SOTA Web Resources

You can’t “do SOTA” without using the web. There is one essential site, several which are almost indispensable, and some that are somewhat useful. You may find it helpful to open a web browser and visit the referenced sites as you read this article.

SOTAData - Essential - You can’t get by without SOTAData. This is where you record your QSOs. Some of the key activities on the main menu include:

  • Logon/Logoff - You’ll need to visit the “Register” sub-menu to sign up for an account. There’s no cost to register and they don’t spam you. Registering is not a commitment to activate or chase!
  • View Results - You can view metrics about SOTA such as the count of registered summits (73,548), rankings of activators and chasers, and there’s a special sub-menu for viewing your own results including your activations, unique summits, summit-to-summit (S2S) contacts, awards, etc. After each activation I check the “Activator Roll of Honor”… and confirm that I still haven’t earned enough points to move up in the national ranking. :-(
  • Summits - If you’re an activator, you’ll research a summit here before you head out on an expedition. This is where you find the list of official summits, how many points each summit is worth, who has activated it. (Tip: If lots of people have activated it, it is an easy summit.) Once you locate a summit, the “Extra Info” link will take you to a page where prior activators write-up how to get to the summit and what to expect when you arrive. One of the first places to visit when planning an expedition.
  • Submit Log - This is where you record your QSOs. There’s a sub-menu for entering QSOs one at a time. You’ll probably use this for your first few activations/chases. You’ll want to quickly move up to uploading CSV files. The CSV format is unique to SOTA, but several logging apps now support SOTA format.

SOTAWatch - Very Helpful is where activators post alerts to tell you when/where they plan to activate. Once a chaser hears an activator, he will typically spot the activation here too. Self-spotting is considered acceptable for SOTA.

If you have an iPhone, SOTA Goat uses SOTAWatch data to bleat a notice whenever a new spot is posted. There are also apps for Android, Windows, and OS X that perform similarly. The data from SOTAWatch is also posted to Twitter.

SOTA Goat and its ilk are particularly helpful if you’re interested in S2S contacts. If you’re on a hill with cell coverage, you can get notified when other activators are on the air, giving you the info you need to call them.

SOTAWatch Chaser/Logger - Interesting for Chasers spotfilter shows recent spots. What makes it interesting is that if you are a busy chaser, you can select spots and then download them into your log book.

SOTAMaps - Very Helpful shows the location of summits on a map. This helps you visualize just how far you’re going to have to drive. Here’s a helpful URL which plots 700+ summits within driving distance from Atlanta. The left panel is color coded to show you which summits have/haven’t been activated.

North American SOTA Mailing List - Helpful hosts the official mailing list for the North American SOTA community. (Yahoo login required.) This is where you can ask other activators and chasers for how-to information. There are some clever antena and balun designs posted here on occasion.

Like many Yahoo groups, a popular pastime is complaining about Yahoo. If you visit the site once, you can sign-up to have postings delivered to your email and you’ll never have to look at Yahoo again.

My SOTA Site - Somewhat Helpful may also be of interest. It has how-to information, an archive of newsletter articles, and a library of trip plans for southeastern summits.


See you on the summits! 73 DE K4KPK / Kevin


K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. He has completed more than 150 activations.

This story is Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Kleinfelter. A non-exclusive right to redistribute in electronic or printed form is granted to amateur radio clubs operating in the metro Atlanta area. All other rights reserved.

Learning Links

Here are some sites I find helpful for learning ham radio and electronics:

  • All About Circuits textbooks
  • LCWO - morse code
    • Browser based: Random character groups for extended duration, sends-a-word/enter-that-word, sends-a-callsign/enter-that-sign
  • AA9PW - morse code
    • Browser based: Random character groups, call signs, RSS headlines, QSO. Many RSS feeds now fail to load.
  • AA9PW - Ham Morse
    • iPhone/iPad: Similar to his web site in features and in issues. Many RSS feeds now fail to load.
  • Seiuchy
    • Morse code trainer
  • ZL1AN Teach
    • Windows: 950 supplied texts can be played at any speed
  • G4FON
    • Windows: Does random words. (You have to set the “Characters” control to 40 in order to see the “Words” button.)

Note: For the CW trainers, I don’t list the basic capabilities used to train you in the initial character set. I’ve passed that point, so I’m focusing on the drills that will take me from basic competency to faster send/receive of real-world content.

Sisyphus the Activator

Sisyphus the Activator

Sisyphus Image

Activation Points Once Per Year

A SOTA activator can get points for activating a given summit once each calendar year. For example, if you ride the tram to the top of Stone Mountain and you make 4+ QSOs from the summit in 2015, you collect two points. If you activate Stone Mountain again in 2015, you get zero additional points. When 2016 arrives, you become eligible for 2 more points.

A Peculiar Activator

So why does one ham activate San Bruno Mountain and Mt. Davidson again and again? As of mid-2015, he’s activated San Bruno Mountain alone more than a dozen times this year!

  • Maybe he lives there? Unlikely. It’s a typical radio/TV tower summit.

  • Maybe he really likes San Bruno Mountain? Possibly, but he does something unusual from that summit… he makes summit-to-summit contacts.

K6EL is the leading summit-to-summit activator in the United States, with more than twice as many “S2S” contacts as his nearest competitor. (The superlative metric about K6EL is that he has the lowest points per climb of any activator in the world!)

A key appeal of these summits is that they are convenient to his home and they have strong cell signal. Cell signal is important, because it allows him to use SOTAwatch to identify other activations in progress. With this information, he’s able to call the other activator and make the contact.

Your Advantages

There are a number of hills near Atlanta with similar advantages, including Stone Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, and Pine Mountain. For Stone Mountain, you could carry a folding chair and your cooler!

Unless you’ve got a truly outstanding antenna at home, you’ll find that you get better signal reports operating QRP from the top of a summit than QRO at home. You’ll certainly get more pile-ups from a SOTA summit than your Atlanta-area shack. (Activators can get points for the same summit once per UTC day, so they’ll call you each time.) QRM is low from most summits. (Get away from the building on top of Stone Mountain, to minimize QRM there.) If you’re a VHF operator, line of sight is great on a summit.


Summit-to-summit contacts are often regarded as particularly challenging. You’ll have two QRP rigs and two portable antennas on the QSO, and you’ll be competing against QRO chasers with beams. A little patience is all that’s needed! A SOTA pile-up typically lasts only 5 minutes or so. Once the fuss has died down, you’ll be heard. When you send your call sign, be sure to state, “Summit-to-summit.” Other stations typically yield when they hear this. (And you’ll compete surprisingly well, given your elevation.)

Facts Supporting the Extra Class License Exam

I’m studying for the Amateur Extra Class license exam. I want to pass, but I’m not seeking a perfect score. (Perfection is not an effective use of my time.) I’m willing to memorize facts but not answers. The difference is that a fact is something useful after the exam.

However, I will memorize an occasional answer or write-off a question if the amount of learning is enormous just to answer a few questions.

These are just the things I have to learn. I’m not capturing things I already know, such as Ohms law. (the “Read Questions” link) is very helpful. Many of the questions have explanations associated with the answers.

  • Reminder: micro and mega both deal with a million (106). Pico is million million (1012).
  • Circulator - a three- or four-port device, in which an RF signal entering any port is transmitted to the next port in rotation (only).
  • Receiver performance measures
    • MDS = Minimum Discernable Signal
    • Dynamic range = space between weakest signal radio can receive and strongest it can handle w/o excess distortion.
    • Desense (a.k.a. blocking) = close frequency at strong level drives RF amp to compression (non-linear behavior).
      • Narrowing receiver bandwidth reduces this because “close” means within the receiver passband.
    • Cross-modulation = modulation of a close frequency superimposes on desired frequency.
    • Phase noise in the local oscillator of a receiver can mix with nearby frequencies to interfere with the tuned frequency. (It creates a signal that mixes with the nearby frequency.)
    • Blocking Dynamic Range = dB between noise floor and incoming signal level which will cause 1 dB of gain compression. In effect, it is the signal strength range the receiver can handle.
  • Intermodulation
    • Intermodulation products are the emissions at frequencies generated by the combination of two or more frequencies in a non-linear device, such as the output stage of a transmitter, or the input stage of a receiver (or corroded connections). E.g. (f1 - 2*f2). Mixing often occurs in a non-linear RF amp.
    • A circulator reduces intermod by preventing signals received in the transmitting antenna going back into the transmitter amplifier and mixing.
  • 3rd order intercept
    • a 3rd order intercept of x db means that a pair of signals will theoretically generate a third-order intermodulation product with the same level as the input signals
    • 3rd order intermod products created within a receiver are of interest because the 3rd order product of two signals in the band of interest is also likely to be within the band
  • Resonance
    • At resonance, the L and C components of an RLC circuit go to zero, leaving only R.
    • In series, when L and C cancel, you have lower total RLC impedance, so more current flows. (This is like removing 2 of 3 resistors that are in a series. R goes down.)
    • In parallel, when L and C cancel, you have higher impedance between the two rails, so less current flows. (This is like removing 2 of 3 resistors that are in parallel. R goes up.)
    • L and/or C shift the phase between voltage and current in opposite directions. Ergo, at resonance, there is no shift because AC circuits that are resistive have no phase shift.
    • F = .159 / sqrt(LC)
      • Note: This is true when the units on L and C are similar. (e.g. Farads and henries, or micro-farads and micro-henries.) On the exam, they mix micro-henries with pico-farads, so you use: F = 1000 * .159 / sqrt(LC).
        • i.e. On the exam, calculate F = .159 / sqrt(LC) without regard for units, and then multiply by 1,000
  • Time constant
    • One time constant = all but 37%.
      • e.g. Discharging to 37% in one time constant.
      • e.g. Charging to all but 37% (meaning charged to 63%) in one time constant.
    • Calculating a time constant: T = RC
      • On the test, if you forget, pick the answer that is closest to the microfarad value (for all calculate-the-TC questions)
  • Q
    • Half_Power_Bandwidth = Frequency / Q. [B = F/Q]
      • e.g. If Q = 10, and Frequency = 10 MHz, then Bandwidth = 1MHz.
      • e.g. If Q = 95, and Frequency = 1.8 MHz, then Bandwidth = 1.8 / 95 = 0.0189 MHz = 18.9 KHz.
  • Gates
    • The symbol for the AND gate is rounded.
    • The symbol for the OR gate looks like AND with a pointy rounded end.
    • A triangle is a no-op.
    • The symbol for Nxxx is a little circle at the tip of AND / OR / no-op
    • XOR (and XNOR) have a double line at the input side. e.g.
  • Phase-locked Loop = An electronic servo loop consisting of a phase detector, a low-pass filter, a voltage-controlled oscillator, and a stable reference oscillator.
  • If no antenna reference is specified for gain, assume a dipole. (Otherwise, EIRP = Effective Isotropic Radiated Power.)
  • ERP:
    • Add up the dB gain and loss for total dB. Call that TDB.
    • TPO = Transmitter Power Output
    • ERP = InverseLog(TDB/10) * TPO
    • On a TI-36X Pro Calculator, Double-tap [ex 10x] for InverseLog
      • Double-tap “ex 10x”
      • Open paren, TDB / 10, close paren
      • x TPO
    • e.g.
      • If watts is 50 and gain is - 4 dB - 2 dB -1 dB + 6 dB = -1 dB
      • press InverseLog (-1 / 10) * 50
      • press Enter
  • On XY RLC charts, Resistance is to the right; inductance is up; capacitance is down. Pure L or C is way up/down; mixed is near mid-line.
  • A sawtooth wave is made up of a sine wave plus all its harmonics. A square wave is made up of a sine wave plus its odd harmonics.
  • -174 dBm/Hz = The theoretical noise at the input of a perfect receiver
  • Matches:
    • A delta match feeds at two places, each side of center.
    • A gamma match feeds at the center and off one side (like my Arrow VHF Yagi).
    • A stub match runs feed line and radiator in parallel near the feed point
  • P-type uses holes; n-type uses electrons. P = positive, so it has holes (which are anti-electrons); N = Negative, so it has electrons (which are negative).
  • VCC is supplied to MMIC (monolithic microwave integrated circuit) via resistor or a choke on the amplifier output.
  • Spurious emissions must be down 43 dB
  • A hot-carrier (Schottkey) diode is often used as a VHF/UHF detector/mixer.
  • Digital protocols
    • JT65 is designed for moon-bounce
    • PSK31 is narrowest bandwidth. 31 baud and 31 Hz bandwidth. It uses variable-length characters.
    • MFSK16 is FSK with 16 tones; about 300 Hz bandwidth.
  • 120V RMS is 170V peak-to-peak. It is 120V * sqrt(2).
  • An op-amp has high input impedance and low output impedance. (This is what you want. Low-drain input, and low-resistance output.)
  • A marker generator can be used to calibrate a receiver. (Send at a known frequency and see what frequency the receiver thinks it is.)
  • a FET has gate, drain, and source
  • A point-contact diode is a “cat’s whisker” diode.
  • P= IIR
    • This can be derived from P=EI and E=IR
  • Deviation Ratio:
    • Modulation index = DeltaCarrier / Modulation
    • Deviation ratio = MaxDeltaCarrier / MaxModulation
    • Highest allowed modulation index for angle modulation = 1
  • Space stations, Satellites, and Moon:
    • HF - not allowed on 30m (because that’s CW-only)
    • VHF - only allowed on 2 meters
    • UHF - allowed on 70, 23, and 13 cm
    • Mode x/y - uplink before downlink. (Must get TO the satellite before the signal comes FROM the satellite.)
    • Moonbounce at 144.0 to 144.1 (First 100 KHz of 2 meter band). Also at 432.0 to 432.1 (100 KHz, but not at bottom of 70 cm.)
    • Meteor from 10 to 2 meter (28 to 148 MHz).
    • Aurora and mEteor strike happens at the E-layer
  • PSK31 - (Phase Shift Keying, 31-baud) has data rate close to typing speed, and has extremely narrow bandwidth
  • Spread spectrum is permitted above 222 MHz
  • Line-A takes a chunk out of the BOTTOM of the 70 cm band (400 MHz)
    • (“A” is the beginning of the alphabet; Line-A loses the beginning of the band; 400 MHz is the only band in the answers with multiple, close answers.)
  • dB = 10 Log (x/y)
    • Log is base 10
    • e.g. 400x increase in power = 10 Log (400/1) = 26 dB
  • A noise blanker briefly switches off the receiver when a broadband spike occurs. (Not “broadband white noise” and not a narrowband spike.)
  • X,Y graphing of RLC:
    • R is to the Right of the vertical axis.
    • L is up
    • C is down
    • Reactance of an inductor is 2pi * FL
    • Reactance of a capacitor is 1/(2pi * FC)
  • Impurity atom that adds holes to a semiconductor = “Acceptor impurity”. (Mnemonic Atom and Acceptor.)
  • Filter types:
    • Jones Filter - a type of crystal lattice filter

