SOTA: First activation of VE6/RA-174

As always there are lots of links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! 

You can see a full video of this activation on YouTube. Use it for CW practice as the footnotes follow the callsigns but only once I’ve gotten it correctly and have transmitted it back.

Our local club runs a repeater network with a dozen repeaters connected hub and spoke style on UHF links. It covers an area approximately 42,000 square kilometers (16,200 square miles) in Southern Alberta. I help to maintain that network and am constantly learning from the smart people that put it together and fix it when it goes awry.

On a Sunday afternoon, in mid-March, I discovered that our club’s VE6HRL repeater at Longview Alberta wasn’t passing audio back to the network, only carrier and some white noise. Local audio was passing along just fine, so the issue is either with the controller or the linking radio. A plan was struck for a service call and to activate this summit at the same time.

Given the repeater is located on Longview Hill, SOTA entity VE6/RA-174, and it is on private land, this summit cannot be activated unless we have reason to be there. Performing repeater maintenance gave us that reason, and so I enlisted the help of Canada’s first double GOAT, VE6VID, to come along with me as it’s a 2 person job to remove a repeater from the rack. We’d activate the summit after the work was complete.

So, on a Sunday morning late in March, the two of us set out in our respective 4x4s to crawl up the road to the summit. In the event you’ve disremembered, I’m in shape -round- and, as a result, my favourite type of SOTA to do is a drive-up. For our repeater sites that are on top of summits, we always bring along two vehicles in case one has mechanical difficulty or gets stuck in the snow. Yes, we have used snowmobiles to do service calls in the past!

The road on the north side of the hill runs up through small valley and does not catch much sun, so the recent snowpack proved to be a small nuisance as we crawled forward. That small nuisance became medium-grade once I got stuck due to lack of forward momentum. A couple of backside-puckering moments later I backed down the hill to take a run at it with more speed and more potty-mouth. Success and no digging with snow shovels was involved.

View from the summit looking West-by-southwest

We arrived at the summit and the view was breathtaking! There were only a few clouds in an otherwise vibrant blue sky, and with the 4″ of snow on the ground it was simply VERY BRIGHT OUT making both of us wish we had darker sunglasses! We entered the repeater building and performed some simple testing in situ and then I powered off the repeater and we removed the gear from the rack and put our tools away a half hour after we arrived. Now we can do SOTA!

The activation zone is quite large at this site and Malen drove a few hundred metres away to set up, providing needed separation between us. He set about to do his thing and I did the same. I brought out my crappie fishing rod/mast and propped it up along the barbed wire fence and set about putting out my VE6VID 66′ EFHW. The folding lawn chair would serve as a table, and a nearby metal cabinet that houses phone lines would hold my Contigo mug and two video cameras.

EFHW running parallel to the fence. The tower is straight in real life, but my camera was not!

With the antenna oriented to the west and sloping downwards and parallel to the very old barbed wire fencing (I call it Tetanus fencing given it’s age and your need for a booster shot if it should puncture your skin), I was uncertain how it would perform. As it turns out I had no cause for concern as I was able to make contacts without too much trouble. I trudged back up the hill to the now-placed lawn chair and finished my set-up.

My “desk” for the activation

I evaluated the bands by listening briefly on the FT8 frequency for 10, 15 and 20m. For me it’s a quick measure of how active the bands are, and dialing off a few kHz or so will reveal how noisy the conditions are. I settled on 20m. Aaand right about then, as if I needed another distraction besides the Canadian Rockies staring me in the face, my HamAlert went off on my phone; regrettably I was unable to hear my friend N4JAW at his activation. As it was too cold to handle my cellphone for typing and spotting, I set about getting spotted via SOTAmat and got on the air.

While I do not pack an Aeropress or any other coffee maker, I did think to pre-load my Contigo mug with some cinnamon camomile tea before I left home. That proved to be an excellent idea to keep my insides warm.

