My First SOTA Activation–Success

Mt. Herman is in the books as my first SOTA (Summits On The Air) activation.  I’ll get to all the particulars in just a minute.  First, I want to thank a few individuals who truly made a difference in helping me make this activation a success.

Steve Galchutt, wG0AT.  If you’re the least bit interested in SOTA and/or any type of portable operations, you’re probably already familiar with his YouTube videos.  If not, please take a look.  Steve answered my many questions about the SOTA program and activating Mt. Herman.   Thanks Steve.

Budd Drummond, W3FF.  Budd is the Budd in Buddipole.  Without his fantastic products, all I’ll describe later would not be possible.  In addition, Budd helped spot me and cheered me on as the pileup started.  I was told he would probably show up and help stir up contacts for QRP stations.  Show up he did.  Thanks Budd.

As I described in my activation alert and the update released a few days later.  I’ve done backcountry hiking, backpacking, camping and have climbed a few 14’ers here in Colorado.  I’ve also operated portable HF before but have never combined the two in any way before today.  I had some (OK…a lot) of concerns and probably over prepared for this and also brought along a lot more gear than I truly needed.  More about this in a minute.

A major concern I had going into this activation centered around powering my station.  I have been researching the Buddipole nanophosphate A123 battery packs and decided to bite the bullet and purchase one.  Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive in time (no fault of Buddipole Company) and I had to go to “Plan B”.  This “Plan B” ended up being my old stand by which is a sealed lead acid 7.5 Ah battery weighing in around 6 lbs.  The battery is a couple of years old but I’ve maintained it the best I could.  I tested it prior to the trip by running the FT-817 on WSPR.  My station transmitted every 6 minutes or so for a transmit duration of almost 2 minutes each cycle.  It powered the 817 in this condition for nearly 3 hours before beginning to fall off.   

As a precaution I carried along a rollup solar panel which I’ve had a few years.  I was concerned  the battery wouldn’t hold out and figured if it was a sunny day, the solar panel would help supplement the battery.  The solar panel and solar charge controller weighs in about 2 lbs. 

My antenna setup for this activation was probably the one area I felt fairly confident with.  I’ve owned my Buddipole for several years and have used it in portable operations and even set it up at home a few times.  I’ve used it in the dipole configuration as well as vertical.  The Buddipole setup is a highly versatile system and of course very portable. 

For portability I went with the vertical versatee setup.  Which consists of a mast, the buddipole versatee adapter, coil, two mast sections and standard whip with one wire counterpoise.   The challenge I experienced was with the mast.  I had also ordered the new Buddipole shock cord mast and like the battery it didn’t arrive in time.  I wasn’t looking forward to carrying the extended mast I have for the buddipole tripod.  With the help of Steve, wG0AT he shared with me some pictures of using a hiking pole to support the vertical.   This will work….but did it really?

I think I finally fell asleep on Friday night just before midnight.  I was excited and I was mentally going through my pack (which I had packed a few hours before).  I finally convinced myself I had everything and fell asleep.  I was awake before my alarm sounded at 5 AM.  The plan was to have breakfast somewhere between Denver and Monument, Colorado and arrive at the trailhead by 8 AM local time (1500z).  This would allow me two hours to make it to the summit of Mt. Herman and setup to start calling CQ around 10 AM local (1700z).

I arrived at the Mt. Herman trailhead right on schedule and began the hike.  I’ll admit I’m not in shape…..far from it.  But I allowed enough time to do 1 mile hike (about 1000’ of elevation gain) and was on the summit with about 45 minutes to spare.  I started setting up the antenna first.  The wind was rough…really rough on the summit.  While I setup guy ropes, the wind was really punishing my antenna. 

As I previously stated, I was planning to lash the versatee to one of my hiking poles.  I brought along about a half dozen tie-wraps or zip ties.  I use these things all around the house and office.  I’ve always considered them the next best thing to duct-tape and bailing wire.  I’ve never had a tie-wrap break on me and figured this would be a better solution to bungee cords.  Unfortunately within 15 minutes the first two zip ties had been broken and the antenna crashed to the ground.  I had four more and decided to go for broke and use all four.  Success???

I had watched several of the Buddipole Youtube videos on setting up the versatee vertical.  The recommended setup was two antenna accessory arms, red coil: tap 5, standard 5.5 foot whip with all 6 extensions out.  The counterpoise 14.25 feet.  I managed to fight the wind, the vertical was standing straight and I quickly checked using my iP-30 antenna analyzer.  Just a few tweaks to the counterpoise and I had an SWR reading of 1.5.  This was good enough for me.

I quickly got my Yaesu FT-817ND setup and was in business.  I dialed up the HF Pack 17m frequency of 18.157.50, listened for a few minutes (heard nothing) then asked if the frequency was in use (heard nothing) asked again and after hearing nothing I began calling CQ.  At 17:15z the first station answering my CQ was just a few miles below me down in the town of Monument, Colorado.  wG0AT had been listening for me. Steve posted my callsign on the SOTAWatch website which alerted  all the other SOTA Chasers to my activation.  Let the fun begin.

The pileup was simply amazing and contacts flew into my paper logbook (just a Rite in the Rain journal).  From 17:15z through 17:49z I worked 28 stations consisting of 22 US, 2 Canada, 2 Germany, 1 Spain and 1 Czech Republic.  All on 5w.  I truly didn’t count on working DX and certainly didn’t count on adding to my DXCC count.  But the Czech Republic was a new DX entity for me and I’m truly pleased to have worked  him.  Thanks again to Steve, wG0AT who sent me the picture below showing my APRS route up to the summit and three of the DX stations QSL cards.

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My plan was to spend about an hour working 17 meters and then try 12 meters.  However, just after wrapping up with W7RJC at 17:49z the vertical came crashing down to the ground.   The temperature on the summit was below freezing and I guess that made the plastic zip ties brittle and they just couldn’t handle what mother nature was dishing out.  I was out of options and decided to pack up. 

Besides the high wind, I could not have asked for a better day for my first SOTA activation.  The picture (below) was taken with my iPhone and shows the view from the summit towards the northeast.  Once I got everything packed away I took some time to enjoy a sandwich my wonderful wife made for me the night before and take in the beautiful sights around me. 

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Just before strapping the pack on for the descent back to the car I took this photo (below) to capture just how pleased I was with the events of the day.  I had finally combined a couple of my favorite hobbies together into one activity and can honestly say, I can’t wait for the next SOTA activation.

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This experience has helped me to also better understand I need to do more to get back in better physical shape.  As I’ve always said, amateur radio is different things to different people.  The best part about the SOTA program is it can be enjoyed both from a mountain top or from the comfort of your ham shack.  I’ve done both and will continue to chase and activate every chance I get.  I hope you’ll join me.

Until next time….

73 de KD0BIK

Category(s): SOTA Expedition Reports,
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