Desktop Alerts for SOTA

If you are a SOTA Chaser, you might be familiar with SOTA Goat. One thing which SOTA Goat does nicely is to alert you when someone has been spotted.

If you want a similar notification on your Windows PC, try KU6J’s SOTA Spot Monitor. It will notify you whenever a SOTA activator gets spotted.

Reasons to Learn CW

CW Brings Certain Advantages to SOTA

You can be a fine SOTA operator using voice modes and you can achieve Mountain Goat or Shack Sloth status using SSB or FM. Shucks, you could succeed using RTTY or JT65 if you were determined, but SOTA has some powerful motivators for learning CW.


You can work CW-only activators.

As a chaser, you have all the equipment in your shack at your disposal. The activators have only what they carry. Many activators do not carry a microphone. (Some activators entire go-kit weighs less than 2 pounds!) You aren’t going to work these activators on SSB.

You can work some of them using your computer to recognize/send CW. (CW is just a digital mode which can be digitized by the operator.) Some decoders are pretty good, but when the activator’s signal is too weak for software decoding, you’ll miss out. Signal strength can be an issue, particularly for DX, but some lightweight trail radios send at about 3 watts.

If you’re working toward your Shack Sloth award, you’ll want to be able to work both CW and SSB activations, in order to get your award faster.

Activators and Spotting

One of the coolest pieces of software on Earth is RBNGate. RBNGate is available solely to CW operators. RBNGate will hear you calling CQ and it will post a spot to SOTAWatch on your behalf.

As a reminder, you do not have to be spotted in order to activate a summit. All you have to do to earn your points is to work 4 hams who are not on the hill with you. However, you can get your contacts easier and have the fun of working the pile-up if you get spotted.

RBNGate joins two other mavelous pieces of software – RBN and SOTAWatch. RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) is out there, day in and day out, spotting CW CQs. SOTA chasers are posting spots for SOTA activators to SOTAWatch. SOTA activators post alerts, stating when they intend to activate, to SOTAWatch. What RBNGate does is to take RBN spots, match them up with SOTA alerts, and when they match, it posts a spot to SOTAWatch.

