Friday, September 17, 2021

Iron Mountain Jubilee 2021

Each year my club's AUXCOMM group provides communications for an endurance horse ride that crosses three counties a covers a lot of challenging mountain terrain. Due to the pandemic most of our public service events were canceled last year, but luckily this year we were able to get out and practice our radio skills.  

In the area the ride takes place cellphone coverage is sparse. So if there were an emergency, the quickest way to inform staff and get help would be through the use of ham radio. We are able to access our local 2 meter repeater system and use that for this event. Most checkpoints we setup can work the repeater quite easily, while a couple outlying stations require better antenna systems and more power to work reliably. Just so happens I was stationed at one such checkpoint. 

Checkpoint setup from back of my truck.

When I pulled into the spot for my checkpoint first thing in the morning, I had no issues communicating with net-control from the 1/4 wave magnet mount on my roof using only about 25 watts. But as the day went on conditions kept changing. By the time the first rider came by, I couldn't even be heard using 50 watts. I decided to deploy a better antenna. I pulled my portable copper j-pole antenna about 20ft into a tree right next to my operating position. This worked for a while, but again as time went by my signal became weaker and weaker. I then repositioned the antenna into a tree in front of the truck and this time got it to about 30ft high. This seemed to do the trick and I was able to get a good signal into net-control using only 5 watts for the rest of the day. (The event actually lasts two days and I had the same checkpoint each day. So I was able to remember where my magical tree was and setup the same way each day.)

I knew there would be a lull in the middle of the day when no riders would be coming through, so I brought along my FT-891 and a 40 meter ham stick. I was able to work HF portable from the back of the truck using my 130WH Lithium-Ion battery pack and my Microsoft Surface tablet. I managed to send and receive Winlink messages throughout the middle of the day as well as have a couple JS8Call QSO's all using about 5 watts of power. 

Riders stopping by my checkpoint.

Our group records the numbers assigned to the riders as they pass through our checkpoints and report those back to net-control. That way event staff can keep track of where everyone is and ensure no one has gotten lost. In years past we've had riders get lost by taking the wrong trail and had to establish a search for them. We've also had horses and riders get injured on the trail where radio operators had to arrange assistance for them. Luckily though, this year we didn't have any issues. 

Hopefully nothing comes up and we will get the opportunity to help with this even again next year. It's great practice for deploying during emergencies and it gives a chance to test out equipment, but most of all it provides for a bit of fun outside of the shack! 


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