A colleague recently asked, “As winter sets in, I guess you’ll be putting your activating on hold until spring, huh? No chance! We’ll take a look at the virtues of cold-weather activations.


  1. I’m discussing southeastern winter weather – not winter at 14,000 feet!
  2. You are responsible for ensuring that you don’t freeze to death - not me.


In winter months, some SOTA regions offer a 3-point bonus on 8 and 10 point summits. The rationalle is to provide extra incentive when ice and cold temperature set in. In the southeast:

  • Tennessee (W4T) give a winter bonus from December 1 - March 31.
  • Georgia (W4G) gives a winter bonus from December 1 - March 15.
  • Virginia (W4) offers a winter bonus from December 1 - March 15.
  • North and South Carolina (W4C) offer no winter bonus.
  • Alabama (W4A) offers no winter bonus.

Why the differences? SOTA associations are local within guidelines set by the SOTA Management Team. The volunteer who authored the association reference manual for W4C chose “not applicable” for the weather bonus, so there is none; the author of the W4G manual felt that a winter bonus was desirable. W4A doesn’t have summits above 2500 feet.

Chasers are assumed to have heat in the shack, so there’s no bonus for chasers.


Many summits require off-trail travel in order to reach them. Bushwhacking is easier when trees are bare and ground vegetation has died back. There’s less brush to push through, you can see where you’re going, and you can see the sun (which is helpful in maintaining your course). As a result, there are many summits which are easier from mid-November through March.


You may have to contend with ice and snow. While ice and snow make for a treacherous drive, winter views can be breathtaking. There is a particular peace that sets in when snow is falling and yours are the only footprints. Some activators like “postman’s spikes” to provide better traction on an icy trail. Trekking poles help to some extent. Fortunately, in the south we seldom have enough snow to warrant snowshoes.

Warm clothing is essential, particularly when the wind is blowing (and the wind is almost always blowing “up top.”) Keep in mind that you’ll work up a sweat when hiking, and then you’ll be sitting on a mountaintop. WG0AT has commented on the irony of working up a sweat, walking uphill, only to sit still in a freezing wind once you get there. You’ll need to add layers when you stop climbing. Sometimes I wind up with 3 shirts, 3 jackets, and 2 pair of pants.

Consider carrying a closed-cell pad to sit on – sitting on a cold rock will suck the heat right out of you. Rain gear is particularly important. If you are wet in the winter, you’re in trouble. Rain gear can also be used as a wind break, so long as you don’t let yourself get soaked from perspiration. Good gloves can be a challenge. I often wear Thinsulate-insulated gloves or mittens as I set up. I haven’t figured out how to operate CW or to log contacts legibly with gloves on. In bitter cold, you may find that using a digital recorder attached to your headphone jack allows you to dispense with making a written record and you can operate voice-only with gloves. Some people throw a small blanket over their paddle and paddle-hand.

Do take care when driving up a frozen road that you’ll be able to get out when it thaws. Activators have been known to get stuck when the road melts!

Wrap Up

Don’t forget that daylight ends earlier in the winter. You don’t want to get stuck on Mt. Nowhere after dark.

Check Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps to be sure that the road to the trailhead is open. Many USFS roads are closed in January and February; some are closed even longer.

See you on the summits!

73 DE K4KPK / Kevin

Where can I find out more?

  • Official site: http://sotadata.org.uk/
  • Mailing list: https://groups.yahoo.com/groups/summits
  • K4KPK’s site: http://k4kpk.com/content/sota-menu
  • Email me (K4KPK). My email address is available via http://www.qrz.com/db/K4KPK.


K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat. He has completed more than 165 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.