Operating while camping on Mt. Hood 7/31/2021

Hello all, it’s about time I wrote a post about my camping trip my partner and I took a couple weeks ago. I took my trusty Lab599 TX-500 kit, a couple 20W GoalZero Nomad solar panels, headset, and table/chair combo up camping with our “new” 4×4. I wanted to do some HF QRP and some handheld UHF/VHF operation while I was out. I brought some of the same portable furniture that I used at the beach last post since it worked out so well.

The view was pretty sweet for this one. The smoke from the wildfires made everything a bit more hazy but pretty great none-the-less.

View of a heavily forested valley from a high vantage point. In the foreground a radio is sitting on a gray metal camping table.
View while operating

While operating HF I made a number of contacts, and the solar panels kept the 4.5Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery built into the HF QRP radio kit charged the whole day. The first HF contact I made was with Stefan, AF6SA who was working POTA in Eldorado Natoinal Forest (K-4455). His signal was 5/6 on at about 450 miles away on 20m. I also made a contact with VA3AAA, Stanley in Ontario, Canada. I was pretty excited to reach Ontario with a low power radio. That contact was also logged on 20m. I also made a contact with the K0GQ radio club in MO on 20m. All of these contacts were made between 5 and 10w using the Trail-friendly EndFedz EFT-10/20/40 antenna strung between a couple trees about 50′ apart and about 25′ above the ground.

I switched radios and bands to see if I could get into some of the repeaters in the Portland area (I could) with my Yaesu FT3DR and a Signal Stick antenna. I ended up on 2m and caught two hams on 146.520Mhz doing a SOTA activation: K7AHR and K7IW. I think they were on Lookout Mountain, but I can’t remember and didn’t properly log it. I was running 5W for those contacts.

Tour of the radio setup at the camp site

Operating naked on the beach!

Howdy and welcome back! I spent the day at Rooster Rock, a clothing-optional beach on the banks of the Sandy River in Oregon. Since I burn easily I got a cheap tent from Target to get very sandy and to keep me and my gear safe from the sun! As a bonus this specific tent actually has a pass through for cables in the front corner to the left of the door which is pretty great for running solar panel connectors and feed line. I didn’t have any successful contacts, but that’s not surprising given the difficulties I had tuning the Superantenna. I couldn’t manage to get a decent SWR on the QRP radio. The real point of the post is about portable shelter options that can keep you out an entire day even when you’re literally naked. This was able to keep me and the gear cool enough to keep going. Folding a corner of the tent up allowed the interior mesh to breathe away from the sun. In the picture below you can see through the door that the rain fly has been lifted.

A tent on a beach with some small trees and brush in the background. Two small solar panels rest next to the tent. An antenna is set up behind the tent in the brush.

We weren’t able to get the best spot but at least we got something out of the way on a path and had enough space to set the tent up. I had enough clear space to keep the solar panels going all day as well. They kept the battery kept everything charged and running. I tried to see if I could make any UHF/VHF contacts but I was in a gorge so I had very limited luck. I’m sure you’re just as shocked as I am. I then tuned the Superantenna as best I could for 20m and tried to make some contacts but I wasn’t getting out. I heard a bunch of stations on the east coast and in the midwest including participating in a New England radio event or QSO party for the 4th of July weekend. I wasn’t able to get out to anyone though. In addition to those stations I could also hear but not reach Paolo IK5SRF in Tuscany, Italy. Paolo had quite the pileup going.

Interior view of a tent front the door showing a small folding table, three-legged folding camp chair and equipment resting against the walls of the tent. Through the mesh you can see the river.

A view of the radio setup, the table, and chair. This three-legged chair is actually pretty comfortable.

A view of the top of a metal folding table with a radio, water bottle, sunscreen, a pen, and notepad. Brush and beach sand is visible through a mesh panel.

My conspicuously-empty log book with only notes and the radio.

At the end of the day breaking the tent down was pretty easy. We were able to tear down the entire site and radio station in about an hour, have it loaded into the beach wagon and off we were. Much of that time was as usual rolling feed line so it’s not a pain to unroll later.

