G4YSS Activation of EA8/ LP-001 Roque de los Muchachos on 14-04-14
Report 3 of 4 in EA8/LP series.
EA8/LP Series of Reports:
Report 1 of 4. LP2 on 07-04-14, see:
Report 2 of 4. LP3 on 10-04-14, inc. AM band DX see:
Report 3 of 4. LP1 on 14-04-14, THIS REPORT:
Report 4 of 4. LP2 on 16-04-14, see:
This report deals with the activation of Roque de los Muchachos (‘The Rock of the Boys’) EA8/LP-001, La Palma’s highest SOTA summit on Monday 14th April 2014. It was ‘new for SOTA’ and the third mountain activated using EA8/ M1NNN/P. The summit area is governed by strict laws regarding electromagnetic interference.
There was no advanced ‘start point recce’ for this one, not least because there is no start point in the normal sense of the phrase. The car park is but 30m from the highest point. Another reason was that this summit was almost two hours driving time from our hotel at Las Indias and by now the rest of the family had developed an aversion to the G-forces associated with travelling along La Palma’s twisty roads. Despite drastically modifying my driving technique when the car was full, there were still complaints. Grandson Jack had developed travel sickness on a daily basis. I would have loved to show them the telescopes but it couldn’t be achieved, which meant just one chance at an activation.
Other than driving there, the physical aspects of putting this particular summit on the air would be almost non-existent. However that was just one facet of the undertaking. By far the most worrying problem concerned the world-famous astronomical observatories which occupy the NW part of the summit. Most of these are obviously optical but others possibly are not? It is predictable that some might have a radio telescope function or that they have electronic control systems. Whatever the reason, the authorities have placed quite severe limits on four parameters which could be problematic to their operations. These are: Light Pollution; Atmospheric Pollution; Aviation over-flight restrictions and the final item which affects SOTA; Radioelectrical Pollution. (Spanish Law 31/1988 refers.)
I am indebted to Martin DF3MC for posting a link to details of radioelectrical pollution limits for EA8/LP-001 on the sotawatch. Home | Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias • IAC
If the information had not appeared there, I may never have known. With my 50 Watt linear, I would have been in contravention of the rule, which states that: ‘Power flux density for any frequency must exceed 2x10-6 W/m2 in any part of the observatories, equivalent to an electric field intensity of 88.8 dB (mV/m).’
A few weeks before the expedition, I made some calculations using the formula:
Fd = Pt divided by 4 x Pi x d squared.
Where Fd is Power Flux Density in Watts per square metre;
Pt is Transmitted Power in Watts;
d is distance on metres from any part of the observatories.
(Pi is the constant 3.142)
Though they were not up to the standards of 1:25,000 UK OS maps, careful measurements of my 1:30,000 and 1:40:000 maps gave some idea of the minimum distances which could be expected, bearing in mind the telescope positions and shape of the activation area. Accuracy would not be great however.
As for the calculations, the findings were not encouraging. For instance 50 Watts at 200m would put me 100 times over the limit so I could obviously forget any form of QRO. The linear amp would remain at the hotel for this one. I tried the formula with 5 Watts at 200m; that was 5 times the requirement but taking the power down to 1 Watt at that distance was just satisfactory. If I could set up the station more than 310 metres away, I could turn the power up to 2.5 Watts ‘whoopee’! That might give me half a chance of getting a few QSO’s in the log if I chose the right bands at the right time and persevered long enough.
On the plus side, the map seemed to indicate that it might be possible to set up out of line-of-sight to these sensitive buildings. Furthermore, the calculations do not take into account the shape of the likely radiation pattern of a horizontal inverted-vee dipole and how these twin factors were likely to help my cause.
On the down side, I knew it would not be practical to physically measure the distance on the ground or even to know for sure precisely what was meant by the phrase, ‘In any part of the Observatories’ and how that was being defined. Unfortunately the lines-of-sight to the observatories was roughly the same as to Europe where most of the chasers were.
Using a facility inside the hotel lobby (one Euro in the slot for ten minutes on one of four computers) I posted a warning on the SOTA Reflector regarding the RF limits on LP1 and the probable 1 Watt power level which would have to be used. That way at least prospective chasers would know what they were up against and why my signal was so weak.
I wondered if I was taking all this a little too seriously, but a similar stipulation on Tenerife’s Mount Teide made mention of continuous monitoring. However, that was about all that could be done for now. To get any further with this I would need to be on the spot in order to see the layout for myself and what was possible.
Activation No3 of 4:
ROQUE de Los MUCHACHOS: EA8/LP-001 (QRP) - previously unactivated for SOTA.
