This was a natural evolution to the YO SOTA Tour 2014 from last year, only this time we decided to make it bigger, better, longer and harder. We added summits and regions, we increased the number of points, we got much more activators to join in and we were on the air for longer, on more bands and more modes. We got the chance to spend more time with people bound by the same passion, field-test alot of radio equipment, antennas and logging methods and give the chance to alot more chasers to log in a contact with a summit from the mountains of Romania. We were there when in cold rain at over 2000m altitude, two of our friends became the first activators in Romania to surpass the 1000 points limit at the same time, qualifying for the “Mountain Goat” status. I would call the YO SOTA Marathon 2015 a success. And this story will probably be the longest post ever on this blog.

Most of the team, at the rendez-vous between YO/MC-052 and MC-050

Skipping the research and planning part – wich probably can be best described by Sorin YO2MSB who took care or everything as far as organising was concerned, the 2015 YO SOTA Marathon was planned to begin on Monday, August 10th 2015, preceded by a briefing dinner on Sunday evening in Timisoara. 11 people took part as activators in this Marathon, a group that extended beyond the usual local activators to a few friends from other countries (alphabetically):

– HB9DST Paul
– K2XYL Margreet
– PB2T Hans
– YO2BP Zoli
– YO2MSB Sorin
– YO6HDF Adrian
– YO6PIB Csaba
– YO6PSX Silviu
– YO8SEP Petronel
– YO9IPF Florin
– YO9IRF Razvan

The Marathon included 16 summits in 3 different regions for 136 points in total, but we had some flexibility wich proved useful in the last part:

Monday August 10 2015:
-YO/WC-207 Piatra Goznei
-YO/MC-096 Muntele Mic

Tuesday August 11 2015:
– YO/MC-078 Bora
– YO/MC-080 Puru
– YO/MC-052 Mohoru
– YO/MC-050 Setea Mare

Wednesday August 12 2015:
– YO/MC-007 Vanatoarea lui Buteanu
– YO/MC-049 Fantana;

Thursday August 13 2015:
– YO/MC-008 Bucsoiu
– YO/MC-009 Costila
– YO/MC-006 Omu

Friday August 14 2015:
– YO/EC-011 Postavaru
– YO/EC-331 Spinarea Lunga

Saturday August 15 2015:
– YO/EC-247 Runcu
– YO/EC-252 Piatra Arsa
– YO/EC-428 Lempes.

My equipment

I tried to go minimal on this marathon since everybody will have a radio anyway and there’s no need for back-ups or heavy stuff to lug around a whole week. So I took the Baofeng UV-5R handy for VHF/UHF action, and for HF my trusty Yaesu FT-817nd with it’s shoulder strap, internal Sanyo Eneloop 2000mAh Tropical battery pack, LDG Z-100Plus antenna tuner and 4m of coax. The antenna was a recently built thin wire 6.5m vertical with two 4m radials, a 4:1 UnUn at the base and an extra 1m of coax to connect to the tuner, everything supported by a 6m fiberglass fishing pole. It’s pretty lightweight and very versatile (I also carry the 6m/2m/70cm small Yaesu rubber antenna with the FT-817, just in case) and proved to be a good bet.

Day -1

As I was way too eager to get this going, I had a free weekend ahead and a long drive to Timisoara, I had all my bags ready and loaded in the car by Friday afternoon and decided to start the Marathon a bit earlier, with a warm-up. I spent Friday evening in Ploiesti at my father’s house, then first thing in the morning I left for Brasov where I had two 6-point summits I wanted to do. First of them, YO/EC-327 La Hamei, was attempted by me just a week before when I couldn’t get not even one contact in 30 minutes of calling – the propagation was really awful then and my patience level was pretty low. This time, I left with alot of self-confidence and quickly passed the village of Zizin, continued a bit on the gravel road and started the hike on the same path I took a week before.

The path to YO/EC-327

I’m not sure this is the best way to the summit, the path looks like people don’t usually pass trough there – of course, I haven’t met anyone in any of my two attempts at this summit. 30 minutes into the hike and I can see the summit (more or less):

YO/EC-327 view from down below, still a lot to go

20 more minutes and the path pretty much ends, in an area with alot of raspberry bushes. As people don’t usually go there, this was probably the artwork of a randy bear (wasn’t like this the week before):

A bear enjoyed some raspberry here, it seems

Carefully, I followed the animal trails wich led more or less to the summit, and finally I managed to get my contacts and activate this one. In a hurry, I returned to the car and drove to the base of the next summit, YO/EC-340 Muntele Ascutit (The Sharp Mountain), to wich the first part of the hike seemed pretty easy:

YO/EC-340 is a forest summit, and I don’t like those

The forest road (closed for vehicles though) allows for a nice view over Sacele:

