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.
[…]I just wanted to give you a quick update on my 1st SOTA activation (May 18th). We spent a few days in the south of France with the extended family. From the garden of the house we rented we were constantly looking towards a beautiful mountain front and it turned out to be SOTA summit FR/CR-205 (726m, 2382ft). So I decided to try and activate it since we had enough people around who offered to watch out for our kids.
Next morning: 6am my dear XYL and I started our ascent.
What a wonderful scenery with morning mist covering most of the mountain landscape and the sun in perfect shape for an early hike.
Although I live in the mountains of North Carolina and am surrounded by SOTA summits, it’s much easier for me to activate a park rather than a summit.
Parks can be quite easy: find the park on a map, drive through their main entrance, find a good picnic table to set up, and next thing you know you’re on the air! Of course, wildlife management areas and game lands can be more tricky, but typically you can drive to the activation site.
Summits–speaking as someone who activates in North Carolina–take much more planning. If it’s a new-to-me summit, I typically need to:
find the GPS coordinates of the true summit
map out the drive to the trail head
read through previous activation notes (if they exist) to find out
what type of antenna/gear I might pack
and any notes I might need to find the trail or bushwhack to the true summit (quite often published, well-worn trails don’t lead to the actual summit)
look up the trail map and make sure I have a paper and/or electronic copy
pack all needed gear for the hike, activation, and emergencies
sort out the time it will take to travel to the site, hike the full trail to the summit, activate, and return home
If you ask most any SOTA activator, they’ll tell you that the planning is part of the fun.
It really is.
One summit I’ve had on my activation list for ages is Craggy Dome (W4C/CM-007). Out of the higher summits in this region, it’s one of the easier ones for me to reach from the QTH. In fact, as with Lane Pinnacle, I could simply hike from my house directly to the summit (although one way to Craggy might take the better part of a day). The trailhead is about a 50 minute drive, and the hike about 30 minutes.
SOTA notes and All Trails indicated that Craggy Dome’s trail isn’t always easy to follow and that it’s steep and slippery.
Craggy has been activated loads of times, though, so I wasn’t concerned at all.
Living here and knowing how much brush there was on the manway to the summit, I knew that Craggy would be a pretty easy summit if I could activate it after the parkway re-opened for the spring and before the mountain “greened-up”; about a five week window.
My schedule opened up for an activation of Craggy Dome on the morning of April 21, 2022 and I was very much looking forward to it.
I wouldn’t be alone on this hike either. Bruce (KO4ZRN), a newly-minted ham, contacted me and asked if he could join me on a hike and simply be an observer during a SOTA activation.
Hamvention weekend is one of the big highlights of my year and–until the pandemic–I hadn’t missed a single on in more than a decade.
I was really looking forward to this year if for no other reason than to connect with friends I only see at Hamvention.
My buddy Eric (WD8RIF), his son Miles (KD8KNC), and sometimes our good friend Mike (K8RAT) attend Hamvention together. We split accommodation, car pool, and fit in park activations before, during, and after. We also fit in an annual pilgrimage to the USAF museum. It’s incredibly fun.
As fun as Hamvention is–which is insanely fun–I realized that it was going to be a pricey 3-4 night excursion when I already have some pretty epic, much-anticipated travels planned this summer with my family.
Since I had literally no items on my Hamvention shopping list (Eric didn’t either) and since I wanted to funnel all of my travel monies into the amazingness that awaits us this summer, I had a hard time justifying the costs of the trip.
So I reached out to Eric who, turns out, was feeling much the same way.
I get a little thrill out of checking out new parks and summits.
When going to a new-to-me site, I typically do quite a bit of research in advance. With parks, I look up directions to the entrance, hiking trails, park boundaries, and try to sort out the best potential activation sites on a map. With a summit, it can be much more complicated, but reading previous activator notes really saves a lot of headache. That’s especially the case here in the States where many summits are on private/gated land and/or could require bushwhacking off trail with no mobile phone service.
Then again, returning to a site I’ve been to before is also quite nice. I know what to expect and that often opens up the door to more confidence with time planning, antenna choices, and what to pack in terms of gear.
On Friday, March 25, 2022, I re-visited a site I hadn’t been to in nearly a year: Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest.
What’s great about Rendezvous is that it’s both a POTA and SOTA site.
On top of that (no pun intended) the activation zone of SOTA summit 2543 (W4C/EM-082) is on a road where Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest (K-4859), and Rendezvous Mountain State Game Land (K-6941) overlap. One activation yields two parks and one summit!
Last year, it took a bit of research to make this discovery. I studied both the park and game land maps, then compared those with a Cal Topo map. If interested, check out that field report here.
I arrived on site around 12:45 local. The park was void of visitors–I almost felt like I’d arrived on a day when the gates should have been closed.
As I grabbed my SOTA backpack out of the back of the car, a ranger pulled up in his truck and asked if I was planning to hike. I told him about my plans and asked if it was okay that I hike the forest service road to the summit. He said, “Sure. But when you reach the prison crew doing brush cutting on the road, make sure one of the guards sees you before you attempt to pass them.”
Last week, while browsing Twitter, I scrolled past a short note and photos from Fraser (MM0EFI) describing his recent activation of Ben Newes in NE Scotland. I’m not sure if it was the snow, the KX2, or his vintage Land Rover (or all of these) but I wanted to know more about this activation.
