Today, I finally got around to my first activation. I first registered last year, but when I got around to heading out on my first activation, I found that most of my local summits had been de-listed which was rather demoralising. However, not to be deterred, I decided to work with what I had and that the destination for today would be the Nickel (DM/HE-547).
I wanted my first activation to be reasonably easy and not too far away from home. Mostly to see if I had everything I needed and to check on the feasibility.
I arrived at the car park and was amazed how much snow was left! It hasn’t snowed here since earlier in the week but there was still quite a bit left up in the Taunus. Thankfully, I listened to my XYL and bought a cushion to sit on - Otherwise, I would have ended up with a very wet and cold bottom!
Leaving the car park, I headed off up the track in the direction of the summit.
To be honest, the summit isn’t too well defined and it is forested. Like a lot of the summits in this area, it is more of a ridge and what is actually marked as the “summit” on the map isn’t the same point as the coordinates in the SOTA database. I decided to use the database point as the summit and operate from there (the two points have the same elevation anyway).
I set up my Superstick vertical, FT-817 with SLAB and spotted myself (fortunately there was a weak internet connection at the summit) before putting out a CQ.
Nothing… Silence… Not a thing…
I retuned the antenna - Nothing.
I changed the antenna cable - Nothing.
Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting miracles from 20m SSB - particularly with propagation what it is at the moment, but I didn’t expect to have to leave the summit without a single contact.
Obviously, the Superstick isn’t the best antenna for the lower frequency bands but I swapped to 40m and found the band was considerably more active than 20m was. A couple of UK stations were calling CQ, but despite calling them I wasn’t able to get a response.
So it was back to 20m and by now I was feeling pretty cold. Or at least, my feet were. Despite the thick socks in my walking boots, the snow was starting to make its presence felt. The last straw came when, while calling CQ, a contest started up and a station started calling CQ over me! I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, as he probably couldn’t hear me - but it was still frustrating!
At this point, I was feeling pretty hacked off - but if you can’t beat them, join them! I thought I might be able to rescue the activation by calling into a number of the contest stations. Listening around, I was able to determine that the contest was fairly easy - it was just report plus running number, so I called into the first station in Finland and he came back straight away giving me the requisite 59 (which I didn’t believe for one second - but he got 59 back, because he was!)
A short while later, I was able to pack up with four stations in the log - Two in Finland, one in Russia and one in Bulgaria (one even gave me an honest report!) Not a single chaser, and not a single station from Germany or the UK.
By this time, I was getting really cold, so I packed up, taking nothing but photos and leaving nothing but footprints (lots of them!) and headed back down the hill to the car.
I must admit that I still have a lot to learn about the intricacies of SOTA - such as why many of the local summits which are much more “summity” than this one are not listed, and why many warmer associations get a winter bonus whereas traipsing around in the snow gets me nothing - but I had a lot of fun, and I will be back!
So what did I learn from this activation?
Firstly, listen to your XYL - this would have been cold and damp without that cushion
SSB with 5w will get you out, but CW would have worked better. I must improve my CW.
Next time, I must pack my rucksack better for the descent. It came unzipped on the way down - but fortunately, nothing was lost.
Despite watching the weight of my rucksack, it is amazing how much the weight of the gear mounts up. I am not a fan of LiPo (and the like) batteries, but the weight advantage over a SLAB is clear.