My first Summits On The Air activation

Posted on October 21, 2015 by Chris Lumens in , , .

It’s fun to combine hobbies. Recently, I’d been thinking about doing more portable radio operation and with the heel injury I thought it was the perfect time to get out and take a handheld radio on a quick nearby hike to see who I could contact. Of course, there’s already an organized group that does this, and it’s called Summits On The Air, complete with spotting and awards and rules and lists of peaks. So I joined a few Facebook groups, created a couple accounts, installed SOTA Spotter on my phone, and picked my summit.

It would be North Uncanoonuc, a very short mountain with a view towards Manchester. That’s the largest city in NH so I figured there’d be more than enough people to make the four contacts required to be official. Having picked the summit and the date (last Saturday morning, October 17) I announced it on the SOTA Watch website. This is an important step. It lets people plan on being able to work you. One of the ways of making progress towards a SOTA award is to be the person who’s not on the mountain, but is making contact with the person up there. They need to know when to be home and where to point their antenna. They also need to know what frequency to expect you on. I just decided to go with the national FM 2m calling frequency, 146.52.

I packed my day pack the night before so I’d be ready to go first thing in the morning. In addition to the usual day hiking stuff (couple water bottles, first aid kit, headlamp, lunch, etc.) I also grabbed a fleece, hat, and gloves. I’d be stationary for about a half an hour playing with the radio so that’d be plenty of time to cool down. For radio equipment, I brought the Alinco DJ-G7 and an Arrow dual band antenna for some extra insurance on making contacts. I also brought a second handheld with a Mobilink TNC2 for extra advertising that I was on the summit, and a pad of paper to write down my contacts.

My chosen route up the mountain was the class six road to the blue trail. I’d picked this way because it’s pretty short and easy, and I’d hoped Sarah would come with me. She ended up not being able to because she was still sore from other exercise. Because of my schedule, I had an hour to climb the easiest route to the summit. Luckily I was also running a little behind. It all worked out. I got to the very small parking lot, put my boots on, turned on the TNC to start broadcasting my position, and headed up.

The trail is a little confusing due to criss-crossing herd paths and snowmobile trails, but as long as you keep turning uphill you’ll get to the summit pretty quickly. I was probably there within half an hour, and that included a couple stops for water and looking at the PDF map to make sure I was in the right place. At the top, there’s a nice cleared view of Manchester, South Uncanoonuc, and points further east.

It took me several minutes to find a nice spot to sit that would be out of people’s way (there were several people at the summit when I got there, and several more came and went), put the Arrow together, and get ready to start calling CQ. Several minutes before my planned 11:30 start, I spotted myself with SOTA Spotter on the phone and started calling. Pretty quickly, I got several very clear contacts. Most of them were people coming back from NEAR Fest, which I’d forgotten was happening. It was really easy to hear them all, and I didn’t even need to be particularly accurate with pointing the Arrow.

Probably my most interesting contact was with W1DMH. He had hiked up Blue Job Mountain in eastern New Hampshire specifically to talk to me. That’s more than 30 miles away, using just a 5W FM handheld radio. I thought it was pretty cool. This was an unexpected bonus of announcing where I’d be in, and I’m going to make sure I continue to announce. After that, I got a couple more contacts including down to Lowell, MA (28 miles to the southeast). In total, I got six ensuring it was official. Then it started to rain, so I packed up in a hurry and got moving down the mountain.

The hike down was not especially interesting. I took the red trail, which was very steep, so it was over quickly. The rain also never really amounted to much either but I didn’t want to take chances with my gear. Overall, it was lots of fun. I had a successful test of gear and procedure, and my heel worked out fine. I’d definitely do this again and on bigger mountains.

Things I learned: