Summer of 2023, my wife and I met up with some friends in Alaska to hang out and do some exploring. As trips to Alaska are far and few between, I wanted to activate a park for POTA. When doing research, I found little when it comes to traveling to Alaska for radio purposes.
With Alaska being so far away, I figured this was going to be more intense than a typical POTA activation. I knew that there were going to be issues with my current kit and how I use it in a more remote location. I also knew that I had to slim down my equipment to get it onto a plane. When doing my research, I couldn’t find many people who were listing their equipment when flying and talking about issues encountered.
Talking with a local
When looking for anyone on the internet who as done this, I found KL7EC who operates exclusively in Alaska. I reached out for any advice he could give me and received these key points.
- EFHWs are usable, but difficult. Use a vertical and get the feed point as high as possible. That low angle takeoff is important as any contact back to CONUS is like working DX.
- If you use anything directional, point it 90 degrees (or straight east). It usually cuts the lower 48 right in half and gives you a better chance of working the lower 48.
- Use the 20m and 10m bands if possible.
- Consider the time it will take to activate, I would allow for 4 hours.
In addition to our discussions over email, his videos gave me some good insight. One of my big takeaways was that QRP may not be ideal for someone traveling. While it is possible to work AK QRP, the reliability of doing this wouldn’t be the best idea.
Flight and Transport Restrictions
To get to Alaska, we decided to fly. There are FAA regulations regarding batteries and the maximum size as well as how many can be carried. To minimize any potential hassle from TSA, I decided to go with no more than 2 batteries. As funds were tight at the time, I made the decision it would be more beneficial to run with a single Bioenno BLF-1206A battery and a solar panel.
Logistics was another thing to consider. This traveling included carry on for a airplane and putting 5 people in a 7 seat crossover. As a result, making sure equipment was somewhat lightweight and portable became a priority. For this, I decided to pack my equipment in just a normal backpack.
Practicing Playing Radio
My last bit of preparation was practice. I’ve done plenty of POTA activation at this point and know how to run a radio. What i was focusing on is learning how to work out of a backpack and setup/tear down quickly.
For this, I forced myself to get out of the parking lots and move through trails. I didn’t need to go hiking far, but had to get my equipment in a bag and make it comfortable to at least transfer it properly. It turns out that I carried it in airports more than I carried it out in the parks.
The final gear list turned into the equipment shown here. All of this equipment was able to fit in a backpack that was used as carry on. I went with two antennas because my EFHW is something I know very well how to use and takes up little space in my bag. I decided to keep my power hungry FT-891 to take advantage of the 80 watts of power that I typically run it at.
- Yaesu FT-891
- Bioenno BLF-1206A battery
- Buddipole Powermini2
- Buddipole Buddistick PRO
- Bioenno BSP-40-LITE Solar Panel
While I didn’t plan to use the EFHW, I made sure to bring a good pair of gloves. I’ve learned the hard way that when that throw line starts slipping through your hands at high speed it starts to hurt.
I had a successful attempt at K-7201, Lowell Point State Recreation Site as we decided to camp at Miller’s Landing Campground. This turned into a fantastic spot with great views and was not far from the POTA location.
This activation took 51 minutes to complete and was without a doubt the most I’ve ever worked for getting an activation. Cell reception was good enough that I could spot myself, but band conditions were so bad and I was so far from the CONUS that I couldn’t go hunt anyone who was playing POTA.
While I didn’t “run out” of battery, my voltage level was at 11.66V, which could be estimated between 0% and 10% charge level. Weather played a huge part in my difficulties as it was overcast and raining. Due to the weather, my solar panel was rendered useless. This overcast weather went on for about 5 of our 7 days in Alaska for what the locals told me was a typical Alaskan Summer.
Towards the end of our trip we made our way up to Denali, which is K-0022. Both days we were in Denali, I made attempts to activate the state park with not even a single contact to log. It was later that I realized that the band conditions for 20m were so bad that no one could hear me. At 100 watts, I was able to reach out and be herd according to the POTA spotting page, but I couldn’t hear any responses coming back to me. I later learned it was due to a solar radiation storm that caused a blackout for HF radio. For these days there was plenty of sun to charge my batteries with which was nice. Denali doesn’t have great cell service and the location I had setup at had nothing at all.
Changes I Would Make
The kit that I had worked just fine but I’m thinking about making changes for the next time I go out.
2nd battery over solar
My solar panel was not able to provide me with any charge for 1/3rd of my attempts, and due to my size restrictions didn’t contribute much to keeping me on the air. From what I experienced, the solar panel extended my operations by 30 minutes. As a battery lasted me a hour, in my case it would of been more beneficial to pack a 2nd battery. I expect this change would of upped my runtime to about 2 hours.
This solar panel is also quite large. It is slightly bigger than my radio and is difficult to shove into the bag when packing up. If it had been replaced with another battery, The bag would not have been as cramped and improved my runtime. The battery was also cheaper than the solar panel at time of purchase.
Don’t get me wrong, I think solar is a great tool to have in the toolbox. With this particular deployment it wasn’t useful because the panels were so small. Keep in mind that Alaska in July has sun for about 19 hours a day on average. In July, the sunrise is on average at 4:55am and the sunset is at 11:14pm.
I’ve been a bit lazy when it comes to getting experience and setting up a reliable digital system for HF, and regretted it this trip. While I don’t know if it would of improved my chances its another tool in the toolbox. When spinning the dial, I herd plenty of activity down where FT4/FT8 lives and wished I could of talked to them. Remember that with POTA it can be a mixture of contacts to activate, you just need 10 in the UTC day.
With my Buddipole you can go between multiple bands, but I worked 20m exclusively. Later, I realized this is a mistake as more bands gives me more opportunity for contacts. While working on making contacts at home I should of set aside some time for practicing setting up my equipment to go to 10m, 15m, and 40m.
Solar Weather Charts
Solar weather and how it affects HF operation is something I’ve never understood properly. This wouldn’t of fixed anything other than calming me down on why I couldn’t hear anyone. Months later and even looking into the topic, I’m still weak in this area and need to improve my understanding.
For those making the flight up north…
Alaska is a beautiful state and is unlike anything in the lower 48. Everything in this state is difficult with how remote it is from everyone in the rest of the United States and Canada for that matter. Communications is no exception and I suspect that Alaska will be the hardest I’ve worked on communicating with others. Be patient and go in with a plan before boarding the plane.