Posts Tagged ‘SOTA’
Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) is a popular Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak near Monument, CO. It is The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado and recently popped onto the worldwide 50 Most Popular Summits. The summit elevation is 9063 feet (2762m) and the grid locator is DM79mb.
Access to the summit is not difficult and most of the locals know how to find it without a problem. However, there are a few things that can trip up a first-time activator.
Most people will get to Monument via I-25, taking the main Monument exit (Exit 161). Go west on 2nd street through the old downtown area, over the railroad tracks to a stop sign at Mitchell Road. Go left (south) on Mitchell Road and then right (west) onto Mount Herman Road (FS 320). Shortly after entering the national forest, you will probably see a sign that says Mt Herman Trailhead. THIS IS NOT THE TRAILHEAD YOU WANT. Keep going on Mt Herman Road.
Mt Herman Road angles left (going south) at the intersection with Red Rocks Drive. At this point, reset or check your odometer as it will help you find the actual Mt Herman Trailhead (see map below). Continue on Mt Herman Road for 2.6 miles, where the trailhead is off to the right as the road curves left.
The condition of Mt Herman Road varies considerably from year to year. Most of the time the road is OK for high-clearance 2WD vehicles. Sometimes it deteriates to easy 4WD. The road and trail are often usable in the winter months but it depends greatly on recent temperatures and snowfall. The road is not maintained in the winter so definitely 4WD required.
The actual trailhead is not that well marked, hence the need to watch the odometer. However, on most summer days, there will be cars parked at the trailhead. Parking is informal, just a gravel area off on the right side of the road.
The trail to the summit is 1.2 miles one-way and 800 feet vertical. Make sure you make the first turn, about 500 feet from the trailhead, that takes you up the mountain. There is another trail that continues straight at this point, which may throw you off. There are a few steep sections where the loose granite marbles can make the trail slippery. Hiking boots with some tread on them are recommended and trekking poles can be helpful, too.
At the summit, there is a fire ring where people sometimes camp out overnight. The hike is popular, so you’ll probably have other people stopping by. There is plenty of room in the activation area, so I set up my radio gear some distance from the actual summit.
Mt Herman is a wonderful hike with great views (even if you don’t want to do a SOTA activation). With a superb radio horizon, it is also first-rate place to make radio contacts.
73 Bob K0NR
As noted in that trip report, we never did find much of a trail so we had to do some serious offtrail bushwacking. Being on the summit was great but bushwacking up was not. Later Walt/W0CP found a much better route using the Davis Meadow Trail. We definitely wanted to try this route and get back on top of that summit.
We approached the Davis Meadow Trailhead from the east via Highways 285 / 24. We took FS 311 from Trout Creek Pass to FS 373, then FS 373A. FS 311 starts out in good condition, passable by high clearance 2WD vehicles. Later it turns into “easy 4WD” but it gets very steep in spots which may be a problem during wet weather. You can also approach from the west side coming up from Buena Vista. Check the San Isabel National Forest map for the complete picture.
Just to the east of the unnamed summit is a natural arch, marked on some maps as Aspen Arch. We’ve hiked up the arch on numerous occasions, often with visitors from out of state. So we’ve started referring to this unnamed SOTA as Aspen Arch, to differentiate it from the other unnamed summits in the area.
The Davis Meadow Trailhead is marked by a sign. Trail 1413 heads north and loops around the north side of SP-089. The trail is well laid out with plenty of switchbacks, much more than indicated on the Trails Illustrated map.
We followed the trail until it looped around the north side of SP-089. Marmot Peak, another SOTA summit (W0C/SP-063), sticks out prominently to the north and is a good landmark to use for navigating. As shown on the map above, we left the trail and bushwacked south up to the summit. I don’t claim that our route was optimal. It was classic offtrail hiking with some areas quite open and others clogged with plenty of downed trees and rocks. (Next time, I think we’ll try to stay a little further east of our recorded track. It looked a little better over there.)
The GPS app on my phone recorded the one-way hike as 2.7 miles and 1100 vertical feet.
