Wyoming and southern Montana hams belonging to the north Yellowstone Amateur Radio Club and Park County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) took to the wilderness in late January during heavy snow to take part in an emergency preparedness exercise. The groups have about 15 members in all; many more bison and elk roam the roads than do hams.
The critical winter duty for North Yellowstone radio amateurs is deployment to remote locations of winter emergencies. To train for these responses, the members devised the VHF Radio Relay, a radio scavenger hunt designed to get members out to remote road locations where winter emergencies may require radio communications support. The group uses the Eagle’s Nest repeater located at 8,000 feet on Electric Peak southwest of Gardiner, Montana — the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The repeater covers the northern one-third of the vast park and southern half of Park County, Montana.
Participants rigorously observed COVID-19 precautions. Participating hams received two pages of instructions. The first contained directions for completing their call-out assignment and listed 15 locations that required hams to deploy to the far reaches of the radio coverage area. The second page consisted of a map. Only three roads are in the area, and conditions on one dirt road are typically difficult. Each route had five locations along the way to the terminal checkpoint. The 15 widely spaced locations guaranteed that no operator could visit all of them.
Each location was assigned a tactical call sign, and communicators had to use GPS to verify that they were in their precise positions. At all locations, hams radioed net control to have their location verified before moving to the next location.
On two roads, an interpretive sign stood at the last check-in point. Participating hams had to call in from the sign and were given instructions on how to find a code word hidden on the sign to verify their location — for example, the seventh word in the third paragraph — and relay it to net control. Each participant had a different code word.
Locations were chosen so that hams needed to plan their route strategy — ideally before leaving the starting point, where odometer readings were recorded. Directions included a safety warning about bison and elk on the road, and bad driving conditions due to snow. All departed at 9 AM and were to be back at the starting point at 11:30 AM. A prize was awarded to the ham who visited the most locations with the lowest mileage. First place went to Doug MacCartney, K7GRZ, and second place to Reve Carberry, KX4LZ. Jim Halfpenny, K9YNP, served as net control. — Thanks to Park County Emergency Coordinator and ARRL PIO Jim Halfpenny, K9YNP