Yesterday was the first nice weekend day of the year, so I decided to get outside and try my first SOTA activation. Since I primarily do digital modes at home, I took my laptop along and tried a mostly digital activation, focusing on PSK and the JT modes.
Here’s what all that stuff is, starting in the top left corner and going clockwise.
- 3.5mm audio cables
- Elecraft BL2 balun
- 6 feet of coax
- NorCal Doublet
- Elecraft H3 Hand Mic
- Elecraft USB control cable
- Laptop running Windows 10
- Elecraft KX3 Transceiver
- Think Tank Photo Strobe Stuff bag (fits the KX3 perfectly)
- Cheap USB soundcard
- 6Ah Bioenno Power LiFePO4 Battery
Not pictured is a bunch of line I use to get my antenna in a tree. I attach the line to an arborists throw bag and have developed a sort of underhand throw. I’m able to get the line up about 40 feet regularly.
Everything fits nicely into my work backpack.
I decided to do the closest SOTA peak to my house, W3/PO-029. The actual site is located just off the Appalachian Trail, about 2 miles from the nearest trailhead. Lucky for me, the trailhead is at about the same height as the SOTA peak, so the hike was mostly flat.
The trail was typical of the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail - very rocky! I had to pay careful attention to where I was stepping so I didn’t turn an ankle.
Once I was at the site, I found a suitable tree and got my antenna up. The doublet is a challenge to set up in thick woods since the wires like to get snagged on every branch. I’m not sure I could have gotten it set up later in the year when there would be more undergrowth.
It’s hard to make out, but you can see the feedline of the antenna in this picture.
The center was at about 26 feet in the air and the ends sloped down to about 20 feet.
I found a nice looking rock and set up the rest of my station.
First up was JT9 on the crowded 20m band. I called CQ and made several contacts, some even transcontinental. It’s amazing what you can do with 3W on the JT modes. Stations contacted included OR7S, DJ0QO, and M0SGO.
Curiously, I never showed up on psk reporter at any time when working JT. I think it may have been because I was calling
CQ NV3Y SOTA rather than the normal
CQ NV3Y FN20 and that may have broke the auto-spotting function in WSJT-X.
I also tried PSK on 20m, but with less success. I managed to get a few contacts, but was told I was being drowned out by other more powerful stations. I tried to QSY but was never able to make another contact. Very frustrating.
I next tried calling CQ on 20m SSB, but ran into the same problem of being run over by other stations. I did get a few contacts, the highlight being CT1EUW in Portugal. It seemed like I could only run for a few minutes before another station set up shop near my frequency forcing me to QSY.
I finished the day on 40m SSB tuning the dial around and contacting strong stations. I worked a few contacts doing the Ontario and Michigan QSO parties.
All in all, it was a successful day, with a total of 16 contacts made.