were helping me by spotting me as well. Thanks for your comment about the inverted vee. I have much more to learn about antennas and hope to experiment with some during activations later this year. I will keep your comment in mind.

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