04 September 2015

YO SOTA Marathon 2015 - the story II

This article is a sequel to YO SOTA Marathon - the story

Day 1

As there were enough of us and we wanted to take advantage of the S2S possibilities, we split into 2 teams: Team 1 was YO2MSB, PB2T, K2XYL and HB9DST, with YO6PIB joining in on the way to the first summit, YO/WC-207 Piatra Goznei (8p). This was K2XYL Margreet's first SOTA activation and she got her first QSO (wich was also S2S) with Petronel YO8SEP.


K2XYL Margreet having her first QSOs, from YO/WC-207

The second team was me YO9IRF, YO2BP, YO8SEP and YO2BP and we went for YO/MC-096 Muntele Mic (8p) first. We used VHF to keep in touch with the other cars and Zoli YO2BP was my co-pilot:



Zoli YO2BP checking out the road ahead
There was a 15-minute hike from the car to the actual summit and we decided to take two sets of equipment:Icom IC-7000 + linked inv-V dipole for the CW station and Elecraft KX-3 + quarter wave vertical for 20m SSB.

Petronel YO8SEP is really anxious to get on the air


Zoli YO2BP is showing us the path to another SOTA summit nearby

The SOTA summit nearby
As soon as we were in the activation region we split up, I helped Zoli YO2BP to set up the CW station on 30m while Silviu and Petronel were preparing the 20m SSB setup.


Zoli YO2BP having a good time on CW from YO/MC-096

Once I sent the spots to the SOTA cluster things started going smoothly, 30m worked well enough and Zoli worked all the chasers he could find while me and the other guys were handling the small SSB pileup on 20m.

Razvan YO9IRF fighting with the small buttons on the KX3
Petronel YO8SEP waiting his turn on the radio after Silviu YO6PSX
Just as we were getting ready to pack things up, the other team arrived on YO/WC-207 and we got our first round of S2S contacts - see first pic on this page. We were back at the car pretty quickly and the 1h+ drive to YO/WC-207 Piatra Goznei was pretty smooth, even took less than we expected since we broke a few speed limits :). This one is a drive-in summit since nearby once was a touristic resort that included a few engineering experiments.

Last leg of the way to YO/WC-207
The remnants of a wind-power experiment during the 70s
Keeping in contact with the other team, we learned we were way ahead of the schedule so we decided we have enough time to attempt a 3-radio install on the summit: IC-7000 + inv-V for 30m CW, KX-3 + vertical for 20m SSB and FT-857 + vertical for 10m SSB. We had absolutely no luck with 10m, the band was dead and not even 100W helped breaking trough, and yet again 20m proved to be the most reliable (as well as 2m FM).

The next challenge for the day was a long drive to Ranca, trough the city of Petrosani and the beautiful region of "Cheile Jietului", where the roads are ... far from stellar. They are working on it though, hopefully the next year I won't be overtaking Aston Martins with a Renault trough there.

Cheile Jietului, a place from another world

 At the end of the day, after almost 400km of driving and two activated summits, we arrived at the destination: the Tara pension, one of the oldest in Ranca, a decent place to sleep and eat that was also included in last year's schedule as well.

Tara pension,our accomodation in Ranca
 We ordered dinner, had a few beers and went to sleep, not before preparing sandwiches for the next day, wich was to become the longest (but also the most gratifying) of the marathon.

Silviu trying to steal my rye bread, dry salami, cheese and peppers recipe
Day 2

Breakfast was supposed to be served at 08:00, but at 07:50 we were already knocking at the restaurant's door. Apparently the employees weren't used to morning people as it took almost one our for all of us to order, eat and pay, at around 09:00 we were under way, driving trough the high-altitude Transalpina road to the Urdele pass (2145m), where our hike to YO/MC-052 Mohoru (10p) and YO/MC-050 Setea Mare (10p) began.

Transalpina high-altitude road in the Parang mountains
Transalpina is supposedly built around 1900 years ago by the roman legions as a strategic military road across the Carpathians, during time became just a path regularly used by shepherds and during the interbellic period King Carol II rebuilt it as a strategic road for mountain artillery. It was poorly maintained and in the last 8 years the uathorities decided to rebuild it again, as a proper modern mountain road with a touristic purpose. It's not entirely finished but it is open for public access, and it's the perfect way to get close to alot of 10p summits.

Morning faces before a very long day.




This time we also took Csaba YO6PIB on our team as well: he and Zoli YO2BP were watching eachother carefully, since both had at the beginning of the day 960 activator points and if all went well the 40 points of the day would make them both the first two Mountain Goats in Romania - so of course it made sense that they two would be on the same team. As we were already a bit ahead, we went for the farther summit first, YO/MC-050, a virgin summit.

