SOTA is an awards programme that is aimed at radio amateurs who want to combine operating amateur radio with walking in the hills and mountains.
I first started with SOTA in August 2016 when one day I heard someone calling “CQ SOTA” from the top of Walbury hill. I had heard of SOTA but had never really got around to investigating so I answered the call and from that moment on I was hooked.
I found the main SOTA web site at www.sota.org.uk and started reading. Once I had registered I was able to log my first chaser contact and so gain my first point. Only 999 more needed to get my first award.
In 2017 I started a programme of hill fitness training in anticipation of trying to activate a few summits. Below you will find a few posts relating my progress.
A family holiday in Benidorm afforded the chance to have a go at a Spanish SOTA summit. We had a week booked on a package trip so luggage allowances meant there was no chance of taking much kit. I managed to squeeze in my usual Kenwood TH-D74 radio as well as a reduced version of my 2 element beam that I normally use for UK activations. It would have to do. There are quite a few summits around Benidorm and a fairly good bus service so there are a number options available if you have time to explore. I chose Helada because it is within walking distance of the hotel we were in.
Maps are a problem. I printed a few location maps from Google before I left so I could find the start of the trails, thinking I would buy a detailed walking map locally once we arrived. That was a big mistake. The family were happy to have a day out walking around the shops of Benidorm whilst I searched for maps. There are no outdoors/walking shops in Benidorm and only one book shop which does not sell maps. The place is totally focused on tourists sitting on the beach and the shops reflect this. To walk any of the more remote hills I would certainly recommend buying your maps before you leave.
There is a leaflet available from the tourist information that describes the walk along Sierra Helada but it is not very good. I studied it for ages the evening before but couldn’t work out the route they were suggesting.
Finding the trail
The main road parallel to the beach in the Easern end of Benidorm is called Avenue Del Mediterraneo. Find this and follow it to the Eastern end. From there head up Calle de Berlin by now heading SE. Turn right at the end of this onto Calle Sierra Dorada.
At the roundabout take the right fork onto Av. Tokio. Follow this street up to the cross. It is a popular walk up to the cross and can be driven almost to the top. As you gain height the views over the city are worth enjoying.
As you leave the tarmac behind at the cross, the left fork is the start of the trail. The right path leads a short distance up to the cross itself and there is a path back down which rejoins our trail if you want to pop up to see it.
The trail from the Cross is fairly obvious most of the way, it is marked in various places with painted ticks, a few cairns and the odd signpost. Once you reach the first summit just follow the cliff edge until you can see the radio towers. It’s a bit up and down as you would expect from a coastal cliff path.
Operating in Spain
I only had vhf/uhf FM capability on my radio so I knew it was not going to be easy activating a summit. I spent as much time as possible in the days before listening to the local repeater and on S20 the VHF calling channel. In four days I never herd a single person on either. There did seem to be some APRS activity locally but from the hotel I couldn’t reach anything that would gate my packets to the internet.
From the higher ground near the Cross and most of the way along the ridge I was able to get APRS packets through to EI5RCI-15 NW of Alicante. After a good walk and a lot of up and down I eventually reached the summit where there is a large radio mast installation. I set up only about ten metres from the perimeter fence but it didn’t seem to cause me any interference problems. I knew from previous discussions that I would be more likely to succeed if I new a little Spanish so I was prepared with a few key phrases thanks toIgnacio EA2BD. I am sure my accent would have been a give away but I called CQ SOTA for about nearly an hour from the top without a single reply.
CQ SOTA CQ SOTA Echo Alfa barra Mike Uno Charlie Julliet Eco , QRZ
Tu senial es cinco nueve, cambio
Mi referencia es SOTA EA5/AT cero tres ocho. OK!
Gracias por el contacto, siete tres
Eventually I gave up and packed the station away for the return trip. The activation was unsuccessful but it didn’t matter as the day out in the hills was more than worth it.
Overall I would definitely recommend this walk but for a successful activation I think you would need to plan on taking HF bands or a few friends with licences.
A forecast break in the Scottish weather coinciding with a rare free weekend afforded the perfect opportunity to bag two of the highest SOTA summits in the Kingdom and also a chance to tackle the impressive CMD arete. I headed off up the motorway on the Friday morning looking forward to a weekend of adventure. I was not disappointed.
There are two obvious option for this route, either starting at the North Face car park, or from the tourist car park in Glen Nevis. The North Face start is probably a more pleasant walk in and perhaps a little easier, but as I was planning to activate two summits I couldn’t be sure how late I would be coming back down. I chose the Glen Nevis start as it would be an easier return route in the dark.
GM/WS-003 – Carn Mor Dearg
I was first one down for breakfast on Saturday morning for the earliest possible start, it was not too far to the car park so I was on the hill by 8:30am.
The initial trek up the tourist path was not as bad as I was expecting, it was busy but most people were very considerate and quite happy to move over and let me pass. On reaching the junction at Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe I turned off the main path heading North. This path leads around the North side of the Ben below castle ridge and around to the CIC hut. After the melee of the tourist path earlier the solitude was most welcome. I passed one other walker doing the same route as me but the other way around.
On reaching the hut there is a fairly easy river crossing to reach the slopes of Carn Dearg Meadhonach. I had read some reports that indicated that there may be a path up here somewhere, but if there is then I didn’t find it. The slope is steep but not too steep, it’s mostly loose rocky ground interspersed with grassy heather, so easy enough to pick a route up it if taken with care.
On reaching the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach (not a SOTA summit) I turned South for a welcome and mush easier traverse down and then up again to Carn Mor Dearg.
Carn Mor Dearg summit was in the cloud when I arrived so not much to see. I soon set up the station beside the summit cairn and called CQ SOTA. I was soon rewarded with seven contacts including two summit-to-summit contacts. The temperature at the summit was below freezing and although not excessively windy I would estimate the wind chill at around -15 deg judging by how cold my fingers were holding the mic.
By the time I had packed up to leave the weather was starting to improve and I was able to catch a few glimpses of the CMD itself appearing from the mist.
I set off along the ridge, it deserves it’s reputation! I was fortunate that there was not too much wind so I was able to stay on the very top almost all the way along. At times it really does define what a ‘knife edge’ ridge should be. The ridge proper extends for more than a kilometre until it reaches the SE slope of the Ben. The end of the ridge is marked by a cairn which also marks the last escape route to the North down Coire Leis. From here it is a relentless slog up to the summit of Ben Nevis itself.
GM/WS-001 – Ben Nevis
There is a path shown on the map indicating the climb up Ben Nevis from the CMD. Don’t believe it, the route is up a mighty great pile of loose rock, there is no clear path most of the way, just keep heading up until the slope eases off and you see the welcome sight of the summit structures appearing out of the mist.
It was not as busy as I expected at the top, I guess many of those who set out in the morning didn’t make it all the way up but still there were a fair few people around. I picked a spot away from the main structures and set up the station. I soon had another seven contacts in the log.
As I was packing away the wind started to pick up and the snow came down almost into blizzard conditions. The route back from the summit to the zig zags is notorious in poor visibility as there are a couple of spots where the path passes very close to an almost vertical gully drop. Every year the odd person disappears over this edge to their doom. Fortunately the route was clear enough and the drop easily avoided. Once onto the zig zags most of the drama is over, just follow the path back down to the car park. As I descended the weather improved until by the bottom it was clear and sunny.
A trip over to South Wales for work offered the opportunity to bag a few of the lower Welsh one pointers. There is a good approach to Mynydd Machen from the North West along the service track for the radio tower located on the summit. I parked the car on the road ST 215 907 where there is just room to squeeze one car onto the verge. The track has a gate but it doesn’t look like it is used and whilst I was there a dog walker turned up and drove straight up the track to park about half way along. The first 300m or so of the track are in good condition and there are plenty of spots along the verge where you could leave a car. Beyond this the track is a bit rougher but still passable all the way to the top.
At the top there is a trig point located a reasonable distance from the radio tower but close enough so that I was still getting de-sense on the radio.