Bands: 17m-15m-12m CW/ SSB.
G4YSS using alternative personal callsign EA8/ M1NNN/P. Unaccompanied.
All times ‘WEST’ UOS. (Western European Daylight Saving Time - UTC + 1hr and equivalent to BST).
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver.
Adjustable link dipole for 20-17-15-10m (built 1992 for CT3).
Two 7m-long end strings for dipole.
5m Telescopic Mast with ground spike. (Guying kit and end sticks not used).
6 Ah Li-Po battery (1 x 2.2 Ah Li-Po in reserve - not used).
GPS: Garmin GEKO-301.
Packweight: 7 kg (15.4 pounds) including food and 1 litre of water.
EXECUTION - LP1:
I left the hotel near Fuencalientes at 7am; driving along in darkness with the car radio tuned to the AM band, listening to USA stations for the third time. (For details see previous LP3 report - http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=9361#foot).
After about an hour I was past Santa Cruz and turning onto the LP4 observatories road, the first two thirds of which resembles a twisted varicose vein on the map. It was fortunate that I was driving solo or there would have been complaints from disgruntled passengers; such was the frequency and severity of seemingly endless hairpin bends. The road does however have an asphalt surface though it’s rough in places and occasionally rock-strewn.
A further 50 minutes passed before the first telescopes came into view. Well before this, the road straightens out for some distance and driving becomes enjoyable again. At over 2,200m ASL, I passed a lump of dirty snow about the size of a sheep. Aside from some which could be seen lying on Teide, Tenerife, this was the only snow I saw in the two weeks we were on La Palma. Despite full sun by the time I was up to the telescopes, I was driving on a frosty road with the car temperature gauge reading 3C.
The Astronomical Observatories:
I spent about 30 minutes from 08:50 driving round the various telescopes and photographing them. I got up close to the Isaac Newton and Liverpool telescopes. There was the Herschel, Mercator and other famous names linked with astronomy. Apparently you can get guided tours around them but they must be prearranged. At the road side was a notice telling drivers to dip their headlights at night and another saying that the barrier on the short road going up from the telescopes to the summit would be closed between 19:00 and 07:00.
Upon driving into the deserted car park I was shocked to see the vertical rocks which I recognised from photos as the summit, just yards away. It was a beautiful morning as I reversed up to some tough looking bushes growing successfully at almost 8,000 feet. The sizeable car park was well surfaced and there were some information boards and a small shed with a VHF whip and solar panel on the roof. Closer to the summit there is a green notice declaring, ‘Roque de los Muchachos 2,426m Altitud.’
Even at just 3C, with a very light and full sun, it didn’t feel particularly cold. Since there were no weight limits on this one, I selected a primaloft jacket from the car. It would do to sit around in until the temperature increased a bit and later help keep the sun off. After that I could sit on it.
LP1 Summit Layout Survey:
The first thing to do was to get the GPS fired up. Once that was established I set off for a thorough look at what LP1 had to offer to the SOTA activator. The car was parked at N28 45 16.2 W17 53 05.9 and what I judged was the highest Roque on the summit was marked at N28 45 15.3 W17 53 05.8 (WGS84). The features at the summit; several vertical pillars of volcanic rock, standing 2 or 3 metres high, give the mountain its name which translated means ‘Rock of the Boys.’ Strictly speaking people are not allowed right up to these but I needed accurate GPS data for SOTA purposes and I can’t read Spanish.
Well kept paths take you past either side of these fenced off ‘boys’ and along to the other end of the summit where there is a viewpoint at N28 45 09.0 W17 52 56.8. The viewpoint (mirador) is 315m SE of the summit. Unfortunately, there’s a col between these two points at N28 45 10.8 W17 52 59.4 and it’s deep enough to rule it out of the activation zone. As far as I can measure the col is just over 30m below the tops of the rocks on the summit. This effectively decreases the activation options limiting them to the end where the roques are, minus 25m.
The car park and some distance around it is within the activation zone but I didn’t bother to even consider that because it is closest to and overlooks all the telescopes. I noticed a difference in heart rate and respiration after walking short distances uphill at 8,000ft compared with sea level. It probably didn’t help that I had driven and not walked to the summit. Later I spoke to other people who were also experiencing this.
After much deliberation, I settled for a point overlooking the SW side of the mountain and 90m from the summit, at N28 45 13.0 W17 53 03.7. Here there is a natural rock wall just metres from the footpath. The ground slopes away steeply and I placed the base of the mast below the point at which I intended to operate, so that when sighted from the path above, the mast’s top would not be visible from any telescope. The ASL was around 20m down from the summit which put the station within limits for SOTA but with intervening terrain to ‘hide’ some of the RF. The mast’s ground spike went into the gritty soil quite easily.
