Kadio Direction Finding for Fun and Public Service
Californians Host USA Championships of Transmitter Hunting
Mt. Laguna, California is home town for 57 people along Sunrise Highway in the Cleveland National Forest. You won't find a gas station or a doctor, but it has a nice restaurant (open three days a week), a general store, plus a lodge and several campgrounds that fill up in the winter with city folks who want to play in the snow.
Normally, Mt. Laguna would be very quiet during the week and weekend after Memorial Day .This year its population nearly doubled as it hosted fans of radio direction finding (RDF) under international rules. They came for the twelfth national championships of a ham radio sport that goes by several names including foxhunting, fox tailing, radio-orienteering, and amateur radio direction finding (ARDF).
A committee of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) wrote a set of uniform rules and procedures for on-foot transmitter hunting in the large forests of Europe over 30 years ago. These standardized rules made it possible to have nation-versus-nation competitions. USA first participated in the World ARDF Championships in 1998 and has done so ever since. To select members of USA team and to promote the sport nationwide, the USA national championships have taken place annually in various locations around the country since 2001.
This is the third year that California has hosted the USA ARDF Championships, each time in well-mapped mountain forests. Mt. Pinos near Frazier Park was the first setting, in 2004. Then in 2007, it was South Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Mountains. Headquarters for that was a family and child rencamp in the El Dorado National Forest.
As an ARDF venue, Mt. Laguna is every bit as good. It is a 75-minute drive from downtown San Diego, but its climate is completely different from that seaside city. At 6000 feet elevation, the forests of Black Oaks and Jeffrey Pines are great for running in early June. Over 12,000 acres of the Cleveland National Forest around Mt. Laguna have been mapped for orienteering, making it possible to have separate locations for training, for competitions, and for two new events.
Los Angeles Orienteering Club was this year primary sponsoring organization, with assistance from San Diego Orienteering and the mobile transmitter hunters of San Diego and Orange Counties. Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS, was general chair of the organizers. A winner of medals in three previous national championships, Marvin also organized the two prior USA ARDF Championships in California.
USA national championships are open to all persons who can safely find their way through the forest for several kilometers while carrying direction-finding gear. There are no age limits. Four-fifths of this year participants have Amateur Radio licenses and the rest are future hams. For a quarter of them, it was their first championship fox tailing event.
National ARDF Championships are for individuals only; no teaming or assistance on the course is permitted. Participants are divided into six age categories for males and five age categories for females.1 Medals for first, second, and third place are awarded to winners in each category.
About half of the participants arrived Tuesday night or Wednesday morning for the optional camp.”Most stayed in the rustic-but-comfortable cabins and motel units of Laguna Mountain Lodge. Wednesday training event was a full-size ARDF course with 2-meter AM transmitters.
Championship 2-meter ARDF transmitters run 0.25 to 1 watt output. Antennas are horizontally polarized and omni directional. Turnstile transmit antennas are seen most of the time, but crossed loops are a good alternative. Both keyed-carrier MCW and continuous carrier with CW tones are allowed by the rules. Most competitors find that keyed carrier signals are easier for bearing-taking.
So that training camp participants would not have an unfair advantage of familiarity later on, the training took place in a separate forest area from the championship competitions. Headquarters for training was Laguna Campground. Every effort was made to have the training courses be the same level of difficulty and follow the same procedures as the championship events to
come. The biggest difference was that trainees were encouraged to find aii five transmitters each day instead of just the three or four that those in most age/gender categories are required to find during the championships.
A championship ARDF course has five transmitters, on the air for one minute each in numbered sequence. The first sends MOE for 60 seconds, then the second sends MOI, then the third sends MOS, and so on. The cycle repeats immediately after M05 goes off. Competitors donneed to know Morse Code; all they have to do to is find out which transmitter is on the air is to count the dits.
In ARDF championships, the start and finish are in separate locations. After they start, hunters do their best to discern the optimum path toward the finish that takes them to each transmitter along the way. Course lengths are officially measured by the direct distances from start to each transmitter in optimum order and then to the finish.
