Hi, I’m Cole, WØCOL. I’m 14 years old and a Life Scout in Colorado Troop 6 Boy Scouts of America. This summer Troop 6 attended a week-long summer camp at San Isabel Scout Ranch in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado. Our troop radio club, KBØSA, has 17 FCC licensed scouts and just as many licensed adult leaders. We conducted portable station operations during camp this year that were really cool and added a lot to our camp! The atmospheric conditions were terrific for most of the week, with Sporadic E propagation on the 6-meter band for several days!
We set up our ham shack near our camping area at the top of a hill at an altitude of about 9,200 feet. We had a terrific location looking to the east down the side of the mountain, and that really aided our signal propagation to the east – the lower take-off angles promoted by the downslope of the mountain meant longer propagation in that direction on the skywave skips. Our shack was a large canvas tent with our coaxial feedlines escaping to our antennas from various zipper holes in the side of the tent. Our antennas included a 6-meter home-brewed dipole constructed by one of our adult leaders, and two different end fed (end connected) wire antennas, one for the 10-meter band and one for the 20-meter band. Inside the shack we placed tables to support our transceiver, battery power supplies, antenna coax selector switch, a speaker, a netbook computer with sound card interface, and other various equipment used throughout the week.
While we scouts were getting our merit badge schedules lined up on the first day, some of our adult leaders put up the antennas. It was really cool how they did it! They attached a fishing line to a golf ball by screwing an eye bolt into the ball. Then they shot the golf ball high up into the trees using a slingshot, trailing the fishing line with it right out of a fishing reel! (Check out the video – it’s worked awesomely!) Once the fishing line was over the tree limb they removed the golf ball and attached a long nylon cord to the fishing line. By reeling in the fishing line the strong nylon cord was pulled up into the tree so that it could be used to haul the wire antenna up high into a sloper configuration. The coaxial cable was connected to the low end of the wire antenna and… voila! We had a nice sloped HF antenna pulled up to about one-half wavelength above the ground for optimal propagation! And did it work well!
We made a ton of contacts in the second half of the week! The early part of the week saw a solar flare that disrupted the ionosphere for a couple of days, so the bands were dead. But on the third day of camp the bands started coming back to life! Initially conditions were still noisy, especially on 20-meter band, but later on the third day both 10 meters and 6 meters opened up wide and we made lots of contacts, especially out to the east! I had the most fun with the VHF 6-meter band. It was very strange with the Sporadic E conditions that lasted most of the week, with spurts of propagation opening up to various places over hundreds or thousands of miles! The patches of E-layer ionosphere would come and go randomly, letting us make quick contacts to who-knows-where over those great distances with VHF Technician frequencies! There was a lot of QSB with the Sporadic E, or signal fading, so the contacts would have strong signals for a time and then become weak, sort of with a slow pulsing pattern until the Sporadic-E dissipated and ended our QSO with any particular station. The 10-meter band was quite strong and steady after day three, but only with relatively short bounces of a few hundred miles. Still, some of or scouts reached out on 10-meters and found some interesting new friends within the Technician frequencies of the 10-meter band! Check it out on our video.
One of our scouts even communicated with another scout troop using the PSK31 mode. PSK31 is a digital mode that uses a computer connected to the transceiver to send out and decode keyboard-to-keyboard text transmissions. It can be very effective in the noisy HF single sideband conditions, and it is very efficient, allowing contacts over great distances with just a little power. Jeremy KDØMWT used a Signalink ® sound card interface and a netbook computer on the 20-meter band to exchange camp merit badge stories with another troop on the air! That was very cool.
The big portable station was not the only radio operation we conducted at summer camp. We also used smaller handheld transceivers (HTs) all week to communicate with one another between merit badge activities and to coordinate ourselves. Even though the Scout Ranch was relatively small, the distances between activities was usually a long walk! The radios really saved us a lot of steps! Our adult leaders also used their HTs to keep track of all the scouts and to keep aware of situations that needed attention. We were also in range of local mountain repeaters, so we could use our HTs to talk to our folks back home, about 100 miles away. This was convenient because cell phone service was unreliable all week in the wilderness, and our families wanted to hear how things were going with us.
Our scouts learned a lot about radio operations, and we got a lot on-air time with the HTs and the multi-mode portable station. We had a lot of fun talking to each other and to new friends in distant locations on the air during the week.
You should try it! Your scout troop or youth organization can do the same thing we’ve done! It’s easy to get your FCC license and to get on the air, especially with HamRadioSchool.com. We had a great week of radio operations that made the camp a lot more interesting and lot more fun! Get your license and join us! Good luck, and 73!
~ Cole, WØCOL