Monday, 8 September 2014

Day One CT7/G4OBK Algarve SOTA: AL-001 - AL-004 - AL-008

In the middle of a ten day holiday with my XYL Judy I hired a car for four days to enable us to explore the wild interior of the Algarve and allow me to activate all 8 SOTA summits in the AL region that were easily accessible. I also visited  one more "drive on" summit in the adjacent BT region, CT/BT-001. Seven summits were worth one point but the two summits closest to Monchique, AL-001 and AL-004 were worth six points and four points respectively. The most northerly summit shown is BT-003 which was too far out to contemplate visiting in the time we had available for SOTA...

Range map produced from the SOTA Mapping Project by DM1CM - 9 summits were within a 55 Km radius of our hotel in Carvoeiro
For all my activations I used a Yaesu FT-817ND with 5 watts, a 5m long fishing pole, and a home made  link dipole made for 18, 14 and 10 MHz (17m-20m-30m). We flew out of Leeds Bradford Airport and there were no problems with carrying on radio equipment as part of my hand luggage. I was carrying my Yaesu FT-817 and a Lithium 3 AH leather cased laptop battery which I use as auxillary power for the transceiver. Everything passed through the scanner without a problem. 

Throughout the four days of activating the mapping and software used to help locate the summits in advance at home was Open Street Map running on a Windows PC in Garmin Base Camp. I used a Garmin GPS62s and a local Portuguese 1:30000 Map of the Algarve in the field.  For navigating to the car parking places a combination of a TomTom Satnav got me to the nearest village and then the OSMAND+ App enabled me to locate the most convenient parking places. All routes used have now been loaded into the SOTA Mapping Project (Thank you Rob DM1CM). 

Day One: 4th September 2014

CT/AL-001 Serra de Foia QRV 1135z - 1211z

We set out from our hotel near Carvoeiro for the highest point in the Algarve - CT/AL-001 the Serra de Foia. You could drive to the top of her from the town of Monchique, where we later had our lunch at a cafe in the main square. The summit of Foia is popular destination.  It is totally commercialised and geared up for the tourist! There were several cafes, shops, toilets and tens of antennae on Serra de Foia near Monchique. 
Trig point - inside military installation on Serra de Foia
I attempted to reach the trig point, to operate. This was impossible as it lay beyond a security fence so I walked back to the road and fastened the pole to a car park sign instead. The first station logged on 20m CW was Mal MW0BBU...inter EU propagation conditions weren't so good, they improved markedly though on the latter two summits later in the day. My last contact was with Ed DD1LD on the 17m band. I had previously met Ed and had a meal with him and other ham friends in Bregenz in Austria in June.
CT7/G4OBK set up just off the road - many vehicles passed but no one stopped to see what I was doing. The car park shops and toilets can be seen in the background. The actual car park would be well within the activation zone
AL-001 Distance walked: 200m from car park
Band - Mode (QSOs): 20m CW (11) SSB (12) 17m CW (4) SSB (2) Total: 29

For more detailed pictures of this place see the Ham Blog of James M0JCQ who visited here shortly after me...

CT/AL-004 Serra de Monchique (also known as Picota) QRV 1434z - 1529z 5 watts & Dipole at 5m

I was sitting in a pavement cafe feeding chips to a hungry cat whilst looking up above me to the Serra de Monchique (locally known as Picota). This was another very easy summit to climb in the Algarve, which is less than 3 Km from Monchique.

So we had our lunch and set off in the car up the N267 road to the turn off. A tarmac road climbed up to the parking place, where the fire warden parks his vehicle. 

Fire wardens van at the parking area near to the trig point and watchtower
Our Seat Ibiza diesel hire car parked near to the activation point - patient XYL waiting inside
Fire Tower Shift change

It took no more than five minutes to walk up the stony slope to the trig point. I set up the 5m pole and started operating with Morse on the 20m band - conditions were excellent. I followed that with 20m phone and then moved to the 17m band for more CW / SSB contacts. Part way through my activation it was shift change time for the fire wardens in the tower...

The incoming fire warden  came up the hill carrying his own plastic chair...presumably few accoutrements are provided  by the authorities! I imagine this is a paid job and not a voluntary sector post. 

