While planning for the 2022 Colorado 14er Event, I decided to focus on making some long-distance contacts on 1.2 GHz (23 cm). Last year, Dave/W0ADV and I worked summit-to-summit (S2S) at a distance of 244 km (152.6 miles), which is my best result so far. See my previous post here…
For this year’s event, I wanted to beat that distance so I checked in with the usual SOTA activators that use the 23 cm band, wondering if any of them would be on summits that would support such an effort. I was thinking in terms of another S2S contact using portable FM handheld radios. I identified a few summits in the San Juan mountains that might work, from Pikes Peak or Mount Evans. Also, northern New Mexico has some potential summits, but I did not find anyone interested in activating them.
Knowing that Lauren/N0LD has done quite a bit of VHF/UHF operating from Pikes, I figured he would have some insight concerning summits that are workable from Pikes. We connected via telephone and discussed some options. In that conversation, he suggested I reach out to two hams that have serious 23 cm stations in Kansas: N0LL and N0OY. This shifted my thinking away from S2S contacts to working a UHF station out on the plains. (Kansas has a noticeable lack of SOTA summits.) Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) is well-suited to this approach, being easy to access with a road to the top and an excellent radio horizon to the east. I sent an email to Larry/N0LL and Pete/N0OY to see if they were available. Larry replied that his 23 cm gear was currently off the air but Pete said that he was available to give it a try.
The distance from Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) to N0OY is almost 400 miles, so the FM handheld radio approach was probably not going to work. My ICOM IC-9700 was the way to go, with 10 watts of RF power to a Yagi antenna. Pete used an ICOM IC-705 to drive a transverter that supplies 50 watts of RF to an 8-foot dish antenna at 45 feet. I chuckled when I heard this because the IC-705 is a popular SOTA rig…just not usually found on 23 cm.
Joyce/K0JJW and I made it to the summit a bit early and immediately set up for the 23 cm attempt. Normally, we operate on the west side of the summit, away from the visitors center and most of the tourists. For 23 cm, I wanted the best shot possible to the east, so we walked over to the boardwalk on the north side of the summit. It sticks out enough to give an excellent view due east.
Once I was set up, I sent a text message to Pete asking him to start transmitting my direction on 1296.1 MHz. We had agreed to start with CW, our most efficient mode, and perhaps later try SSB. He started with a series of CW dashes and I could easily pick up his signal. Joyce pointed the antenna for me, finding the best direction to peak the signal. Pete’s signal was not terribly strong, but solid copy, only a few dB above my noise floor. Because he was running more power than me (about 7 dB), I was concerned that he would not be able to hear me. I called him using CW and initially, he did not respond. We kept trying and my signal came up a bit at his end and we were able to complete the contact. Conditions were marginal enough that we did not try SSB. (Sorry, Joyce missed out on this one…she doesn’t work CW.)
Although we drove to the summit of Pikes Peak, we made sure we were SOTA compliant. Our normal approach on a drive-up summit is to load up our backpacks with a portable station and hike some distance away from our vehicle. My IC-9700 is not exactly a compact transceiver but it is portable enough to transport some distance and it can be powered using a small Bioenno battery. I’ve carried this size radio (often an FT-991) on other SOTA activations, hiking a mile or two with it. It certainly adds weight to my pack, but it is manageable. The antenna was a Comet CYA-1216E, about 5 feet long, with 16 elements and a specified gain of 16.6 dBi.
So this is my new personal best for 23 cm SOTA:628 km, 392 miles. My thanks go to Pete/N0OY for getting on the air and giving this a try. His station was doing more than half the work with this radio contact. I’ve done SOTA QSOs like this with other weak-signal VHF/UHF operators. They may not be active SOTA chasers but they like the challenge of completing a difficult contact. I really appreciate them getting on the air with me. It’s all part of having fun messing around with radios.
This raises the question of what’s next?
Maybe I can get N0OY to move his station another 50 km to the east for another attempt. Probably not.
73 Bob K0NR