Preparations for our first activation started on Friday 29/7 when Brian, 2i0TCA and myself got together at his home QTH to put together some kit for an HF activation on 40m.
To cut a long story short, we cut a dipole for 40m and gathered some items which would allow us to have the antenna at approx. 18ft above ground level in the centre in an inverted V configuration. Once this was sorted, rucksacks taken out of storage and plans made we decided on a departure time of 09:30
Next morning, activation day Saturday 30/7
After packing my rucksack I began to wonder if this ascent would be quite a challenge, with 2x 7.5Ah Sealed Lead Acid batteries, a Yaesu FT857D, LDG YT100 tuner along with additional clothing and essentials I decided to weigh the rucksack - 14.5kg ! (On the way after picking up supplies, I then packed another approx. 3kg of food, water and clothing.)
Got to 2i0TCA’s house and the car was packed. Arrived at Slieve Binnian car park almost to schedule.
From the car park and for the first 3/4 of the climb, it isn’t possible to see the summit due to the terrain, and also the cloud as it was quite low. It was almost like a trek into the unknown!
This was my first time on this mountain, in actual fact the first time I had climbed a mountain in 22 years or more. We began the trek for the summit at 11:15am with the sun beaming down on our backs… it was actually verging on the uncomfortable side of hot.
We reckoned on it taking around 2hrs to complete the ascent (not taking into account my asthma and general unfit state) Thankfully after a short distance of about a mile the sun disappeared behind a cloud - little were we to know this would be the last we would see of it until after we returned to the car.
In general the ascent went well, with some rest stops which became more frequent when we hit the very steep part, it was also at this stage that I ended up cutting the battery pack into two pieces - I had neatly taped these together previously for ease of handling. Brian very kindly took one of these 2.5kg batteries which had been in my rucksack. We arrived at the summit around 1:25pm The cloud had dispersed nicely and we were greeted with a spectacular view of the Silent Valley and it’s reservoir on the other side. The climb is well worth it just for this alone!
After a spot of exploring for a good antenna site, we decided on an area that was away from the main arrival area, which is quite narrow due to the rock formation. A well earned lunch was then consumed and we got down to radio.
During a reasonably trouble free set up we heard Karen 2E0XYL & Neil 2E0TDX operating 2m FM on 145.400 from another summit somewhere in the Lake District on our Wouxun HT. Unfortunately at this stage our hands were full with a 40m dipole that didn’t want to be erected. We agreed to give them a call once we had got properly set up, only to find by this time they had gone QRT - must have missed them saying so as it seemed they were there one minute and gone the next. Well, there’s a bonus gone for both SOTA teams… nevermind - lesson learned.
I began to call CQ SOTA on 40m while Brian walked a little distance off to try 2m FM from the Wouxun handie. I had no response after a dozen calls or more, a quick tune around found several stations calling CQ Contest - I had forgotten the RSGB IOTA contest was on this weekend. A quick “2i0VAX/P” and I had a response from the Polish contest station of SN3S who gave us the rubber stamp 59 - at least our kit was working. Brian also confirmed his kit was working by putting a successful call into the GB3LY repeater, which is in Limavady at IO65nc over 75 miles away.
Now to find some SOTA guys (and girls)!
It suddenly dawned on me… in the past I had noticed people “Self Spotted” on the SotaWatch website - perhaps that would work, if nothing else it would give everyone watching a bit of a chance to work what is a relatively rare summit. After a bit of messing around with my iPhone I had Spotted myself on the website - to my surprise, within 30 seconds I had a pileup the first of which was HB9AGH in Zurich.
Quite a lot of stations worked, and apologies to anyone trying who wasn’t able to make a successful QSO with us. With a little practice it should become easier - logging was a bit of a nightmare due to the wind picking up and blowing the pages around. Lesson Learned - bulldog clip required! Or perhaps one person log and one person operate the radio would be a more efficient way. I am sure we would have had more contacts had we been more efficient. Cant really expect SOTA chasers to wait around all day while an inexperienced activator wrestles with his logbook!
Last contact was logged at 16.03pm with GI0VKP - we swiftly packed our kit away - some of which had become quite wet from the low cloud which had moved back in - we were down to approx 100m visibility.
We began our descent at 4.25pm - it was uneventful even though visibility was so poor thanks to the fact that we were able to follow the mourne wall (and had Brian, who has a lot of experience on most if not all summits in the Mournes)
Returned to the car at 5.50pm - there was a lot less chat on the journey home, everyone was pretty wrecked!
All in all a good day was had by all, and am looking forward to the next activation (with a lighter rucksack!)