Failing at SOTA. Winning at enjoying ourselves.

Well, today was a good lesson in humility, because things don’t always go to plan. That is especially true when “things” involve trying to activate a SOTA summit in January.

Today was the last day of our winter holiday in the Lake District. Together with the XYL and our greyhound, Otto, we’ve spent a lovely few days up here. I had my Icom 7300 and the DX Commander set up at the holiday cottage and got some great DX-ing done on multiple bands (more on that in a later post).

So, we decided it was time to get a decent hike in and burn off some of the absurd amount of calories we’ve been consuming over the holidays. And get some SOTA points in the process! The choice fell on Illgill Head, SOTA reference G/LD-029, a lovely Wainwright just next to Scafell Pike, but at a moderate 609m ASL, it felt like an achievable mission for the day.

The route up to Illgill Head, from the National Trust car park at Scafell Pike

I wasn’t doing this adventure solo, my XYL (Caroline) and our greyhound (Otto) were coming along for the ride (maybe foolishly on their part). This was in a way an experiment, as we had never done any major hillwalking with our greyhound since adopting him in 2020. But back to SOTA…

The ascent to Illgill Head from the National Trust car park (at Scafell Pike/the NT camp site) was straightforward and actually enjoyable, as winds were modest and for the first time in a week, there was not constant rain beating down on us. The weather had even cleared far enough to award us some stunning views of Wast Water and the valley.

At the summit, the wind was blowing pretty heavily, with gusts around 40-50mph. We did find a small dip just below the summit (but well within the activation zone) which offered slightly more sheltered conditions for the dipole (and my suffering wife and greyhound).

My plan was to activate 20m and 40m HF using the SOTABEAMS Bandhopper III linked dipole, and my trusty Elecraft KX3. The antenna went up alright, supported by the excellent SOTABEAMS Tactical mini (6m) mast. I was pleased that despite the wind the guying system I had devised over the summer for one-man erection (no jokes, please) worked well even in strong winds. I’ll do a separate post about that as well at a later point.

The antenna is up!

This is where the radio gods must have started taking a nap, because things went somewhat pear shaped from here on. Despite having charged it just before the trip, my LiFePo4 battery malfunctioned and only offered around 12V to my KX3, quickly dropping below that, which meant the rig refused to put out more than 5 Watts. I have found in the summer that an extra 5-7 Watts can make all the difference, even with such excellent take off as we have on the summit.

Conditions on 20m were pretty poor and several CQ calls on around the QRP centre of activity remained unanswered. Sadly the same on 40m. Nothing like the enormous pile ups I had gotten used to generating (for once) when activating summits Scafell (G/LD-001) and Whitfell (G/LD-032) during the summer.

CQ SOTA CQ SOTA

With the wind picking up, the mast bending mightily in the gales and our poor dog exposed to the elements, it was time to call it a day before we all got blown into the Irish Sea. I gave it a last chance calling CQ on 2m FM using my AnyTone handheld, but no luck.

With that, the activation (can we call it that??) was over. Zero contacts.

On the way down however, I was delighted to hear the CQ SOTA call from another activator, Angela 2E0LND on 145.500MHz on my handheld. Low and behold, Angela was activating the very same summit I had so miserably failed to activate. I had a lovely QSO with Angela, who is a brilliant operator, and was pleased that soon after my first QSO, she had a proper pile up on her hands and bagged her four contacts in no time. Well done Angela!

Right, here is what I have learned:

  • Take a spare battery! I have never been let down by my LiFePo4 before, but there’s a first time for everything and it’s painful when this is at the top of a mountain.
  • 2m FM is a great alternative and/or fallback solution to the full monty HF setup, especially in winter. I will have a go at constructing a nice little J-pole or 5/8 ground plane antenna for the next outing.
  • Even a failed activation can still be fun – just by spending the day walking in beautiful countryside in good company!
The KX3 and the culprit battery!

That’s it with SOTA for the next weeks (hopefully not months!) for now, as we’re heading back to London tomorrow. I’ll definitely be back in the Lake District before long and calling CQ from a mountaintop.

73 for now. Hauke M0TXH

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