Buzzed on Black Hill

SOTA summit: Black Hill, Scotland GM/SS-253

Activation Date: Oct 11, 2018

Unique: Yes and my 151st

Call sign used: MM0SNA/P

Portable operation: Yes

Radio: KX3 and 1296Mhz SG-Labs transverter

Antenna: End Fed and SG-Labs provided 2 element Yagi

Bands used: 20m, 40m and 23cm

Hike:  ~1.4 miles and ~600ft ascent.  (<–click left for GaiaPro track etc)

Solo operation: No with Gerald (G4OIG)

Recommend: Unequivocally!

Cell Coverage: Excellent

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2018

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 4.42.30 AM
Black Hill, just outside Melrose, Scotland
Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 4.44.16 AM
1.4 miles round trip and 600 ft ascent

I’ve been to this part of the world so many times and never cease to marvel at it’s beauty. Only the day before my wife “discovered” Old Gala House in Galashiels that seemed somewhat representative of a Pele Tower that defines part of the Border Reiver history. The town of Melrose is an enchanting place and sometimes rated the best place to live in Scotland but one of my favorites is Abbotsford, the home that Sir Walter Scott built which sadly almost bankrupted him but left us a stunning place to visit.

Old Gala House in Galashiels visited day before with my wife


Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home near Melrose visited in summer with wife

This is our second activation of the day following Minch Moor a few miles west. The capricious nature of this island’s weather has us donned in rain gear as we wander along a series of farm paths leading south toward the base of Black Hill. It’s not particularly high but it looks steepish and for some reason we seem to elect for a straight up the side approach versus following a trail that admittedly seems longer and steepish in of itself. The wind is howling as I crest the peak and seems to be driving a storm our way that adds a little to the urgency of getting Black Hill activated.

Minch Moor had been a struggle for me as I rather naively though 2m SSB and FM would be a doddle but apparently not and so I modified my plans to start with HF on Black which meant erecting something that the wind would probably toy with, uproot and generally remind me of natures dominance over man.

Part way up Black Hill and looking at the Eildon Hills (one is a SOTA peak)
Trailhead is slightly left of white farm house (center of picture)
Tiny red speck is Gerald’s car (center of lower one third of picture)

Gerald elects to set up his station on the leeward side of the hill but I’m unconvinced my handful of watts (versus his bucketfull) will radiate effectively on the leeward or any side and so I elect to stand resolute in the face of the gail anchoring my fishing mast to a 3 ft metal post.

My End Fed standing resolutely in the face of a “gale”

We’ve had a solar storm recently and I’m not sure how well HF will treat me which was part of my reasoning to try 2m earlier in the day as its essentially impervious to the vagaries of the sun. 20m seems a struggle but 40m is hopping and I nab a nice run on it up and down the UK and into Europe. Nice!

With one eye on the progress of the grey clouds from the west, its time to try my hand at microwave which has been top of my list today.

Part of the attraction of SOTA is the ability to vary things and try things new, seemingly on an endless basis.

I was first exposed to SOTA microwave during a Pacific NorthWest trip in October 2016. One cold and frigid Sunday morning on Lava Butte (W7O/CE-188) I ran into a fellow ham using a combo 817 and SG-Labs 1296 Mhz transverter and he was nice enough to let me try it out and make a couple of contacts. Like so many things that I resolve to do the realization sometimes is far longer than I anticipated and here I am almost 2 years to the day and 6,000 miles away making good on that resolution.

Me in October 2016 in Oregon borrowing a microwave station for my first SOTA uWave activation
KX3 with 2m module driving the SG-Labs transverter – this setup needs “weatherizing”
Stock SG-Labs 2 element Yagi achieved a 46km contact with Pete GM4BYF

Pointing my antenna north and soon after spotting myself I hear Pete GM4BYF in Edinburgh. This is all very satisfactory as not only do I have my second uWave SOTA activation under way but Pete has been very instrumental in getting me to this point. Pete was one half of the Pete and Peter duo that shepherded Calum and myself through the Foundation, Intermediate and then Full exams and onto me becoming MM0SNA but he also after a tutorial session helped fine tune my misconfigured 1296Mhz setup at his house.

Pete GM4BYF helping me setup my 1296Mhz station mid September
Peak into the SG-Labs transverter and modern dat surface mount component technology

Working the compass points I try to see whom else I can contact on 1296Mhz and then feel the first drops of rain. My cue to pack up and see how Gerald has faired on the leeward side.


Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 4.48.30 AM
40m was surprisingly good and another 1296Mhz/23cm microwave – woohoo!!



  1. I never thought about microwave for SOTA. This is a new thing to me and I plan on investigating the microwave part of the spectrum once I have moved and settled down. Nice pics as usual, especially enjoyed the panoramic view.


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