Extreme QRPp SSB SOTA Activations using my Elecraft KX3 10

Elecraft KX3 looking out from Guardilama

Elecraft KX3 looking out from Guardilama

One fateful day on the 10th of January 2015 I activated two SOTA summits on the island of Lanzarote (just off the north coast of Africa). The summits themselves weren’t overly special, being only worth 1 and 2 points… but band conditions that day were.

Since I arrived on the island conditions had been pretty decent, except on one afternoon when a solar storm had affected the bands. Based on this I decided I would see just how low I could go on the 10m band using SSB. 10m was consistently open during my couple of weeks on the Canaries and I was keen to make as much use of this band as possible. As we’re on the solar decline now I’m glad I did as over the last few months it’s been rarely open.

I used a Elecraft KX3 transceiver which I use for the majority of my portable work. The antenna was a SuperStick Vertical with a homemade radial system (8 wires cut for a quarter wave on 20m – the lowest band I use with this antenna).The Elecraft KX3 has very fine power output controls compared to most rigs, you can step down from 10w to 3w in 1w steps, after this you can reduce in 0.5w steps until you reach 1w and then you can get really serious and reduce power my 100mW.

QRPp Experiment 1 – Montaña Negra (EA8/LA-010)

Car park: Middle of a lavafield!

Car park: Middle of a lavafield!

Montaña Negra was my first summit of the day. It’s a black, volcanic and exposed summit surrounded by lava fields and you can probably imagine it has quite an other worldly feel to it.

While climbing the summit I decided to try QRPp on 10m (this band had never been used from this summit previously), to see if I could make any contacts. This brainwave came while trying to keep the volcanic dust out of my eyes that plagues summits on this windy island.

Not much grows up here, except litchin and these succulents

Not much grows up here, except litchin and these succulents

Summit cairn on Montaña Negra

Summit cairn on Montaña Negra

I started my SOTA activation using the full 10-12w to gauge conditions, I was easily reaching around Europe and made several easy ragchew contacts back to G. During one of these with G4OBK (Phil) I asked if he would be happy to help me test just how low I could go. He responded positively and before long I was winding down the power in increments. Signal reports were still really good as low as 1w SSB which was quite surprising.

My operating spot looking onto a cinder cone

My operating spot looking onto a cinder cone

Dare I go sub-1w? Yes! I wound down in 100mW increments and maintained good signal reports. I finally took the plunge and went as low as I could… 100mW. I really didn’t expect this to work but G4OBK gave me a 51 report.

After finishing my QSO with Phil I decided to keep the power at 100mW and see if I could make any further contacts. G0UIH (Steve) came straight back to me after calling CQ. We had a nice long ragchew not truly being able to believe this was working so well. At this point I decided I needed video evidence to prove to myself that this was really happening:

I finished this activation with 34 QSOs while staring at my antenna in disbelief that such miniscule amounts of power could go so far.

QRPp Experiment 2 – Guardilama (EA8/LA-004)

My parking spot looking onto Guardilama

My parking spot looking onto Guardilama

Guardilama was my second SOTA activation of the day and this summit was a little bit greener and more like earth(!) than Montaña Negra.

I was keen to continue my 10m QRPp experiments, especially as it was just after midday and 10m would be at full strength. More crucially the US hams would have woken up as well and I wanted to see if I could make the trip across the pond using QRPp, I was feeling ambitious at this point!

The wind was quite a bit stronger on this summit and I had to anchor the vertical with several rocks at the base. My operating position was inside an overhang of the summit itself, kind of like a sheltered cave.

After spotting myself a pretty intense pileup arrived (rarely activated summit, weekend and good conditions!), so I waited until I ran this down a bit before trying any QRPp fun.

Stateside seemed to have woken up so I snagged WD9Q (Matt, Illinois) to see how low I could go. The distances are significantly further to the states so I wasn’t confident in going sub 1w. Dropping down from 10w to 5w was still an easy copy for Matt, dropping down to 2.5w was the same, next we tried 1w. This also worked, so time to try sub-1w. In the end we established 400mW was the minimum power I could use to maintain the contact at 41 to 51.

The well defined path up to Guardilama

The well defined path up to Guardilama

The trigpoint on Guardilama

The trigpoint on Guardilama

Elecraft KX3 looking out from Guardilama

Elecraft KX3 looking out from Guardilama

I was truly impressed by this and later worked out that this qualifies for the QRP-ARCI 1000 Miles per Watt award. In fact it easily achieves this as the distance was 4,117 miles using only 400mW, so this works out as 10,294 miles per Watt. I love QRP!

