W7ZOI Field Day for 2013
(posted 24June13, Wes Hayward)

The ARRL Field Day is the premier annual amateur radio operating event for many of us. Occurring on the fourth weekend of June each year, it is the time when radio amateurs from the US and Canada go into the field, often camping, taking their radio gear with them.   Essentially an excuse to go out into the wild with portable radio gear to just have a lot of fun, Field Day is also an exercise in emergency preparedness.   Most of the amateur radio community operates from locations that are next to the road, often from the comforts of lawn chairs with picnic tables, usually with large gasoline powered generators chugging away in the background.     There is a small but growing faction that integrates FD with a walk into the hills.

I remember going to the FD site for my old local club when I was in high school in the late 1950s.   The guys in our club were out for blood with a devoted contest mind set, so the kids never got a chance to operate.    In the early 1960s, when I was beginning to build and experiment with solid state gear, I started going on FD with battery powered rigs.   Some of those outings were with friends where we operated next to a road.   The more interesting and fun trips have always been from the trail.    

This year I really wanted to get out for a backpacking operation.   I'm still able to do this and want to take advantage of it while I still can.    I was lucky to find a willing partner for the trek in John McCormick, K7CVU.    John, another ex Tektronix guy, has extensive mountaineering experience in the American West including Alaska, plus some climbing in Europe.   Our goal was to pick a site that had a scenic view, was a reasonable radio location, and was accessible by trail, perhaps with some modest cross country travel.   After checking with other local folks who do this sort of FD, we found that Ghost Ridge wasn't to be occupied, so we headed there.   I've been there often and it's a favorite location for day trips in all seasons.   John had been there on skis in winter.

Ghost Ridge is a name applied by local Nordic ski enthusiasts to an area south of historic Barlow Pass, an early route across the Cascade Mountains connecting Oregon's Willamette Valley with the rest of the Oregon Trail.    The Ghost name makes reference to pioneer graves in the area, attesting to the rigors of the journey a century and a half ago.   Barlow Pass is accessed from Oregon Highway 35.  From a trailhead at the pass, one hikes south on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT.)   After just over a mile, the route leaves the trail to follow the ridge line to the summit of Ghost Ridge at Peak 4925.    

My normal comment, when writing a report of this sort, might be that the trail hike was casual and uneventful.   This was not the case this year.     The trail hike provided an extremely enjoyable, unique experience that I’ll long remember.    I’ll return to this later.

Our route is shown in the map below.   The Barlow road, now little more than a jeep path, is presently closed.     The PCT is call the Skyline Trail on this older map, although that name is no longer used.

We left the trail at the point where the Skyline Trail peaks and descends slightly.   We now found ourselves in timber with sparse brush.    Following the obvious ridge line takes one to the summit.    There are a couple of points along the way that provide a good view of Mt. Hood, or of a local boulder field.

We were frustrated at what we did not find along the way.   There was no snow.    I had been watching Mt. Hood for the last month from the local hill that I visit on local walks, and had been impressed by what looked to be a good snow pack.   Checking with others revealed that the snow pack this year was lower than normal, but was still heavy at higher elevations.    I made the unfortunate error of assuming that there would be snow on Ghost Ridge.    But alas, we found the ground to be free of snow, showing no more than minor dampness from recent rains.   We were depending on the snow for the water for our camping.   We studied north facing, shaded areas that might have harbored a last remaining snow patch, but found none.    The heavy rains in Oregon last May evidently removed the intermediate elevation snowpack.

John and I planned on camping in the trees just east of the Ghost Ridge summit.   The lack of water compromised these plans.   We only had a total of four liters of water for the two days.    There were streams and lakes in the area, but it would have taken several hours of hiking to go there to fetch additional water.   Our final solution was to eliminate the camping part of our plan.    Instead we would put up the antenna, operate for a couple of hours, cook an early dinner, hike out to the car, and drive home in the evening.    Field Day is often a compromise of one sort or another.

Shortly after arriving, we walked to the actual summit of the ridge, perhaps 50 feet in elevation above the meadow area.    The photo below shows John with Mt. Hood in the background.   Mt. Jefferson could also be seen, about 40 miles to the south.

Antennas in the Trees

Our antenna this year was a full wave loop, fed at the bottom center.   We took only an 8 foot piece of RG-58 coax cable.   144 feet of #18 plastic insulated wire served as the loop, transported on a piece of PVC.  Slots were cut in the 21 inch pipe to store the wire.    

The loop was hoisted into a tree with a piece of brightly colored Nylon cord.     The cord is wound on a piece of very thin plywood for transport, as shown below.
   Also shown with the bright cord is a 4 oz lead fishing weight (left over from the days when we used lead for such things) plus a center insulator with coax connector to be used with the closed loop antenna.   The cord with the plywood piece weighs 4.3 oz, which could easily be halved with a rebuild.

