The tale of my first activation - Hill 1, Radio 0

Well first of all evening everyone! This is my first post on the reflector, although I have been reading it every day for the last few weeks whilst I have been getting myself organized to get into activations. I had planned to wait for another couple of weeks whilst I was meant to test the antennas that I built, practice putting up the SOTA pole in the back garden by myself and not to mention that I only have 1 day off in 11 days this work cycle :frowning:

Anywho after my early shift today I decided on the drive home that as it was such a nice day I throw caution to the wind and just go for it. I just needed to quickly solder some connectors on the rigs power lead and ladder line and I was ready. Who needs practice at something they haven’t done before or equipment that hasn’t been used or tested before eh?

I had made a 102ft doublet with 450 Ohm feeder, a W3EDP and also got a dipole for 12m. So to give my self a chance that at least one of them would work I shoved the lot in my daysack together with a few tools, a shiny new LiFePO4 battery, KX3, bottles of Ribena and Haribo (no I’m not 12… just greedy), Bodge tape, and just to add some extra weight to the bag to punish myself for being unfit - a key (I had no intention of using it!)

I have made a list of local(ish) summits that I wish to attack, but thought I’d save Ben Nevis for another day (or life…) and go for a reasonably easy 1 pointer. After about 50 minutes and a couple of breaks to stop myself from having a cardiac arrest, I arrived at the summit thinking I’m never going to do anything so stupid again! Really should have done my homework it a bit more about this summit as I only noticed when I got home that it is only 7m under the limit for a 2 pointer, guess that’s why it hasn’t been done for a while!

Finding a nice patch of moss to rest the buttocks on I unpacked my gear and set up the pole and guys. Starting with the 12m antenna I got it all up and running in about 15 mins feeling quite pleased with myself. Lucky I was getting a couple of bars of 3G up there so I self spotted and set to work calling CQ… calling CQ… and calling CQ. Oh well never mind 12m must be dead, onto the doublet and 40m then. However things were even quieter on 40m. Having spotted myself on a SSB frequency I started the CQ routine again… and again. Wondering if the end of the world was nigh, or whether something at Faslane had gone poof and destroyed everything electrical for miles around, I frantically tuned about across the whole band and could hear not a single signal. Hmm something definitely not right here. Frantic checking of settings and cables ensued and I discovered that my patch lead I was using from the balun to the KX3 had a loose connection. Damn the only thing I hadn’t got a spare of! However with a bit of wiggling it came to life and 40 was alive to the cries of CQ Contest, I think I preferred the silence on second thoughts… It’s amazing that the KX3 internal tuner didn’t complain at all and just tuned a short length of coax, hope I haven’t knackered it! On my main station I always have the SWR showing on the meter so I can spot if something is amiss instantly, but I suppose in all the excitement I forgot to do that on the KX3 and had the ALC showing instead. Perhaps I might have noticed my problem earlier.

Never mind now it was working I hoped I would get my first QSO with in minutes. Unfortunately finding a space amongst the contesters was very hard and I only managed one contact with G3VXJ before I was squeezed out by a LA station with slightly more than my 10w! Giving up on 40m I gave 60m a go in case anyone was lurking on there, that was ghostly quiet as well. Perhaps another change of antenna was in order so I downed the pole, attached the W3EDP and raised it again (I couldn’t bring it and not try it!). Back on 40m the contest chaos was still in full swing so I resigned to myself that if I wanted to get the other 3 contacts that I needed I’d have to sell my soul and press the mode button… Maybe deep down I knew I’d need that key earlier on. After finding a gap I uploaded a quick spot and CQed a couple of times until I netted my first customer G4DWP/A. I’m still learning CW so I’m really not that good and could never deal with a pile up but Dave was being kind to me and had a nice 12WPM QSO for a few minutes. Great I thought only 2 more needed for my first activation point! CQ followed CQ followed CQ (damn I need to learn how to set up the macros to record CQ SOTA on the KX3 - still at least I can send that quite well now, shame about the rest) but nothing was forth coming and after a hour straight of sending CQ and getting RSI I gave up :frowning: It was 7.30pm the clouds were starting to roll in, the wind was picking up and I was getting a bit chilly, not to mention hungry (the Haribos long since eaten) and I had to get up at the crack of dawn again tomorrow for work. Oh well what can you do eh? So I packed up the gear and ran down the hill for a bit for cardio.

