The Key to Ladylea

The weather forecast for today (Nov 17th) suggested freezing mist and fog but in the pre-dawn darkness, the sky above our house looked clear with plenty of stars twinkling. An air temperature of -3C suggested it might actually be a good day ahead. We defrosted the car, and the dog, and set off.
Our target was Ladylea Hill - GM/ES-049 - a 609-metre two-pointer above Strathdon in West Aberdeenshire. I had alerted for it for approximately 11am. We’d enjoyed excellent November weather activating Benaquhallie - GM/ES-065 - on SSB yesterday (Nov 16th) and it would be a rare delight for a Scottish November to have two glorious days back-to-back, especially after many weeks of weather warnings for rain and gales.
There was a secondary target for today, though. For the past six months I have been working hard on trying to learn CW - an ambition of mine for more than 50 years - with self-study and practice supplemented by the patient weekly tutoring of Graham @GM4OBD of Aberdeen Amateur Radio Society. I have completed a few short successful chases (usually of Ben @GW4BML…!) and a couple of slow QSO’s but plucking up the courage to try a CW activation myself always seemed beyond me.
But could today be the day?
The wealth of experience and support from SOTA activators suggested the best idea is just to get up there, press the key and give it a go, despite the inevitability of errors and mix-ups.
So, could today really be the day?
Ladylea has been activated on 13 previous occasions and so needs no more ascent details from me other than to say ample parking and a good path saw me at the summit with my wife, Ann, and SOTA dog, Sula, barely 45 minutes after leaving the car. And what a wonderful sight presented itself. Blue cloudless skies, absolutely no wind and the snow-clad Cairngorms looming up on the horizon. Just perfect.

So, could today now be the day?
With the temperature soaring towards -1C, I set up my rig - KX2 and the seemingly impossible AX1 antenna with a 40m coil and a decent counterpoise. It shouldn’t work - as many other threads on SOTA Reflector have discussed - but as I am fortunate to have one, I was determined to try it. I plugged in my mini paddles to the KX2 on my knee board, set up my notebook, plugged in my earphones and took a deep breath.The point of no CW return had arrived. After finding a clear frequency on 40m, I put a spot on SOTAWatch, swallowed my pride, pressed the paddles and called CQ.

Well, almost. I fluffed my lines almost straight away but SOTA chasers can be a sympathetic and supportive lot. In no time, Gerald @G4OIG claimed his place in history by being my first CW contact from a summit. I was so excited I’m sure I wished him “Best 37s” in error! Thanks Gerald.
Next up was Andrew @G4AFI and he doubtless endured the same gobbledygook from me. I blame my freezing fingers!
Damian @M0BKV was next and the last of the Fab Four to secure my two points was Rich @M0RJP. Just as people had suggested, they respected my request for nice and slow sending which was hugely appreciated to get me on my way.
Sadly, I missed another couple of calls due to deep QSB, one of which I think was from Roberto @IN3NJB - a distance of about 950 miles - but I couldn’t quite confirm the contact due to the QSB so didn’t log it. It’s an impressive distance, though, as the AX1 antenna really is tiny and I had no huge expectations of it. No matter, my 5w generally travelled about 450 miles for a 559 report so I’ll settle for that for starters.
A huge thank you to my first four chasers - Gerald, Andrew, Damian and Rich - for allowing me to make my mistakes - and there were many - but still letting me complete my long-awaited first CW activation.
Today was, indeed, the day. The first of many, I hope.Truly memorable.

Despite feeling like I needed a lie-down after all that CW excitement, I put up my 66ft end-fed on to my 6m carbon mast and worked some SSB chasers, including Horacio @LW2DO in Argentina, for the second time in a week. It never fails to amaze me that one can get a 5/3 report from more than 7,000 miles away using just 10w and a bit of wire.
So, for anyone else contemplating learning CW and using it on a summit, I can only repeat the advice I have been given repeatedly, which I now know is true and which I used for the first time today. Forget your fears, ignore your inhibitions, park your pride - just do it. That’s surely the key to CW success.
73 Mike :grinning:


Well done, Mike!
Dit dit

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It was absolutely pure chance that I was in the shack at precisely the right time and paying attention. As Fraser @MM0EFI well knows, I can be in the shack and still miss a contact, so it was a really great to be the first Mike. No problem with any aspect of your CW… I sat listening to you to see how you got on. Well done… keep going and it will progressively get easier activation by activation.