Getting the antenna in the air begins with a tree selection.    Look for a tree with some open branches that extend past the smaller ones near the tree trunk.   Try to avoid branches covered with moss.    Look for a fairly clear downward path from the branch to the ground.   After tying the weight to the line, a large length of line is uncoiled onto the ground, well away from the tree.    The goal is to throw the weight into the tree, over the selected branch, but to allow the weight to keep going so it pulls the cord for some distance.   The branch selected this year was up by about 40 feet.    We probably had 60 feet of line on the ground before the weight was thrown.   I usually grip the line about 18 inches from the weight and throw underhand.     John managed to get a great photo of one of my throws, shown below.
 (K7CVU photo.)
The weight went over the branch, but then got stopped by another branch.    It did not stop and tangle because it had been thrown without tension on the line on the ground.     Use of a heavy weight helps the process, pulling the line along as it falls.    A tempered tug or two on the line when it stops may help the process, but don't get aggressive, for this can cause the weight to circle a branch and tangle.   Once this happens, there is no recourse short of climbing the tree or cutting the line.   A lighter weight will work well with lighter line, but it then gets hard to see.    A 1 oz weight works well with 6 pound test mono film fishing line, but a reel is then required to hold the line.   Bright paint on the weight is often useful.

Once we had the line in the tree, it was used to place the insulated wire.    No extra rope was required.   If we had been putting up a dipole, inverted Vee, or an end fed wire, we might have attached a heavier rope to the cord and used the cord to pull the rope into the tree.   The rope would then have been used to lift the antenna.     

Once we got the wire loop up in the tree, the ends were brought together and attached to the center insulator shown in an earlier photo.   The loop was then tied out with lengths of cord.     This loop antenna can be lifted into a tree without a heavier rope.   When we erect dipoles, we usually use 1/8 inch diameter parachute cord to actually support the antenna.    An actual horizontal dipole is a very rare antenna for me in the mountains.    Instead, an inverted Vee is used with one rope to support the antenna as well as the feedline.   The ends are then pulled out with additional cord.   

One vital rule applies to any of these variations:    Experiment with the variations at home, if possible.    As always, problems are often avoided with experimental methods.  

We got the loop up and installed after two or three tries.   (It never works right with the first throw.   Never!)    The station was set up, with
an 8 ft piece of coax attached directly to the loop.   This was then attached to a small transmatch that uses screw driver adjusted mica compression trimmers.    I've used this circuit (with its built-in bridge) for perhaps 20 trips to the mountains; I keep coming back to it, for its the lightest antenna tuner I own.   

More information was presented on how we get a wire into the trees than might normally be required.    The reason is to offer some encouragement to a good friend who also went out for FD this year.    He complained upon his return that “the tree ate my antenna.”

Our operating position is shown below.   John is tuning the band.

The “chair,” is a cloth and fiberglass structure that uses a partially inflated air mattress as a pad.    I didn't find it all that comfortable.   The power source, a 2.3 AH, 12 volt sealed lead acid battery, is on the ground near John's boot.    A detailed shot of the station is shown in the next photo.    The transceiver is built in a 2 x 5 x 7 inch box, which has a log book sitting on it.    The transceiver has two headphone outputs.   A hand key is to the right of the transceiver while the paddle for the built in keyer is under John's arm in the photo.

Propagation conditions seemed poor during this contest.    We operated the 40 meter CW band and made only two dozen contacts.   This seems to be about the norm for our 1 W transceiver with a short afternoon operating stint.   I'm sure that this would have expanded significantly if we had added Sunday morning operations.   Higher power is also a possibility.   There is always next year…

After taking the antenna down, we cooked a freeze dried dinner.   John had brought a new cooking tool, an MSR Reactor Stove System.    I was extremely impressed.   I've never seen a stove that was this quick.   

Hiking Companions

Earlier I alluded to an unusual experience on the approach hike.   It started at the trailhead parking lot.    John and I were donning our boots and getting packs ready when a couple drove in and parked just down the lot from us.    They walked by to begin the trail.   I said hello and started a conversation.   Folks are openly friendly in the mountains, it seems.   Something was said about the Mazamas and a name was mentioned.   John recognized it, and it soon became clear that they had mutual acquaintances within the local hiking and climbing community.   The gal then introduced themselves as Don and Roberta Lowe.    I nearly fell out of my boots, for the Lowes are legendary for their books on the trails of Oregon, and later of California and Colorado.   I have four of their Oregon books in my library, the first being “100 Oregon Hiking Trails,”  (Touchstone Press, 1969.)     The photo below shows Roberta and Don with me.

  left-to-right: Wes, Roberta, Don. (K7CVU photo.)
It was a tremendous pleasure to hike with them for a while.  The four of us hiked together until reaching the point where John and I left the PCT to go up the hill.  

Many thanks to John for the use of his photos.