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A spooky activation

It all began with an exchange of e-mails at my local Horsham Club. The Chairman sent a reminder that the RSGB Club Calls contest on 160m SSB was scheduled for Saturday 10th November, and that the club hoped to put in a strong entry. He mentioned that a couple of members were planning to operate from various portable locations allowing more efficent antennae and less man-made noise. That set me thinking!

The combination of a small garden and intense man-made noise from numerous sources has meant that I am neither able to generate a significant signal, nor to hear any replies from home on 160m. This meant that merely “giving away a few points” was not an option. The idea of a portable operation was another matter; perhaps I could come up with a plan that could overcome my domestic limitations. But, where to go?

There were a number of conflicting requirements. The site had to be away from buildings and power lines, secluded but readily-accessible. One of the club members had already bagged my first choice, a car-park high on the South Downs, so I kept on thinking, and eventually realised that it might just be possible to combine the contest with a SOTA operation. Chasers will realise that Leith Hill (G/SE-002) is my local summit, and a frequent haunt of mine. I have activated from there in all weathers and, occasionally, after dark. However, those night-time activities were largely VHF-orientated; a top band activation would be much more of a challenge. Still, it seemed like the basis of a plan, so I decided to continue the preparations whilst debating whether I would really carry it out.

It is actually possible to drive to the summit of Leith Hill, if you have the necessary permission from the National Trust. Unfortunately, I don’t. As the various car-parks are located outside the activation zone, all equipment would have to be transported some distance into the AZ. This would require multiple trips, so a pre-requisite was a secluded operating position where gear could be left unattended without risk. Fortunately I am familiar with the hill, and know exactly how far I have to walk to be inside the AZ: well short of the actual summit. With the equipment ready, all I needed was an encouraging weather forecast.

As the week progressed, it seemed that Saturday evening would be dry but chilly. I posted an alert on SOTAwatch promising 80m CW and 160m CW/SSB, but with the proviso that weather or logistics might prevent success. I loaded the car during the afternoon, double-checking that everything was present and ready for action. As I set off the temperature was showing 8C, not too bad, but there were some dense patches of fog en-route which had not been mentioned in the forecast. Arriving at my destination I noted that the temperature had now fallen to 7C, but the exertion involved in moving the equipment to the chosen spot soon warmed me up.

I had taken my FT-847 to allow high power to be used, and an appropriate but heavy battery to provide the volts. I also had an SG-237 auto-tuner to adjust the end-fed antenna, so the combined weight of everything does not bear thinking about! Deploying the antenna by the light of a head-torch was a difficult task in the woodland, but I eventually had it rigged about six feet off the ground. Despite a moment’s panic due to disorientation, I found the equipment again fairly easily, but would it work?

With everything connected came the moment of truth. Yes, I could produce 100 watts on 80m and the ATU provided a perfect match. A few CQs and a self-spot later, the chasers found me. In all, ten stations found their way into the log from six different DXCC countries before the frequency became quiet. Time to try 160m. This was a virgin band for SOTA from this summit, and for me from any summit. The band was busy with contest stations, but I found a quiet spot and called CQ. I also sent a self-spot as I knew that there are no European stations monitoring 160m in the RBN system.

As luck would have it, G0VOF replied at good strength, and spotted me on SOTAwatch, because it transpires that my self-spot had not reached SOTAwatch for reasons unknown. However, after just one QSO, further CQ calls found no takers. It was still not quite time for the contest, so I moved to 20m and put out a few CQs. I had not alerted for this band, but an RBN station in VE2 heard me and the spot appeared on SOTAwatch. However, there were no takers from North America, nor from anywhere else.

Finally it was time to return to 160m and participate in the SSB contest. Signals were good and I swiftly added nine stations to the log. However, I am not really a fan of SSB, and felt vaguely silly talking into a microphone on a spookily-quiet, mist-shrouded, hill in the dark. Besides, it was getting noticeably chillier, and the equipment still had to be transported back to the car in several journeys.

By the time I was ready to drive home, the temperature had dropped to four degrees. Twenty minutes later I was home, and a further ten minutes saw the car unloaded. By this time my back was feeling the effects of so much weight-lifting, but a warm shower, a cool beer and a warm glow of achievement made me feel much better.

Although the activation was a success, albeit for zero points, I don’t think I’ll be doing anything similar for a long time, if ever. At least, that’s what my back is telling me today!

Thanks to the chasers who took the time to work me on a Saturday evening.

73 de Les, G3VQO

In reply to G3VQO:

Hi Les,

Thanks for activating Leith Hill on Top Band. I followed your session on 80m CW & when the frequency went quiet assumed you must have QSY’d to 160. With the CW contest that was already in progress it took a little longer to find you, but you were a good signal here in Blackburn, with a little QSB. Very good indeed considering the very low antenna!

It’s a shame you didn’t get more SOTA contacts on 160 but I know a couple of other regular 160m chasers were unavailable that evening & am sure they would have been easily able to work you if they had been around. Thankfully the effort involved was not in vain & you had more success in the SSB contest later on.

Thanks again & best 73,

Mark G0VOF

In reply to G3VQO:

Thanks to the chasers who took the time to work me on a Saturday evening.

I think I could hear you, but the local QRN was S7 and more on 80m and 160m here, and my Morse isn’t up to picking much out under those conditions, but it was fun trying. I spent a while listening to contest stations afterwards, and heard quite a few mentions of the Horsham club…

73, Rick M0LEP (a bit under 38kms from G/SE-002)