1651m - 25°41.4S, 27°59.2E
ZS/GP-008 from about halfway up, lots of rock !
This summit was activated as a celebration of the official start of SOTA in South Africa.
As the first was the first summit that I activated is was also used as an exercise to test my portable station, initially I was planning on using the FT-817 because of the size and weight advantage, two things conspired to eventually make me decide to rather use my old trusted Icom IC-706MKII.
The first reason was that even though I am a confirmed QRP operator I know there are times when 5w is simply not enough, if conditions are bad, especially on SSB a bit more power is needed. As there are relatively few local South African hams active on CW a CW/QRP only operation would limit the potential number of local contacts. As I really want to try and make the SOTA idea popular in South Africa I believe it is important that we get as many people active and interested as possible. So, a good SSB signal when needed would be an advantage !, this turned out not to be need as no QSO's were made on more than 5w.
The second reason for choosing the 706 at the last moment was the fault that my FT-817 developed, suddenly it would only run what appeared to be full QSK on CW, chopping off the first bit of each dash and dropping most dots, VERY frustrating !. After resetting the rig, re-reading the manual etc. I decided that there was something wrong with the rig, so now the 706 was the best/only choice !. I hope to have the 817 sorted out for future activations.
The main disadvantage of the 706 is the high current drawn, even on RX only my sample draws about 1.2A !, this means more/heavier batteries and/or shorter operating time.
In the end I decided to take 3 x 7Ah gel-cell batteries as this would give reasonable operating time without to much of a weight penalty.
Because I am also a keen PSK31/AMTOR operator I also decided to take a laptop along, on this first trip it was more of an experiment so it was not announced before the event. I have often found that PSK31 is even more efficient on very low power than CW, you can work stations you can't even hear !. This will be a great combination with the FT-817 !. The laptop would also double as a log keeper and since it is a light model it does not impose to much of a weight penalty !
Since my second operator, Katti - ZS6KVR was also going along we decided to make a bit of a picnic out of the whole expedition so we took along something to eat and to drink, nothing like a good bottle of wine while looking down on the world !. So, more stuff had to be carried up the mountain....
For antennas I used 20m and 40m inverted V's, connected to the same feed line, it also work fine on 15m. This simple antenna works VERY well and is not difficult to setup at all. For support I used a 5m aluminum ex-military mast, easy to carry in its own bag with all bits needed.
Conditions turned out to be almost perfect, it was just a bit hot but a breeze kept us going most of the time.
Some local contacts were made, mostly on 40m SSB with a few 2m simplex contacts to some of the locals. It was possible to get into the Polokwane 145.650Mhz repeater, about 360km away with just 250mw and a rubber duck antenna !. 40m CW only produced Ian, ZS5IAN and we had a good chat. On 20m I only worked one local, Dennis -ZS4BS/2 who was on holiday at the coast. Due to QRM both 14.007 and 21.007 was useless on the summit, there are a couple of huge masts with commercial antennas sharing the summit with us and I am sure they caused some QRM in the form if digitally modulated carriers. Higher up on both bands, from about .015, it was all clear. Most of my CW contacts were on 15m, my antenna and conditions seemed to be best to work into Asia with lots of UA, EW, VU and some JA stations worked. A few DL, PA and other European Stations also made it into the logbook, I did not hear a single G station !. In total we have 106 contacts on HF. Very few of these people knew what SOTA was but I tried my best to spread the word !.
I did make a few PSK31 contacts but I really should have had a 10m antenna, I could hear lots of activity on 10 but without an antenna or tuner there was no way I could work them, lesson learnt !
The IC-706MKII behaved itself well, I have a 250Hz CW filter in it and it helped with some QRM and getting a weak signal out of a pileup, even with its high current consumption I worked 6 hours on the 3 batteries and still had some left by the time I got home, most contacts were on 2.5 or 5W SSB and most CW contacts were on 2.5W or less, with a high site like this and a reasonable antenna you do not need much !
The whole exercise turned out to be a big promotion for Amateur Radio, we had a constant stream of visitors and Katti was kept busy explaining what we were doing most of the time, if I go to a public site like this again I think I will take a banner explaining what is happening !
It would have been nice to be able to stay later but with the volume of visitors it would have been a problem getting up or down later, I am sure we won't have the same problem on the next summit !
Some more photos
Some more peaks to the west, but they will need rope to get to the top !
The view to the north from the summit
Setup and ready for some QSO's ! Notice there is only shade for the equipment !
The view south from the summit showing the Hartebeespoort dam
It was a beautiful day but when the wind was not blowing it got really hot, about 37C!
My helper and co-operator, Katti - ZS6KVR, before we setup the station
The antenna system, dipoles for 40, 20 and 15m on 5m mast, windsock used by hang glider pilots
See you on the next Summit !