SOTA Activation Without The Tears


I recently confessed blogged about a not-that-well-executed SOTA (Summits on The Air) activation, in How Not to Do a SOTA Activation. This past weekend, I made another run at it with much better results. Still, I did use a slacker low impact approach to the activation.

My hiking partner spouse and I decided to go for a hike on Sunday afternoon. It had been many years since we had climbed up to the fire lookout on Devils Head in Pike National Forest, so that sounded like a great destination. There is an excellent view at the top (fire lookouts tend to be like that) and the weather was awesome. I checked the SOTA list, and sure enough, Devils Head is a legitimate SOTA peak (W0/FR-051).

The hike is about 2.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 950 feet. I put this in the category of a good tourist hike…with just enough huffing and puffing to make you think you worked for it but not so much that it kills you. Here’s the topo map and route taken from everytrail.com

As I put together my daypack, I tossed in my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and a 1/2-wave vertical whip antenna. This was going to be a 2M FM operation only.  (I don’t have anything against HF, but there is something magic about VHF propagation with a little altitude.) Then I sent a quick message to a couple of the local email lists asking for people to try to work me on the summit. We drove to the trailhead and started our hike up the trail, which is heavily used but well maintained.

The fire lookout is not a tower. It sits on top of a large rock formation with stairs leading up the side of the rock.

When we got to the top, we spent some time enjoying the view and catching our breath. As the sign says, the stairs have 143 steps which take you to an elevation of 9748 feet.

I got out the radio and started calling CQ on 146.52 MHz. Ted (NØNKG) came right back to me…I think he probably saw my email message. Over the next half hour, I worked a total of 7 contacts: NØNKG, N2RL, NØGWM, W7RTX, WB9QDL, KØDEN and WXØPIX. I even remembered to bring along a log book and a pen to write it all down.

Bill Ellis staffs the fire lookout for the US Forest Service most of the time during the summer. He handed me a card that certifies that I climbed up to the lookout station. Note that this card indicates that it is the 100th anniversary of the fire lookout! And Bill’s been doing this for 26 years. Cool!

Various people have said that Devils Head is a must do hike in Colorado and I have to agree (whether you are doing a SOTA activation or not). It turns out that I was the second person to activate Devils Head as a SOTA summit, with Chuck (N6UHB) having done it in October 2011. I’ll probably do some more of this since it is a nice blend of ham radio, hiking and enjoying the view from a high spot.

   73, Bob K0NR

  1. #1 by Chuck N6UHB on 19 July 2012 - 12:23 pm

    Thanks, Bob. Great report. What make/model half-wave antenna do you recommend?

    When Naomi KD0PNK and I did it, we set up a BudDipole on the rocks just the other side of the stairs from the lookout shack–a bit tricky to get to, but necessary for HF.

  2. #2 by K0NR on 19 July 2012 - 5:35 pm

    I’ve tested a bunch of HT antennas and the key is to get a 1/2-wave design.The antenna I have was made by Yaesu but I don’t think they are offered anymore. MFJ has one that looks similar but I have not tried it, the MFJ-1714 http://www.mfjenterprises.com/Product.php?productid=MFJ-1714

    Bob K0NR

  3. #3 by K0NR on 19 July 2012 - 5:40 pm

    Chuck, I was going to comment about the operating location, so thanks for the reminder.

    It is kind of crowded at the top, near the lookout. I did not want to operate off right at the lookout structure as there is some forest service radio equipment inside. I actually don’t think I would interfere but I didn’t want the USFS staff to get nervous about it. So I just found a rock to sit on that was a little bit off the path (between the stairs and the lookout). I was wondering if there was even room up there for an HF antenna.

    Bob

  4. #4 by Steve wG0AT on 20 July 2012 - 12:33 pm

    Good Job and nice article, Bob!

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