SOTA, or Summits on the Air, is my latest entrapment. It seems to be taking off in popularity over 2012-2013 and I hope this site can help others that are getting into the hobby to
learn some things here without having to filter through the NASOTA yahoo group or fall on the rocks of hard knocks.
Getting Started: Get a radio, batteries, charger, antenna, mast, backpack, digital/apps, a login, frequencies, and misc.
Once you're at the summit: Setup, call CQ, log your QSOs, stay safe, have fun! 1 QSO to activate (but no points), 4 QSOs with ANYONE to get points. Log your contacts in the
online database when you get home. Don't forget a logbook, unless you're using the Pignology.
SOTA activating means hiking up a mountain so the key features are compact and lightweight. Radios that fit this basic category are HTs (handi-talkies or handheld VHF/UHF radios) and QRP HF radios.
Radios need power and that means batteries. If you're running a KX3 with internal batteries, I have to recommend the Eneloop 2500mAh batteries. They recharge 500+ times and they seem to hold their charge very well. Amazon sells them in packs of 4, click the picture on the right to see them on Amazon.
What Radio should you use? The one you have! If you have a 100W mobile radio, see if you can unhook it from your mobile mount and take it with you. If you get tired of lugging a large or heavy radio in your backpack, look at the Elecraft KX3. It isn't cheap, but it is AMAZING at bringing in the signal and not the noise. There's a listing of the best performing radios here.
I activated King Mountain with a buddy using a Chinese made 5w handheld VHF/UFH radio after spending an hour trying to activate the mountain with two HF radios. I brought it as a 'backup' to my HF radio and it saved the day.
Many people use a Yaesu FT-817 or other varieties, including 100w rigs that require large batteries to be carried up with them. I believe they usually only use 5-30 watts of power so their battery lasts longer, but a QRP rig is definitely the most popular type of radio in use for SOTA. Small CW home kit rigs are quite popular as well.
|Batteries||Batteries can consume a lot of your time if you like to research a lot. As I mention above, Sanyo Eneloop are great for AA batteries, but sometimes you need more than 12v or to be able to handle more current than AA batteries provide. Some of the things to keep in mind: Lithium Polymer batteries are in the news with Boeing lately and for good reason. They are light, provide high discharge capabilities, can be recharged times (1000+), and are succeptible to exploding or catching fire if they overheat, swell, and oxygen reaches the Lithium. Lithium Iron 4 (LiFe4) batteries are not explosive and seem to be the next generation of lightweight portable batteries. Another thing to keep in mind is that the cells need to be charged and monitored individually. Most come shrink wrapped so a charger that is smart enough to charge each individual cell is required. Look at the maximum voltage your radio will support and look for a battery pack that is right at the upper limit of that.||
Here's what I use to find a battery. I pick a 14.8v Zippy brand:
Frequencies to use for SOTA ultimately come down to your privileges and the capabilities of your radio.
Think about this. 20m is great for getting a mini-pileup going, but don't forget 40m for the 'locals'. 40m will generally make it to the chasers that are in the 20m skip zone and nab you some very grateful chasers as well as some more logbook entries.
12 and 17 meters have been good in 2013 for some fairly long propogation paths. Don't forget about them. When you're on a mountain, space is usually not a problem so think about trying 80 and 160 meters. What is a 'large' wire antenna in a suburban lot suddenly seems very small on the top of a mountain.
|Antennas||Hauling a radio and battery up a mountain will not get you any contacts unless you have a way to radiate that RF into the atmosphere. Your antenna is the most important part of your radio kit. The most popular antennas are end fed halfwave (EFHW) which is a halfwave length of wire connected to a 9:1 UNUN and various wire dipoles, linked, off center fed, G5RV, ZS6BKW, windom, and Buddipole.|
A $13 crappie fishing pole from Walmart makes a nice, lightweight, pole to hold up a wire antenna on a rocky or bare summit.
Jackite makes fiberglass poles that go over 30' tall. They are a little fragile on the bottom, but I've seen a few people using them. They are used to hold ornamental kites in the air.
Trees and sometimes a fire watch tower make for a good antenna support but it helps to bring some fishing line and a weight or if you want to have a longer term solution, find Arbor line and a weight. I bought this: Throwline
A slingshot is lightweight and easy to send a weight and fishing line into a tree. I've seen potato guns used, but only in parks, not carried up to a summit.
Your main spot to look for people on summits is http://www.sotawatch.org
If you have an iPhone, I would suggest SotaGOAT, it's an app that is very convenient for both alerting/spotting and chasing.
SOTA Spot Monitor will sound an alarm on a Windows PC when the criteria you set are matched. This gives you a way to have your PC watch the spots for you.
KU6J also wrote RBN Gate which allows for CW ops to self spot using CW. You may also use it to spot if you do not know CW if your rig allows you to setup a macro or recording of the minimum criteria to self-spot via RBN Gate. Learn more about it here.
Plan your trip. Here in North Texas, we have to drive hours to a summit. You do not want to be hours away from home, to realize a connector is missing. Some people make a checklist - I would suggest a quick checklist is a good idea.
Drive the speed limit. Many summits are on state or national parks that are patrolled heavily becuase a lot of people walk the roads. Driving the speed limit, or less, makes your reaction time acceptible to ensure the safety of those using the park and saves your money by not being fined or having insurance rates go up.
If you're rock hopping, wear a helmet. Bring a buddy. Look at weather forecasts and dress appropriately. The temperature goes down 5.4 degrees for every 1000 feet.
Bring some band-aids or some gauze and tape. Falling down a rockpile or slipping on a boulder will draw blood (personal experience talking here)
If it's hunting season, wear a hunter orange safety vest.
A first aid kit left in the vehicle is a good idea.
Water, water, water... don't underestimate how much water you'll need as your climb. It's usually windy up high and wind draws perspiration away much quicker. Bring a snack for some extra energy.
Paper is good unless it's going to rain, then you might want to look at waterproof logbooks.
Make sure you log summit to summit QSOs. When you're activating a summit, keep an ear out for people telling you about a potential S2S, if you have Internet access from your phone, you can watch sotawatch.org for spots and alerts.
When you're done and off the summit, go to http://www.sotadata.org.uk/ to upload your log. A S2S entry is under the chaser section, even though you were an activator. If you plan well, emailing the nasota group and post an alert on sotawatch.org, you'll typically get a S2S with K6ILM if he's home. I've worked him from Oklahoma and then went on a business trip to San Francisco where I was able to activate two summits with him. Knowing who's on a summit can help with logging the correct call sign and summit so you don't have to keep asking the other end to repeat that information.
After the fact logging: Make sure you take pictures setting up, heading out, going up, summiting, and heading down. It's always interesting to see what the scenery looks like for each activator's part of the country. I would suggest getting a tumblr.com account since it's extremely easy to blog with them, it's free, and then I would suggest using flickr.com to upload your photos because they give you 1 Terabyte of free storage, it doesn't 'dumb down' your photos as they are stored in full resolution, and the flicker site lays out your photos in a very nice photo-centric way when people view your flickr page.
This isn't required, but sure helps get a quick peek into each cell of your battery pack. It also lets you set a low voltage alarm so you know when you're getting into danger land for damaging your battery pack, i.e. a safe stop voltage.
Hopefully that link works for a while, here's the description and a picture. Going price as of June 2013 is $6.90, free shipping
US Seller 1-8 Cells Lipo Battery Low Voltage LED Indicator/Alarm/Monitor/Meter