Many of you say that the love to hear about my portable escapades, so here
is another one.
One nice thing about going out portable, is that I get to see new places,
and experience new things.
I wanted to light up DN15, so I found a site that I thought looked pretty
good, on paper anyway, so I planned on heading to Harl Butte SE of the town of
Joseph, Oregon. Then, with gas prices where they are, I decided not to go, but
then several people offered to help with the gas, so I took off Friday, getting
to the area around 5 pm. I headed out the Imnaha highway, and since I had the
coordinates plugged into my GPS, why not just have the GPS route to the
location. Well, the GPS comes up with a route that it thought was the shortest
route, and flashed; “Turn here”. So, I turned and followed the route up this
dirt road only to end up wallowing like a pig in mud. My white Chev Tahoe now
looks like one of those off road commercials on TV. Even the antennas which were
strapped to the top of the vehicle are covered with mud. Still no idea of how to
get to Harl Butte. So, I thought, well maybe the GPS meant this way, which lead
to a nice meadow across private property. Still no idea how to get to Harl.
After sloshing around through the muddy, cow filled, roads looking like I took a
bath in mud, completely covered, I decided to head back to Joseph and find a
motel for the night, and try again in the morning.
Well, little did I know that there was a Hot Rod and custom vehicle "Cruise
In” going on this weekend. Also, the local micro-breweries were displaying there
latest creations. All motel rooms were booked in Joseph and on the way to
Enterprise. I headed into Enterprise, six miles away, and was fortunate to find
“The last room available for miles”. So, Friday evening was spent in the motel.
The next morning, I talked with some of the locals and asked to get to the Harl
Butte Lookout. They said, well, you head up this paved road, then there is a
compacted gravel road for about 17 miles, then a dirt road with crushed rock for
about the last 3 miles. So, after breakfast at the only Diner open at 7:00 am, I
head up to find the elusive Harl Butte. I followed the paved road to the
compacted gravel road through the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest past several
water falls, and beautiful clearings in the trees and finally came to the
compacted gravel road, followed that up to the dirt road, and had one barbed
wire gate I had to go through just before the Lookout, and arrived at Harl
Temperature was 31 degrees, there was a trace of snow, and the wind was
blowing constantly at about 20 mph. The Lookout was all boarded up, because of
the unusually wet year this year. With the wind, it would have been difficult
for me to put the 4 element 6M yagi up with the way I do it, and also, I found
out after getting up there, that I had forgotten the 5’ roof tripod that I use
as a base. I did manage to put up my Par Electronics 2 element Moxon, guyed it
to keep it from falling over, and easily worked KB7ME using WSJT running the
ISCAT (Ion Scatter) mode. I decided that I was not going to camp up on the
mountain, because of the wind and freezing temps. My nylon tent is airy and
allows the wind to blow through easily. After camping in a nylon tent in 17
degree weather with 1.5” of snow that fell overnight , in January, 2006, I
promised myself that I would never do that again. Although, the 2006 escapade
gave me a Top Ten finish, placing 4th in the US and Canada in the QRP portable
category. Mainly because I was the only one dumb enough to camp out in Central
Oregon in a nylon tent in the middle of winter . Then, I ran only 10w on all
So, here at Harl, I was not going to freeze my tail off just to hand out
the grid to a few people. I worked a few stations just using the KB6KQ loop on
the back of my still mud covered Tahoe, and with 100w from my FT-857 in the
truck. I was not hearing much, and those I did hear were not hearing me, except
for a few. So, it began snowing, and I decided to head down the mountain. This
was about noon. I was just going to head home. Little did I know what was in
store for me.
I got off the hill, and Tim, KE7RVL, and his wife KE7RVI who live in
between Enterprise and Joseph, heard me on 50.125, and asked me to stop by for a
cup of coffee, and he would invite another local ham, K7BUY over as well. We had
a good chat until about 3:30 when I decided to head for home since the drive
should be about 6 hours back to Portland. Ha!
When I got to Enterprise, I took a wrong turn and ended up going north on
Hwy 3 into Washington State. Trying to find a way to get back into Oregon, and
toward La Grande, to get on Hwy 84 heading West, I looked to my trusty GPS to
tell me where to go (pun intended). The GPS tells me the best way is to take a
right and head up this National Forest road to get to the Hwy on the other side.
Well, ok, if it gets me where I want to go, why not? So, head up this
dirt road and start climbing in elevation quickly, and soon I found
myself on top of another mountain, driving along the face of a cliff, and
through piles of unmelted snow trying to find an easy way to get to the other
side. Finally, my path was blocked by a fallen tree that had been covered with
snow. I managed to turn around on a single lane Forest Service road, and by the
grace of God, managed to find my way down the mountain, and got back on paved
road. At the town of Troy, I find a sign pointing to Wallowa, a town on the way
to Enterprise, so I head out on this paved road which became gravel, and up
another mountain. However, this road did eventually come out just west of the
town of Wallowa. By this time, it’s now about 9 pm, and I still have a six hour
drive back to Portland.
I head towards La Grande, and get behind a truck carrying Hay, going slow.
We finally come to a section in the Hwy where there was a passing lane, so I try
to kick the tranny into passing gear, to get around the Hay truck. As I get
along side of the hay truck, I am getting nowhere fast. In fact, my transmission
starts slipping, and I am quickly loosing ground on the hay truck. In fact, I
had to pull off the side of the road. The hay truck continues up the hill
without me. Here I am in the middle of no where, with my transmission acting up,
at 9:30 on a Saturday night. This particular area shuts down after about 8:00
pm, and most gas stations, restaurants, and stores are just “closed”. I come to
find out that if I put the truck into 4WD, I can move, so, I hobble along the
highway in 4WD. It was about 10:00 pm when I pulled into La Grande and thought
that I had to fill the gas tank as running in 4WD was just going to suck the
tank dry in no time. Remember, I am on a budget trip, and have already spent
hundreds on gas so far, and I still have a 5 hour drive to get home, and that’s
only if the tranny holds together long enough to get me home.
Well, I do make it home, praying all the way, and pull in to my QTH at
about 3:00 am. I have managed to drive over 900 miles in just 2 days, and all
for just a handfull of contacts, and have spent hundreds of dollars all for the
“joy” of handing out a grid to someone who may need it for some wall paper.
Also, the costs have not yet ended. The tranny will be somewhere in the
neighborhood of $3000 to $4000 just to play Ham Radio. Isn’t life funny? I
apologize to those that I did not work, and say “congrats” to those I did work.
As I have mention before, every time I head to a grid just so it will help
someone wallpaper there ham shack, something happens.
CU down the log.