Category Archives: SOTA

7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

A SOTA road trip from Berlin to Tuscany via the Alps and back

sota-flag-mountain-panorama
On the summit of Kellerjoch OE/TI-311

by Leo (DL2COM)

Flashback March 2021: I am sitting on a couch in the countryside 2h north of Berlin, Germany. It’s a rainy day and my 1-year-old kid just fell asleep on my chest. I am watching Youtube and enjoying the feeling of just having maintained the chainsaw after a productive run preparing firewood.

Then suddenly something special got washed into my feed: Adam K6ARK activating a summit in CW somewhere on the U.S. West Coast. I thought: I have no idea what this wizardry is but this is exactly what I want to do. Right here, right now. Well I have a child to take care of, the next mountain with a prominence of >150m (~500 feet, min. requirement to be a valid SOTA summit) is 3h away, I don’t know what ham radio is, I have no license and what the heck is CW. 

sota-backpack
Complete SOTA kit incl. 6m mast

Jump to July 2022: I am sitting in my car commencing a vacation road trip to the south of Tuscany, Italy. Due to the chaotic luggage situation at EU airports and unreal prices for rental cars my family and I had decided that we would be better off if I drove down while my wife and kids took the plane without having to check in any bags (btw: best decision ever).

alps-panorama
Innsbruck embedded in the Inn valley

Our schedule allowed for me to leave a few days early so I could make room to do a little bit of hiking and throw in a few casual SOTA activations because why not. On top I saw that there were a few never activated summits in close proximity to where we planned to stay. I could feel my heart pumping already followed by a strong reassuring feeling radiating from the well-thought-through contents of my backpack in the trunk. Am I ready? Who cares. I am on my own now. I had completed a quick 1-pointer activation in May and a few POTAs but what was planned now was a different level.

sota-road-trip
From Berlin to Cortona (Tuscany) via Brenner pass (Alps) (Source: Sotl.as)

Going into detail about every summit would go beyond the scope of this article so here are just a few highlights: The first leg down to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area went by in a wink (7h drive). I passed most of the time rehearsing CW by singing license plates out loud. The fun peaked with plates along the lines of M-OT-9990 or E-SI-5545. It’s all about melody and timing, remember. I met up with my buddy Chris whom I hadn’t seen in a long time and who agreed to join me on the first hike up Zirbelkopf (8-points summit) to witness the cult activity I had tried and failed to explain to him beforehand.

Continue reading 7 SOTA Summits, 4 Firsts & 1 Scorpion

The Big E exposition: Radio club seeks scheduled contacts with POTA and SOTA activators

Many thanks to Mark (K8LSB) who shares the following announcement:

Sharing POTA/SOTA with the Public

Greetings POTA/SOTA activators,

This year the Big E (exposition)—a “combined” state fair for the six New England states (CT MA, ME, NH, RI, VT)—will run for 17 days: from September 16 to October 2. In the past, 1.5 million people have attended the Big E, the fifth largest fair in the nation.

Hampden County Radio Association (HCRA) will be running a special events station (N1E) and have a booth at the event where we hope to acquaint the general public with the many facets of amateur radio. For example, we have made arrangements to have a live ARISS space station contact, emergency communications display, POTA/SOTA contacts (hopefully), etc. One of our key goals is to identify those who might be interested in getting their ham license and connecting them with license training classes held by radio clubs across New England.

I am seeking your help in two ways. First, I would like to schedule some contacts with people activating POTA/SOTA sites during the Big E period. To make this interesting for visitors, I’d like to limit this primarily to phone operation, and would love it the activators could talk for a minute or two about where they are and what they enjoy about POTA/SOTA operation; not just the typical “you’re 58 in Massachusetts.” Many of the folks who attend the Big E are people who enjoy outdoor activities like RVing, hiking, camping, biking, etc. and may be attracted to adding the adventure of portable ham radio operation to their recreational routine.

The second way you can help is, for those of you who live in New England, to consider helping staff our booth at the Modern Living building. We hope to have at least four active hams at the booth from 10 am through 10 pm. Our operating shifts are from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and 3:30 to 10 pm. As you can imagine, we need a lot of hams to help out! We have contacted all the radio clubs in New England to solicit volunteers, but we could still use some more hams on specific days. This is a volunteer activity, but we have funds to offset the price of admission ($15) and parking ($10), and can provide free overnight accommodations with local ham families if this makes the logistics easier.

