CQ From Latvia with Love

CQ From Latvia with Love

by Leo (DL2COM)

A completely under-prepped SOTA & WWFF activation which turned out to be perfect

In preparation for a tough conversation a good friend once told me: “You know what, just walk into the fire. If you have bad news to deliver, don’t sugar coat it and do it right away. You’ll be fine.” 

“Just walk into the fire.” I believe this can be applied to many other situations in life. While I would consider myself to be well-prepared on most trips, hikes and activations and getting a lot of joy out of optimizing my kits I try to stay open-minded. Imagine the things you would miss out on if you wouldn’t be spontaneous or only do things while fully prepared and 100% safe – even if it means taking risks.

On the road back to Riga
The QCX-Mini silently drying after a successful activation

Last Wednesday, I kind of walked into the fire. Not fire as in fire-fire but fire as in Latvian winter storm. In general this wouldn’t be such a big deal had I brought the right clothes, gear and shoes to my short business trip to Riga.

Due to very strict luggage restrictions I could only bring one small backpack for three days. Inside I had enough room for a laptop, washbag, spare clothes and the compact QCX-Mini Kit I built for exactly these occasions. I was wearing sneakers and jeans. At this point I had not planned a specific activation but I wanted at least to be able to operate YL/ & /p maybe 30 minutes from a nearby park – not a problem if you can jump right back into the warm hotel afterwards.

My rental car rocking summer tires in Winter (yes, I was driving veeeeeeery slowly)

During our stay, my schedule for Wednesday morning freed up so I decided to try activating one out of only three SOTA summits in Latvia: YL/YL-003. It turns out this summit is also located within WWFF territory YLFF-0007 about a 1,5h drive from Riga. Big Thanks to Val (YL2SW), Latvia’s WWFF manager, for assisting me with local rules and processing my log. A quick look at the weather forecast showed freezing temperatures, 90% chance of snow, heavy winds and overcast. Many of you will understand why a SOTA&WWFF combo in a rare country could be a small reason not to use the hotel’s sauna on a day like that. Sometimes things just need to get done.

Summit watchtower
The majestic watchtower on YL/YL-003

I got up early the next morning and was very happy to be able to grab a Bolt rental car from the street and get going quickly. The drive went by without issues up to a point just about 3km away from the mountain (well, 1-pointer hill I should say). The roads were completely covered in snow so I could barely see where I was driving. Latvia is a rather flat country but here it started to get a bit hilly and the tires were certainly not cut out for that.

I decided to play it safe, park the car and walk the rest but seconds later the car was already stuck in the snow. It didn’t move an inch. All efforts to get it free failed so I was forced to abandon the car and just start walking back to civilization in strong winds. Luckily about 2km back there was a large concrete production site and the people there were super kind and helpful. Within minutes they organized a four-wheeler and a strong rope. All while joking around and finding solutions pragmatically. 30 minutes later I had the car parked safely on their lot.

This whole thing could have turned out way worse and I am thankful how lucky I was. They even tried to find winter boots for me but didn’t have the right size and then gave me a ride to the trailhead and showed me where to start walking. What a nice and unforgettable encounter!

I then hiked up the mountain which only took about 20 minutes. No paths had been cleared and there was a lot of fresh snow and the wind was getting stronger. Due to the time I had lost I knew I would have to speed up the activation to make it back to Riga in time for my flight home. There is a high wooden watchtower on the summit. Activating from up there would have been nice in Summer but I discussed with a friend beforehand that its metal roof might add some attenuation and effect SWR. So I only climbed up to about half of the tower and attached the rope and antenna wire for an almost-vertical sloper configuration. I then started the activation at the bottom of the tower sitting on a frozen-over wooden bench deep in the snow.

Ready? Go!

14.044 Mhz: QRL? CQ SOTA CQ 44 DE YL/DL2COM/p PSE K.

I have never experienced a pile up like this. I immediately realized that for some reason my headphones volume was very low even though the dial was all the way cranked up. I had never used those in-ears before as I had carelessly thrown them into my kit at home. Luckily I also brought a tiny active speaker which saved the day after I plugged it in mid-pileup. 

After the first 3 QSOs or so I knew that I would have to change my normal QSO pattern into a Dxpedition-like one because the cold was already crawling up everywhere and there were tons of takers. In a short amount of time I wanted to get as many QSOs in as possible so I basically only repeated the callsign and then sent 599 BK followed by TU after having received my report. All chasers immediately adopted this strategy.

This paid off and resulted in 52 QSOs in about 38 minutes of operating time on 20m only with the trusty QCX-Mini. I needed to call it a day then by sending something along the lines of “SRI SRI VY COLD QRT QRT”. 

Rapid teardown mess

I quickly stuffed all gear and the antenna in the backpack, hiked back and dried off all equipment and clothes scattered around the car. The kind folks actually had to push me out again as the car had been snowed in during my short absence. 2h later I felt very content in a warm and cozy coffee shop back in Riga thinking about the eventful activation.

Many helping hands in Latvia.

My friend Mario DJ2MX (QTH in Munich, Germany) contacted me after the activation and sent me an audio recording of the pileup.

For me it was very insightful to listen to this afterwards as I was kind of in a “tunnel” during time of operation and because I would still consider myself to be a beginner at CW. For example it was interesting that he could not copy many stations which were very loud on my RX. He was simply too close to them.

qso map
52 QSOs in 38 minutes on 20m

Gear list:

As a side note: I knew I could take the risk to venture up that hill in conditions like this because I was only about 4km away from my car, it wasn’t dangerous terrain and I would always make it back in a reasonable amount of time. It is worth noting that I did wear a rather warm winter jacket and wasn’t freezing while on the move.

Thanks to all chasers for being there and helping me get through this pile up. I will always rather vote for an under-prepped activation than for no activation at all. But for sure next time I’ll at least bring better shoes, winter pants, a sit pad, proper headphones and hopefully more time.

– 73 de Leo YL/DL2COM/p

4 thoughts on “CQ From Latvia with Love”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It was very inspiring and has encouraged me to continue my journey learning CW.

  2. Great report Leo!

    The QCX Mini (built) is a favorite of mine, it’s an amazing radio.

    My kit fits in a small field pouch and consists of a 12v (3×18650’s) DC pack, 3” Power Lead, N0SA paddle, Earbuds, BNC Binding Post, and a simple 20m Speaker Wire Doublet, and a Throw Line.

    The great features of the QCX mini for beginners is the memory keyer, and decoder. My copy is ‘shaky’ but improving with field practice, so I’ll admit to using all these features.

    During these winter months, I tend to operate from the warmth of my Jeep. Cold fingers, and frozen backsides are for those whose admirable zeal, adventurous spirit, and fortitude, sometimes, exceeds their common sense. Play, but play safe, I say.

    Thanks again for braving the cold wintery conditions.

    de W7UDT (dit dit)

  3. Great story – here in Ontario, Canada we are still in the last cold windy part of Winter but nothing like this Riga report. I likely will not venture outside for portable radio until mid-April!
    My in-laws are Latvian, long time in Canada. so I know what this was likely all about.
    GL to the op as the WX gets better for all of us curious but cautious still basement dwelling and hoping.

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.