SOTA (Summits On The Air) is an awards program to encourage operating from the tops of mountains. “Activators” get points for operating from a summit. “Chasers” get points for contacting activators. Points are good for… counting, and not much else!

Why would I want to activate?

My XYL, certifiably smarter than me, says, “It is a perfect combination. You get to spend time outdoors and you get to collect shiny toys.” That pretty well sums it up.

Have you ever hiked to the top of a mountain and wondered, “This is nice view. What do I do now?” Now you have a mission. Pull out the radio, throw a wire into a tree, and work a pile-up. When you call CQ from a summit, it seems as if everyone wants to talk with you.

There are a variety of awards, including the Mountain Goat award for 1000 points, Activators who achieve 1,000 points earn the Mountain Goat award. As of mid-December 2014, only 21 hams in the US have achieved this award.

Other reasons to activate:

  • Tired of QRM? The nearest source of QRM is typically miles away.
  • HOA restricts your antenna height? My tower is on a 4,000 foot base.
  • Operating VHF? Line of sight can be 100 miles in all directions.

Why would I want to chase?

It’s easy enough to work Bubba, with his QRO kilowatt and a beam pointed at you. Hone your skills pulling a 2 watt signal sent from a random wire in a tree out of thunderstorm QRN. (“ I know he’s there. I can hear others working him. Maybe if I narrow my filter and up the RF gain… Bingo! Got him.”)

Make progress on your Worked All States award. Anywhere there’s a qualified summit, sooner or later, you’ll find an activator. Earn the prestigious Shack Sloth trophy. (SOTA has a sense of humor!)

With a good antenna, go after DX activators. Make contact with a ham who’s clipped to a piton from a summit in the Alps. See if you can QSO with that operator who’s perched on the rim of a volcano. (Yes, this happens.)

Activating or chasing isn’t enough of a challenge. What else have you got?

Maybe you’d like to combine chasing and activating. When two activators make contact, this is a “summit-to-summit.” Since you’re both QRP and you’re both mountain-top portable, this is even more of a challenge (and more gratifying when you succeed).

SOTA isn’t fair!

It is important to note that SOTA is not about fairness – it is about participation. There are easy 10-point summits and there are epic 1-pointers. Do not look for fairness in SOTA scoring. It isn’t there.

The rules of SOTA are designed to encourage participation – to get activators activating and chasers chasing. From time to time, someone will propose a modification of the rules, to rationalize scoring. Socially, this is on par with passing gas at a dinner party!

But I’m not athletic and I don’t have a quad at 60 feet. Can I play too?

Activation requires operating portably from a qualified SOTA summit. At a minimum, you’ve got to carry your equipment away from your vehicle, and you must use a battery or solar power. Most activations require a hike up the side of a mountain, but remember that the goal of SOTA is participation. At one extreme, you could drive to a drive-up summit, climb into a wheelchair, have a buddy pile your equipment into your lap, push you across the parking lot, and you could operate from a picnic table. At the other extreme, you could backpack 2 days into wilderness, followed by a 5 mile bushwhack, and operate from a snow-covered escarpment.

Where can I find out more?


K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat, and was the 19th North American to achieve Mountain Goat status. His first QSO was a SOTA activation on a backpacking trip to a 5300 foot summit with his 12 year-old son. He has more than 110 activations, including Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

This story is Copyright 2014 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.