Just got back Saturday afternoon from QRP Afield 2008. Steve NØTU and I, along with Steve’s pack goats Rooster and Peanut, hoofed it up Mt. Herman (just west of Monument, CO) on Friday afternoon in time to make camp right behind an east-facing rock cliff on the southern end of the Mt. Herman ridgeline. What a spectacular place to spend the evening!
Our campsite probably wouldn’t have allowed for more than two small tents, but Steve and I were both using hammocks on this trip. The abundance of trees made it easy to find a place to hang our beds, and soon we were enjoying a couple of cold ones (carried by the goats, of course) and building a fire in the fire ring (more like a fireplace) built by previous users of the site. The fire was great–I rarely have a fire when I’m backpacking–but even better was to take our refreshments and camp chairs out onto the cliff and marvel at the blood-red moon rising on the eastern horizon. From our vantage point we could see the lights of Denver to the north and all of Colorado Springs to the south. Moderate temperatures and just a light breeze contributed to a wonderfully enjoyable evening! Finally we retired to our hammocks, noticing that our campfire had burned itself out much earlier.
One of the fun things about camping trips like this one is the chance to try out some new gear or new techniques. On this trip, I slept in a hammock for the first time. I have to say that I slept pretty comfortably, although I woke up a few times during the night (not unusual for me). Mine is the SingleNest Hammock from Eagles Nest Outfitters. My wife bought it for me when she saw it on sale (almost half off!) at an Eddie Bauer store. It’s not one of the fancy backpacking hammocks (like the Jungle Hammock from MosquitoHammock.com, or the North American Hammock from JungleHammock.com that Steve was using on this trip), but I didn’t need protection from bugs or bad weather. Besides, I used the Diamond Rain Fly from MosquitoHammock.com to protect me from raindrops if we saw any.
Sleeping on the ground or on a thin sleeping pad can be pretty uncomfortable–at least it’s always been that way for me. I always found myself tossing and turning at night when I slept on my lightweight Thermarest pad no matter my sleeping position. Things improved some with my new Big Agnes insulated air-core sleeping pad and my ultralight inflatable pillow from BackpackingLight.com. But sleeping in the hammock was a definite step up from sleeping on the ground. It’s important to have an insulating layer between you and the hammock, because sleeping on your sleeping bag compresses the insulation underneath you and removes its insulating properties. I simply threw my Big Agnes pad in the hammock and slept in my sleeping bag on top of that, and I was fine. Rocking back and forth was not an issue, and I never once felt like I would tip over and fall out.
I was awake before the sun on Saturday morning, but that’s not unusual for me. I was looking forward to watching the sunrise from the cliff, anyway, and we had time to make coffee and breakfast before a blood-red sun peeked over the horizon. While we enjoyed the sunrise and our breakfasts, Rooster and Peanut climbed among the rocks on the cliff, happily grazing in places I wouldn’t go without a safety line. the goats seemed truly oblivious to the danger of falling and certain death. I guess that’s how goats are.
Once breakfast was finished it was time to get down to business–er, pleasure. I brought a newly-constructed antenna with me for this day–a jumper dipole for 15, 20, 30, and 40 meters (matching my K1, of course). Simply put, this antenna was cut for 15 meters but had extensions to make it resonant on 20, 30, and 40 meters, and some surplus press-fit connectors are used to connect (or disconnect) each segment. The whole works was fed with about fifty feet of RG-174 (not optimal, I know, but it’s lightweight and compact). I used a BNC connector to connect the feedline at the feedpoint of the antenna so that the feedline could be carried separate from the rest of the antenna, and so I could easily change to a different feedline. The downside of this antenna is that it needs to be lowered to change bands, of course.
Once I managed to get the antenna up in the air about 25 feet in an inverted vee, I was ready to get on the air. I brought my Electraft K1 which was newly-modified with the internal battery option and a homebrew tilt stand. I was using eight Energizer Lithium AA batteries in the K1, which would provide plenty of juice for the entire day (and probably an entire weekend). This would be the first field test for the homebrew tilt stand.
Steve and I both found great perches on the cliff for the day’s operations. Here’s mine:
You can kinda see my homebrew logging clipboard there. I made it from a 6″ x 9″ piece of 22-gauge steel and used hobby button magnets to hold the paper to the board. My paddle also has a magnetic base so it stuck nicely to the board and I could infinitely adjust its position for optimal operating ergonomics.
Over the course of the day, Steve and I took turns on 20 meters, and I also spent a little time on 40 meters. I ended up with a dozen or so contacts, both from QRP Afield and from the Colorado QSO Party going on at the same time. I called CQ quite a bit but got only a few takers. I spent some time calling CQ on 15 meters, too, but heard absolutely nothing on that band. I think that either Steve or I could have doubled the number of contacts we made if we weren’t taking turns on the bands, though. For some reason, though, when I’m outside on a beautiful day like this one was, I just don’t care that much about how many contacts I make.
The modified K1 worked well. I had no trouble with the batteries, and the homebrew tilt stand proved to be very stable (maybe a little wiggly, but it never threatened to tip over). The new jumper dipole worked well, too–the K1’s internal tuner matched the antenna to the transceiver with a better than 1.3:1 SWR on every band, and did so very quickly (as it should, since the antenna was basically cut for resonance). Even the clipboard worked well. I wasn’t sure about the weight (almost a half pound), but I think that was actually an advantage in the breezy environment.
Overall, it was a highly-successful outing. All of my new equipment (hammock, headlamp, K1 mods, clipboard, and antenna) seemed to work famously, and the views were spectacular. The weather was great, the temperatures moderate, and it was good to get out with Steve and the goats for a little while.
Be sure to check out Steve’s video of the weekend’s festivities on YouTube.