 
A steep climb is the best morning workout

Finally on top but guess what, another higher peak ahead
 As we get close to YO/MC-052, we turn right to go around it - we'll do it on the way back.

YO/MC-052 is very close to the left, but we go for YO/MC-050 first
Coming down just to go up again - all hail P150 rules

And finally YO/MC-050 looks close by
 As soon as we get on top, some clounds seem to gather nearby and we even get a few drops of rain, so we try to get things going quickly.

Silviu YO6PSX is on a selfie spree
Just KX-3 + vertical for this summit, spotting works fine, 20m is opened to Europe and we get the S2S contacts as well with the other team on YO/MC-052. Took less than 30 minutes for all of us to activate the summit.

Razvan YO9IRF and the universal paper log
On the way back to YO/MC-052 we cross paths with the other team, as well as with a group of highschoolers with their geography teacher. They were really curious about SOTA and wanted to have a group picture.

YO SOTA Marathon 2015 team and a group of highschool hikers
YO/MC-052 was in the last year's circuit as well, when I got my farthest SOTA contacts yet: Indonesia and Kuwait on 15m. This year's propagation doesn't allow for such a thing anymore and probably won't do for a long time from now. The setup was once again KX-3 + vertical, this time Zoli YO2BP also worked some CW.

Petronel YO8SEP and Zoli YO2BP being radioamateurs on YO/MC-052
Shepherd dogs undecided wether to bark or ask for treats
Parang mountains in all their glory
Once again we were in sync with the other team on YO/MC-050 so we got our S2S contacts on VHF. We had the advantage of being closer to the car, so after an almost 8-hour hike for these two summits we were back at the cars and ready for the next two summits: YO/MC-078 Bora (10p), and YO/MC-080 Puru (10p). Of course, we went again for the farther of the two, YO/MC-080, wich meant 30min of driving and 45min of hiking.

As the hike was easier for these two summits, we decided to set up two radios again: FT-817 + vertical for 20m SSB and KX-3 + inv-V for 30m CW. I helped Csaba to set up the 20m SSB radio, while Petronel and Zoli were working on having 30m CW on the air a little further and below in actual summit.

Csaba YO6PIB going at it on YO/MC-080
As soon as i got my contacts I went to spot Zoli on the cluster and replace Petronel YO8SEP, so he could get his SSB contacts as well. In the meantime the other team arrived on YO/MC-078 and we had our S2S again, and the weather started to look menacing: the beautiful sunset was going to be ruined by a storm.

Storm closing in, and we had another summit to activate that day
Coming down from YO/MC-080 and driving closer to YO/MC-078, we had the choice to give up and call it a day. But the thought never actually crossed our minds, and you couldn't tun back the two SOTA veterans (YO2BP and YO6PIB) who were now at 990 activator points each not even with artillery fire. Plus, Petronel YO8SEP challenged me saying that the hike to YO/MC-078 couldn't be done in 20 minutes ("at least 30", he said) so I had to prove him wrong. The jury is still out on that one as I went over 20 minutes but we lost 4-5 minutes talking to the other team coming back from the summit, plus when I was close to the summit I got lost trying to shortcut the path trough the bushes, se we decided the bet is won by both of us for the moment.

Of course, the Universe wanted Csaba and Zoli to pass a final test before reaching the Mountain Goat status, so as soon as we arrived on the summit it started raining pretty bad (and it's cold at 2000m altitude even in summer).



The other team was already on the way back to the hotel and out of VHF coverage (they gave up on YO/MC-080), so we needed HF in order for the two guys to get their points. Unfortunately, GSM coverage wasn't working too good either, but I finally manage to get enough to send a spot. Csaba YO6PIB took the mic first and once he got 5 contacts (becoming MG) passed it to Zoli YO2BP. As soon as Zoli finished his much-needed QSO in order to become MG as well, the rain stopped all of a sudden ! In a matter of minutes it went from pouring rain to almost-sunny, and when the activation was over, before packing everything, we opened a bottle of wine and celebrated the two MGs right there on the spot !

Ad-hoc celebration of YO2BP and YO6PIB achieving Mountain Goat status

 As soon as we arrived at Tara, we joind the other guys for dinner and for a celebration, wich included but wasn't limited to beer, vodka, wine and sparkling wine. We (as in: Sorin YO2MSB) also established a tradition for romanian activators who become Mountain Goats, that they need to eat grass from the summit on wich the achieved the status. Here's Zoli and Csaba enjoying some fresh grass from YO/MC-078 Bora:

Just goats eating grass
Of course this picture was an instant Facebook success and a few people called to congratulate, culminating with Mike G6TUH (who was an avid chaser troughout the Marathon) calling the restaurant to order some champagne.

Next part: YO SOTA Marathon - the story III

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

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