Hint: visit the YO SOTA Marathon page for current info.

A team of romanian ham amateur radio operators travelling around the country on beautiful twisting roads, backpacking with their bags full of equipment and installing antennas on mountain peaks for their pure enjoyment; this is how i’d sum up this tour in just a few words. But a few words are not enough, not even alot of them wouldn’t suffice; actually, you know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words ? Well, it would take about a thousand pictures to describe what an adventure like this really is, and still the feeling wouldn’t be the same unless you experience it yourself.

Since you’re on this blog, you probably know what ham radio is: one of the most complex scientific hobbies. As talking via radio to people in remote places is a thrill for any self-respecting amateur radio afficionado, not only Antarctica, Vanuatu or Navassa Island stations are interesting but also stations in places you don’t normally go: islands, wildlife reservations, lighthouses, mountain peaks etc. This gave birth to alot of programs (such as IOTA, WWFF, SOTA, LOTA etc) that stimulate operators to go to such remote places and run their radio station from there – wich in turn also promotes these places to a worldwide audience.

Out of these programs, one really stands out for me: Summits On The Air (S.O.T.A.), wich requires you to carry your complete radio equipment on a mountain top and operate from there. You need to go a minimal distance by foot, the radio station needs to be autonomous (running on batteries or solar panels) and  you need to make a minimal number of radio contacts. If i would have to make a comparison, I would say this is a bit like biathlon or chessboxing: a sport for the body and a sport for the mind, combined into one activity. It’s probably the most complete recreational activity you can think of !

I knew about SOTA for about 4-5 years now, I tried to get into it a few times but my activity really took off this year. I had a plan to activate 6-7 peaks in a one-week vacation and when I saw Sorin YO2MSB’s post about a SOTA marathon in the same period, the things fell into place just right – we ended up doing it together. Just a few days before it started Petronel YO8SEP decided to join us: he had done only one SOTA activation so far but he is very enthusiastic about it so he was a great addition to the team. For the first day Zoli YO2BP was also supposed to team up with Sorin so we established the tour would start somewhere on the Transalpina road and the four of us would meet at the base of the first summit.

Day 1

I left Bucharest earlier than planned and took my time on the road. The sunrise caught me as I was just reaching the mountain roads northwards of Pitesti and I could catch some very beautiful sights on the Olt’s valley. Just as I turned left at Brezoi the first mountain peaks started poking trough the morning mist:

As I got close to the meeting point, I heard Petronel YO8SEP calling on VHF (we used 145.250 as a calling frequency troughout the journey) – he arrived earlier as well. We decided to meet up someplace on the Transalpina road and as soon as I hit the high mountain roads I almost got SOTA butterflies in my stomach.

We quickly decided to start the hike towards the first peak (YO/MC-078 Bora, 2055m – 10 points) and activation to make use of our time.

It was a short hike (45 minutes maybe) and the peak was very soft so we had enough space to work with two stations on two bands.

As Sorin and Zoli arrived, Petronel had already activated succesfully the peak on 20m and I was still struggling a bit on 17m. Luckily, Mike G6TUH heard and spotted us on the cluster so in a few more minutes I’ve completed my 4 necessary QSO’s and passed the microphone to Zoli YO2BP, while Sorin YO2MSB was experiencing a small pileup on the 20m station. Happy campers !

No time to waste, we had another (harder) peak ahead of us, we quickly gathered our radios and proceeded back to the cars and on to the next point.

Our plans actually included two more peaks for that day: YO/MC-052 Mohoru, 2337m – 10 points and YO/MC-050 Setea Mare, 2365m – 10 points. Unfortunately, the hike to the second one proved to be much more complicated than the map showed so we had to cancel that peak. It will be the first of the 3 peaks we had to cancel due to underestimated difficulty. Hike to Mohoru is moderately steep (for city people like us) and we were met with alot of fog:

This is what a tired but happy radio amateur looks like 🙂

Once on top, we had to gloat a little:

We deployed the two stations again, this time with more distance between us. On 18Mhz, Yaesu FT-817ND + LDG Z-817 + 12V/7Ah SLA + fishpole vertical operated by yours truly Razvan YO9IRF and Zoli YO2BP:

On 14MHz, Elecraft KX-3 + 13.2V/8.4Ah LiFePO + GP vertical operated by Petronel YO8SEP and Sorin YO2MSB:

Things went a little better and we also had the chance to move a bit to 15m for a little search and pounce after we gave all the chasers the so-desired 10 points from another virgin summit. On 15m, 9K2NO and YC1CMJ were kind enough to listen many times until they got my call right; 10000Km with 5W from a portable station on SSB is not bad at all – I think it’s also a personal record. It gave me energy for the way back:

The fog was so intense sometimes we couldn’t even see where we were going.

Luckily for us, as soon as we got to a lower altitude we could see where we parked the cars and in 30 more minutes we were taking a hot shower in a nice small hotel in Ranca. In another 30 minutes we met at the hotel’s bar-with-a-view for a hot soup and a cold beer (in some kind of jar? but it was good), just in time to watch the sunset across the mountains we just visited.

In the evening I decided to stay a bit later with Sorin and hunt for some DX with 100W from the car: installed the Alinco DX70-TH, LDG Z-100 tuner and a 7m fishpole vertical. Didn’t work too many stations but I had the chance to get a new one: ZD7FT – St. Helena Island, plus PY3BSG – Brazil worked by Sorin as well.

Go to part II of the story >>