Snowstorm Ranch, 2013.
It was late. Everyone was milling around the cabin drinking after dinner. My laptop was dead, so I couldn’t work anyone on JT65/Digital. For the past 10 months, I had been working on learning CW being taught by CWOps academy (Thanks Rob, K6RB). I had made a few QSO’s on CW with other SKCC members, but always with the help of the sked website or the SKCC database for the important information.
I was lazily tuning around the bands just in awe of everything I could hear. There wasn’t any QRM up at 5.5k feet in the middle of nowhere, so I was just enjoying the gentle S1 hiss with the occational chirp from the generator that ran the TV which the old guys were watching. The K3 was happily running off of the deep cycle battery that I brought.
I heard someone calling CQ. It was a very slow CQ. Obviously from a straight key. I put my big boy pants on, got some paper and a pencil, and jumped into the deep end of the CW pool and threw my call out. I was already a few sheets to the wind booze wise so I figured that I had nothing to lose.
Im not sure if I was more surprised or mortified when I heard my call thrown back at me. I just took a deep breath and let my mind go blank. It was KD6DKC, Rick, from Merced. During our QSO, I heard the other guys say “Is that morse code? Is Frank really talking to someone using morse code?”. My dad replied “Yeah, can you believe my kid really knows morse code?”. We exchanged info, and as I signed off, I looked up to see everyone looking at me in amazement. I had wanted to do CW up at snowstorm for the longest time, and that was my first CW contact up there. No help, no decoders, nothing. Just my brain, the rig, and a straight key. Something that most CW operators wouldn’t even give a second thought to.
I will never forget that QSO. I sent Rick an QSL card that I made with an image of the camp on it. Sure its probably just another QSO in his log, but for me it was just the kick in the ass I needed to really learn and get good at CW. It made all of those nights in front of the computer listening to letter after letter worth while.