After spotting, and once I called my first CQ, I was immediately met with two callers. One was on my dial frequency and the other was quite a bit off but still within my audio passband. I worked the caller that was off-frequency even though the other caller was S2S, as this was easier for my brain to decode. Sidebar – If you’ve ever wondered what the difference sounds like at the other end when you are calling an activator, check out this short video where I demonstrate exactly this situation.

While working the next caller, nearby traffic within my passband was making it hard to hear, so I switched my KX3 to REV CW (the opposite sideband) to eliminate the QRM. Your radio may or may not have the ability to change sidebands in CW and I encourage you to consult your manual. The video linked above shows why this approach works so well. It was a very effective way to remove the adjacent QRM signal from within my passband.

I was able to work two more S2S including AC6M on who was summit hunting and then heard Christian F4WBN calling and worked him next. In an email exchange later that day, AC6M sent me this audio file from his end, which surprised me how loud I was to him – we were about 1,600km (1,000mi) apart on low power after all.

I wrapped up after one more contact as I was not getting any warmer despite the sunshine; at least it wasn’t a terribly windy day. 6 contacts in a half hour is respectable given how quiet the band was.

Look for the yellow wire, it’s the last 15′ of EFHW entangled in the barbed wire fence

Upon packing down my antenna, I saw that the last 15 feet or so were entangled in the barbed wire fence. Were I not so cold, I’d have run my Rigexpert analyzer on it to grab the trace and analyze it later from the warmth of home. Malen and I met up afterwards and he was happy and content. He did not activate, but was experimenting with and tuning antennas and presented me with “an experimental 10m vertical wire” of my own. I can’t wait to try it out – thank you Malen!

After driving back down the hill via the southern access that I should have used in the first place, we headed into town. No visit to Longview Alberta is complete until you stop in at the Longview Jerky shop for their dizzying array of Jerky, Pepperoni sticks and sausages. I grabbed a selection of items including meats for the freezer at home and then we parted ways.

List of gear used for this activation:

With all of the environmental factors – cold, wind, excess brightness of the Sun bouncing off the snow – I was reminded why SOTA is much more challenging than POTA to do simple tasks like setting up a radio and making CW contacts. I enjoy this challenge, now I just need to find some more summits that are suited to my shape.

72 and dit dit,

Activation Video:

First introduced to the magic of radio by a family member in 1969, Vince has been active in the hobby since 2002. He is an Accredited examiner in Canada and the USA, operates on almost all of the modes, and is continually working on making his CW proficiency suck less. He participates in public service events around Western Canada and is active on the air while glamping, mobile, at home or doing a POTA activation. You can hear him on the Ham Radio Workbench podcast, follow him on Twitter @VE6LK, check out his YouTube channel, and view the projects and articles on his website.

9 thoughts on “SOTA: First activation of VE6/RA-174”

  1. Vince, my ham brother north on the boarder. Great outing and the the pictures look like you could get here in MT. If possible throw your southern brothers a bone and run 40m or 30m NVIS so we cam log you possibly. We don’t get many AB contacts. Nice article, keep on hamming it up.

    1. Dick,
      Thanks for your comments and I’ll do that. I will be returning to this summit soon possibly tomorrow or next weekend. I was a bit time constrained last trip but next time out I’ll ensure I have time for lower bands.

  2. Nice activation Vince.

    I can attest to fencing being called “Tetanus Fencing”. As a 14 year old I sat on some on a night exercise with the Air Cadets. My folks took me to the childrens hospital and much family amusement as to where they put the tetanus shot…….

  3. Brilliant report, Vince! I see where being on the repeater maintenance crew is a big bonus for SOTA activators! We’ve many, many sites like this in the US, of course–private land and otherwise inaccessible.

    Thanks for the great report and activation video. My hands felt cold just watching it! 🙂

    -Thomas (K4SWL)

  4. Hey Vince!

    The kids and I are headed out on our yearly camping trip across Nevada, Utah, and Colorado where some of the SOTA peaks don’t have high power towers up top, but lots of them have snow! Your post has me looking forward to it!

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