After waiting in anticipation for several months for the 2023 Online Amateur Radio Community SOTA day to arrive, the last few days have been a bit of a rollercoaster. I’d been monitoring the Met Office weather app in the last few days, watching the unfolding weather system inbound, and hearing from other participants on their respective summit plans. Thing were looking iffy for SOTA the length of The Isles.
For my chosen summit, Leith Hill (G/SE-002), the forecast twisted and turned each day like the plot of a soap opera, but on Saturday morning, I woke before the alarm and the air wafting in through the open bedroom window was fresh with the scent of possibility, and a pre-breakfast weather check was a ‘Proceed with caution’ final Go for launch.
Having awoken far too early, I decided to while away some time contriving a ludricrously-elaborate transmit plan for the day. I intended to be on summit from 1000 UTC - 1500 UTC and I wanted to work 2m and 70cm, and operate phone, SSTV, Feld Hell and Rattlegram, so I broke out the spreadsheet, and worked up a per hour plan to rotate through bands an modes, and printed a copy for each hour on the hill.
The hill had other plans, however.
Driving to the car park at the foot of Leith Hill was a breeze on mid-morning rural road traffic, and I easily found a space and set about pulling on my walking boots and doing an equipment check before setting off on the trivial amble up a footpath to the summit.
The air was humid, and mountain bikers were labouring their ascent, but passing me as I trudged in unhurried a manner, knowing I was nicely on schedule.
I made the summit location a shade before 1000 UTC, took a brief look around and eyed the horizon. The inbound weather was already affecting other parts of the South of England, and I expected it to pass through later in the day.
With the prospect of some flaky operating conditions, I made a spot report, and set about working some radio without delay. Bare seconds after my first few calls of CQ on 2m, I had a response from a station I’d worked previously on several occasions and we had a pleasant QSO. Following that QSO, and 20 minutes into the activation, I was contacted through Discord by a fellow member of OARC who was preparing to abandon his location, having had a successful session, but needing to retreat from the impending weather. We had a QSO - a Summit-Summit - and in doing so, also logged these for the Worked All OARC activity which is running through July and August.
Having got some radio under my belt, I then turned my attention to Leith Hill Tower which the National Trust keeps among it’s retinue of historic buildings. For radio, especially UHF and VHF, this tower has the additional appeal of topping out at 313 m above Sea Level.
I got to the top, puffing a bit from a steep and tightly-wound staircase but was delighted to find an ideal place to play radio. The views are stunning - although during my activation, marred by brooding storm clouds.
With the inbound weather, my overly-complicated transmit plan involving voice, image and text modes was written off in favour of a simple 2m and 70cm operation with voice QSOs. I did throw in some calls on PMR446, but the only fleeting copy I got was some confused person at a campsite somewhere in West Sussex, so I shutdown the PMR HT and concentrated on licensed bands.
I operated for a while and made several contacts on 2m. 70cm was deathly quiet, but I mixed in a good percentage of CQ calls anyway, having mentioned it in my spot report for the summit. I logged a few more QSOs, all from stations to the North of Leith Hill, with some lovely clear copy.
What was not clear, was the sky. Being aware of the storm front making it’s way NNE, I was monitoring the excellent blitzortung.org for lightning detections, and it was only a matter of time before the little yellow blips on the strike map on my phone screen became big boomy flashy things worryingly close to the tower. I made a decision to tactically withdraw from the tower roof, and was met on my way down the spiral staircase by a National Trust volunteer ascending to let me know that they were closing the tower.
I took the opportunity at the base of the tower to visit the unassuming kiosk to order a snack, which ate on one of the nearby benches waiting for the storm to pass. The rain was, initially, light.
The coffee was easily the best I’ve tasted this decade, and the sausage roll was up there too. The crisps were … crisps.
However, a few abrupt booms and flashes and I decided to make for better shelter, and retreated into some trees near to the summit area. I continued on 2m & 70cm but things were quiet over the lunch period.
Eventually, the rain passed and I reverted to ground level operating out in the open, before going back up the tower. The storms having passed, I then made several more QSOs before it was time for the tower to close for the day. I did try to work another member of OARC before leaving the tower, but he was on the edge of readibility, being in Bromley and in radio shadow of the North Downs.
The day was not over though. I descended to ground level and moved around the summit periphery to try to exploit some variation in takeoff for different directions. At this point, rain showers were still coming and going, my waterproof was feeling rather stuffy, and activity seemed to be drying up, so I decided to use the vantage point to see how many repeaters I could hit. Surprisingly few, it turned out. I heard an American voice making a QSO on a repeater in Brighton, to the South, and tried to join, but my signal was not getting in.
An attempt to work simplex with a further OARC member camping in the New Forest, over the hills and far away to the West was a parting shot for the day, but one which went unheard on either end.
The hill had still not finished with me though. I packed up and headed back down the track to return to my car. The descent was taking quite a lot longer than I expected, I thought, as I arrived at the car park, before realising that … it was the wrong car park. Not far wrong though. This was the main one and I had parked in the overspill area across the road, so I arrived back at the car intact and with a notebook holding the modest number of logged SOTA contacts for the day. Now: to make it home and decipher my barely-legible scrawl …