Newbie Activator's first two SOTA expeditions

Walking, hillwalking and trekking has always been an interest of mine, but until recently, I never thought of combining it with ham radio – I did once take a 2m handie up Croagh Patrick (EI/IW-005) on a hike, but heard nothing. Not a surprise really – vhf/uhf activity is virtually non-existent in the west of Ireland. Nevertheless, the appeal of SOTA activating has been growing for a while now. For one thing, it requires a reasonable level of fitness if you regularly take to the hills. I don’t expect to bag many exotic DXCC entities on the hills, but there are other more tangible rewards and challenges, with a few calories burnt along the way as well!

Most of my activities will probably be on the west and south-west summits in Ireland, so HF is pretty much going to be the order of the day for me. This pushed me towards the IC-703+ rather than the ubiquitous ‘817 (the KX3 is not to my taste, good rig no doubt it is). The built-in tuner and the (slightly) higher power of the 703 tipped the choice in its favour. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the 703, especially on RX. The clincher was the narrow CW filter installed in the 2nd hand unit I bought.

After much planning and deliberating over equipment and antennas, the time had come to take to the hills. My first activation was on 15th July while on holiday in County Kerry. Poor weather that week, but a window on the 15th promised clear skies with little or no wind. The summit selected was Lackabane (EI/IS-043) 602m. There was a very boggy start from my drop off point through dense ferns and gorse but once I got off the valley floor and on to the slopes, it was a reasonably straightforward ascent. The summit is approached via a smaller un-named summit and col to the northwest and then a bit of a scramble to the top. No trig point, just a small pile of stones.

My gear was packed in my old LowePro camera backpack which does a pretty good job for SOTA too. The antenna was an inverted vee dipole for 20m, apex at 7m above ground on a Brookite windsock pole. The 3Ah SLAB was connected and away we went. I was struck by how quiet 20m was away from all man-made noise and on dc power.

Although I had posted an alert, there was certainly no pile-up waiting for me! Nevertheless, 10 minutes later I had the obligatory 4 qso’s in the log, all short hop EU SSB contacts. Tuning around the band I got a few more, the high point was a S2S with EA2EBI/P on EA1/CT-098. Back down the mountain I was picked up by the XYL in the valley below, feeling pretty pleased with myself, actually.

My second expedition was on Sat 25th July. This time, nearer home, I activated Corcogemore (EI/IW-027) 609m in the Maum Turk range in County Galway. I made an early start here to avoid IOTA kicking off at mid-day. Conditions were perfect, no wind and clear skies. The walk up was very enjoyable, a bit steep and tricky in places, but a lot less boggy than I was expecting. A large pipe of stones marks the summit.

This time the antenna was an inverted V doublet, half wave on 40m, fed with about 6m of 450 ohm balanced feeder via a 4:1 balun. This arrangement tunes up happily 40-6m with the 703’s internal tuner. I quickly got the required qso’s on 40m SSB. My reports were not great, all ‘with qsb’. I switched briefly to 20m and got one or two more. Band conditions were pretty poor, to be honest. The Connemara midge descended on me with menace, so I packed up quickly. I was up and down in about 3½ hours - another successful activation completed.

Still early days for me in my SOTA career and I’m still just learning the ropes. Nevertheless my first two activations have been a blast and, as well as the Connemara midge the SOTA bug has also firmly bitten! Bye for now and hope to meet you on the bands.

73 John EI3KA


Well done on your first activations. I did my first activating yesterday. (post forthcoming)

Sounds familiar :smile:

Also spookily similar. I decided to take my FT-897 in my Flipside 300 rucksack, which normally has my landscape camera gear in it.

Hi John,
Let me add my Congrats as well. You mention you posted an alert of your expected activation times, but did you (or someone you worked), post a spot that you were actually active - that’s what usually generates the pile-up.

I’ll add my name to the list of camera-bag-users as well. The actual radio side of my gear (FT817, Ramsey QAMP, linked dipole etc.) all travel in a “Gecko desert traveller” camera bag, while food, water, first aid and spare batteries travel in a second, small, rucksack.

73 Ed DD5LP.

1 Like

Hi John

Good to see another EI operator doing SOTA Activation’s, I was back in Ireland on holidays in July and managed 5 activations from Cavan, Sligo and Kerry. I had a total of 159 contacts so an average of just over 30 per activation. Don’t worry about how many you work as conditions will be up and down but 20 to 30 should be possible if conditions are favourable. The equipment I used was a FT-817 and a linked dipole. bands used were just 20 and 40 metres. Make sure you post your alerts in plenty of time and don’t be afraid to promote your activation’s anywhere you can. If you can get out around 06:00 to 07:00UTC you will have a good chance to grab some VK’s long path on 20 metres. I only used SSB but CW opens a new list of Chasers. Very little CW used on SOTA in VK but its growing.

If you are free on the August 30th and can be on a Summit around this time 06-07 UTC you will have a good chance to score some VK’s in the log as its the starting Anniversary for VK1,2 and 6 Association’s and there will be quite a few Sota activation’s taking place from VK on that day if the WX is good.

Some great Summits over there and I’d love to spend some time Activating. That will have to wait for another trip. Hopefully not too far down the track.

73 John VK6NU

Hi John,

Thanks for the advice. 5 activations in EI was pretty good going for this July as there were hardly 5 dry days in the month! SOTA activity seems to be more popular in the east of EI towards Dublin and many of the summits in the west have never been activated. Away from the more popular hiking trails, there are some great hills to activate and you rarely meet a soul.

Weather permitting, I will be on the hills on the 30th but 06-07 UTC would be mean a pretty early start as we are UTC+1 at the moment!

73 John EI3KA

It’s the only cross-over between two expensive hobbies! I’m a slave to various forms of photography too…

Welcome aboard John. A new activator is always welcome but there not too many in EI so that should make you a very popular man. RF conditions have not been brilliant of late and I’m sure you’ll notice things get better as we move to Autumn. I’m not sure if the WX gets wetter in EI in Autumn compared to Summer, but it certainly can’t get much wetter and miserable than it has been in Scotland this year.

The IC-703 is a fine radio. I’m kicking myself I declined the chance to buy one earlier this year. They have become very much sought after and you don’t see them too often. I’ve had a shack rule for some time now of one set out, one set in and I knew if I punted for this before getting a buyer for something of mine then I’d end up with yet another radio!

Hope to work you S2S soon.

I have a few crossovers really. I have always loved being up in the mountains, so I do walking, climbing, winter mountaineering, skiing. I also do mountain biking. Then I like my landscape photography, and do geocaching too. I used to love going up portable for radio too (I say used to as was inactive for some time) so they all kind of cross over.
They certainly all cost a fortune that’s for sure!