Many thanks to Scott (VO1DR) who shares the following guest post:
Portable/Kite QRP Operation in Central Newfoundland Wilderness by Float Plane: Part 1 – Gearing Up and Getting There
by Scott Schillereff, VO1DR
I love getting out in the woods and wilds in Newfoundland for portable QRP operation. Lately, I have been trying kite-borne antennas. This is a two-part story of a portable QRP adventure with a kite antenna at Mount Sylvester in the Bay du Nord Wilderness Area in central Newfoundland by float plane. Part 1 describes the setting, history, geology, access, and outdoor/survival gear. Part 2 describes radio stuff and some dramas with getting a kite antenna aloft.
It is useful to describe the island of Newfoundland setting, since it is unique in North America. You can think of Newfoundland as a wild cousin of Nova Scotia – many similarities, but worlds apart. If you want to play radio in a well-developed, refined setting (where giant manicured lawns are a thing), then Nova Scotia is for you; if you want a wilder adventure with some risk and less people, come to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Central Newfoundland Setting
I live in St. John’s, the capital of the eastern-most Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), situated about equidistant between Boston and Ireland (Figure 1). This means QRP contacts to western Europe are as easy as those to eastern North America.
The island of Newfoundland is about the size of England but, with an island-portion population of only 479,105, we have less than 1/100th of the people in England. There is a lot of empty space here! Most of the people live in small towns and communities scattered along the coasts, originally to pursue various fisheries.
The principal highway (Trans-Canada Highway; Highway 1 on Figure 2) traverses an arc around the northern and western part of the island. The central area of Newfoundland is a vast sparsely-populated area, historically used by indigenous groups for hunting, fishing and gathering, and, since European contact and later occupation, mostly for logging, mining, recreation, and hydro power projects.
The Bay du Nord Wilderness Reserve and Mount Sylvester
The Bay du Nord Wilderness Reserve in southern Central Newfoundland (large green patch in Figure 2) was established by the Province in 1986, primarily to protect the Middle Ridge woodland caribou herd – the largest herd in the island of NL. This 2,895 km2 reserve includes ponds, rivers, bogs and fens, and forests, and is the last major unspoiled area on the island. There are no facilities, amenities, trail markers, or public buildings – just wilderness. This inland area has a cultural history of use by the Mi’kmaq indigenous peoples since the 18th century. The area was first described by European explorer (William Cormack) after his trans-island trek of 1822. Geologist James Howley was the first known person to travel the full length of the Bay du Nord River in 1887. A cairn he built atop Mount Sylvester as a surveying marker still stands today (see below).
Mount Sylvester (Figures 3 and 4) is an inselberg (German: island mountain) created by weathering and glaciation with top elevation of 365 m (1,198 ft) above sea level, and rising 154 m (505 ft) above the adjacent flat glaciated terrain (for more stats search: peakvisor.com). It was named after Sylvester Joe, a Mi’kmaq hunter and guide hired by Cormack for his travels. The yellow arrows on Figure 4 point to Howley’s cairn (about 2.5 m high) at the top, and huge fluted glacial scours along the sides and flanks.
Mount Sylvester lies immediately adjacent to Diamond Lake, with a gentle glaciated bedrock slope to the summit. A perfect spot to land a float plane and walk to the top for a QRP adventure!
My companion Kerry, a distant relation in Gander, NL, owns a float plane and for years has been interested to land on Diamond Lake and walk to the top – but never had a second person to go (for safety). We were a match made in heaven! My wife and I and our two Havanese doggies drove our motor home to Gander (about 4 hr drive) and Kerry and I geared up for the flight and hike on June 24, 2023.
As luck would have it, hundreds of forest fires were (and are) burning in eastern Canada. Smoke from those fires has drifted over eastern Canada and most of NL producing a tan haze that can block out the full sun (Figure 5) and reduce visibility for flying. Since Kerry is only certified for Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flying, it was touch-and-go whether we could fly at all.
On the morning of June 24, bright and early, we tried anyway. The smoke had shifted to form a layer above 1,500 ft altitude, but we could safely fly under it at 500-750 ft altitude. We were good to go! Kerry’s plane (C-FAVG) was the venerable Cessna 172 Skyhawk (Figure 6), among the most common small aircraft on earth. The C-FAVG airframe was produced in the 1970s and has been upgraded and certified ever since.
We drove to his float plane dock at Deadman’s Pond adjacent to Gander airport (this airport was the site of the massive commercial aircraft landings during 9/11/2001; the basis for the Come From Away musical). Kerry assured me not to worry about the name of the pond…
We took off just before 9 am and headed south for about an hour’s flight to Diamond Lake. Kerry checked in with Gander Tower and within half an hour, we were out of direct VHF contact. Our communications were by VHF with other planes, or our cell phones (they worked great all day, even on top of Mount Sylvester).
As a geologist, I am fascinated on why Mount Sylvester exists and its interesting geological features. First of all, the ENTIRE mountain was covered with glacial ice during last ice age (Wisconsinan-Age glaciation ending about 11,000 years ago). A small continental ice sheet covered the island of Newfoundland, and radiated out toward lower sea levels. Figures 3 and 4 show the smooth, fluted flanks of the inselberg created by the grinding passage of ice laden with rock blocks and fragments (Nature’s ultimate sandpaper). Continue reading Part 1 – Getting There: VO1DR Goes QRP Portable in Central Newfoundland via Float Plane→