Joyce/K0JJW and I were planning a trip that included some time in Europe. It turned out that our airline route would connect through Zurich. Rather than spend a few hours in an airport, we decided to spend a day or two in Switzerland.
Somehow the discussion turned to Summits On The Air (SOTA) and whether we should do an activation in Switzerland. Slowly, a plan developed to do a “check the box” activation on a local summit near Zurich. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been exclusively using VHF/UHF for SOTA activations. We decided to pack really light so SOTA gear on this trip was extremely limited: 2m/70cm handhelds and vertical antennas. Sorry, no yagi.
I came across this thread about the proper callsign prefix when operating under CEPT rules in Switzerland. The SOTA association is called HB but valid callsign prefixes are HB9 (full license) or HB3 (novice license). This sent me back to the CEPT rules to make sure I understood them correctly: Recommendation T/R 61-01 and ECC Recommendation (05) 06. The short story is that as an Amateur Extra licensee, I operate as HB9/K0NR. Joyce has a General Class license which corresponds to the “novice” category under CEPT, so she uses the callsign HB3/K0JJW. Apparently as an Extra, I had previously overlooked or forgotten some of the fine points of CEPT. Specifically, US Extras are given full privileges by CEPT but Generals can only operate in a subset of CEPT countries while Technicians get no privileges at all (yet another reason to upgrade your license).
I also put out a request for advice on the SOTA reflector:
Joyce/K0JJW and I have one day in Zurich later this month. Somehow the idea of squeezing in a SOTA activation while in Switzerland made it onto the itinerary.
This will be on 2m FM only with basic gear. The current plan is looking like a hike up Altberg (HB/ZH-015) but we are open to other ideas.
A number of people responded with helpful information. Soon I was contacted by Paul/HB9DST who suggested we do an activation together. Paul is an American living just outside of Zurich (his US callsign is AA1MI) and is very active in SOTA. We soon had our eyes on the Churfirsten SOTA summits which are southeast of Zurich (see Paul’s activation reports). Ultimately, we chose the summit of Selun (HB/SG-049).
Activating Selun (HB/SG-049)
Access to the trail was via several train rides and a bus ride, then a short walk to the Selun cable car. This cable car is quite unique in that it is a homebrew design (see the photo below). We piled into the cable car and rode it to where the real hike started.
On the Trail
The bottom station of the cable car is at ~3000 feet (900 m) and took us up the hill to ~5000 feet ( 1500 m), so it definitely sliced off some elevation gain. The summit of Selun is at 7234 feet (2205 m), which gave us a moderate but not crazy difficult hike. My GPS app recorded a distance of 1.7 miles and 1900 vertical feet (one way).
The weather was excellent for late October with blue skies above and some clouds laying in the valleys.
Paul is an HF/CW enthusiast so that made sharing the bands very easy. He strapped his fishing pole to the summit cross and strung out an end-fed wire for 40m, 30m and 20m, making a total of 40 QSOs. Joyce and I took turns on 145.550 MHz FM using our Yaesu FT-1DR handheld radios with vertical antennas.
I made 13 contacts on VHF, including three Summit-to-Summit (S2S) contacts. HB9PMF was close by on SG-017 (Hinterrugg) another summit in the Churfirsten. I also stayed on the summit while Joyce and Paul hiked down out of the activation zone and worked me for chaser points, giving me a total of 15 QSOs.
My log is shown below. All contacts were on 145.550 MHz. Note that the calling frequency in Switzerland (all of Europe?) is 145.500 MHz. Joyce worked a subset of these stations.
I have to admit that it was a challenge keeping everything straight while making QSOs. I had to add the HB9 prefix on the front of my US callsign and “portable” on the tail end (local practice for activator stations). That’s “HB9/K0NR/P” instead of just “K0NR”…there is a reason we prefer shorter callsigns. All that along with the usual signal report, name, SOTA designators, etc. Fortunately, everyone we worked had reasonable English skills. Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut. If I sounded a bit confused, I probably was and at 7200 feet I can’t blame the altitude.
It was definitely a thrill to work the S2S stations and two other countries (Germany and Austria) on VHF. (I have never done that on SOTA VHF from Colorado…I rarely work anyone outside of the state.)
After we hiked back down, Paul suggested that we had to stop in at the local farmhouse restaurant (Selun Ochsenhuette) for a drink. It was all part of the Swiss SOTA experience!
Paul was a magnificent host for our short stay in Switzerland. We stayed two nights at his place and he guided us on a fantastic SOTA activation. Without his help, we would have probably activated a small summit near Zurich and would have been in the low clouds all day. We would have left the city thinking “I bet this is a beautiful place when the sun is shining.” Instead, we had an excellent day hiking the Swiss mountains and playing ham radio. Thanks, Paul!
Joyce did find one small way to repay Paul’s kindness. Being an skilled seamstress, she sewed Paul’s prized SOTA Mountain Goat patch onto his pack. Nice job, Joyce!
73 Bob K0NR