05-05-2007 MT CLUB HIKE

Ham radio operators have been providing safety and logistical communications for the Mountain Club of Maryland's bi-annual 40 mile hike since the mid 1980's.  Hikers start in the predawn darkness at Penn Mar Park in Pennsylvania and hike 40 miles across Maryland to Harpers Ferry, WVA.  The hike typically starts around 5am and finishes up around 9pm at Harpers Ferry. Over the years, hams have had to deal with finding lost hikers, sudden thunderstorms with hail and lightning, excessive heat and cold temperatures and sometimes, injured hikers.  2007 was no exception: injured hikers, cold weather and occasional rain once again challenged the responsiveness of the hams. The trail they follow is called the Appalachian Trail. This trail starts in Maine and ends in Georgia, but 40 miles of it passes through the state of Maryland and this is the Mountain Club's hike.  There were 99 hikers on the trail at 5am ( typical number of hikers ).  Each had to be accounted for at every checkpoint along the 40 miles of Applachian Trail.  This is our story.

Seeing the hikers off at the starting point were: Paul Ives who served as the Mt. Club hike organizer for over 20 years ( on the left ) and Tim, N3VNG ( on the right ).

The hike up the mountain from the starting point is very dangerous.  It is dark at 5am and there are rocks and loose stones along the trail. The first checkpoint is at the top, at a place called "High Rock", where hang gliders jump off a flat ledge.  The view of the valley below from the High Rock jumping platform:  dawn is just breaking on the landscape below . . .

Looking from the  platform toward where the hikers started in the valley below:

Two hikers fell on the climb up the mountain and were injured: one with facial cuts and bleeding and the other with arm cuts and bleeding.  They were discovered when the ham radio operator at the High Rock checkpoint, Matt, KB3FTP went looking for them back down the trail. Below is a picture of Matt at the checkpoint just before he went searching for the "overdue" injured hikers:

The next checkpoint along the Appalachian Trail is called Raven Rock.  This year, Joe, NE3R covered this trail checkpoint:

Joe had a nice dual band J-pole on top of the mast:

Interesting antennas have appeared at the Raven Rock checkpoint in past years also.  In 1989, Carl, KA3NLF had a unique looking butterfly V beam for 2 meters:

In 1987, Carl used a 2 meter, 5 element beam at the Raven Rock checkpoint:    motto = " whatever works "

In 2007, the next checkpoint was the Ensign Cowell Shelter.  This was located back in the woods from a small parking area and I did not get a chance to take pictures. Walking back into the woods to cover the checkpoint in 2007 was Dick, N3LF. 

In 1989, this same checkpoint was known as the "breakfast" checkpoint where eggs, toast, sausages and coffee/orange juice were served at the Rod and Gun Club pavilion.  In 1989, this checkpoint was covered by Ron Baer, KT3T:

The next checkpoint along the Appalachian Trail was where the trail crosses Boonsboro Mountain Road.  Rick, N3RO has covered this checkpoint for the last several hikes. Here is 2007:

Two Mountain Club hikers walk to the Boonsboro Mt. Road checkpoint on the Applachian Trail:

Several times other trail hikers stopped at our checkpoint and enjoyed refreshments.  At one point, checkpoint officials gave first aid treatment to an injured hiker who was not one of the Mt Club hikers, but needed some minor medical attention:

The next checkpoint has always been the "lunch-stop" checkpoint at Washington Monument Park:   I wasn't able to get a picture of Dave, KB3FRY at this checkpoint, but caught up with him later when he moved to Gathland Park.  Bob, K9CMR also provided radio coverage at the Washington Monument checkpoint.

In 1989, Steve, W3FOA provided the radio support for this checkpoint:

And in 1987, Tilden, KC3ZD provided the coverage:

Following lunch, the hikers head south again on the Appalachian Trail.  The next checkpoint down the trail is at Lambs Knoll.  A small, one lane road, winds its way to the top and ends near an old abandoned fire tower.  A few hundred yards from the fire tower lies the checkpoint. This was covered in 2007 by Jackie, WB3KDS and Scott, N3MVV.  I didn't get any pictures of this checkpoint this year, but in 1987, Orville, N3AGM, had to deal with a rainy day in covering this position ( note his HT inside a Ziplock baggie ):

Treking further down the trail brings us to the next checkpoint at Gathland Park.  This park is known for its War Correspondents
Memorial as shown below:

Two hams covered this checkpoint. The first was Dave, KB3FRY who provided earlier coverage at the Washington Monument State Park site and had relocated to the Gathland Park checkpoint:  note the unique pizza tray ground system!

The second operator at Gathland Park was Danny, K3PDK

Back in 1987 and 1989, this checkpoint was covered by Glenn, WA3CGU.  Here's Glenn in 1989:  note the "hot" Plymouth !

Glenn, WA3CGU in 1987 at the Gathland checkpoint:

The next checkpoint, Weaverton, is a very difficult radio location as it is at the base of the mountain rather than at the top. And the high rising rock clifts lie between the checkpoint and the repeaters being used.  A good antenna has always played a critical role here.  HT's with a rubber duck just won't cut it.  In 2007 this checkpoint was covered by Jason, N3ZBO. Jason used his mobile radio with a mag mount antenna on his trunk: if you look closely, you will see rain drops on the windshield as it was just starting to rain when this picture was taken:

For over 14 years this checkpoint had been the sole domain of Charlie, WA3KHE and his wife, Sue, KA3LVY.  They used a Hustler G6 antenna mounted on a guardrail and pitched their own tarp for a tent.  The pictures below were taken in 1987:

The final stop in this day long hike is Harpers Ferry, WVA.  It is located across the Potomac river from the previous checkpoint which was near Weaverton, MD.  With both the Weaverton and the Harpers Ferry checkpoints being down at river level, the bulk of communications were handled between the last two checkpoints on SIMPLEX frequencies. In 2007, the Harpers Ferry checkpoint was covered by Don K8DSJ and Tina:

In 1989, another Don, N3EVF, was covering the Harpers Ferry checkpoint:   note the homemade operating desk!

In 1987, Ernie, K3VVV ( "victor-victor-victor" ) provided coverage at the Harpers Ferry checkpoint:  ( the Potomac river flows
south toward Washington D.C. in the background )

In 2007, during the first half of the day, Rick, N3RO provided the function of Net Control for the overall communication activity and during the afternoon/evening hours this function was filled by the Frederick County ARES EC, Jeff, KB3FIO.

Tracking approximately 100 hikers across 40 miles of Appalachian Trail has proven to be a rugged test of the portability and mobility of amateur radio communicators.  Cell phones cannot function at many of these remote checkpoints. FRS and CB radios don't begin to have the range necessary to
cover the miles of remote trail.  In 2007, for the first time in covering this event, LINKED REPEATER SYSTEMS were used and worked very well for the whole length of trail coverage.   By using "Linked" repeaters we were all able to hear each other, regardless of the transmitting frequency. Tim, N3VNG, is to be given credit for getting this hike operation on the "linked" repeater system.
Thanks Tim!  It made all the difference . . . . . .