SOTA – How do you bag a DX Summit to Summit with Europe

Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037 856 metres ASL, Canberra, Australia’s Capital Territory

How do you bag a SOTA summit contact in Europe and the UK and go the extra mile to make it a SOTA Summit to Summit (S2S) contact?   How do you alert potential chasers and activators to your activity and how do you get the best bang for your bucks?  Are you chasing points or are you chasing a rare summit regardless of the points?

Just over a week ago on a Friday evening I activated a local summit Mt Ainslie VK1/AC-040 in the heart of Canberra at 18:30 local, looking for EU/UK chasers.  I posted an alert on SOTAWatch earlier in the week seeking contacts, did I expect to log an EU chaser, no not really but I did think it was possible given the time difference, yes.   It would be 07:30 UTC so chances of catching a chaser early in the working day was likely but not certain.

I started the activation on 14 MHz five minutes earlier at 07:25 and within 5 minutes of calling CQ I worked Franz OE5FSM in Linz, Austria.  Franz mentioned I was lucky to make the contact as he was about to leave for work.  That was my first dedicated DX SOTA chaser and my first for Europe.  I have made DX contacts across the ‘ditch’ to New Zealand from VK1 SOTA peaks, although none were SOTA chasers, they were happy to work the low power QRP activation.  BTW we should encourage ZLs to start chasing SOTA and survey some peaks.

So having logged an EU SOTA chaser, who now has 1 VK1 summit in his log, what next?  Well the next goal is a Summit to Summit (S2S) contact.  How do you get a S2S contact 16500 km away?  We know 20m is open along the greyline, what else do you need to make a successful contact?  You need SOTA activators and chasers listening for you on the other side of the world.  You need lots and the more the better.  When NASA turns its radio telescopes on distant objects they don’t use one telescope do they?  Therefore to make this work I require more than one DX activator/chaser listening, its likely I will need 10 possibly more.  The more operators listening, the greater the chance of achieving the goal.

Okay so the next issue is what is the best day?  No point trying a week day, the people on the other side of the world are heading off to work.  Best option is Saturday night in Australia which is Saturday morning in Europe.  Okay so Saturday evening starting at 18:30 is my best option.  How do you entice northern hemisphere SOTA chasers to get out of bed early on a cold autumn’s day when it’s minus 3 degrees?  Offer them a DX summit they can’t refuse.  VK1 SOTA started in February 2013 with 43 summits, that makes VK1 SOTA S2S contacts rare.  Not sure if this could be a first, someone from SOTA MT might know?

Why bother chasing a summit 16500 km away you ask?  The SOTA awards program offers the Mountain Hunter Award  for chasers who can make at least 2 contacts in each of 5 different associations.  A rare VK1 summit is one to chase either from home or from a distant summit.  If I can coordinate 2 or 3 activators on VK1 summits at the same time, that might do the trick.

Next issue, how do you inform people on the other side of the world of your intention and will they be interested?  It’s easy, go to the SOTAWatch blog and post a note inviting chasers/activators for a chance to work a rare VK1 summit.  Remember the points on offer aren’t that important, it’s the chance to log a rare summit that will excite people. 🙂  If you’re not into SOTA that’s okay but trust me SOTA tragics do get excited about such things.

So the plan is to activate a summit on Saturday night from 18:30 to 20:00 local.  I posted a note on the SOTAWatch blog 6 days earlier.  The commentary from the UK went along the lines of bets over slabs of beer or fine wines if anyone could make the distance.  Clearly the UK folk thought the convict colony wouldn’t make the grade much like the Australian Cricket test team I guess. Anyway who wants to drink warm English beer, no thanks!   Having filtered out the blog QRM (noise), I found 3 genuine offers sufficient for me to post an alert for Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037, a 1 point summit in VK1, equal to a 4 point summit in VK2. Go figure…   Besides who really cares about the points, it’s all about logging the summit.

Thursday prior to the activation I was chatting to a fellow SOTA activator Al VK1RX.  Al and I have completed a few joint activations most involving long 15 to 20 km walks, the longest was 32 km, are we nuts or what? Al was interested in my plan and jumped on board. We discussed the finer details later in the week and agreed to rendezvous at a local car park at 17:30 expecting the ascent to take 30 minutes or so.  Mt Taylor is a dominant feature in the Woden Valley 15 km south of Canberra GPO.  A feature of the mountain are the steep climbs on the south, east and north faces.

The weather forecast for Canberra was excellent, no rain for a change, sunny and 18 degrees with light winds.

A view of Mt Taylor looking south from Oakey Hill

A view of Mt Taylor looking south from Oakey Hill.  Photo taken 2 days prior to the activation.

Fig 1:

Mt Taylor track 210 metre ascent of 1.7 km

Fig 1: Mt Taylor track 210 metre ascent of 1.7 km

Al and I met up at 17:30 each with our own equipment for a heavy SOTA activation.

Antennas: 20/40m link dipole and a 20m 1/2 wave vertical. Two antenna options are better than one.
Squid poles: 2, 7 and 10 metre
Rig: FT-857D
Batteries: three 4S 4.2Ah LiFePO4
Feed line: Various lengths of coax RG58AU and one antenna switch.
Table and chair, food and hot water for tea.  One must have tea on the summit when there is no chance of a beer!

The ascent to the mountain peak wasn’t easy with the human packhorse loaded to the max.

A heavy activation: 2 squid poles, table, back pack containing radio, 3 batteries and 2 antennas.  Tool bag containing coax cables and an ATU for 80m and food

A heavy activation: 2 squid poles, table, back pack containing radio Yaesu FT-857, 3 batteries and 2 antennas.  Tool bag containing coax cables and food. Al’s gear isn’t in the picture.

During the set up of the antennas I realised I had left the occy straps in the car, fortunately Al had a set in his back pack. Phew! I wasn’t looking forward to jogging down the mountain and back up.  With Al’s help we were ready to go as planned at 18:30.

Fired up the FT-857D setting the output power to 60 watts and the VFO to 14.320 MHz. Posted a self-spot using Rucksack Radio Tool (RRT) and called CQ for a minute or less when Franz OE5FSM in Linz confirmed he could hear us but there was a problem! Franz noted some distortion in the signal.  Bugger, we had RF feedback due to the proximity to the 1/2 wave vertical to the radio and microphone.  I switched to the 1/2 wave dipole and the distortion was gone.

Peter ZL2BAQ in New Zealand also commented on the level of distortion and noticed a major improvement.  I disconnected the 1/2 wave vertical from the antenna switch, moved the radio, table and chair 3 meters further away from the antenna and replaced the short length of coax with a 12 metre length.  That resolved the RF feedback issue.   Lesson learned for next time..

We finished the QSO with Peter our second DX contact in as many minutes.  Next contact was Don G0RQL in the clear with a 5-8 signal.   Having passed 73 (code for best wishes) to Don, no quicker had I released the microphone PTT switch when Viktor HA5LV literally jumped out of the speaker with a huge 5-9 signal.  By this time we had a few interested onlookers gathering behind Al and I wanting to know what we were doing.  Listening to the QSO between Al and Viktor, their eyebrows raised with the thought that these two average yet slightly nerdy old blokes were talking to people in Europe.  Hmm impressed!

Next contact was John VK6NU 3700 km due west in Western Australia, John reported a 5-8 signal yet John was 5-2 to us.  I think John is using a temporary antenna arrangement, still not bad considering the distance 5-2 is better than no copy.

VK1RX operating from Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037.  On the table: FT-857D and 3 LiFePO4 batteries.

Al VK1RX on the grass SOTA operation from Mt Taylor VK1/AC-037. On the table: FT-857D and 3 LiFePO4 batteries. Picture by Andrew VK1NAM

Time was moving, 35 minutes and still no summit to summit, fortunately we had another hour before last light.  I scanned SOTAWatch for reports of activations in Europe and England.  Earlier Don G0RQL mentioned Steve G1INK was planning an activation.

After a few minutes of calling CQ our first S2S contact started at 08:07 UTC with Lutz DL3SBA/P on DM/NW-251 in the German Lower Mountains region.  Lutz’s signal is also in the clear with a 5-8 report our signal was 5-5.  Awesome 5-5 on a summit 16,510 km away.   Our first S2S into Europe and Lutz’s first VK summit, VK1 no less and from Australia’s Capital Territory, Canberra.  Is that a first for a S2S from VK into Europe on voice SSB, I don’t know no doubt someone will let us know?  I am confident it is a first for VK1.

Having completed the S2S contact with Lutz, Steve G1INK/P had joined the group.  Steve was activating Kinder Scout G/SP-001 5 km from Birch Vale, 16,996 km from Mt Taylor.  How’s this for a coincidence, I was born in Birch Vale before migrating to Australia as a 10 pound Pom.  Steve’s signal was 5-6 and reported 5-5 back to Al and I.  That’s number two, can we find another in the noise?

At 08:24 UTC Joerg’s voice  DL1DLF/P on DM/NW-240 was in the noise and difficult to copy. This was going to be a challenge, it was time for the headphones.  I reported to Joerg readability 4 strength 5 three or four times before he finally cleared the noise  with a 5-4 report to me.  Handed the headphones and microphone to Al for his chance to log number three. Al worked Joerg patiently for about 5 minutes asking for a signal report.  Finally I witnessed an expression of delight on Al’s face as he too had confidently received a report for Joerg.  Cool that’s three S2S in the log, 2 from Germany and 1 from England.   Worth the effort slugging table and chair up Mt Taylor, you bet!

If you have watched the YouTube videos you will know that Andrew VK1DA was on a higher VK1 summit Mt Ginini VK1/AC-008 at 1780 metres ASL 8 points.  Andrew checked in to our QSO with Phil G4OBK a SOTA chaser in the UK.  Phil’s signal was arm chair copy 5-9 and 5-6 in return.  I handed the frequency to Andrew for his chance to work Phil.  For Phil that was perfect, two VK1 summits and as Phil said ‘the cake with the icing on top’.

By this time the LiFePO4 battery alarm had been triggered at 2.9 volts per cell.  A forced pit stop to change the battery.  We had run the rig at 60 watts for the best part of an hour and with little down time.  Changing batteries quickly was made easy by having Anderson plugs on the radio lead and the spare batteries.  I guess it doesn’t matter what your choice of connectors are, you just need to have all connectors the same and rated for the current drawn.

VK1NAM - battery change, three LiFePO4 4S 4.2 Ah

VK1NAM – battery change, three LiFePO4 4S 4.2 Ah.  Picture by Al VK1RX

Scanning SOTAWatch there didn’t seem to be any more S2S opportunities.  We continued to work 20m SOTA chasers on frequency:

Marco OH9XX in Finland, Ernie VK3DET in Ballarat Victoria, Gerard VK2IO in Sydney, Matt VK2DAG and Dick ZL2YLK in New Zealand.  At this stage of the evening light was fading fast, it was time to look like miners sporting headlamps.  By now the last of the mountain visitors had left and the local mob of Kangaroos started to take up residence nearby.

Next I change the configuration of the vertical by removing the 20m LC match and inserted a 80m base loading coil. A line of thunderstorms 90 km to our east along the NSW South-Coast made operations on 80m unworkable.  The lightning flashes were impressive lighting the tops of the cumulonimbus clouds, there was little point pursuing contacts on 80m, so we abandoned 80m for 40m.  Back to the vertical I changed the configuration at the base to a 1/4 wave on 7.090.  Lowered the 20/40 link dipole in the dark to plug-in the 40m section, that took less than a minute to change.

Al worked a few more VK stations on 40m switching between the vertical and inverted V antennas. Signal reports for the vertical were 2 S points lower that the dipole.  I worked Paul VK5PAS in the Adelaide Hills with a 5-9 report both ways.

While Al worked more chasers on 40m I went looking for a S2S with Matt VK1MA on One Tree Hill, VK1/AC-035 who had a HT listening on 146.500 MHz FM.  Matt acknowledge my call in the middle of a pileup on 24.9 MHz.  That’s five S2S for the evening.

Last light had long past and with headlamps glowing we decided to try 14MHz one more time.  Checked SOTAWatch for summit activity in the UK, nothing on.  Spotted myself using RRT around 14.330 and called CQ.   A few minutes later as the web servers and mobile phone broadband providers around world processed my self-spot, Nev VK5WG in Mount Gambier South Australia reported a solid contact at 5-9 and 5-8.  The last contact for the evening was Mike VK6MD in Western Australia 3700 km to the west but in the noise just readable with a 5-8 report to me, Mike was 4-2 from Mt Taylor.   Mike VK6MB and John VK6NU are regular SOTA chasers on 20m, it’s a pleasure to offer Mike and John the chance to bag a new unique summit as much as it is anyone else.  I’m looking forward to VK6 SOTA summits coming on-line.  Given the right conditions we know there is an even chance of a S2S between VK1 and VK6.

