Little Diomede Is., NA-150
5 April 2019 - 08:30 UTC
Arrived home just a few minutes past 8 UTC. Missed the direct bus from the Toronto Airport, so had to go to the Central Bus Terminal in Toronto, from where I boarded the bus leaving 0:30 am (4:30 UTC) bus to Montreal, which stopped in Kingston. I didn't sleep or nap since the night of my departure from Little Diomede, two days earlier, so I was pretty tired. My amazing wife through surprised me highly when she opened the door at that hour, as she had been waiting for my return.
4 April 2019 - 14:00 UTC
Made it to Seattle, now on stand-by for the next flight to Vancouver. There used to be quite a few direct flights to Toronto per day, but due to some aircraft being grounded, most of passengers are routed through Vancouver.
A few more impressions regarding my experience on the island. The temperature on Diomede was between -16 and -20C during the first 6 days of my stay. The snow storm lasted 5 days, with wind constantly of 65 km/h (40 mph). With the windchill effect the temperature must have been between -26 and -30C, if not lower. When one of the antenna radials broke due to the high and heavy snow drift, I had to remove the gloves in order to splice the wires back together with some additional pieces. I don’t think that it took me more than a few minutes, but when I got back inside I didn’t have any feeling in my fingers for at least 15 minutes. I had been in -39C in Central Ontario, but never with bare hands. Some of the wind gusts were so strong that I had to keel in order to not be thrown off my feet when I went to change the antenna from a band to another. My hat off to MFJ though for their telescopic fibreglass poles, which withstood these winds beautifully.
I had all the necessary winter equipment on site for the climb in as far as protection against the cold temperatures and wind, so this was really not the issue. We only attempted the climb when the wind subsided, but we expected that it would have remained pretty strong up on top of the hill. What we didn’t have were ice climbing boots, which besides spikes or crampons on the soles have a big spike in front, as well as a couple of hand picks, in order to advance steadily in small steps. We had crampons, but it was impossible to advance by just walking on ice with them at that steep angle. We also had snowshoes, but they couldn’t have been used for ice.
None of the elders I spoke with on the island remembered to have ever seen so much snow on the island, at times over 2.5 meters. However, it wasn’t actually snow, because in order to remove it they had to use picks to brake it off and then a shovel to remove the ice chunks. When the 5-day storm finished, the locals use the picks to build steps in the ice in order to move through the village up and down the bottom of the hill.
Changing the bands at night time was always done accompanied by Rob, my logistical support there, who carried a weapon for protection against wildlife.
Regardless of the SFI, the best period of time up north propagation wise is obviously between October and April. However, winter comes with some inherent logistical issues, compared with the summer.
4 April 2019 - 07:30 UTC
Left the island around 21 UTC, and a little over an hour later arrived in Nome. Sunshine and temperature above the freezing point. A lot of the snow I found here on March 17 melted away, although there is still a lot more around. What a difference between the weather here and on the island!
Ramon (AL7X) helped me to take my luggage to Alaska Air. Six months ago they implemented some software changes, and so is was impossible for the check-in to access my ticket information passed 7 days. I spent over an hour on the phone with the airline, and after additional ticket fees I was booked on the flight going tomorrow afternoon from Nome to Anchorage, and from there to Seattle. Once the new ticket issues, the local ladies at the check-in counter told me that there is one passenger who didn't show up for the next flight leaving in a few hours, and put me in. I am currently in Anchorage, in stand-by for a possible red-eye flight to Seattle leaving 1:30 am local time (9:30 UTC). I have a second, separate ticket with Air Canada from there to Toronto, which also needs to be re-issued.
3 April 2019 - 18:00 UTC
The weather has significantly improved. It is colder and windy, but with better visibility. The helicopter pilot just announced that he will make three transports today between the island and mainland (Nome and Wales), and if everything goes well I will be on the second flight out of the island, hopefully by 22-23 UTC. Once there, I will have to go directly to the airport in order to see what flight I can be on to fly to Anchorage and from there probably to Vancouver and then Toronto.
2 April 2019 - 23:30 UTC
It is Tuesday, April 2, 3:30 pm local time. No flight today either, despite the fact that the fog here on the island has now dissipated. However, it was foggy in Wales, (Point Prince of Wales), the closest site on the mainland. The pilot must have clear weather conditions in Nome, Wales, and Diomede in order to go. Even if he is not scheduled to stop in Wales, nice weather is required to be able to land there in ase of an emergency. I have checked and revised the information posted in the first paragraph of my note written on March 30. The current 7-day delay equals my personal weather related delay, which occurred in Puvirnituq (Nunavik, Quebec), back at the end of the summer of 2009, when I went to operate from Gilmour Island (VY0O, NA-230). The next large delay was 5 days in 2008, spent in Goose Bay, on the way to Nain (Labrador), for the VO2A project.
The internet is available with interruptions, and it is rather slow, but it allows me to do the normal IOTA administration work. Once the fog lifted, I can see from my window the majestic rocky peaks of Big Diomede Island, an truly amazing view, only 4 km away. A couple of days ago, numerous walruses passed by in the distance, laying around on floating ice packs moving northward, pushed by the southern wind.
2 April 2019 - 06:00 UTC
The helicopter couldn't make it today. The day was just as foggy here as yesterday, but it was apparently foggy in Nome too.
1 April 2019 - 12:30 UTC
The internet was down again, for hours. Final log was uploaded at Club Log and OQRS is now available. All donors will receive their QSL cards directly, in due course. However, they should submit their QSO data for proper confirmation using the Club Log bureau option.
1 April 2019 - 01:30 UTC
The helicopter came almost a couple of hours ago, but so did the fog. It was very nicer in the morning, but the fog started to come down from the peaks very quickly. The pilot flew over 6 times, in hope of find a break in the fog, but he didn't. Then, he went to Wales, about 50 km away, right on the closest tip of mainland (Nome is about 230 km from here), and waited for a bit. Nothing changed here though, and so he returned to Nome for the night. The forecast is good for tomorrow, so he will try again, most likely earlier than today.
I will not unpack and re-install everything tonight. I already moved back and stored in the school the heavy parts I used to anchor the antenna, returned the desks I borrowed, cleaned up the space I used and moved in there what I found when I came in. VE3LYC/KL7 is QRT from Little Diomede, NA-150. I will have dinner now, but later tonight I will make sure that the final log is uploaded at Club Log, after which I will open the OQRS.
31 March 2019 - 08:00 UTC
The helicopter didn't fly in on March 30, increasing the delay to four days. However, I didn't pack and unpack the equipment this time around. The fog was so heavy in the morning, there was no way that it will show up. After the propagation conditions got a little boost in the early morning of March 30, they were again poor this morning. Despite the fact that I uploaded the log from time to time, numerous stations kept calling for dupes. I could have easily made at least several hundreds of such contacts, but I refused to do it. The weather improved a bit, as we finally saw some blue sky in the afternoon. I am very happy for those who managed to get in the log during these extra days on the island. It makes this delay worth something.
30 March 2019 - 11:00 UTC
Internet service was restored last evening (March 29 at 23 UTC), after several days without it. Additionally, we had no phone land line either. I am still on the island, stuck here for three days now past my return date. My personal delay record for an IOTA operation is 7 days, back in 2009 for VY0O, which I hope that will remain unbeaten, hi. It was/is too much fog, freezing rain, and high wind for the helicopter to come.
Last Saturday (March 23), the heavy-blowing north wind started finally to subside in intensity, and the locals told me that they think that the wind will switch from the south, bring warm temperatures. They advised that once that happens, it will be extremely dangerous to climb the hill, because of possible avalanches. They thought that there may be a few-hour window on Sunday. As such, Rob (my local contact) and I decided to climb the hill on Sunday (March 24), carrying with us two small 35Ah batteries in an attempt to operate for a couple of hours. We had no idea how we could anchor the antenna, since the snow must be 2.5 to 3 m on top, all iced up. We took a large saw with us to cut in with it, so that we can hide in from the wind and the elements. Each of us had exactly 50 lbs of stuff packed in his backpack, including water and a few protein bars.
We crossed the village with difficulty, sliding back at times when climbing through the iced snow. Advancing was difficult, and mentally painful. Before long it became pretty clear that we don’t have the proper gear, such as alpine, ice climbing boots, with a front metal spike and cleats to allow us to step-kick into the ice, as well as at least one, preferably two ice picks. We had no choice than to return. We would not have been able to climb the hill in time, if at all.
I was heartbroken, but next day, on Monday (March 25), after 22 UTC, I was able to log about 30 NA stations on 20 m, as the total number of QSOs with NA stands now at 49. This was facilitated by a very low noise level here on 20 m, at times S0. While there is nothing spectacular about it, the number is larger than the total number of NA stations contacted by the two previous operations from NA-150 combined.
During the last three days, I had everyday to pack everything, just in case the helicopter will show up, despite the fact that the weather didn’t seem to cooperate. Then, I had to unpack it, and I really have had enough of this. There is a group of four people providing dental service who are waiting with me to go back. The other three who came with us return after spending only two days on the island.
I logged about 2600 contacts with 2400 unique callsigns in 58 DXCC. If I was able to put up a decent signal was because of the KPA-500. The antenna had an SWR of almost 1:1 on all bands I operated on, i.e. 20, 30, and 40 m. Unfortunately, I don’t have the beams that most of the dedicated chasers do, and so copying their signals was not always that easy. About half of the QSOs were with stations whose signals were buried in the noise. The noise level on 20 m was generally S2-3, but it would go sometimes down to S0, other times up to S5. On 30 m, the noise level was constantly below S3, with large period of time of S0-1. On 40 m, the noise level was never below S5, but sometimes would go to S9, with an average of S7. I spent countless hours CQing on 40 m, particularly during the propagation times for NA, without being able to log too many stations, and only one NA station.
On top of the above, the polar flutter was heavy at times, and QSB deep, making the copy challenging. I operated at 25 wpm, while some guys would transmit over 30 wpm, and it was mostly impossible to copy their callsigns. Also, despite my repeated requests for calling up and up, with some exceptions, lots of stations kept calling within 1 to 1.3 kHz up, making it even truly hard for me to pick up their callsigns under the above conditions.
23 March 2019 - 13:00 UTC
The internet service was restored around 10 UTC. I had a very interesting propagation tonight on 30 m, with the path to VK/ZL nicely opened for some time. Not long ago there were a couple of very heavy wind gusts that the entire school building shook.
22 March 2019 - 22:00 UTC
Last night the propagation changed again. I was only able to contact about a dozen EU stations west of UR on 30 m. By 7 UTC I had enough of CQing on a closed band, so I changed to 40 m for about an hour, between 7 and 8 UTC. I wanted to test the propagation with NA, hoping for a miracle. The few times I have tested 40 m, the noise level was never below S5 on the S-meter. Unfortunately, no miracle occurred, and the only stations logged were JAs, virtually all looking for another band slot. I moved the antenna back to 30 m and went to sleep. I picked it up in the morning, and I run it until 17 UTC, amazed that the noise level dropped to almost S0 for the first time since I am up here. I logged a few stations, but then 30 m band closed and I went to change the antenna to 20 m. By the time I got dressed for the outside weather, I noticed that the antenna broke, and the mast was sitting on the ground. Luckily, it was not the mast that broke, but one of the radials. The cause was the accumulation of compacted snow on top of the end part of one radial. Under the strong wind, the snow is instantly compacted into ice. One of the locals, Anthony, who works at the school, helped me to dig out the radial, which was buried at the anchor end under two feet of iced snow, and under at least 4 inches at the broken end.
There is no question that this is not an antenna for extreme weather like this. A much better choice would be something similar to what the RRC team used during their operation from Big Diomede a few years ago. In any case, I fixed it and works just fine. Unfortunately, the internet service is down now. The island has a land phone line, but that’s not going to help me in keeping the amateur radio community informed on what is going on here.
I have been discussing intensely about the possibility of hiking the mountain. The locals don’t do it at this time, because of the iced snow, which can be very deceptive. The ice will be extremely slippery, and ice cleats and picks are necessary to attempt a climb. A wrong move, and it’s game over. We have cleats, and potentially can find some picks. However, each of the three of us going need to carry at least 25 kg in a backpack, in order to ensure that we will bring up the generator, gas, radio gear, tent, water and minimum provisions. Everything on top will be currently under 2.5-3 m of iced snow. We can take a saw to cut it to make an igloo, but are having some serious problem with how to find anchors for each of the radial/guy wire. The wind will be blowing very strong on top, even under the calmest weather, and it’s anyone’s guess how long such an antenna can last, providing that we could anchor it somehow.
The most difficult part of the project is the ice climbing at a 45 degrees angle, where any mistake can have dire consequences, combined a substantial additional weight, due to both the winter gear and the equipment we need to take up. It is impossible to do this in two, we need minimum three people. There is no pathway now, since the snow is very deep, filling the space between the rocks. I have never done such a climb, mostly on ice, and I have no idea if I can actually do it, but I am willing to give it a try, providing that the other two partners are willing too. This being said, the weather is currently bad, and there is completely out of the question to embark on this project under the current blizzard. It was very nice here during the first 24 hours, very cold but with clear view. I could see the snow on top of the Big Diomede being blown away by the intense wind. After that, however, the blizzard started quickly and continues to pound us mercilessly. There was no school day today (Friday), and people are inside their homes. The village chartered a helicopter to bring back to the island one of the people who passed away recently, for funeral services, but there will be no heli flying on this weather. Out original plan was to attempt the climb sometimes during the weekend, but I confess that it doesn’t look promising right now.
21 March 2019 - 09:30 UTC
I uploaded the partial log. During the first night, the propagation on 30 m allowed contacts with central, northern, and western EU, as well as some with JA and UA9/0. During the second night, the propagation to EU on 30 was open wider, as stations from southern EU made it into the log, from YO to CT, as well as from the Baltic states, LY and YL. During this third night though, I logged very few EU stations, but the JA stations were much stronger than usual, and I could log a few VKs.
A blizzard started this afternoon and continues throughout the night. The wind increased in strength, but the mast withstands it so well. It is so cold outside that if I bend the antenna wire, its plastic jacket breaks right away.
20 March 2019 - 17:30 UTC
As the K index increased yesterday from 1 to 4, conditions deteriorated and the 20 m band wasn't productive. However, K decreased later in the day, and when the time for 30 m came, it was by far the best I had up here. I could not work into northern and western EU, but also into the south, from YO to CT. Also, YL and LY came through, and the propagation went as far west as GW. Most of the signals aren't strong, and it is very difficult to pull them out of the QRN and QRM, particularly since I also have frequently a very quick QSB and some echo.
I was asked if the noise level is a result of the electrical network here or the Arctic conditions. There may be something associated with the electrical network, but when the S goes on 30 m from 2 to 5-6, this has clearly most to do with the Arctic conditions. I will discuss today about a trip up the hill, in hope that I can give the NA chasers a possibility at contacting NA-150.
19 March 2019 - 22:00 UTC
A blew the second and last set of fuses I had, but with Adrian's remote assistance, I was able to fix the amplifier for the time being. Let's home that those power surges won't be that much of a problem, otherwise this is extremely annoying.
