Field Day on Blackwall Peak
This year, Brett (VE7GM) and Eric (VA7NX) wanted to try something different for Field Day. Rather than just join a club activity or set up in one’s yard, plans were made to travel to a mountain summit and try a QRP operation from the high altitude. We needed a summit that met a long list of requirements and found that Blackwall Peak in Manning Park fit the bill very nicely. So plans were made to operate from the area near the old BC Telephone microwave repeater station.
The nice thing about this location is that there is road access to the repeater site though the last 350m was closed to vehicles. The elevation was 2000m with a broad area to set up on. The Manning Park resort was at the base of the mountain which gave us a restful spot to spend the evenings. Brett went up to the location the week before Field Day to get a feel for the site and scout out a number of possible spots. He found the location very enjoyable and left looking forward to his return the following week-end.
On Friday morning June 26, we set out for the park. Our first goal was to re-scout the summit area and decide on the location for our operation. Once at the resort we were able to check-in early and then eat lunch in the café. Done with lunch we started up the road to the summit. Upon reaching the summit parking area we walked over the sites Brett had found the previous week and after some discussion settled on the area next to the old repeater facility. It had a wide road area we could setup on which not only gave us a good operating location but also allowed us to stay off the very pretty wild flowers that were in bloom. Having selected our site we returned to the car and then set up Brett’s new portable 2m yagi. We walked to a shaded picnic table just below the car and attempted to contact various repeaters in the region. We were unable to reach anything in the Fraser Valley so that was not good news for our planned 2m work during the contest. We did reach a Merritt repeater and the Apex Mountain system where we had a chat with a chap in Vernon. After trying a number of other ideas we packed up and returned to our cabin.
We only had a short time to rest before we had to set up the Buddipole so that Brett could copy the ARRL bulletin which gives extra points for the contest. We had a few challenges during reception including a momentary radio shutdown but between CW and PSK31 we had a complete bulletin in our log. Done with the bulletin we packed up the gear and signed off for the night.
We left for the summit around 7:30AM and arrived a bit before 8 which would give us lots of time to get ready. We parked close to the gate and started carrying items to the operating position. In total we made 3 trips; it was a lot heavier and harder to do then we had expected. Once everything was carted to the location we were able to start setting up the Buddipole. The assembly went quickly but then we had issues with tuning it. We were using both Eric’s new tiny VNA and Brett’s Comet analyzers. The VNA gave nice charts but we were just learning how to use it. Fortunately the results of the two generally agreed. We fiddled with the coils and length of elements far longer than planned and now we were actually running late as we still had to set up the end-fed half-wave antenna. We had selected the location with two clumps of trees set the right distance apart and facing the correct orientation for the wire. It took a number of tries to get the rope into the tree but soon it was in place and the wire suspended.
We quickly set up the KX3 and were on the air only a few minutes late. Brett began with some 20m phone and managed to break in and make a few contacts. We were really struggling to be heard with our whole 5 watts of power. We could hear a lot of stations but they could not hear us. After trying for a couple of hours Brett switched to CW with keying and logging help from his K1EL keyer and notebook. CW proved much better at being heard and we soon were making regular contacts. We began our day with the Buddipole but after we switched to the wire antenna we stayed on it for the rest of the contest. Though the wire only handled 20m and 40m it just seemed to be doing better than the pole. Over the next number of hours Eric did a number of sessions on phone but struggled with the pile-ups and was only able to make a few contacts. We had originally planned to operate until around 9pm but around 7 the notebook (which Brett was using for CW) decided to error out on us and didn’t want to boot. So we decided to pack it in a bit early as we were now both quite tired and we still had to pack out the equipment. At this point club member Jim (VE7BCJ) called us on 2m simplex saying he was at the resort and needed directions. We packed up a few items as we waited for him to arrive. It was a shame that the computer had shut us down early as he arrived only to help us carry stuff back to the car. We did take some time to enjoy the scenery and look over the technology of the old repeater.
Once back in the cabin we ate a quiet dinner and got to bed early as we wanted to get an early start in the morning. Sleep was a bit restless thanks to the heat as the cabin was not air conditioned and had gotten quite warm during the day. But we did get some rest. The next morning Eric was up second at 5:40AM! We had breakfast and got loaded up and soon we were packing our scaled back equipment list to the operating site. This time we packed in only a single load and left behind items which were not essential. We were on-site by 7 and operating around 7:30. The notebook having had its opportunity to express its displeasure yesterday, booted up fine today and seemed in good order but once bitten we decided to leave it in the car and finish logging with the trusty iPad for the rest of the contest. Our new challenge for today was to keep in the shade, we had left the tent behind in order to drop weight and now we had to keep moving to stay in the shade of the trees.
Soon 11am arrived and the event was over. We were actually quite happy to stop as the temperature had risen again and we were already quite tired out. But we still had to pack things up and carry them to the car! The trip back though downhill still seemed to drag on and take a great deal of energy and will-power to complete. Getting some air-conditioning blowing in the car was a welcome relief to the heat of the day. The drive down to the resort went smoothly though we encountered a good number of cars heading up as we descended. We quickly packed up our stuff left in the cabin and checked out then stopped in the café for lunch before heading home.
It was a fun event and we enjoyed the time there, both doing the contest and just enjoying the area. It was exhausting but we learned a number of things about how much and what to pack and next time we will likely be able to do things a bit easier. In the end we made around 60 contacts mostly CW. The phone contacts were very hard to achieve and took time that could have more effectively have been spent on CW.