The Summits On The Air (SOTA) program was designed with hiking/climbing in mind but some SOTA summits have roads that go to the top. Some notable ones that come to mind are Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004), Mount Scott (W5O/WI-002), Mount Coolidge (W0D/BB-012), Sandia Crest (W5N/SI-001), Mount Greylock (W1/MB-001) and Mount Mitchell (W4C/CM-001). There are also summits that have trams, trains and chairlifts that provide easy access.
Some SOTA activators dismiss drive-up summits as not being the real SOTA experience. Everyone is entitled to their point of view and can choose their summits accordingly. I am too pragmatic (read: lazy) to worry about that. If there’s a road to the top, I am probably going to use it, whether it’s a serious 4WD road or a well-paved surface.
The specific terminology used in the various SOTA Association Reference Manuals (ARMs) may vary a bit so I will refer to the Colorado (W0C) ARM:
The SOTA General Rules state that the method of final access to the radio operating location must be nonmotorized. The General Rules do not specify the distance, either vertical or horizontal, that this final access must cover. The use of non-motorized vehicles (e.g. bicycle) or pack animals to enter the Activation Zone (AZ) is permitted. Operations must not be in, or in the close vicinity of a motor vehicle, cannot use a permanent electrical power source, nor use a fossil fuel generator in any fashion. No part of the station may be connected in any way with the motor vehicle. All equipment must be operated from portable power source (batteries, solar cells, etc).
The intent of the rules is quite clear: SOTA is not a motorized activity…you need to operate independently of a motor vehicle. Like most rules though, there are shades of grade on the interpretation. Just how independent do we need to be? Unless you started your hike from your home location, all SOTA activations have some form of mechanized transport involved. It is just a question of how far you ride and how far you walk.
Some SOTA Associations used to suggest or require a qualifying hike for drive-up summits. This means that you hike down from the summit for some minimal vertical distance (100 feet or so) and then hike back up to “qualify” your activation. This idea seems to be on the way out and this language was removed from the W0C ARM some years ago. However, your Association may still encourage it or you could just decide that it is a practice that you want to do. (You can find ARMs here.)
Some new SOTA activators look at the rules and suggest they are too restrictive. They argue that people with limited mobility should be allowed to operate from a vehicle. These requests have been heard before and are immediately rejected. I do think the SOTA Management Team has crafted a workable approach that keeps SOTA oriented towards backpack portable operating while still allowing for minimal mobility.
The guiding principle that we use on our drive-up or tram-up summits is to use our normal backpack-portable SOTA station. However we get to the summit, everything goes into a pack which is carried for some minimal distance away from the vehicle, tram or chairlift. This keeps the drive-up SOTA station configured just like the hike-in variety: compact, lightweight, no chairs, no tables (unless they fit into our packs.) This avoids the “Field Day” style set up with lots of gear carried from the vehicle via multiple trips to create a Big Portable Station. Sometimes the drive-up summits are overrun with people, so a short hike away from the crowds can get you to a quieter spot.
That’s how we do it. What are your thoughts?
73 Bob K0NR