Experimenting during Field Day 2024

by Vince (VE6LK)

Field Day 2024 started out with the best of plans to be spent with the best of friends and ended up totally different – and, unexpectedly, I had a hoot! With my carefully made plan behind me, my new last-minute plan was to run solo for Field Day in the backcountry of Kananaskis Country and bring along my new-to-me Nikon D3400 and lenses and rekindle my interest in (D)SLR photography at the same time as doing some experimentation with radio gear.

I grew up in a home with a scratch-built enlarger and a darkroom, so a love of taking pictures has been with me for a long time. My Father taught me patience to get the shot as he would set up a 120 format bellows camera on an air-triggered remote release to get closeups of chipmunks while we were camping, a process that took hours and yielded excellent results. My Brother, AG7GM, has attempted to instill within me the basics of composition, rule of threes and such and his wonderful skill in editing both stills and live video. While I have plenty of patience, with composition I think I’m fair to middling at best.

Thus photography has always been on my mind.

With a recent sale of a few ham radio related items, I had fun money, so just for fun I started looking [on Thursday before I activated] at used DSLRs and was shocked at how much camera I can get for such a relatively low cost compared to new. I had said once, 25 years ago when I divested out my 35mm kit, that when I could get a DSLR with a 25 to 300mm lens for <$500 I’d jump in… and finally that day is here, even if it means carrying two lenses. Of course, I started looking on the day before Field Day for deals – and scored them too! 🙂 Around these parts, good quality pre-owned consumer grade DSLRs are easily available. I purchased this as much for still photography as for ability in shooting high-quality video for my YouTube channel.

These peaks form part of the border between Alberta and British Columbia to the west

For me, Field Day has always been about the experimentation rather than chasing points. Trying new things. Changing up from the normal way I operate in the field. Comparing, analyzing and making notes as I go.

For example, and as a tribute to Chip Margelli K7JA (SK) after corresponding with his brother David, last year I attempted to wet a piece of string and see if the KX3’s tuner would match it and radiate a signal. Chip was known for many things, among them his proficiency in CW as he demonstrated on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2005. David told me that he and Chip would do crazy and fun experiments like loading up clotheslines and wet string to experiment .. and it fostered a new direction I could take each FD and on some days between. The string experiment was a failure last year but I haven’t given up yet!

This year, I wanted to work with a few different antennas and a Charmast 100W battery pack from Amazon along with a USB-C PD 12v power cable for my KX3 [note: Amazon affiliate links!].

I wanted to know, in no uncertain terms, that the Charmast would or wouldn’t be as quiet as my trusty Talentcell LiFePO4 pack. The Charmast is also used in my field soldering kit with a Pinecil as it delivers USB-C PD. What better way to test this out than to head as far away from noise sources as possible, see the Canadian Rockies in their early summer glory with snow on the peaks, rivers running high (and cold) and the sun in the sky? Just for grins I would ensure that I was in POTA entities while doing Field Day.

Kananaskis Country is one of my favourite areas as it’s reasonably accessible, offers a variety of outdoor activities, and it’s huge, covering an area of 2500 square miles (about half as big as Yellowstone NP for comparison) with a plethora of day use and overnight camping spots. Much of the road system that runs through this area is closed in winter. There are almost a dozen road access points so it’s easy to get to from many parts of the province. Each access point offers different views and terrain to experience.

On Saturday, with my new-to-me mid-focal length lens in hand to accompany the new-to-me camera, I headed west on Highway 66 into K-Country. My target was the visually stunning Forget-Me-Not Pond, but this being the first really nice warm weather day of the season, it was jammed with others that had the same idea.  After a bit of local exploring, I landed up at Cobble Flats and was able to find a small spot beside the river. I set up my KX3, AX1 and battery pack but it was slow going and the sun was high in the sky and I was feeling a wee bit sunburned.

Cobble Flats, beside the river

After 3 hard-earned contacts I relocated to a shadier spot and set up my 35′ trapped 20-30-40m EFHW I’d recently built from a Spark Plug Gear EFHW transformer and N7KOM microlight traps. It worked like a champ! A list of parts for the antenna can be found in the YouTube description. I set it up with my carbon fibre mast and propped it up with my tripod so that I was as minimal with my set-up as I could be. An hour and a dozen contacts later, I was on the road as there was no more shade remaining.

Trapped 20-30-40m 35′ EFHW on my carbon fibre mast running to the table in the background

Thus far, I had been at around 5000′ ASL, low relative to the peaks surrounding me, and when I headed eastward on Highway 66, I decided that I wanted to get up nice and high to mitigate takeoff angles from the mountains and hills around me. I grabbed the photo below when I was between Cobble Flats and Moose Mountain.