A great evening on the summit and good company with Al.  We achieved what we planned to do, work at least one EU SOTA station S2S.

Looking north from Mt Taylor at sunset.  Working EU and UK SOTA summits and DX SOTA chasers

Looking north from Mt Taylor at sunset. Working EU and UK SOTA summits and DX SOTA chasers. Picture by Al VK1RX

Looking west, last light on Mt Taylor  Antennas 20/40m link dipole and a 20m 1/2 wave vertical

Looking west, last light on Mt Taylor Antennas 20/40m link dipole and a 20m 1/2 wave vertical. Picture by Al VK1RX

What next? More of the same, work towards a couple of G, D, O and H summits. If you’re a keen activator and willing to brave the cold, I’m happy to try again. Let me know via the contact page.

Vertical 1/2 wave antenna design by: VK7JJ

Photos from Lutz DL3SBA and his SOTA Station, nice set up.



DL3SBA antenna

DL3SBA antenna supported by a 12 metre squid pole

YouTube – Short videos from the summit of Mt Taylor

My SOTA Activator Log:

Time Call Band Mode Notes
07:45z ZL2BAQ 14MHz SSB Peter S59 R59
07:55z G0RQL 14MHz SSB Don S58 R54
08:00z HA5LV 14MHz SSB Viktor S59 R55
08:04z VK6NU 14MHz SSB John S58 R52
08:07z DL3SBA/P 14MHz SSB Lutz S2S DM/NW-251 S58 R55
08:15z G1INK/P 14MHz SSB Steve S2S G/SP-001 S56 R55
08:24z DL1DLF/P 14MHz SSB Joerg S2S DM/NW-240 S45 R54
08:33z G4OBK 14MHz SSB Phil S59 R56 arm chair copy
08:36z VK1DA/P 14MHz SSB Andrew S2S VK1/AC-008 S59 R59
08:42z OH9XX 14MHz SSB Marco S58 R55
08:43z VK1DET 14MHz SSB Ernie S52 R55
09:00z VK2IO 14MHz SSB Gerard S53 R43
09:02z VK2DAG 14MHz SSB Matt S53 R31
09:05z ZL2YLX 14MHz SSB Dick S57 R55
09:20z VK5PAS 7MHz SSB Paul S59 R57
09:42z VK1MA/P 144MHz FM Matt S2S VK1/AC-035 S59 R59
09:49z VK5WG 14MHz SSB Nev S59 R58
09:52z VK6MB 14MHz SSB Mike S42 R58

10 thoughts on “SOTA – How do you bag a DX Summit to Summit with Europe

  1. Pingback: SOTA DX from Mt Majura – 25 February 2014 | VK1NAM Summits on the Air (SOTA)

  2. Great work Andrew & Al. DX is a buzz when you are on a summit, but to get 3 s2s DX contacts is something again. Terrific stuff guys.

    • Hi Lutz, yes I have the urge to try again from a different VK1 summit. We are fortunate to have 8 local summits in the suburban area of Canberra. I hope my post will encourage other VK to try a late afternoon activation.
      Andrew, VK1NAM

  3. Hello Andrew, enjoyed your latest blog. Well done on the DX. I can see if I want to try something similar the FT817 may not cut the mustard. May be I will use the Icom 7000. The extra power is clearly a bonus. A sleeve balun on your coax might assist with the RF feedback problem and I am really sorry I missed you. Lucky Paul (VK5PAS)!

    John D VK5BJE

    • Hi John, yes no doubt the extra power over a FT-817 is a contributing factor to the success. Thanks for hint, I will make a coax choke, I must admit I didn’t expect any issues, I tested the antenna on Friday night working local VK1 stations. I later realised when conducting the tests the radio was 10 metres away from the antenna, whereas on the summit the radio was within 5 metres of the antenna, oops!
      Andrew, VK1NAM

Please leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s