Recent SOTA Activations

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sheep Mountain (W7M/LM-074) SOTA

Horrible Selfie! I had to get a photo with the SOTA flag so
here it is hanging on my Arrow Beam Antenna.
Peyton and I traveled to Montana on Friday, June 10th. I had hoped to do a lot of SOTA on the way, during and on the trip home. The weather did not cooperate on Friday and family and friends kept me occupied on Saturday. I did make it to Sheep Mountain (W7M/LM-074) on Sunday though. The weather was perfect. I set my alarm to get up at 4 but did not get out of the house until a little after 5; arriving at the trailhead and starting my hike at 6:38. It took me approximately 1 hour to drive to the trail head. See below for driving directions. My parking coordinates were 46.989753, -113.751113. The hike up was 5.15 miles and took me 2 hours and 14 minutes at an easy and steady pace. The first three miles of the hike were easy but the last 1.5 miles is where most of the 2,200 ft of elevation is gained. It had me breathing hard at the top. During the trip I was transmitting APRS and was getting confirmation that my packets were being received. I took a short break at the summit and then began to set up my radio. Today I used the Yaesu FT-817nd, 41' random wire, Elecraft T1 Tuner, and my Palm mini key.

Trip Data for the Hike to the Summit

My trip data on the way up. You can find my GPS tracks at Peak Bagger or Everytrail All of these tracks are recorded by my FitBit Surge. I have found it to be very accurate and gives me a very detailed map when I return home.


I have went back and forth with ideas for what I would use for my permanent SOTA equipment but that is still to be determined and will likely not be decided in the near future. I love the fact that I can use the 817 for all modes/bands and it has a external speaker. The weight is a little more at 40 oz (I think) but it is not too bad for a day trip. I do not have a CW filter in the 817 but I am still able to make it work. I think that the only time that I would have an issue is if there was a contest going on but then I would just have to settle with other bands and
probably would not have issues. I have many SOTA radios, tuners, keys, and batteries for different conditions, distances etc.

After getting the equipment set up I turned the GoPro on and started to call CQ. I used my Kenwood TH-D72 to send an APRS to SOTA to spot me. I did have full 3G signal from my Verizon cell phone at the top of the peak and could have used SOTA Goat to spot but I always like to stay fresh on different ways to spot myself. The APRS packets were going out well and I was getting confirmations back that my spots had been posted to SOTA watch. I had a total of 17 contacts, 15 of them were on 20m SSB and CW, and 2 of them were VHF contacts. I did try 7mhz but did not have any luck after calling CQ for about 20 minutes. My CW skills were a little rusty and I learned that I need to get back into doing a little more practicing when I am not on the summits. The CW helped though as the conditions were not good enough to pull in N4EX on SSB but was able to make the contact on CW. See the video below to hear the difference.

Summit to Summit Contacts

On Version 1 of the Blog I neglected to mention my Summit to Summit Contacts. These contacts are awesome and no better feeling then working from one Summit to another. Eric (KG7STN) let me know that I had neglected to mention them. Thanks Eric! Where AE7AP was a great contact on VHF, KG7STN was a great 817 to 817 contact with 5 watts SSB! Michael (N1IDN) It was also great working you on CW. See you all on the next one and I look forward to many more S2Ss!

Photo of Rob, AE7AP, near the summit of W7M/HB-039
Rob is a very active SOTA activator in and around Helena,
MT. You can read his blogs at
The highlight of my day happened just as I was packed up and starting to leave the summit. I had all my equipment packed up and myYaesu VX6 on my belt when I heard AE7AP, Rob, call CQ. I was very surprised to hear him on VHF as I knew that he was planning on being on a summit near Helena. We made the nearly full quieting summit to summit contact and later found that it was 104.3 miles from our locations. I was pretty amazed as I only had the rubber duck on my VX6. I talked with Rob for about 10 minutes and then began to make my way off the mountain.

Radio path for Summit to Summit with AE7AP

We had amazing line of sight for this S2S!

104.3 miles on a rubber duck. Awesome.
I use "HEYWHATSTHAT profiler" for
this information.

I left the summit at 11:50 a.m and made it back to the truck in one hour and fifty minutes which made a faster trip than on the way up. Even on the way back to the trailhead I still had an elevation gain of nearly 500 ft to get up and over a small ridge. For you mountain bike enthusiasts this hike is a also a very popular biking route starting at the Rattlesnake recreation area and on the woods gulch trailhead. There was sign of some bikers making the trip but there was still a little bit of snow and 30-40 blowdowns that would make it a little difficult. One of these days I plan to make the trip in from Rattlesnake and have someone pick me up on the Gold Creek side.

Trip Data for Hike Down

Driving Directions: 

Take I90 east from Missoula for approximately 4-5 miles to exit 109 (MT200). Stay on Montana 200 for approximately10 miles and look for a road sign for Gold Creek. Turn Left on Gold Creek Road. Watch for mountain goats in this area! There is signs for them but keep your eye out because you will see them quite often. Drive approximately 3.5 miles and watch for an un-named left turn. As soon as you make this left you will see a sign "Private Property for 1.3 miles, stay on road." Continue on this road for approximately 7.3 miles until you arrive at a marked trailhead from sheep mountain. 

Equipment Used: 

41 ft random wire antenna
Kenwood TH-D72
Arrow 146/437-10 WBP 

I did setup the Arrow antenna and tried to make a few contacts but did not have any luck on 146.52. I put this information here because I think that it is a great antenna and was part of a 61 mile QSO that I had with Doug (KY7S) from an unnamed peak in Capital Forest to Mount Zion. The Antenna weighs 19 oz. complete but I have been leaving the 440 elements at home and just using it as a 146mhz 3 element beam. It is a great antenna. You could also use it to do satellite contacts which I have been told count for SOTA now. It is a lot of fun. (You can see my Arrow antenna with the SOTA flag hanging off of it on the top picture).

Cell Signal (Verizon)

I had full 3G cell reception at the summit but none shortly after descending or on the drive up to the trail head.

APRS - (Automatic Packet Reporting System)

My Kenwood TH-D72 was working great all the way up the trail. I was hitting APRS nodes in Gold Creek, on Patrick's Knob, and on University Mountain at different times during the hike.

For those who have not used APRS to send a packet to "SOTA" it is a great function to have when there is a possibility that you will not have cell signal at a summit. APRS has worked on about every summit that I have been on. It is a great primary tool and only use a cell as the backup for familiarity. In the video sometimes you can hear a lot of beeping...this is my Kenwood receiving packets from the APRS digipeaters.  The other good thing about using APRS is that family members can use it to track you when they are at home and could be used as a location element in case of an emergency.

Other Miscellaneous Information

A pass is not required at the trailhead.  The trail was in pretty decent conditions after the winter. There were a few places where the trail was difficult to see but with some minor trail finding experience you should have no issues. There were 30-40 blowdowns along the trail but they were easy to bypass by either going over or around.

Activation Video

This is my first attempt at a video on the summit. This one is kind of long but does have a recording of all the chasers that I worked. The only ones that it does not record are the two VHF contacts which is a shame, it would be awesome to see how excited I was to talk to Rob (AE7AP) at 104 miles on VHF! I learned a lot about video blogging by messing with this raw video. I do need some work on editing videos.

As always thanks to all the chasers that work hard about hearing my tiny signal from mountain tops. Without you all I would just be hiking, only about 10 pounds lighter! Thanks again.


Matt (KF7PXT)

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