We arrrived at the summit around noon and thunderstorms were moving into the area. We both made four quick radio contacts on 2m FM to get the activation points, then headed back down the trail. The summit is exposed and very rocky but once we got off the top, we were hiking in trees with limited lightning danger. Thanks to Bob/W0BV, Jim/KD0MRC, Larry/KL7GLK and Kevin/KD0VHD for working us.
After our first bushwack adventure on this summit, we were not motived to activate this one again. However, using the Davis Meadow Trail has changed our opinion. (Thanks Walt/W0CP!) This route still has some offtrail bushwacking but it is not bad. We will be back!
When planning for the next Summits On The Air (SOTA) hike, I want to understand the difficulty of the climb. The main things to evaluate are the length of the hike (horizontal distance), the vertical (elevation) gain and other contributing factors.
Most of the SOTA summits in Colorado have a simple profile: pretty much uphill on the way to the summit and then mostly downhill on the way back to the trailhead. Yes, there may be flat sections and sometimes there will be a downhill section or two on the ascent, which means you give back some elevation gain only to regain it later. Usually, we think of going downhill as “easy” but if you have sensitive knees or other joints, you may disagree.
The first question is how far do I need to hike? Clearly, hiking 10 miles is a lot harder than hiking 1 mile, all other things being equal. However, I usually find the vertical gain to be more important. (Typically, the horizontal distance of a SOTA hike is within my capabilities and the vertical gain is my real concern.) I also do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on slope. My benchmark for slope is 1000 vertical feet in one mile, which is an uphill slope that will get my heart pumping but is not too difficult (corresponds to ~20% slope). Anything steeper than that starts to feel more challenging. A slope less than that is easier. Be careful with average calculations. You might find that a particular trail is flat for 3 miles and then gains all of the vertical in the last mile. Having a good topographical map is a must for understanding the route. I generally use GAIA GPS, an online mapping website and smartphone app.
Certainly the condition of the trail and its inherent terrain are an important factor to consider. The SOTA hikes I do are typically Class 1, 2 or 3. I don’t do summits that require ropes or technical climbing.
Difficulty ratings from 14ers.com
Class 1. Easy hiking – usually on a good trail.
Let’s take a look at some specific summits as examples.
Note: there are often multiple routes to the same summit, so don’t use this information for trip planning. Do your homework.
Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063): a bit steep in spots but typical of many SOTA hikes: 1000 feet vertical gain in about one mile, right at my benchmark of 1000 feet vertical per mile. I consider that an easy hike.
Genesee Mountain (W0C/FR-194): is one of the easiest and enjoyable SOTA summits in Colorado, only 0.7 miles and 300 vertical feet. The average slope is 430 feet per mile, so not very steep at all.
Mt Sherman (W0C/SR-061): is considered to be one of the easiest fourteeners, but it is still a fourteener: 2100 feet vertical gain in 2.6 miles (807 feet per mile).
Mount Elbert (W0C/SR-001): A more challenging (middle of the road?) fourteener with 4700 feet vertical gain over 4.75 miles). The average slope is 1000 feet per mile so it’s not that steep but 4700 vertical feet will definitely wear me out.
Not to be overlooked, the condition of the route can make a big difference. Often, there is no established trail to a SOTA summit, which means you’ll need to hike offtrail or “bushwack”. If the ground is uncluttered and the trees well-spaced, bushwacking can be easy. On the other hand, if there is a lot of downed timber, you have to climb over and around obstacles to get to the summit. Some summits have willows or other scrub brush that gets in the way. Intense bushwacking can make a huge difference, making the hike more difficult by a factor of two (or more). Many times, I’ve looked at the route to a summit on a topographical map, judged it to be not so bad and later discovered that it requires serious bushwacking. Hikes like that really help me to appreciate a well-designed and maintained trail.
High altitude and the resulting lack of oxygen contribute to the difficulty of the climb. This is going to vary considerably between individuals. Almost everyone feels the effects at 14,000 feet but at lower elevations individual performance will vary dramatically. Normally, I don’t have an issue at 10,000 feet, notice some effect at 12,000 feet and I’m definitely huffing and puffing above 13k.
Finally, weather can play a big role in increasing the difficulty of a hike. In the winter, it is common to use snowshoes when deep snow is present on the route. The snowshoes tend to sink into the snow with each step, causing more effort to be expended hiking the route. Ice can also be present requiring microspikes or other traction devices.