After almost an hour operating I realised that poor Judy was sat back in the car with the door open to keep it cool and that she could well be getting cheesed off with reading the book on her Kindle. We also planned to go to CT/AL-008 and this was some distance away, and that summit involved a decent walk. It was time to pack up then and head back down the hill to face her wrath...."never again, never again" she said... How many times have I heard that before? She wasn't happy when the shift change had taken place understandably, with the other van arriving, until she knew what was going on. I smoothed things over and we set off in the direction of AL-008 Sapeira, our third summit of the day... 
The writer on Serra de Monchique (Picota) CT/AL-004
AL-004 Distance walked: 300m from car park with minimal ascent
Band - Mode (QSOs): 20m CW (23) SSB (22) 17m CW (10) SSB (14) Total: 69
S2S with GM4WSB on GM/SS-172 Best DX - Probably SV2OXS 

CT/AL-008 Sapeira QRV 1710z - 1729z 5 watts & Dipole at 5m
Judy XYL about to start the 20 minute walk to the summit of Sapeira AL-008
As I recall, writing this over three months post activation, it took around 45 mins from AL-004 to reach the parking place for Sapeira AL-008. I left the Seat Ibiza under some olive trees for shelter and we walked up the track opposite in what was rugged countryside. The ungraded track had been driven into the scrubland and was not good enough to drive on. I got the impression that nothing much apart from perhaps hunting and beekeeping went on in this parched area. The undulating 20 minute walk to the summit was just over 1 Km in length. You can see the track in the picture below, as we climbed from the dip we left the track to follow the mown section uphill to the summit:

Beehives adjacent to the track leading to the summit of CT/AL-008 Sapeira
My first QSO on 30m was with my friend and former work colleague Roy G4SSH, who lives close to my home QTH in North Yorkshire. Roy was helping me post alerts via my mobile phone when I was able to call him for a "dial a spot" during this four day campaign...
The writer on the summit of Sapeira CT/AL-008
We were challenged for time so I confined my activities to just two bands.

As the sun goes towards sunset 30m is always a good band to try and it was... I then moved up to 20m to do some CW - one QSO with PA9CW/P resulted and that was it, I couldn't hang around waiting for further CQ calls to go unanswered, so I went on to SSB, first QSO was with Mike G6TUH who was proving to be a most useful spotter saving me valuable time and maximising the contacts made in the shortest time possible. We needed to get back to the hotel for our dinner in time before the restaurant closed, which meant that after 20 minutes I dismantled the station and we made off back to our hotel for showers before dinner... 

Band - Mode (QSOs): 30m CW (11) 20m CW (Poor - 1) 20m SSB (9) Total: 31

Distance walked: 2.3 Kms with 100m ascent

Day Two

Day Two CT7/G4OBK Algarve SOTA: AL-007 & AL-005

Day Two: 5th September 2014

CT/AL-007 Serra da Rocha da Pena  QRV 1130z - 1218z

Information board near the excellent and welcoming Cafe Bar das Grutas at the start of the walk
After breakfast we left the hotel at Carvoeiro to head into the limestone hills of the Algarve interior. We had found that driving on the some of the motorways in the region was necessary to get to the summits as quickly as possible, and that there were toll fees to pay. At one point we paid a fee, but at others you couldn't. An ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system was in use, which meant that you had to go to a post office within 10 days and pay the tolls or face a fine which would be levied by your hire car company, with an additional surcharge on to your credit card.  I paid the fee the day before we left to come home, it was around €15 I recall. 
My actual GPS track taken from Base Camp on my PC running Open Street Map
I came across a moderate circular walk in our Cicerone Guidebook "Walking in the Algarve" which took us across the Serra da Rocha da Pena, so we did that walk in its entirety. We set out from near the Grutas Cafe below the escarpment and then followed the switchback path to the summit trigpoint within what is a nature reserve. The footpath is well marked and maintained, and we came across some footpath workers on their way back down. From the evidence we saw later they had been concreting marker posts in the ground to mark out the footpath.

The information board which tempted us to walk the defensive wall - this was time wasted!
Once on the top of the escarpment and a good distance along it, we turned right after I was tempted to follow a fallen defensive wall, believing this to be higher than the trig point by a few metres. A fingerpost could be seen around 500m at the far end of the wall, and this aroused my curiosity....

The marker post we visited over a difficult stony route.....not recommended if you go there - I do not know what ADP means
G4OBK XYL Judy at AL-007 Trig Point
When we reached the end of the fallen wall at the highest point, there was nowhere to sit down, just large uncomfortable stones and that marker post, so we returned to the main path and continued on to the trig point overlooking the south coast, and this is where I set the HF station up. It was a hot September day and the shade offered by the large trig point and the extra height for mounting the antenna was most welcome... This was only a one point summit, and unfortunately, not a SOTA Complete for me, unlike the one we were doing later AL-005. I started operating in Morse on the 30m band, then moved to 20m and 17m in CW/SSB. After 40 minutes we packed up and continued on the walk to the village of Portela where the cafe did not look too encouraging, so we just purchased ice lollies there.

Typical vegetation of  the Algarve interior
When we got back to the car we put our gear away and entered the (simple but excellent) Bar das Grutas which is near to the car park. We had ham and cheese sandwiches and for me, two ice cold beers to celebrate the successful activation of the Serra da Rocha da Pena. I can recommend this bar for sure. 