I sat on 20 m for a couple of hours, but didn't make many QSOs. The noise level is S2-3, not stellar, but not that bad. However, I cannot copy any stations anywhere on the bands, except for those calling me. If you copy me, it's not a guarantee that I will be able to copy you! I'm still studying the actual propagation conditions. Got a couple of NA stations in the log, VE7QTC and VE7KDU on 20 m. I'll continue to call on 20 for a little longer, but I will eventually move to 30 m. There is plenty of shifting ice in the Bering Strait, so the locals told me that this is something the polar bears like, and they may come in and go out at any time, hi. Since the heaviest noise level is on 40 m, I may keep using 30 m through the night, since if I'll change it to 40 m and the band isn't good, I'll have to go back again and move the antenna to 30 m. I only made two QSOs on 40 m this morning, so 30 m has been so far the best operating band right now.
19 March 2019 - 16:30 UTC
Made it to the island very late yesterday, March 18. After organizing everything I was able to run some 30 m in the night. The noise level was high, S7, but after midnight dropped a bit, to S4-5. The 30 m conditions appeared to vanish, I wanted to move to 40 m, but the blizzard was too strong, and I decided against going out. This morning I moved to 40 m, but the noise level is very high, S9. I made a couple of contacts, after which the amplifier died on me. I tested everything possible, and my guess is that there must have been a power surge. I have spare fuses, but if this happens again, I won't be able to use it anymore.
I will move to 20 m at 17 UTC, starting in CW first. I'm still testing conditions, but the noise level seems always very high. Many stations I calling fast, making virtually impossible to pull out their callsigns, because of the polar propagation conditions. I'll keep going.
17 March 2019 - 11:30 pm (UTC = local + 8 hrs)
The flight from Toronto to Seattle was uneventful. I arrived on March 16 at 9 pm, and spent the night on the airport. I had to check-in by 3 am, and will all the luggage it didn't make much sense to go to one of the airport hotels, only for a few hours of sleep. On March 17, the flight from Seattle to Anchorage departed at 6 am, and from there, to Nome, where I arrived around 11:30 am. All luggage arrived too, in apparently good condition. There are about 4,000 people in Noam, and the little city appears buried in the snow. There is at least 50 cm of snow everywhere, but there are cars here and there on the streets road completely covered in deep snow. Temperature is around -15C. I spent most of the afternoon and evening in the company of Ramon, AL7X, wo lived here for about 55 years. I want to check with the heli company for tomorrow's flight to Diomede, but when I phoned them I only got their answering machine. A pre-recorded message indicated that I need to be at their hangar at 1 pm. I will try to get in touch with them in the morning, in order to check on any update.
10 March 2019
Important development. Adrian (KO8SCA) has graciously offered to lend me his KPA-500 amplifier for this project, which weights about 10 kg. Since the maximum luggage weight for the helicopter flight from Nome to Diomede remains 23 kg, I will be able to take advantage of Adrian's offer because Ramon (AL7X) generously accepted to allow me to leave my suitcase and carry-on case with him, in Nome, before boarding the helicopter. As a result, I will me to reduce the total luggage weight by almost 8 kg. Additionally, I will re-pack my radio equipment in order to eliminate the use of one of the two hard (Pelikan) cases, which will save me an additional 2 kg, thus making room for the 10 kg of the amplifier.
In will be able to pick up the amplifier in Toronto, coming Friday morning (March 15), then drive back home and test it. That afternoon everything must be packed and ready for the journey to Little Diomede. I will depart home on Saturday (March 16) lunch time to catch the Toronto Airport bus which leaves Kingston at 12:30 pm local time.
3 March 2019
I will have limited internet access on the island, which should allow me to post notes on this website as frequently as necessary to keep everyone updated on my activities. Since there is no internet communication near my operating room in the village, please refrain from posting requests on the DX Summit, since I will not be able to attend to them.
