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Failed Activation of OE/VB-248 Formaletsch

Dear all:

FYI: I tried to activate

OE/VB-248 Formaletsch (10 Points)

yesterday. Unfortunately, I failed to manage the required QSOs. In fact, I did not complete a single QSO, which is a pity.

With this post, I want to solicit feedback and also inform chasers who tried but did not reach me.

Background: I was staying on the Freiburger Hütte (hut) with family and friends from July 15 - 16 (Saturday and Sunday). During the daytime, we did long trips around the hut, which did not include SOTA summits. I had the modest hope to squeeze in some SOTA activity, but knew that this would be subject to limitations.

We arrived at the hut at 15:30 local time (13:30 UTC). After some discussions, I found a fellow who was willing to go for an evening trip to the Formaletsch.

Ascent: We departed from the hut ca. 16:15 local time. Typically, it takes about 1- 1.25 h from the hut to the summit and a little bit less for the descent. We had to be back for the last round of dinner by 18:30 local time. By the time of posting an alert, I had estimated a later time, which turned out unfortunate in the end.

Unfortunately, there was no mobile internet coverage in the whole area, so I could not update my alert.

So it was clear that we had a maximum of 135 minutes for ascent, set-up, activation, and descent, and we were two hours earlier than indicated in my alert. We hurried a lot and reached the summit wet-sweat in 45 minutes, i.e. by 15:00 UTC and I was QRV by 15:15 UTC.

Activation: CONDX seemed okay, I could hear some stations, but most were engaged in rag-chew style QSOs or not reacting to my calls, so given the limited time, I stopped search-and-pound and hoped for being spotted either by fellow SOTAs or by RBNhole.

I started calling CQ on 7030.7 MHz by 15:15. Unfortunately, nobody answered my calls. I briefly tried 30m, but came back to 40m shortly thereafter. I almost completed a QSO with IK6JFF by 15:39 UTC, but did not get his report for me.

By that time it was clear we had to pack up soon in order to not miss dinner. I continued my CQ call, but got no replies. By 15:45, we broke up and were back at the hut by 16:20 UTC for dinner.

I was a bit frustrated at first, because it would have been a nice 10-pointer for my log, and the ascent was a kind of tough add-on to the day’s program.

Failure Analysis: Quick activations are always risky, but still this was the first of mine that failed completely. I think the following were the main causes for the failure:

  1. The time of my alert was almost two hours later (17:30 UTC) than the actual time of being QRV (15:15).
  2. There were two RBN spots, but they resulted in no spot by RBNhole, likely due to being almost two hours early:

DJ9IE OE/DK3IT/P 7030.6 CW CQ 6 dB 13 wpm 1532z 15 Jul
HA2KSD OE/DK3IT/P 7030.6 CW CQ 6 dB 13 wpm 1532z 15 Jul

  1. There was no internet coverage on the hut nor the summit, so I could neither update the alert nor self-spot.
  2. The antenna used was an EFHW as a low (5m) inverted vee, so mainly targeting Germany, while many chasers and SOTA people were at HAM RADIO.
  3. Saturday evening is a bad time for an activation.
  4. In particular if many SOTA people are heading for the SOTA dinner.
  5. At the same time, many SOTA people were trying to activate DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg, so there was a lot of SOTA traffic ongoing.

What else went wrong?

Anyway, I think the main problem was a lack of spotting, which I could have been avoided by more precise time information in the alert or using the syntax for a longer time-span for RBNhole (like S-3 S+4).

For others who want to try: While OE/VB-248 is very near to the Freiburger Hütte, the last part of the ascent is a very steep (60 deg?) path of mud, which was very slippery due to rain when we did the ascent; you definitely need solid mountain boots and have to take your time for this part. This is not an easy walk. You could mount your antenna over the cross on the summit, but we used a small 5m mast, because it is otherwise difficult to set up a proper inverted vee (the cross is on the edge of the summit).

Sorry to all chasers!

73 de Martin, DK3IT

1 Like

Here is a picture of my set-up at the summit. I used my Mountain Topper MTR3B in my GoBox with a 3-band EFHW with traps following a design by Heinz, HB9BCB on a 5m mast by lambdahalbe.de.

