My Four Years of SOTA or Four Years of taking small radios to Hill Tops

I always had an interest in small portable radio’s

During the early 80’s I obtained a photocopy of a 1972 QST article by Wes Heywood W7ZOI of his Mountaineer CW transceiver, this unit was a crystal locked transmitter with a tuneable DC receiver.


QST August 1972

It’s reasonable to say I was still on a fair learning curve back than and I could not replicate Wes’s success. But that did not stop me trying this and other projects inspired by Drew Diamond VK3XU and from publications like, Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur and others by Doug DeMaw W1FB. There are a few radios that worked but sadly never quite meet the expected performance let alone the performance of a commercial transceiver.


Like many others the internet allowed me access too other like-minded hams in particular the ATS rig’s developed by Steve KD1JV and in 2010 I was lucky enough to purchase one of the ATS4a kits, a 5 band pocket size CW rig. After a few more runs of the ATS4 in 2012 Steve then went back to the more compact MTR series of which the first build had only two bands and was supplied as a board only build with a case becoming available after the second run of kits.


ATS4a and MTR (2 band)

Armed with a couple of compact good performing rigs I was looking to combine my hiking and radio interest. I had completed the KRMNPA award back in the early ‘90s but with the extra national parks available I decide to take the gear into the field for some KRMNPA action.


KRMNPA Certifciate 1992

By this time SOTA had arrived in VK3 and it seemed logical to combine the two so off I headed for the KRMNPA weekend in November 2012 to Mt Nelse (vk3/ve-004) in the Alpine National Park for my first Park and Peak activation, gear was the MTR, powered by a small Lithium pack with in built step up to 9v and an end fed half wave for 7Mhz, with the QRP Kits tuner.


At Mt Nelse November 2012

In some respects it was probably lucky that I was both very naive and very patient as it took me 2 hours to get the required four contacts on CW, (thanks to VK5CZ, VK3XU, VK3WAM/p and VK2UH).

After qualifying the summit I then head down to camp at the nearby Johnston hut. Whilst I could have walked out this trip was also about hiking not just playing radio.


Mt Nesle and Johnson’s Hut

It’s fair to say that the two hours of calling CQ in CW on a cold alpine summit had not put me off as in 2013 I followed it up with 11 activations. In these years the number of chasers were small so I decide help encourage chasers by also activating on SSB, and built an ILER40 a Spanish design VXO controlled radio.

This radio joined me on a number of activations before I decided there were more than enough chasers and to only take CW on activations again. For the 2013 KRMNPA weekend I decided simply to activate a park and operated from the Chiltern Iron Bark NP.


The Iler40 at Mt Stanley vk3/ve-126

2014 saw my activation numbers increase to 30 for the year. The increasing number of chasers meant it was possible to qualify more than one summit in a day on CW. By this stage I had swapped to the ATS from the MTR as my primary rig. This gave me access to 80, 40, 30, 20 and 18(later converted to 15) and gave me greater access to chasers and the odd DX station.

For the KRMNPA weekend in 2014 I activated The Hump vk3/ve-019 in the Mt Buffalo NP, this was a late activation to include working the EU DX at dusk


The Horn vk3/ve-014, Antenna used here was the end fed hung down off the end of the squid pole

2015 saw and even bigger increase in activations with a total of 55 for the year. Two trips stand out for 2015 in March Allen vk3arh and myself had planned an overnight trip along the AAWT (Australian Alpine Walking Track) to access four summit, Mt Despair (vk3/ve-043), Mt Speculation (vk3/ve-022), The Razor (vk3/ve-044) and The Viking (vk3/ve-037). At short noticed we were joined by Wayne vk3wam whose local knowledge was invaluable.

The second standout was my KRMNPA weekend trip to the Burrowa Pine Mountain NP. I activated both Black Mountain vk3/ve-093 and Mt Burrowa vk3/ve-072. Mt Burrowa is a big walk through some rough and near trackless bush and certainly not for the faint hearted, cost me a watch (still out there somewhere) and a camera that did not survive a fall.


The MTR had a run for this trip to Ulrich Peak vk3/ve-038

2016 has me maintaining the pace with 51 activations. An unexpected work trip to vk7 allowed me to do a joint activation with Steve vk7cw of Tinkers lookout vk7/nw-046 in the Rocky Cape NP VKFF0432.

After the success of a SOTA weekend in February 2016 Rob vk2qr put his hand up to arrange a similar event in the Snowy Mountains over the October long weekend. This was a great chance to activate some lovely summits, plus catch up with a number of people who I only knew by sound of their voice or the style of their CW sending.


The Snowy Mountans crew at Grainte Mountain vk2/sw-015 (photo vk3arh)

So for the KRMNPA weekend in 2016 I decide to re-visit Mt Nelse in the Alpine NP. In four years I have done, 148 Activations, averaged 6.77 points per activation, made 1032 CW contacts to 53 different callsigns. Of these different callsigns the stand out regulars have chased me, 111, 101,  83 and 64 times.

Band; Number of CW contacts

80m; 41
40m; 836
30m; 53
20m; 94
17m; 2
15m; 16
12m; 0
10m; 0
2m;  2

So has all of this time in the outdoors effected me I don’t think so….



A big thanks to Those who dreamed up SOTA, Those who got it running in VK and provide support through various on-line resources, and the Chasers who allow me to sit on a summit somewhere calling CQ with a radio that fits in the palm of my hand and runs off a 9V battery, whilst soaking in the views.

12 thoughts on “My Four Years of SOTA or Four Years of taking small radios to Hill Tops

  1. Fantastic Warren, I still owe you a coffee so now I have to add goat feed as well. What a great writeup, I can still remember some of those early activations and thinking what a gamble it was especially in the first year. But you proved it could be done and now I am inspired to resume my goal of qualifying every summit on CW as well as SSB. Love the selfie. 🙂
    73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH

    • Thanks Andrew, well as you know Goats will eat anything. Yes it has been a long road of persistence, but the SOTA people are a great bunch and will chase anything. There has not been one summit I have not qualified on CW.

  2. Congratulations Warren, a fantastic personal history, clearly the mountaineering / portable bug bit you all those years ago and becoming a CW Mountain Goat is a fitting prize. Your minimalist approach with light weight homebrew and kit radios is commendable. -vk3hn.

    • Thanks Paul, Amateur radio is such a diverse hobby, and the SOTA chasers are a great bunch and always happy to chase anyone. CW is great for small portable gear which lends itself to SOTA also.

  3. Hi Warren.
    A really enjoyable post. I like the reflective tone! After all you have a lot to reflect upon and I am most impressed with the tally of CW contacts and the amount of walking in the High Country. I did listen out for you from Burrowo Mount-Pine NP but the band was just too noisy. I was disappointed I couldn’t score a contact. Nevertheless I had a bit of fun chasing operators around the parks. Congratulations on the CW Mountain Goat status.
    John D, VK5BJE/VK5PF

    • Hi John, I do struggle with contacts from VK5, I can only assume it’s the distance being a bit long for 40m. Yes I do enjoy the walking and I look forward to visiting quite a few more summits, with light weight CW gear 🙂 I hope to work you in the future and thanks again for chasing.

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