What this means is that all you have to do once you are set up on a summit is to start calling CQ via CW, and about a minute later you have a pile-up.

There are other ways to get spotted.

But with RBNGate, you just sit down, start calling CQ using CW, and you get spotted.

Very cool.


I love my KX3. The Yaesu FT-817 has many fans. KD1JV’s Mountain Topper (a.k.a. Mountain Top Radio or MTR) series of radios are absolute brilliance. Roughly the size of an Altoid tin (some models are double-size), weighing approximately 1/4 pound, runnable from a single 9-volt battery, they are the paragon of what you want to carry when you’re hiking up the side of a mountain. (i.e. Almost nothing.)

If configured correctly, and your default frequency is free, all you do is plug in your battery, paddle, antenna and earbuds and start calling. Volume level is automatic. Most models don’t even have a power switch. Just plug and call.

Some hams adapt their MTR with a built-in touch paddle, for one less thing to carry and one less thing to plug in.

It only supports CW.

Shortly after I started activating, I bought one of these and put it on a shelf at eye level in my shack, to motivate me to practice CW.

LNR Precision Mountain Topper Radio

The Usual

As CW fans will tell you, CW gets through when voice can’t:

  • When the signal is faint, CW is more likely to get through.
  • When you’re operating next to a mountain-top cell tower and QRM is at S8, CW is more likely to get through.
  • CW doesn’t have a foreign accent you can’t understand.
  • When there’s an SSB contest and the voice frequencies are full, you can move down to CW and find a space to operate.

Crusty old CW operators from back when CW was required in order to get your license sometimes complain that the no-code license spoiled ham radio. SOTA is an example of how the no-code license works well. You get on the air with SSB; you are active with SSB; then you notice advantages of learning CW. Instead of learning it to get your ticket and forgetting it, you learn it because you want to, and you keep using it because it brings you benefits you want.

CW isn’t necessary for SOTA. There are many successful activators and chasers who don’t use it. There are Mountain Goats who got there without a single CW QSO. But CW brings some mighty fine advantages.

Disclaimer: I am not a CW hotshot. I can manage a slow exchange of call signs and RST from a summit… most of the time.

See you on the summits! 73 DE K4KPK / Kevin

Where can I find out more?

  • Official site:
  • Mailing list:
  • K4KPK’s site:
  • Email me (K4KPK). My email address is available via


K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. His first QSO (ever) was on a backpacking trip to a 5300’ summit. He has completed more than 140 activations.

This story is Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Kleinfelter. A non-exclusive right to redistribute in electronic or printed form is granted to amateur radio clubs operating in the metro Atlanta area. All other rights reserved.

How to Read a Repeater Listing

I do most of my operating on 20 and 40 meters. I have an HT that I use occasionally for simplex and for APRS. Whenever I try to use it on a repeater, I have to remember how to read a repeater listing.

Here’s a sample repeater listing:

Location Call Freq Offset PL
Ellijay W4HHH 145.170 - 100.0
Dalton N4BZJ 147.135 + 141.3
  • Frequency: The frequency the repeater transmits on.
  • Offset: The repeater listens for your HT a standard offset above/below its transmit frequency. For 2 meters, the offset is 600 kHz.
  • PL: Sometimes called CTCSS. Your HT must transmit this sub-audible tone continuously, while you transmit, in order to open the repeater squelch. It “unlocks” the repeater.

As a rule, if the output frequency (transmit) of the repeater is below 147 mHz, then the input frequency (listening) is 600 kilohertz lower. This is referred to as a negative offset. If the output is 147 Mhz or above, then the input is 600 kilohertz above. This is referred to as a positive offset. Most HTs handle this automatically, using the rule below. The only time you have to mess with this directly is when someone has an oddball repeater. Of the 255 repeaters near me, 9 of them do not follow the convention.

Announce your presence with: “This is K4xxx listening on 146.84” (using your call sign and the repeater frequency). If I were looking for SOTA contacts I might say, “This is K4KPK on the 146.84 repeater. I’m operating from the top of Mount Whatever. Is there anyone who could meet me for a simplex contact?”

W4T Beginner Summits

These are summits I recommend for beginners (or just when you want a low-effort activation) in Tennessee.

W4G Beginner Summits

These are summits I recommend for beginners (or just when you want a low-effort activation) in Georgia.