So that’s a quick look at how I judge the difficulty of a SOTA hike. The SOTA database often has trip reports from other SOTA activators, which can be extremely helpful. It is always great to learn from the experiences of other folks.
73 Bob K0NR
August 3 & 4, 2019
Saturday and Sunday
Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun during the 28th annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. The covers the entire weekend but many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.
The event includes all Summits On the Air (SOTA) summits, which adds over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from with a wide range of difficulty. See the Colorado SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org
Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er group via the ham14er groups.io website. Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org
Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz. At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz.
For a complete list of suggested HF, VHF and UHF frequencies see this web page.
Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.
There is a lot more information available here: www.ham14er.org
Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force
Joyce/K0JJW and I were planning a trip to Alaska to visit several of the national parks. We had some time available while in Fairbanks to do some SOTA activations. We were traveling very light, so we took minimal SOTA gear: a pair of VHF/UHF handhelds and simple antennas.
We used my newly-fashioned antenna mount on a trekking pole we had with us. The trekking pole served us as as a trekking pole for hiking, a camera monopod and now an antenna support. It provides a handy way of supporting a vertical antenna and provides a little more antenna height when held up in the air.
I checked the SOTA database to identify easy-to-access summits near Fairbanks. There are several 1 and 2 point summits in the area with easy access. We were not looking for drive-up summits but we did want an easy hike.
I found that Dale/KL7R and Peter/K3OG had been activating in the area, so I contacted them via email and they both gave me helpful advice. We were a bit concerned about getting our four QSOs on VHF, but that turned out to not be a problem. We worked Dale from all three summits and he helped rustle up a few more stations to work. We had pretty good luck just calling CQ on 146.52 MHz. And I announced our presence and need for simplex contacts on the KL7KC repeater (146.88 MHz, 103.5 Hz tone).
We activated three summits:
Chena Ridge (KLF/FN-205)
We drove up Chena Ridge Road, then took a gravel road uphill towards the summit (I think it was labeled North Becker Ridge Road). At this point, we encountered a locked gate and parked there. Some locals wandered by and said that they hike up to the top every day, so come along. The hike was easy, less than one quarter of a mile with some elevation gain. At the summit is an FAA VOR site enclosed by a chain link fence.
Pedro Dome (KLF/FN-164)
Next, we drove north out to Pedro Dome, which has a substantial radio site on top. We took Steese Highway north from Fairbanks to Pedro Dome Road, a gravel road that goes right to the top of the summit. There are opportunities to make a wrong turn on the way up Pedro Dome Road but with a little care we were able to drive to the top. Despite the fact there are plenty of radio transmitters on the summit, we did not experience any interference on 2m and 70 cm. That summit has an excellent radio horizon, so it was easy to work stations in the Fairbanks area.
Wigwam Benchmark (KLF/FN-204)
Wigwam Benchmark is a summit that pokes up just north of Fairbanks. It is a bit more difficult to navigate because it in a rural residential area with lots of twisty-turny roads. I plugged “Noel Drive, Fairbanks, AK” into google maps, which got us very close. Then we drove to where Noel Drive meets Mia Drive and operated from the road. The area is heavily wooded and we did get attacked by the famous Alaskan mosquitoes, so we made our radio contacts and escaped quickly.
At one point, I told Dale that if we made one contact from one summit, we would be happy. But, of course, we tried for more than that and got it. It turned out to be a great day running around these summits near Fairbanks and making some radio contacts. Thanks to KL7R and K3OG for the assistance!
73 Bob K0NR
My Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation of Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) on June 20th qualified me for Mountain Goat, using only the VHF/UHF bands. Mountain Goat requires 1000 activation points using the SOTA activation point system.
I’ve been working toward this goal for quite a while. I was doing mountaintop VHF activations before SOTA was even a thing. The first contact in my SOTA log is from Mount Antero in August 2011 but I started cranking up the SOTA activations in 2013 and later. I chose Pikes Peak for my qualifying Mountain Goat activation because its always been a special summit for me: I see it almost every morning (weather permitting) from my house in Monument. It is America’s Mountain, reaching to over 14k feet in elevation, standing tall west of Colorado Springs.
