Would you like to try a SOTA activation? You do NOT need to be a mountain climber or even particularly athletic in order to activate a summit. Activating is simultaneously easy and difficult.

The first thing you’ll want to do is to pick out a summit. Not every hill you see is a qualified SOTA summit. SOTA summits are listed at the main SOTA site.

Start with one that’s near home. Plan to succeed, but minimize your investment, just in case things don’t go as planned.

Pick a hill that’s not too far from home. If you’re based in the metro Atlanta area, some good candidates for your first activation include:

If you need an easy/no hike, prime candidates include:

Map of Suggested First-timer Summits

Map of Good Atlanta-area First-timer Summits

Read the rules!

There two rules which receive lots of attention:

  1. “The method of final access to the summit must be non-motorised.”
  2. “Operations must not be in, or in the vicinity of a motor vehicle. No part of the station may be connected in any way to the motor vehicle.”

The first rule is intentionally somewhat vague, so as to permit participation by hams with limited mobility. For example, if you’re wheelchair-bound, you could meet this requirement by having someone push you for the last 100’. SOTA is on the honor system. Do what you can do. If it is an achievement for you to walk across the parking lot, that’s your “final access to the summit.” A more mobile Activator may set a personal threshold that requires him to park short of a drive-up summit, and walk the last 1/4 mile. Others may declare that if it isn’t at least a 5 mile bushwhack, they won’t activate it!

The second rule is intended to prevent operation from your truck or car. SOTA is about portable operation and not mobile operation.

While following the rules is necessary to get your points, don’t get hung up on memorizing them. Read them. Make a good faith effort to follow them. Review your plan with an experienced activator and debrief with an experienced activator after your activation. If you violate a rule, you don’t get your points. That’s a disappointment, but nothing worse. Remember, you picked an easy first summit, so you haven’t made an epic effort. You’ll learn much from your attempt and your next try will be a piece of cake.

You’ll need a radio. A portable HF rig is ideal. At a minimum, you’ll need something that is light enough to carry, an antenna, plus sufficient battery for 20 minutes.

It is possible to activate via HT, but your QSOs must not be via a repeater. You can call people on a repeater, and ask them to meet you on simplex, but your official SOTA contact must be simplex.) If you’re using an HT, you’ll want to line up some friends to chase you and it helps if they have good antennas, so they can do the “heavy lifting.”

You’ll need a portable antenna. A resonant dipole is a popular choice for HF – particularly if you don’t have an antenna tuner. With a good ATU, a 35.5 foot “random” wire with a counterpoise is another popular choice. Some operators love a magnetic loop. My personal favorite is an end-fed half-wave. Remember: You’ll be operating QRP from a mountain top. RF in the shack will not be a major issue; weight and simple setup are a priority.

Of course, you’ll need a paddle and/or a microphone, headphones, etc. Make up a checklist. Check it twice. If you discover you’ve left something out, add it to your checklist so you don’t forget it next time. Here’s a sample checklist you can customize to suit your needs.

Take water, a snack, pencil and paper. Make notes on what went well and what failed. Bring warm clothing. Even in the summer, it is cooler ‘up on top’ than it is at home.

Before you go, visit SOTAwatch and post your plans. This tells chasers when and where to look for you.

Once you’re set up on the summit, you can call CQ on your favorite frequency. You need four contacts in order to get your points for the summit. They can be contacts with any properly licensed ham. Your contacts need not be with SOTA chasers and your contacts need not log the QSO in order for you to get your points. (Of course, if they aren’t chasers, you can take the opportunity to encourage them to sign up.)

If want to work a pile-up, you want to get spotted on SOTAwatch. Experienced chasers monitor SOTAwatch; when they see an activation, they turn out in force. If you QSO with a chaser, he’ll probably post a spot on SOTAwatch. (You can ask him to do so, to be sure.) Once you’re spotted, expect a small pile-up in 1-3 minutes.

You can spot yourself. This is easy if you are on a summit with a cell signal. If you have an Internet-enabled device, visit SOTAwatch when you’re ready to go on the air and post a spot. If you don’t have Internet, but you can make a voice call from the summit, you can call a friend and have him post your spot to SOTAwatch. You can spot yourself via SMS. (See http://k4kpk.com/content/sota-self-spot-sms-usa.) You can spot yourself via APRS. (See http://k4kpk.com/content/sota-self-spot-aprs.) If you posted an alert and you use CW, you’ll be automatically spotted through the wonders of RBN and RBNGate.

When you return home, visit http://sotadata.org.uk/ and record your QSOs. Then visit http://sotadata.org.uk/activatorlog.aspx and track your status toward the coveted Mountain Goat award.

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.
  • Stay tuned. This is a recurring series.


K4KPK, Kevin Kleinfelter is Georgia’s first SOTA Mountain Goat, and was the 19th North American to achieve Mountain Goat. His first QSO was on a backpacking trip to a 5300 foot summit with his 12 year-old son. He has more than 120 activations, including Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

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.