By the way, what I do not understand is why RBNhole did not spot me, because the two RBN spots were 118 minutes before the alert time and thus within the +/- 2 hours alert window mentioned here: RBNHole

Hi Martin,

I’m sorry about your failure.
Martin, when looking at your excellent equipment, I would not search for the reason in all the points mentioned only. The main reason seems to me the (still) missing SOTA operating practice. I’m sure you understand this the right way. Ok?

73 gl, Heinz HB9BCB

You probably want to read this thread, then, where the window was changed:

and of course, the documentation, which states the window is -1/+3 (as per original RBNGate and democratic voting)

Hi Martin

Nothing wrong with you or your station.

Sometime the SOTA gods don’t wanna play…
That happens to everyone from time to time.

Enjoy the walk and move on!

73 de Pedro, CT1DBS/CU3HF

@all: Thanks for your feedback!

I guess my main failure was relying on the +/-2 hr spotting window. As simple S-3 in the alert could have saved the activation. Lesson learned :wink:

@ Heinz: Yes, you are right - taken :wink: Being a more proficient CW operator will definitely help! I got my A-class license only about a year ago and am still a freshman in most aspects of ham radio, notably CW!

Luckily, there are so many nice summits in the alps that we won’t run out of SOTA challenges!

73 de Martin, DK3IT

One more question: Just two RBN spots after 15 minutes of calling CQ is kind of low from my experience. Does anybody know whether

CQ SOTA CQ SOTA DE K

is less likely to be picked up by RBN than

CQ CQ DE K

?

I also noticed that CQ at 13 wpm is less likely to be picked up by skimmers as compared to 16 wpm and up. I sometimes increase the speed to 16 wpm, which is at the edge of what I can copy under good circumstances, in order to speed up the spotting. The downside is that if someone replies a bit faster than my call, I am quickly in a QSO at a speed beyond my skill level.

So do you recommend the plain CQ pattern for spotting and injecting “CQ SOTA” and the REF only occasionally?

Martin

[quote=“DK3IT, post:8, topic:15625”]less likely to be picked up by RBN[/quote]I don’t know about RBN, but sometimes a general CQ that doesn’t mention SOTA gets replies where CQ SOTA seems to be being ignored. Maybe some general listeners think you only want contacts with SOTA folk?

…and yes, it’s really frustrating when an activation attempt comes up empty.

The effect of the CME the other day cannot have helped; the K-index was up to 6 or 7 yesterday afternoon and the A is now 41. Propagation was dire yesterday except for a very good sporadic E with openings to the south; at least for us here in GM-land.
Better luck next time!
73
Ken

Thanks! Do you know by accident how the CONDX were on Saturday around 15:30 UTC?

This is indeed the case when one calls cq sota outside the typical SOTA frequency windows.
However, as a SOTA activator one is free and can carry out the 4 QSO with each in the permitted frequency spectrum, which is usually easy to do.

1 Like

From http://www.solarham.net/planetk.htm it looks like it was a mite high on Sunday, but it looks reasonably quiet on Saturday:

However, I visited the Bridge Wireless Office on H.M.S. Belfast at about 14:30 UTC on Saturday, and the OM on GB2RN said that the bands were “rubbish” at that time…

Indeed. If you’re calling CQ you rely on folk answering, and sometimes not mentioning SOTA (or otherwise emphasising you’ll take any answers) draws in that response from a random listener that makes the difference between failure and success.

Okay, thanks - so I will switch my CQ loop memory to a bare CQ, and use the CQ SOTA and REF info only when CQing manually every now and then during the activation. This might also make it easier for skimmers to extract the callsign and not assume my prefix was SOTA :wink:

Yeah, it’s definitely worth putting SOTA and the ref into some CQ calls, but the way you suggest also means you don’t have to re-program keyer memories between activations. :wink:

Looks like the RBN window change (which I’d also managed to not notice) is mostly what caught you this time. I usually try to alert for the earliest time I think I’ll make it to the summit, but when the route and terrain are unknown that can be a bit approximate at best, too…

Hope your next attempt is much more successful.

Martin, I’ve been watching as you put together your station in a methodical way with various tests along the route. It’s nice to see such progress. Now you are at the point where as Heinz HB9BCB suggests, the issue is just down to lack of experience. Obviously no problems with climbing the mountains.

There is only one way to gain experience and that’s activate. Activate and activate. You gain experience of what happens and what is likely to happen. The chasers gain experience of how you activate and operate. The best chasers are not the best chasers because they have amazing stations though it helps. They are the best because they listen to what is happening and they learn the habits of each activator. I try to follow the same plot on every activation. If I alert for 5-7-10-cw,ssb they know I will start on 5MHz SSB then 7 SSB then 7 CW (around 7.033) then 10 CW (around 10.118/119) and the pattern is always the same. The chasers learn how good you are at meeting your alert times. They know if you are likely to do all the summits you alert or if the last one is likely to be cancelled because you are tired. So you need to build a reputation so when the chasers see an alert they know if you will be there or not and if it’s worth making extra effort. That requires you put some activations on the air.

Secondly, RBN is great but you need to ensure you drive it correctly. Whenever there is any chance of being very early or late you need to have put the window adjustments in so RBNhole will spot you. I knew I was doing 2 summits yesterday and rather than put 2 alerts in I did one wildcard with a long window(GM/CS-???) and the summits in the alert comment. But you cannot rely on it to work or for self-spotting to work as you need mobile coverage. Also 12-13wpm is a bit slow and, I’m sorry, but there will be plenty of normal (non-SOTA) ops who will ignore you as OE stations are common and not exotic enough to slow down. Of course SOTA chasers will work you for the points if they know you are on the air! The only way to gain speed is to operate. What you have done so far is great. Just keep pushing yourself to get faster. You don’t need to run at machine gun speed, 18-22wpm is probably just fine. My CW is rubbish as anyone who works me will tell you. I can do 18wpm SOTA/Contest exchanges and that’s it. I seem to have topped out and should practice more. But it does for SOTA.

Thirdly, more operating experience would let you know which bands to use when. Not just for propagation issues but whether there will be enough people listening. 1530Z should have netted plenty of chasers on 40m/30m in Europe, the RBN signal strength is not massive, could you have had some equipment issues resulting in a QRPp signal? I’ve started favouring 20m CW again for that time of day as its likely to get plenty of EU and and a few US stations.

I would keep your CQ SOTA message in memory and use that, you can always call CQ manually or try and work stations calling CQ but it’s very scary calling someone running 25wpm for a rubber stamp QSO just in case they don’t slow down to help you but want to show how stupid they are by returning to you very fast.

So, more practice, more activations and if you do that in the same methodical way you have put your station together you should start seeing lots more success. If you hear me, call me at whatever speed you are happy with. I’d be pleased to give you an S2S contact.

Thanks so much, Andy - for the factual feedback and the encouragement! Will follow your advice!

SOTA is really great - it has increased the fun and challenge in ham radio (a first activation of a summit is a really thrilling experience), and, as a nice side-effect, it has increased (if that is possible, hi) my enthusiasm for the mountains. Normally, one would not aim for the same summit for a second time, for there are so many beautiful mountains all over the world, but when you see that a summit you did a decade ago is waiting for the first activation, that’s really a big motivation.

Working towards a faster CW speed will also have the added benefit of being able to work more chasers even under my typically limited time on the summit - in winter due to the low temperatures, and in summer due to the fellow climbers.

Anyway, SOTA is mountaineering on steroids :wink:

vy 73 de Martin, DK3IT

I always carry APRS with me. With APRS you can spot even with no cell phone coverage.
https://www.dk9jc.de/blog/funkgeraete-diy-zubehoer-software/58-aprs2sota-spots-im-cluster-via-aprs (GERMAN) I used my Baofeng HT with APRSdroid before, but now I have an APRS-capable FT-2D.

Hi, yes, trying APRS2SOTA is on my agenda. I have a Yaesu VX8-DE for that, but left it at home this time. The week before, I tried to help spotters estimating my time of arrival by beaconing my GPS position. The problem is that in the mid of the alps, 2m coverage to digipeaters and iGates sets in only about 100 m before you reach the summit, as you can see if you look up my callsign on aprs.fi.

So I left it at home, because it is almost as heavy as my CW station, and instead of self-spotting, I relied on RBN + RBNhole. Bad luck that I missed the spotting window; will add respective S± directives to the alert next time.

As for using the VX 8DE for self-spotting: One problem is that it will additional time on the summit, which I am typically very short of. Entering the APRS2SOTA syntax into the tiny device will quickly take 5 - 10 minutes, and you cannot fully prepare it beforehand bc you need to know the exact frequency.

Martin