16 July 2016

My First SOTA Activation - W7A/AE-011 Heliograph Peak

There's a fairly popular world-wide organization of amateur radio operators called Summits On the Air (SOTA).  On July 16, 2016, I became a SOTA "Activator", and I absolutely loved it!

My friend Quinton, NU7Y, is an experienced SOTA op and he invited me to join him for this activation.  I didn't know exactly what to expect but it sounded fun!  We had a few hours drive from Tucson to reach Heliograph Peak, which is in the Pinaleo Mountains Range (home of Mt. Graham).  We parked at a campground trailhead and had to hike a couple of miles in to reach the peak.

The trail up is beautiful, but it's very high
elevation.  The peak itself is at 10,022 feet elevation, and has some amazing scenic views.

One of the unique things about SOTA operations is that if you need to hike to the summit, you want to keep the equipment at a minimum.  Quinton brought along some really lightweight QRP gear, including an ATS-4 QRP rig and a homebrew linked wire dipole.  This was new for me - I've never been a QRP (low-power) operator before.  He also brought a light paddle and LiPo battery pack.


We strung up the dipole in the trees and got to work.  SOTA ops are able to use a special spotting system called "SOTAwatch" to help Chasers find Activators.  Quinton spotted us and we immediately had pileups of operators wanting to work us!  We started out on 40 meters.  Quinton worked a bunch of stations while I ate some lunch and nervously watched.  My CW skills are rusty, and we were having some problems with looseness in the keyer paddle, but when he turned the rig over to me, I called CQ SOTA de KR7RK... and immediately heard a cacophonous roar of morse code signals!  The fun had begun.  Somehow I managed to copy call signs and signal reports onto the notepad, and bang out the QSO exchanges on the paddles.  This was Ham Radio at its finest!

After a while we switched over to 20 meters and made more contacts.  In total, I logged 12 QSO's, and Quinton logged many more.  Our original plan was to drive over to another place and hike up to activate a second peak, but the day was already a huge success and it was getting late, so we decided to save that one for another day.  When we got home, I recorded my log into the SOTA Database, and was rewarded with 10 points!  SOTA grants points for activations depending on the height of the summit, and since Heliograph is over 10,000 feet it earned me the maximum points.

I really enjoyed this activity.  I guess I'm not surprised, because amateur radio has constantly offered me new and interesting activities that never disappoint.  I love hiking, I love nature's scenery, and I love ham radio; this SOTA stuff combines all that into one fun adventure!  I will definitely be getting more involved with SOTA.

No comments: