Who really uses the VHF and higher bands (>50 MHz) for Summits On The Air? Last year, I pulled some data from the SOTA database and provided some analysis.
Here is the short story:
Roughly 20% of the SOTA contacts worldwide are on VHF/UHF frequencies and about 90% of these are on 2m FM.
So that’s the information that is in the official SOTA database. For SOTA, I pretty much operate on the VHF/UHF bands so over time I’ve noticed that four types of operators use VHF/UHF for SOTA. Of course, this is based on my own observations, mostly in Colorado but also in other states.
Many newer hams or new-to-SOTA hams just grab their handheld radio and go do a SOTA activation. This makes a lot of sense, assuming there is reasonable 2m FM simplex activity around. Summits that are within VHF range of large population areas usually work quite well. A Technician license is sufficient to have fun with this mode (both activating and chasing). If you are new to ham radio, like the outdoors, and have SOTA summits in your area, this is a fun activity to pursue!
Many SOTA activators are after longer distance contacts so they naturally gravitate to the HF bands. Some leave VHF behind, as they focus on HF operating. However, many SOTA activators and chasers keep a VHF radio in their toolkit, often treating it as an add-on to their HF activity. Sometimes the VHF radio becomes the fail-safe mode if things are not working well on the HF bands. Sometimes, I hear activators say something like “the HF gear was just not working for me today, so I had to use my HT to log four contacts.”
There are quite a few hams out there on 2m FM that are not really focused on SOTA. They like to hang out on 2m FM simplex, especially 146.52 MHz, to chat with whoever comes along. In the backcountry, this may include hikers, snowshoers, skiers, 4WD enthusiasts, campers, etc. It also includes hams just hanging around the shack with a radio or scanner monitoring 2m FM. Announce that you are on top of a summit and these folks are happy to contact you.
Finally, there are VHF/UHF enthusiasts that like the combination of higher frequencies and mountaintop operating. The effect of Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) has a huge impact at these frequencies. A 5-watt handheld (HT) might be limited to a few miles on flat terrain, but from the top of a summit, the range extends dramatically (50 to 100 miles). Improve your station and 200-to-300-mile contacts are achievable. Most of this action is still on 2m FM but adding in additional bands (70 cm, 23 cm) and modes (CW, SSB) provides another challenge. Chasers are included in this category as well…there are VHF/UHF enthusiasts that are challenged by working distant summits from home.
These are the four categories of folks I usually encounter on the VHF/UHF bands when doing SOTA. Do these match your experience? What did I miss?
73 Bob K0NR