For Wednesday2-meter training, the shortest straight-line route was S-1-2-4-3-5-F, which was exactly 5.5 kilometers. However, those straight lines went through two trail-free areas of very heavy brush, which orienteers call .”The experienced hunters chose S-1-3-2-4-5-F, which avoided those dark-green areas on their maps. That straight-line route distance was 6.6 kilometers. Due to other terrain obstacles, the actual distances traveled on that day were 7 kilometers or more.
IARU course-setting rules require transmitters to be separated by at least 400 meters. No transmitters are within 750 meters of the start or 400 meters of the finish. One to five competitors, each in different age/gender categories, are started every five minutes, just as fox #1 comes on the air. Knowing that there won't be a fox within 750 meters of the start, they typically run toward the course area where they guess that the transmitter farthest from the finish will be.
As they first hear each fox in sequence, most competitors mark an approximate bearing toward it on their map. This helps them plan a strategy for getting to each one in optimum sequence. From then on, it is just a matter following the strategy, tracking down the transmitters, and proceeding to the finish line. There is an orange-and-white orienteering flag near each one with the electronic scoring box2 attached. The flag is clearly visible from at least ten meters away, so there is no need to beat the bushes or dig in the dirt to uncover a radio fox.
If they lose their place on the map, hunters can tune to a separate frequency and home in on a transmitter at the finish that sends ”continuously. This finish-line transmitter is also a lifeline for runners who lose their map or their eyeglasses along the way. (Yes, that has happened!)
For Wednesday2-meter training, the start was 3.6 miles northwest of Laguna Campground, just off Sunrise Highway. Trainees sought the transmitters as they worked their way back to the finish line at the campground. There they downloaded their sticks”and received a printout with the exact times for their travels between each fox. Then they could discuss their route choices and get suggestions from experienced radio-orienteers about how to do it better next time.
First Tries at Foxoring
The sport of ARDF got its start on the 80-meter band. Two-meter competitions came along years later, but the tradition of 80-meter events at international championships continues. In preparation for that, Thursday training was a full-size course with 80-meter CW transmitters in the same forest section as the 2-meter training. Transmitter locations were different, of course, but almost everything else was the same. Afterwards, KE6HTS provided a hearty lunch of Santa Barbara style barbecued tri-tip beef and all the trimmings.
Plenty of hours of sunlight remained, so Marvin gave the trainees an introduction to an ARDF event that is new to the World Championships this year —’.”It is a cross between orienteering and transmitter hunting that was developed in Europe to help get classic orienteers interested in radio orienteering. It also helps ARDF enthusiasts to improve their orienteering skills.
At the starting line, foxoring competitors are given an orienteering map marked with at least ten circles plus the start and finish. The fox transmitters are close to or within the map circles. They must be at least 250 meters from one other and at least 250 meters from the start and finish lines.
All of the foxoring transmitters operate continuously. They are very weak (about 10 milliwatts with 1-foot vertical antennas), so their ranges are about 100 feet. Competitors start at 2-minute intervals and navigate to the circles using their maps and compasses. Then they complete the final approach by direction-finding. After in”at all required foxes, they head to the finish line.
During international competitions, foxoring is only done on 80 meters at present. However, there is no reason why it couldn ’t be done with QRP 2-meter transmitters. I think this would be an ideal ARDF introduction for Scouts and others of all ages who already know orienteering. Very low transmitter power should make it possible to do the direction-finding with just handie-talkies and tape-measure Yagis, without the need for RF attenuators.
The Sprint Competition
Friday was opening day of the official USA championships and by evening, there were twice as many foxtailers present as there were during the training days. New arrivals checked their RDF gear using the test transmitters on both bands near the lodge in the early afternoon. Then it was time to try another new ARDF event —the sprint.
