Big Lake South State Rec. Site K-7209

Activated: 2022-01-01

Field power is the bane of portable operators. Whether it’s Summits on the Air, Islands on the Air, Parks on the Air, or any other “on the air” activity, you can’t make contacts if you can’t power your devices . . . all of your devices.

As part of a long POTA weekend I set out to activate two new parks, the first of which was Big Lake South State Recreation Site. This location is a combination of picnic area and a boat launch. In the winter the lake becomes a network of ice roads, and the boat launch is the gate you drive on to access the road.

View of Big Lake, Alaska, in winter
I originally set up out there on the lake, but the wind was about to snap my antenna so I retreated to the parking lot where trees held the wind at bay.

Since activating in Alaska on a frozen lake wasn’t challenge enough, I decided to go out even though there was a major wind storm in progress. Unfortunately, the wind on the lake was on the verge of snapping my MFJ telescoping vertical antenna.

After an hour or so of fussing with the setup (in the dark) I decided that the weather had won, and relocated back to the boat launch parking lot where the trees provided some cover.

Early morning in Alaska
I arrived way too early to this site. It was dark, windy, cold, and the bands were stone dead.

My station capabilities had been improving steadily. My primary gear consisted of:

  • MFJ telescoping vertical antenna, with ground wires for the 20 meter and 40 meter bands.
  • Yaesu 891 radio for HF
  • Microsoft Surface laptop set up for digital operating
  • LDG autotuner
View fo the operating station
View of the operating station, with Sledge napping in the background

Since this location is basically “in town” (for Alaska anyway) I also brought along some VHF-UHF gear:

  • Homemade 2 meter band copper pipe J-pole antenna
  • Custom insulating mount for the antenna – connects to the truck roof rack
  • Yaesu 817 HF-VHF-UHF QRP radio
View fo the truck with the MFJ antenna mounted on the camper shell
On this trip I finally started working VHF and UHF contacts, in addition to HF.

The addition of VHF-UHF gear would allow for more contact options, since I could theoretically get multiple contact from a single operator using:

  • HF Voice
  • HF digital
  • 2 meter voice
  • 70 cm voice

In practice it is rare to work a single operator on this many combinations of RF band and mode, but having the options does help. On this activation it turned out to be a lifesaver.

Brandon Clark, KL7BSC
Staying warm and making contacts.

This activation was an important lesson is looking for the weak link in my field systems, and in not being too over-eager when activating in marginal band conditions. In the Alaskan winter the bands don’t even open until around ten o’clock.

Ham radio station set up in the back of the truck
It doesn’t look like much, but when it’s 5 degrees outside and blowing at 30 mph this is heaven!

My first mistake was in setting up around eight, and burning battery power calling endlessly to stations who couldn’t hear me. (The bands finally opened around ten.) My second mistake was not having a way to charge the laptop.

By the time the 20 meter band opened up I was alread on my second battery pack, and draining that fast. The laptop battery was also getting low, with no way to recharge it. The saving grace for this activation was the VHF-UHF gear. A few of the local Matanuska Amateur Radio Association operators had heeded my calls for contacts, and handed me a few voice QSOs to finish things off before the laptop died and ended my digital operating.

Surface laptop showing that the battery is dead
Eventually I ran the battery down to nothing. After this I came up with a way to recharge the laptop in the field.

As luck would have it the activation was a success: 11 data contacts, 3 phone contacts, and a very useful lesson learned about not just having power, but being able to deliver power to ANY device that needs it.

Updated 2022-11-28