I packed up the truck and headed for a local Southern CA drive-up 6-point summit - Thomas Mountain (W6/CT-016). It was Friday evening, and I had no plans until Saturday afternoon other than working lots of HF.
Packed in the truck was my home station, an Icom IC-7300, a relatively new antenna, and plenty of battery power to last for hours even at 100w.
I had never brought the IC-7300 out for SOTA before, normally using a FT-857 when I want to run 100w portable. The IC-7300 is just too much to carry. But for a drive-up summit…
The primary goal of the activation was to work DX, specifically S2S DX if possible. I brought a laptop to operate on FT-8, but planned to operate primarily CW and SSB. Aki, JI3BAP had posted on the SOTA reflector that he would be on a summit in Japan at the same time, and would try to make contact on FT-8 or CW.
I arrived at the summit around 7PM local time (0200z) and found a beautiful campsite right at the summit.
At the edge of the site, the terrain drops away steeply to the West which will be helpful for propagation across the Pacific. I set up my newly built antenna, a half-square built for 20m. A half-square antenna is basically a set of inverted ground plane phased 1/4 wave verticals. It requires two antenna supports, but provides a bit of gain and nice low-angle radiation broadside to the antenna.
By 7:30PM (0230z) I was set up and ready to operate. I posted a spot and began calling on CW. As usual, the contacts began rolling in quickly. Contact #4 was the first DX of the evening, regular chaser extraordinaire, ZL1BYZ. John gave me a 579 signal report. A few contacts later, the first of the VK stations, VK4TJ, came back to my call. We exchanged 339 reports and continued on. And then a couple of contacts later, the first Japanese station returned my call, JA1VRY, again with a relatively weak but readable signal.
For kicks, I switched over to SSB around 0310z and the flood gates of VK and ZL opened up. Most VK stations were strong and easily readable. The longest DX of the activation, VK7JON, 9420.7mi away in Perth reported a 56 signal report to me in response to the solid 58 I gave him.
The word was out in VK land that I was copyable there, and many contacts ensued. As the SSB responses slowed, I switched back to CW and found another slew of VK and ZL stations returning my calls with numerous 579 signal reports.
Then, in the mix was JI3BAP/3 for the Summit-to-Summit contact! I had listened for him earlier on 20m CW but couldn’t hear him. The conditions had improved, and he was now a solid 559 into Southern California with his 50W station. This was my first DX S2S and one of my primary SOTA goals for the year.
My other SOTA goal for the year is to make 100+ contacts on an activation. I knew this one would have a chance at topping that due to the extended amount of time I planned to activate, but I wasn’t counting.
Around 0500z, the responses to my calls slowed, and I decided to call it a night. I set my alarm for 6AM local time (1300z) with hopes of EU DX in the morning.
The morning light was gorgeous with marine layer down in the valleys, and a hazy glow on the local summits. I resumed operating on 20m with the Half Square antenna initially on SSB.
First contact of the morning was K3S, a special event station for Marconi Day. I then put out a spot and picked up a bunch of US contacts over the next hour or so. In the mix was a S2S chase of NA6MG on a nearby summit.
I switched to CW hoping for some EU DX, and about a dozen contacts in, I heard SA4…
I called back, and picked up SA4BLM in Sweden. He reported a 339, and I sent back 539.
A few calls later, way down in the noise, I heard what I thought was ON3… I called back and received multiple repeats in return but the signal was just too weak to copy clearly. Danny in Belgium has mountains of patience as he repeated his call 30 or 40 times as I worked through ON3… ON3UT… ON3VT… and finally ON4VT. I sent him a 229, and he was equally patient in repeatedly sending my 339 until I was able to copy. Danny emailed a QSL card that evening.
I realize now that I should have turned the antenna 90 degrees for EU. Those contacts were off the side of the antenna which is 3-6dB down from broadside!
Around 8AM, (1500z) I decided to swap out antennas in preparation for some S2S efforts. I brought down the Half Square and sent up the linked dipole.
Many more contacts ensued on 20, 30, and 40m with many US S2S contacts. One of those contacts, with N1OIE, pushed me over 1000 chaser points into Shack Slothdom.
I wrapped up the day just before noon with my last contact at 1800z.
In the end, I probably had the radio on for about 8 hours. In that time, I made 136 contacts, 33 of which were DX, and 19 of which were S2S. Of the DX, there were 19 VK, 7 ZL, 4 JA, 1 SA, 1 ON, and 1 VE. I managed to reach both of my SOTA goals for the year - over 100 contacts, and S2S DX.
I couldn’t be happier with the new antenna. It will surely make it out on some additional summits despite the extra weight of the two masts.
I can’t wait for the next evening and morning activations to work some more DX.
Many thanks to all the chasers - it was a blast!