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Atempted my first activation on Sunday from W4C/EM-021

And it was an unmitigated failure. :frowning:

The good:
It was a nice day to be out and with the family. Hiking was nice. Weather was nice. The views were pretty good. I was on vacation in North Carolina for the weekend and it was lot cooler than it was at home.

The bad:
I was with family, so I didn’t know exactly when I was going to be up on the mountain. Additionally, the small town I was in had spotty (at best) cell coverage, Therefore, I couldn’t predict when I would be up there, and putting a notice of the activation would have been difficult with the poor coverage. I thought I would have coverage when I got up there and I could just spot myself. Well, on top I was literally 40-50 feet from a cell tower, and I had nothing for service. Zilch. So no spot.

Band conditions were tough, but I still found some spots on 20m and 40m and called CQ (SSB). As I said I had family with me including my 6yo daughter, so some of the CQs inevitably sounded something like " CQ SOTA CQ SOTA…Baby, for the 100th time PLEASE stop stepping on the wires…CQ SOTA" However, from all of the CQs called, I got nothing. Zippo. Nada.

That’s OK. The band is tough. I will just pull out the netbook and Singanlink I hauled up there and try to make it happen on PSK31. That should do the trick. Got it all set up. That was when I noticed there was a horrible noise on the PSK31 20m frequency (14.070) on receive. Weird. Turned off the Signalink. Still there. Unplugged the USB cable from the netbook, and boom noise goes away. Great, there is noise somewhere in here that I have never heard/noticed before, and 20m seems to be the only band even kinda working. I still tried for a bit, but the netbook and Singalink were misbehaving in other ways. Contacts made: 0.

At this point, the family was getting tired of the “SOTA experience” and was getting restless. Add to that the people walking by and somewhat mockingly asking “What are you doing, listening for aliens?” I packed it all up and went down the mountain with a big fat zero. So aggravating and irritating.

For some people this experience would deflate them or turn them away from the activity. Nope. I am now more resolved than ever to have a successful activation. I will not be thrown off of this horse (or mountain) again. Now I just need to work on the gear and plan the next one.

Equipment Used:
Elecraft KX2
SOTAbeams Bandspringer
SOTAbeams travel pole
Acer Netbook
Signalink with “chip” for the kx3/2
Blank paper for logging…still blank.

And for the record, other than maybe a problem with the noisy USB port on the old netbook I think this equipment is great and not the problem here. It is more likely user error, band conditions, and more user error.

Thanks for listening. :smiley:

-W2SWA

2 Likes

Hi there,

commiserations that your first outing didn’t go well, but you will have learnt a lot, and be better prepared for future activations.

My first SOTA outing was nil pointer also, made slightly embarrassing by the fact that I had a friend and his wife with me. I didn’t get any contacts, partly because I didn’t put an alert in, and didn’t know how to self spot. One of the cells in my battery collapsed on transmit, so I had to borrow one from my friend. So not brilliant the first time, I learnt a lot, as you do, and did better in all the other future activations.

73’s and all the best for your SOTA future.

David
G4ZAO

Glad you’re not discouraged after the first try. The bands have been pretty dead lately, so don’t chalk it all up to user error. You’ll get there! I’m doing my second-ever activation tomorrow, and I’ve got my fingers crossed. It’s supposed to be an easy hike with good views from the summit… and the weather forecast looks great. Dave - K1SWL

That sucks!

Few thoughts…

  1. Cell coverage …sometimes when in the presence of seemingly guaranteed coverage (i.e a tower is within spitting distance) you might consider walking away from it, duck behind a rock in the hope that something falls into place and you get coverage from a different cell tower or the immediate neighbor responds to your attenuated signal. Within marginal coverage a text might make it out long before a data connection even becomes a fantasy.