Overall then not a very good introduction to SOTA unfortunately. Still I guess I only had myself to blame for some of it, PPPPPP is so true and I should have had patience and waited. Still at least it was good exercise and I now know how to put up the pole quickly!

Valuable lessons learnt:

  1. Test all kit, then test it again before leaving the house
  2. Bring a spare patch cable
  3. Don’t even bother trying on a mode that is being used in a contest
  4. Bring more food, grass isn’t tasty and probably been peed on by a sheep…
  5. Bring paddle next time and not a straight key so my hand doesn’t fall off (I suppose SOTA is one way to improve my CW!)
  6. Pre-program a CQ Macro
  7. Wear suncream (I still stand by my policy of ‘got to go red to go brown’, but I don’t think my neck will agree tomorrow morning when I put a tie on!)
  8. Always make sure that the SWR is shown on the screen
  9. Get a plastic box for the radio (wasn’t bothered today as it was never going to rain but I need to get some waterproofing sorted ASAP, this is Scotland after all!)

I guess it was a valuable exercise in the end of what to do, or not do, for next time. I just wish that I had chosen a easier hill with less walking for my first attempt in case it was a failure and made at least 4 QSOs.

Never mind hill SS-171 I’ll be baaaack… in a week and a half and I will conquer you!


Hello Nick,

I hope this first time was not to discouraging and you give it a second try. We all had to learn some lessons. After a few activations you are experienced enough to deal with most of the typical problems.

Valuable lessons learnt:

  1. Test all kit, then test it again before leaving the house
    Even better: Have some spare parts with you. Gear which was ok at home might fail during setup or operation. I always have a second battery, a second power cable and some other parts with me. Ok no spares for transceiver, microphone, pole and some others.
  1. Bring a spare patch cable
    I always have one spare koax cable in my rucksack. Not as long as the main one but sufficient.
  1. Don’t even bother trying on a mode that is being used in a contest
    Calling CQ as QRP-station during contests is challenging. Either use WARC-bands or avoid contest times. Other idea: You do not necessarily have to call CQ SOTA yourself. Just try to give contest stations some points. They are happy for a contest QSO, you are happy for a SOTA-QSO. Ok, that’s not the best way to do SOTA but in my opinion any QSO is better than none. I wonder if you had qualified your summit this way.
  1. Wear suncream (I still stand by my policy of ‘got to go red to go
    brown’, but I don’t think my neck will agree tomorrow morning when I
    put a tie on!)
    Did the same mistake several times, too.
  1. Always make sure that the SWR is shown on the screen
    I’m working with my FT-817 and the SWR display is always active. After setting up the station and before calling CQ I always:
    1st listen to the band. Are there any stations or noise present? Otherwise there is probably a fault.
    2nd check the SWR with a first whistle.

73 de Michael, DB7MM

In reply to MM0NJC:

Nice write up, I can identify with much of that!

Good luck with the next activation, it will feel all the sweeter having learned from your own experience :o)


What summit was it?

In reply to M1EYP:

Never mind hill SS-171 I’ll be baaaack… in a week and a half and I will conquer you!


In reply to MM0NJC:

Well, Nick, even after three years, lots of summits and 900+ points things still go wrong. Yesterday after an hour cycling/pushing bike I found the power connector was missing. Fortunately I had my handy and a decent VHF aerial so all was not lost. That solution works quite well in parts of GM/SS but not in others as I know very well.

Even better, I found it when packing away: grrrrrrrrrrr!

Good luck with the next one!

Edit:- It turns out that this was my 300th summit; I really ought to be a able to get it right by now:-)

In reply to MM0NJC:
Hi Nick
I think we can all relate to your experience at some time or other. I’m relatively new to activating and find the odd challenge or 2 but its okay as long as you learn from them.
Good luck with the next one and enjoy.