The Mini-DXpedition to Kalawao County Hawaii

Special QSL cards being sent for Kalaupapa, Hawaii and Kalawao County

The Special Kalaupapa QSL cards have finally arrived (Dec 13, 1999). They give the location as Kalaupapa, Hawaii; Kalawao County and have an outline of the island of Molokai in the background. I have very carefully collected QSL's received so far, especially those that have SASE's, in a special folder. These QSL's are being answered, with the first batch mailed on December 14th, 1999, a second batch mailed on December 17,1999. One more batch of directs, mostly to Hawaii, sent December 20, 1999. Others will go via the ARRL Buro. Except for a few I might have missed, Cards sent so far are signed on the back.

I transfered my field notes to my log book and the QSL's are going well, only two have failed to match up and I still have hopes for sorting them out. Some QSL's received so far contained a special card to sign and return. Those have been carefully saved and will be included with the custom QSL card returned, or mailed separately to the address on the SASE. A few cards for my friends just south of here will be sent via their QSL card manager in California. A ZL and a VK went out in the first batch.


The trip to Kalaupapa was a great success on a number of levels. Many objectives were achieved. I was able to get the complete station and self supporting antenna system into two containers. One was an old Jensen tool case like a fat brief case and the other was five feet of PVC pipe about two inches OD. The loaded Jensen case weighted in at 28.5 pounds and the PVC pipe carrier for the long Stake Stick antenna parts was 5.5 pounds. Everything else I took was in a backpack that weighted just under 15 pounds loaded.

The Stake Stick antenna system installed as expected and performed better than I could have hoped for. This was its fifth major outing and the first optimized to support a full quarter wave at 20 meters. The version with the big 40 meter resonantor and about 11 feet of mast worked amazingly well also. Approximately 200 contacts were made, the vast majority 2800 miles or more away, some of them closer to 5,000 miles. The DX70 was run most of the time at 50 watts. Occasionally at five watts.

The new SS18 Astron switching power supply worked without complaint after it was settled in and the MFJ portable tuner was its usual reliable and smooth working self, allowing virtually perfect SWR at the transmitter. The Stake Stick could be tuned to less than 1.3:1 SWR at any of the frequencies tried on 10, 15, 20 and 40 meters, but the tuner allowed bandwidth to be stretched without readjusting the whip on the 40 meter band. I tried and proved that the tuner would load the 10 meter Stake Stick on 15 meters and make contacts.

Flight out was a typical Hawaii local flight. The flight I was booked on did not exist, that did not stop Island Air from selling me a ticket. When I got to the terminal in Honolulu at the appointed time, a full 45 minutes before the 07:30 HST departure time, I was told they did not go to Kalaupapa any more and I would have to wait an hour for Pacific Wings to open up. When Pacific Wings did arrive they were able to accept the coupon for the Island Air flight and I did get on a plane, but it was touch and go for a while.

A party showed up with a TON of luggage. One lady was standing next to a pile as tall as she was and then about eight other people showed up with all sorts of stuff including a giant ice chest that it took two people to heft. So much for baggage limits. Pacific Wings put on a second flight and there were only three of us on the second plane. We had the ice chest in the nose of the small twin engine aircraft and a tail full of extra luggage. Turned out someone was getting married at Kalaupapa and this was just the first of about three dozen people invading the tiny town that weekend, apparently bringing the entire reception with them, food, drink and everything.

Most amazing part of the flight was when we got over Kalupapa and were STACKED!! Ahead of us was the other plane and the mail plane, so we had to circle in the pattern waiting to land. We went around just below the top of the cliff in a big circle over the Pacific Ocean waiting our turn in the traffic pattern. As you land, you get to observe the remains of a nearly identical plane ground into the lava rock just off the right side of the end of the runway. A reminder not to bother the pilot at this point. But Pacific Wings did a great job. We were sorted out under the watchful eyes of Gene who is in charge at the airport. No one gets off airport property until he checks them out apparently. The airport is a big room missing one entire wall that faces onto the aircraft parking area.

I met my host, who I discovered was the Sheriff of Kalawao County, and was taken over to the old stone house next to the lighthouse on the northern tip of the island. It was a long 0.29 mile drive to the house in a bright pink jeep. 4 wheel drive was not really necessary, though hanging on was recommended.

The house was just fantastic. It consisted of an old stone part and a wood frame extension. The old part could date from the time of the lighthouse construction at the turn of the century. The add on looked to be about 1940's vintage. I was left alone at the house and started to sort things out. I found an ideal spot in one bedroom with a big table and began setting up. Outside the yard was sloped up towards the lighthouse to the East, enclosed by a rock wall and dug out of the nearly lifeless soil so the back of the house set in a depression.

Above the depression was an ideal antenna spot in the back ocean side corner of the lot. Setting up the antenna went well. The ground was horrible dead dirt with a type of low ground cover that was knarled and white with rose bush like barbs all along its tendrels. It snagged the radial wires and made laying them out a real struggle. Good thing I dosed heavily with #50 sun screen because this part of the setup took considerable time in the direct tropical sun. But finally the Stake Stick was neatly done and its RG8x cable laid out.

Inside the bedroom things went poorly. The socket sparked and sputtered and the rig would turn on and immediately die. It was time for the "I am going to get lynched" anxiety. I took the rig and attached power supply into the master bed room and found a socket that it did like. The rig would stay lit. I moved everything into the master bedroom, but Heaven knows how they got that table in the side bedroom. There was no way at all it could be moved out of the room. I figure it was assembled in there like a ship in a bottle.

I finally spotted a medium sized end table, like would go next to a bed, kind of a bed stand. It was just big enough for the notebook and the rig. Putting it next to the bed I could put the tuner on one of the beds and reroute the RG8x feedline through another window and get ready. At last, I was able to search for a County Hunter net. I found one right where it was supposed to be on 14.336 Mhz and was able to raise a net control station.

As expected that time of day 20 meters was horrible. I could hardly work anyone. I told people I was moving to 21.336 Mhz and went outside to swap parts on the antenna. When I came back things went very well and I was able to work a number of stations on 15 meters. A special thanks to KG7GV and the other net control stations that helped out. Later I was able to make contacts on 10 meters. As expected, with local sunset 20 meters came back. But before that I checked into the Hawaii Afternoon Net on 40 meters and was extremely pleased with the terrific signal reports statewide that my Stake Stick antenna was getting.

In the evening I did some more contacts on 20 meters and even a couple on 40 meters working split. Going out to swap the antenna parts and change bands was a shock. The night was incredibly dark and the sky was lit up with tremendous numbers of stars against the deep inky blackness. The Milky Way was very bright and obvious. The only lights I could see on land were a couple just visible over at Kalaupapa Town a bit over a mile away. Once when I looked up as I was assembling the antenna I noticed the moon in 1/4 phase directly over the tip of the antenna. I persisted at the radio until after midnight on Friday.

The next day, Saturday daytime, was rough. I got up about 5 am local HST and checked into a county hunter net to try to grab a few more long 20 meter contacts. I started in dull grey predawn, but when the sun did start to come up, it was very pretty. Some high clouds turned bright red-orange against the light blue sky behind the lighthouse. Kind of a post card type picture of dawn.

I monitored a couple of runs by mobiles and was then able to get the attention of a net control station. I did manage a nice number of additional contacts on the 20 meter net. Then the CA wall came up. There was one station that was parked on every county hunter frequency, 10, 15, 20 and 40 meters. I tried to wedge myself in between two stations near 21.335, but with boomers on both sides I made few contacts. Saturday was kind of a washout, lost in all the CA stations. I could talk to very few of those since I was talking to the ass end of all their beams, so most of Saturday morning was a lost cause county-hunter speaking from my site. After the CA's started to fade out there was a JA contest to take its place. I did manage a few CW QSO's but it was always just a matter of time before some thunderous CQ CONTEST! signal slammed in on top of each QSO I managed to get started on a temporarily clear frequency.

