Category Archives: Field Reports

The New Penntek TR-45L: A Video Tour/Overview, then a full POTA activation!

Yesterday, John (WA3RNC) opened orders for his long-awaited Penntek TR-45L 5 band, CW-only, QRP transceiver.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had the pleasure of helping John beta test this radio for the past month. In that time, I’ve gotten to know the radio from the inside out and have even taken it on a few POTA activations. In fact, with John’s permission, I just posted my first TR-45L activation video for Patreon supporters yesterday. The radio was using an early firmware version in that video.

TR-45L Video Tour and Overview

Yesterday, after an early morning appointment, my schedule opened up; a rarity in my world.

I then got the idea to take the TR-45L out to a park, do a full video overview of its features, then put it on the air in a POTA activation.

Hazel loved this idea too.

So I packed the TR-45L, a log book, my throw line, and two 28′ lengths of wire. Hazel jumped in the car before I could invite her.

I’ve used a wide variety of antennas on the TR-45L over the past weeks, but I hadn’t yet performed a park activation only using two lengths of wire and relying on the TR-45L’s optional Z-Match manual antenna tuner. This would make for a great real-life test!

Quick note about video timeline

Side note for those of you who follow my field reports and activation videos

I pushed this video to the front of the line since the TR-45L just hit the market. I wanted to give potential buyers an opportunity to see and hear this radio in real world conditions thinking it might help them with their purchase decision.

I’m currently about 7 weeks behind publishing my activation videos. Much of this has to do with my travel schedule, free time to write up the reports, and availability of bandwidth to do the video uploads (I’ve mentioned that the Internet service at the QTH is almost dial-up speed).

I was able to publish this video within one day using a new (limited bandwidth) 4G mobile hotspot.  Patreon supporters have made it possible for me to subscribe to this hotspot service and I am most grateful. Thank you!

So that I can publish this report quickly (this AM), I’m not going to produce a long-format article like I typically do. Instead, this is one of those rare times when the video will have much more information about the radio and the activation than my report.  I’ve linked to and embedded the video below.

Now back to the activation…

Continue reading The New Penntek TR-45L: A Video Tour/Overview, then a full POTA activation!

Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

Our travels in Canada this summer exceeded our expectations.

Looking back

Les Escoumins, Québec (click to enlarge)

If you’ve been following my Canada POTA activations and field reports, you’ll get an idea where we traveled and a small sampling of the many amazing parks Canada has to offer.

We started off our trip in Ottawa where we spent four days.

Only moments after arriving at our hotel that first day, Vince (VE6LK) made time in his schedule to administer my Canadian Basic exam remotely. That evening–despite being a bit bleary eyed after a fairly long day of driving–I passed my Basic with Honours. (I’m still chuffed about that!)

By the next morning, I already had the callsign I requested: VY2SW. My mailing address in Canada is in Prince Edward Island hence the VY2 call. Since essentially every new call in Canada is a vanity call, I chose the suffix SW to reflect my US call. PEI is one of the few provinces where as a Basic license holder you can request a 2×2 call.

My first activation in Canada was at Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve.  I had the good fortune of meeting up with Andrew, one of my subscribers, at the park. It was great getting to know him–what a nice fellow–and to start off a series of activations in Canada on the right foot.

St-Anne River in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges

After leaving Ottawa, we made our way to Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec where we’d reserved a condo/townhome for 6 weeks. That served as our home base as we traveled around Québec City, Saguenay, the Charlevoix region, and the North Shore of the St-Lawrence.

At our local farmer’s market in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, I especially loved the VW campervan bookstore.

I noted in many field reports how surprised I was to discover that a number of popular parks were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones) in the POTA network. Then again, POTA hasn’t been in Canada as long as other similar programs like WWFF and SOTA.

Many of the POTA activations I made in Canada were in urban parks–especially the ones in/around Québec City. These activations took me outside of my comfort zone; I’m used to activating state and national parks back home that are expansive and largely in rural areas.

Continue reading Biplanes, Canoes, Callsigns, and POTA: Looking back on our summer in Canada and final field report from Québec

Activating Plaines d’Abraham in Old Québec with the KX2 and AX1 combo

When we spend the summer in the province of Québec, we always set aside at least one day to hang out in Old Québec. This portion of the city of Québec is simply stunning: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of French North America.

