Walking, hillwalking and trekking has always been an interest of mine, but until recently, I never thought of combining it with ham radio – I did once take a 2m handie up Croagh Patrick (EI/IW-005) on a hike, but heard nothing. Not a surprise really – vhf/uhf activity is virtually non-existent in the west of Ireland. Nevertheless, the appeal of SOTA activating has been growing for a while now. For one thing, it requires a reasonable level of fitness if you regularly take to the hills. I don’t expect to bag many exotic DXCC entities on the hills, but there are other more tangible rewards and challenges, with a few calories burnt along the way as well!
Most of my activities will probably be on the west and south-west summits in Ireland, so HF is pretty much going to be the order of the day for me. This pushed me towards the IC-703+ rather than the ubiquitous ‘817 (the KX3 is not to my taste, good rig no doubt it is). The built-in tuner and the (slightly) higher power of the 703 tipped the choice in its favour. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the 703, especially on RX. The clincher was the narrow CW filter installed in the 2nd hand unit I bought.
After much planning and deliberating over equipment and antennas, the time had come to take to the hills. My first activation was on 15th July while on holiday in County Kerry. Poor weather that week, but a window on the 15th promised clear skies with little or no wind. The summit selected was Lackabane (EI/IS-043) 602m. There was a very boggy start from my drop off point through dense ferns and gorse but once I got off the valley floor and on to the slopes, it was a reasonably straightforward ascent. The summit is approached via a smaller un-named summit and col to the northwest and then a bit of a scramble to the top. No trig point, just a small pile of stones.
My gear was packed in my old LowePro camera backpack which does a pretty good job for SOTA too. The antenna was an inverted vee dipole for 20m, apex at 7m above ground on a Brookite windsock pole. The 3Ah SLAB was connected and away we went. I was struck by how quiet 20m was away from all man-made noise and on dc power.
Although I had posted an alert, there was certainly no pile-up waiting for me! Nevertheless, 10 minutes later I had the obligatory 4 qso’s in the log, all short hop EU SSB contacts. Tuning around the band I got a few more, the high point was a S2S with EA2EBI/P on EA1/CT-098. Back down the mountain I was picked up by the XYL in the valley below, feeling pretty pleased with myself, actually.
My second expedition was on Sat 25th July. This time, nearer home, I activated Corcogemore (EI/IW-027) 609m in the Maum Turk range in County Galway. I made an early start here to avoid IOTA kicking off at mid-day. Conditions were perfect, no wind and clear skies. The walk up was very enjoyable, a bit steep and tricky in places, but a lot less boggy than I was expecting. A large pipe of stones marks the summit.
This time the antenna was an inverted V doublet, half wave on 40m, fed with about 6m of 450 ohm balanced feeder via a 4:1 balun. This arrangement tunes up happily 40-6m with the 703’s internal tuner. I quickly got the required qso’s on 40m SSB. My reports were not great, all ‘with qsb’. I switched briefly to 20m and got one or two more. Band conditions were pretty poor, to be honest. The Connemara midge descended on me with menace, so I packed up quickly. I was up and down in about 3½ hours - another successful activation completed.
Still early days for me in my SOTA career and I’m still just learning the ropes. Nevertheless my first two activations have been a blast and, as well as the Connemara midge the SOTA bug has also firmly bitten! Bye for now and hope to meet you on the bands.
73 John EI3KA