More SOTA Lessons Learned - GW/SW-041

My education in the dark arts of SOTA continues and today’s lessons included what to do when you can’t get a mobile signal and organising things better so you are not forced to cut the activation short due to time constraints. :slight_smile:

We are staying for a few days at the campsite attached to the Hereford Rowing Club. I can recommend the site, not expensive by UK standards (£7.50 per person) and is close to the city centre and right next to the river Wye.

After a few fairly inactive days with just gentle local walking I drove this morning from Hereford to Hay on Wye then turned south (paying £1 to cross the Wye on a toll bridge :open_mouth:) and headed towards the Black Mountains. Our destination was GW/SW-041 which is named in the SOTA Database as the Black Mountain although there is no name shown on the OS Map, just the 703m spot height.

There are a number of possible approaches but the one involving least ascent is the path starting from the start of Gospel Pass where there is conveniently a car park. There was only one space left when we arrived (phew!) but the other parking area by the stone circle has much more space and is surrounded by smooth grass which I’m sure must be used as an overflow area when it’s busy.

My wife accompanied me for the first part of the climb, which is initially fairly steep. This photo is looking back soon after the start towards the Gospel Path car park. Our 3.5t campervan is in there somewhere. :slight_smile:

The top of the ridge is soon reached from where there were excellent views. The summit on the left in this image looking north west is the strangely named Lord Hereford’s Knob.

Looking north east. The road running along the bottom of the ridge is the approach road to the car parks and Gospel Pass. In the middle distance you may just be able to see the line of the river Wye. Hay on Wye (bookshop central) is in there somewhere.

Hay Bluff (677m) is where the path turns south east and where Mary left me to return to the camper. I trudged on to Black Mountain on a mostly level path which on this stretch is along the line of Offa’s Dyke. This is an ancient boundary between Mercia in the east and Powys in what is now Wales. In other places along its length vestiges of raised earthworks can be seen but up here, if there ever was any fortification it has been washed away by the rain.

At one point along the path there is a short step above which you are probably within the activation zone even though it is at least 600m to the summit. I went on further, which was a mistake because when I did stop I couldn’t get a mobile signal. I moved again but still couldn’t connect. The third place was luckier although initially I drew a blank here too. It was a curious situation because at this location my phone was showing a strong 4g signal but there was no data. I was at a position with far-reaching views but I might have been on the Moon with respect to a mobile signal.

Then suddenly I was connected and the screen responded quickly. I spotted on 145.450 FM and called… and called… but I seemed to be calling into a void. Silence. I was back on the Moon.

I was using an RH770 clone antenna off eBay as I couldn’t find anyone with the Diamond version when I was looking. So I put the stock rubber duck back on, changed to 145.500 and called CQ. Almost immediately G7RHF responded. Based near Ludlow he said my signal was wavering between 53 and 54. With his agreement I put the RH770 back on and my report jumped to a 57.

So I returned to 145.450 and called CQ SOTA again. This time M5RJC responded from Hereford. By a curious twist of symmetrical fate we had had a QSO yesterday when Rick as MW5RJC had called from GW/SW-020 and I had replied as M0WIV from Hereford. Now it was my turn to add the W designator. As an aside the Black Mountain is on the border between England and Wales so you can choose, I guess, to activate from either country depending where you decide to activate from. :slight_smile: But as the mountain is listed in the GW Association it seemed polite to activate from Wales as MW0WIV. There may well also be something in the SOTA rules which stipulates this. My wife is also Welsh so this seemed a good choice for marital harmony. :slight_smile:

After a few more minutes calling into the void I had to pack up. I had wasted too much time trying to find a mobile signal and I had promised Mary I would be back in time for lunch.

Yesterday when listening to MW5RJC calling first on 145.500 then moving to another frequency his first contact offered to put up a spot for the new frequency. This sounds like a good plan especially where you can’t get a mobile signal but of course it depends on the other operator knowing about SOTA.

An early activation report I read of this summit mentioned it was a bit boggy. There’s now a stone pavement although my dog Charlie preferred the boggy bits either side of the path. A feature of our camper is we can open the rear doors and the shower hose is long enough to reach outside. This was put to good use on our return to the camper before Charlie was allowed inside. :slight_smile:

So, my first Welsh activation but no points. I’m not too dissapointed - I do SOTA to get into the hills and these were nice hills.