Bar das Grutas - recommended at the start or end of your walk
So that was our first activation of two on the day, it was to be the best and most interesting SOTA walk of the holiday. My most productive band out of the three used from the summit with low power was 18 MHz  / 17 metres. 

Band - Mode (QSOs): 30m CW (6), 20m CW (6), 20m SSB (3), 17m CW (7), 17m SSB (13)
Total QSOs: 35

AL-007 Distance Walked 7 Kms with 220m ascent

CT/AL-005 Monte das Sarnadas  QRV 1500z - 1541z

The summit was approached from a small car park near some rural houses with barking dogs - 1.2 Km walk each way
From the parking area near to some well seperated private detached houses it was a 1.2 Km walk along a path to the summit. We crossed a broken wall about half way there. The activation area around the trig point was heavily vegetated but there was just sufficient room to peg out the dipole before the land fell away. The antenna was cut for 30m. If it had been much longer we probably wouldn't have been able to peg it out as an inverted vee. 

My long suffering (but willing) XYL ties off one end of my inverted vee on AL-005 before she settle down to her book...
All done - ready to leave the summit

As you can see the trig points are on the whole substantial and well maintained in the Algarve Region.

Time was getting on so I stuck to two bands, 20m CW/SSB and 17m CW, which is my preferred mode. I did work one DX station which was regular caller N4EX on 18 MHz CW. It's a good feeling to hear Rich coming back - I don't often work outside Europe using 5 watts. 

When the pile up was worked out on 17m CW I pulled the plug and we packed up. Just two summits in the day was enough - geographically the others targeted for later to finish off the full set of eight Algarvian Summits, were too far away to consider doing them in the day and getting back to the hotel in time for our dinner was our priority.....more tomorrow then...

Band - Mode (QSOs): 20m CW (13) 20m SSB (24)
17m CW (19) Total contacts: 56

Distance walked: 1250m with 42m ascent (both ways)

(Day 3>GO)

Day Three CT7/G4OBK Algarve SOTA: AL-006 - AL-002 - BT-001

Day Three: 6th September 2014

CT/AL-006 Serra da Salir QRV 1046z - 1145z

XYL Judy arriving on the summit of Serra da Salir

6 Km west of AL-007 Rocha da Penna (which I activated the previous day) is the AL-006 Serra da Salir. 

We drove to Salir and then took a rural road north to a road junction, parking on some rough land opposite a steep uphill earth track to the summit.  We walked 700m to reach the trig point in less than 20 minutes - the ascent was less than 200m. 

Operating on Serra da Salir AL-005
The huge trig point had steps fixed to the side and a pole integral with the top so there was no need to use a fishing pole to support the inverted vee. 

View over the town of Salir
Propagation was good and the weather was settled so an hour was spent on the air. I started on the 30m band and then worked up to 20m, finishing off on the 17m band before I closed down. 

Band - Mode (QSOs): 30m CW (8) 20m CW (24) 20m SSB (22) 17m CW (10) 17m SSB (7)
Total contacts: 71                           S2S QSOs = 3

Distance walked: 1400m with 190m ascent (both ways)

CT/AL-002 Serra do Caldeirao QRV 1336z - 1404z

After leaving Serra da Salir we went into Salir and found a cafe for some refreshments and then headed east to meet the main N2 old road which goes through the mountains eventually reaching Lisbon. The summit plateau is shown as Pelados on maps. I drove across it before I turned back to find a suitable operating position off the road that was away from several antenna installations and overhead power lines. This was where I ended up 50m off the road:

There was a fair amount of passing traffic and a few drivers blew their horns and gave me a wave as they passed, friendly people the Portuguese... Propagation was dissapointing - the HF bands had the "middle of the day blues" it seemed, so no pile ups and only 20 contacts resulted on all three bands used - 30/20/17m in both modes. The high point was working my friends Barry M0IML/P and Alan G4VPX/P on the highest English Mountain - Scafell Pike. Then Heinz HB9BCB/P was worked on HB/BE-102. 

CT/AL-002 - a "drive on" activation in the Algarve
I was wasting time calling CQ to no avail on 17 metres so after five short fruitless calls (that is usually my limit once I know I have been spotted on SOTAWatch) I packed up to head for the Baixo Alentejo Region and CT/BT-001 Serra de Mu...

The highest two summits in Algarve are "drive on activations" and so was BT-001, which was a half hours drive away and well worth activating. 

