Ham Radio

July 2019 Grid Expedition

My goal is to activate all the grids in Idaho, so this trip covers Lookout Pass DN27, Lolo Pass DN26 and, just because it's a rare grid, DN07 around Ritzville, WA.

In early July, I got news that my father-in-law's cancer had returned. My daughter suddenly made travel plans to fly into town on August 1st, and stay a few weeks. This wipes out any chance of me making expeditions in August. This also meant that I'd better make my grid expedition darn quick or else I'd run out of E-skip season completely. I only had a few days that I could squeeze such a trip into my calendar.

My sister has recently moved to Spokane, so now I have a handy (read: cheap) place to stay overnight before launching trips into Idaho. So I picked the nearest two grids that I haven't activated yet: DN27 and DN26.

Some friends back east, such as Roger W9FF, have been seeking to work the rare DN07 grid for quite some time. Since it's on my way home from northern Idaho, I arranged to spend a day there and see if propagation would be at all favorable. We don't expect much E-skip near the end of July, but let's try it anyway.

If you're going to the trouble of activating a remote grid, then go big! This is a valuable lesson I learned from Marshall K5QE. So I took along a high power station: a IC-9100, Icom PW-1 kilowatt amplifier, an M2 6m5 antenna, and two Honda EU-2000i generators to power them all. It's proven to be a very effective expedition station.

July 21 2019

CQ WW in Idaho DN27

Barry K7BWH on Mt Pilchuck

By coincidence, my day in Idaho DN27 aligned with the 2019 CQ WW VHF Contest. So let's get on the air and make a few contest contacts. With any luck, we'll have an opening and hand out a semi-rare grid. It'd be a lot more rare except Lance W7GJ lives there, an FFMA winner, and he gives out DN27 to anyone who seriously wants it.

Publicizing these trips get more complicated every year. I announced it in advance on the usual email groups (FFMA, PNWVHFS, VHF Contesting) and in my local club groups (Issaquah, Redmond, Edmonds). While on-site the vhf-chat Slack instant messages helped arrange contacts, and APRS helped people keep track of my position. The CQ WW contest rules allow us to publish only location, frequency, mode and sequence. This is great - it's enough to keep track of who's where and use the internet effectively.

The contest ran until 2 pm Pacific time (2100z) but I planned to remain on the air longer until either the band dried up or I had to tear down. The latest I could stay was 4 pm since there were many miles yet to drive.

Finding an operating spot in new territory takes time. I left Spokane on Sunday morning, headed east on I-90 into Idaho. I attempted to ascend Dobson Pass and scout Sunset Peak and Tiger Peak. However, after turning off at Osburn, the road quickly turned into an unpaved overgrown pothole-ridden hell-climb. It was going to be slow, so I returned to I-90. From there, I continued onward to the ID-MT border at Lookout Pass Ski Area DN27dk. It turned out to be a smart choice: easy drive, good roads, good location and open horizon.

The weather was 70-80 degrees and a mild breeze kept me cool enough without bothering the antenna. As usual, I parked facing into the wind and clipped a furniture blanket overhead for sun protection.

The recent WJST-X version 2.0 makes it easy to run contests. Although I wasn't /R (rover), I could've been if I wanted. What a relief from last year when it caused me all kinds of problems that were only solved by contesting with two different callsigns in different places.

There was not much activity on Sunday afternoon in the contest: 11 contacts in 3 hours. I stayed in DN27 another hour on Sunday after the contest and made another dozen contacts. My last contact was 3:09 pm and then the band went silent until I packed up at 4 pm. Best DX was into California and into Mexico at nearly 1,000 miles. It was fun to work Pete N6ZE, a fellow PNWVHFS member in DM04.

I continued my journey to Missoula for the night, and along the way stopped in for a friendly visit with Lance W7GJ in Frenchtown MT in DN27ub.

