Second SOTA Activation: Vineyard Mountain

Posted on August 3, 2019

I recently got into doing Summits On The Air, and activated Kennesaw Mountain on July 25th. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures, so instead I will write about my second activation, Vineyard Mountain on July 31st.

What is SOTA?

Summits On The Air (SOTA) is an award program for the purposes of encouraging amateur radio operators to get outside and operate on mountain summits [1]. There are two ways hams participate in SOTA, by “activating” a summit, or by trying to make contact with someone on a summit (“chasing”).

Activating

To activate a summit, a ham would take a radio up to within 25m of the summit of a mountain listed on SOTA Maps. If the ham makes (and logs) 4 or more contacts on any mode and any amateur frequency, then they have “activated” the mountain, and receive however many points that specific mountain is scored on the SOTA Map. The score ranges from 1-10 points, and higher scores correspond with higher peaks.

Chasing

A chaser is anyone who works an activator while they have activated a mountain. The chaser receives 1-10 points depending on the mountain, just like an activator. Chasers typically look for activators on SOTAWatch, where activators will post the frequency they are listening on and what summit they are activating.

More information can be found on the sota website.

Preparation

I wanted to activate Vineyard mountain because it was fairly close to my house and didn’t have many activations. Unfortunately, compared to the other mountains in Georgia it’s pretty small, so activating it would only earn me one point, whereas other mountains could net me eight or ten points.

I began by looking at the mountain on Google Maps and found that there’s a residential road that goes all the way to the top of the mountain. I wasn’t particularly fond of going that route, as it didn’t seem like much of a challenge and it would mean I’d be setting up my radio in someone’s backyard (so I’d need to get permission). It took a bit more searching, but I eventually found a trail map that showed a trail that went all the way to the summit of the mountain. This was perfect, as I’d be operating in a public park instead of someone’s backyard and it also meant that I would have to carry my equipment all the way up the mountain.

Equipment

In order to activate the summit, I needed a radio and antenna. I wasn’t terribly keen on lugging my 8lb FT450D, battery, and antenna tuner around, so a couple weeks ago I purchased an Elecraft KX3 for portable use. The radio has 8 NiMH batteries as well as the KXAT3 automatic tuner installed, so I really only need an antenna to use it.

Inside my pack, I had:

  1. VHF Handheld and antenna - I brought this along in case I wasn’t making any contacts on my KX3. This didn’t get used on this trip.
  2. Notebook and pen - for logging each contact
  3. Nice water bottle - for drinking
  4. Disposable water bottle - Used as a weight when throwing line for my antenna, and also as a weight to hold the antenna up
  5. Radio case - Contents shown below

The radio case contained:

  1. Antenna wire - 35’ wire. This is pulled up into a tree and forms one half of my antenna
  2. Counterpoise - 12’ wire. This gets trailed on the ground and forms the other half of my antenna
  3. Hand mic - I brought this along in case I wanted to operate SSB, but I never actually used it
  4. Fishing line - used to hang the antenna
  5. KX3 - My portable HF radio
  6. SO239 to BNC adapter - Not used
  7. BNC to binding post adapter - I used this to connect the antenna wires to the radio
  8. KXPD2 - Portable morse code key for the KX3.
  9. Headphones - For listening to weak signals

All of the items shown above fit neatly into the radio case like so:

The trip up

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures on the way up. My friend Austin decided to tag along, so we drove up to the Lake Allatoona Riverside Day Use Area, and started on the trail. We began on the blue path, and I quickly realized that the trail was not maintained as well as the trails I had previously been on. It was a narrow dirt path, with a fairly steep incline and many rocks and tree roots in the path. We switched to the red trail at the end of the blue trail, and after about 25 minutes of hiking we made it to the top.

The Summit

The view from the summit was pretty disappointing. You could make out some detail through the trees, but there wasn’t any clearing where you could get a good view at the top.

Radio Setup

Although a pretty view would have been nice, it was not what I was there for. I began setting up my station by putting up the antenna. I tied the fishing line around the neck of the disposable water bottle, and after a few tries was able to loop it over a high tree branch in one of the trees. I then removed the bottle, tied the line to the longer antenna wire, and hauled it up into the tree. When it was high enough, I looped the fishing line around the winder and wedged the water bottle into the winder’s handle to hold it down. Finally, I pulled the other end of the wire until it was taut, and set down my bag.

I pulled out my radio, and connected the wire to it using the BNC to binding post adapter in my bag. I connected the shorter wire to the radio similarly, and trailed it out across the ground. Finally I screwed the morse key into the side of the radio and powered it on.

Operation

I began calling CQ on 40m while spotting myself on (sotawatch)[https://sotawatch.sota.org.uk], and very quickly made 4 contacts. After changing frequency and re-spotting, I quickly made 2 more contacts, followed by couple more after 10 minutes or so. I called CQ for 10 or so more minutes, before calling it a day. I would have liked to stay a while longer and try other bands, but the antenna I had only wanted to tune up on 40m. I think I need to adjust its length some to get it to match on more bands, or use a 4:1 or 9:1 balun. Another solution would be to construct a trapped dipole for the 40m and 20m bands, though that would require a bit more work.

Callsign Their Signal My Signal Time (UTC)
KS4R 599 569 1321
NE4TN 579 559 1322
K4MF 559 559 1325
K0LAF 519 339 1327
W0MNA 559 559 1334
W0ERI 559 559 1335
K9OZ 599 449 1342
AD0YM 509 539 1343

Interestingly, K4MF and AD0YM also worked me when I activated Kennesaw Mountain the week before.

The Hike Down

Although the hike up was a little more strenuous than I was expecting, it wasn’t particularly difficult. The hike down on the other hand, was. The steep sections that took a little more effort to hike up suddenly became places to slip and fall on the trip down. Austin and I both slipped a couple times, though thankfully neither of us fell.

We finally made it to the car only to realize that there was no cell signal where I parked. This meant that apple maps couldn’t navigate me back home, and I only vaguely remembered the way back. Luckily a few months ago I had downloaded an app called OsmAndMaps, which allows you to download maps for offline use and can navigate without an internet connection. I had previously downloaded the road map for georgia, so I was able to use it to navigate me home.

Conclusion

Activating Vineyard mountain was fun, and I’m planning on activating some more summits near me in the future. There’s a summit a bit further north called Burnt Mountain which has never been activated, and I would like to try and be the first.

[1] Available: https://www.sota.org.uk