I tied off one dipole string to a fence, which was enclosing an area of regenerating but sparse flora. The other end was fastened around rocks beside the footpath. Just to be sure, I ‘lost’ half a metre off the mast height which reduced it to 4.5m. Satisfied that I’d done my best, it was now time to go on the air to see what might happen. Of course my imagination was running away with me. Would I be taken forcibly off the air and arrested before making four QSO’s? However unlikely, what a disaster that would have been!
ROQUE de Los MUCHACHOS: EA8/LP-001: 2,426m (7,960ft), 10pts, 08:50 to 16:18. Temp: 3C at 08:50; 8C at 13:00; 13C at 16:00. Wind: Less than 5mph. Sunshine. Increasing ‘undercast’ with mist for an hour in mid afternoon. (LOC: IL18BS). Orange (EE) phone coverage - all areas.
24.907 CW - 8 QSO’s:
I only had a vague idea how far I was from the telescopes. It looked like I might be more than 300m away but who could tell? With this in mind, I resolved to try with very low power in the hope of qualifying the summit. If ‘officialdom’ failed to detect that, I might just try a bit more power later on.
Armed with the FT817ND set to 1 Watt and a sheet of calculations to demonstrate compliance with the flux density rules should the need arise, I settled down on a handy rock for what I imagined might be a difficult few hours. Between 10:00 and 10:30 UTC I worked just eight stations or was it just seven? First up was Roy G4SSH with 559/ 539 reports and I was grateful that my single Watt was being heard. Then came: OK1KT; DL3HXX; HB9BCB/P S2S on HB/GR-160; I2CZQ; ON4FI; GI4ONL and G0VOF/P.
My CW reading is poor which somehow made me garble OK1KT into OK1JKT. Days later while looking in the log’s margin, I noticed that Vratislav had sent the words ‘only two letters’ but it still took some research after returning home to know who I’d worked. Trouble is, the more I get it wrong the more flustered I become.
The 12m band QSO with Lothar DL3HXX ended with something of a question mark against it but that became academic when he called on 18 MHz later. It showed that HB9BCB/P Heinz had low noise and a great set of ears when he gave my 1 Watt a 539 report from HB/GR-160. Pietro and Karel sent me 539’s and Victor, the GI ‘scraped in’ with a 339. Mark G0VOF was leaving nothing to chance and enthusiast that he is, I immediately knew why he was signing /P. A low-noise environment may just have been the only way he was going to hear a 1 Watt signal but we seemed to exchange quite easily after just one call.
21.052 CW - Nil:
I called CQ on here with 1 Watt after Roy spotted it for me but I couldn’t even raise G4SSH. After 10 minutes, I gave up and had a lengthy break to see if conditions would improve.
A sleek black Raven turned up to join me for elevenses. At first he stood a few metres away weighing up his chances but ignoring the bread that I threw at him. Before long he was standing quite close eating scraps of cheese which I pulled from my sandwiches. A minute later despite a powerful looking beak, he would take it delicately from my fingers. Before I knew it, he was standing on the rig; then on the log which was on my lap. All this while I was trying to talk to G4SSH on the phone about the next QSY frequency.
Looking round I could see that we had spectators. Maybe eight tourists all with cameras clicking, had stopped on the path above but while I was thus distracted the bird started picking at my rig, the rucksack, my log and making lunges into my sandwich bag. I rapidly put a stop to the latter practice but while I was trying to secure those belongings, he nipped behind my back and started filching other equipment such as my thermometer, whistle, Spanish phrase book, my amateur licence and a map. These were being removed to a place of safety two metres from me and examined for possible food content. It became a bit of a tussle. When I got up to retrieve one thing, the Raven would slyly steal another.
In the end I had to show a good deal of displeasure which made him retreat and eventually fly off. I have met these birds on the UK mountaintops and well remember sharing a sandwich with one in the snow and low-cloud of a lonely Great Gable one winter. That one was not nearly so cheeky however.
18.092 CW - 11 QSO’s:
By now it was 11:20z. An hour and twenty minutes had gone by and I still only had eight radio contacts to show for it. On the other hand the activation was qualified so the next band to try was 17m. For this the power was raised from 1 to 2.5 Watts and ‘blow the consequences.’ Considering my screened position and what I thought was a goodly distance from ‘trouble’ I was pretty confident that insufficient RF would impinge on the observatories to cause an issue.
Roy was not first in the log on here so maybe he couldn’t hear me initially. It wasn’t surprising. Mike DJ5AV opened the score on 17m and I got a 539 RS from him. N1EU was next with 559. After that I worked EA2LU; DL3HXX; HB9AGH; OK2QA; DL1FU and a late entry from G4SSH with a ‘559 QSB’ report, then: DF5WA. S52CU/P - Mirko made contact from S5/TK-002 for an S2S and the last station was OK1CZ. OK6DJ called but failed to receive my RST.
18.132 SSB - 3 QSO’s:
Roy put a timely spot up for this QSY but only three stations heared me. Unfortunately, the bands were not what they had been a few days before. Sadly the very low power that I was forced to use coincided with poorer ionospheric conditions and SSB is not quite as good as CW for getting through. Stations worked: G6TUH Mike; CT1HIX Carlos and old friend from G/LD - G4UXH Colin. Incoming reports were 31; 51 and 41 respectively so I think we were lucky to make these QSO’s which spanned more than twenty minutes with plenty of CQ’s between them.
24.907 CW - 1 QSO:
Flicking through the rig’s memories I came across a CQ SOTA on 12m CW. Mirko was calling repeatedly but no stations were replying. It was now a race to QSY my antenna links before he gave up and went to another band. The technique is to start at one end of the dipole and ‘walk’ the wire down low enough to reach the link. The side by the path was easy but somehow the side tied off to the fence defeated me. The loose volcanic gravel offered little grip. That, and a sudden attack of vertigo caused by looking up while standing close to the edge of thousands of feet of void sent me sprawling in an undignified fashion.
After first checking there were no witnesses and with Mirko still calling from S5/TK-002. I dusted myself down, completed the task and called him back. A delightful QSO ensued because this time there was no pileup, therefore no rush and we were 579 both ways. It made a pleasant change after a struggle with the same S2S on 17m an hour prior.
21.050 CW - 6 QSO’s:
After a phone call to G4SSH, Roy steered me down from the intended frequency of 21.052 because the QRG was occupied. He and Kevin G0NUP were quickly in the log with the power still set to 2.5 Watts. Next: OH9XX; G3VXJ; OE7PHI and N4EX who was severely QRM’d by KK4ITN. The latter station suddenly came onto the frequency calling CQ over the proceedings. This is not a complaint, merely an observation because with my power and antenna, I was probably inaudible to him. By the same token no amount of ‘QRL; QRL; pse QSY’ from my side made any difference. This occurrence may well have ruined the chances of a QSO for several would be chasers of LP1.
My response was to raise the white flag and nudge up to 21.050.7; there calling CQ SOTA without effect. The cause was lost and I wasn’t found there.
21.320 SSB - 5 QSO’s:
Continuing with 2.5 Watts: EB2CZF was first in, giving me 54. Then followed: G0RQL (53); G6TUH (44); DJ5AV (53) and EA1DFP (55). Outgoing reports were all 56 or 57. Something must have improved as this session took just 8 minutes.
I had a number of visitors to the station. An English lady stopped for a chat but mainly the people who stopped to look quizzically at me and my accoutrements did not speak much of my language, nor I theirs. A German fellow listened intently to his countrymen talking on 21 MHz in their own language, declaring them to have Bavarian accents. He was fascinated by the station set-up and what it could achieve until he remembered that his wife would be waiting for him at the car. He departed after a handshake.
24.907 CW - 11 QSO’s:
I didn’t know it at the time but this was the penultimate session. All things considered, 12m CW turned out to be quite efficient for SOTA chasing. In fact it won the final QSO tally hands down. Stations worked: EB2CZF; G0RQL; G6TUH; DJ5AV; EA1DFP; G3RDQ; EI2CL; G4SSH; G3RMD; SP8RHP; EA2PI; OK1AU; N4EX; PA4EA; F8FKK and finally CX6VM. (These with 2.5W).
At the time I did not recognise the CX prefix but my knowledge on that subject is sparse. I didn’t think about it but if I had I might have guessed at a club station in Portugal. In fact I was being called from Uruguay and looking him up on QRZ.com, I later found that this was Jorge in Cerro Largo. It was an easy QSO at 579/559.
24.969 SSB - 10 QSO’s:
Though I planned to finish on 10FM, this turned out to be ‘what the cobbler threw at his wife.’ Roy was getting phone calls from me requesting internet spots and also from G4OBK & G4OOE. Talk about a busy day, he must have been flagging by now. Nevertheless, he quickly spotted the QRG and mode change.