If you’d like to volunteer to be one of our “activator” contacts, please contact me via [email protected] 

If you’re interested in learning more about our Big E plans or would like to volunteer, go to:  https://nediv.arrl.org/project-big-e/  and scroll down to the “How Can I Help” and click the link for volunteering. It will show the specific dates and times that are open.

73, Marc K8LSB

A portable transceiver for QRP SSB SOTA?

This morning, I was browsing the drafts folder of QRPer.com–the place where I store ideas, images, notes, and future posts.

I discovered a draft post with the following inquiry from Motters (M7TRS) dating back several months. I suspect Motters may still be contemplating this decision so perhaps we can chime in with some suggestions and advice [apologies, OM, for the delay!].

Motters writes:

Advice required.

I want to get into QRP SOTA portable voice HF.

My dream station would the flagship IC-705 due to the vhf, uhf and HF plus the waterfall. I am on a shoe sting budget so have to choose wisely for my radio as this will probably be a one time hit for a long time.

The radios in the list are IC-705, FT-818ND, Xiegu G90 and the Xiegu X6100.

The antenna would probably be a linked dipole. Which radio would you choose?

Question open to anyone

Motters (M7TRS)

Great question, Motters. The radios you’ve chosen range anywhere from $450 – 1400US (of course you know the prices in GBP) so much, of course, depends on your budget.

Knowing SSB is your mode of choice, I would likely focus on radios that could deliver 10 watts or more of power output. You’re in the UK and plan to do SOTA ops there, so 5 watts will work perfectly fine, but I’ve always felt like 10 watts SSB is a proper QRP “full gallon.” Many QRP contests consider 10 watts proper QRP in SSB mode. The difference between 5 watts and 10 watts is about 3dB of gain.

The most expensive option–the Icom IC-705–would be a superb choice in so many respects. It would cover all HF/VHF/UHF frequencies, it has a rechargeable battery pack, it’s fairly lightweight, and has excellent features for an SSB operator. With an external battery attached, it’ll yield 10 watts. It also sports superb performance. Since you’ll be using a resonant antenna, you won’t notice the lack of an internal ATU.

You can’t go wrong with the IC-705, but I think you know that already since you describe it as your dream radio.

Here’s my Icom IC-705 review.

On the opposite end of the price spectrum is the Xiegu G90 and I believe that radio might serve you very well. It’s not as compact as the IC-705, has no internal battery, only covers HF, and has no SSB message memories. That said, it can output up to 20 watts and has a superb built-in ATU should you ever need one (my experience is that in SOTA, you will!). It’s a solid radio and well-loved by many in the world of field radio.

Here’s my 2020 review of the Xiegu G90.

I’ve used my Yaesu FT-817ND on numerous SOTA activations and I love it. It’s extremely durable, has great performance characteristics, and sports HF/VHF/UHF in all modes. I love the fact that it has two antenna ports! Continue reading A portable transceiver for QRP SSB SOTA?

IW0HK and IZ0FYL activate Gran Sasso (I/AB-301)

Many thanks to my buddy Andrea (IW0HK) who posted the following field report to the SOTA reflector and has kindly allowed me to re-post it here on QRPer.com:


IW0HK and IZ0FYL: A climbing route to Gran Sasso (2912 mt.) I/AB-301

by Andrea (IW0HK)

Today I am very happy to be able to share with you a splendid and incredible day in the mountains and radio: together with Luca Iz0Fyl we have decided to activate the western peak of Corno Grande I/AB-301 2912 mt. the highest peak of the Central Apennines, the most important mountain for us enthusiasts who live in central Italy. The choice was not to climb the classic “normal” route but think of a climbing route with passages of 1, 2 and 3 degrees called “direttissima” which allows you to reach the summit through a very steep channel.

Today was with variable weather, rain was expected but in the afternoon, so we left early from Rome and went to Abruzzo. In two hours by car we reached Campo Imperatore where the path towards the Gran Sasso begins. In about 2 hours and 20 minutes we reached the top, making several mountaineering passages but without encountering great difficulties. Continue reading IW0HK and IZ0FYL activate Gran Sasso (I/AB-301)

Choosing a Field Radio: How to find the perfect transceiver for your outdoor radio activities!

The following article was originally published in the June 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor Magazine:


Choosing a Field Radio

by Thomas (K4SWL)

At least ninety percent of all of my radio operations happen in the field. Whether I’m in a park, on a summit activation, or I’m out camping, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed “playing radio” outdoors. In fact, it was the joy of field radio––and the accompanying challenge of low-power operations––which launched my labor of love in the world of ham radio.

I’ve been running QRPer.com now for fourteen years, and during that time, the questions I’m asked most deal with selecting a field radio. Turns out, it’s an incredibly difficult question to answer, and we’ll touch on why that is before we dive into the reasons one radio might hold appeal over another for you.

Instead of offering up a list of field radios on the market, and reviewing each one—and, to be fair, there are so many these days—I’ll share with you a series of questions you might ask yourself before making a radio purchase, and follow up with a few bits of advice based on my own experience.These deceptively simple questions will help hone your decision-making. Finally, I’ll note a few of my favorite general coverage field radios and share what I love about each.

But, first…

Spoiler alert: It’s all about the operator, less about the specs

When searching for a new radio, we hams tend to take deep dives into feature and specification comparisons between various models of radios. We’ll reference Rob Sherwood’s superb receiver test data table, we’ll pour over user reviews, and we’ll download full radio manuals before we choose.

While this is valuable information—especially since radios can be quite a costly “investment”—I would argue that this process shouldn’t be your first step.

I’ve found that enjoyment of any particular radio—whether field radio or not—has everything to do with the operator and less to do with the radio’s actual performance.

A realistic assessment of yourself

The first step in choosing a field radio is to ask yourself a few questions, and answer them as honestly as you can. Here are some basic questions to get you started in your search of a field radio:

Question 1:  Where do I plan to operate?

If you plan to operate mostly at the QTH or indoors with only the occasional foray outdoors, you may want a field-capable radio that best suits you indoors—one with robust audio, a larger encoder, a larger display, and more front panel real estate.

On the other hand, if you plan to take your radio on backpacking adventures, then portability, battery efficiency and durability are king

Of course, most of us may be somewhere in between, having park activations or camping trips in mind, but overall size may be less important as we may be driving or taking only a short walk to the activation site. When your shack is a picnic table not too far from a parking lot or even an RV, you have a lot more options than when you have to hike up a mountain with your radio gear in tow.

Question 2:  What modes will I operate the most?

Are you a single mode operator? If your intention is to only use digital modes, then you’ll want a radio designed with easy digital mode operation in mind.

If you plan to focus on single sideband, power output may be more important and features like voice-memory keying.

If you plan to primarily operate CW, then the radio world is your oyster because it even opens the door to numerous inexpensive CW-only field radios.

If you plan to primarily operate CW,  I would strongly suggest going low power or QRP. I’ve often heard that 5 watts CW is roughly equivalent to 80 watts single sideband. I tend to agree with this. CW field operators hardly need more than 5 watts, in my experience.

And if, like most of us, you plan to operate a variety of modes, then you’ll want a radio that is multi-mode. Continue reading Choosing a Field Radio: How to find the perfect transceiver for your outdoor radio activities!

Fitting in some QRP SOTA & POTA on Mount Jefferson!

Looking back at last year (2021), if I had to pick out one of the easiest SOTA activations I made, Mount Jefferson would be near the top of the list. It’s a very accessible summit although not technically a “drive-up” summit because you will need to walk a short distance up a service road to the activation zone (AZ).

Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021) is located on and protected by the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area (K-3846), so when you activate Mount Jefferson for Summits On The Air, you can also claim the activation for Parks On The Air and World-Wide Flora and Fauna as long as you work at least 10 contacts.

What I love about POTA and SOTA “2-fer” sites like this is that you can set things up to be spotted in both systems (and often the WWFF system, too!) which increases your audience of hunters and chasers, thus increasing your odds of achieving a valid activation in all programs. It’s especially desirable if you’re a CW op and know you may potentially be in a spot with no mobile phone service for self-spotting; if, for some reason, RBN auto-spotting functionality is down with one program, the other serves as a backup.

