Rocky Mountain Rally - 2021 edition - is now past. This was the first performance rally run by the CSCC since the Cochrane Winter Rally in March of 2020 - and we hope to see more to come. Of the 29 volunteers that we oversaw - this was old hat for many, and a first amateur radio public service event for several.
It was a long day, and we hope an enjoyable and perhaps even an educational day for all. There were no major incidents while mobilizing and demobilizing our volunteers to and from the area, and the ambulance - ever ready - didn't get any emergency calls. These are, to us, ear markers of a successful day.
The somewhat dramatic end - a Red Flag event ending the final stage, concluded safely and without incident - was not a common occurrence and it was the perfect time to demonstrate being ready at all times. A few operators illuminated their stop signs with their flashlights before the cars arrived. Without retroflective signage - this was probably the only available way to give as much notice to the signage as possible before the area was fully lit by the intense lighting systems that are on those cars.
The Propagation Poltergeist of Powderface struck again at this event. As usual, it has left us with more questions than answers. It is known that the propagation characteristics change over time in this area, but we haven't really documented the magnitude of asymmetric propagation that we observed this time. Several stations were receiving VE6RYC full quieting - but weren't able to transmit back in to it. A couple found that they could receive RYC better, but were only able to get into AUY. Simplex relays are possible contingencies that had been considered, and this is one of the strategies that was employed. Radio Support was stationed at a strategic location over on Moose Mountain road that ended up being leveraged for it's simplex reach into the south end of Powderface Trail.
Split channel operations were not part of a plan or contingency - it is generally a bad idea for an active stage. But we had some operators who tried it out and some very experienced net controllers who adapted to it without missing a beat. The ability to link and unlink the repeaters could have been an asset at this event.
This was the first rally where we formalized a practice that was always previously being done, but informally. A final check for the radio operator volunteers as they departed the area to ensure nobody was left stranded. We couldn't use the word "sweep" because this is already reserved for active stage operations, and we've named this the "Scrub". Thank you to VA6BM, VE6DED, and VE6HRY who took on the scrub roles - you may have seen them with green flashing lights on their mobiles as they cleared the course.
Last year, on a trip out to the area a 'passive repeater' (antenna-coax-antenna) was tried with VE6IXD to help VE6RYC's signal up and over the hill - it didn't end up working as well as hoped, but it was an interesting experiment. In the same trip, we also tried a 3 element yagi at road level - which actually seemed to help, and a doppler direction finding unit to try to see if it would help determining where the dominant reflections were actually coming from.
Further experimentation is encouraged in this area (both the area of study, and also the geographical area). If proven effective, various means and designs for inexpensive directional antennas could mean a practical rollout for multiple locations. We would also love to hear about more complicated configurations such as diversity antenna setups, phased arrays and coherent receivers.
Without knowing what variables are correlated with the propagation shifts, it is hard to define an experiment that has meaningful results. Also when inches count for antenna location, an omni vertical can't be colocated with a directional antenna to compare their performance without each modifying the performance of the other.
At the previous Kananaskis rally we also experimented with 6m FM. Alternate bands propagate differently and is another tool to have in the toolbelt. There was some HF gear deployed at this event - we don't think there will be a practical plan to leverage this anytime soon, but the possibility is interesting. Consider that the New England Forest Rally currently uses HF for one of their rally stages (ref: presentation by Tim Carter - W3ATB).
In a more general sense - we are happy to hear about what worked well, what didn't, and any ideas for improvement.
Thank you, everybody, for your participation.
This does not work without all of you.
Garry Spicer, VE6GDS
Dana Harding, VA6DJH
For anybody interested and willing to make the trip - keep an eye out for Big White Winter Rally, which is run out of the Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna. It is a different organizing team, and has some different operating conditions. Currently undetermined if that will be happening or not, if it goes - that will likely be early to mid December.