Most people have to wait for the mail to receive their SOTA Mountain Goat certificate. However, Steve/WG0AT created a custom award certificate that Joyce presented to me on the summit of Pikes Peak.
Some statistics from my SOTA log: I made 1557 radio contacts during 164 activations. Some of these activations were repeats of the same summit and I activated 96 unique summits. On 9 of those activations, I failed to complete the minimum of 4 radio contacts required to receive points; so I “got skunked” on those summits (zero points).
The majority of these summits were in Colorado, but I also did some operating from California, South Dakota, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas and (last but not least) Switzerland. Almost all of them with my awesome wife and hiking partner, Joyce/K0JJW. Take a look at the various SOTA postings on my blog for trip reports and operating tips.
Any SOTA activator will tell you that nothing happens without chasers being there to make radio contacts. Chasers are always important but even more important for VHF due to the limited range. The list below shows my top chasers. Some of these folks are active SOTA enthusiasts but many of them are just friendly folks on the radio helping me achieve this goal. You’ll see that my #1 chaser is Joyce/K0JJW, who usually worked me on multiple bands after leaving the summit.
Thank you, Chasers, for your support!
Many people underestimate what is possible on the VHF/UHF bands, even under normal conditions. I’ve been trying to educate folks on what is possible with VHF from high locations. See The Myth of VHF Line of Sight. Beefing up your station with a directional antenna and a little bit of power can make a big difference, even when just using FM. My best DX using VHF on a SOTA activation is a 2m CW contact from Capulin Mountain with W9RM near Olathe, CO for a distance of 257 miles.
The Summits On The Air program is a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors while having fun with ham radio. Thanks to everyone that helped me reach my goal of VHF Mountain Goat.
73 Bob K0NR
For Summits On The Air (SOTA), I’ve been using just the VHF/UHF ham bands, with the 2m band being the most popular. For most activations, I use a 3-element Arrow II yagi antenna that has a gain of about 6 dBd. Sometimes that extra gain makes the difference between completing a contact or not.
But it is also handy to have an omnidirectional antenna that is easy to deploy. Sometimes I’d rather just call or monitor using an omni without having to point the antenna. “Easy and good enough” can be an effective strategy for SOTA.
A key advantage to an omnidirectional antenna is that it is always pointed in the right direction.
I usually carry one of the TWAYRDIO RH770 VHF/UHF antennas for use with my 2m/70cm handheld transceiver. Despite its low cost, I have found that its performance to be quite good. That antenna is offered with a variety of connectors, including a BNC.
This led me to the idea of putting together a simple antenna mount with a BNC on it, attach an RH770 antenna to it and support it using some kind of pole. I have several monopod devices (intended for use as a camera support) that use the standard 1/4-20 thread. I also have a trekking pole that has the same camera mounting thread. Another option is to use an actual camera tripod which is a bit bulky but may work for some SOTA activations.
After a short visit to the hardware store, I selected crossbar for mounting a light fixture that was about the right size and shape. I happened to have a bulkhead-mount BNC-to-BNC connector which I inserted into the large hole in the crossbar. That hole was not quite large enough for the connector, but a few minutes work with a round file solved that problem.
The crossbar was originally flat but I bent one one end of it 90 degrees, with the idea that this might offer other mounting configurations in the future. For example, I might be able to strap or tape the 90 degree angle member to a pole or support.
The other end of the crossbar has a large slot that accommodated the 1/4-20 mounting stud. Actually, the slot was not quite wide enough, so some addition work with a round file opened it up. I secured the 1/4-20 thread using a nylon wing nut.
I’ve used this setup on one SOTA activation and was pleased with the results. I carried the crossbar mount attached to the monopod in my pack. On the summit, I simply installed the RH770 antenna onto the top BNC and extended the monopod. On this summit, I found the perfect pile of rocks that made a good support for the monopod. Then I used a short length of RG-8X coax between the bottom BNC and the 2m/70cm transceiver.
Although my primary interest was with the 2 meter band, it was really convenient to have both 2m and 70cm on the same antenna. I am pleased with operation of the antenna and the ability to deploy it quickly. I expect to carry this on most of my SOTA activations.
73 Bob K0NR