Snow and Freezing Spray – QRP Madness

Saturday 7th January was the date of the first Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME) of the year. In fact, as a new member of the group, it was my first ever PBMME. The group is called the Polar Bear QRP Ops. It is an amateur radio group who are active with portable QRP operation during the winter months (late fall to early spring) during the weekend closest to the Full Moon, what they call Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event. The Polar Bear QRP group can be found at:

Too Old? Piff!

In the northern states and provinces winter can be a long, cold wait for the return of outdoor weather. Perhaps it would be good advice to stay hunkered down in the home shack instead of venturing out onto the “ice shelf” (in polar bear terminology the “ice shelf” is anywhere outdoors in winter). When I told a friend about my plans for the PBMME he told me I was too old for that sort of thing. I agree but I went ahead and did it anyway!

The group is mostly comprised of CW operators, and since my recent renaissance as a QRP operator has found me turning down the wick on my rigs, it seemed a perfect fit. Perhaps not entirely perfect given my snow-coloured thinning hair but, heck, age is just a number isn’t it?

I decided to combine my passion for activating parks for the POTA program with the PBMME and set out to activate Inglis Falls Conservation Area near my hometown of Owen Sound, Ontario. If time permitted (and if I wasn’t already too cold) I planned to move on and activate a second park afterwards.

Inglis Falls where the Sydenham River tumbles over the Niagara Escarpment

Inglis Falls is an impressive sight. There is a short vertical drop followed by a long cascade as the Sydenham River flows over the Niagara Escarpment into Owen Sound Bay and out into Georgian Bay (part of Lake Huron). Recent heavy snowfalls have been melted by warmer weather so there was a significant flow of water going over the precipice.

It’s a “Two-Fer”

I did a quick surveillance walk, looking for a suitable operating site. There is a pavilion well situated by the parking lot and within 100 feet of the main Bruce Trail, so it would have been good for a POTA “two-fer” (Inglis Falls VE-5627 and the Bruce Trail VE-5628). But there was a problem. The spray from the falls was being whipped up by the wind and I needed to keep my equipment dry.

The spray at the base of the falls created impressive ice formations

I chose, instead, to work from my “shack-in-a-truck” with my MFJ-1979 telescoping 17ft whip mounted on the truck’s hitch mount. The whip sits atop about 3 feet of aluminum pole to keep the feedpoint away from the metal body of the vehicle. The truck’s steel chassis and body served as a counterpoise. I had to shorten the whip by one section for best SWR which measured at 1.7:1 on the screen of my FT-891 (with the power turned down to 5 watts). The rig was powered by a Bioenno 12Ah LiFePO4 battery freshly charged for the event.

Propagation conditions didn’t look too good when I checked before leaving home. I responded to fellow polar bear Craig, WB3GCK who wrote his own account of the PBMME on his website at: Craig was activating a park in Pennsylvania. That turned out to be the only other polar bear I contacted during the event.


After self-spotting on the POTA website I called CQ and received a response on the first call. That was encouraging. The station responding was in Washington State which was even more encouraging. Perhaps my operating site on top of the Niagara Escarpment was working out well for me. Nine minutes later I had the required minimum 10 contacts for a valid park activation. Another Washington State station, a station in Puerto Rico and one in the Azores, thousands of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean, were in the log. Altogether I logged 23 QSOs in 23 minutes before the pile-ups died down.

I really wanted to move on to another park for a second activation and there was a POTA entity just a couple of minutes downriver where I could have operated. I decided to move a little further afield for two reasons. My planned second stop is at the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment where propagation wouldn’t be quite so good. Most of my QSOs are to the south and I would be in the shadow of the same escarpment that had helped me log those DX stations at my first stop.

The second reason was equally pragmatic. I learned from previous POTA outings that it isn’t always a good idea to space consecutive activations too close together in time. I suspect that hunters who worked me at the first stop might see my callsign on the sked page and not notice that I was in a different park. They maybe wouldn’t call me thinking the QSO would be a dupe.

Three Activations in the Log

I drove straight past my planned stop and set up at another local park – Hibou Conservation Area VE-5651. By the time I was ready to start the second activation snow had started to fall so I chose, once again, to operate from the “shack-in-a-truck”. Hibou is right alongside the lake and at low elevation but well away from the shadow of the escarpment. This time it took several CQ calls to get a response and I wondered whether I would be able to complete the activation. But eventually the hunters found me and I scraped out 15 QSOs before the warm air in the truck had escaped and I was feeling quite cold. I called QRT and drove off home on the other side of the bay.

The day yielded one POTA “two-fer” plus one other activation and a total of 38 QSOs. And so ended my first ever, very enjoyable, Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event. My CW buddies – and my XYL – think the word “Madness” should be in bold font. Perhaps they are right!

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