|Climbing the cables. It's a confidence-building experience. XYL Photo.|
Success results from experience. Experience results from failure. With that maxim in mind, I'm going to describe both successful and unsuccessful SOTA activations with the aim of reducing the "experience" needed to become a successful SOTA activator for the new-to-SOTA ham.
In summer 2013 my XYL and I (along with some family friends) took a summer camping vacation to Yosemite National Park, with a climbing of the famed Half Dome (W6/SN-040) as the pinnacle event of the trip. For those that haven't climbed this peak, it's a bit of an experience. Our hike took us up the Mist Trail, followed by the hike to the Sub Dome, the climbing of the cables, and then the summit. We decided to return by following the John Muir Trail, not the Mist Trail.
|Part of our party moving up the Mist Trail. XYL photo.|
|One of the falls along the Mist Trail. XYL photo.|
This was early in my SOTA career--I had a successful activation prior to this. Notably, I completed an activation of Mt. Baldy (aka. Mt. San Antonio, W6/CT-003). Still, this was my second attempted activation. It was a rather ambitious peak to activate, too!
|Baldy / Mt. San Antonio - My first activation! Not too bad.|
The hike up was memorable--indescribable, actually. The Mist Trail is utterly beautiful, and climbing the cables to the top up 50-degree-steep slick granite is a surreal experience. I was very excited to get to the top!
|A permit is required to climb Half Dome. XYL photo.|
|N0PCL and XYL in a photo at the bottom of the cables. XYL photo.|
|XYL used a climbing harness and carabiners for safety. Me? I don't need safety. I just carefully climbed. XYL Photo.|
|N0PCL pulling himself up the cables. My gloves are just gardening gloves. XYL photo.|
|It's steep. XYL photo.|
|N0PCL calling CQ on Half Dome. XYL was being understanding. XYL photo.|
I tuned up and down the bands. I heard pileups. I heard a Boy Scouts special event station. I tried calling them. No joy. Nobody heard me.
|N0PCL trying VHF. No joy. XYL photo.|
I tried 40 Meters. 15 Meters. 10 Meters. Even 6 Meters, 2 Meters, and 70 cm. FM and SSB. Calling frequencies. Other frequencies. Scanning. Everything.
Nothing but static.
My family and friends were kindly waiting for me to complete my quest. My XYL came up to me after some time (she had gone out searching for USGS survey markers), and she asked "How many do you have?" She was asking about the number of QSOs completed.
Zero. Zilch. Nil. Nada. Nichts. Nothing.
After spending perhaps an 75 or 90 minutes trying, I gave up.
A failed activation. Completely failed. Not a single QSO. Not even a partial QSO. Nothing.
Looking back, I don't think the failure was of my equipment. It was a failure of operator skill and poor planning. Perhaps propagation played a part of it, but I doubt that--I was hearing many stations out there.
I was a new SOTA activator--very new, actually. I didn't realize how important a self-spot was to a new SOTA activator.
The deck is already stacked against the SOTA Activator. He or she is almost always running QRP power, using a portable makeshift antenna, carrying his own equipment, and very subject to other considerations (weather, other people, critters, daylight, leaving enough time for hiking off the summit, etc.) I know that self-spotting is forbidden in most contests--and that's fine and good. But SOTA isn't a contest--it's an award's scheme. The SOTA Activator needs every advantage he or she can get. Self spotting therefore helps a great deal.
There are numerous self-spotting methods available:
- A cell phone with data connectivity can spot using either the SOTA Goat app, or another app.
- Alternatively, you can load the SOTAWatch website and self-spot that way.
- A phone with SMS (texting) capability can assist with self-spotting provided you've registered to access the SMS-to-SOTA Gateway.
- A 2 Meter APRS-capable radio can also assist with self-spotting using the APRS2SOTA Gateway, provided you've registered. The FT-817ND, by itself, does not have this capability. But it could work using the WolphiLink interface and an Android smartphone. Or you can just get an APRS-capable HT. (I now carry a Yaesu VX-8DR. But the Kenwood TH-D72A performs great. Or you can pair up the WolphiLink with an inexpensive Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood, Alinco, or one of the new Chinese HTs, like a Baofeng or Wouxun).
- A proficient CW operator can self-spot using the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), provided a SOTAWatch Alert has been posted for approximately the correct time.
- Lastly, you can completely negate the requirement for a self-spot if somebody can provide a spot for you.
To be sure, some prior planning would have been required.
You need to register for SMS-to-SOTA and APRS2SOTA for those gateways to work. Proficiency in APRS operation can be tricky at first, too.
To make RBNGate work, you also need to register for the SOTAWatch site and post an Alert there, and be proficient enough for CW operation.
I did several training hikes to get ready for the Half Dome trek. But I neglected to appropriately prepare myself for the radio portion of the activation.
Lesson learned. I've used all of the above listed self-spotting methods. It's best to ensure you always have an option. Then the SOTA chase can begin...
Still, hiking Half Dome was a tremendous experience. I highly recommend it, and I hope to get the chance to reattempt an activation of that peak.
|N0PCL enjoying a beer after the hike. XYL photo.|
Let me know if you have any questions, experience, or advice in the Comments Section below.