73, Gerald


High praise indeed, Gerald. You’ve inspired me to keep going now. Delighted you were around for this first attempt. Thanks so much. 73 (not 37 :joy:) Mike


Great report @MM7MWL Mike, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Sorry I wasn’t there to work you, but looks like you made it to the finish line - that is certainly not easy to do on your first… second… or third CW activation! Thanks for the previous chases, you could tell you were ready for an activation :grinning: hoping to make one of your logs soon! Keep up the good work :+1:

73, Ben


BZ Mike (well done!)


Thanks for the report. Very well done with the activation, I know how nerve wracking it can be. I think my first go with CW was on Sharp Haw, G/NP-029 in 2008. I’d taken a Walfords Sparkford 1.5 watt CW 80m transceiver which I’d built around 1999 to celebrate getting my A licence. I fudged my way through a CW contact with a seemingly impatient G station and then I gave up. At least I’d managed a SOTA CW QSO.

I’ve always been interested in building stuff and I bought a RockMite 20 kit in 2007 with some birthday money. I had an idea in 2011 that it would be interesting to challenge myself to make a CW contact on my birthday with the RockMite that I’d bought with birthday money. I managed a shakey CW QSO with HA5AZC with my RockMite 20 from Ingleborough G/NP-005. I was quite pleased with that QSO! I still wasn’t at the point where I could do an entire CW activation.

The RockMite 20 QSO had given me a bit of a boost and I definitely felt like I wanted to be able to use CW for activations. It was sometime around this time when LA1KHA had put forward his PP3 Challenge to see how many SOTA activation QSOs could be made using a single standard 9V alkaline battery. I was fascinated by the idea of trying Kjell’s challenge but I needed to be able to use CW. I was egged on by Tom @M1EYP to just force myself to do a CW activation, so I activated Great Whernside G/NP-008 with my FT-817 using CW. I found the activation quite hard but it was extremely satisfying and I was hooked from then on.

I built myself a special RockMite 30 for the LA1KHA Challenge and started activating with it around 2012. At first I was running at 10wpm but gradually my speed and confidence increased. I didn’t really get far with the LA1KHA Challenge as PP3 batteries just last far too long and I couldn’t afford the time for activations! I do owe my obsession with CW activating to the LA1KHA Challenge.

You’ve done the difficult bit throwing yourself in a the deep end - keep going with it now! I found that activating with CW was an uphill struggle but gradually the struggle gave way to fun. The buzz from a perfectly synced CW QSO is amazing, it still puts a smile on my face. :slight_smile:

Once again, well done and I hope we can manage a CW S2S some day soon.

73, Colin


Well done and you did it in the right order - CW then SSB. I’ve discovered if I start on SSB I stay on it and find all sorts of excuses not to get the key out. :slight_smile:

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Well done on your 1st CW activation Mike. I’m still working up the courage to give it a go. It truly is inspirational to read about 1st CW activations and how people just get on with it. I’ve been chasing from the shack on CW over the last few months in an attempt to build my confidence, but I guess you’re right, I need to just do it and not worry too much about messing up.

Thanks for posting Mike, it certainly inspires me to get out there.


John GM3JW


Thanks Ben. Your patient replies to my chases did so much to boost my CW confidence. Delighted by your new RSGB board “Youth” brief - if you can do such a great job supporting those of us who began as SWL’s with receivers from WW2 bombers, then the future of the hobby is in good hands. :laughing: Hope to catch you on a summit again soon. 73 Mike

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You’re not wrong Colin. I was super nervous. Good job I had a thick base layer on under my walking trousers :joy:. Really interesting about the RockMite 30 and the PP3 challenge. I enjoyed reading about it. Happy that you succumbed to the egging on by Tom @M1EYP and started using CW. Like you, I think I’m hooked already. 73 Mike

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You’re right, John. Had I waited I would probably have chickened out! If you ever hear someone sending CW as though using a faulty key while wearing boxing gloves, that’ll be me :grin:

[quote=“MM0VEG, post:9, topic:33820”]
I’m still working up the courage to give it a go.
I took ages to get to the stage of actually trying an activation. My CW is still really rough, John, but the SOTA community is splendidly supportive so I hope you can pick a good day and just give it go. You won’t regret it. :+1:

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