Barry Hansen, WA7KVC
Two VHF operators hit the highway to rove around the rare grids of the Pacific Northwest.
The Olympic Peninsula is in the far corner of the Pacific Northwest and contains a huge area of remote, isolated and largely undeveloped wilderness. The peninsula has but one single main road, Highway 101, which gives access to the distant coastline. Although most of it is within a hundred miles of the densely populated greater Seattle area, the tall peaks in the Olympic Mountain range will block radio propagation from the coastline and winter weather blocks access to ridges and peaks. These conditions made it a challenge that we couldn’t resist. Rod, WE7X, joined me for a driving adventure to activate rare grid squares on the Olympic Peninsula coastline during the ARRL January 2012 VHF Contest.
Our goal was to activate the remote lowland coastal grids of the peninsula during the VHF contest. This is the dead of winter in the Pacific Northwest so, in light of our recent severe weather, we didn’t consider other possible destinations that involved “hilltopping” or the mountainous inland grids. The Seattle area was still digging out from snowfall, ice storms, downed trees, mudslides, widespread power outages and road closures. Rod’s home had been without power for 2 days before we set out and his neighborhood was still dark when we returned. My house had power restored just the night before we left.
Our plan to target the “warmer” ocean coast turned out to be mostly successful. At least it didn’t rain all the time during our trip — sometimes it snowed for awhile instead.
During the 650 mile drive, our constant companions were rain, cold, wind, squalls, snow and fog, but it was fabulously scenic. Thankfully, the Toyota SUV’s broad lift gate provided shelter from the worst elements when we stopped and put up the 2 meter beam at the back of the truck. All we had to do was remember to park pointing into the wind.
We drove clockwise around the Olympic Peninsula, thinking that we should activate the single most difficult grid square (CN78 at Sekiu) on Sunday morning during the Pacific Northwest VHF weak-signal net. This turned out to be a good idea because it loaned us the most capable VHF operators. It was difficult to make any contacts but we achieved a few by bouncing a signal off Mt Baker.
Roving around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula was a great adventure, which included many interesting episodes. Here are some of the highlights:
• The contest began Saturday morning, 11 AM local time. We set up in Ocean Shores, a thin slice of land that juts into CN76 with wide, flat open areas. In summer, it is packed with tourists and beach lovers; in winter, it’s practically a ghost town.
• At a stop just south of Forks, Washington, the view of a golden sun splashing crepuscular rays from behind a cloud bank with the whole scene accented by crashing surf was a huge inspirational thrill, even in near-freezing temperatures.
• We discovered that our mobile 144 MHz stacked loops worked surprisingly well on 432 MHz. This is triple the resonant frequency so I suppose we shouldn’t be so surprised. The mobile mast carried loops for 50 MHz, 144 MHz and 220 MHz. The little 220 MHz loops went unused as we didn’t carry a radio for that band.
• A blizzard at night, driving from Forks to Port Angeles, caused almost whiteout conditions. There was snow alongside the road on the entire route and snowplows were few and far between.
• We scouted the route to North Point Peak (Kloshe Nanitch Lookout), a nice 3000 foot ridge nearby in CN78. Snow completely blocked the road to the extent that its forest path was completely hidden. Instead of North Point Peak, we went to a spot near the Sekiu Airport, a distant second choice in altitude and desirability, but the best we could do in an area simply chock-full of poor choices.
• It was a new experience to send CW in conditions so cold that it required cut-finger gloves. I loved the banter when calling from CN78: “CQ CQ CQ Sekiu, CQ from Sekiu, CQ to Sekiu and CQ everywhere else.” All active hams should have a chance to visit a place that can help spread so much mind-boggling confusion.
• We pulled into the Super 8 hotel in Port Angeles and their entry overhang looked very high. Imagine our surprise when we step out of the truck to discover the loops had cleared the overhang by barely an inch. If we’d parked a little to the left they would’ve had a nasty dispute with a light fixture.
• January is so far off the tourist season in Port Angeles that one of their best Fish-n-Chips restaurants closed early — 7 PM Saturday!
• Crossing gridlines is always exciting. Just when you think the bands died or the antenna fell off; you cross a gridline and suddenly become extremely popular again. All gridline crossings were like this, but when we entered CN97 above Issaquah Highlands on the plateau at 1001 foot elevation, we enjoyed a real pileup. Rod made 15 contacts in 10 minutes.
Testing New Gear
• New Toyota 4Runner — a very capable truck makes some unthinkable spots possible and difficult conditions become easy. It has lots of storage room and good road manners at all speeds in all conditions.
The biggest problem was that while operating at the back end, the rainwater pools in the raised lift gate. Later, when you pull down the hatch, it makes itself known. The icy water takes a diabolically unavoidable path down your arm and into your neck and armpit.
The second biggest problem was that in spite of its advanced hill-climbing features, a new 4Runner still won’t let you climb a forest trail up to a 3000 foot ridge on a road invisible beneath a heavy blanket of snow.
• Rod’s trailer hitch T-adapter gave us versatile side mounting positions for two masts while not blocking the rear hatch access. The only problem was that Rod is keeping it for himself. Just because he provided the entire idea, design, parts, labor, construction, painting, installation and testing, why does he think he can keep it?
• The new Kenwood TM-D710 dual-band mobile radio integrates with AvMap G5 navigation system and supports APRS. The TM-D710 displays your six-digit grid square with a handy continuous dashboard display. The biggest problem here was no APRS receiving stations around most of the Olympic Peninsula to bridge our position to the Internet.
• We set the M2 7 element, 2 meter beam up on a 15 foot mast. It had terrific gain and front to back ratio, low SWR, portability and was lightweight. The M2 let us bounce a signal from CN78 (Sekiu) off of Mt Baker and work a few stations in Seattle. The biggest problem was that you just don’t need these features for the other 90% of the contacts around the greater Seattle area.
• The new deep-cycle storage battery has a huge 134 Ah capacity that could probably have powered both VHF radios for the entire weekend. The worst problem with the battery was that it went untested since I forgot to connect it. We were in a rush to open the contest and simply plugged the two radios into the car. Afterward, I simply forgot to move the wires.
The overall contest activity was rather light. The recent ice and snow storms probably reduced the participation in the Pacific Northwest. We had no good 6 or 2 meter openings during the trip and there were only three contacts with Canadian stations.
It was a successful and enjoyable trip, activating six grids resulting in 103 contacts for an estimated score of 2398 points.
Band CN76 CN77 CN78 CN87 CN88 CN97 All Grids
50 MHz 2 4 — 14 10 17 47
144 MHz 4 4 9 17 4 12 50
432 MHZ — — — — — 6 6
Total 6 8 9 31 14 35 103
The cost per contact for the trip was $108 hotel, $110 gas, $70 food = $288/103 contacts = $2.80 per contact. Contacts per mile = 650 miles/103 contacts = 6.3 miles/contact.
Together we accomplished a complete circuit of the Olympic Peninsula and had a great time filled with interesting events and adventures, both on the air and off the road.
Barry Hansen, K7BWH, an ARRL member, was first licensed as WN7KVC at age 13 in 1968. He soon received his General class license and operated CW for many years. He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Washington State University. Barry is active in local ham radio clubs. He currently serves as vice president and Webmaster for the Issaquah ARC. He recently became interested in VHF weak-signal and hilltop portable operations and uses this excuse to own a good four wheel drive truck and explore Washington state. He changed his call from WA7KVC to K7BWH in 2012. Barry also experiments with coil guns and keeps his engineering notebook at www.coilgun.info. He can be reached at 3206 218th Ave SE, Sammamish, WA 98075, firstname.lastname@example.org