As I arrived at the summit I could hear people on the calling channel just using the Nagoya on the HT. Whilst stood there I made five contacts, including two summit to summits before I had even taken off my rucksack, so with this one in the bag I decided to press onto the next one rather than stopping to set up properly.
A short drive from Mynydd Machen got me to Mynydd y Lan. There are a number of possible approaches to this summit. I opted to come in from the North West as there appeared on the map to be a track most of the way.
There is room on the verge to park one car at ST 194 932. The track is not as well defined as the map would suggest but it is there if you look carefully, at least as far as the farm at Ton-eithin. Beyond this, once onto the access land, the whole area was covered in fern obscuring any track. Fortunately there are sheep there doing a good job of keeping a path open through the ferns so I was able to follow their path around to the summit.
The top is very flat and open with no immediately obvious summit at the point indicated by the SOTA database. This point is some 200m South of the point indicated on the map, it’s all in the activation zone so I guess it doesn’t really matter where you choose. I managed to find a marker stone about 50m E of the SOTA point and 150m SSE from the map summit mark. I don’t know what the stone is there for but it seemed a reasonable spot to operate from and should be easily found again. There are radio towers both to the North and to the South of the summit but they are far enough away to not be a problem. I set up the station, the stone made a good anchor for the antenna pole. I soon had enough contacts in the log including MW6BWA again summit to summit and also MW0JLA summit to summit. I also managed to log Alan GW6VPX again on his way back down Pen y Fan. The return to the car is uneventful, just follow the same route back again.
Another short drive got me to the parking for Mynydd Twyn-glas at ST 236 980. There is plenty of room here for half a dozen cars and a good track directly to the summit. The track heads off to the East ascending gently, past the radio towers and onto the trig point just beyond. It is an uneventful walk along a very obvious track.
The radio towers are far enough away from the trig point to not cause any problems. Arriving at the summit I soon set up the station and managed six contacts.
Whilst there if the weather is clear it is worth enjoying the superb views out across the Severn estuary.
The return to the car was about as eventful as the walk in, which was welcome after successfully activating three summits in an afternoon.
On the Sunday I decided to have a go at Brown Willy up on Bodmin Moor. Initially I planned to tackle it from the South following G4OBKs 2015 route. I plugged the postcode into the satnav and set off to find the parking spot. As soon as I got away from the coast and gained some height around St Austel I was into thick fog. Approaching the parking spot from the South West the postcode I had took me along the A30, straight past the planned start and onto the next turning beyond.
As this was beyond the edge of my map I struggled to find the correct parking and start but eventually found what I thought must be it. I parked the car and prepared to kit up for the days walk but immediately realised that I had forgotten to load my walking boots. Doh..
I set off anyway in my trainers but pretty soon realised things were not right. Fortunately I soon came across a path closure notice with a location map and from this I worked out that I was definitely in the wrong place. At this point I got the message that this was not to be so turned around and headed back to the car. Fortunately I had also brought maps and a postcode for the Northerly approach as an alternative option so I plugged this into the satnav which said it was only about five miles away, I decided having got this far I may as well at least have a look at it. Shortly after I started driving the satnav changed it’s mind and told me it was actually about 20 miles away. Ah well, at least the scenery would be pleasant if only the fog would lift!
Parking on the Northern approach is great. There is a proper car park with room for about 50 cars located at SX 138 819. From here there is a good track for a little way and on a clear day I think it would be possible to follow the track all the way to the summit, but with the thick fog I was unable to see where the track led at each twist and turn and as the track is not marked on the map I was forced to navigate by compass alone.
I took a fairly straight line towards the summit which was a mistake. Reaching the river at SX 153 806 it was easy enough to cross but the ground on the other side is very difficult. There is a proper crossing a little to the South which is what I should have headed for. From that crossing there is a good path up to the summit which I followed on the way back down.
Reaching the summit eventually, still in thick fog, the wind was strong over the summit making setup difficult. The aerial ended up pointing down under more than to the North East where I wanted it.
It took me a while to get the contacts, radio amateurs are sparse down in these parts, but I did eventually get the four I needed before packing up and returning to the car. On the return journey I followed the track down to the river crossing and managed to pick out the path back to the car park in the fog, a much easier route than the one I came in on.
