Looking back at last year (2021), if I had to pick out one of the easiest SOTA activations I made, Mount Jefferson would be near the top of the list. It’s a very accessible summit although not technically a “drive-up” summit because you will need to walk a short distance up a service road to the activation zone (AZ).
Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021) is located on and protected by the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area (K-3846), so when you activate Mount Jefferson for Summits On The Air, you can also claim the activation for Parks On The Air and World-Wide Flora and Fauna as long as you work at least 10 contacts.
What I love about POTA and SOTA “2-fer” sites like this is that you can set things up to be spotted in both systems (and often the WWFF system, too!) which increases your audience of hunters and chasers, thus increasing your odds of achieving a valid activation in all programs. It’s especially desirable if you’re a CW op and know you may potentially be in a spot with no mobile phone service for self-spotting; if, for some reason, RBN auto-spotting functionality is down with one program, the other serves as a backup.
Mount Jefferson is at least a two hour drive from my QTH, but it was easy pickings on April 29, 2022 because it happened to be within spitting distance of New River State Park where I was camping with my family.
Mount Jefferson (W4C/EM-021)
Hazel (above) was so excited to to check out the sights and smells at this new-to-her park!
The park was relatively busy and it was no wonder–the weather was superb; a little overcast at times, but the temperature was ideal.
I walked with my family to the top of Mount Jefferson and decided that since there was a fair amount of foot traffic on the road, I’d set up on the east slope of the summit, maybe 5 meters from the road. This was well within the activation zone and gave me a bit more breathing room to set up. My wife and daughters entertained Hazel and did a little more hiking around the summit while I operated. One of my daughters helped submit my spots via the cell phone because I had no mobile service where I set up my gear.
- Elecraft KX2 and KXPD2 Paddles
- Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite
- Moleskine Cahier Journal (affiliate link)
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch (affiliate link)
- GraphGear 0.9mm 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil (affiliate link)
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera (affiliate link)
As I’ve mentioned before, the KX2 and CHA MPAS Lite combination is one of the fastest and easiest systems I have to deploy. What I love about the MPAS Lite is that I can set it up pretty much anywhere as long as the stainless spike can be plunged into the ground deep enough to support it. In the Southeast US, this is usually not a problem because even our rockier mountains tend to have a deep layers of soil on top. If you live in an arid area with rocky mountains (the US/Canadian Rockies or the Alps, for example), you might need to use a different support for the MPAS Lite.
On the air
I knew going into this activation that propagation conditions were unstable. The 40 meter band, especially, was in rough shape that morning while I played POTA at the campsite.
I decided to aim high and start off this SOTA activation, by calling CQ on the 15M band.
Fortunately, that paid off quite well.
My first contact was Christian (F4WBN). If you’re a SOTA activator in North America or Europe, you almost certainly have him in the logs. His signal is strong State side even when no other European signals can be snagged. Next, I worked EA2BD, K2JB, EA4R, and KI4SVM.
Both K2JB and KI4SVM were S2S (Summit-to-Summit) contacts. I thought that very odd until I realized that my activation coincided with the spring SOTA campout in West Virginia. No doubt, both of them were participating in that gathering and out snagging summits left and right that day. Indeed, I would have attended that campout myself, but our family camping trip conflicted and the family always wins. 🙂
I was very pleased 15 meters gave me a path into nearby West Virginia–I would have thought that to be way too close.
Next, I moved to the 17 meter band.
I started calling CQ and worked AC7P, VE1PVH, EA2DT, NE2P, K6EL, and K5KV all in pretty short order.I did move down to 40 and 20 meters–I attempted to make a P2P contact with another activator, but they couldn’t hear me.
Since my family had a picnic and some other activities in store that day, I called it quits with a total of 11 contacts logged which confirmed both the summit for SOTA and the park for POTA and WWFF.
The QSO Map is very interesting for this one–it seemed stations were either local or DX. Not a lot in between!
Here’s my real-life, real-time video of the entire activation:
SOTA can be accessible
I’m often asked if SOTA activating is a radio activity available to those with limited mobility. While it’s true that SOTA typically involves long hikes, that is not always a case. If you live in a part of the world with a lot of SOTA summits (check out this map to confirm) you’ll likely discover that there are some “drive-up” summits–ones where you can literally drive to the activation zone.
Mount Jefferson is almost a drive-up summit. Indeed, with the right park permissions or assistance, you may even be able to turn it into a drive-up summit if you were really determined. It would require cooperation and permission from park rangers, but it couldn’t hurt to ask!
Just keep in mind that SOTA (unlike POTA) does not allow you to do activations from your vehicle. SOTA activations are all truly portable–your car cannot even support your mast, for example.
It’s also important to note that SOTA is also open to those who don’t have HF privileges. There have been numerous SOTA activators who’ve achieved the formidable “Mountain Goat” status (meaning 1,000 summit points) purely through VHF and UHF contacts on a handheld radio (HT). This is quite doable if you activate summits within line-of-site of population-dense regions.
Since POTA and WWFF rely heavily on public parks, they are usually more accessible and nearly all of them are drive-up (save some natural wildlife areas, game lands, etc.). If you don’t have HF privileges, though, it’s very challenging to activate a park unless that park happens to be be at a higher altitude than the surrounding area.
Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.
I hope you get a chance this week to play a little radio and spend time with family and friends. All we got on this old planet is each other, so let’s make the most of it!
Cheers & 72,