Don, N3MK


N3MK - W3GCW Canoe Expedition 2003

PSK-31 in the Quetico Provincial Park Canada

August 23rd - August 31st 2003

PODXS 070 Club070 Club APE

August APE canoe expedition a success!



The Story:

Hi all,

We are back from Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario and the trip was another great success! I made 24 contacts and GC made 22 contacts.

Trip Log:


August 21st:

    We arrived in Ely, MN in the late afternoon to pick up last minute groceries for our trip. After picking up our supplies we made the final 20 mile leg to our outfitters, Williams and Hall.

August 22nd:

We awoke at 03:30 to begin our journey to Quetico. Outside the Northern Lights were strong. Huge white curtains of light danced across the sky. We loaded our packs and canoes on our outfitters truck and departed the outfitter at 04:30 for our 2 1/2 hour trip to another Anderson's outfitter on Crane Lake who would rack up our canoes and speed us along another 2 hour ride to Bottle Portage where we would start our canoe trip. On the way our flat bottom boat with a 225 hp 4 stroke motor screamed through the shallow narrows at 40+ mph as we banked up to 60 degrees around 180 degree turns. It was quite an exciting ride. We made it through Customs and and barely got by the rangers office as they notified us that we did not have proper permits. They told us it was our lucky day and fixed our paperwork debacle. By about 10:00 we were dropped off on a rock in Lac La Croix to set out on our own. We portaged 80 rods across Bottle portage (16.5 ft/rod) into Iron Lake, crossed Iron stopping at the top of Rebecca Falls for lunch and portaged our canoes and equipment up a steep and rocky 160 rod portage up Curtain Falls. At the top of the portage we entered Crooked Lake and canoed towards an island we hoped to make camp on. We found the island occupied and continued on to find a beach that looked like it might make a great campsite. It was very strange to find a beach in the boundary waters and we later found out that it was part of an old resort that was kicked out of Quetico many years ago. We set up camp and some fished while others went for a swim. We wrapped up the day with a great steak dinner on the Coleman. There were to be no fires as Canada issued a complete fire ban on the day of our departure :( We were able to see the Northern Lights over the tops of the trees again in the evening.

August 23rd:

Thanks to Ed and Greg going out early to fish we had walley, eggs and bacon for breakfast. I worked with GC on getting the delta loop up while others went fishing. The loop went up without a hitch. Fierce winds started blowing in from the south into our southern facing camp and camp was taking a beating. Those who were in camp tried to ride out the storm by taking naps but the punishing wind made rest difficult. The breakers were crashing along the beach and it sounded like we were at the ocean. The wind was still fairly strong around dinnertime but GC managed to put together a spaghetti dinner. Ed and Greg arrived from their all day fishing trip and told us their war stories on how they almost got swamped in the lake. As they tried to make their way back, huge breakers were crashing over the bow filling the canoe with water. They weren't sure that they would make it back. Paddling at full force with a canoe half full of water they finally made it back into camp; Just in time for dinner. After dinner the winds calmed down. Most went to bed early but GC and I stayed up to try the ham radio out. Everything worked perfectly. The antenna loaded up just beautifully on the ZM-2 tuner and I made contacts with K5PAX and K6BRD. I remembered John, K6BRD because he was my first solid QSO in my 2001 PSK-31 expedition! I turned the helm over to GC who worked CO2VE and CO2CI. By then it was around midnight and 20 meters was really shutting down. We shut down the rig satisfied that all was well.

August 24th:

Everyone went fishing in the morning and came in for a PB&J lunch and a swim on the beach. The water was brisk but not as cold as it had been in the past. GC washed his hands to prep dinner and all too late realized that he had picked up the honing oil bottle instead of soap to wash his hands with :) After dinner I hogged the radio made many contacts. I made an APE to APE contact with K8IJ! The band held up well until around 02:30 UTC and it was about that time that I turned the radio over to GC who had to work hard to make a few contacts. I had 18 contacts and GC only had six but we had plenty of time left in the trip.

