My Introduction to SOTA

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I can’t honestly say that I knew a whole heck of a lot about SOTA prior to a week or so ago. Sure I figured it had something to do with activating mountain tops and had figured out what the acronym stood for. By the way, SOTA stands for Summits On The Air. The general idea of SOTA is much of that with IOTA (Islands On The Air) or LOTA (Lighthouses On The Air). Ironically, the same weekend I worked my first SOTA station, I also worked my first lighthouse. Since there aren’t very many lighthouses in Colorado, I decided I would read up on and become more familiar with SOTA. I believe I’ll be able to find a few summits here in the Centennial State to keep me busy for a while.

My first SOTA QSO sort of came by accident. I had been tuning up and down the band looking for W3T which was the Nikola Tesla special event station operating out of New York. I had noticed W3T spotted on a few of the DX clusters, but never heard them or the stations I did hear operating on the posted frequency were clearly not W3T. I turned to Twitter to see if anyone else had either worked W3T or heard them. I was just about to send my tweet when I saw a twitter posting from K0BAM. Jim lives over in Delta, Colorado. Anyway, his Twitter posting read something like W7IMC operating QRP SOTA from Idaho 14.343. I gave the big dial on the front of my Yaesu FT-950 a spin up to 14.343 and listened for a few minutes.

The bands have been in fine shape most of the day. I had worked several US stations and even a JA on 10m just before this. The signal I was hearing from Idaho sounded like it was coming from Idaho Springs, Colorado (just up I-70 from me). I listened a few seconds more and the mountaintop station called Whiskey, Seven, India, Mike, Charlie QRZ. I quickly came back with Kilo, Delta, Zero, Bravo, India, Kilo and just like that I was in QSO with my first SOTA station.

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As I previously stated, Scott’s (W7IMC shown right) 5w signal was booming into Colorado and we quickly exchanged pleasantries and he told me he was located on Regan Butte and provided the SOTA identifier of W7/SR-181. I knew Scott had others who wanted to work him and I wished him luck with his activation and said my 73 and logged the QSO in my logbook. I stayed on frequency and listened for another three or four QSO’s and picked up more information about the SOTA program. Of course, I quickly pulled up Google (Google is our friend) and soon found a couple of interesting websites.

The first website is the SOTA main home on the web. SOTA actually began over in the UK and slowly migrated throughout Europe and eventually we caught on over here. SOTA refers to each particular area as an association and there are 54 such associations around the world. Each association is managed by a volunteer called an association manager. The association which serves the Denver Front Range area is W0. W0 is managed by wG0AT, Steve Galchutt. You may know Steve from his Youtube videos featuring Rooster and Peanut his two pack goats.

Each association will have anywhere from a few qualifying summits and some have several thousands. In the case of W0, we have 1,791 qualifying summits. Enough to keep me busy for a long time. All total there are over 42,000 qualifying summits world wide.

Now we have two different ways to participate in the SOTA program. We can lace up our hiking boots, grab our portable gear and activate a qualifying summit. This is called an activator. Or we can grab a cup of coffee, head down to our comfortable shack. This is called a chaser. Obviously the success of the program requires both types of participants. Of course, an activator can work other mountain top activations.

Both activators and chasers can log their contacts into the SOTA database. Points are awarded for both categories. For what I hope is an obvious reason, those performing the activator role earn more points than those chasing. In addition, each qualifying summit may have different points earned based on degree of difficulty.

With winter coming on with a bang in the Colorado high country, I’ll spend the next few months learning more about SOTA and working other SOTA station activations as I can. Check out the SOTAwatch database for upcoming activations and current spots.

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Finally, if you’re an iOS user (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). Check out the Pocket Sota app. It’s .99 cents in the iTunes App Store. The app provides a listing of all the associations which you can drill into to find detailed information about each of the qualifying summits including a map view.

The image to the left represents 219 qualifying summits in the Front Range region of the W0 association. While some of these are 14,000+ peaks, many are not. Those that aren’t just might be accessible even in the early winter months and I might just have to investigate a possible activation as KD0BIK/P. However, before I really get serious about this, I need to update my portable power setup.

I’m looking at the nanophosphate technology so many of our fellow amateur’s are raving about. Unlike the 12v 7.5Ah batteries I use today, which weigh in at a whopping, back breaking 5+ pounds. The 9.2Ah version is only a little over 3 pounds. Also, as I understand…the nanophosphate batteries last until the last milliamp is gone from the battery, all while holding their voltage. Yes the cost is much greater than SLA models. But I feel this could be well worth it.

Until then, I’ll be watching the SOTAwatch database for activations as well as keeping my ears open for any I happen to hear on the bands. I’ll make sure to document any such activities be it chasing or activations right here.

Until next time….

73 de KD0BIK (Jerry)

Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. He is the host of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Contact him at [email protected].

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