  2. 2m FM …not sure your location relative to dense population but 2m FM calling in 146.52 could quite possibly rustle up 4 qualifying contacts. While it sounds trite, “failure is not an option” and hence take the 2m handheld (with a J pole) as backup gear

  3. 2m APRS … look into this and see about using it to self spot

My experience of success has frequently hinged on self spotting … get that and you will get chasers. APRS, text or even springing for an InReach Delorme will increase your chances of spotting. The non SSB/data crowd will no doubt point out merits of CW especially the RBN hole and auto spotting.

Best of luck next time and don’t give up especially if your heart is really into this. Its a fun and rewarding journey.

Paul

I was on W4V/HB-009 on Sunday. I was camped in the activation zone, it is a Shenandoah National Park campground. Put up vertical for 20m. No cell coverage in our campsite. Had to send wife walking around campground to find cell coverage and send a spot. Got one SSB contact. Did not have room to setup dipole for other bands in our campsite. Tried 146.52 from our campsite, no contacts. I didn’t want to leave until I had a successful activation.

After camp was packed up, setup dipole in a different location. 20m was not working well, but I did manage to get 4 or 5 contacts. Went to 40m and that worked much better.

Be prepared to use multiple bands, especially since we are at the low point in the sunspot cycle.

Doug, N7NGO

Also had an early first failure (G/NP-006 - Great Shunner Fell) much to the amusement of my 12yr old son - who thinks that radio isn’t cool. I have made a few changes and since then have activated each time - but it is a bit more populated here. I’m far from an expert but this is what I tried:-

  • SMS Spotting - thanks to Andy (FMF)
  • QRO ( I blame the sunspot cycle ) - now try 30w which seems more effective than the 5 from the 817 barefoot
  • LiPo battery so I can run QRO without carrying 1Kg of lead uphill!
  • Hard with kids - but more patience when calling. On may failed first attempt I think I tried 4 bands in under 30 mins. I probably spent more time sorthing the linked dipole than I did calling or listening.
  • Childrens entertainment. With Matthew (13) it involves him listening to music and doing his best to eat his own weight in food - so he gets fed first! With Emily (9) it involved taking a book, colouring stuff and the ability to take photos and selfies. They also “enjoy” a (a little bit) helping put the mast up. This seems to make the activation possible

Good Luck - and hopefully the propogation will improve!
73 Paul

I may be missing something here but…

If you put out an alert on SOTAWATCH2, and operate CW, you will likely get spotted every time you activate, if u do the following in the alert:

In your alert put the time u think u might be on the summit (ETA field), and then add s+10 as the last thing in the “comments” field. You will now be spotted for the next ten hours after whatever time you put in the ETA field, regardless of what summit u are on or what time it is. You can always tell them the summit REF when u work them. This only works on CW in the CW portion of each band.

A normal CW alert will spot you on CW one hour before your ETA time, and 2 hours after your ETA time automatically. The s+10 extends the spotting time for 10 hours. You can put in any number u want S+xx.

Pete
WA7JTM

Now I do not feel so bad. I tried my first activation two weeks ago from Grandmother Mountain W4C/EM-022. I took a road mentioned on the blog and hiked up to the site. Got my new gear
all set up, new mast, antenna new KX3 and traveler lite paddles. Rig would not transmit.
I had checked at home and it worked fine. Set up before driving 4 hours to the site. Hiked 2 miles
up to the site. I have two bad knees and one bad ankle. Took me forever. Pain to say the least.
Then no contacts. Got home and found that the week earlier another ham had reset some of the
settings during FD and I did not recheck. No manual and no cell service. Oh well. Frustration set in and I said I was not sure I would venture up again. After reading your trip I know I will go again. I will be ready next time and make my contacts. Plan another trip to Grandmother and Grandfather in the next couple of weeks. AB4PP/JohnPaul

With one caveat, in that after about 12 hours past your alert time, the alert disappears from SOTAWatch, so S+72 isn’t about to work. You can deal with this by future dating your alert and doing S-72.

Steve,

Commiserations on your experience. But that experience has been educational… you now know that the combination of gear you used was not successful and you know to change it before doing it again.

Alerts are vital for success, unless you plan to work 4 buddies who will definitely be on air whatever time you turn up. To me that is like shooting fish in a barrel, it meets the award requirements but doesn’t satisfy the ham radio experimental “CQ and see who answers” philosophy.

The thing about alerts is they are misunderstood. Many people seem to be afraid to disappoint chasers, so instead they don’t put up alerts, and consequently disappoint themselves!

An alert is a PLAN, not a PROMISE. Keep that in mind. You can add some comments like “unknown track, ETA uncertain” to let people know to expect some variations from your plan. Don’t worry about that. They want the points, remember.

Re gear. Keep it simple. Antenna for a couple of HF bands. Poor HF conditions favour lower frequencies. Use your alerted frequency until someone can spot you elsewhere.

If you can’t self-spot, ask your first contact to spot you. Sotawatch is the secret ingredient in SOTA success. It will help you if you use it.

Have fun.
73 Andrew VK1DA VK2UH

All,

Thanks for the kind words and the good ideas. I have already thought a lot about how to do it better. Alerting and spotting is on the definitely list. I am beginning to learn CW so that will take a while, but will hopefully be in the arsenal in not too long. While I like the SOTAbeams antenna, I am thinking of cutting some resonant dipoles to try as well. That is on the project list anyway.

Today I tested a new PSK setup involving an Easy Digi interface and an old android cell phone I have (galaxy s2). Not only did it work great, but it will cut 3 pounds and bunch of bulk out if my kit. I am excited just to try that “in the wild” if nothing else.

Anyhow, thanks again.

-Steve
W2SWA

Yeah, it sucks when you don’t get the points. Couple weekends ago I almost ran into that problem on my last summit of the day. Had to get on repeaters and beg for some FM simplex contacts. And it worked. I was using my 817 and I guess 5 watts SSB just wasn’t doing it that day.

My last trip out I used my 857 on 25 watts on the first 2 summits. Then 50 watts on the last summit because it was getting late and I wanted a better chance at being heard.

Roland KG7FOP

There is nothing to worry about, just enjoy the trip up the hill (several times if need be).

In the early days of SOTA (without the luxury of SMS spotting and other ways of making yourself known - in fact the only way to announce your activation was via a reflector!) I went up the second highest hill in the UK (not enormous by international standards but a major expedition) and it took three trips to qualify the hill; the first no contacts, the second three contacts and the third time - Bingo! :smile:

All part of the fun of hill walking wih radio - taking ankle biters along is just masochism

A nearby cell tower is no guarantee of any coverage in the US. There are 4 major networks (IMO) in the US, plus other regionals, and you can’t expect roaming between carriers.
IIRC, Sprint & VZW used to allow mutual roaming, not sure of the current situation. AT&T and TMO were each, separate.
Some summits have zero cell service. Do add call coverage info to the online SOTA summit comments if it is not already there, Ditto for parking, access, trail conditions, GPS tracks, RF noise at the summit, etc.

Also, we have many MVNO’s here in the US (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) who buy bulk/wholesale minutes and services, usually from one or more of the big 4, and then they resell mobile services at a discount. Service, support and features may be less than the physical cell network that is actually carrying your traffic.

SMS (texting) is often more available than 2G/3G/4G cellular data, SMS, or a cell phone APP that uses SMS, is the ONLY way that I self Spot, which for SSB-only Ops I consider as essential.
Fot CW Ops, we can use RBN and RBNhole together with an Alert on SOTAwatch.

Hunt & Pounce is a backup. Most Ops won’t know what SOTA is, or the required exchange, so try and spread the word by briefly describing the programme. I’ve found that most Ops (and spectators on the summit) are curious. I always take a few moments to educate the public when asked.

I should be up on APRS in about a week. One more tool in my ruck.

Others here have covered the (for me: backup) options.

73/73,
Bruce W2SE