Today I attempted my very first SOTA activation, G/SE-005 Botley Hill.
I dropped my fiancée off nearby to go wedding dress shopping with her friends. Needing to make myself scarce for a couple of hours provided what I thought would be the perfect opportunity to head over to Botley Hill and test out my kit on an easy summit before heading out anywhere more adventurous.
I parked at the local pub after discovering that the Titsey Hill car park was temporarily closed for forestry works, then headed for the South Downs Way.
Things were looking good at first; the rain even started to let up a bit. I found a nice spot to set up my elecraft KX2 and assembled my wonder loop antenna. I switched on the radio, tuned up the antenna and then… Ring ring “can you come and pick us up please?”
The shopping trip was shorter than expected. I had screwed up my timing.
I packed up my HF gear and fired up my handheld in the hope of making some 2m FM contacts while walking back to the car. Sadly the gods of the airwaves were not feeling kind and I got back on the road without making a single contact.
Oh well… I’m discouraged and will be sure to try again in the coming weeks.
You should have pretended you had an audio problem in the call and couldn’t understand and replied with “OK so you don’t need me for 4 hours now.” Keep repeating that to whatever she said and then say “you’re breaking up… hello… hello…”. Then turn the phone off and enjoy the activation.
Keep making out the phone has problems whenever you need a bit of “me time”. You should be able to drag this out for years.
You have run into the well known problem of the random activation that is unsuccessful. Did you post an alert well in advance of the activation? Did you contact known chasers in advance to ensure you would make contacts? Did you use a repeater to drum up some business on the simplex channel? Or announce a microphone test requesting listeners to give opinions on your mythical second microphone?
Better luck next time, but generally I find you need to do something to improve the odds and depending on your location, the solution varies.
We’ve all been there at some point and I know it’s frustrating but don’t give up.
My recent failure was Wendover Woods G/CE-005. I went with both 20m SSB & a backup 2m FM handheld.
I got 3 contacts on 20m and tried for two hours on both 20m & 2m to get the last contact, even trying to gate crash a couple of nets and call into a special event station on 20m but failed miserably. They were all running significantly more power then me & I got drowned out in the pileup.
I eventually got so cold that I had to give up!!!
I did see your alert posted before hand and kept an eye out for a spot on the website but didn’t see anything and assumed that your plans had changed.
I didn’t hear anything on 2m but a handheld from there to my location is extremely optimistic to say the least. A decent mast on 2m might just be possible under very favourable conditions (although it would still be a bit of a stretch).
Ah yes, you were about 2km to the East of the actual summit there, but as you say, comfortably within the activation zone.
It’s a bit of a VHF desert up there. I got one 2m FM QSO on my activation in 2017, then needed to deploy 20m CW to get the qualification. In 2018, it was all HF in the logbook. I called on 2m, but to no avail.
Admittedly, on those two occasions, I too was only using a handheld and helical antenna. I have qualified in the past on 2m FM, but using an FT-817 and SOTAbeams portable antenna.
Also failed my first activation with just 3 QSO’s (Didn't manage to activate G/NP-006 - advice needed - #20 by VK1DA) and not enough patience - but have managed on every one since.
Main Changes (1) :- Spotting (!) - Via SMS if no 4G - Although some say its cheating I usually struggle for time for an activation so don’t usually spend more than an hour on the summit. 2 - More power - now have added a linear (HF) (40w), speech processor and LiPo cells and (3) as the sun has gone to sleep have added 80m to the dipole and recently …have not failed. Still working on the CW, have chased a couple of times and may pluck up courage to take a key up the hill… hardest bit … finding time to activate!
A bit off topic but when you do Wendover Woods, note that there are two main possible operating locations which people tend to activate from:-
The true summit is in the woods a couple of hundred yards or so from the (paid) car park. This (as it’s name would suggest) has fairly think tree cover and is not the best take off for radio.
Part of my failure was choosing to operate from the true summit in the wooded section. I’m a bit of a purist and wanted to operate from the true summit.
I think most people prefer to operate from the trig point in a field down the road a little from the true summit (but still well within the activation zone) which is open and has a much better take off. I would suggest this is the better location.
Several people have posted comments & advice on the summit page on this site, so all of the information is there.
It sounds like you are at a similar stage to me with this. Hope to catch you on the air using CW at some point!
I support your intentions to activate on CW once you feel more confident. As many others will confirm, most newcomers to CW activations are not entirely confident when they first try CW on a summit, and indeed it may well take a dozen activations to start feeling more comfortable. But all confirm it is worth it and now some former non-CW ops are going for awards for all-CW activations, or activations where at least 4 CW contacts were made. So even that is addictive.
In the meantime, it seems certainly true that having another mode to draw upon, especially in Europe, would assist you to get those 4 contacts. More gain, better antenna on 2m FM is also helpful, and there are a number of antenna designs that can be run up a fibreglass pole to perform amazingly better than the little stubby antennas (aka radiating dummy loads).
On the CW side again, chasing using CW is a good way to gain experience in copying it, initially on paper but eventually you recognise that most SOTA contacts follow a predictable pattern and you don’t need to do anything but log the contact as it happens.
73 and good luck on the next one.
Sam, while having CW in your arsenal will certainly help you qualify a summit, it is only one aspect of activating. Planning is key and allowing ample time… as you have found out. My XYL is always kept informed as to how long I am likely to be when I am tying activations to other activities such as retail therapy, family walks, etc. Better still, try to keep activating separate. It is far more relaxing not worrying about time!