The Islands of Colorado

Fishhook Island, Lake Dillon, Colorado

This is about IOTA (Islands On The Air) for the rest of us that don't live near an ocean. The USIslands program is where hams can 'activate' an island in all 50 states, whether it's located on a lake, a river or yes, an ocean, and be placed on a master list as the first ham on that island. I have operated from three islands here in Colorado. Note: these were the days (2001) before I 'discovered' QRP. I was running 100 watts. The following story describes my first trip to Lake Dillon located high up in the mountains.

Eight-foot boat loaded up for the trip

Saturday, Sept. 22, 2001
This was to be my first island activation. A friend, Ted (KC2FOB), and I had come up here in August to check out the lake and found a Forrest Service road with a boat ramp that would put me less than five minutes rowing time away from the first island. The boat is a Walker Bay 8 foot rowboat. After checking in to the hotel in Frisco, CO I drove down to see how much the water level had dropped and if the docks were still in the water. Lake Dillon is a water supply for Denver some 75 miles away, at an elevation just over 9,000 feet, and this time of year the water level is low at many reservoirs in the state. Well, the road was closed and the gate padlocked! LESSON #1 NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING.
Having to cross the lake from the other side meant rowing almost a mile of open water in a small open boat. (Note, objects in mirror may appear farther that they really are.) High mountain lakes can be very tricky, where sudden downdrafts can flow from the surrounding snowcapped peaks. That afternoon I rowed out to Sentinel Island to check out possible operating sites. The island is nearly cut in half by a lagoon. At the entrance I found a wide, sandy beach for tomorrow's work.

Sunday, Sept. 23, 2001
Due to circumstances beyond my control, including the hotel's alarm clock going off in the middle of the night, I got a total of 3 hours sleep. A wake up call at 6:00 a.m., quick shower and breakfast and off I go. There was frost on the boat lying in the bed of the truck. I arrived at the launch site, and hauled/dragged the boat and equipment 200 feet along a crushed gravel path, then 30 feet down an embankment to the water. No boat ramp here. Sure wish the size 27 deep cycle battery had wheels.
As I shoved off, the sun still had a way to go before making an appearance since the lake is surrounded by 13,000+ foot mountains. There was steam rising up from the water as I left the shore and with the pre-dawn light it made a surreal landscape.
I arrived at Sentinel Island (CO-006L) and was in operation by 8:30. It had taken longer that I had expected to pack the boat and set up. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temp. was still in the low 40's so the sun would be a welcome sight. I had 2 antennas set up. One was the copper pipe vertical that John (KL7JR) describes in the home-brew page of the USI website. The other was a newly acquired 33 foot fiberglass mast from MFJ from which I planned to hang a 20 Meter delta loop or sloping dipole. The copper vertical did so well I used it exclusively. The radials were made from 300 ohm foam feed line left over from a (failed) project. Shorted at one end and alligator clips on the other, they lay nice and flat without having to stake them down. I was able to throw 2 of the 3 radials into the water.
After calling CQ USIsland I got my first contact in less than 30 seconds. LESSON #2 It pays to announce ahead instead of spur-of-the-moment trips. I've never participated in a contest, except for the QRP ARCI PSK Sprint earlier this month, and have never been on a DX-pedition, so was amazed at the non stop pileups. Didn't have to call CQ again.
I wanted to be sure I was able to work on a second island, so I packed and was set up on Fishhook Island (CO-005L) in an hour or so. Another nice sandy beach among the otherwise rocky shoreline. As I was working the again-nonstop calls, I was keeping an eye on the wind, which was slowly building, and the water which was no longer the "smooth as glass" surface it had been. After completing QSO number 102, I made the executive decision to quit before it got any choppier out there. The row back was uneventful, except for the tendency for the boat to "weather vane" into the wind, so it was 2 strokes normal and 1 or 2 with the left oar to keep my course.
After looking over the log, I see there were 102 contacts including 25 states, 4 Canadian provinces and Japan. Several of the calls were from guys who had stumbled onto the activity and wondered what the fuss was all about. It was fun explaining that I was operating from an island in landlocked Colorado.
The equipment included an Alinco DX-70, MFJ-941E tuner, 259B SWR analyzer, a cooler with wheels that doubled as table and waterproof container for the equipment and don't forget the 300 pound battery (or did it just seem that heavy)?
Special thanks to John Reisenauer (KL7JR) for the antenna design and Ron (KIØII) for the many 2 Meter drive-time QSOs discussing portable setups and trip logistics, etc.
What a great way to combine things nautical, the outdoors and ham radio. To anyone contemplating trying this for the first time, stop contemplating and go do it!