Hello everyone, I’ve been activating summits since mid-August and wanted to write a bit about my experience. SOTA has been my entire entry into ham radio as a hobby. I live on the bottom floor of an apartment complex with no substantial outdoor space and overhead electric lines nearby, in other words the worst case scenario for a home setup. I got my technician’s license in 2020 and promptly did absolutely nothing with it. In August I rekindled my interest and did a few SOTA activations on 2m FM. These were fun enough, and worth doing to get my feet wet, but I could tell that I was going to have a lot more fun if I got on to the HF bands.
It all happened pretty fast. I am a graduate student with no prior electrical tinkering experience, so even an entry level HF rig was a pretty major investment. I started doing research into what kind of setup I would want, meanwhile continuing to do 2m FM activations, thinking I would eventually get my general’s. Well…at some point I decided “now is the time,” studied for the General exam for an entire day, took the test the next day with a very convenient online VEC and passed on the first go.
I tried to pick a setup that would be beginner-friendly and suitable for SOTA and ended up with the Xiegu G90 and the QRP Guy’s EFHW antenna kit cut for 40m. I would highly recommend this same setup to anyone else looking to get into the HF bands for the first time via SOTA. The G90’s internal ATU means I don’t have to be a wizard at making nice antennas, 20W capabilities help push me a little beyond what QRP is capable of, and the EFHW antenna was simple enough to put together even with no prior experience soldering.
Since getting everything together, I’ve had steadily improving results on my activations. On my very first outing on W6/NC-398 I was literally cutting the antenna at the peak–I have no room in my apartment to lay this all out and make the appropriate SWR measurements. I managed 7 contacts and was thrilled to be reaching other states, including as far as Montana.
My second outing on W6/NC-406 revealed how much easier S2S contact were on HF; I got 4 S2Ss in 12 contacts.
Just as I was starting to be concerned that I was seemingly only hitting the Western US, I made a contact in Connecticut while atop W6/NC-378.
Over labor day weekend my partner and I took a bit of a road trip around the Sierras and I started feeling much more comfortable setting up, though the setup on top of the extremely bouldery and steep W6/ND-047 still gave me quite a challenge.
Two weekends ago I was thrilled to activate two peaks in one day with 19 contacts each, way beyond my previous record. On the first peak, W6/NS-209, I finally contacted the fabled F4WBN who gave me my first ever DX contact. That put a grin on my face!
That brings me to today. Being new to HF, I definitely did my first few activations without looking at or really knowing how to interpret solar data. After my contact with France, I decided to learn a bit more about that and learned that my success had happened at a time with high SFI/SN. Seeing that the SFI/SN today were even higher than they were then, I knew I had to get out and try my luck.
I hiked up to W6/CC-051 and was very happy to see than 10m was open when I reached the peak. Holy cow, going out when the solar data looks good and 10m is open is great. I managed to get 40 contacts, more than anyone else has ever gotten on this frequently visited peak. The contacts were flying in from all over the country, but I also got a contact from Argentina!! This was a major surprise–I had known that I might get a contact from F4WBN eventually because of his wildly good directional antennas, but I kind of figured that would be about it for long distance DX given my low power and lack of experience. In fact I’ve been learning CW because I’ve read that CW signals can be understood further out than SSB signals. Naturally, a contact coming in from Argentina was a major surprise. Don’t worry, I’m still going to learn CW.
I haven’t posted on the forums much but wanted to give this introduction. It’s been great fun getting outside and making contacts and I’m trying to learn the names of my regular chasers (shout out to my top 3 WW7D, WB6POT, and W0MNA). If anyone has chased me and has feedback about my operating, please feel free to share it, I know I have a lot to learn.
Hopefully I’ll be hearing “S2S” from more of you soon.