by Vince (VE6LK)
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
In early August 2023 I was lucky to be able to activate parks in beautiful West Montana on such short notice.
As opportunity would have it, my brother Dan, AG7GM, and Sister-in-Law Val were at the tail end of visiting with us and wanted to do a drive on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road as part of their return journey home. We had attempted this trip with them some years ago but were met with inclement weather and were turned around after landslides blocked the road. After an overnight stop in Kalispell for all of us, they would continue towards home and we would head back to ours.
The preparation involved plotting out which of the 9 parks I could tackle along the routes I would be travelling. I settled on K-0028, Glacier National Park and K-4848, Stillwater State Forest. But, still, my activations would need to be opportunistic in nature and involve a willing family allowing me to partake in one of my favourite activities.
Before you do this road trip, you need to understand that the Going-to-the-Sun Road is highly popular and the park restricts the number and type of vehicles that pass along it each day. You can find out more details about Going-to-the-Sun Road here. While their advance booking system granted me one vehicle pass, I needed two and was unsuccessful in the days before the actual trip to secure a second one. Luckily (there’s that word again) we arrived after 3pm when passes are not required at this time of year. I was absolutely stoked as I love driving on mountain roads!
Given I have HF in the truck, I packed only a lightweight kit consisting of my VE6VID EFHW, Elecraft AX-1, the KX3, a battery, a key, a paper logbook and some extra bits. It was safely tucked away into a hard plastic carry-all measuring 7″ x 12″ x 20″. It went into the truck along with our luggage, a dog kennel, extra water and snacks.
After I conscripted my willing wife into logging just before we got to the park’s gate at St. Mary (the east end of the road), I would land up doing K-0028 while driving but only, of course, if it was safe to do so. This would give me about 2 hours of time to make my 10 contacts while moving through the park so the plan seemed quite do-able. Solar Flux was about 150, SSN around 90, A was 5 and K was 1 when I arrived at the park. Soft conditions would make it extra challenging but I’d only find this out once I started, of course.
I chose 20m and the first 3 contacts were all made without too much work, but the closer my truck came to the steep walls of rocks at the immediate roadside, the less I could hear and be heard. At one point I called out on 146.52 and I was answered by AG7GM becoming my 4th contact. Clearly this was going to be harder than I imagined. I got to 7 contacts and hung up the mic as the road was needing all of my attention by this point – I still had an hour to complete the activation anyways.
The roadway east of Logan Pass has spectacular roadside waterfalls as you can see in this short video:
Once we drove by the Logan Pass visitor centre (parking lot was full) we began our journey downhill. At this point I hung up the mic as the road began to seriously narrow up and shifted the truck into a lower gear. At one point I looked out a window and saw a road down below beside a river, some 2000′ below us – it would take us a half hour to get there.
Having descended into the valley below, I started calling out again but had no cell service to re-spot and nobody answering. At one roadside pullout I coordinated three frequencies with Dan and we completed my activation by working on 70cm, 6m and 10m. While I do not have the antenna for 6 or 10m on my Yaesu FT-8900, he did. So I took a bit of a risk and put my radio at the lowest power setting and trusted that the SWR foldback circuit would do it’s job and protect the finals (it did). As we were travelling one behind the other, I could have worked him on a dummy load in all probability – after all it has been done before!
We arrived at the Townsite of Apgar to look at the pretty rocks in the water before driving away. National Parks are such a jewel and we all could stand to get out more often and enjoy them.
After this experience I wasn’t sure what tomorrow would bring … but stay tuned for part 2 and find out!
73 and dit dit,
First introduced to the magic of radio by a family member in 1969, Vince has been active in the hobby since 2002. He is an Accredited examiner in Canada and the USA, operates on almost all of the modes, and is continually working on making his CW proficiency suck less. He participates in public service events around Western Canada and is active on the air while glamping, mobile, at home or doing a POTA activation. You can hear him on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, follow him on Twitter @VE6LK, and view the projects and articles on his website.