Mount Jefferson is at least a two hour drive from my QTH, but it was easy pickings on April 29, 2022 because it happened to be within spitting distance of New River State Park where I was camping with my family.

Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021)

The drive to Mount Jefferson took all of 20 minutes which was a good thing because our family had other activities in store that day including some extended hikes!

Hazel (above) was so excited to to check out the sights and smells at this new-to-her park! Continue reading Fitting in some QRP SOTA & POTA on Mount Jefferson!

The arborist throw line is an invaluable field radio kit tool

Two days ago, I activated Parc national des Grands-Jardins (VE-0499)–a stunning national park here in the Charlevoix region of Québec, Canada.

As soon as we drove up to the activation site I had researched in advance, I surveyed the picnic area and mentally noted the best spot to deploy an end-fed half-wave using my trusty arborist throw line.

With the throw line’s assistance, I had an antenna deployed within a couple of minutes max.

It hit me then just how invaluable a tool the arborist throw line has become for the types of park and summit activations I do.

Pre-Throw Line Activations

During NPOTA (National Parks On The Air) in 2016, I wasn’t aware of arborist throw lines and had been using some high test monofilament fishing line attached to a weight.

The fishing line was strong enough to support my QRP antennas and I could typically reuse the same length of line for 2-3 activations. Eventually, the line stretches and weakens thus it must be cut off and discarded.

Never again

I’m a big Leave No Trace kind of guy, so am embarrassed to admit that during one activation, my fishing line snagged high up in a tree and left a bundle of broken monofilament in a spot where I could not retrieve it. This was deep in a forest and although I doubt anyone will ever see it, I know it’s there. It bugs me to this day and if I ever sort out a way to remove it, I certainly will.

This occurrence was one of the catalysts for purchasing my first arborist throw line kit.

That throw line kit absolutely revolutionized my antenna deployments by:

  • increasing the speed deployment,
  • increasing accuracy,
  • allowing me to re-use the same line hundreds of times,
  • and being orders of magnitude more reliable and stronger than fishing line.

It changed everything and I’ve never looked back.

Since that first throw line kit (which I’ve lent to a newly-minted active ham), I’ve built four more throw line kits.

Compact Weaver Throw Bag

In early 2021, I purchased a second throw line and 12oz weight (identical to my first) for backpacking along with this compact Weaver Leather throw line storage bag (affiliate links).

I was searching for a more SOTA-friendly/backpack-able solution than the arborist throw line cube.

I was very skeptical about how easily this bag would work in the field. One of the reasons my throw line storage cube works so well is because the opening is large allowing the line to deploy without tangling. Packing up is fast because the line can be flaked back into the cube in a matter of seconds. Continue reading The arborist throw line is an invaluable field radio kit tool

Paul’s SOTA excursions captured on live webcams

Many thanks to Paul (W0RW) who shares the following guest post:


Can you See Me Now? Portable Operation From a Web Cam.

by Paul (W0RW)

There are now thousands of web cams operating around the world and they make great portable operating locations.

By watching a webcam stream, the stations who works you can watch you live as you talk to and log them.

When I am activating a site with a live webcam, I post the web cam link on my QRZ.com page and then stations who contact me can then go to QRZ, click and watch. I usually have a big sign that shows up on the web cam with my call and my frequency. Even DX guys who can’t hear me can watch me operate.

Many web cams are now live streaming; they give you fast refresh rates and real time video. Other bandwidth limited cams refresh at slower rates and may give only 1 frame every minute.

I was at the ‘Teller 1 Web Cam’ on 8 June 2022 (see photos above) and made 10 Q’s on CW and 10’Q’s on SSB. It has an almost real time video but with a delay of about 10 seconds. It is at 10,000 feet.

The HD Pikes Peak Panoramic Cam that I frequently use (At 14,115 feet) has a revolving 1 minute refresh rate.

I am standing right above the ‘RW’ sign.

The remote Independence Pass, Colorado, Web Camera is a solar powered wireless camera with a 1 minute refresh rate. I am standing just to the left of the tree.

