The Summits on the Air amateur radio award programme was the idea of John Linford, G3WGV. Although he had the idea many years ago, it was not until he ran across the European Adventure Radio website run by Richard G3CWI, that he put the idea down on paper. He emailed it to Richard with the a single question “should we try to get this going?”. The original idea ran to a few paragraphs on a single side of A4 paper but it took well over 1,000 man-hours of work to turn that idea into a viable award programme. Many people helped along the way, including Matthew M5EVT, Alan M1EYO and Roger MW0IDX. Much of the award was discussed and dissected on the internet before it was launched on 2 March 2002. England and Wales launched first, soon to be followed by Scotland.
Although neither John nor Richard envisaged huge numbers of people participating, the award was designed to be scalable from the outset. A key objective was making the award internet-based, for this an online database was needed. Fortunately, Richard knew Gary Bleads, G0HJQ who just happened to be a professional database designer. John and Gary met up and, after much hard work, SOTA had an “industrial strength” database. Gary assures us that it is sized such that it could deal with all the amateur radio contacts made in the whole World if required!
Simply having an award and a support infrastructure does not ensure success however, and a huge effort was put in to publicise the award. Both John and Richard wrote articles, gave numerous talks to radio clubs, at rallies and exhibitions and ran SOTA stands at various events. Over 1,000 leaflets were given out in the first 18 months of the scheme. But even that was not enough. International publicity was gained by constant news releases to overseas organisations and finally, a keen band of activators made it their business to explain SOTA to everyone they contacted on the air.
Today, SOTA has hundreds of participants in Associations across the World, all sharing the same award ethos and infrastructure.
Note that SOTA is an award programme not a club or society; as such you can’t be a “Member” of SOTA but you can certainly be a participant!
SOTA has become a true passion for me and I look forward to each and every activation. I also enjoy chasing SOTA activators while at the QTH.
SOTA combines my love of radio, hiking, and community. It really couldn’t get any better.
My thanks to all of the SOTA volunteers who make this program a reality. Happy 20th Anniversary, SOTA!
I’m not a summer-heat-loving guy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Give me cold weather and I can hike and camp forever.
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, it wasn’t cold outside, of course, but I still wanted to fit in a park activation and hike. Despite the forecast highs of 90F/32C. I had almost the entire day to play radio, too–a rarity.
When I have an entire day to devote to radio, I can either hit the road and try to hit multiple parks–perhaps as many as 5 or 6–or I can choose to venture further afield and hit a new-to-me park.
I tend to choose the latter and that Tuesday was no exception.
North and north by NW of Winston Salem, NC, are two parks I’ve always wanted to visit: Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park.
I devised a plan to first visit Hanging Rock, then Pilot Mountain. Both parks are close together geographically, but a good 30 minutes drive apart.
A quick check of the SOTA database and I discovered that there are actually two summits on Hanging Rock State Park’s grounds. One is off the beaten path a bit and would require some light map work, and the other–Moore’s Knob–is on one of the park’s main trails. Since I was putting this whole plan together morning of, I opted for the “easy” summit as I didn’t have time to double-check topo maps, parking areas, etc.
Hanging Rock State Park (K-2735)
Travel time to Hanging Rock was about 1 hour 45 minutes. Once I arrived on site, I discovered that, like many state parks, the main visitor’s center is being renovated.
I easily found the parking area for the Moore’s Knob loop. It being a Tuesday, the parking lot only had a few cars.
Pro tip: with the visitor’s center out of commission, stop by the swimming area pavilion for some proper restrooms/washrooms!
I planned to take the full trail loop in a counter-clockwise direction.
I’m glad I did, too, as the bulk of the ascent was a long series of steps. I’m not a fan of steps, but I much prefer using them heading up a mountain rather than down.
Near the summit, there’s a very short spur trail to Balanced Rock which is worth a visit not only for the rock, but also the views.
It being a North Carolina state park, there are some obligatory warning signs about how falling off of cliffs can lead to injury or death. These warning signs aren’t as prominent as those at Crowders Mountain State Park, though!
Moores Knob (W4C/EP-001)
There’s no mistaking the summit as there’s a large observation tower on top that affords some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the foothills, and Pilot Mountain (my next stop). There were a number of hikers on the summit of Moore’s Knob and it was actually pretty gusty up there, too. I searched and found a nice little spot to set up that was sheltered from the wind, shaded, and even had trees tall enough to hang my Packtenna 9:1 UNUN random wire antenna!
