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#19186 - 10/31/17 01:25 PM VHF/UHF Radios in the Mountains
Michael R Offline

Registered: 01/08/11
Posts: 37
Loc: Cowtown
Hey guys,

This past season I purchased a VHF/UHF radio in the interest of improving my safety in the mountains. I believe in most circumstances in the Rockies this can provide a much better response in the event of an emergency as compared to a Spot or inReach. Parks Canada maintains a network of repeaters that will give you instant 2-way communication with Parks Dispatch and these repeaters cover many areas not reached by cellphone towers. There are also several other organizations with repeaters that can provide emergency communication in the mountains, such as Kananaskis and CMH.

It is worth noting here that using your radio on any of these repeaters/frequencies mentioned above is illegal unless you are in an emergency.
Don't call them and ask what the snow/ice/weather/beach conditions are like.
Don't use a repeater to tell the world that you are off belay.

One downside to a radio is you need to know what you are doing to make it useful. There is a not insignificant learning curve involved to understand the frequencies, offsets, antennas, bandwidths and squelch tones involved. Fortunately, I'm a huge nerd who wants to be safe, so I hit the books and got my Amateur Radio (HAM) license. This is not required for emergency use, but it will allow you to talk on frequencies designated for amateur use, talk on amateur repeaters and give you a good foundation for how to use a piece of critical safety equipment.

I don't think that radios are a tool for everyone. They won't replace the simplicity of the one button devices such as an inReach, nor will they provide texting capabilities to your friends back home. However a radio is the tool to use if you want to talk to the rescuers in the helicopter circling above you and explain what pitch you're on. You can also save about an hour of time compared to a Spot/inReach because you are contacting Parks Canada Dispatch directly to explain your situation, rather than going through some dispatch centre in Houston, and then the 911 system, and finally getting GPS coordinates to Parks with nothing else.

I'm posting this because I don't see very much information on radio use outside of the professional guiding community, and I think that the outdoors would be a slightly safer place if there were a few more climbers carrying radios with the knowledge of how to use them.

If anybody thinks they are interested, let me know and I can put together some information to help get you started on what to learn about radios. I'm also happy to answer any questions, or elaborate on anything mentioned above.


P.S. - Any other climbers with HAM licenses out there?

#19188 - 11/01/17 01:58 PM Re: VHF/UHF Radios in the Mountains [Re: Michael R]
Glen Fielhaber Offline

Registered: 12/14/13
Posts: 38
Loc: Airdrie
I'm definitely interested in getting more info on this. I've found a couple websites that offer a study book for sale but not much other info for Canadians, is there a free copy of the study guide somewhere online one can use by chance? How does one find a HAM testing place?

Info on what radio you would recommend that doesn't break the bank but still has the functions and range needed to be useful.

#19190 - 11/02/17 10:40 PM Re: VHF/UHF Radios in the Mountains [Re: Glen Fielhaber]
Michael R Offline

Registered: 01/08/11
Posts: 37
Loc: Cowtown
Hi Glen,

Here is a link to the Industry Canada website. Here you can do practice exams, download the entire question bank (really big) and find accredited examiners in your area. I just looked up one of them near me and went to his house to do the exam. He charged $10, but I think it can vary.
Industry Canada Ham Radio Services
More Info Here
Try a few practice exams and you can get an idea for what you need to learn. They break it down by category, so you can see where you need to improve.

If you don't think you can learn all the material by yourself, then there are very affordable courses run by the Calgary Amateur Radio Association. They give you study material and run the exam on the last day of the class as well I think.
Ham Radio Classes

For radios, my biggest piece of advice is to get one you can program with CHIRP, a good free open source tool for programming radios.
CHIRP Supported Radios

The Baofeng UV-5R (Sometimes rebranded from other companies such as Retevis) is definitely the cheapest one and works pretty well. You'll want a programming cable, and might be worthwhile to get the 3800mAh battery for it too. I use a speaker mic while skiing to talk to my friends, but I don't find it useful while climbing. Maybe looking at $100-150 ish to order that stuff off Amazon, and then another $100 on antennas.

Whatever radio you buy will come with an antenna for the HAM band (144-148 MHz) but you'll probably want a 2 more antennas covering 150-173 MHz for the frequencies that commercial/Parks repeaters use. This is important because if the antenna isn't tuned to the correct frequency, it reduces your range. (Remember, still illegal to talk on those frequencies, except for an emergency smile )

They can be ordered here, but they only ship the US unfortunately, so you'll have to sort that out with a US friend or that place in Montana that you can ship stuff to or something. Make sure to get them with the correct base connector for your radio.
165 MHz Antenna from Smiley
There's also a guy in Banff that sells them, but he might not have the right base connector, depending on what radio you buy.

After that, you can send me an email, and I can give you the frequency list in a CSV spreadsheet I have for repeaters in the mountains to program into your radio. It took me a while to type up, so I might get you to buy me a beer in exchange wink

Hope that's a good start, happy to answer any more questions.


Edited by Michael R (11/03/17 12:22 PM)

#19191 - 11/03/17 10:12 AM Re: VHF/UHF Radios in the Mountains [Re: Michael R]
Grant P Offline

WI 10

Registered: 11/10/07
Posts: 1041
Loc: Calgary
Michael - I gotta say that that is a shit ton of good info. I haven't followed any of the links yet but its really good to have this reference here for anyone to look up whenever they need it. I might even have considered looking into getting a radio if I didn't have to go pick up the Jeep. When you have a beefed up Jeep, you have to get beefed up parts, and they come with a beefed up cost. More toys or tools depending on the "need" grin

I did get my VHF operators licence a decade or so ago when I played and raced on sail boats, but that was a marine situation. These radios are a different ball game. Nice to have this reference.

Any way a huge thank you on behalf of the community, and if I ever get round to buying one, I'd be happy to swap beers for the frequency list spreadsheet.

#19193 - 11/05/17 10:00 AM Re: VHF/UHF Radios in the Mountains [Re: Michael R]
Michael R Offline

Registered: 01/08/11
Posts: 37
Loc: Cowtown
Thanks Grant!

#19194 - 11/05/17 02:00 PM Re: VHF/UHF Radios in the Mountains [Re: Michael R]
rcheck Offline

Registered: 12/22/09
Posts: 22
Another useful reference for radio communication in all its mountain forms is Cyril Shokoples' (VE6MTN) article on his website

Rick C

#19210 - 11/11/17 08:50 AM Re: VHF/UHF Radios in the Mountains [Re: rcheck]
malemute Offline

Registered: 12/10/08
Posts: 25
Loc: the wet coast
Smiley used to ship to Canada, and according to they probably still do. There is a screwup on their new account page such that the US is the only country in a pulldown menu. I would email them.
I have several of their antennas. I am partial to this one, which telescopes for better reception & transmission. You can also change it's resonant frequency by changing the total length, but you would need to talk to a ham for that. If anyone gets one, I'll make some measurements.



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