August 25th:

We had pancakes and bacon for breakfast. It was a pretty lazy morning and afternoon with time spent napping or fishing. The bands weren't very open. There was a light rain in the afternoon and we saw a brilliant double rainbow from camp. We had tons of walleye for dinner and experimented with different seasonings. Everything was good. After dinner we contacted our outfitter on the satellite phone to make a change in our pickup plans. We decided not to make the 14 mile trip across Crooked Lake and instead decided to come out the way we came. The waves were so rough a couple days ago that we thought we might have trouble making the long trip if weather got bad. In the evening GC worked dilligently trying to catch up on psk-31 contacts. After a few contacts were made it was apparent that strong lightning in the far distance was coming closer and we decided to shut down and take the antennas down. In addition to the delta loop we had put up a 40 meter vertical wire with counterpoise. Radio Ely (WELY) reported tornado watches 60 miles to the south of us so we hunkered down for a rough night. August 26th:

Luckily the thunderstorms missed us but Ely, MN reported that they had an incredibly severe lightning storm during the evening. I've been through electrical storms in the Boundary Waters and was quite happy to have missed out on that one. The morning was cloudless and warm. Greg and Ed went on an all day fishing trip to Roland Falls and during their trip reported that a 70ft tree in the woods nearby suddenly snapped without warning and came crashing down. It was surprising to say the least. Greg reported seeing something that looked like the Loch Ness Monster swimming under the canoe. Maybe it was a sturgeon. Ed caught an incredible 30 lb Northern over 48 inches in length. By afternoon the winds had picked up and breakers were forming on the shore. Once again, Greg and Ed had a brutal trip back from their fishing expedition. In the evening I accidentally plugged the wrong power cable into the laptop sending 12V of reverse polarity to the laptop instantly frying the charging circuit just like last year. Last year it was under warranty. This year it was an expensive mistake. I estimated we had about 8 hrs of operating time left on the current laptop battery which should be plenty to make at least 20 Q's each. Next year I'll have a fool-proof adapter that will not require a polarity switch between charging and playback. GC is in-charge of designing the fool-proof system. This was Chris and Don Sr.'s last night out and they needed to be on their way and in their canoe by 07:00 to make it to the 11:00 tow pickup. We decided we would all pack up and move to a new campsite at the top of Rebecca Falls on Iron Lake.

August 27th

We awoke at 05:00 and broke camp. The water was like glass. Greg and Ed helped Chris and dad get equipment across portages while I worked with GC to set up the new camp. We set up on an island at the top of Rebecca. Rebecca Falls is actually split by the island and breaks into two falls one on each side of the island. The roar of the falls was a bit loud in camp but we figured it would be great for sleeping. The fishing was fantastic. Walleye and small mouth were just sitting in the current at the top of the falls. All we had to do was drop a line in and pull in the fish. There was a campsite at the bottom of the falls and fishing was great there as well. We had walleye for dinner. Best camp ever! August 28th

It started raining hard about 04:30 and the campsite was under water in no time. I was sleeping in a tent hammock and was oblivious to the flood. That is, until I heard GC sing "The captain wired in we had water comin' in; and the good ship and crew was in peril". GC's tent was completely water-logged and Greg and Ed's tent was now in a small pond. I rolled over in my hammock and fell back asleep while they dug trenches. Yep, best camp ever. Or was that, most flooded camp ever. It was still raining hard in the morning and I awoke to a vision of trenches everywhere. Ed and Greg's tent was floating in a small pond. I was hanging over that same pond and almost fell in when I got out. GC's tent was completely waterlogged. There was nothing left to do but go fishing. The smallies were biting and GC caught a nice walleye for dinner. Later I sat under the tarp and did a bit of solder work to fix Greg's electronic fishing scale. GC napped in the pond also known as his tent. The rain continued throughout the afternoon. Finally in the early evening the rain stopped and everyone took the opportunity drain tents and move them to drier locations. We had walley for dinner and the rain picked up again. We tossed the dishes aside for later cleaning and went to bed. That's when I discovered that water had gotten in the hammock during the day and soaked my sleeping bag. I did not relish the thought of spending the night in 40 degree weather with a cold wet sleeping bag. What a bummer. August 29th