Note: I brought the CHA MPAS Lite in case there were no good tree options on the summit.
Set up was quick and easy on the radio side of things, but as with most SOTA activations, positioning my tripod to make a video was the tricky part. Since I’m sitting on the ground, it can be difficult to find the right angle so that the radio, key, and notepad are all in the frame. (See my video below).
I started calling CQ at 16:00 UTC on 20 meters. I had a reasonable cell phone signal on the summit, so I was able to spot myself. Problem was, though, my hiking app seemed to be draining my iPhone’s battery very rapidly (that and my aging iPhone 7 probably needs a new battery at this point). After spotting myself, I shut down the phone to save power. I forgot to contact my buddy Mike (K8RAT) with a frequency, but he eventually saw me on the SOTA spots.
In a period of 29 minutes, I worked 20 stations on 20 meters.
Next, I moved up to 17 meters where I worked eight more stations in seven minutes.
I love effortless activations like this and part of me wanted to continue operating–even switching to SSB–but looking at the time, I knew I needed to hit the trail, make my way back to the car, and drive to Pilot Mountain.
I called QRT around 16:42 UTC and packed up my gear.
Not bad for 5 watts and a 31′ wire!
One highlight of this activation was meeting Jim (NA4J) who heard my CW from the summit and popped by to introduce himself. Although I trimmed out our conversation in the video (I’m not entirely sure he knew I was recording the activation), you’ll hear him in the first half of the activation.
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation:
The hike back to the car was very pleasant. It was a bit longer than the path I took to the summit, but the descent had no steps which made it a breeze.
I had a radio topic on my mind during that hike and actually pulled out the OSMO Action camera and made a bit of a “hike and talk” video. It’s on the topic of ATUs and resonant vs non-resonant antennas. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll post it–the shaky camera might make some viewers sea sick! 🙂 We’ll see–maybe I’ll brave up and post it anyway…
Next, I drove to Pilot Mountain State Park for a quick afternoon activation. Although Pilot Mountain is a SOTA summit, too, it’s yet to be activated because the actual summit would require proper rock climbing, I believe.
As always, thank you for reading this field report! And thank you to everyone who has supported me through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. I truly appreciate it.
I hope you find time this week to take your radios outdoors to play, or to hunt some parks and summits from your shack, backyard or vacation spot!
And for those of you working on your CW skills, don’t give up and don’t stress about it. Take your time and allow your brain to absorb code by simply listening. When you feel you’re able to copy even some of the contacts in the videos of my activations, you’re ready to start hunting CW activators!
Colin Evans, M1BUU, from near Haworth, West Yorkshire attained SOTA Mountain Goat on Saturday 28th January on the summit of Whernside, G/NP-004.
Colin took rather an unusual approach to his activation of Yorkshire’s highest mountain, by constructing his equipment whilst on the summit.
Colin had taken a QRPme 20m RockMite kit, a home made key kit, a home made vertical antenna kit and a gas powered soldering iron along with him. Sheltering from the wind, rain and snow in a small tent, Colin successfully constructed the RockMite, key and antenna in just under 4 hours.
The first QSO for Colin with his 250mW RockMite was with N1EU near Albany, New York, over 3000 miles away, the three subsequent QSO’s were with European stations, satisfying the SOTA rule requirement of four QSO’s to claim the activation points.
SOTA Mountain Goat is awarded for gaining 1000 SOTA Activator points. For more information, visit www.sota.org.uk
“Just wanted to pass on a link to a few videos I put
together in case you’d like to share them, especially the Yaesu
FT-817ND kit I put together.”
Adam has also posted some SOTA activation videos where he uses his go kit (click here to watch). I’m amazed that Adam manages to fit so much in that small box. Certainly a handy kit for hiking to a SOTA activation!
If you’re planning to attend the Charlotte, NC hamfest (March 8th and 9th), make a point to join the SOTA (Summits On The Air) forum. Christian (KF4LXB), provided me with details:
The forum itself is from 11:45am-12:45pm [Saturday March 9th] in the Cabarrus Room B. There will be total of five of us “SOTAteers” KF4LXB, W4ZV, KI4SVM, WH6LE, and W4ZTM with our kits. We hope to be able to set up a table outside of the conference room so we can have some extra “show and tell” time with our rigs for those interested. We want to get the word out to as many people as possible so we can share about something we all love.