The sprint competition was originally designed to be a demonstration for the public. At world championships, the sprint course has two loops with a spectator corridor between them. The first loop has five transmitters on one frequency. They are on for 12 seconds each in numbered sequence for a 1-minute total cycle. This is five times faster than the rate of IARU standard competition transmitters. The second loop has five transmitters on another frequency transmitting in sequence at the same fast rate.
Sprint competitors start at 2-minute intervals. They run through the start corridor, which leads to the area with transmitters 1 through 5. After finding all the required transmitters from this loop in any order, they run to the spectator corridor transmitter and then out to the area where transmitters 6 through 10 await. They find all the required transmitters from this second loop in any order, then they rush to the finish transmitter and the finish line.
Sprint transmitters must be at least 100 meters apart and are at least 100 meters from the start and finish. They run about half the power of regular competition transmitters.
Like foxoring, championship ARDF sprints are only on 80 meters at this time, but they would also make an excellent introductory 2-meter event. The 12-second cycle is easier for beginners because they get to hear each transmitter every minute. The compact course is helpful for youth and others who have not yet developed the stamina to carry their RDF gear for several kilometers on a full-size ARDF course.
Foxes, Snakes, and Cougars
After the sprints and supper, everyone gathered in the lodgemeeting room for the pre-championships briefing. KE6HTS reviewed the rules and procedures for the two days of competition to come, and then he presided over a random drawing that determined the starting order of the competitors.
April Moell, WA60PS, gave a briefing on health and safety in the forest. Low humidity minimized concerns about ticks and poison oak, but made it important for everyone to stay hydrated. The greatest dangers would be rattlesnakes and mountain lions. rarely bite unless surprised or provoked,”she said, just watch where you step.”
far as mountain lions are concerned,”April added, most important thing to remember is to not look like prey. A trail biker in our county was attacked a few years ago when he knelt down to tie his shoes. If you encounter one, stand tall, wave your arms, and make a lot of noise. You can move back slowly, but dont try to run away, because this big cat runs faster than you can.”
Marvin designed the weekend competition courses to be difficult, on par with those at world championships. Straight-line course length was about 6.4 kilometers each day. Elevation of the finish was 300 feet higher than the start, with lots of hills and ravines between.
Volunteers drove all of the competitors and their gear to the starting point, which was four miles by road from the lodge. When they got their maps, they could see that the finish line would be at a trail junction just south of the lodge. Skies were partly cloudy with temperatures mostly in the 70s, making for good running conditions.
One 2-meter transmitter did not come on at the appointed time, requiring a hike to it for repairs. That delayed Saturday start by about 90 minutes. Once it was fixed and the hunt started, it was discovered that another of the transmitters had gone off the air, but it was decided to continue the hunt. Cause of the failures turned out to be AA batteries falling out of their holders while the transmitters were being handled and transported.
The transmitter problems plus signal reflections from the hills made it a tough day for many of the competitors. The most transmitters found by anyone on Saturday was three. Of those three-fox finders, the best time (1:12:38) was posted by Nicolai Mejevoi, a former ARDF champion for the USSR and Moldava who now lives in Illinois. Second best time (1:34:12) was by Vadim Afonkin, KB1RLI, of Boston. Almost as fast (1:35:30) was 69-year-old Bob Cooley, KF6VSE, of Pleasanton, California.
The unluckiest competitor on Saturday had to be Grant Van Skiver, VE7GVS, of New Westminster, British Columbia. As he searched for his third transmitter in mid-course, a mountain lion ran across his path about thirty feet away. Grant remembered Apriladvice and began waving his antenna overhead as he made noise and slowly moved away from the direction where he had last seen the big cat. Suddenly, he no longer heard the fox signals in his Bluetooth© earphone and he realized that his tiny Yaesu VX-3R transceiver had fallen off the antenna into the tall grass. Not wanting to suffer the fate of the Orange County biker who had been attacked as he bent down, Grant abandoned the radio and ended his foxtailing for the day.
