Joyce/K0JJW and I enjoy visiting the National Parks in the US, an activity that naturally combines with Summits On The Air (SOTA) and Parks On The Air (POTA). While planning a visit to Isle Royale National Park in upper Michigan, we decided to activate at least one SOTA summit as well as activate the park for POTA. The park is one large island surrounded by many smaller ones, accessible by boat or airplane. The park is actually closer to Canada than the US mainland.
There is quite a bit of information about visiting the park on the Isle Royale National Park website, so I won’t repeat that here. We opted to take the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry from Copper Harbor, MI to and from the island and stay for three nights at Rock Harbor Lodge on the northeast end of the park.
The closest SOTA summit to Rock Harbor is Mount Ojibway (W8M/UP-059), which soon became the objective for our SOTA activation. This summit had been activated only once, by Scott/WA9STI in 2017. I contacted Scott, who was very helpful in sharing his experience on Ojibway. (There are three other SOTA summits in the park, with first activations by Mark/NK8Q.)
We had four friends join us on this trip, including the hike to Mount Ojibway. Two of them were licensed radio amateurs: Paul/KF9EY and Beth/KB9DOU with Paul joining us in doing the SOTA activation.
We normally do SOTA activations using VHF/UHF, so this raised the issue of whether that was possible given the remote nature of the island. I poked around on the interwebz and reached out to radio clubs on both the US and Canadian sides. Randy/VA3OJ in Thunder Bay and Bill/KD8JAM on the Keweenaw Peninsula were particularly helpful and they both confirmed they can work stations on Isle Royale from their locations using 2m FM. The distance is not that far, especially to the Canadian side, and it is a straight shot over water.
There were two things that I worried about on this activation: bugs and rain, neither of which were under our control. For bugs, we loaded up on a variety of insect repellents and head nets. However, once we arrived at the island, it was pretty clear the bugs were not bad at all, probably because we were late enough in the year (late August). For the rain, we made sure we had rain gear and synthetic clothes, with the attitude of expecting to get soaked and being able to survive it.
There was no internet on the island (the lodge says they have it but it was not working). Occasionally we would get 1 bar of Verizon LTE service at Rock Harbor but is was not reliable. This meant that we were very limited in sending any email updates out to people. I emailed our plans to interested parties and posted an Alert on SOTAwatch before we hopped on the ferry.
For equipment, we decided to take our Icom IC-705 and an external battery pack for 10 watts of RF on all bands of interest. Our priority was VHF but we also took along antennas for 40m through 10m. In addition, I configured an iPad for FT8 but we did not end up using that capability.
Mount Ojibway is about a 7-mile hike from the Rock Harbor Lodge, so we decided to have the water taxi drop us off at Daisy Farm Campground and hike in from there, which is about 2 miles one way. We also scheduled the water taxi to pick us up for the return trip. So this set us up for a 4-mile round trip hike with modest elevation gain.
On the morning of our activation, a thunderstorm rolled into Rock Harbor delivering a good dose of lightning to the area. I checked on the status of the water taxi and it was uncertain whether it would be running due to the storm. We sat tight and the weather cleared up enough such that we could go. Still, it was cloudy and the forecast included some rain in the afternoon. I told our group, “We are going to get wet today.”
Mount Ojibway at 1150 feet is part of the Greenstone Ridge that runs along the top of the island. It is also the location of an observation tower, now used as a radio site. The SOTA database shows the summit a bit to the northeast of the tower and the ridge is quite flat with a broad activation zone. My GPS app showed our hike as 1.9 miles one-way, with 540 feet vertical. The trail is well-established and in good condition. There were several narrow boardwalks (narrow planks) over marshy areas that were unnerving for some of our group.
At the summit, we appreciated some blue sky and nice weather that appeared while we set up the IC-705 and 3-element Yagi for 2 meters. We called CQ SOTA on 146.52 MHz and soon worked KD8JAM and VA3OJ. We kept calling and picked up two more 2m FM contacts: W9GY and VA3DVE. About this time, we set up the endfed antenna for the HF bands and (just barely) worked W0BV in Colorado on 20m SSB. (My phone was not able to spot us but I used my Garmin inReach to message W0BV and he came up on frequency.) I also worked W4GO, who had a decent 55 signal at the summit. But 20m was not working very well for us and I started to consider what changes I should make to the station. However, the dark clouds approaching from the northwest made that a moot point as we packed up our gear and headed down the trail. Sorry, we were not able to do more on HF.
On the way down the summit, things got a bit more exciting, and not in a good way. The storm clouds moved in and the light rain we experienced off and on during the day turned into a downpour. My warning of “we are going to get wet today” became all too true. This is the kind of rain that turned the nice, well-developed trail into a river of flowing water. With the rain came lightning, not close by but close enough. We were walking through a well-established forest so the lightning exposure was not too bad. The muddy trail definitely slowed us down as we did not want to add injury to our adventure.
We all were thoroughly drenched by the time we arrived at Daisy Farm Campground. At that point, the storm quit and we hung out on the dock waiting for the water taxi to pick us up. The water taxi apparently had its schedule adjusted and arrived over an hour later than expected. I guess we were on island time.
It was a successful but wet activation. Thank you so much to the radio amateurs who worked us, especially KD8JAM and VA3OJ. We couldn’t have done it without you.
73 Bob K0NR
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