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High Altitude Precipation Static

The dumbest pedestrian mobile operation i have ever been on was to operate in a snow storm on the Continental Divide. It was a beautiful morning as i drove up Trail Ridge road in the Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO), Colorado. The billowy clouds from the night before hung in the valleys below me. It was 17 June 2004.
I was hiking along a 12,000 foot ridge, (This was ‘Marmot Point’, 12,005 feet, Not a SOTA site), Just east of the “Never Summer Mountains”.
It was sunny but some low clouds were coming over the divide. A small snow squall came up, I didn’t think this was a problem because the snow was not wet and I was not getting wet. i had just worked W4OSS Kim (sk) in SC, and K8PR Dave in MI on 18157.5 kHz.
i heard some crackling and hissing noises in my handset but no lightning or thunder.
All of a sudden I felt a prickly sparking on my hand from my handset,
I had my conductive ESD shoes on at the time. I could feel tingling in my feet !
I was using my PRC319 with a 10 foot whip with a drag wire.
I removed the whip right away but the precipitation static had hit the antenna.
The antenna tuner has a Victoreen 3KV gas discharge tube across the antenna terminals so i thought i was safe, The radio is also EMP protected, but i found that the tuner would no longer retune the antenna.
Later analysis found that hardware was not damaged but the software in the antenna tuner was disrupted. This made it inoperable, zap, a $3,000 tuner gone.
There was no way to reload the software.
This was long time before there were any surplus replacement tuners on the market.
After that incident I never operate in snow storms at altitude and I always use a shorted stub coax drag wire.

Paul w0rw
Romo Qsl


Wow Paul, sri about the tuner. This reminds me of one particular activation I did in July 2013 on Anderson Peak (10,860’ elevation) in the San Bernardino Mountains in SoCal. It was a 13 mile RT hike with 4200’ of gain to the summit. The transverse San Bernardino range runs east/west and the trailhead for the Forsee Creek Trail is on the north side of the range where when I began the hike in the early AM. The skies were blue and clear. When I reached the summit ridge I saw a wall of deep dark cloud well to the west, easily extending the length of the range and didn’t think much of it. I climbed the summit, set up with my back to the cloud wall, facing the clear blue sky to the north and was making Qs on this moderately warm day when I eventually saw around me and felt some ice cold rain drops on the back of my neck. I turned and saw that wall of dark cloud consuming the entire range and suddenly, a lightning flash and an immediate clap of thunder. Scrambling hurriedly, I tore down my station, packed it up and started heading down. I only got a few yards when the rain got quite heavy and then an enormous amount of pea-sized hail pelted me. This went on for several minutes as lightning bolts were strikng the ground very close by. I reached the summit ridge and had difficulty determining which direction to go to get to the trail. Eventually I found the trail and came to understand the derivation of its name - Forsee Creek Trail, something I clearly did not forsee as the trail was with rushing water above ankle deep and filling my boots. As I was heading down the trail, amongst lightning, hail and heavy rain, I was surprised by a couple of young hikers (in their 20s, I’d guess) heading toward the summit, determined to tag the peak for their list completion credit or whatever. They didn’t care that there was lightning, thunder, rain and hail. Our conversation was quite brief. During the entire 6.5 mile rush down the mountain there was lightning and thunder in the immediate vicinity with no more than 2 minutes between flashes and crashes. Fortunately I didn’t lose any radio equipment an even more fortunately, for me at least, I didn’t lose my life. Needless to say, I’m quite careful about encountering a situation as this and always check weather reports and predictions before heading out to the mountains.


It’s very sad that your tuner was destroyed. At least you weren’t!

On August 4, 2013, I activated Fairchild Mountain W0C/FR-010 in Rocky Mountain National Park. The peak is at 4115 M, 13502 feet, and the long hike required several hours. I started very early, but by the time I was setting up, clouds were beginning to form to the west, over the Never Summer Range - the same range where you were for your event!

I got on the air quickly, and despite hassles with a large marmot who tried to steal one of my guy lines, my CW activation started out great, with many chasers calling on 20M CW. After logging about 15 stations, I was still running a pretty good pile when I heard thunder. It wasn’t loud, so I stayed on - but in a few more minutes, I noticed that I was having trouble hearing some of the weaker chasers, because of a hissing sound in my receiver.

Within only another minute, all the chasers were covered by the increasing hissing noise! I heard another clap of thunder, closer, and I realized that the hissing was caused by corona discharge on the wire! Rain drops were falling on the rocks, as I jumped up and pulled the pole down. I packed up as fast as possible and began to descend. The immense summit of Fairchild is broad and exposed, and it was terrifying to be there as the storm approached closer, with the sky growing dark. I was lucky that there were no close bolts, and I made it down the slopes before the larger clouds and lightning bolts rolled in.

If you ever hear hissing on the air, it means that your antenna is already discharging significantly. Likewise, electrical tingling of the skin, hair standing on end, rocks hissing nearby, metal objects discharging - all effects I have experienced - these signs mean get off the summit ASAP!

Once a discharge begins, there is a chance that a bolt may follow along the ionized path.

My home-brew tuner was not damaged…