After this contact I wound the KX3 back up to 10w QRO and finished up with 70 QSO’s including 11 contacts into North America (logs below if you’re interested).

Lazy late afternoon operating in the sun

Lazy late afternoon operating in the sun



I finished this day a very happy man. Not only had I activated two rare SOTA summits but I’d also achieved the QRP-ARCI 1000 Miles per Watt award. In fact it easily achieves this as the distance was 4,117 miles using 400mW, so this works out as 10,294 miles per Watt… and using SSB. The mind boggles to think what CW could have achieved on this day. I love QRP!

Activation Logs

In case you’re interested here are the logs from the days activations.

Montaña Negra (EA8/LA-010)

34 QSOs in 56 minutes (quite a few ragchews with the G chasers!)

Time Call Band Mode
11:24z G6TUH 28MHz SSB
11:27z EC2AG 28MHz SSB
11:29z EA2DT 28MHz SSB
11:30z G4BLH 28MHz SSB
11:31z G0RQL 28MHz SSB
11:32z DF5WA 28MHz SSB
11:33z DJ5AV 28MHz SSB
11:33z CU3AA 28MHz SSB
11:35z G4CFS 28MHz SSB
11:35z CU3BL 28MHz SSB
11:36z G0TRB 28MHz SSB
11:36z IK1GPG 28MHz SSB
11:37z EA2CKX 28MHz SSB
11:37z GI4ONL 28MHz SSB
11:38z OH9XX 28MHz SSB
11:39z IK2ILH 28MHz SSB
11:40z HB9BHW 28MHz SSB
11:41z HB9MKV 28MHz SSB
11:42z OK2PDT 28MHz SSB
11:42z OE5PEN 28MHz SSB
11:43z EI9GLB 28MHz SSB
11:44z EA2ECA 28MHz SSB
11:45z M0IML 28MHz SSB
11:47z M0MDA 28MHz SSB
11:48z UA3GJM 28MHz SSB
11:49z M3FEH 28MHz SSB
11:50z EU2MM 28MHz SSB
11:51z UR5KB 28MHz SSB
11:54z DB6VH 28MHz SSB
12:01z G4OBK 28MHz SSB (100mW)
12:11z G0UIH 28MHz SSB (100mW)
12:15z W1OW 28MHz SSB
12:19z GI0AZB 28MHz SSB
12:20z GI4ONL 28MHz SSB

Guardilama (EA8/LA-004)

70 QSOs in 2 hours and 40 minutes of operating (I wasn’t in a rush!)

Time Call Band Mode
14:18z N2BTD 28MHz SSB
14:19z GW8OGI/P 28MHz SSB
14:23z DJ5AV 28MHz SSB
14:25z G6TUH 28MHz SSB
14:26z HB9MKV 28MHz SSB
14:27z M0MDA 28MHz SSB
14:28z N4EX 28MHz SSB
14:28z DJ5WA 28MHz SSB
14:29z N8MAS 28MHz SSB
14:30z HB9BHW 28MHz SSB
14:30z G0RQL 28MHz SSB
14:31z G0TRB 28MHz SSB
14:32z M0IML 28MHz SSB
14:33z DL3HXX 28MHz SSB
14:33z OK2PDT 28MHz SSB
14:37z WD9Q 28MHz SSB (400mW)
14:38z M6HWM 28MHz SSB
14:39z DJ1SD 28MHz SSB
14:39z G4BLH 28MHz SSB
14:40z NE4TN 28MHz SSB
14:41z GI4ONL 28MHz SSB
14:44z M3BOM 28MHz SSB
14:47z OE5PEN 28MHz SSB
14:48z G0MZK 28MHz SSB
14:51z K2JB 28MHz SSB
14:53z S57MS/P 28MHz SSB
14:55z M0YDH 28MHz SSB
14:56z G0HRT 28MHz SSB
14:58z HB9AFI/P 28MHz SSB
14:59z G6ODU 28MHz SSB
14:59z PE4A 28MHz SSB
15:00z HB9CEX 28MHz SSB
15:01z G0SLR 28MHz SSB
15:02z KI4AAU 28MHz SSB
15:04z G3RMD 28MHz SSB
15:05z G0OII/M 28MHz SSB
15:07z I3VAD 28MHz SSB
15:08z OM1AX 28MHz SSB
15:11z IZ5ZCY 28MHz SSB
15:13z KC2NXO 28MHz SSB
15:14z EI9GLB 28MHz SSB
15:17z S57D 28MHz SSB
15:44z EA2DT 14MHz SSB
15:45z G4OBK 14MHz SSB
15:46z EA2IF 14MHz SSB
15:47z DD5LP 14MHz SSB
15:48z G0HRT 14MHz SSB
15:49z CU3BL 14MHz SSB
15:51z G0TDM 14MHz SSB
15:52z EA3EGB 14MHz SSB
15:53z OK2PDT 14MHz SSB
15:56z OE7FMH 14MHz SSB
15:57z OE8HPI 14MHz SSB
15:59z G8ADD 14MHz SSB
16:11z EA2CKX 21MHz SSB
16:15z 2E0YYY 21MHz SSB
16:17z G3RDQ 21MHz SSB
16:18z G4CFS 21MHz SSB
16:19z EA2BD 21MHz SSB
16:20z G7LAS 21MHz SSB
16:22z G6TUH 21MHz SSB
16:23z EA2DZX 21MHz SSB
16:24z F/DD6DO 21MHz SSB
16:27z M3FEH 21MHz SSB
16:31z F1EBN 21MHz SSB
16:33z EA5YI 21MHz SSB
16:50z W4DOW 28MHz SSB
16:53z KB1HXO 28MHz SSB
16:55z W0MNA 28MHz SSB
16:57z W0ERI 28MHz SSB

10 thoughts on “Extreme QRPp SSB SOTA Activations using my Elecraft KX3

  1. Reply richard bailey Nov 30,2015 11:49

    hi james,
    once again a very readable blog,and some very impressive contacts using QRPp.these people who say life is to short for qrp have never had the thrill of contacts like yours!!

    • Reply James Stevens Dec 1,2015 08:57

      Thanks for your kind words Richard. It is a shame more people don’t try QRP, that being said I haven’t really ever used QRO power so maybe I’m missing out too?

      73 James M0JCQ

  2. Reply Robert - DL3RR Jan 10,2016 15:43

    I have a question for you James, on the first anniversary of your 10m activation – incidentally I took part in the DARC 10m contest today and conditions were terrible – a far cry from last year!

    I am hoping to do some SOTA activations this year and am considering the Superstick antenna. How do you find it? Does it perform reasonably? Your film seems to suggest it does, but I thought I would ask you your impressions.

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 10,2016 17:59

      Hi Robert,

      Good to hear from you again. I can well imagine 10m conditions not being great today! It’s been pretty poor since last summer, I’m kind of glad I made so much use out of 10m while in EA8!

      I like the SuperStick antenna, I find it quite light and super compact, I find it effective between 20m-10m. They say you can use it on 40m but I’ve not tried this and suspect the efficiency would be poor. The low angle takeoff of the vertical makes it good for DX, I used this in a few contests last year and worked some nice South American and Caribbean DXCC.

      As with most verticals a good radial system is key. I don’t bother with the three lousy radials provided with the antenna. Instead I made up two sets of 4 radials (8 in total) which I clip to the base using crocodile clips. This works well and is seems to be just right when using for SOTA.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      73 James M0JCQ

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  5. Reply Micky Jul 29,2016 06:19

    Hi James
    Could you tell us what power source do you use for your KX3 while doing SOTA activation ?
    Thanks a lot

    • Reply James Stevens Aug 21,2016 18:38

      Hi Micky,

      I use a LiFePo4 4200mAh battery for the majority of my portable operation. It runs at 13.2v until almost dead so keeps the Elecraft KX3 running a full 10 watts out compared to a 12v SLAB.

      I’ve been asked this question so many times, I think I’ll have to write an article on this!

      73, James M0JCQ

      • Reply mickey Aug 22,2016 20:47

        Hi James, thanks a lot.
        Indeed if you have the time to share with us your expertise through an article. Taht will be very appreciated. I am still struggling with gel lead batteries.

        • Reply James Stevens Aug 30,2016 09:27

          Hi Mickey,

          I’ve just published the post on what I use for battery power when out portable. Take a look here.

          Hope this is useful!

          73, James M0JCQ

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