I was able to work some nice VK and ZL stations after the CA wall fell off the face of the RF earth and 15 meters got suddenly quiet. I scored some interesting DX by hunt and pounce. Saturday morning I was able to participate in the local SET emergency exercise on 40 meter SSB locally which helped make Saturday useful. Lots of good data was collected on local operation on two meters and 40 meters from Kalaupapa.

The old house was said to be haunted. I can see why. The trade winds made it talk all the long dark isolated nights. It creeked and things knocked, often sounding like someone rapping on the front door. It wheezed and whistled and everything seemed to rattle and bang in one way or another. It would whisper to you when it was not making one of its repertoire of a thousand other sounds.

The ground outside was dead but covered in poop. Some of it was clearly deer spore, but there was larger stuff. Finally, I spotted on of the resident horses. In fact one came in the middle of the night and virtually stuck his head in the window of the bedroom and neighed quite loudly. It was fortunate that I had already spotted him. We had a tiny deer, a mongoose and several cats that were also regulars, many of which had comments on the antenna system outside in "their" yard. I saw two giant cockroaches and we left each other alone. It was more their house than mine. And later I met the gecko which was hunting them.

However the dead soil was obviously the result of salt poisoning. I found a garden hose and watered the antenna system so I must have been working over ground with about 5 deci-seimens conductivity or more. About 100 times better than the good ground setting in EZnec. The ironwood trees were the worst I have ever seen. Horrible scrawny skeleton trees, windblown, salt poisoned and stunted. Good thing my antenna system was completely self-contained. The Stake Stick was just amazing. Many signals were just booming in from the antenna.

Sunday I was packed up, cleaned up and had even mopped the floor by the time I left to walk to the airport about 8 a.m. HST. The flight out was about as expected, it was there, then it was gone topside on an unscheduled side trip, with our luggage, but not us, because someone had missed the earlier flight, so they were flown to Molokai, and the pilots called in before leaving Kalaupapa and found out they had to go topside to get lost folks and then they came back and then we left finally for Honolulu, an hour late, but because their listed schedule was for another flight, we arrived in Honolulu right on time!

Another victory for local Hawaii airlines. It was a great flight however, and terrific views. One just has to adopt a very laid back attitude about travel by air on the local carriers, and be very sure to have your watch set to Hawaii time.

Special QSL cards have been ordered so I do not have to mark up 200 of my current QSL cards. The printed versions will be more official and hopefully pretty. Arrival time on those is still up in the air. I have half dozen SASE's so far and I have established a special folder for the QSL process for the trip [Oct 10, 1999].

QSL direct address is:
Mike Burger
PO Box 11150
Honolulu, Hawaii, 96828


Fall 1999 Kalaupapa Trip

Aloha de AH7R:

I have received permission to spend a weekend on Kalaupapa. The trip has been scaled back to one person. It is going to be rough putting everything into 44 pounds of luggage.

I will fly over to Kalaupapa on the morning Island Air plane from Honolulu on October 1, Friday and fly back on the morning plane to Honolulu via Molokai on October 3, Sunday. I had hoped to operate Sunday morning, but the Sunday afternoon flight was canceled.

I hope to spend a number of hours operating. Primary frequency will be on 15 meters. The high flux levels have been hard on 20 meters in the tropics during the mid-day hours. 20 meters continues to be terrible in the daytime hours, though a tiny bit better than summer conditions. I will have capability on 20 and perhaps 40 meters as well, but these will be after dark bands it appears.

Recent propagation predictions look very good. The active regions of the sun are rotating behind the sun and even though the flux will drop it should remain above 100, more than enough. The critical thing is that the A index is expected to drop to more reasonable levels. Also the coming of Fall has the sun moving south and D-layer absorption in the tropical daytime around here should be falling nicely.

Local hams report opennings to Europe about 0700 UT in the evening and some interesting stuff before dawn, both on 20 meters. Even my lanai antennas are making contacts on 15 meters starting about local noon.

If everything works when I get there, I will be running about 50 watts into a well installed vertical near the ocean, a beefed up version of my Stake Stick antenna. Bad news is that the park service recently tore down the handy flag pole near the house I will be allowed to use for a base.

Location will be in grid BL11me, near the northern tip of Kalaupapa, close to the lighthouse. Exact hours of operation will be determined, along with frequencies as plans get finalized.

Next step is the critical packing to meet the limitations of the small plane baggage allowances for one person. I must take all of my food for the several day stay, so there may be tradeoffs. The antenna system and cables etc. will take 15 pounds of the weight it appears. I just received an order of RG8x from Cable X-perts to make a new feedline for the Stake Stick to replace the RG-8 used on recent field day/camping outings. Shown below is the PVC pipe Stake Stick carrying case and some of the parts. The case holds the long parts and the center support and radials are packed separately. The airline is happy to classify this as a "fishing rod case", something they know about locally as baggage. The various parts can be assembled into a full quarter wave on 20, 17, 15, 12, 10 and six meters. The 24 radials are 25 feet long each.

I have been testing the new SS18 switching power supply with the Alinco DX70. It works just fine on the local SSB Hawaii Afternoon Net on 40 meters with the 50 watt high power setting of the Alinco. The fan came on but the unit was not under any strain apparently. I have tested it on CW and have it hooked up with a small keyboard memory keyer unit, the portable tuner unit and the DSP 59+ filter unit. The Alinco really benefits from some signal processing help on receive.

The Stake Stick antenna should be a fine "number one" antenna, I have located all its parts and its travel case, and finished a redesign of the base which significantly increased The Stake Stick's ability to support a full size 1/4 wave on 20 meters. There is a report of some possible ironwood trees in the three-sided windbreak shown in the aerial photo, so I will be packing wire to go with the MFJ portable tuner unit. Some long wire would enable operation on 80 meters at night in case some magnetic storm blitzes out everything else.

Runway at Kalaupapa

Photo by AH6TM - flight by Ted NH6YK - 1998

This photo is from an aerial recon of Kalaupapa by Ted and friend about a year ago. It shows the northern tip of the peninsula with the airstrip which is the primary access to the area. I am not sure if the mule rides down the face of the cliff still operate.

Near the lighthouse is the house I hope to use for the base of operations. The area is a rather desolate plain not too much above sea level and about 3 tenths of a mile back from the always pounding surfline.

RF exposure from here is excellent as it is line of sight to an ocean horizon with the continental USA bearing about 50-60 degrees magnetic, somewhat beyond line of sight, even from the aircraft altitude. The main body of the island of Molokai is at the bottom of the picture just past the imposing cliff that cuts this region off from the rest of Molokai. The lighthouse is just barely east of Longitude 157 W, very close to the center of grid BL11.

Aloha de AH7R,

Propagation tables indicate:

0600-1000 HST
Hawaii to East Coast: 1600-2000Z   20 meters possible, 15 and 10 better

1800-0200 HST
Hawaii to Central US: 0400-1200Z   only 40 and 20 meters likely

1000-1800 HST
Hawaii to Japan:      2000-0400Z   15 and 10 meters good

MUF's are up around 45 Mhz, but the problem is the minimum usable frequency, often very close to 14 Mhz. At night the gap between maximum and minimum frequencies closes dramatically. This seems to indicate that 15 meters is probably best overall during the daylight hours and 20 meters before dawn and after dark.

24 September Australian County Hunters were strong on 20 meters about 0400-0600Z and 15 meters was open for some interesting DX [T31, BY4 and lots of others].

AH7R - Mike Burger, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Dept. of Chemistry
HI-QRP #28 - QRP-L #1053 - FISTS #3225/CC # 629 - BL11ch - Honolulu County

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