Fraser kindly agreed to share the following field report for us here on QRPer.com:
Ben Newe SOTA Mini-adventure
by Fraser Wenseth (MM0EFI)
I’ve lived on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park in north east Scotland for around six years. I’ve always climbed the hills, winter and summer, enjoyed rock & ice but now just love being outdoors. I’ve held an amateur radio licence for 18 years but have to admit that until I discovered Summits on the Air (SOTA), my licence was under utilised!
SOTA has allowed me to discover local hills that I had previously driven by on countless occasions on my way to bigger adventures, or so I thought, because it’s possible to have amazing adventure on smaller hills just by picking the time of day, season, or even choice of radio gear. Sometimes I’ll just carry VHF gear, which is always a challenge in a rural area! Of course I still love a big day out in the mountains, but todays story concerns a little hill just 7 miles from my home in Royal Deeside.
It’s called Ben Newe and its’ SOTA reference is GM/ES-053. It stands 565m or 1853’ above Strathdon in Aberdeenshire. I’d planned on climbing it after work. Generally I work a really early shift one day a week and the motivation for getting out of bed at 0340 is knowing that I’ll generally be on a summit around 12 hours later.
I left for work at 0400 (British Summer Time, UTC+1) and that’s when the snow started falling. It actually didn’t stop until 1900 that evening. We’d had an unusual winter, with little snow. Here we were in April and it had snowed for over 12 hours! I really wanted to get out for a SOTA activation and the snow was only going to enhance my adventure. I spent some time (probably too much time) thinking of suitable peaks to climb whilst at work that day. Ben Newe fitted the bill perfectly. Continue reading Guest Post: Fraser Activates Ben Newe Despite the Winter Weather→
My hope was that these little Li-Ion cells might power my Elecraft KX1 long enough to complete a field activation.
The KX1 is a marvel of QRP engineering, in my humble opinion, and it was the first super portable transceiver I owned that could be powered by internal batteries.
When the KX1 was first introduced, Elecraft recommended using non-rechargeable Advanced Lithium AA cells from Energizer and Duracell. These batteries sported a rather flat discharge curve and could power the KX1 for quite a while. Of course, the downside is they’re single-use and expensive. Six of those cells would often set me back nearly $9 or $10. Before I started doing POTA and SOTA, I kept a set of advanced lithium cells in my KX1 for casual, impromptu QRP in the field.
Doing frequent field activations–which tend to have much more transmitting time than casual Qs–it’s just not sustainable to purchase these cells, so I tend to power the KX1 with an external battery.
I couldn’t resist the thought that I could use USB rechargeable batteries in the KX1, so I forked out $60 (mild gasp!) for a set of eight AA batteries (these are purchased in packages of 4).
The cool thing about the Pale Blue batteries is that they can be directly charged from any 5V USB power source. Each battery sports a Micro USB port and its own internal battery/charge management system.
I was well aware these batteries would not power the KX1 for hours at a time, but I was hoping they could for at least 30-45 minutes.
If you’ve read my field reports or watched any of my activation videos, you’ve no doubt noticed that I rely very heavily on automatic spotting via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) for both POTA (Parks On The Air) and SOTA (Summits On The Air).
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to use the RBN functionality for both SOTA and POTA, so thought I might clarify (in very basic terms) how the system works and how you can take advantage of it.
Note: CW and Digital Modes Only
Keep in mind that Reverse Beacon Network spotting only works with CW and some digital modes.
I, personally, have only used it for CW activations.
The system does not currently recognize voice transmissions (although as voice recognition becomes more accessible and effective, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if something like this is offered in the near future!).
Here’s how the RBN works
The RBN is essentially fueled by a global network of volunteer receiving and decoding stations that feed information into the RBN spotting system. This system is running 24/7 and recording spots constantly.
If I hopped on the air right now and made at least two generic CQ calls with my callsign–barring any abnormal propagation–the RBN would no doubt collect my information and spot me automatically to their network.
When I take a new radio to the field, I often don’t know what to expect until I arrive at the site and put it on the air. It’s one thing to use a radio in the shack, and quite another to use it in the field.
Earlier this year, I purchased a Venus SW-3B, three band QRP transceiver after much poking and prodding from readers and subscribers. I actually contacted Dale (BA4TB) at Venus and asked for a loaner to do a review, but he had no units set aside for loans, so instead offered me a coupon code. I was hesitant to purchase yet another QRP radio–which is why I asked for a loaner–but his coupon discounted the radio enough I could even afford to splurge for expedited shipping. He made money and I didn’t have to worry about loan periods, etc. It turned out to be a win/win.
I knew I wanted the SW-3B’s maiden voyage to be a SOTA summit, but I had to wait for a good weather window.
On Thursday, February 10, 2022, I got that opportunity!
Dogback Mountain (W4C/EM-066)
I learned about Dogback Mountain from my buddy Dave (W4JL) who activated it earlier this year. He told me it was a drive-up summit and was high enough to even rack up winter bonus points.
The road had no ice on it February 10, although it was very muddy and slippery in spots. Made for a very enjoyable drive in the Subaru, although post-activation you would have never guessed I’d washed the car the day before!
I arrived on site and parked the car at a pull-off that was well within the activation zone of the summit. Dave was right: this summit was very accessible (well, as long as your vehicle has a bit of clearance–this isn’t a road for sports cars or low sedans).