This camera is down now and won’t be back on line until July.

Paul w0rw
Colorado


That makes for a fun dimension in playing SOTA, Paul! Thank you for sharing. So far, I haven’t activated a summit with a webcam, but it looks like there are numerous ones in Colorado. I’ll have to keep this in mind before heading out there!

A comprehensive review of the Penntek TR-35 four band QRP transceiver

The following article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


“Look at this, Tom! Only the stuff I need and nothing more,” cheerfully noted my good friend and Elmer, Mike (K8RAT).  It was Field Day two decades ago, and Mike was gazing at his TEN-TEC Scout. I glanced over, and agreed. “So simple and so effective,” Mike added.

I’ve never forgotten Mike’s sage words. That Scout (Model 555) was about as simple as a then-modern HF transceiver could be:  it had a total of three knobs––one for AF gain and IF bandwidth, one for RIT and Mic gain, and an encoder. It also had three mechanical switches on the front: one for power, one for TUNE and NB, and one for CW speed and RIT. It also had an analog SWR/power meter. The Scout used plug-in band modules for each HF band and featured a large segmented bright green LED frequency display that was characteristic of so many TEN-TEC rigs of the day.

And Mike was right. For those of us who appreciate radios with a simple, uncluttered, and an almost utilitarian interface, the Scout was, in vintage parlance, “the bee’s knees.”  And that the Scout also performed beautifully was just icing on that cake.

When the Scout first appeared in 1994, embedded menu options and spectrum displays were not yet commonplace among amateur transceivers. Embedded menu items can open the door to near granular level control of your radio’s functionality and features. Then again, if those embedded menus aren’t well thought out, it can lead to awkward operation practices in the field, during a contest, or even during casual operation.

As a radio reviewer, I spend a great deal of time sorting out embedded menu functionality and design. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I so enjoyed reviewing a radio that bucks this trend and reminds me of a time that was simpler, not to mention, easier.

Enter the Penntek TR-35

The new Penntek TR-35 is a four-band CW-only QRP transceiver that is available both as a kit ($279) and as a factory assembled and tested unit ($379). Penntek transceivers are designed and manufactured by John Dillon (WA3RNC).

All of his transceiver kits are available at his website WA3RNC.com.

I was first drawn to the TR-35 after reading the opening paragraph of the product description:

“Compact but powerful 4-band, 5-watt CW transceiver kit that uses no tiny push buttons, and without those seemingly endless and hard-to-remember back menus. There is a knob or a switch for every function!”

Sold!

I considered buying and building the TR-35 kit, but I wanted my eventual review––this one!––to focus on the radio’s functionality and performance. So a factory-assembled and tested unit was right for this purpose, just so that any performance issues wouldn’t be a result of any shortcomings in my kit building skills.

I decided to reach out to WA3RNC and ask for a loaner. John very kindly sent a factory built TR-35 to me along with return postage and a very flexible loan period (thank you, John!). Continue reading A comprehensive review of the Penntek TR-35 four band QRP transceiver

SOTA featured on BBC Countryfile

A number of readers and friends here and in the SOTA community are simply chuffed that Countryfile on the BBC recently featured a short segment about Flat Holm, its historical ties with Marconi, and modern portable amateur radio.

I tried my best to view this yesterday from the US, but shows like this on BBC One are geo-blocked via the BBC iPlayer…which is, evidently, clever enough to recognize VPNs.

However, I notice the segment has recently been posted on YouTube, so if like me you’re outside of the UK, I encourage you to watch it quickly before it gets pulled.

Enjoy!

Click here to view on YouTube.

The segment features our friend Fraser, MM0EFI (remember his brilliant field report chock-full of Land Rover nostalgia–?) and a number of other amateur radio operators.

Fraser posted his own video showing the other side of his contact with the Countryfile crew:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Fraser sat on top of that gusty summit for quite some time before the BBC crew were ready, but it looks like he had a lot of fun.

You did a brilliant job, Fraser! So glad the propagation worked in your favor.

What’s more, I love the fact that Countryfile crew looked at SOTA with both curiosity and excitement.

Bravo to all of the radio ops featured in this segment; you’re all proper ham radio ambassadors!