Rover Location Database

CN93 Grid Expedition
Glass Butte, Oregon
Feb 11-14, 2022

The Plan

This trip was designed around helping Jim AA0MZ "Mike Zulu" finish his last grid for FFMA. This is in the off-season time when skip is not expected, but we could be lucky. Plus, he seems to be within range of meteor scatter.

A week before my trip, Matt KC7OOY went to CN93 for scouting and operating. He found some new nifty operating locations, encountered 20F weather, got kicked out of one park as an unmarked "closed for the winter" place, climbed up hilltops, but was ultimately unsuccessful reaching Jim on 6 meters.

Matt did all the hard work of scouting the area. I hoped to increase my chances by improving on his expedition. I intended to get as much altitude as possible, park as close as possible to the SE grid corner, bring as much transmit power as possible, and stay as long as possible.

My plan was to drive up Glass Butte to CN93xn14ph, probably a difficult wintertime 4x4 scramble, bring a kilowatt and 6m5, and stay on the air until the generators or my time runs out.

Preparation

This is my first full-on remote mountainous grid expedition in my new rover vehicle in May 2021. All my other trips leading up to this have been shake-down missions of various sorts. The preparation for this trip was extensive.

Prepare for Snow

I knew in advance the terrain and weather will be challenging. I bought tire chains (4 ea.) and a big box of kitty litter for traction (and eventually for our kitties).

Prepare Tires

I practiced changing a tire. I was imagining the butte, made of obsidian outcropping, was going to be a mountain made of shattered glass. Thankfully it isn't so, but I wanted to be prepared.

This van is so heavy that its factory jack is a hydraulic two-stage lift. It's so tall that it can't reach the built-in lift points without another stand. I brought this cinder block to Oregon and back, just in case I needed it. It turns out these oversize BFG KO2 tires are really heavy. Actually, heavier than I can easily manage. It came off okay and then it's a bitch to hang back on again. It takes four strong arms to pick it up, hold it in place and start threading the lug nuts.

Practice changing a tire for CN93

Worse, the spare tire hangs under the back end. It takes about six arms to hang it back up again. To return it into position, it must be simultaneously pushed up a slope and lifted into place. I couldn't do it. A neighbor passing by helped me.

Practice changing a tire for CN93

Prepare Starter Battery

I was concerned about running down the starter battery using my Espar heater and interior lights and slider door motor, so I installed a cheap battery monitor on the wall next to the thermostat and fan control. In theory, it will sound an alarm at low voltage.

Practice changing a tire for CN93

Prepare Amplifier

It's been about two years since I've used my Icom PW-1 solid state amplifier, so I hooked it up in the indoor shack for checkout. At first it only produced 35w from 100w drive. And it had failed to produce any power on my last rove around the Olympic Peninsula. Hm, not good. The PW-1 documentation is riddled with errors and vague procedures, followed by lots of addendums and corrections, followed by vocal internet users who suggest entirely different adjustment procedures. And all of these continually warn to not screw it up or you blow the output transistors.

When I connected my LP-100, it puzzling to only measure 1w output to the dummy load. You know how the most essential piece of shack equipment is a highly reliable SWR / power meter? In my shack, I have an expensive LP-100 Digital Vector RF Wattmeter and it plays that role. Except when I screw it up and reverse the input/output coax. Sigh. Anyway. Adjustment was slow going. Finally on Tuesday 2/8 the amp was putting out 500w on FT8 and I made some 10-meter test contacts to New York and Mexico.

Load Car

Once everything is loaded, it's like living in a shoebox. There is just enough room to sit at the desk and operate the radio or eat, or sleep on the bed. Only after unloading the generators will there be a path all the way to the back to turn the antenna.

Practice changing a tire for CN93

Actual Route

My route to Oregon went from Seattle, over Snoqualmie Pass, south from Ellensburg through Yakima and Goldendale. I really like this scenic route much better than the slightly faster trip through Portland. Then south on Hwy 97 through Shaniko and Madras to Prineville.

