Sunday, May 03, 2015

Field Day Proofed In The Backcountry

With a beautiful morning looming on the horizon in the early pre-dawn darkness, I backed off my driveway anticipating the day ahead. The first stop to be made on my way out of town, was to hit the drive-through at Tim's and pick up a bite to eat and a cup of tea for the drive south.
The previous evening I had taken the time to look at the gear that I had piled in the garage beside my mobile, having unloaded most of it from the cargo bay earlier. Once I had itemized everything, I felt confident that I hadn't forgot anything and began reloading my mobile, placing everything in order as too how I wanted to be able to access it, without having to unload to find that one item that was out of place.
The plan for the day was simple, I planned on making the drive down to the Porcupine Hills that lie south of Calgary, and are situated between the plains on the eastern side of the hills, with the west side bordered by the southern Alberta Rockies.
The area in the Porcupine Hills that I planned on travelling through is accessed off of highway 22 and highway 520 where I would drive the Skyline road as it traverses the high ridge line of the Porcupine Hills for approximately 17 kilometers with drop dead views along much of it.
Any one of the side-trails leading to spots such as the one I had selected for this day are perfect for amateur radio operations, as the elevation along the crests of the hills averages out in the range of 1400 meters (4500') above sea level.

Once I arrived at the spot I had in mind, I would be setting up my portable field operations and the plan was to check on my preparedness for the ARRL Field Day coming off at the end of June. I really didn't anticipate any problems or surprises when it come to setting up my field operations on this day, as I have been setting up and operating from the backcountry since January 1st 2016 when I had set up a very portable station on the ice of Spray Lakes located west of Calgary in the Rockies.

 This had proven to be challenging in itself, as you discover in short order that there are challenges that are unique to setting up antennas in the winter that do not exist in the summer. The main challenge had been guying antennas, as with ice or frozen ground, how do you anchor your antenna. In the end it was as simple as adding a cordless drill to my gear, allowing for drilling holes sized for the anchors. I used this same method several other times at other locations over the winter when setting up my field operations.

The drive south to the Porcupine's proved to be uneventful although beautiful with the sun finding me upon my arriving at the start of Skyline road.
Now I should give you a heads up that this was not my first visit to this area of the hills, and I already had decided on the location that I had in mind for setting up my field camp.
Making the approach to the location after leaving the Skyline road, and driving down a faint trail made by other backcountry visitor's to the hills over the years, I arrived on the ridge with commanding views in all directions. The ridge that I had chosen to set up on overlooks the Livingstone Range 20 kilometers to the west, part of the southern Alberta Rockies, and looking towards the east the views out on to the plains are phenomenal out to 100 kilometers on a clear day. 
I soon began setting up my field camp, and the first order of business was to choose a location for my vertical 10/60 meter vertical antenna. With the antenna standing up with the anchors set, and if the wind proved to be a factor later in the day, I had the guy lines set on the taunt side making sure that this antenna that stands 20 feet tall was not going anywhere.

I then laid out my Scout tarp in the location where I planned on operating from. This tarp is made from rip-stop nylon and is silicone treated making it fully waterproof. I actually have slept under it by rolling out my sleeping bag beneath it with a ground sheet to protect the sleeping bag. When using my scout tarp as a lightweight shelter for sleeping, I lower the sides giving more protection from the weather, and allowing the tarp to handle any wind that should come up. The scout tarp is a snap to set up by yourself, as all you do is lay it out on the ground, then stretch out each Para cord line pushing each corner peg in place, and then place a hiking pole at either end of the ridge line tensioning the tarp, its that easy. Its also big enough to protect your gear as well by pulling everything in under the tarp. When your done with it, you roll it up and stuff it in its storage bag, then place it in the corner of your pack as it takes little space and weighs the same.

Also part of my gear was my EPK (emergency preparedness kit),  as you never know when you might need it, and that included on this day when I managed to nick a finger while setting the guy line anchors, that had me reaching for my first aid kit stored in my EPK to stop the flow of blood.
Of course I was more that comfortable with enough food to last me a week if something went array on this day. I also had my sleeping bag and sleeping mat, extra clothes, lights, batteries, axe, knives, saw, etc. When you leave home on any given day, plan for the unexpected, as you never know what the day may bring.

Once I had my Scout tarp in place, I then placed the necessary components in place that I would be using while operating my Yaesu FT-897D connected up to my 10/60 meter vertical antenna. Although I have mentioned before that I like the fact that my field grade Yaesu FT-897D has the capability to operate on the internal batteries, there are times that I may want to operate beyond the 20 watt capability of this ruggedized transceiver while on internal power.
On this morning, I would be powering my Yaesu FT-897D with my 30 caliber power can, containing two 12 volt  5 Ah gel cells connected in parallel, providing the means of allowing the FT-897D to transmit with up to 100 watts if required.
The batteries in the power can are being maintained by the solar panel and the charge controller connected between the solar panel and the power can.
The solar panel is the very efficient crystalline type of panel, and this particular panel is rated at 40 watts, sufficient to maintain my 30 caliber power can while powering my FT-897D, but yet is sized right physically to store within my EPK (emergency preparedness kit) seen in the various photos doubling as a table for my radio operations on this day.
My EPK resides in my mobile year round, and contains the many items that I feel I should have with me, allowing me to be prepared for whatever may be coming at me on any given day

With everything set up and operational in under an hour, I sat down at my operating position in front of my rig, and with 40 meters open I made my first contact of the day.
I couldn't have ordered better weather for my day spent in the Porcupine's, and when it was all said and done, everything worked out to my satisfaction with no hiccups between the equipment and the operator.

                   Field operations command center... Talk to you on the air.

NOTE....all photo expand

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