I awoke to at the crack of dawn to find a clear sky. Greg and Ed had already gone fishing well before dawn. I went to the top of the falls to greet the rising sun and warm the chill out of my bones. While I was there, a beaver was carrying a large branch down the side of the falls and jumped in to the churning whitewater at the bottom of the falls. He disappeared instantly branch and all. I guess he knew what he was doing. I worked with GC in the morning to set up the delta loop again. It was the highest it had ever been. We were at an elevation of just under 1300 ft and the antenna was at least 60 ft up. I used my trusty golf ball on my fishing pole to cast a line over the top of the trees. For some reason, a ranger chopper kept circling our island throughout the afternoon. We never did find out why. Ed and Greg were cleaning fish for dinner. GC had just finished making his 22nd contact and was turning the station over to me when we heard a yell. Suddenly they yelled out to get down there quick! We dropped everything station and all and ran to the falls. We saw a bear and two cubs sitting on a rock a couple hundred yards in front of us. They did not seem to care about our presence. After a few minutes they all jumped in the water and swam across the lake. It was a rare sight. I made a few more contacts and then we cranked up the FT-817 listening to WELY play progressive rock while we ate dinner. We had tons of food left and GC cooked everything in sight. He cooked walley, tons of pancakes, pounds of bacon and nearly took us down for the count. We were stuffed to the gills. While we were eating we took a closer look at our camp and realized it was a death-trap. There were dead trees everywhere ready to fall. There was a dead 60 ft tree leaning against another which would have landed directly on our tents if it had fallen. Someone had tied the dead tree to the live tree but who knows how long the old rope had been there. We pondered the dangers and went to bed under the dead tree. August 30th

We awoke to a beautiful day and after a breakfast of oatmeal broke camp. It was time to return home. We were in the water by 9 am to meet our tow at 11 am. On the bottle portage we met a man who was canoeing from Voyageur Provincial Park in Ontario to Lake Superior. This two to three week journey ends in the nine mile long Grande Portage to Lake Superior. Anyone attempting to make this portage with a canoe and a pack would surely have an out-of-body experience. He wasn't just trying to survive the trip he was trying to make it in record time practically running down the trails. On the far end of the portage I met a couple that was just getting started. They carried their belongings in five gallon buckets and were dragging along a propane tank for fuel. They asked if the portage was long. I said it was about 80 rods and they asked if that was standard terminology around these parts. I said they use rods on all the maps. No doubt, they were in for an educational experience. We were picked up by Anderson's and headed home at full speed. On the way we viewed some ancient indian pictographs in the cliffs along the lake. Our skipper was about 18 and he had a heavy Canadian/Finnish accent. We really couldn’t understand what he was saying but we had a good time swapping fish stories anyway. Suddenly we lurched forward at higher speed than ever before. A look behind the boat revealed a boat plane coming in for a landing right on our wake! We stopped by US customs in a town accessible only by boat or boat plane and once again headed through the narrows at top speed. This time we were going so fast that the rear started breaking loose. The narrows were crowded with holiday boaters and we had to swerve around them to avoid a colision. I'm sure the leisurly boaters appreciated the enormous wake we created. We finally arrived at Anderson's boat dock where we met with our outfitters who loaded our stuff on their trailer and took us on the two hour drive back to Ely, MN where we took showers, ate a great steak dinner at Ely Steakhouse and crashed for the night. In the morning our outfitter drove us two hours to the nearest airport where the TSA had fun digging through our dirtly clothing and inspecting all our gadets. We boarded the prop plane to St. Paul/Minneapolis and 8 hours later arrived on home turf. What a trip!

- Don N3MK

Expedition Members: Chris Snider, Don Snider Sr, Don Snider Jr, Ed Snider, Greg Snider, GC Warrick

Rig: FT-817 with mod for 10 watts out, ZM-2 QRP tuner, 20 meter delta loop fed with ladderline, USF-11 flexible solar panel and two 5AH gel cells.




