2020 ARRL January VHF

updated 2021-01-16

January in Alaska is . . . well . . . it’s cold.

It is also dark. The sun does not even rise until around 100 local time, so for the January event you are always setting up in the dark. None of this makes it easy to get set up and on-air, but it can be done.

It is important to understand that, in Alaska, you are never going to score very competitively in these events. Even as a rover you are always going to be limited by Alaska’s low population. Participation in VHF contests is also minimal, so you really have to work at it to get other operators on the air.

Doing these events is really about setting a new personal best, having a fun time with radio friends, and trying new gear on the air.

Toyota Tacoma with rover antennas for a VHF contest
Ah . . . another brisk January morning in Alaska.

Anyway, for this contest I had in mind another rover route. I would again be using the club call, KL7VHF, but I had a new plan this time. Trips up north to the Mat-Su Valley for BP41 and BP51 had turned out to be more trouble than they were worth. The drive was to long, the contacts were too few, and the locations were too low. I decided that it was time for a new approach. Instead of going north I would go south!

Clever, huh?

VHF rover antennas in frozen Alaska landscape
The antennas and coax handled the ice and snow perfectly

From experience I knew that the most productive hour of the contest was the first one. At 1000 I could contact a lot of operators who wouldn’t be around later in the day. With that in mind I made sure that I started at my best location: the corner of Alpweg and Meadow in the hills above Anchorage. Grid square: BP51

Toyota Tacoma VHF rover on teh roadside in snowy Alaska
At this time of year the sun is just barely beginning to rise at 1000.

Although I was using the same antennas and coax outside, my station inside the cab had evolved. My power supply was routed the same as before, with a tie in to the car battery feeding a power pole distribution block, and that feeding the radio and inverter. I had taken the power pole distribution block and inverter and mounted them in a simple aluminum and stainless steel structure to keep everything together.

The radios had also been relocated into a similar structure. Aluminum plates served as mounting points for all of the gear, and stainless steel all-thread held the structure together. With the structure being all metal everything was inherently grounded, preventing the possibility of static build-up.

I also switched over to logging via computer – something that I used to do back in California but had stopped doing when I moved to Alaska. With rig control enabled this made it much faster and simpler to submit logs at the end of the event – no more manually copying log data into the computer after the fact.

Ham radio go-kit on the seat of a pickup truck
This was my first time going afield with the new integrated station.

My next grid was BP41, a grid which had given me issues with marginal operating locations. For this time around I found a good site near Point Woronzof. The location is an odd on, at the side of the road and the end of a runway, just outside the fence for Ted Stevens International Airport.

The location worked great.Clear views all around allowed for each RF paths to the Kenai Peninsula, the Mat-Su Valley, and Anchorage, of course.

VHF rover KL7BSC on a frozen road
Roadside operating location near Point Woronzof

Another grid which is usually challenging to activate was BP50. That grid has plenty of road-accessible areas, but the problem is that almost none of them have a clear RF path to Anchorage, where most of the stations are. (Trying to be in a position where you can contact Anchorage is the name of the game for roving up here.)

The solution for BP50 turned out to be a turnout on the Seward Highway, just outside of Indian. The turnout does not have line of sight to anything, but the diffraction around the hills works well enough that you can reach Anchorage as well as a few peninsula stations. Gain is a requirement though – you should not expect to make the contact on a marginal path like this without some directivity and gain to bring in weak signals.

KL7BSC Brandon Clark operating in VHF contest
For the last few grids I relocated everything to the back of the truck and operated from there . . . with a heater.

The last grid of the day was quite a distance away; BP40 was an hour-long drive through the snowy hills of the Chugach National Forest. By that time the sun was down (no photos) but the RF was still working. A roadside pullout on the Sterling Highway gives good views down into Soldotna and Kenai, but provides only marginal paths towards Anchorage. Still, the site worked and I was able to get a few more contacts in the log.

Another successful contest.