Revised July 31, 2019

Planning for your equipment and observing at AHSP

The most important lesson learned in past years is to have plans to protect your equipment from sudden downpours, which can occur in the mountains in late summer. The showers are accompanied by sudden winds, so tarps and covers need to be firmly attached, and in a way that the cover does not become a sail, and in a way that your dob doesn’t become a wind vane! The same cover will protect against occasional heavy dew. Remember to protect your tables and other observing accessories, too.

When you choose a tarp, consider something white or aluminized to avoid excessive heating during the day, if you leave your equipment closely covered.

The observing fields at SKMC are mostly gently sloping, so be prepared to level your equipment, and possibly keep it off the damp ground and out of depressions.

Some people bring a small section of short-napped carpet to set the scope on which also makes finding something you drop much less frustrating.

We have arrangements to pick up and deliver battery packs from the observing fields to the main yurt for recharging. The basic arrangement are expected along these lines:

  • You drop off your battery at a marked area in your observing field in the AM, and mark with a provided tag or your own. Information must include your name and the field (color) you are on.
  • We bring the battery to the 110VAC power on tables near the main yurt.
  • You connect the battery to your charger
  • You disconnect when charging is complete, before dinner.
  • We return the battery to the original drop-off area.

As long as your battery lasts through the night, you should not have a problem. And on the topic of power, pay attention to having enough dew-prevention heaters, either electric or chemical.

On the more positive topic of what to look at, John McDonnell has prepared observing charts for various size telescopes and binoculars. These have been added to the AHSP site. There is an almanac of solar system targets and rise/set times, including twilight. These can be found at the AHSP web site under Program > Observing.

There will be sky tours most (all?) evenings led by Skip Bird. These will meet near the registration tent at about 9:00. The purpose is to orient beginners to the naked-eye objects in the sky. John McDonnell will attempt to find you a mentor for help getting the best use from your new equipment.  Of course, there is always lots of informal advice by simply making friends with your observing neighbors and asking.

Planning for camping at AHSP

Just as collected wisdom warns that you need to protect your equipment from mountain downpours, wind gusts, and unfiltered summer Sun, you need to do the same for yourself and your campsite. Use proper groundcover and pay attention to slopes and depressions, to keep your area dry when the showers come and after.

Sun shelter for your tent during the day is a great idea as you will probably need some shuteye; you don’t want to find yourself trying to sleep in a hot tent. Suspending a silver tarp over your tent with a bit of an air gap between the tarp and the top of the tent works well. The silver tarp will still heat up, but by keeping a small gap between the tarp and the tent the temperature inside will be much cooler.

Flimsy canopy shelters do not fare well at the site due to the gusty wind, and even well-made canopies need to be very securely staked out or they will be damaged. For staking canopies – and probably for tents as well – avoid using the short, narrow metal pins that come packaged with most tents. Much better-holding stakes are widely available (REI, sporting goods stores, Walmart, Amazon). See the AHSP Preparations Checklist for suggestions on ground stakes, and more generally on preparing tents for possible gusty winds.  Steve Phillips has offered to provide advice in advance or to check out whether your tent is setup right for the location. Make arrangements by sending to <>.  

With AHSP taking place in early September, cool nights can occur. AHSP is being held in the mountains. On a clear dry night, it can get down to the 50s even in August (40s one year!). Better to bring the clothing and sleeping gear you MIGHT need, and hope to not use it.

You will do a lot of walking. Bring good footwear, and spares if not waterproof. Even the heavy dew can soak through canvas shoes.

There are port-o-johns distributed around the fields, and we have drinking water piped along the road to a central location convenient to the fields. You can plan on getting bulk drinking water there or from the Yurts or the shower building. With the altitude, Sun, and walking, you need to drink a lot, and to drink BEFORE you get thirsty. The shower building has real men’s and women’s showers, sinks, and flush toilets, open ’round the clock. There is also an environmentally-friendly and architecturally-interesting composting outhouse (the “Ooper”) behind the main yurt.

If you don’t sign up for SKMC’s meals, you can prepare your own, but no open fires. Small propane or gas stoves are safest when used properly.

We need to remind everyone that there is no smoking in or around SKMC buildings. I is also not allowed on the observing fields where it might impinge on other guests.

A note on the SKMC meals: We’ve asked SKMC to continue the same menus as recent years; they’ve been a big hit. While there will again be veggie options, there will be more of the meat versions of the dishes — and maybe less broccoli. Still time to sign up.

There is generally coffee and hot water for drinks in the Yurt food service area at night. But you should plan to have snacks and drinks convenient to keep you going at your telescope over long observing sessions. Having some extras to share is a sociable gesture.