The return route went more directly through Portland and then north on I-5. It was snowing heavily on the pass along Mt Hood and that portion was very slow. This map is the recorded track by Griduino, as shown by Google Earth.

Actual route from Seattle to Glass Butte and back

Bad Diesel

I was very low on fuel when I reached Madras and I stopped at the first Chevron station. Chevron has high-quality products, right? The attendant helpfully told me the pump was "B20" which is 20% something, much higher than B5 (5% something). My modern MB diesel engine requires B5 or lower, also known as ULSD (ultra low sulphur diesel).

This began my desperate search for good fuel.

I visited four more stations in Madras, each of which had pumps labeled simply "Diesel #2". Since 2010, all diesel at pumps is required to be "Low Sulphur" but not "Ultra Low Sulphur". My van requires "Ultra Low Sulphur" and carries nasty stickers alongside its fuel port which warns about severe damage to its emissions control system if you don't get it right. I passed up these stations - I'm not taking chances.

Federal regulations require ULSD diesel pumps to be clearly labeled as such. These pumps were not. Google Maps was useless for searching for variations on ULSD. If you include "diesel" in the search words, then you get gobs of paid placements for all gas stations that have diesel. I never did find a way to narrow the search.

I took a chance and drove 30 miles to Prineville - it could've been disaster if I ran out of fuel. After checking four gas stations in Prineville while running on fumes, I finally found Sinclair had clearly labeled their pump and the attendant was the first guy who knew about ULSD and exactly what they sold and why. This Sinclair station eventually got over $125 in fuel sales from me this weekend because they offered the correct grade from a correctly labeled pump. Whew.

This van gets as much attention as an alien lander in eastern Oregon. It's a hit. Gas station attendants were agog at looking inside the van that I consider a 'minimalist camper' van.

Bad RV Park

I can camp in RV parks with this van, right? So, I did. Big mistake. I checked in to Crook County RV Park in Prineville at 9:30pm. It was expensive: $50. The bathroom was locked, the camp host was dark, I didn't get the pass code, it was 18* and I didn't have an electric heater. So basically, it was a very expensive parking spot and I received zero benefits. Seems like RV parks aren't nearly as customer-service oriented as motels.

Crook County RV Park entrance

Drive to Glass Butte

At 5 am in the morning I left the RV park and bought an electric heater at Walmart in Redmond. Good move.

It was an extra out-n-back to Redmond, OR. I should have refueled again in Prineville to have the maximum possible full tank before the wilderness. This would come back to bite me later.

Mask report: Eastern Oregon is very lackadaisical about face mask filters. Few people wear them. Few of those wear them properly, and none of them have good N95 masks.

From Redmond, I drove west on Hwy 20 to the Glass Butte turn-off. The café at Hampton appears closed and abandoned. There are many miles of open road like this in eastern Oregon.

Miles of open road in eastern Oregon

From a distance on the valley floor along Hwy 20, here's a look at Glass Butte. There are some radio towers on the peak.

Glass Butte and its radio towers from a distance

The best turn-off to Glass Butte is "C Line Road" at 43.5866, -120.0210.

Turn-off from Hwy 20 onto Glass Butte C-Line Road   Turn-off from Hwy 20 onto Glass Butte C-Line Road

From here, it was an easy 10-mile drive up in 45 minutes. AWD is recommended. High-clearance vehicle not needed unless you go rock crawling (like I did). I was lucky to have good weather, light winds, 40-50 degree temperature, and that most of the snow melted off. A week earlier, Matt KC7OOY was turned back by snow drifts in low spots. Fortunately, that had cleared itself by the time of my trip.

Leftover snow drifts on Glass Butte C-Line Road

The valley had more leftover snow than higher up. The road was generally clear.

Road condition near top of Glass Butte C-Line Road

At the top, the only remaining snow was on north-facing slopes.

Road condition near top of Glass Butte C-Line Road

Final 30 Feet

My last 30' was difficult. It required 4x4 traction and high clearance to reach the off-road arm just below the top radio towers. This little area is blocked by rocks that had been bulldozed off the gravel road. I wanted to be out on the shoulder to the left of this picture which gives me a good drop-off in all directions and a bit more distance from the radio towers.

At the top of Glass Butte, turn-off to the final 30 feet

My method was to place orange cones to mark my exact path, which are easily seen in the van's "birds eye camera" view.

Marking a path through rocks using orange cones

To execute the plan, working alone, I drive forward six inches, get out, examine all wheels and the undercarriage and the path, move some rocks to reduce lumps and fill in voids, get back in, repeat. It took an hour to move 30'. Finally, I turned the van around among the rocks to put the trailer-hitch-plus-antenna nearest the drop-off.

Crawling over rocks on Glass Butte, Oregon

Having the antenna in the best spot also offered this great view out the back doors.

View from my bedroom on Glass Butte, Oregon

After getting the van ideally situated, I set up the antenna and generators.

Setting up 6m5 antenna on Glass Butte, Oregon

Setting up generator and 6m5 antenna on Glass Butte, Oregon

Expansive view from Glass Butte, Oregon

I had excellent LTE cellphone data service.

K7BWH ready for 6-meter radio on Glass Butte, Oregon

The desert sunsets are phenomenal, especially at altitudes like this.

K7BWH ready for 6-meter radio on Glass Butte, Oregon

Things I Learned on Glass Butte

The Honda EU2000i generator ran on 20# propane tank ran for 36 hours continuously. I had two Honda EU2000i generators, one gas and one that I converted for dual-fuel gas-propane using a Hutch Mountain kit. A step-up transformer converts 120 to 240 vac for the amplifier. Two power cords run to the van, one for 120 and one for 240 vac.

Two generators on Glass Butte, Oregon

My porch light (top of mast) generates noise on 6m.

LED porch light at top of mast on Glass Butte, Oregon

Francis KV5W performed an HFTA (high freq terrain analysis) on my location. The dark blue line is for my 6m5 on a 19-foot mast at this exact spot. The light blue line is what to expect from my same setup on flat land. The analysis shows a great deal of gain at low take-off angles, 1-5 degrees, due to the steep terrain. This will improve my signal on MSK144 at greater distances. Exactly what we want.

HFTA analysis of 6m5 at 19 feet on Glass Butte, Oregon

Results

I worked from CN93xn to: Greg WQ0P, Ed N5JEH, Raymond KJ7OG, Jim KC1BB, Paul NO0T, Jack W0XR, Jack W7JLC, Richard K7TNT, Vlad W6BVB, Harry W0BL, Ron W6RN, Robert N5KO, Dave VE7HR, Mike K7PI

I heard but did not work: VE7AFZ, W3XS, N0TB via EME, XE2OR, KE7NR, K7KQA, W7MEM

My horizon toward Seattle was mostly blocked by hillside but I did work K7PI on Mercer Island (one of the prestigious Griduino owners).

I like to drive. Which is a good thing. It's 8 hours from Seattle to Glass Butte.

  • Total trip time 3-1/2 days
  • Total on-the-air time: 22 hours
  • All contacts MSK144, 1 attempted EME
  • Total 14 contacts
  • In the 6m off-season (no skip), we can work half the country via meteor scatter. Contacts are slow but entirely do-able.
  • Burned 50 gallons of diesel and averaged 3.6 gal/QSO
  • Farthest QSO was 1,270 miles from CN93xn to WQ0P in EM19wf, Kansas
  • For my first time ever, I tried EME and my signal was heard off the moon.

Problems

No major problems, other than failing to work Jim AA0MZ, which was the main purpose of the trip. A few minor glitches: Forgetting my electric room heater and sleeping cold one night in 18F in the chilly valley floor of Prineville. While rock crawling in the ungainly Sprinter van I scratched up my new side steps. I need to learn how to recognize obsidian in its natural state. On the way home from Glass Butte, I wanted to go off-road again and scout Green Mountain; however I didn't have enough fuel.

Thanks to everyone that found me on the air or kept me company on the Slack VHF-Chat channel. It sure helps to know people are out there.

Barry K7BWH

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