Handheld radio on Black Elk Peak

I usually take my handheld radio (or simply HT in ham radio lingo) with me wherever my travels take me. It is lightweight and takes almost no space in my carry-on, but gives me an opportunity to occasionally jump on the local repeaters and have a quick chat with hams in various areas of the country and abroad. My current HT is Anytone 868UV – a 7 W VHF/UHF dual-bander that also has a digital DMR capability.

When I was planning a camping roadtrip to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota, my friend Bryan, KØBNM, suggested that we visit the state’s highest peak – Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak). We also had a semi-serious discussion about how far one could reach on the air with a simple handheld radio pushing no more than 5 W out. The difference between VHF/UHF and HF communications is that the former only works in straight line of sight, whereas the latter can bounce from the ionosphere and propagate at far greater distances. So – I decided to give it a try!

Perspective of the Black Hills from the Harney Peak Fire Tower
View from the Harney Peak Fire Tower.

Before even leaving home, I researched various repeaters in the areas surrounding the Black Hills. I chose about a dozen of them, located at various distances from the peak, using the RepeaterBook website and Google Maps to estimate the distance, and programmed them with appropriate PL tones into my HT. The day we hiked up the Black Elk Peak, I had to just throw my HT into my backpack.

Google Maps shows straight-line path of my radio contact with the N0OMP repeater from Black Elk Peak
I managed to reach NØOMP repeater, 93.5 miles from Black Elk Peak!

The hike was absolutely gorgeous, and the views during it and from the top were stunning to say the least! But that has to be the topic of a different post. When I had a few minutes while at the Harney Peak Fire Tower, I fired up my HT and started calling on different repeaters, from closest in the list to the farthest. The most distant repeater that I managed to make contact with was NØOMP in Philip, SD – some 93.5 miles from my location! And that was using the medium power, pushing only 2.5 W! Normally, with a good repeater location in or around Omaha I am getting the range of about 20 miles the most – so quite a significant improvement, though well expected, and a neat little radio experiment while exploring the beautiful outdoors.

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