Superior Microwave Adventure

Eighteen members of the Northern Lights Radio Society participate in the ARRL 10 GHz and Above Contest.  An ambitious plan yields good doses of RF, Great Lakes, and Northwoods. 

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Click on ANY image to reveal a larger JPEG!

    Microwave activity is on the upswing in the upper Midwest.  The key reason is friendliness and shared knowledge in the Northern Lights Radio Society.  Centered on the Twin Cities, the NLRS has members from a seven state area.  NLRS members have been reading enviously about Microwave exploits in the Rockies, Appalachians, and the California coast.  With no mountains nearby, the next best thing was sought--a Great Lake!

       Short one-day visits were made to Lake Superior during the 2001 and 2002 10 GHz contests with generally good results.  NLRS members wondered "what if we made a major effort?".  With earlier experiences to draw on, discussions at monthly breakfasts started to flesh out the concept--two days of concerted effort on the August weekend of the 2003 10 GHz and Above Contest.  Lake Superior's "North Shore" has a highway right along the shore with many scenic openings over a 150 mile stretch north and east of Duluth, Minnesota.  Michigan's Upper Peninsula has the notable and scenic Keweenaw Peninsula extending into Lake Superior northeast of Houghton, Michigan.  The goal:  multiple contacts between these shores.

     The breakfast discussions and email exchanges worked out most of the goals and details.  With one month to go, all participants met to hammer out details that were incorporated into an "operations plan".  Scouting trips, accurate locations, and analysis of paths by mapping programs yielded the locations we would use.  The plan represented the consensus that had been reached and could be referred to while packing for departure and during the event.  We feel that a good plan helped us anticipate problems, reduce our stress, and remain prepared for contingencies.
   This was not a simple undertaking--one team of eight would be driving 160 miles to Duluth to begin the contest and then proceed 150 miles along the North Shore.  The other team of seven would travel an 8-hour drive to Copper Harbor, Michigan to begin.  Being so far from home, it was important to bring all necessary items and spares of crucial items.

    As you can see in the graphic of Lake Superior, the North Shore team planned to operate from multiple locations at least 10 miles apart (in accordance with the rules).  The goal was to activate nine locations moving northeastward on Saturday and then reactivate the locations moving southwesterly on Sunday. 

   The South Shore (or Keweenaw) Team would remain in one fixed location on Saturday and move to a second location for all day Sunday. 

The Results:

What a weekend!  Blessed with exceptionally good weather, propagation conditions were even better than we hoped.  Things went so well, the North Shore team was able to activate 12 locations on each day! Although unplanned, the Michigan team moved each evening to Brockway Mountain (the local highpoint) for one more round of QSO's on each day.  RF signals were so strong that there was virtually no "fiddle factor" getting peaked up enough to make QSO's--even at 300km!
     Speaking of propagation on 10 GHz--we again noticed aspects we've seen on previous occasions such as a mid-day "lull" and poor propagation from higher altitudes above the water.  But on this weekend, the fades were only down to S1 or S2.  One of the purposes of the trip was to continue to explore the nature of the "evaporative duct" over water.  Air temperature, water temperature, and altitude above the water all contribute to forward propagation across temperate water.  Low altitude-- 6 to 20 feet above the water-- sometimes makes contacts possible where contacts from scenic overlooks 200+ feet above the water may not work by being above the layer where refraction enhancement is occurring.

Our operations got better, faster, and smoother throughout the weekend.  The fixed UP operators were kept busy with the roving band on the far shore moving and being ready for Q's just 20-25 minutes later!  At every stop, 56 QSO's were made.  That means that each of us made around 210 QSO's (on the UP end) and listened to over 1450 QSO's during the weekend.  May sound contrived or boring to you, but we found it fun and exciting!
     One highlight was successfully hooking up from "high" altitude to "high" altitude on our longest path--Brockway Mountain (EN67al) to Thompson Rest Area (EN36vr) at 333km.  Another highlight was contacting K2YAZ (EN74av) from Brockway Mountain--326km.  This was a tough overland shot that only a few completed.
    What a fun August weekend!

North Shore team:  Bob Wesslund WAUS, Lenny Klosinski KSHF, John Cress KGCJ, Dave Kleindl NKP, Chris Cox NUK, Jon Platt WZQ, Doug Reed NNAS, Eric Shook KT8O, Jon Lieberg KFQA, and Gary Mohrlant WGHZ.

South Shore (Michigan UP) Team:  Jim Hermanek KKFC, Tony Kessinger KDJI, Donn Baker WA2VOI, Carol Larson NHZO, Mel Larson KCP, Gary Danelius WBLJC,
and Bruce Richardson W9FZ.


Gary and Jon spent Saturday morning with the eight other North Shore operators and contacted the UP operators from the three locations closest to Duluth.  This yielded the longest possible distances.  Then they headed south through Duluth and eastward along Wisconsin's South Shore to a point near Port Wing, Wisconsin (EN46gs).   They've found a nice park that offers shade, tables, easy unloading, and a great view of the North Shore.  From this location they contacted the North Shore operators four to six more times during Saturday afternoon.  This allowed them to return more easily to the Twin Cities after one day of activity.  One of the highlights of the weekend was being hundreds of miles eastward on the Keweenaw, blocked by land for a direct shot with Gary and Jon, yet hearing their signals reflected off the North Shore landmass while they were working the North Shore operators.  When they were complete, we jumped in and called them and they heard us.  Signals were certainly weaker but voice QSO's were possible.


Phil Hejtmanek, KF9US, who lives in the Chicago area, heard about our planning for this event and was intrigued.  He would be in northern Wisconsin on a family vacation during the contest so he brought his family to Lake Superiors south shore for a day at the beach.  He found two locations that were easy to use for ham radio and for his family.  One was a uninhabited beach west from Ontonagon, Michigan towards Silver City and the Porcupine Mountains State Park (EN56fu).  Later on Saturday afternoon, Phil moved to a beach right near Ontonagon, Michigan (EN56iv).  Phil made multiple contacts with the North Shore operators AND was able to contact the Keweenaw team by reflected signals off of the north shore landmass.  Phil remarked on the ARRL
Soapbox:  "My family was romping around on the beach, as I set up the tripod and lugged the battery to the water's edge. We were on the road to the Porcupine Mountain State Park, west of Ontonagon, Michigan. I couldn't believe how good the signals were...I worked hams on SSB on my side of the lake (line of sight), across the lake, and, to our great surprise, a group on my side of the lake (non-line-of-sight) by bouncing signals off of the far shoreline.  All in all, the contest was a blast! I'll be back next year!"

In conclusion, I hope you can see that we received many joys during this adventure--thrilling and abundant contest contacts--all while enjoying the scenic beauty of the Northwoods and Lake Superior.  We had so much fun, there is a good chance we will make a similar expedition in future years.  When we do, I hope you and your microwave friends will join us.  We are already "what if'ing" Lake Superior from end-to-end.  The real point is to look for a scenic and rewarding expedition to mount in your own region.  Conceptualize, plan, and enjoy your expedition!

Pictures courtesy of K0FQA, K0KFC, W0ZQ, K0SHF, and W9FZ.

W9FZ -- w9fz at