Highway 66 looking westwards into K-Country

Nearly an hour and 1500′ higher, I was as near to the summit of Moose Mountain as I’d get and I set up to work off of my truck’s tailgate.  At this site, I deployed a VE6VID OCF Dipole for 40-20-10m with the feedpoint at 28′ on my Flagpole-To-Go push-up mast and drive-on base. The short end of the OCF was sloped downwards and anchored off the front of my truck, and the long end sloped downwards to just a few feet off the ground, and away from any of the numerous mountain bike trails that run in the area.

at Moose Mountain looking to the northwest

A dozen contacts later on 40 and 20m, but none on 10m FT8 (I suspect I was having FT8 software issues) and with nobody on 10m CW -yes, I tried calling- I packed up for the day.

While it was only 6 PM, I wanted to be on the road the next day at 0430AM to catch the morning light hitting the mountains with my new-to-me camera! There is something magical about the cotton-candy coloured clouds in those first few minutes of the day, right? The road up and down to Moose is really rough, so I was happy to be back on paved roads as I headed home for the day.

On Sunday, I headed out at 0430h and watched the Moon setting in the west as I travelled between Longview and Highwood Junction.

5AM, the Moon setting west of Longview Alberta on Highway 541

Not long after I took the photo of the Moon, the sun was starting to come up as I turned northwards from Highway 541 onto Highway 40. The day’s goal was to operate at Highwood Pass and take advantage of elevation relative to the surrounding peaks to maximize takeoff angles and propagation. The pass is Canada’s highest paved roadway at 7238′.

I landed up at Highwood Pass on Sunday as there was a large running relay race happening the day before and traffic would be a slog with zero chance I’d find a parking space. Strategically, I also selected that spot as I would only be 3500′ below the peaks around me and my takeoff angle would have a better chance. That strategy played out well with my signals heard all over with only 5W on SSB and CW. Several people I worked remarked to me that they could not believe I was running only 5W on SSB and being heard up to 2000 miles away. Also, the trails in the area were closed due to runoff and snow pack so I had the parking lot pretty much to myself.

I’ll repeat this visit in future at a similar time of day. I need to figure out if the elevation, the antenna or the atmospheric conditions were contributing to the success I had. No doubt it will be a combination of all three.

The photo below shows my setup. One truck, one picnic table and one seating bench along with my Flagpole-To-Go 28′ mast and drive-on base, carbon fibre mast at the table, and snow brush at the bench all served quite well to hold up the VE6VID 40-20-10m OCF. Snow brush? Yes as it’s essential POTA gear! It was quite cold upon my arrival at 5:30AM, 46F, so I was working with gloves on sending CW. I tried all of the keys I brought and landed up with my CW Morse as it had the biggest finger stock pieces to work with my gloved hands 🙂

OCF runs from tip of silver mast, off-centre support off picnic table to end supported by snow brush on the bench at right.

Four and a half hours and two dozen contacts later, and with the sun now shining on my table four hours after sunrise, I was ironically chilled enough to pack it in and head for home. The OCF performed wonderfully and I’ll be using it more often in the future.

Let’s look at my checklist for a moment:

  • Try different antennas and places
  • Sit at tables inside the Rockies
  • Test my theory that height helps takeoff angle
  • Play Radio
  • Try different keys (I tried all that I brought)
  • See some spectacular scenery
  • Catch the “cotton candy clouds” in the early morning light
  • Test a battery pack (can confirm, the Charmast is noise-free!)
  • See some wildlife, including one curious chipmunk

What’s not on the checklist:

  • Make a bazillion contacts

One last photo – the “cotton candy sky” seen around Mist Mountain (10,060′) as seen northwards from Lineham Creek just a moment after sunrise. Next time I’ll leave a half hour earlier so that I’m able to see more of these in the brief window of that morning light and not taken hastily from the roadside.

Mist Mountain and a Cotton Candy coloured sky thanks to early morning light

List of gear used for these activations:

Note: All Amazon, CW Morse, ABR, Chelegance, eBay, and Radioddity links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you.

72 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, check out his YouTube channel, and view the projects and articles on his website.

6 thoughts on “Experimenting during Field Day 2024”

  1. Great write-up, Vince. Felt like I was reading partiful about myself. I too, play with photography and done the same thing. Getting back into photography after a friend showed me his new camera with was an upgrade from what I used. Well I upgraded to the Canon 90D and loving it. Oh I also run the KX-3.
    Thanks for the pics of Canada. I will never get a chance to see the beautiful country so I enjoy the pics. May use one for my background on my computer if that is OK.

  2. Vince, what a wonderful experience in such beautiful country! Can confirm that 10 meter CW was dead, although I did note a few digital signals from time to time here in CA. Thanks for sharing!
    72 DE KN6UIZ

  3. I also operated QRP with my Icom 705 for field day with great success

    QRP does work but it may take a few CQs these days to get a response
    John VE3IPS

  4. Very well done Vince! Your skill at writing gives us a vivid picture of your trip! We are so lucky to have K country in our back yard.
    Take a Stand for Kananaskis!
    Vic, VE6VIC

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