SOTA Fail, SOTA Success–All in one day

As I posted on Friday, I had every intention of activating Centennial Cone, W0/FR-185 on Saturday.  However, it just wasn’t to be.  But I turned a failed activation into some “lessons learned” and still managed to have my first QSO on my brand new Elecraft KX3 on a Colorado mountain top. 

Everything on Saturday morning was going extremely smooth.  I woke up before the alarm sounded and was out the door slightly ahead of schedule.  I’ll admit, I didn’t do enough research on Centennial Cone.  However, I did read several trip reports on Lists of John website and even telephoned the Jefferson County Open Space office on Friday afternoon to inquire about two questions I had. 

Question #1 had to do with the notice on the website stating trail closure.  The lady I spoke with told me there were no trail closures.   Even asking the question again, and making note that I had seen a notice on their website, she explained I would not have an issue with trail closures.

Question #2 had to do with the alternate use schedule.  This just basically means they separate hikers and bikers on alternating weekend days.  I could tell the lady I was speaking with wanted to get back to her “Words with Friends” game session or whatever she was doing before I telephoned. 

After arriving at the West trailhead, I grabbed my pack and headed over to the trailhead and began my hike along the Elk Range Trail.  I was no further than 1/4 of a mile down the trail when I came across a big gate blocking the trail with the words TRAIL CLOSED.  The signage referenced more or less the same reasons as the notice on the website, stating the trail closure was due to Elk calving in the area. 

While some may have ignored the gate closure (and there certainly was evidence of this with human foot tracks just on the other side), it is the strong connection with the radio amateur’s code along with following the law of the land (with respect for God’s gift to all of us) which simply caused me to turn around and head back the other direction.  

Unfortunately, what happened next was where I made my mistake.  My initial thought was to pack up and go to “plan B”.  When I plan a SOTA activation, I typically also research at least one alternative summit in the area.  While I had a list of alternate summits in the area, I had failed to research them prior to Saturday morning.  

Centennial Cone had been on my list of alternate SOTA summits for some time.  I actually planned to activate it in December.  But this plan fell apart when I got sick.  I didn’t activate again until April and that was Genesee Mountain for the SOTA demonstration to the amateur radio club.

When I returned to the trailhead I studied the large map and devised an alternative plan where I would take another trail (fully open) and access Centennial Cone from the other side.  I had read reports on List of John that others had done this before, but it was the longer and more difficult route. 

I know what I’m going to say next may not always apply for hiking, backpacking and mountaineering.  It’s sort of like traveling.  I always find it counterproductive to fly South, to then fly West.  (example fly from Denver to Dallas to then fly to LA).  In any event, the alternative trail was downhill for the first mile.  Again, despite my gut telling me to pack it in and go somewhere else…I set off down the trail. 

I hiked about 3 miles to the point where the trip reports talked about bushwhacking and scrambling.  I could visualize the route as it was a common route for whatever wildlife in the area routinely used it.  This route would take me up and over a mountain, then down a saddle and then up the side of Centennial Cone.  Yep…it’s sounds better and easier on paper.

After about 30 minutes of scrambling and wishing I had my gaiters with me, I began to realize this plan was starting to fall apart.   I was already behind schedule and had promised the wife I would be home in the early afternoon as we had plans.  However, at the same time…I so wanted to operate the new KX3 in the environment I had purchased it for.

I began thinking how I could salvage the day.  I had two options.  Option #1 was setup on the top of the mountain I was climbing (not a SOTA summit) and just operate for an hour and head back.   While I would not earn any SOTA points, I could still have fun with my new radio.  However, those who were waiting for me to come on the air also would not earn any chaser points.  Option #2 was to return back to the trailhead, drive over to Genesee Mountain.  This option wouldn’t earn me any SOTA activation points, but reward my chasers with points and still allow me to have fun with my new KX3.

While I do enjoy the competitive nature of operating in amateur radio contests and yes, even accumulating chaser and activator points, that is only one very small element of why I enjoy the Summits on the Air program.  For me, it was more important to make sure anyone I worked would gain something versus only thinking about myself.  So without further hesitation I began the trip back to the truck.  Boy was that last 1/2 mile (uphill) difficult.

I reached the truck and drove over to Genesee Mountain.  Genesee Mountain is an easy SOTA summit.  The parking area is less than one mile from the top and the elevation gain is about 200 feet. Even with tired, sore legs and back, I was on the summit of Genesee Mountain within an hour of leaving the Centennial Cone parking area and quickly began setting up the Buddipole vertical.


I setup the Buddipole Versatee Vertical for full 1/4 wave on 20m (no coil) and connected the new Elecraft KX3.  I listened for a few minutes on the 20m QRP calling frequency of 14.342.5 and heard another SOTA station calling CQ.  It was AE7LD operating from W7/LC-146.  I answered his CQ and logged the first KX3 QSO at 1847 UTC.  My second QSO was one minute later and was a line of sight contact with W0RW who was operating pedestrian mobile from about 13,000 feet on the side of Pikes Peak. 

I moved down the band and found a clear frequency and began calling CQ.  I also quickly spotted myself on Twitter and my third contact was with Randy Hall, K7AGE.  You may know Randy from his Youtube videos.  Randy’s video series on PSK-31 was what encouraged me to study and upgrade to general three months after earning my tech. 

I also worked WA2USA, AJ5C, KB6COF, K6ILM, NS7P, N1EU, KE5VTD, NX9B, N0WY, WD0GTY, K4CIA, WT5RZ and VE1WT. 

A few noteworthy items from that list of QSO’s. 

This was my 4th activation and I’ve worked WA2USA on each of them. 

AJ5C, Bob in Arkansas.  When I activated Mt. Herman on 19 November, I worked Bob.  I was his very first SOTA contact as a chaser.  Today, 23 April he earned his 1000th SOTA Chaser point and earned the title of Shack Sloth.  Congrats Bob and thank you for your friendship.

Finally, NX9B informed me that I was also his first SOTA contact.  I wish Jeff the best of luck with future chasing and perhaps activations.  As many will admit, SOTA (both chasing and activating) is highly addictive.

As for me, I’m ready and excited for the next opportunity to get out and activate a SOTA summit. I hope to spend the first couple of weekends in May working on the basement ham shack and then take a weekend off (or at least a Saturday) for SOTA. 

Until then….

73 de KDØBIK

Category(s): SOTA Expedition Reports
Tags: , ,

2 Responses to SOTA Fail, SOTA Success–All in one day

  1. Do you operate any cw from sota?

    • Hi Doug,

      I don’t, but many certainly do. Learning CW is on my bucket list. But at this time, I don’t operate CW.


2 Responses in other blogs/articles

  1. […] I’m perfectly happy with my KX3 and have already used it on one SOTA adventure, I was (like many) thinking, hoping, expecting, anticipating Yaesu to unveil it’s new QRP […]

  2. […] time) less than 48 hour old Elecraft KX3.  While I was unsuccessful at activating Centennial Cone, I was successful at getting the new Elecraft KX3 on the air from a Colorado SOTA summit that day.  To say I hadn’t thought about Centennial Cone would be an understatement.  This SOTA summit […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *