Brett does SOTA on Black

Event Date: 
Saturday July 4, 2015
Last modified: 
Sunday, July 5, 2015 - 20:18

Saturday July 4 saw Brett VE7GM on a hike up Black Mountain (SOTA VE7/GV-013) with a non-ham friend. The sun was hot and each patch of shade on the journey up (and, later, down) brought welcome relief. Although planned as a hike for exercise, the fact that Black Mountain is a SOTA peak tempted Brett to bring along his KX3 and tiny trail-friendly end-fed half-wave wire antenna to try to snag some HF SOTA contacts and gain the four-point activation credit.

The trip up was slow due to the need to take many water breaks on the way up. Although Brett and his friend were carrying an ample supply of water, several people were spotted with only one water bottle (nearly empty by the half-way point) or none at all. Pity the poor dogs whose human companions, ignoring the prominent warning sign at the start of the trail, didn't have the smarts to bring water for themselves, let alone for the dogs.

The trail is well-signed, but the sign to Black Mountain at the small lake near the top of the trail points to a peak which is not the official SOTA peak. Brett and his friend, following the sign, initially climbed to the wrong location. After checking his GPS navigator Brett realized the error, so on with the backpacks once again and back down to the junction by the small lake, then up again, this time to the correct peak. According to the published SOTA GPS coordinates, the correct peak is to the right of the lake at the top, as approached from the bottom. There is a good trail to this peak, but the start isn't immediately obvious. The lesson, of course, is that GPS coordinates should be recorded from the SOTA database before starting, and checked before (rather than after) "arrival", to make sure the "arrival" is at the right place. It's much less effort (especially on a hot day) to get to the right peak the first time.

Once established at a shady location with a fabulous view, about 2-3 m down from the actual peak (which is the top of a large boulder, in full sun and with precious little room to set up), out came the lunches. After an enjoyable lunch Brett started setting up his antenna. This proved to be a frustrating exercise, as the rope on hand wouldn't slide on the bark of the trees. Eventually the far end of the antenna had to be tied (at the highest reachable point) around a snag and the near end (with the coax) was raised just high enough on a tree to clear passers-by. Getting on the air was nearly an hour later than originally planned. Once the antenna was up, however, getting on the air went smoothly, and the location was superb: shade to operate, cooling breezes, and a lovely view.

The plan called for operating SSB at the top of the hour, and CW on the half hour. The top of the hour was approaching, so Brett started calling CQ on 20 m SSB, at 5 Watts. No action for nearly the entire half-hour, but then Jan VA7VJ responded and was the first "chaser" in the log, and the only SSB contact of the day. Brett had sent email to Jan (a fellow SOTA activator) the night before, so Jan helped Brett out by providing the first contact.

As the time was now at the half-hour mark, Brett switched to 20 m CW. Jan came back with another call (giving Brett his second contact of the day), and once again lent a helping hand by "spotting" Brett on the SOTAWATCH internet site.

Once the "spot" was up the rush started, with a pile-up of CW stations as chasers responded to Brett's CQ SOTA. There was a lot of fading and during one short contact a station could come in S9 and go out S1. But the noise level was non-existent, so even very weak signals could be heard, although sometimes it took a couple of tries to get all the information through. Eventually propagation on 20 m seemed to drop off entirely, so Brett switched to 40 m CW where once again Jan gave him a call, followed by Jay VE7KC. There were no other callers in the few minutes following Jay, and it was time to start back down the mountain, so Brett went QRT and packed up the antenna and radio.

In the end Brett had collected twelve contacts, well over the four required for "activation" credit. All in all it was a great day, and well worth the hike to the top.