While there are some trash cans at the main Yurts, it is only for the trash produced at SKMC meals and other limited purposes. We cannot take care of everyone’s trash for the weekend. You must be prepared to pack out your own trash and recyclables.

The site is too high for any significant mosquito problems. Snakes and larger critters have never been a problem in the occupied areas (e.g., no special food storage precautions). No poison ivy in the occupied areas.

It is high (for the East) and can be very dry. Bring sunscreen and brimmed hats, and do NOTHING which might cause a fire. Drink plenty of water before you feel thirsty– just do it — you’ll feel better for it. It will help avoid acclimitization headache. Easy to get dehydrated when you’re having fun. A few people might feel the altitude effects the first day, but nothing most people will even notice.

RVs have their own area. Quiet hours mean no loud socializing in the camping and observing areas at night or early morning, and no engines running (e.g., generators) during those times. Of course, no cars can move after dark. (Sorry: if you arrive after twilight, you need to park your vehicle at the SKMC entrance gate ‘til morning.) No hard and fast rules (except following the directions of SKMC and AHSP staff), but go the extra mile to be considerate of your neighbors who may have been up all night observing.

It is VERY dark on the observing fields, and we need to keep it that way. All flashlights and unshielded laptop screens must be heavily red filtered, and any lights in tents should not be allowed to interfere with dark-adaption outside.

Light leakage from cars is an increasing problem. New models have many more lights, with many automated modes associated with doors, hatches, and prozimity keys. Please review the settings for your car, and either disable lights that might come on when you open a door or approach the car, or cover the offending lights with towels, tape, etc. Wide blue masking tape can do the job. Pay attention to the less obvious ones, such as ‘puddle’ lights on the bottom of doors — check out your own car in the dark.

If you forget something, check with your neighbors first. There is no camp store at SKMC, and NO convenience store within many miles. The ‘notes on getting there‘ includes some resources in the area, including last-minute stops on the way to and from SKMC, along with routes and other activities.

For internal and external communications, remember that your cellphone, smartphone, and laptop will not have common carrier service. As a result of an AHSP donation, WiFi and high speed Internet is available around the Main Yurt. Free limited-duration land-line calls can be made in the main Yurt. If you have Family Radio (FRS), bring it! In addition to your own use, various AHSP announcements are made that way, and it is about the only way to summon help around the fields in an emergency.

Which leads to some advice: being up in the mountains is not a good place to get injured or have other serious emergencies. Richard Grauel and Arlen Raasch have put together emergency and first aid plans for AHSP, which includes coordination with SKMC, identifying EMTs and other trained personnel who will be there, making sure we have the right first aid and fire equipment, notifying local first responders, etc. In the past, the emergency plan has rarely been needed, and we hope to keep it that way. By the way, if you have relevant training and would be available on-site, please identify yourself to Arlen at <>. First aid kits are located near the port-o-johns, the registration desk, and the main Yurt. Staff also have access to AEDs.

If you need to have medicine refrigerated, that can be done in the kitchen Yurt. Talk with the staff. If you have a medical condition of which first responders should be aware, similarly let Arlen Raasch know, in confidence.

Some highlights

We have a selection of environmental events around the SKMC site, including geology [sorry, not in 2019], botany, and birding hikes. These are not too strenuous, suitable for the entire family, and free. We also have outdook hikes and activities led by SKMC staff for a modest fee. Newest of these is an environmental hike to the beaver dam site.

More details can be found at the AHSP web site under Program > Events Overview.

Photo gallery and raffle

We will continue the AHSP photo gallery this year for images collected during the weekend. We’ve noticed many of the astrophotographers complementing their all-night photon grabbing with next-day image processing. You don’t need to go that far. AHSP would like to recognize your efforts with a slide show of submitted images during the weekend. Not only astrophotos, but also photos of the people, activities, and mountain environment of AHSP will be welcome. Arlen Raasch is coordinating, and details will been posted on the Web site.

Previous years’ successful raffle format will also be continued, with major prizes (this year Cannon stabilized binocs and Kestrel weather stations) along with the more typical items provided by NOVAC & AHSP and by our commercial supporters. Certain prizes are reserved for young attendees. You will receive some tickets with your registration packet, and can purchase more (except for the major prize). Remember that any excess revenue goes to the continuation of AHSP, and to help support our hosts, Experience Learning, and its programs. Raffle will be held Sunday before dinner. You must be present to win.

Adding items to your registration

If you want to add an activity (such as hikes, canoeing, or Greenbank tour), meals, or AHSP souvenir items/clothing, simply send an email with particulars to <>, You will receive complete information and billing in a return email.