Despite all of the problems on the 2-meter course, everyone was in a good mood Saturday evening during the feast of steak and chicken at Pine House Cafe. This traditional championships banquet normally includes the awarding of medals for that day event, but results were not known by suppertime. Because of the delay in starting, some of the electronic scoring stations had automatically turned off during the hunt. The official results were later finalized using backup handwritten logs from the start, the finish, and the field transmitter operators.
Murphy must have left town after his Saturday mischief, because Sunday80-meter championship hunt went off without a hitch. Since several participants had booked afternoon flights, the hunt started one hour earlier. Transmitters came on right on schedule, and as expected, the lack of signal reflections meant that everyone did better hunting the HF signals. Whereas 2-meter times had been mostly between two and three hours, the majority of the 80-meter times were under two hours. Every 80-meter participant except one found all of the foxes required for his or her category. Medals were handed out at 1 PM and soon everyone was on the way home.
This year medal recipients (in alphabetical order) were Vadim Afonkin, KB 1RL1 (M40 gold on 80m and silver on 2m); Dick Arnett, WB4SUV (M60 silver on 80m and bronze on 2m); Ruth Bromer, WB4QZG (F60 gold on 80m and silver on 2m); Bob Cooley, KF6VSE (M70 gold on both bands); Brian DeYoung, K4BRI (M50 gold on 80m and bronze on 2m); Marji Garrett, KJ4ZKC (F50 gold on both bands); Jay Hennigan, WB6RDV (M60 gold on 80m and silver on 2m); Joseph Huberman, K5 JGH (M60 gold on 2m and bronze on 80m); Lori Huberman (F21 gold on both bands); Harley Leach, K17XF (M70 silver on both bands); Karla Leach, KC7BLA (F60 gold on 2m and silver on 80m); Nicolai Mejevoi (M40 gold on 2m and silver on 80m); Alla Mezhevaya (F35 gold on both bands); Scott Moore, KF6IKO (M50 silver on 2m and bronze on 80m); Matthew Robbins, AA9YH (M40 bronze on both bands); Christine Sanders, KE6BRY (F50 silver on 2m); Mike Schuh, KF7QDZ (M50 gold on 2m and silver on 80m); Ian Smith (M21 gold on both bands); and Brad Weyers (M21 silver on 80m).
On to Serbia
Congratulations to KE6HTS for pulling off a peat,”his third successful USA ARDF championships. Marvinvolunteer helpers deserve lots of thanks for making this foxhunting opportunity possible. They included Les Benson, W6CGE; Joe Corones, N6SZO; Tom Gaccione, WB2LRH; Joe Loughlin, KE6PHB; and Gary Sanders, KC6TWZ.
Complete results of the Twelfth USA Championships are available online.3 Lots of photos were taken and are being published on the web. Go to my In”website4 for links to these photo pages plus much more about the growing sport of ARDF.
Now it is time to plan for next yearnational championships. Several locations are under consideration and a decision will be made in a few months. If you like the idea of having dozens of enthusiastic hams and would-be hams coming to your home town to hunt radio foxes in the woods, see the article on my website about championships hosting5 and contact me to discuss it.
The Mt. Laguna results, as well as those of last year Championships in New Mexico, have determined which of USA radio-orienteers are receiving invitations to go up against others from about thirty countries at the Sixteenth ARDF World Championships,6 September 10 through 16. A maximum of three competitors in each age/gender category may be on a nation team. Team USA 2012 will have about a dozen members.
In addition to the usual 2-meter and 80-meter competitions, the 2012 World Championships will include the first World Sprint and Foxoring Championships. Just before the ARDF World Championships for national teams, the Amateur Radio Union of Serbia will host the First ARDF World Cup,7 a four-event open competition for individuals from any country. The Second ARDF World Championship for the Blind will also take place there on September 11.
It is not too early to start preparing your equipment and yourself for the next championships. This is also a good time to help others in your local club to do the same. Regular informal practice sessions in local parks, with or without maps, will go a long way toward developing good radio-orienteering techniques. Participating in the events of your local orienteering club will improve your ability to do map-and-compass navigating in the woods. I hope to see you at next year national championships!