A few weeks ago (seems like forever now), after the Nevada QSO Party, I was not ready to settle down for very long. I started working up a new outing almost as soon as I had the camper unpacked and the laundry running. My friends suggested that I was not working hard enough, but I am not quite sure what they meant.
Given that everyone in our little group was tied up or busy doing other things, I planned a little outing to a SOTA summit south of Carson City near Lake Topaz in Douglas County. I posted an alert on SOTAWatch that I would be attempting an activation and emailed a few of my CWOps Academy friends to be on the lookout for me.
Saturday morning arrived and I loaded up the rig, put some dog food in a baggie (The Girl will not eat before an outing), and made sure we had plenty of water. The route was in the GPSr and I had everything needed. So, out the door we went.
I stopped at McDonald’s for a biscuit and a coffee. I ate on the way south, saving a bite of my biscuit for The Girl, who was watching me like Snoopy on his doghouse.
I did not miss the turnoff for the trail and it was a fairly easy trail drive to up near the summit. In the spirit of SOTA, I schlepped my radio equipment to my selected operating point and then paused to give The Girl a short walk around the summit to burn off some energy.
We found a CalTrans benchmark on the summit. I thought that was pretty cool. I never tire of finding the old benchmarks on top of mountains or near highways as I travel around.
The Girl settled down a little, so I put out her mat and assembled the station. I have put together the little Elecraft KX3 station so many times that I think I could do it blindfolded. I tested the setup and everything looked to be operating normally.
I did not connect the microphone to the radio. I determined that I would operate code only and do my best. I found a frequency on the 40m band that was quiet and asked a few times if it was in use. Nothing heard, so I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and posted my spot on SOTAWatch.
Then I began calling CQ (general call) SOTA (identifying myself as a SOTA activator), sent my callsign, and listened. It took only a few calls before a pileup of stations were returning my call. My hands shaking and my breath a little ragged, I responded to the fragments of callsigns I could pick out, sending the fragment plus a question mark indicating that the calling station should send their callsign again so I could copy it.
One by one I worked these stations, putting each one in my log (on my knee) with their signal report, my signal report, and the time. I heard a few S2S calls (summit-to-summit, cherished contacts for double points) and worked those stations the best I could. Some were just too weak for me to hear, but I worked everyone I could hear, including one of my CWA instructors.
I made a dozen or so contacts on 40m, more than enough to qualify my activation. As I fished out the hole, I called a couple more times “last call before I change bands” and listened. I cleared the frequency and moved to the 30m band.
Again I called CQ SOTA and listened. Several station returned my call, but not as many as on 40m. Many chasers had their contact for my activation and were looking for other activators. I worked another of my CWA instructors and that was a treat. With that hole fished out, I cleared the frequency and moved to 20m.
I worked a few more chasers on 20m, but I could tell that the herd was thinning. Then I heard a call that sounded like “EA2…” and listened a couple more times. The station was fading in and out of my noise floor and I had trouble getting a full callsign. I returned the call and we worked and worked until I got the callsign. I was reasonably sure I also copied the signal report.
At that point I decided to call it a day. I cleared the frequency, looked over my log, and shut everything down. The Girl was ready for some movement so we walked the area again a couple of times. I took her to the rig and got her some water. She was ready to go home. So I tore down the station, stowed my gear in the rig, and then did one last walk-around to be sure nothing was left behind. I paused one more time to take in the view, even with the smoke. I made sure I had captures of the area.
Then we returned to the rig and headed down the trail. I was tired, hot, and sweaty, but deeply gratified that I had completed my SOTA activation in CW mode only. It was good to be home, get a shower, enjoy a little cooler air in the house, and settle down for the remainder of the day. With a shower and some food, I was nearly done. But I worked on my log a little, played with The Girl a little, and then called it a day. It was a really good day.
I learned a few things as well:
- I should tie my pen to the kneeboard. I kept dropping my pen in the dirt.
- I got hot in the sun even if it was a little cool when we got to the OP. I should have setup the station in the shade even if I needed a cover to be warm. It was too much sun that day.
- Headphones would probably make copying the calling stations a little easier. I do not like to be isolated from my surroundings, so perhaps just one phone or earbud would help without disconnecting me from my environment.
- I should determine my own pace. Chasers will either wait to work me or they will not. I only need four contacts to make the activation. I can afford to slow down my pace a little so I can breathe and have fun. I had fun anyway, but I let myself get stressed.
- I had plenty of power with the 15w that the KX3 makes. I might have worked a few more stations with a few more watts, but I made my activation and it was a lot easier without having an amplifier along too.