In Missoula, I decided to try staying at Motel 6 for a change. It has been a long time since I used Motel 6. They had a high price (over $100) with minimal amenities: just a room with a bed and shower and towels. No tissues, no coffee machine, no shampoo or conditioner, no breakfast, not much of anything in there. It will be a long time before I use Motel 6 again.

July 22 2019

Lolo Pass DN26

There are lots and lots and lots of mountain peaks and high altitude ridges in DN26. I wanted something reasonably easy to reach and not too far from Missoula. My friend Bob K7TM (the only person to have activated all of Idaho) suggested the visitor center or high altitude meadows of Lolo Pass. The maps hinted at good ridges that are reachable from the pass. So I set off to explore.

The road up from Missoula was, well, incongruous. This two-lane highway was signposted as 70 mph but frequently the corners were cautioned at 35 or 40 mph. You don't see that every day.

From Lolo Pass Visitor Center, I set off eastward to scout the high mountain meadows. It was an easy level drive to Packer Meadows (5 miles) and looked to be as easy to reach Elk Meadows (19 miles). They are famous for being part of the Lewis and Clark exploration route. The meadows are perfect for camping in tent or RV. However, they did not offer a good horizon for VHF propagation. They are mountain meadows that are essentially in a valley.


I set off again westward up the Crooked Creek Road to explore the ridge. There was a perfect spot at DN26qp, with a large parking area and the ground drops away in the desired direction. I parked as near the edge as possible; there is an advantage to position yourself within one wavelength of a good slope.

It turned out there was an excellent 6m band opening to W5 (the South) and W0 (the Midwest). I operated FT8 and could barely keep up with everyone calling me. I believe I could've made more contacts but I was running blind. No cellphone, no internet, no vhf-chat Slack channel, no APRS, no assistance of any sort. No coordination with anyone. All I could do was hope that people would spot me on the usual places to help get myself more attention.

Best DX was 1,907 miles to Mexico DL80 and 1,782 miles to Mississippi EM50. I heard CO8LY in Cuba FL20 but he didn’t seem to hear my kilowatt and 5-elements beaming back at him. Monday was a good day. :-) At 2140z, the band went dead (except for Lance's big station in the next grid over) so I packed up and made the slow scenic drive to Lewiston-Clarkston.

In Lewiston, I gratefully returned to my usual motel chain: Comfort Inn. I got the last room, a large ADA-compliant room, at a regular price. It was luxurious with oversized jacuzzi tub, two TVs, coffee maker and everything we enjoy in fully-equipped motels. Nice.

July 23 2019

Ritzville DN07

DN07 is a rare grid that is in great demand. I arranged to allocate Tuesday toward activating DN07.

Between Moses Lake and Ritzville, WA, are wheat fields and mildly rolling hills. Many years earlier in 2011, I had identified an attractive spot for VHF operation right along I-90 and very near a cellphone tower. When you see a cellphone tower, you know it's a local high point. Sometimes there is room enough around the base to operate without interference.

So, I ended up at the spot affectionately known as Exit 206 DN26qp.

Here, I was happy to finally have good cellphone and internet service again. But I was sad to discover there was no good band opening on 6-meters that day.

I worked stations all across the Pacific NW and even a few in California. I heard XE2CQ in Mexico DM12 but couldn't work him. I heard W0VTT in EN33 at 1286 miles but couldn't work him. I tried to work friends in our Edmonds-Woodway ARC; they heard me but I couldn't hear them (after all, I had about 16 dB advantage in transmitter effectiveness over them, given my kilowatt and 6m5).

Best DX was AI1K in DM34 at 950 miles. But the people at double-hop distance were out of luck. If I really want to hand out DN07, I guess I'll need to come back another day, possibly next year. Then again, my goal next year is to activate CM93 Santa Rosa Island, so maybe DN07 will have to wait even longer.

By 4 pm local time, I was out of drinking water and out of shade. I began packing up to drive back to Seattle, a five-hour process.

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