SOTA: 5B/CY-037 (Stavrovouni)

A photo of the mountain-top monastery as seen from the parking lot.

I thought it would be helpful to document that this summit can probably not be activated, which is a shame since it is a short drive from the capital, Nicosia. A Greek Orthodox monastery sits atop the mountain and all access to the activation zone is fenced off and controlled. The visitor parking lot is about 35 meters below the peak, so about ten short of the activation zone. Beyond that is a sign that prohibits the entrance of women and also forbids bringing almost any sort of technology beyond that point. Does this mean that it is impossible to activate? Perhaps not… some thoughts on that below, but let’s say it would be at least very challenging.

The monastery is not difficult to find, any GPS should get you there. A road sign off the main highway between Nicosia and Limassol points the way. The exit ramp ultimately leads towards a winding road that leads up the mountain towards the monastery. Along the way, there are a couple places to pull over and picnic and it looks like it would be reasonable to walk up from some of these if you want a longer pilgrimage to the summit.

Entrance to the parking lot. Note the sign at far right prohibiting drone operation.

The monastery was closed to visitors due to the pandemic, so when I arrived there were almost no cars in the parking lot at the top of the road and only a few people walking around. Under normal conditions, I would assume that it is typically more crowded, especially on a weekend. There is a chapel at one end of the parking lot and it is possible to walk around the lawn surrounding the chapel to get a good some good views (and cellphone reception).

The chapel is at the end of the parking lot opposite the monastery. This chapel is the only part of the monastery open to women. Ironically, tradition has it that the monastery itself was founded by a woman, St. Helena.

The sign that leads to the monastery itself is very specific about conditions for entering the monastery compound.

Here is a close-up of the devices that are not permitted within its walls — they really have thought this out in detail:

So, what are the options for activating this summit (consistent with SOTA rules)? Here’s my rundown of not necessarily practical thoughts in that direction:

  1. One obvious solution is just to ask permission, but friends that are more familiar with the monastery tell me that this is not likely to succeed. The monks want to maintain a very strict environment and setting up a radio station does not seem like it would mesh well with their plans. Still, you never know. Reading through the history of the monastery on wikipedia, I see that it shares some lineage with Mount Athos. On the other hand, if I recall correctly, the only operators that I have ever heard of on Mount Athos were monks, and while I’m willing to go pretty far to activate a summit, I’m probably not cut out to be a monk.
  2. I am not sure whether the summit height is based on the roof of the monastery or the mountain itself. The monastery has been there for a long, long time, so it’s unlikely that any accurate measurement was made of the mountain peak prior to construction, so it’s anyone’s guess where the mountain stops and the monastery begins. If topographic maps are taking elevation measurements based on orbital radar or laser mapping, it’s quite possible that the peak elevation represents the top of the manmade structure. In that case, perhaps perhaps the parking lot area would be within the activation zone? This is something that would need to be discussed at the SOTA Association level.
  3. I considered all sorts of schemes to get to a higher elevation without entering the restricted area on the mountain, but I’m afraid none of these ideas are really consistent with SOTA rules. It is not possible for instance to drive up the mountain in a firetruck and deploy a ladder of raise a cherry picker to operate from a higher elevation — the summit has to be approached on foot and a vehicle cannot be part of the activation. Solutions that involve raising just the antenna such as standing in the parking lot and sending up a drone with an antenna line won’t work either. First, the monks have already prohibited use of drones anywhere on the entire mountain, both inside and outside the walls of the monastery; second, the rules require the activator to be in the activation zone, not just the antenna.
  4. Looking at the list of items that are prohibited, I think there might be one bit of technology that is not on the list, but which could, in a very broad sense, be used to conduct a two-way QSO that satisfies SOTA requirements — if the powers that be were in a generous mood that day: a flashlight. Or perhaps a laser pointer. With line of site to someone further down the mountain or even on another mountain, it might be possible to have a two-way CW QSO, albeit in the terahertz range. The station located off the summit would have to do the heavy lifting in terms of the link budget: a sensitive receiver to see the tiny signal coming from the summit (a telescope?) and a very bright light source to send CW back (since the receiver on the summit would be the operator’s eyes — the most direct conversion receiver possible). If a flashlight is still too high-tech to pass muster with the monks, I suppose that a mirror would also do presuming the sun was out that day and the angles worked.

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