My Best SOTA DX                                                       

VP8TAA’s icy view from his SOTA activation on Mount Challenger in the Falkland Islands.

by Ron Topolinski K6CPR

Early last August a group of Southern California SOTA operators were camping in the Big Bear Mountains. The objective of the camp-out is to spend some face-to-face QSO time, and then they split up and go to different SOTA summits and they gain a lot of S2S (Summit-to-Summit) bonus contacts, most of those happening on 2 meters.

Along with this SoCal SOTA camp out, the Colorado Four’teener event is simultaneously happening, along with events put on by the Pacific Northwest and Arizona SOTA folks. On these two days in August, many S2S contacts are made via HF, along with numerous QSOs with the “chasers” operating from their home stations. Many SOTA operators across the country will activate peaks on this day to get in on all the action. It is quite exciting.

SOTA – “Summits on the Air” is an addicting contest-like activity for amateur radio operators who love the outdoors. Activators carry portable radio gear up to designated summits and “activate” the peak by making at least four contacts from within the activation zone. Chasers hunt the activators and claim credit for the summits after making contact with an activator.

For more information, see the official SOTA Website

I attended the 2021 SoCal SOTA Camp-out, but I was not able to attend in 2022 due to hosting our grandson’s birthday party.  My XYL gave me permission to activate a peak early Saturday morning, as long as I was back home by 1 p.m.  I was anxious to get in on all the S2S opportunities and hopefully break my record of 14 S2S QSOs. I researched the maps for a summit that was close enough to home and that was high enough to see into the Big Bear area for some long distance 2-meter summit to summit action.  I chose Sierra Pelona, which is an easy off-road drive-up summit just north of Acton.  Doing a drive-up allowed me more time on top, plus it allowed me to bring some power, instead of my QRP radio.  Driving to a summit is allowed, but you must not be in your vehicle or attached to your vehicle in any way while you operate.

My radio of the day would be a Yaesu FT-857d, powered by a 6 amp-hour Bioenno battery. My main home base 130’ EFHW (end-fed half-wavelength) antenna was down and available, so I thought I’d get as much wire in the air as I could on this special day. I zipped tied two extendable “fishing pole” masts together, which allowed me to get the wire up in an inverted “V” with the center about 30’ high. I bungeed the mast into a brushy tree on the peak. Did I say it was hot? This was August and I left my house at zero-dark-thirty, but the sun was heating things up as soon as it hit the ridge. I set up an operating position surrounded by high brush that provided some shade, about 100 feet from where I parked the Jeep.

Normally SOTA operators will post their “spot” on the page, which provides chasers the frequency and mountain top they are operating on in real time. Pileups are quite common, and huge pileups are the norm on such a day as this. Due to limited operating time (XYL enforced, hihi), and seeking to break my S2S record, I opted not to “spot,” and just chase other summits.  If I “spotted” my peak, I could get bogged down in a massive pileup (usually fun!) but miss out on summit-to-summit chances.

As I was setting up, I monitored 146.580, which is known as the “Adventure Channel” to SOTA people. I made my first FM S2S contact at 1320 UTC (6:20 A.M. PST) as that frequency began to wake up.

Being right above Acton and Lancaster, I had good data service on the cell phone.  I began to look at the SOTA page and the summit chasing began.  The action was fast and furious, as most “spots” had big pileups happening. I tuned each spot and waited my turn. I made eight S2S within the first two hours, split between FM, SSB and CW.  Three of those were Arizona peaks on 40M SSB.  More Southern California S2S were happening, and the Colorado action started. Typically, during a SOTA pileup, if someone calls “summit-to-summit!,” most chasers will cease and let the peak operator answer and get the S2S contact. But these pileups had four or more people calling “summit to summit!” (or S2S on CW) all at once. I never heard so many summit-to-summit calls before! It was very exciting!

I would constantly check the SOTA spots and there were several operators active on peaks in Europe.  This was exciting, as I have had overseas chasers contact me while on the summits, but I never had an overseas DX Summit-to-Summit QSO.  Unfortunately, I could not hear any of the European summits well enough to make the attempted contact. Then I see VP8TAA spotted on a peak in the Falkland Islands off the tip of South America, operating on 15M SSB. Not expecting much, I dialed the 857 to his frequency. Whoa! I hear him! He’s down in the noise averaging 2-1 to 3-2, but I can hear enough to understand him. I wait for an opening, and I excitingly call, ok maybe I yelled into the mic, “summit-to-summit, summit-to-summit USA!” Much to my surprise I hear, “summit-to-summit USA, this is Victor-Papa-Eight-Tango-Alfa-Alfa, go ahead!” I respond, “this is Kilo-Six-Charlie-Papa-Radio on peak number Whiskey-Six-Charlie-Tango-One-One-Six in California, U.S.A., you are a 2-1, 2-1, 2-1 QSL?”  I could hear the excitement in his voice too as we exchanged signal reports. He gave me a 5-5 in return and we exchanged our 73s.

Later that evening I received an email from Jonathan VP8TAA and he said I was “an incredible 5-5”. I was glad I put the effort into getting 130’ of wire up in the air. What a nice pay-off!  While I was sweating in the 90+ degree temperatures on Sierra Pelona, I hadn’t really given a thought that it was winter on the other side of the world.

The picture with this article is one Jonathan took at his operating position on VP8/EF-007, Mount Challenger.  If you look closely you can see his 10-watt IC-705 and that is ice, not snow! This was the first and only activation of this peak.  According to Wikipedia, Mount Challenger saw some action in the Falklands War and some of it is still mined. I had a blast on my activation making 36 QSOs, of which 35 were summit-to-summit QSOs.  Jonathan had a great day also, thankfully without a blast!

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