In casual conversation with Scott, WB2REI, we discovered a mutual interest in doing a SOTA trip. “Summits on the Air (SOTA) is an award scheme for radio amateurs and shortwave listeners that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas.” Originating in the UK, and still most popular in Europe, there is a growing interest on this side of the Atlantic also. The W2 SOTA association lists many peaks in New York, and a dozen or so in New Jersey which meet the SOTA critera. The nearest SOTA summit to us is Cushetunk Mountain, SOTA reference W2/NJ-010, in the Round Valley reservoir state park. Since it is just next door, it seemed a good place to start.
The picture above was taken from near the trailhead; the hike goes around the reservoir to the right, first climbing and then descending far below the water level, as it drops into a deep valley below the earthen dam visible to the right of Cushetunk Mt. The trail then climbs back up to the peak of Cushetunk. W2VV posted a GPX file of the trail, from which the trail profile below was obtained.
It’s a well-maintained trail, with a mostly-easy dirt/stony surface and generally-gentle slopes (except for the section dropping down below the dam). The broad path and frequent red blazes or markers make it practically impossible to get lost. Although it had poured with rain just a couple of days before our trip, there were only a couple of muddy spots. We saw more mountain-bikers than hikers.
We left the trailhead at 9.05 am and were at the summit by 11. It’s a broad summit, and we probably could have stopped a little earlier near a clearing which would have been an excellent operating spot, and still within the SOTA-required 25 m altitude of the top. Instead, we went on further and ended up in a somewhat overgrown spot a little way off the trail, pretty much at the actual height of land.
Radio equipment consisted of: Station 1 – KX3 with a 3.3 Ah LiFePO4 battery and a 5 W solar panel (Dayton swag), with an S9 31′ vertical with 4:1 unun and tuner at the base and a dozen or so radials.
Station 2 – K2 with a 7 Ah SLA battery and an LNR end-fed “trail-friendly” wire (more Dayton swag). Scott had brought his throwing weight and line, and quickly had the LNR wire up in the trees.
The two stations were set up about 100′ from each other. Running about 5 – 10 w on each radio there were no significant problems of inter-station interference. The only hardware problem we had was a touch-sensitive paddle which became possessed by demons, but a flick of the off-switch put it out of its misery and the spare mechanical paddle was connected up instead. After around half an hour of setup, both stations were on the air on 40 m and 20 m, with a steady stream of callers. 17 and 15 also provided some activity, but 12 m netted no qsos despite cqing for 15 min or so (this was spotted on SOTAwatch, so I was surprised to not have any calls on 12 m). The RBN spotting was impressively effective; usually within a couple of calls on a new band, a spot would appear. Overall we made nearly 50 qsos, more than doubling the SOTA qso total from this peak. Most contacts were with US and Canadian stations, and eight were with EU.
Special thanks go to the support team (my XYL, Anne). In celebration of the UK origins of the SOTA program she cooked Cornish pasties for our trail lunch, supplemented with banana-nut muffins for a multicultural summit feast. Even better, she hauled them up the mountain! I suggested she might start a “SOTA-sherpa” business, but she wasn’t impressed.