Team OI8AY/OH6VA SOTA activations in the Eastern Lapland - Four new peaks in Fall 2014

The UKK national park in Eastern Lapland (OH/SL region) has many interesting summits. Last year (2013) we went to a hike and activated two of them and this year we decided to make an alike trip further into the wilderness.

By ‘we’ I mean me (Antti) and three of my pals who all met in the army: Anssi, Eero, and Niko. They don’t have amateur radio licences but because of our service branch we all are familiar with radio equipment and operation and we all are able to operate CW. For those who don’t know, there is conscription in Finland so almost every Finnish male has to carry out the military service.

OI is a special prefix only for military amateur radio stations. There was, however, a tiny failure when acquiring the permission to use the OI8AY callsign. I asked for the permission a little late and because we were out of cell phone coverage from the first day, the permission reached us at the last summit after it was activated… How ironic. Thanks anyway to Heikki OH2GMJ for sorting it out, maybe next time we’ll make it.

I had let go of my FT-857 which is unsuitable to this kind of travelling for its big size, so first I had to obtain a radio for the team. I decided to go the casual route and found an FT-817 for the pedition. Special thanks to Jonne OH6FJS for lending his. The other equipment has not changed from the last time, a standard dipole with Racal elements, Racal CW key and a standard 7 Ah SLAB.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about the success of the activations. Based on the experiences from last year I knew activating these kinds of summits was hard: the peaks are highly unaccessible beyond any roads and reaching them takes a couple of days on foot. As the tops of the fells don’t have any kinds of trees or places to bind, setting up an antenna is difficult. It’s also hard to be heard from these tops. Maybe the reason is combination of low power and bad antenna setup possibilities.

The hike was planned to be a week long. We left on Sunday and on the second day we reached the Kuikkapää fell between 14-15 o’clock local time (UTC+3). Very fortunately this top had two big piles of stones and wooden remains of an observation tower, so antenna setup was incidentally quite easy.

One thing that I tend to forget is that conditions on top of these kind of summits aren’t usually good. Stiff and noisy wind is maybe the most affecting: it impairs hearing, freezes the op and op’s hands. It shakes log papers and makes dry ink pens dysfunction. Most of all, our CW skills could’ve been in better shape.

Anyway we got the activation going and the first contact of Kuikkapää fell (and the trip) was Berthold, DF5WA. In demanding weather there also seems to be a bad habit to send a bit too quick for one’s own receiving skills which makes receiving even harder (no need to mention people who answer qrq to a slowish-paced CQ). In the end I feel the contacts on this summit were made quite easily. The total count was 9 qso’s.

We were so happy with the success of the first activation that at the same evening we managed to get close the next fell, Reututunturi. In fact, if I recall correctly, we got that close that next day we were on air there the earliest of all summits I’ve ever been.

The early time didn’t bring much success first. The first contact was made with EU2MM at 1032 UTC when I had logged us being ready at 0923. After the first contact there was still over half an hour of desperation until the rest of the contacts were made, beginning with DJ5AH at 1112 and onwards. Maybe the propagation got critically better because, despite of the slow beginning, this summit session yielded also 9 contacts.

Again we were happy about the activation but the rest of the day was hard and we were quite exhausted when we at last got to our destination. Also a slight rain pressed our mood. Luckily the fourth day would be a bit easier – or would it?

Next morning appeared as grey and rainy. It didn’t really cheer us up, nor did the fact that our way to the next summit followed a river with wet and marshy verges. We were late of the schedule and I even suggested that we could skip this activation so we would be in the next destination on time. At least it was becoming evening so the propagation would surely be totally lost?

After a very soggy hike to the bottom of the fell Vuomapää, we were solid: Did we hike four days to give up? Certainly not! We left the rucksacks behind and took only essential: radio equipment, warm clothes, and some water. With only light packing the climb was uncommonly easy compared to what we were used to on previous summits. During the ascend even the sun shone on us, but that was merely for a brief minute. Soon very heavy and damp clouds swallowed us and visibility dropped drastically. The wind also gained strength as we climbed up.

On top of the summit the weather conditions were miserable. Cloud puffs floated past us and moistened our clothes. The wind was truely infernal but luckily this top had some rocky cliffs we could escape to. We felt like we were really a mountain expedition!

Well, antenna up to the cliffs and working. This time we met some trouble – for some reason we didn’t know the SWR of the same setup used before on the trip was high. Adjusting the antenna dipoles didn’t help. The freezing wind suggested us to be there for exactly no longer than needed, so no matter the SWR, I let the CQ’s go. And who would have guessed, after just a few calls Jan OK2PDT, who worked us also the day before, answered us! That was a really great relief not having to go back down empty-handed and maybe Jan spotted us at SOTAwatch, because shortly followed Gerhard OE6GND and Frid DL1FU.

Now we had made quite easily three contacts with bad SWR and in terrible weather. Just one more QSO would be needed to be eligible for SOTA points at this summit. The fact really was that we would freeze if we stayed much longer on this top but on the other hand it would torment us to death if it was only one contact left missing. So a tremendously desperate CQ-calling began. At some point I remember a small pileup which ended up stations working each other, but in the end I’m not sure if it even was us the pileup stations were calling for.

Otherwise it was dead silent. No answers, just a fading hope that the mystic someone would answer. Ten minutes passed with no success… So did another ten. We were wet, cold, and stiff.

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s despair which carries QRP signals; With no despair there is no proper QRP propagation. Almost half an hour from the last contact we were ready to leave but this time pure luck was on our side. I don’t know if we did something. Briefly I thought I misheard but no, there was Berthold DF5WA again! We really made it!

Five or ten more seconds and we wouldn’t have been listening any more. No one of us would have guessed what kind of a thriller the activation was. All equipment was hastily shoved into packs, no matter if they were in order or not. Just got to get out of that crappy place.

Down the fell the weather was more merciful and we warmed up. Moreover, we had a wilderness hut reserved for the night coming. No better way turning a total misery into a triumph! We’re also considering sending Berthold a card at Christmas.

Next day we continued our journey from the hut warm and dry, although occassionally it was drizzling. We managed to stay quite dry on the way to the last summit, Pirttikallionvaara. I was quite relaxed about getting the contacts since we were there on time and the weather was rather good.

After calling a long moment it became obvious also this peak wasn’t giving the points easy. The first QSO with Winfried DL3JON was logged 1134. Our next problem was dying battery and FT-817 started dropping power. We adjusted the antenna in a (probably) better position at the top and maybe it helped because two contacts were made. Second was Michael DJ5AV over an hour after at 1246 and shortly, third time on this trip, Berthold DF5WA. Now we were virtually in the same position as the day before: missing one QSO from the full activation - although propagation conditions seemed worse and we had less power than usual 5 watts QRP.

At this time I again thought about the desperation, because we adjusted our position one more time and the team was holding the antenna as high as we could with the help of the sticks of our tent. Also the time was getting late because we had still a great distance to hike that day.

I think if we’d tried just a bit harder, it would’ve been telepathy. But it helped. Even fixed stations from Europe didn’t answer us (or at least we didn’t hear them) so I couldn’t believe when we heard a very distant signal from HB9AGO/P on HB/TG-003. Working a QRPp contact two-way was really amazing. And the best of all, that contact concluded our activation and perfected the whole tour of four peaks! In our minds we thanked Hansruedi and all others from the bottoms of our hearts and quickly packed the stuff.

That meant our SOTA trip had succeeded better than I could ever have imagined. Four days in a row with a lot of hiking and pain weren’t fruitless! Though it wasn’t the final victory yet. We hiked very quickly away from the swamps and forests in two days. Maybe you can imagine how good it feels, after a huge effort, when everything has gone right.

A thing worth to mention is that though we used my OH6VA/P callsign for all contacts this time, the merit goes to the whole team. I couldn’t have made this kind of trip only by myself. Also thanks to all the chasers, without you all this wouldn’t make any sense.

On behalf of the team OI8AY/OH6VA,
Antti OH6VA

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