Leap Year Day report from the Great White North

by Vince (VE6LK)

It seemed easy enough on paper. Famous last words, right?

It’s a leap year in 2024 and how many chances will I ever get to activate on February 29th, at least that was the reason for the multi-entity rove. That and the fact I hadn’t been up close to the mountains in at least a month despite living in close proximity.

The day before departure for #POTAThon240229 my heart sank when I saw the forecast of 4-8″ of snow. I’d already done my planning and secured most of the day off work. The plan was bold, including 3 National Parks and 2 National Heritage Areas in two provinces and would take about 9 hours to execute from end to end. I was also badly in need of some mountain therapy as it had been a couple of months since I’d been close-up to the Canadian Rockies. I went to bed not hopeful for the next day but kept an open (hopeful?) mind.

The next morning, the forecast had changed drastically and the snowfall had been cut in half; 2 to 4″ of snow is pretty normal this time of year and that means the roads are usually no problem, and yes that is a foreshadowing .. The route planned was to go out along the Trans-Canada Highway to Field, British Columbia, and work my way back towards home with stops along the way. A simple out-and-back as it were.

I hit the road and aimed the F-350 for Yoho National Park in Field B.C. where I snapped the photo below. Two-thirds of the way there, the roads turned terrible, and a two or three lane road was open with only a single lane. Whiteouts happened on and off and travel was Sierra Lima Oscar Whiskey, to say the least.

Pottymouth made some short inward appearances, mostly exclamations about my lack of luck. With conditions like this, the basic rules are to take your time and allow twice the following distance you think you need. “Why not turn around?” you ask? Because I was already two-thirds of the way to the endpoint, thus deeply invested in the travel and I figured it would not get much worse.

Mount Dennis as seen from Field B.C.

It didn’t get much worse, and arriving at the Field Visitor Centre, I was parked within 100′ of the Kicking Horse River National Heritage Area by being in the parking lot pictured above. In the summer months, this lot is jammed with cars and the view is stunning as you are in a narrow valley with a small town across the fast-moving river. It appears that the 2-4″ of fresh snow was more like 8″ as the parking lot had not yet been plowed and it was up past the chest of Red Wrangler the Shiba Inu.

Red Wrangler the Shiba Inu, totally within his element

The parking lot is at ~1225m (4045′) Above Sea Level and the mountains nearby are ~2400m (7920′) and are just about right beside the road. The narrow valley runs Northeast to Southwest so it for certain affects takeoff angles on any antenna. Given the temperatures were plus or minus the freezing point, I opted to stay in the cab of the truck for the day. I completed my activation 25 minutes later and started driving. At this point I’m close to 2 hours behind plan and I made the choice to visit Lake Louise and do a food stop, but not to activate.

Lake Louise, lakeside and pretty snowy

If you are wondering what Lake Louise looks like without 2′ of fresh snow, you can do that here with Google Street View. Even though I was behind plan, it was a must-do visit in order to refresh my soul and get some fresh mountain air.  Mister Dog and I made a quick trip to the lake’s edge and back to the truck to continue along with our day, as even if I had the time, I did not bring snow-clearing equipment -like a front-end loader- to clear off a park bench to set up!

About 45 minutes later, I crossed over the fifth mountain pass of the day and ended up in Kootenay National Park (CA-0045) at the Alberta/BC border on Highway 93. It’s a geographically unique spot as it is also at the Continental Divide. It was the third point of the Continental Divide I’d cross during the trip. At least by now the snow has stopped falling.

The Continental Divide at AB/BC Highway 93

Once again, I arrived to a fresh 8″ of snow in the unplowed parking lot and Wrangler was most pleased to cavort about and stretch his legs. At this point, I was surrounded by ~3100m and ~2600m mountains while sitting at ~1631m ASL. Again, a narrow valley with rocks on either side of me and, thanks to low-hanging clouds, I couldn’t see much of them at all, sigh.

I’ve travelled up and down this valley before so I know that, as long as I’m not right next to the rocks, my signal will be heard someplace. I’d learned first-hand just how much close proximity to the side of a mountain can impair your signal during my trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park last August. The noise floor and signals will drop out as you drive along beside the rocks and then comes back up as you move away from them even by 50′ or so.

I set up on 10m and began calling and worked Alaska, California and Chesterfield Islands just northeast of Australia. I switched to 30m as progress was slow and heard a few friends namely N7KOM and VE6VIC, before moving to 20m where the contacts started rolling in quite quickly. Thanks to skipping my activation at Lake Louise, I was almost caught up to my schedule. After logging 21 contacts I fired up the truck and headed towards the Town of Banff.

My shack for the day, the F-350 at the Continental Divide

En route to Banff the roads were still terrible but at least the snow had stopped. My phone started flashing up notifications of some sort, but as I was driving I ignored them until I arrived at my activation site, the Cave & Basin National Historic Site (CA-4775). It’s a three-fer as it sits within Banff National Park (CA-0005) and the Great Trail of Canada (CA-5082) runs right through this site.

After stopping the truck I paid attention to my phone. Uh-oh.. Weather alerts for the area I was travelling in – a sudden cold front would move into the area “sometime in the afternoon” (it was already afternoon) and drop temperatures 15 to 20 degrees Celsius in one hour. Uh-oh – my drive home would not be as smooth as I’d hoped for. You see, when I left home the forecast was for plus/minus freezing in the mountains and 5-10 Celsius above freezing at home all day long. This would be a major change that made me think that roads would be icy all the way home. I put that thought behind me and began my activation.

I switched to SSB for this activation. Sideband is fast and fun for me. I started hunting on 15m a bit and worked two stations doing a two-fer at CA-5082 in Ontario (same Trail system as I was at) and then moved to 10m in the hope it would be better than earlier in the day. While I did make some contacts it was slow. I moved to 17m and started hunting and worked N2MAK who was videoing his activation and it caught me in the mix! He was as loud to me with 10W as I was to him with 25W.

Other friends dropped by as well – K7AGE, N7KOM (until now I was unaware Tim owned a microphone LOL), NE1D, and a whole bunch of others. Having worked 50 contacts in an hour, I packed up to head home. The drive home took me a full hour longer than normal thanks to the sudden cold front and icy roads.

What I’ve learned along the way

  • In retrospect, I should have stayed home, but then again I wouldn’t have this story to tell!
  • Lousy roads mean to add time and lots of following distance, and to have much grace for other drivers (who are never as good as you are LOL)
  • Weather near the mountains can change suddenly
  • Travel prepared – full fuel tank and extra water, food and clothing on board at a minimum

List of gear used for these activations:


It was still a good day. El Doggo was with me. I got to chat with a bunch of friends. Proceeding carefully I made it home without incident.

All good!

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.

5 thoughts on “Leap Year Day report from the Great White North”

  1. What a great activation report and my friend was driving from Edmonton to Calgary and was caught in the snow storms around Banff. The rental car had no winter safety gear bag if they were to get in trouble. I did 25 parks that day to celebrate in the sunshine. Of course I started at 0000 GMT with 5 nightshift parks activated to get the logs rolling.

  2. Vince … a great trip report and some nice pictures. I will be in the Bow Valley next week enjoying the summery temperatures. It was supposed to be a ski workshop but it may well be more like water skiing! Regards from all your contacts at NORAC in Vernon. 73 Ritchie VA7RLX

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.