Band - Mode (QSOs): 30m CW (3) 20m CW (3) 20m SSB (9) 17m CW (5) 17m SSB (NIL)
Total contacts: 20                           S2S QSOs = 3

Distance walked: 100m with zero ascent (both ways)

CT/BT-001 Serra de Mu QRV 1505z - 1543z

I enjoyed the drive on the rural back roads to the wind farm with the large watchtower that is Serra de Mu. The Seat Ibiza we had hired was perfectly suited to our needs - it did well over 50 MPG.
The car parking area on CT/BT-001
There was a huge watchtower on the other side of the main road from where I parked the car - unfortunately I did not take a photo of that. From the car park I walked up a track for about 200m to the next wind turbine and set up my station beneath it. I know some operators have reported interference when operating in wind farms but so far I haven't experienced any.

CT/BT-001 operating position
Band conditions had now improved and I continued operating in the same vein - starting with Morse on 30m before moving up to the 20m and 17m bands. The same staions were coming back to me on every summit, the most prolific being Terry G0VWP, Roy G4SSH, Don G0RQL and Colin G4UXH (Now SK). I appreciated the following. It seemed that the daily alerts of my activity on the SOTA Reflector and Spots pages were helping progress to a full log book...
Band - Mode (QSOs): 30m CW (8) 20m CW (4) 20m SSB (NIL) 17m CW (6) 17m SSB (13)
Total contacts: 31          S2S QSOs = 1 (DH7FK/P DM/NS-170) 

Distance walked: 300m with 10m ascent (both ways)

Day Four CT7/G4OBK Algarve SOTA: AL-003

Day Four: 7th September 2014

CT/AL-003 Serra do Monte Figo QRV 1110Z - 1204Z

My international QSL Card for SOTA Operations
There was one summit activation left to complete the four day mission. We decided to combine this with a sightseeing visit to Tavira, an old town near to the Spanish Border. We used the Motorway part way and then turned off to pass through the towns of Loule and Sao Bras de Alportel - from where the summit could be seen some 7 Km away. The summit was the furthest one from our hotel in Carvoeiro, and had the hire car been collected from Faro airport some 10 Km to the south west of the summit the Serra do Monte Figo would have lent itself to an activation on either our arrival or departure day. This for us was not possible as we had booked a package holiday. This included minibus transfers from Faro to Carvoeiro. Our car was hired for 5 days through Holiday Autos in our resort and was reasonably priced. From experience collecting a car from the airport is generally more expensive. I believe the hire firms factor in the cost of transfer to the hotel into the hire charges... 

I had the benefit again of reading the blog report which Gerald G4OIG had written up on the Summitsbase Website for most of the summits in the Algarve, so I knew that AL-003 was another "drive on" activation. The summit and antenna farm basically was bristling with antennas and transmitter buildings.  Another of the extremely large climbable trig points was also there, which I again used to support my inverted vee link dipole. Sadly the trig point had been defaced with graffiti:

Fishing pole fixed to trigpoint ladder on AL-003 - so the dipole top was at an increased height
The weather stayed fine for the 45 minute operation with the first contact being Summit to Summit to David G3RDQ/P on holiday up north on the summit of G/NP-015 Great Knoutberry Hill in the Yorkshire Dales. This was on 30m CW, a great start to my ninth and final activation in the region. At 1145z I was called on 20m SSB by my friend Terry G0VWP in York who wins the prize for being the only station to make contact with me on all nine summits.

The summit was crammed with antennae - pictures taken on either side of the trig point
I packed up the gear and we headed off to Tevira for our lunch. The hire car was returned the next day undamaged and we reverted to "normal tourist mode" for the remainder of our stay in Portugal. I would certainly return to the country for more SOTA operation, and will be considering visiting the CT/ES Estremadura Region which is near to Lisbon next. I can certainly recommend visiting the Algarve for SOTA, with all summits being easily accessible by car or easily on foot. 

Band - Mode (QSOs): 30m CW (6) 20m CW (10) 20m SSB (7) 17m CW (7) 17m SSB (7)
Total contacts: 37          S2S QSOs = 1 (G3RDQ/P G/NP-015) 

The Vital Statistics of this Tour:

Unique summits activated on Portugal over four days: 9
Total Contacts: 369
Time on air: 6 hours 19 mins (One QSO per minute)
Summit to Summit Contacts: 16
SOTA Completes: 4 already chased out of the 9 activated
Amateur bands used: 10 MHz (30m) - 14 MHz (20m) - 18 MHz (17m) 
CT7/G4OBK/P Phone (SSB) Contacts: 164
CT7/G4OBK/P Morse (CW) Contacts: 205
DXCC Countries worked: 27 (30m 11) (20m 22) (17m 18) Best DX: USA (17m only)

Acknowledgment of information sources and help:

The SOTA Management Team
Gerald's G4OIG Summitsbase reports
DM1CM SOTA Mapping Project
Open Street Map
Roy CW-G4SSH & Mike SSB-G6TUH  for the greatest help spotting on SOTAWatch