During the return journey back to Hereford we found a cluster of electricity company vehicles beside the main road. This road had been closed on our outwards journey forcing us to take a long detour. My guess is they had been stringing new power cables across the road. Did this explain the lack of mobile signal? Was a mast taken out by a power cut?

And other lessons learned? Avoid lunchtime and days when England are in a soccer final and everyone is out buying crates of beer. :slight_smile:


I get the same mobile 'phone problem…the display claims a full strength 4G signal but seems unable to connect or even send a basic text.

Would very much like to know why this happens.


Your signal is heard by multiple masts over a large area. That’s not normally a valid use case and occurs because you are high up. The result is the network ignores you.

You need to be heard by fewer masts. How is left as an exercise for the reader (as they say in text books). :wink:


Andy, thank you, that’s a good explanation. Of course if I’d brought my CW kit I could have left it to RBNHole to do the spotting for me. :slight_smile:


The best advice I can offer for the ‘signal but no data’ is to try switching airplane mode on and then off again say 30 seconds later. This should cause the mobile to attempt to re-attach to the network and you might fair better (I’ve spent my career developing mobile phone radio chipsets, but as we know once radio is involved giving a definitive answer isn’t easy!). It’s also possible because of the location the phone may be trying to select a cell that is too far away, and the airplane mode toggle may help.

Thanks for the Black Mountain write-up, that might be very timely! We are currently sitting in our camper van in the rain at Symonds Yat and I’m wondering if I might be able to sneak in my first activation this week, as we head into Wales. I have my IC705 with me and a Chameleon MPAS Lite which needs some soil or peat to push the spike in (will sort out a proper SOTA antenna for rock later). Do you think that would work on the Black Mountain?



Ha! Interesting I had a similar issue on Lochnagar. See my report. I always find resetting the phone fixes the problem.


I think you will have no problem sticking a ground spike into this bit of soggy Wales. :slight_smile: There is a good covering of peat over most of the summit.

And I did try the “Microsoft re-set” approach more than once. :slight_smile: I think Andy’s explanation is the answer. If you look at the photos of the views from up there you can see I must have been within range of numerous masts.


As a matter of course, I tend to put my phone into airplane mode when I leave the car at the start of the ascent. This is to save it trying its best to maintain a connection as I wander through gullies, behind ridges etc. and so save battery life. Activating it at the top normally work but is dependent on their being a cell to hear me which can be an issue still in GM.


Thanks, that sounds promising. It’ll have to be an attempt with 5w of HF SSB as I haven’t been able to find any LiFePo batteries in stock and I don’t think my cw is quite ready, so am keeping an eye out for an opportunity for a 1pt training session :wink:


Hi John

Thanks for the QSOs over the last 2 days. It’s unfortunate you didn’t qualify the summit, and a spot would certainly have helped - I didn’t think to put one on for you, sorry, slap head.

I did notice that although you were putting a good signal into Hereford (59+ at my QTH with a fairly poor antenna myself), your audio was a bit “thin” and there was some buzz/noise in the background. I think you said you were running an FT65 which bothers me a bit as I’ve just ordered one (but not intended for SOTA activations).

I did have a couple of failures last year with a handy but then switched to using a mobile rig (Kenwood TM-281) and a flowerpot antenna on a 6m pole, and I have had a 100% success rate this year.

Better luck next time



Hi John

Oh dear…Sorry to hear of your experience on Black Mountain.

Yes, there is a problem of getting a stable phone signal on this flat topped summit. I usually walk around, get my spot up then sprint back (not very fast these days) to my operating position. I have restarted my phone on several occasions which has cleared the problem.

The biggest mistake you made was not to put up an Alert on Sotawatch or let us know on Facebook GW Summits on the Air…we have a good network of chasers who contact each other by various methods. I had no idea you were activating it today but received a message saying that you were up there so I immediately went to my rig, switched on and swung the beam around…nothing, but this was 10 minutes after your spot. You had either gone or your signal was not being received. I usually get activators from the summit if they are using Slim Jim, MFD or similar.

The thing is that I could have mustered up a few chasers for you to qualify the summit🙁

If I had known you were out I would have been prepared and ready. I look at the Alerts in the morning (as others do) then if possible plan my day accordingly.

73 Allan GW4VPX

Please see my Blog for Black Mountain


By the way rather than the Gospel Pass/Hay Bluff route I favour the lower car park at the stone circle. Then cut across to join the Offa’s Dyke path. The height to gain is a little more, but it’s less steep and more sheltered until you reach the top.




Rick, thank you. I did manage to put up a spot, sorry if that wasn’t clear - my bad, as they say. I’m sure if I’d been able to stay another 30 minutes or so I could have got more QSOs. :slight_smile:

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Many thanks. I have put up alerts before but for this summit I didn’t. Must be in a holiday mood. Another lesson learned!



Sorry, John. Like Rick I am Hereford based and los to SW-041 (aka G/WB-001, deleted). My chasing is almost entirely based on Alerts, with the occasional bit of good luck when I look at a screen casually and see a suitable spot. Even so, I am really surprised that you did not get your four contacts. There are around 70 members in HARS but only about 5 ever respond to our SOTA calls - and you got one of those. With a flat summit on 2m the antenna height can be critical. Viki, M6BWA, would have her water-pipe dipole at least 2m agl, wind permitting and would expect four on 70cm also. (Many others would use a J-pole or similar at 3m or more agl on a (non-carbon) fishing pole.) The other useful technique, which we use on the very flat top of Waun Fach, SW-002, is to drop down slightly to where the gradient increases and you get a better take-off. Not needed on SW-001 or SW-003 as you get a nice cliff to stand at the top of :slight_smile:
If you do get out Monday I will look out for you once I get back home - around 11 BST.
PM me for local advice.
PS with the phone I often find sitting down works - see FMF’s point.


Black Mountain is the county top of Herefordshire so you could use the G call for the alternative reason for being on the summit. I am not aware of a County Tops on the Air, so no points for that. FYI half of the County Tops are also SOTA summits.

73 de

Andrew G4VFL


I’ve started to do that now Andy, use aeroplane mode when walking - not to save my battery but to save my life. If I put my Viewranger equipped phone in my Craghoppers knee pocket it loses the GPS function too easily and I get a rubbish GPX file full of spikes. The best place is in that top left pocket, which is less than 1cm of flesh from my Pacemaker - a Medtronic Amplia DTMB2QQ. NOT RECOMMENDED EMC practice so close, when I am connected to the cellular network with my Vodafone in that top pocket! So I either use Airplane Mode when on the move in the top pocket or I use my other backup phone on the EE network collecting my GPX track data in the top pocket of my rucksack.

73 Phil


I really should learn from my own experience. :slight_smile: I only chased Rick because he had put up an alert but decided not to myself partly because I wasn’t 100% sure the trip wasn’t going to happen and also from my own observations a lot of UK activators, and particularly those using 2m, don’t seem to post alerts. I guess this must be because this isn’t necessary in their area.

Another lesson learned!

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Place alert when you set off as you are 100% sure you’re attempting it then.

I have noticed that there is much less “spotting an activator” activity now. Chasers maybe are unsure whether to spot or not as so many activators self spot or get spotted by RBNhole. My advice would be, check if activator spotted on frequency and if not, spot them. It should hold off RBNhole spotting them again if you are quick (if I remember how it works correctly.)

Don’t base your activation strategies on how a few people active all the time on a handful SP summits activate.


Hi John
Glad you enjoyed the walk pitty about the activation, always a learning curve with SOTA. Another thing to do is to change your settings for the data connections in mobile settings, some phones use LTE 4G only you can change this to include 3G or 2G.

Cell sites always transmit at the same power level and freq (EMF), it’s your phone that does the work to obtain/maintain the connection,. When the reception is poor I turn the phone off to save the battery for the activation., I would rather waste the battery on the summitI looking for a data connection. Always notice my phone gets a bit hot in poor reception areas.

At least you will be prepared for the return.