No other place in North America reminds me more of the years we lived in Europe than Old Québec.

We’ve been to Old Québec a countless number of times over the past two decades; we enjoy checking out the architecture, the window boxes full of flowers, and the numerous museums.

Old Québec is, of course, quite touristy–especially if you visit on a weekend. It can be incredibly busy and also challenging to find parking especially if, like us, you have a cargo box on top of your car (many parking decks have strict height restrictions).

On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, we decided to make a trip into Old Québec to visit some of our favorite book shops, small businesses, enjoy a lunch together, and soak in some of the amazing weather.

My wife encouraged me to find a nice POTA site and–wow–is one spoiled for choice! There are no fewer than 10 POTA parks in/around Old Québec. Check out the POTA map–each yellow dot is a park:

I know Québec City well enough to know that some of these parks wouldn’t be terribly easy to activate since they’re historic buildings and sites–I think it could be done, but you might need to seek permission in advance. I think it would be incredibly fun to set up a multi-park rove on foot; in fact, I’ve put that on my bucket list for a future trip!

The park I was eager to activate is the largest in central Québec City: The Plains of Abraham. It’s a beautiful and open urban park that overlooks the the St-Lawrence river. It’s Québec City’s version of Central Park.

Plaines d’Abraham (VE-1019)

I was very fortunate: after we dodged a little road construction, I found parallel parking on Ave Winfred-Laurier next to the Parc Jeanne d’Arc.

Continue reading Activating Plaines d’Abraham in Old Québec with the KX2 and AX1 combo

Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

Each time our family spends the summer in Québec, we make time to visit the Saguenay region  which is just a couple hours north of Québec City.

We enjoy the hikes, the river walks, and other outdoor activities. It’s a beautiful part of Québec.

This year, we spent more time along the north shore of the St. Lawrence visiting Baie-Comeau and later camping and whale watching a little north of Tadoussac. We also explored more of the Charlevoix region and even parts of the Québec City area we’d never visited in the past. I really enjoyed driving some new-to-us back country roads.

A couple weeks before leaving Québec, we took a family poll and unanimously decided to squeeze in a trip to Saguenay despite our other travels.

Due to other activities we’d scheduled, we only had a window of a couple of days to make the trip. The weather didn’t look that wonderful for the drive north and, in fact, it wasn’t. We drove along a line of torrential rain that was so heavy at one point, I (along with many other drivers) pulled off the road to wait out the heaviest bit.

Otherwise, the drive was/is a beautiful one through the Jacques-Cartier  National Park on 73/175 North. Had it not been for the thunderstorms and rain, I would have taken a small detour to make at least one activation.

The first day in Saguenay was all about walking on the river, and hitting some of our favorite spots when the rain finally moved on; I didn’t attempt a park activation. I decided instead to do an early morning activation the following day (July 22, 2022).

Finding a park

You may have noticed that quite a lot of my activations in Québec have been ATNOs (All-Time New Ones). I didn’t specifically set out to activate ATNOs–in fact, they were hard to avoid because there were so many.

Not so in Saguenay!

POTA activators in Saguenay are an active bunch and they are spoiled for choice in terms of the density of parks; there are so many!

It really pleased me to see so many previous activations at the parks I researched–not only activations in the summer months, but also winter (and they have proper winters in Saguenay/Chicoutimi–!).

There were so many parks to choose from, I decided I would simply choose the one closest to our hotel and that turned out to be Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin.

It was so close to our hotel, I could have easily walked there.

Continue reading Fickle weather during an early morning activation at Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin, Saguenay

Brian’s Kilo at Cook Forest State Park is tied to family, memories, and his CW journey

Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following field report:


Field Report:  Reflections on a Kilo at Cook Forest State Park

by Brian (K3ES)

Contemplating my favorite antenna tower during the Kilo activation.

Cook Forest State Park in northwest Pennsylvania has always been a special place for me.  It abounds in trees (including some of the last virgin timber around), wildlife (deer, turkeys, song birds, squirrels, and the occasional bear), and also includes the scenic Clarion River.  When I found out about Parks on the Air (POTA) after getting licensed in 2020, I knew that I had to put POTA entity K-1345 on the air.

