December '08 PBMME de VA3SIE/PM

by Martin Gillen, VA3SIE.

More Photos & Videos at the end of the article!

Wow!  That was a lot of fun!  I strapped my Elecraft KX1 to a clipboard with a couple of rubber bands, attached a cheat sheet of polar bears, a Rite in the Rain all weather journal and hit the trails.  My antenna was 32′ teflon coated silver plated #26 AWG wire wound helically around a 20′ fishing pole which I carried in my backpack.   I dragged 32′ wire along behind me as a counterpoise.

VA3SIE/PM on the trail

The temperature (w/o wind chill - there was a light wind) ranged from -8F to -2F, but it was bright and sunny for most of the day, I packed up when it clouded over and started snowing.  I started hiking at P3 on Corkstown road, trail head for the Stony Swamp NCC Greenbelt XC-Ski trail.   I had the antenna prepared and tuned up and I started down a nearby walking trail at 1730z listening around for polar bears.   I crossed a frozen stream but the opposite bank was steep and slippery and my notebook dumped into the snow.  The good news is that it is waterproof paper and I was using a pencil to write with so no problem there!

I started CQ'ing at 1800z on 40m around 7042kHz and shortly thereafter I received a call from Blackjack Bear Ken WA8REI PB#21 in Freeland, MI.   Not only I bagged a bear, but I bagged a calendar, Woo hoo!  I gotta nice QSL card for ya this month Ken.  Ken gave me a 599 report which I was pleased as punch with considering I was running a smidgen under 2W to my short vertical.  Ken's 5W from his Yaesu FT-897 was doing the business and I was happy to return the favour - RST 599 both ways!  Ken recorded my audio, that should be interesting to hear.  Signed with Ken half an hour later at 1830Z as I walked into some trees.  The PBMME was off to a good start!

Read more about the EPA QRP Club's Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Events here:
  What is a PBMME?

I turned around when the tree cover got a little too dense as the antenna tends to get stuck and around 1840Z I heard someone working Steve N0TU PB#32 in Colorado.  Boy signal strengths were down on 20m, Steve was barely above ESP levels.  I dialled down the crystal filter, and jammed the RF and AF gains against their end-stops, forced my earbuds a few more millimeters into my ear canals and walked the counterpoise out in the direction of Mt. Herman.  I couldn't hear the other station but when I judged the QSO over, I sent my callsign twice and I think Ken did too because Steve came back with (I think!) WA8REI ES VA3SIE/PM DE N0TU K … didn't know whose turn it was so I waited but then Steve called me directly.  At 1855Z on 14061kHz Steve gave me RST 349 and I gave Steve RST 339.  We exchanged polar bear numbers and I passed along my hope that R&P were behaving themselves!  Kept it short given the poor path.   Turns out, Polar Goat #2 (Peanut) had taken a hard knock on the ice shelf and Steve was back in his den.  Get well soon Peanut!!, we'll be listenin' for ya in January!

I tuned around some more and made a few CQ calls but polar bears were scarce around 1900Z so I opened a Clif bar and snacked on the way back to the trail head to meet up with Mrs. Ditti.  I caught a strong CQ from Don KI8EK/QRP, and I gave him a call on 7033kHz at 1910Z.  Don was kind enough to rein in his keyer speed back to 13wpm for me and he gave me RST 579 from Ohio.  We chatted for 20 minutes as I made my way back to the trail head, taking more care crossing the frozen stream.  Dons IC703 and 5W were doing a very good job I gave him RST 599 plus.  I signed with Don at 1935Z.

As I approached the trail head watching Mrs. Ditti pulling into the parking lot and dreaming about the flask of hot chocolate she had the foresight to pack, and tuning around 40m I stumbled on Mark NK8Q PB#4 out on the ice shelf talking to Ron WB3AAL PB#1 two of the founding bears.   Ron wisely chose to operate from his home QTH in Reading, PA when he discovered the roads lined with empty hunter's trucks at his chosen trail position.  It aint called the full hunters moon for nuthin' !  Both Ron and Mark had very strong signals.

Mrs. Ditti walked up the trail a short ways to meet me and shortly thereafter at the close of their QSO around 1945Z, I popped my callsign in a couple of times as I didn't know whose frequency it was.  I thought I heard code in my QSK gaps but when I finished there was no station there.  After a few moments of silence I heard Mark ask QRZ DE NK8Q, so I jumped in with a DE VA3SIE/PM and bagged my 3rd bear of the event.  Mark was located about 1¼ miles east of the point where the Appalachian Trail crosses route PA-309, about 15 miles north of Allentown, PA.  Mark gave me an RST 559 but during the first over his signal faded out from RST 579 at the beginning to RST 339 and almost at the same time, another station called QRL? only a few Hz off frequency.  Guess he didn't get my QRL QRL QRL because he jumped right into a CQ.  The contact with Mark was toast at that point, hope we have better luck in January Mark!  I sent a few GRRRs and 72s just in case Mark could still copy me.

VA3SIE/PM on the trail

After warming my belly with cocoa camino I walked alongside the XC-Ski trail tuning around to see if either Ron or Mark would come back but the clouds thickened, the snow flurries started and the deepening chill started to affect my KX1 and it started misbehaving.  I started back to the trail head to tear down but on the way I scanned 20m and heard 'CQ PB de KE7LKW' It was Stewart KE7LKW PB#98.   I last QSO with Stewart in the February PBMME.  Propagation was tough we exchanged RST 339 and RST 469 in QSB on 14061kHz.  We had a short QSO from 2000z to 2015z as I walked back to the trail head and disassembled the station.

Many thanks to all the bears who made this a fun PBMME, see you all in January.

Date Time Freq Call Exchange
13 Dec 1800 7042 WA8REI Ken PB#21 RST 599(rx) 599 (tx)
13 Dec 1855 14061 N0TU Steve PB#32 RST 349(rx) 339 (tx)
13 Dec 1910 7033 KI8EK Don RST 579(rx) 599 (tx)
13 Dec 1945 7031 NK8Q Mark PB#4 RST 559 (rx) 579 (tx)
13 Dec 2000 14061 KE7LKW Stewart PB#98 RST 339 (rx) 469 (tx)

GRRRR de Ditti Bear #20.


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