It’s when you have a day like this that the planning and preparation pays off, and being willing to say no and turn back shows it’s importance. The hill will still be there for another attempt on another day, make sure you are as well. Be safe!
After Christ Cross in the morning we wound our way along the minor roads onto Dartmoor for the main dish of the day, High Willhays.
Following M0BLF’s excellent instructions from his blog, we arrived at the parking spot without any problems (although his coordinates are slightly out, the parking is at SX 590 912). With the extra height gained we were walking in cloud but there is a clear track all the way up so navigation was not a problem. The cloud did lift later in the day for the return to the car.
I set the station up on the pile of rocks on the top of the Tor and soon enough had four contacts, although again once I had the four required there was no-one else waiting to claim the points so we packed up and headed back down to the car. By this time the cloud had lifted a bit and we enjoyed a few glimpses into the distance.
A family holiday down to Cornwall afforded the opportunity to bag a few new summits. We stayed the night in Cullompton which meant we could avoid the Saturday morning traffic on the M5 and get an early start onto our first summit at Christ Cross.
There is space for one car on the side of the road at SS 965 050 just South of the junction. It’s a short walk up the track to the summit. There is no right of way over the track so you may need to seek permission for access.
There is plenty of room beside the radio mast to set up the antenna and if it’s a clear day there is a great view to enjoy whilst setting up.
We soon had four contacts in the log to qualify the summit, the fourth contact was remarkably into France with Alain down in Brittany. Having made the contact Belinda took the opportunity to have a QSO with Alain as part of her Foundation training practical. After this high point I called a few more times but was unable to raise any further contacts to we packed up and headed off to the next summit.
After a long run of hot sunny days with temperatures up into the 30’s we were invited to a bbq with Peter in Westbury. I decided to bag Long Knoll whilst I was there as it’s only a few miles from his house. After no rain for nearly 2 month unbelievably the forecast was for wind and rain!
Parking is a bit of a problem for this walk unless you park elsewhere and make it a longer day. There is room for one car on the verge at ST 801 378. We took this option and parked there before heading up the path onto Long Knoll itself. The route up is very obvious and an easy climb with only about 90m of ascent to the top.
About a third of the way along are the remains of an old shelter which was fortunate as just as we approached this spot the rain came down really heavily, and with the wind blowing it was coming at us almost horizontally. We sheltered behind the wall whilst it passed, whilst sat there I checked access back into the Swindon repeaters which were coming in at 5/9. After a short QSO with Rob G4XUT the rain abated and so we continued on towards the summit trig point.
At the top it didn’t take long to set up the station. There is a very useful fence right next to the trig point which made a good support for the antenna. I soon had the required four contacts in the log and went on to complete another ten contacts for a total of fourteen. Coverage was good ranging from Cowes to the South and up into Shropshire to the North with a couple of contacts into South Wales to the West and another into Witney to the East. The highlight of the trip was adding Peter M6XPE to the log as the fourth contact qualifying the summit. It was Peters first SOTA chaser point and his first QSO since passing his foundation exam.
The return back to the car was by the same route we came up along and we just managed to reach the car before the rain started again in earnest.
VHF field day (NFD) seemed like a good time to activate Walbury hill again and at the same time enter the next backpackers contest. Unfortunately when the day came around it did not work out as planned. NFD started at 15:00 on the Saturday and almost immediately I heard a strong signal giving out the locator IO91gi which is Walbury Hill. I quickly established who it was on the hill and realised there was no way I was going to be able to enter the backpackers contest from the same hill. Instead, I relocated my backpacker entry to Granham hill nearer home and rearranged my SOTA activation for 15:00 on the Sunday when the NFD finished.
I met up with Ken at the car park for the walk up to the trig point. Unfortunatly we were busy chatting and missed the gate into the field so had to backtrack a little. The NFD station had set up near the trig point so we detoured over to say hello before heading for the trig point. Once again I set up next to the trig point and soon had seven contacts in the log. With the point in the bag I packed up and gave Ken a hand trying to operate on 20m before returning back along the same route we arrived on.