Our family cabin; which has been central to all of the phases of my life – including milestones, joys, sorrows, and unadulterated wonder – is located on a plot of land bordered on two sides by the park.  It just seemed natural and right for me to do my first-ever POTA activation under an ancient hemlock tree just a few steps over the line from the back corner of our property. That mostly-SSB activation happened in May 2021 with my TX-500 pushing 10 watts into a homebrew dipole suspended from a dead branch up 30 ft in the hemlock.

An early activation of K-1345 from beneath the ancient Eastern Hemlock Tree

Last weekend, I reached a meaningful personal goal by completing my 1000th activator contact from K-1345.  After the first activation I never again operated mostly-SSB, and I never increased radiated power.  Nearly all of my contacts since have used CW, and many were completed at 5 watts.  The added challenge of QRP CW undoubtedly made the Kilo more difficult, but it was also much more fulfilling.  It has taken me 28 successful activations, a lot of work to improve my CW skills, and a lot of patient support from the hunters who have shared this journey with me.

My activations at K-1345 tell the story of my journey as a CW operator.  I took my first steps on that journey in late 2020, months before I had a portable radio or a plan for my first activation.  I started with an Android app, V-Band, and listening to CW exchanges on webSDR.  Eventually that progressed to CW Academy basic, intermediate, and advanced classes.  The classes really upped my CW game, but what helped even more was using CW on the air.  I finally got my HF station on the air in March 2021 and started hunting parks, SSB at first, then increasingly CW.  During my first mostly-SSB activation I did manage to hunt down three park-to-park contacts using CW.  I started my second activation by calling CQ using CW, and I have not looked back.  Wow, those hunters were patient during that first first CW activation!  My skills have improved greatly since then, but I’m still not where I want to be.  The next goal for me is to gain confidence and proficiency in less-structured QSOs.

I want to thank Thomas – K4SWL, whose real time, real life activation videos challenged, motivated, and inspired me to learn and use CW.  I greatly appreciate the work of the CW Academy advisors who guided me through some of the hard work needed for improvement.  I also need to thank the hundreds of hunters who have patiently endured my developing CW skill set. Finally, my hat is off for the dedicated POTA volunteers, who continue to improve and expand this amazing activity to the benefit of radio amateurs around the world.

Completing the Kilo activation would have taken me longer if it were not for the tremendous encouragement provided by my gracious, intelligent, and beautiful XYL.  As I was contemplating indoor chores on a Friday morning, she pointed out the opportunity to go out and activate during the best weather of the weekend, and save the chores for a rainy day.  Who am I to argue with such impeccable logic?  Off to the woods we went!!!

I made a point of using the TX-500 with the homebrew dipole suspended in that ancient hemlock tree to complete the Kilo activation, going back toward the starting point, as it were.  Of course I did finish with CW mode and 5 watts to commemorate my personal growth during the journey, too.  I was set up to go by mid-afternoon.  Needing 57 contacts to complete the Kilo, I decided to get some contacts on 20m, then move to 40m a bit later.

Getting started on 20m.

After calling CQ for almost half an hour to get two contacts, I decided to move to 40m a bit sooner than planned…

With the antenna lowered, I am reconnecting the links for 40m.

40m was hot!  I completed the eight additional contacts needed for a successful activation in less than 15 minutes.  By the 2 hour mark, I had racked up a total of 69 contacts and finished the Kilo.

As a final note, I picked up 55 more contacts on Saturday, bringing my total CW mode contacts over 1000.  The rain started early Sunday morning, and I got my indoor chores finished after all.

Gear for the Final Activation:

Photos

An arborist throw line works great for setting up the antenna here!
Almost any weather is great when you are doing a POTA activation!
But sometimes cold fingers limit your endurance…
My starting kit for the TX-500.
Antennas and accessories for the TX-500 kit.  Home-brew linked dipole is on the right.
Arborist throw line for the TX-500 kit.
TX-500 kit packed for POTA!

Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500 and Tufteln EFRW for an ATNO at Base de plein air Sainte-Foy

At some point during my Canada travels this summer, I realized I had been using the Elecraft KX2 quite heavily. If you’ve been following my recent field reports, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of the KX2.

This was never intentional–it’s just how it played out.

Why the KX2 in heavy rotation?

For starters, I only brought two general coverage radios with me to Canada: the KX2 and the Discovery TX-500. I also tucked away my KX1 and MTR-3B (hidden under the floor of my boot/trunk space), but band conditions were so incredibly poor most days, I liked the option of a QRP “full gallon” (ie. 5 watts+) for activations. The KX2 and TX-500 can push up to 10 watts when needed.

The KX2 tends to be the radio I reach for when I don’t know what to expect at a park. Most parks I activated in Québec were firsts for me so I liked having my most versatile radio option on hand.

Since the KX2 has a built-in ATU, battery pack, and even an internal mic; it’s so self-contained, I pretty much take it everywhere.

Operating from my kneeboard at the Manicouagan Uapishka Biosphere Reserve (check out that activation)

The KX2 is also one of the most compact radios I own–so compact, in fact, it fits on a small folding knee board my friend Carolanne (N0RNM) made (see in photo above and read more about the design in her guest post). With this kneeboard, I’ve no need of a table: just strap the board to my leg, add radio & log book, and I’m good to go!

Whereas I feel like the KX2 is a Swiss Army Knife of a radio, the TX-500 feels more like a tactical radio–ready for any changing weather environment. The TX-500 is water resistant, weather/dust sealed, and insanely rugged. It’s also the most efficient general coverage QRP radio I own, needing only 100-110 mA in receive.

The TX-500 is super portable and I tend to reach for it when weather conditions are uncertain. In a way, I often don’t think about it when there’s good weather. Odd, but true!

It’s a wee bit too wide for my current knee board, but (hint) if you own a TX-500, hang tight. There may be a knee board in your future.

All that said, the big reason I didn’t take the TX-500 to the field a lot is because it served as my “home base” transceiver at our rental condo in Québec. I had it set up for hunting POTA and SOTA activators and making casual contacts. The TX-500 sat on a table next to the deck at the condo and was hooked up to the CHA MPAS Lite most of the time; the KX2 stayed packed away for POTA/SOTA.

TX-500 field time!

On July 18, 2022, I grabbed the TX-500 from the table and packed it in my field radio backpack.

My wife and daughters were up for a trip to Québec City, so I picked out a park in the Sainte-Foy part of town.

There are many POTA parks in Sainte-Foy (indeed, I already activated four of them) but the one that immediately came to mind was one of the few I’d explored previously in Québec: Base de plein air Sainte-Foy.

In 2017 and 2018, I joined the Club Radio Amateur de Québec (CRAQ) at the Base de plein air Sainte-Foy for the ARRL’s Field Day.  I knew it was a pretty expansive park with a nice lake and beach. It looked pretty welcoming in the summer, but I imagine the park gets even more visitors in the winter for skating, cross-country skiing and sledding.

I was very surprised to discover that Base de plein air Ste-Foy was also a POTA ATNO. No doubt, there had been plenty of radio activity on-site int he past, but no POTA activations.

Continue reading Field Report: Pairing the Discovery TX-500 and Tufteln EFRW for an ATNO at Base de plein air Sainte-Foy

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.

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

7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

A SOTA road trip from Berlin to Tuscany via the Alps and back

sota-flag-mountain-panorama
On the summit of Kellerjoch OE/TI-311

by Leo (DL2COM)

Flashback March 2021: I am sitting on a couch in the countryside 2h north of Berlin, Germany. It’s a rainy day and my 1-year-old kid just fell asleep on my chest. I am watching Youtube and enjoying the feeling of just having maintained the chainsaw after a productive run preparing firewood.

Then suddenly something special got washed into my feed: Adam K6ARK activating a summit in CW somewhere on the U.S. West Coast. I thought: I have no idea what this wizardry is but this is exactly what I want to do. Right here, right now. Well I have a child to take care of, the next mountain with a prominence of >150m (~500 feet, min. requirement to be a valid SOTA summit) is 3h away, I don’t know what ham radio is, I have no license and what the heck is CW. 

sota-backpack
Complete SOTA kit incl. 6m mast

Jump to July 2022: I am sitting in my car commencing a vacation road trip to the south of Tuscany, Italy. Due to the chaotic luggage situation at EU airports and unreal prices for rental cars my family and I had decided that we would be better off if I drove down while my wife and kids took the plane without having to check in any bags (btw: best decision ever).

alps-panorama
Innsbruck embedded in the Inn valley

Our schedule allowed for me to leave a few days early so I could make room to do a little bit of hiking and throw in a few casual SOTA activations because why not. On top I saw that there were a few never activated summits in close proximity to where we planned to stay. I could feel my heart pumping already followed by a strong reassuring feeling radiating from the well-thought-through contents of my backpack in the trunk. Am I ready? Who cares. I am on my own now. I had completed a quick 1-pointer activation in May and a few POTAs but what was planned now was a different level.

sota-road-trip
From Berlin to Cortona (Tuscany) via Brenner pass (Alps) (Source: Sotl.as)

Going into detail about every summit would go beyond the scope of this article so here are just a few highlights: The first leg down to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area went by in a wink (7h drive). I passed most of the time rehearsing CW by singing license plates out loud. The fun peaked with plates along the lines of M-OT-9990 or E-SI-5545. It’s all about melody and timing, remember. I met up with my buddy Chris whom I hadn’t seen in a long time and who agreed to join me on the first hike up Zirbelkopf (8-points summit) to witness the cult activity I had tried and failed to explain to him beforehand.

Continue reading 7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

A challenging but fun POTA ATNO activation at Parc des Moulins

Some activations are more challenging than others.

I think we had all hoped on our climb into Cycle 25 that we’d get some brilliant propagation, stable conditions, and the opportunity to use less power and yield more DX.  Who doesn’t want that?

But we get what we get from our local star and the theme this year is that it is indeed showing some positive indicators, but at the same time–this summer, especially–it’s spitting stuff toward our pale blue dot that makes a mess of the ionosphere.

Photo by K4TLI

Lately, each time I head out the door to activate a park, I never know what to expect. It’s part of the fun. Will band conditions be in the dumps, or will the ionosphere provide the perfect platform for my QRP signals–?

On Thursday July 7, 2022 it was the former rather than the latter.

My family decided to head into Québec City that day to visit one of our favorite used book stores (in search of some Bandes Desinées–read more about that at the bottom of this post) and other errands.

I checked the POTA Map and discovered a park we’d never visited in the past, so it looked like a good candidate for a POTA activation!

Digging deeper, I also discovered it was an ATNO (All-Time New One) and had never been activated for POTA before. Hard to believe given its location, but there you go!

I put my POTA backpack in the car and we hit the road!

Parc des Moulins (VE-5068)

After a little searching, we finally found a good parking spot at the park. There was a LOT of construction going on around the grounds.

Parc des Moulins, like many of the parks I’d recently activated in/around Québec City, is a proper urban park with manicured paths and gardens. It’s a beautiful little park!

Continue reading A challenging but fun POTA ATNO activation at Parc des Moulins

Side trail POTA ATNO at Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier in Québec City

On July 4, 2022, I plotted a multiple park POTA run that included four urban parks all clustered in the Sainte-Foy region of Québec City.

The first park I activated that day was Parc de la Plage-Jacques-Cartier (VE-0970)–click here to check out my full field report and activation video. The second park was Parc Cartier-Roberval (VE-0964)–click here to check out that field report and activation video. The third park was Boisé de Marly Provincial Park–click here to check out that field report and activation video.

My fourth park was Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier which essentially adjoined the previous park I activated. As I mentioned in the previous field report, I could have simply walked through the trail system to this park from my previous site, but I needed to find a different parking spot for my car, so I simply drove to a large lot next to the secondary school I spotted on Google Maps.

Turns out even though that lot was nearly empty, it was a paid parking, so I reserved a parking spot for one hour.

Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier (VE-0958)

When I first parked, I wasn’t entirely sure where the park entrance was until I spotted a bench and park sign at the far corner of the lot.

This park, much like the previous one, seemed to be an urban park with trails for walking and running.

I walked the main path into the park and looked for a park bench like I found at the park entrance (above). I thought it might be nice to set up along the path and do a park bench activation much like I did at another urban park in Québec City.

I walked for a decent distance and couldn’t see a bench in sight.  The path was fairly busy with walkers and runners, so I was very pleased when I found a side trail cutting through the middle of the park.

I could tell that this path–while very well-worn and obvious–was not one maintained by the park admin. It looked more like a simple foot trail that local children have probably used in the past (I spotted a little wooden fort/lean-to in the woods.)

Keep in mind that this was my fourth park activation of the day and by this time, I was running behind–no surprise there. After the activation, I had two errands to run in QC before heading back to our condo and enjoying dinner and a movie with the family.

Continue reading Side trail POTA ATNO at Boisé des Compagnons-de-Cartier in Québec City