During my stay on Little Diomede, I will make a presentation about amateur radio at the local school, and possibly organize training and operating sessions for the children aged 12-16. Under the FCC rules, third party communication under my supervision is allowed only with NA and SA stations, which we all know that will be very difficult from the village. However, if we will be able to copy any NA/SA stations in SSB from the village location, please be aware that the children may be at the mic and so exercise patience and courtesy. Thank you all in advance!
2 March 2019
The entire ice pack between the two Diomede islands has been swept away last night, as the weather warmed up and the ocean swell and currents did the rest. While cold weather can return during the next couple of weeks, I have been working with my contact on the island to organize a different logistical plan for Camp 2. If cold weather returns and the ice next to the island shores will be present, I will attempt reaching Camp 2 by pulling a sled. However, it appears that we must be prepared to attempt climbing the hill through the snow, in an attempt to setup camp on its top. The presence of wildlife is less likely up there, but finding our way through snow with heavy loads and avoid slipping on and off the rocks will be nothing short of a crazy adventure!
1 March 2019
There are currently no functioning snowmobiles on the island. As such, my plan for Camp 2 consists in packing everything on one or two sleds, which my guide and I will pull over ice. The strait between the two Diomede islands was entirely covered by ice, but during the last week the ice started to melt away in the middle of it.
25 February 2019
I have booked today the return plane tickets to Nome (Alaska), and those for the helicopter rides from there to the island and back. Here is my trip schedule:
- March 16: depart home, drive to Toronto, and fly to Seattle and Anchorage;
- March 17: fly from Anchorage to Nome, and overnight there;
- March 18: fly to Little Diomede;
- March 27: fly back to Nome, and fly to Anchorage, and from there to Seattle;
- March 28: fly from Seattle to San Antonio, attend the IOTA Bash (Mar 29-30);
- March 31: fly from San Antonio to Toronto, and drive back home.
I will operate as VE3LYC/KL7 from Little Diomede between March 18 and 26.
23 February 2019
Little Diomede Island (NA-150) is located in the middle of the Bering Strait, at a latitude of about 65 degrees N. About 4 km to the west lies Big Diomede, across the border with Russia. Little Diomede has a population of approximately 100, and has been activated on HF bands by KL7/W6IXP in Jul/Aug 1998, and by KL7RRC/P for a several hours in Jul 2012.
This IOTA reference sits at 11.5% of the IOTA Most Wanted List world-wide, and so it is in demand by the IOTA chasers. Worth mentioning, only 8% of all credits issued and pending today on the IOTA website are claimed by NA stations. As such, this particular NA reference is even rarer in NA that the figure indicated above. The reason for this is because both previous operations took place from the village, and the propagation from there to North America is obstructed by a steeply rising massive volcanic hill about 330 m high.
I have recently received the permission from the local Village Council to visit and operate a radio station from Little Diomede. My plan is to operate from the village for 3-4 days (Camp 1 on the map below), which will offer an unobstructed path to AF, AS, EU, and OC, and from the northeastern corner of the island for another 2-3 days (Camp 2), which will provide an open path to NA and SA. I will attempt to establish this latter camp in winter, with the help of two local guides. We will transport all the necessary equipment by snowmobiles, driving them to the campsite over the frozen ocean, very close to the shore. There is no access over land to the northeastern part of the island.
Village (Camp 1) and remote station (Camp 2) locations on Little Diomede.
In order to reach the north-eastern corner of the island, the operation must take place in winter. Taken also into consideration the propagation conditions, I am looking to schedule this activity during the second half of March or very early April. Camping outside of the village during this period of time presents a serious hazard, due to the potential presence of the polar bears. As such, the guides will install a bear fence and will have the necessary material to ensure protection. However, if a polar bear shows up, we will have to cease operations and retreat immediately back to the village.
This is a challenging and expensive project, and I am looking for any possible support from the IOTA community. Donors will be acknowledged on this website!
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