    It's almost that time again! This is the 9th year of the annual quest to the north woods. This year, GC, W3GCW will be joining the expedition team. We will be sharing equipment running PSK-31 and CW from Crooked Lake, Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario Canada.

    Last year I made my second PSK-31 expedition (2002) which turned out to be another challenge. I fried the charging system in my laptop on the first day so it became a great challenge to make contacts. I managed 28 PSK31 contacts and 27 CW contacts in 2002.

    We will both be using the same gear and the same software. We both have MixW licenses I was able to install MixW in two different directories and put a license DLL in each directory. Now we can customize our own copies of the software for the trip.

    I'll be using the FT-817 for all band operation and a Fujitsu Lifebook P notebook computer for PSK-31 operation again this year. This combination worked very well last year and if I had not hooked the power up backwards on the laptop and fried the charger I would have made many more contacts.

    The FT-817 has been a great rig for me. The internal battery pack has 1700 mAh cells in it which will only allow for a limited amount of operating time. Last year I used 2 12v 5 Ah gel cells. That's 8lbs of cells but it worked very well for me last year and lets me charge one cell while using the other.

    FT-817 High Power Mod: I've performed the high power software mod found on . I thought it would add a bit of insurance if propagation is rough while I'm out there. The mod worked well last year and made it much easier to make contacts.  The PEP was about 12 watts at full power. On CW I  ran a watt or less since by the end of the trip I was running very low on power. The last several days of 2002 were very cloudy so I didn't have an opportunity to recharge the cells.

        The Lifebook is a true wonder. It has a Crusoe 800 MHz processor, 256 MB RAM, 20 GB drive a 1280 x 768 screen and a built in DVD/CD burner. All this fits into a 3.4 lb package. For this trip I'll be swapping the DVD drive with an extra battery to provide up to 14 hrs of operating time. The Lifebook does not have built in serial ports but instead has two USB ports. I purchased two USB to serial adapters. I'll be using one adapter for the trip for the CAT interface. PTT is controlled through CAT. . The laptop will be in a cushioned case inside the Pelican waterproof box. 

    I'll be using my trusty solar panel from last year.  The flexible solar panel was damaged on the trip out to the BWCA in 2001. A rivet in my luggage caused a deep dimple in the panel. Amazingly the panel still puts out full power. The solar panel will directly charge the laptop as long as the available battery charge does not drop below 25% or so.

    Thanks to a posting on a couple years ago I found a great way to raise the delta loop. I screw an eye screw into a golf ball (hopefully not liquid filled) and tie it to the end of my fishing line. Then I simply cast it over the tallest tree I can find. The weight of the ball pretty much guarantees that it will drop to the ground. Once I find the golf ball, I cut it off the line and attach the apex of the delta loop to the fishing line. Then I just reel the line in until the apex is at the top of the tree and tie off the fishing line.  It's best to have a couple helpers around to help keep the delta loop from getting tangled while it's being raised. The loop consists of about 77' of wire fed with 300 ohm ladder line fed at the base. Two ropes are used to create the delta loop. It should look like a triangle with the base at least 7ft above the ground.  I usually stake the ropes into the ground so I can easily pull them up and rotate the loop when I feel the need. I use the ZM-2 tuner to tune it up on any band. The delta loop is by far my favorite antenna. 

    In addition to the delta loop, I may try a wire vertical antenna. Last year I tried an 1/2 wave vertical with a copper wire in the lake as a counterpoise. As far as I can tell, it only acted as a dummy load.

Hint: If you try the golf ball method and miss your target, don't  try to reel the line in with the gold ball still attached or it WILL get tangled in the trees.. Cut the golf ball off the line before reeling it back in.


     The current equipment list includes:

Fujitsu Lifebook PYaesu FT-817GP 1800 mAh AAEmtech ZM-2Trusty Unisolar solar panelPelican water proof cases



Waiting out a rain storm Don, N3MK

comments to