Austin VE7QH had an idea to do Winter Field Day 2024 from one of his favourite fire lookouts. This lookout sits at the summit of Greenstone Mountain in the Thompson-Nicola region of British Columbia (grid square CO90qo). He mentioned this to Mike VE7KPZ who figured it would be a challenge but possible with the right team. A consensus was made to invite Simon VE7RIZ along as the third member of the team not only because Simon would fill the role of transportation captain, but because Simon had shown he was a strong operator at the NORAC Field Day 2023.

In subsequent pre-event planning the biggest question raised was: what callsign should the group run for the event? We could not run our usual club calls as we weren’t with our usual club mates. The idea to start an expeditions club with a unique call was tossed around but then Mike thought, “what about a Radio Amateurs of Canada call?” The entire team were already RAC members so what would the chances be that the VE7 callsign wasn’t already reserved for the event? With a couple of emails to Dave Goodwin (RAC Regulatory Affairs Officer), Ante Laurijssen (RAC Awards Manager) and Keith Whitney (RAC Director BC and Yukon), approval was obtained to use the VE7RAC call for the event. What an honor and privilege to finally be that station.

All team members took Friday off work and met up at the 6 km mark of the Greenstone FSR at around 9 AM local time. Here the team would transition over to snow machines for the remaining 15 km of travel to the 1799 meter (5902 foot) summit. Simon had arranged with the Merritt Snowmobile Club to borrow their new extra-large skid. One trip up with the snowmobiles and two trips up with the side by side on tracks towing the skid brought up all persons, radio and survival gear plus about half a cord of firewood.

Friday night dinner was Austin’s “college” spaghetti with meat sauce along with Simon’s garlic bread. Then it was early to bed as the team would need to hustle to get set up on Saturday morning before the official event start time of 11 AM local. It ended up being a very warm night as the team was still figuring out how to regulate the lookout’s old Donahue woodstove.

The next morning at first light the team started to assemble the antennas. The primary antenna was a BuddiHEX that would be positioned somewhat sheltered from the mountaintop winds. Austin and Simon focused on that while Mike focused on the secondary antenna, an EFHW wire for 40 and 80 meters held up by the larger-diameter sections of a guyed SpiderBeam pole.

Mountaintop winds stayed consistently strong so extra guy lines were installed for all antennas. Coax was routed through Alpha Delta RF surge protectors before entering the “shack” via one of the lookout’s vent windows. A Diamond X50 antenna was set up to get a bit of VHF and UHF gain in a relatively wind-resistant form factor.

The team started operation right on time as VE7RAC 3O BC. Austin ran CW and SSB on 20m, Simon SSB on 40m and Mike FM on 2m and 70cm. Competition bandpass filters for 20m and 40m ensured that both bands could be used at the same time at full RF power (50 watts) with zero interference. The team did not have filters for the other bands so all operators took turns with a single HF station to get QSOs on 80m, 15m and 10m.

Learning: to maximize simultaneous operation, have a filter for each band and ideally implement a triplexer for 20m/15m/10m (so that three radios can simultaneously share one multi-band antenna (the hex)).

Saturday evening the phone contacts began to slow so focus changed to JS8call digital mode QSOs on the low bands and making a satellite QSO via the ISS. A fantastic steak dinner was prepared and consumed, and then it was again early to bed. It would be imperative to start operating right as the higher bands opened in the morning.

Mike woke early to take care of JS8Call QSOs on 20m, 15m and 10m. Noting the skip distances for these QSOs also allowed Mike to pick a suitable gateway to both send and receive a Winlink email. Next Austin ensured that he had CW QSOs on all bands. And finally, with all possible multipliers in hand and all required Winter Field Day objectives met, the team took turns running high-band phone pileups to simply increase the total QSO count.

A highlight of Sunday’s operation was phone QSO with a request to pass some real traffic. A message was to be relayed to Phil McBride, RAC President. Mike emailed Phil and he in turn responded to the inquiring party.

Working together as efficiently as with the setup, the antennas and stations were torn down and packed back into the skid for the trip down the mountain. While getting ready to leave, the sun appeared, in a way suggesting to the team to perhaps return to the lookout for a future event. The remaining firewood was left behind as a donation. Only one trip with the three snow machines and skid was required to get back down the hill.

It might not be possible to find a better group of operators to do such an event with. The teamwork was incredible, everyone anticipating what needed to be done and doing it. The result: 539 QSOs in the log, all objectives met for the Winter Field Day 2024 event and home on time for Sunday dinner.

An interesting note on power: the team used approximately 70 Ah of 12V battery power for the whole 24 hour event (18 hours operation). Low power logging/digital mode computers that could take USB or USB-C PD 12V powering ate but a small fraction of the total Ah consumed. QRP radios with highly efficient amplifiers (a pair of Icom IC-705s, an Elecraft KX2 and a pair of DIY599 PA500 amplifiers) made for very efficient RF operation. Solar was simply not an option due to the weather so the team was happy to have brought enough battery capacity.

Simon reflects on the endeavor, “Definitely a memorable trip and glad I was a part of it. It’s amazing what a good working team can produce when all working together.”

Austin reflects on the idea of operating from such a challenging location, "I initially said it as a joke. I didn't think Mike would take it seriously. I'm glad he did."

Thanks must go to the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC and the Logan Lake ATV Club for their efforts to restore and maintain the fantastic Greenstone Mountain fire lookout. As well, thanks to the Merritt Snowmobile Club for the loan of the skid that carried the bulk of the gear and firewood to the summit. Thanks also to the Kamloops Amateur Radio Club for their great webcam pointing right at the lookout and Jane VE7WWJ for collecting webcam photos during the event. Big thanks to Simon for bringing his quiver of snow machines - not having to hike/ski the 15 km up to the summit meant the team could just concentrate on making a home in an old fire lookout and playing radio. Finally, many thanks to RAC for letting us use the VE7RAC call and trusting us to represent for this event.