QSO’s in the log: G6TUH - Mike heard me peaking at ‘58 to 59 at 14:30z;’ ON4TA; G0TDM; EA2LMI; G1OCN; G0NES; EA2DZX; G0RQL. Then MW6GWR - Ricky who is featured in Radcom this month. UY7QN was another ‘gotaway.’
The final station worked from LP1 was DJ7UD - Klaus, who was ‘armchair copy’ with 500 Watts to an Ultrabeam. He was hearing everything from me with my 2.5 Watts but considering the quality of his antenna that was perhaps not surprising. I had a nice conversation with Klaus who had been to La Palma in 2013 and actually visited the summit I was working from.
29.600 FM - NIL:
A text message sent to Roy to advise him of this QSY preceded some CQ calls on here but they went unanswered. I couldn’t stay much longer at any rate. There was an almost 2-hour drive ahead of me and I had just been shocked to notice that it was now 4pm. This is often the problem in summer when your watch is set to UTC!
145.500 FM - (2 Watts-Helical) Nil:
I tried a couple of CQ’s on here from the actual summit but got no replies. When I think about it even if I was heard, my quickly spoken English with a West Riding of Yorkshire accent would very likely have put the locals off. Another factor is that S20 may not exist as a calling channel in this country or island?
‘Descent’ of LP1:
Perhaps the wrong title? I had to walk uphill to the summit for a couple of minutes, then down about 3 metres to the car. After a few parting shots with the camera, I drove quickly down the bendy road; entering cloud at 1,700m whence it started raining quite heavily. At 500m ASL it was clear and sunny again. The drive back took from 16:25 to 18:10 including a crazy, time-wasting ‘satnav-sponsored’ orbit near Santa Cruz.
17m CW: 11
17m SSB: 3
15m CW: 6
15m SSB: 5
12m CW: 20
12m SSB: 10
10m FM: 0
2m - FM: 0
10 SOTA points.
Though more than twice its height, in a minor way Roque de los Muchachos reminded me of previous activations of Mount Snowdon (GW/NW-001) despite not being as busy. That was due to a constant trickle of ‘tourists’ who passed my operating position throughout the day. The views were stunning and this was the very top of La Palma Island and the third highest SOTA in the archipelago. I felt privileged to be there and delighted to be (as far as is known) the first for SOTA.
The close proximity of the several astronomical observatories with their associated flux density constraints, led to strict limits on radiated power which in turn impacted severely on the operation. The total QSO count for LP1 was less than half that of the previous LP2 and LP3 activations. It didn’t help either that the bands seemed somewhat depressed on the very day I needed the very best of conditions. There was much QSB which must have made my 1 Watt and later 2.5 Watt signals hard to copy for most chasers, especially if your QTH is in a city.
The intention was to minimise the down side of the above by choosing times and bands wisely but I will never be sure if that purpose was met or not. At 10:00 in the morning, you can’t be certain just how the ionosphere will develop through the day. Which will become the optimal band, when and for whom? The latter point is moot as this was intended to be a truly international and more so, an intercontinental activation. 55 QSO’s in five hours is a poor rate indeed but it could have been much worse. It was not outside the bounds of possibility that the authorities could have found an excuse to shut me down, which was one reason that I left the LP1 activation until last.
The difficulties in a nutshell were that I needed to satisfy several conflicting considerations: 1) To be in the activation zone. 2) To put the maximum distance and terrain between the aerial and the telescopes. 3) To have a good takeoff, especially to Europe. 4) Not to impeded other visitors to the mountain. 5) Not to trample flora, some of which was fenced off to encourage regeneration. After a thorough survey with all of the above in mind, it became evident that the choices of where to put an antenna were severely limited.
Like the other two La Palma SOTA’s, there were some positional conflicts on LP1. I GPS’d the summit at N28 45 15.3 W17 53 05.8. The SOTA websites have it 450m to the NE. That could easily be corrected of course. The SOTA site and one of my maps (the 1:40,000) gives the mountain’s height as 2,421m ASL. A second map (the 1:30,000) agrees with the notice at the summit which states 2,426m. I have no idea which is correct and these are small details but still worth mentioning.
Thanks to all stations worked and to G4SSH; G6TUH; SP8RHP and G3RDQ for spotting. ‘Well done Roy’ G4SSH again for telephone liaison, text monitoring, alerting, spotting and guidance on band conditions. Martin DF3MC for details of radioelectrical pollution limits on LP1.
73, John G4YSS
(Using EA8/ M1NNN/P)