At last! A long distance QRP phone contact!

Good news everyone! I finally made a long-distance contact running QRP (10w) on SSB. I was able to complete a QSO with N8II in Jefferson County, WV on 20m during a WV QSO party from the top of Mt. Tabor. The distance between our stations was about 2,290 miles. I had been attempting to contact the station all day on and off since about 16:30 Pacific time. I was able to reach a couple stations in the Portland, OR area and one of them suggested that my portable antenna might be hung too low (at about 20′) and doing NVIS instead of getting out so I re-hung both ends of the antenna an additional 6′ higher and tried again. I had attempted to enlist K7AJK’s help to test my station’s audio to see if I was having RF feedback, but it seems he was in one of my antenna’s nulls. The next set of attempts I was able to nearly complete a QSO with N8II, but failed to get my full call and location across. I hit pause on attempting contact for a few minutes to attempt some other frequencies and 40m. After coming back and making another attempt I was finally able to make the contact with a bit of difficulty, but there you have it!

A map of the US showing contact pins WA, CA, AZ, NM, MI, and SC.
pskreporter.info showing stations that heard mine (yellow = 20m, blue = 40m)

As a side note I did some JS8Call work on 20m and 40m as well. The furthest signal report was about 2,000 miles away! Not bad for a portable QRP station.

Lessons learned:

  • A few extra feet of antenna elevation can make all the difference!
  • Minimal power can go a long way.
  • If you want to use a headset with a radio make sure you bring a PTT.
  • Two 20w solar panels did a good job of powering the entire setup until the sun got low enough that trees covered them. I barely used the battery in 5 hours of operation.
  • Don’t position your station under the feed line. It might cause RF feedback.
  • Bring extra water. I didn’t have enough for 5 hours.

Sunday funday in the Tilamook State Forest

This is just a quick post about some light operating I did out in the forest today while getting some target practice in since I’m not really a sports person. The weather was fairly cold, between 35 and 40 degrees F with alternating rain and snow. This post is mostly about what running QRP in decent conditions can do. I set my Lab599 TX-500 up with my Superantenna / Chameleon Mil Whip 2.0 antenna combo and my offgrid Raspberry Pi and access point this morning to see how far I got out from the outdoor “range” we were at. I powered the whole setup with my Bioenno 40Ah LiFePO4 battery and threw my GoalZero Nomad 20 folding solar panel on just to take some of the load from the battery as it’s just a standard practice I engage in.

Map showing connections from my station to others in the continental US and AK.
Screenshot of my signal reports from https://pskreporter.info
Map showing distance between my station in OR and an east coast US station.
Map showing distance between my station and KC1GTU. Generated by https://www.karhukoti.com/Maidenhead-Grid-Square-Locator

The idea was that I was going to try to run JS8Call at QRP on 20m for a few hours. The power levels I ran were 1w, 5w, and 7.5w (for a couple minutes) throughout the day. I generally settled on 5w as I was heard from the southwest, south, along the east coast, midwest, and AK. Bumping the power to 7.5w didn’t really yield any additional responses to my heartbeats so I reduced power to 5w and stayed there for most of the day. My furthest contact via heartbeat and “QTH?” commands was KC1GTU at FN41 (about 2,250NM away at 5w).

Setup photos:

Collage of photos showing my antenna on the left. On the top right is a table covered by a tarp extended from the open hatch back of a Prius to two poles covering a table with a center support extended up from the table top. Various firearms are sitting on the table. On the bottom right is a view inside the open back of the vehicle with disorganized cases, and a radio setup with a tablet.
Very messy setup

Lessons learned:

  • Make sure you set your grid locator correctly in JS8Call. Anyone seeing my station would see me at CN85qm, about 45 miles away from where I really was at CN85hs. (Update: JS8CLI solves this problem.)
  • I could probably run this setup for a whole day on my 12Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery.
  • The Lab599 TX-500 continues to prove itself to be a great rig off grid!
  • Don’t bring too much gear even if you’re in a car.
  • The gear performed well below 40F.