Sacele viewed from above

After a more than 20 minutes walk in the burning sun, finally I get to the base of this sharp mountain, an area in wich it’s obvious that heavy wood cutting is happening, right next to an ironic sign:

“The woods are the most beautiful jewels, let’s protect them”

The hike to the summit is short but steep, and the path is in very bad condition because cut trees are dragged along it:

The final leg to YO/EC-340 is trough the forest

This doesn’t stop me to reach the summit and get my activation going though, so no later than noon I already had 12 points bagged and enough time to get closer to Timisoara. After a short lunch and a bit of rest, I started driving towards Sibiu in order to investigate the access path to YO/MC-182 Dealul Scheiului, wich I planned to activate the next day. This proved to be a bad choice, because after a few hours lost by just driving around the very bad roads around the summit and passing 4-5 times trough the village of Rasinari back and forth, I decided to give it up – it was getting too late, I still needed to find a place to camp and the access to the summit appeared to be pretty tough, with steep slopes and dense forests. So I moved near to the next summit, YO/MC-183 Dealul Dumbrava (6p), found the perfect camping spot near a river and just 10 minutes away from the path to the summit.

Day 0

The first night of the marathon wasn’t too easy: some young guys came to the camping area just to have a barbeque, a few beers and listen to loud music well into the night, so I decided to have a few beers of my own from the emergency pack, red until my phone battery was drained and finally got to sleep a few good hours. Woke up way too early, enjoyed every bit of the breakfast and waited until it was at least 7:00 in the morning before packing the tent, getting the bags ready and moving to the point where path to YO/MC-183 started.

A feeder for wild deer, right next to the path to YO/MC-183.

The hike took less than 60 minutes and it was moderately steep, just perfect for a morning fitness routine. I was really worried that since I got there before 9:00 local time (06:00 UTC) I won’t find any chasers and I would have to move to the low bands and work locals – wich with 5W and a 6m long wire isn’t really that easy.

My thin wire antenna got stuck in a tree and I had to break it

Trying to improve efficiency I threw the antenna in a tree, and as soon as I turned on the radio I found ON5SWA/P calling on 20m. The next 4 contacts took no more than 10 minutes and then I had to face the worst fear of having an antenna installed in a tall tree: it was stuck and couldn’t come out no matter what. After a 20-minute fight with the tree, involving rocks, broken branches, the fishing pole and a lot of bad words, I decided to pull the wire as hard as a could, with an old romanian saying on my lips: “either to the ballroom or to the emergency room”. I guess I wasn’t going near a hospital this time, since only the first few centimeters of the antenna broke, leaving the rest intact and fully functional.

Happy that I got the antenna released from the claws of Mother Nature, I quickly descended and proceeded to my backup summit, YO/MC-197 Dealul Furcilor (4p), wich made it’s way into my schedule because I gave up on YO/MC-182. Only 4p instead of 6p, but it is a drive-in summit and it’s right on my way to Timisoara, so it was an easy choice.

View of the newly-built segment of A1 highway Sibiu-Sebes

As soon as I turn the radio on, I can see the propagation is decent and working SOTA will be easy, so I bag 20 contacts in 10 minutes before a few thickskinned russian operators decide to have a QSO in my frequency. As there weren’t any more chasers at that moment calling me back, I decided to finish the activation and go eat blackberries – it’s full of them up there, I even brought a cup of them back with me for the guys.

You don’t see any ripen blackberries because I ate them all

This pretty much ended my solo SOTA warm-up, and for the next few hours I had to drive to Timisoara for the pre-marathon briefing dinner that was supposed to be at 20:00 at the Nora Pension.

Nora pension, in the heart of Timisoara, a cozy nice place

Got there too early – around 15:00, had a nice hot shower and laid in a very comfortable bed for a few minutes, when the roommate Paul HB9DST showed up and the first thing he said was “Hello ! Do you want to get a beer ?”. I never turn down beer and we had a lot to talk about so we moved downstairs at the nice open-air restaurant, and the first few cold “Timisoreana” local beers went down like a Malaysia Airlines flight (too soon to say that?). In the meantime Margreet K2XYL and Hans PB2T showed up too and we had a quick snack before the locals – Zoli YO2BP and Sorin YO2MSB arrived, to take us on a fast-forward tour of the city .

Oh boy, we had so much to talk about !

The group grew when we got back to the restaurant, with Petronel YO8SEP and Silviu YO6PSX joining in, as well as prodigious music teacher and world-class CW operator young-lady YO9NG Gabi plus her co-worker boyfriend. No need to tell you that the evening was long and all the marathon briefing we could do was a few minutes in the hotel hallway just before we went to sleep, talking really soft so we don’t bother the people in other rooms. The YO SOTA Marathon was on !

Next part: YO SOTA Marathon – the story II

Some pictures used in this blog post were provided by HB9DST Paul, PB2T Hans and YO6PSX Silviu. Thank you !