SOTA - Summits On The Air

As already [internal link] mentioned my possibilites of antenna building are rather restricted at home. So I decided to be mainly portable QRVready for radio transmitting. As a little incentive I participate as a so called activator in the SOTA program. Since I am living at the Northern edge of the Black Forest (a low mountain range in the South West of Germany) it is quite easy to find suitable places.
Unfortunately there will be some significant changes especially in the SOTA association DMGermany - Low Mountains from 2009 on. More information and my opinion about it you will find [internal link] below.

The SOTA logo
The SOTA logo

What is SOTA?

SOTA is a programme which shall stimulate portable operations on mountains. There are two parties who can participate in SOTA:
- the activators who operate from the summits
- the chasers who try to work the activators from any place (shack, mobile or also portable).
The activators achieve a certain number of points for each activation with at least 4 QSOsradio contacts. The number of points depends of the height of the summit and the season (additional points during the winter).
The chasers achieve points for QSOs with the activators.
There are some more main rules for activators:
- the summit must be accessed by personal power (i.e. no motor driven vehicles, no helicopters ;-) but mountain bikes are allowed)
- power supply only from batteries, solar panels etc., not from electricity network or generators
- complete equipment must be carried on their own
- no QSOs via repeaters
If you are ineterested in more details you can download the SOTA General Rules from the [external link] SOTA web site.
Both parties (activators and chasers) submit their logs to the SOTA database via a [external link] web interface. No QSL cardslike post cards used for confirming radio contacts are necessary to confirm the QSOs.
Everyone can access the database for the results (e.g. [external link] activator results).

My SOTA experiences

Up to now I operated my activations only on the 2 meters144 MHz and the 70 centimeters430 MHz bands mainly in SSBSingle Side Band, voice transmission modulation. As I had to notice in my region there are not so many people active on these bands, even at the weekends. But up to now it never was a problem to get the minimal required number of 4 QSOs.

That's me on the Hundsruecken
That's me on the Hundsrücken
(SOTA reference [external link]
DM/BW-028, heigth = 1080 m)

Because meanwhile I own a [external link] Yaesu FT-817ND portable transceiver for all bands from 160m (short wave) to 70cm (UHF) I am planning to extend my equipment by a suitable portbale antenna for the 40m band and try it on short wave.

What do you need for a SOTA activation?

In priciple you can simply take your portable 2 meters144 MHz FMFrequency Modulation, voice transmission tranceiverTRANSmitter + reCEIVER in one rig with its build-in antenna, climb a summit (which is listed in the [external link] SOTA reference!) and operate from there. I am sure that you will get enough contacts in the majority of cases.
But for me SOTA (and amateur radio in general!) has a more experimental and more challaging character. Hence I allways try to find an optimum under the possible conditions, i.e. portable operation etc.
That's why I usually don't simply climb a hill and operate with the build-in antenna.

My SOTA equipment

Since up to now I operated only on 2 meters and 70 centimeters I only have equipment suitable for these bands.
Here is a short list (I am going to make a more detailed description published later on this web site):

  • Transceiver:
    • Yaesu FT-290R (2m, allmode, max. output 2.5 W)
    • Yaesu FT-817ND (160m...70cm, allmode, max. output 5 W)
  • Antenna:
    • HB9CV for 2m
    • "Fish Bone" according to [external link] DL 4KCJ [in German language] (a logarithmic periodic antenna for 2m and 70cm)
  • Antenna cable: Aircell 7
  • Battery:
    • FT-817ND:
      • build-in rechargeable NiMH battery pack (only 1600 mAh)
      • external rechargeable battery pack consisting of 8 NiMH "baby" size cells (5600 mAh)
    • FT-290R: 8 rechargeable NiMH "baby" size cells (5600 mAh)
  • Antenna mast: telescopic aluminum mast, 3.6 m high, with proper anchoring cables

Additional equipment:

  • A topographic map of the summit area
  • A compass for orientation of myself while approaching the summit and the antenna while operation
  • A grid locator map of Germany and one of Europe (who knows what's possible ;-) ODXmaximum distance between two radio stations = 474 km with IV3GBO in JN66OA, and that with 2,5 W and a HB9CV!)
  • A clipboard for QSO logging (I use printouts of [external link] predefined SOTA logs [in German language])
  • Enough to eat and drink
  • A rucksack for the tranceiver etc. and a fishing rod bag for the mast and the antenna.

What I am planning to add to my equipment

Since I own a FT-817ND which is capable to operate on all amateur bands from 160 meters to 70 centimeters I am planning to build a simple antenna for 40 meters. Most likely a dipolesimple antenna made of two wires which I will use as an Inverted V antenna.
Another idea is to improve the 2 meters antenna. Instead of using a duo band antenna (as the above mentioned "Fish Bone" antenna) or a HB9CV I am planning to build 2 stacked Yagis according to [external link] DK7ZB (-> "2m/70cm-Yagis ultralight").

Other recommendations

It is allways important to have a good map of the summit area in order to find the right way if you don't have a GPSGlobal Positioning System or as an addition to the GPS.
My favorite digital map for the Black Forest is the "ADAC TourGuide Schwarzwald", a software DVD which allows you to plan your walk at your PC and to print out a map to take with you. But it seems it is no more available.

If you don't like digital maps or GPS you should use at least a topographic map of a scale of 1:50,000 or better 25,000.

Also Google can be very usefull for planning your summit activation. There exsist sevaral web sites where you can access SOTA related maps for Google Maps or Google Earth: please see my [internal link] web links below.

That's me on the Badener Hoehe
That's me on the Badener Höhe
(SOTA reference [external link]
DM/BW-047, heigth = 1002 m)

SOTA in the future

The general management team of SOTA pushed the managers of the association DMGermany - Low Mountains to enforce strictly the so called P100 rule. The P100 rule means that every summit of the SOTA reference list must have a prominence of at least 100 meters. Prominence again means the depth of a valley or saddle between neighboring summits.
Unfortunately the German low mountain areas consist of hundreds of summits which do not fulfil this rule. Thus all these summits will be removed from the SOTA reference list from January 2009 on. The consequence for German activators is that they have to travel longer distances to reach SOTA summits. And this in times of extremely increasing fuel prices!
A lot of German SOTA activists fear that the SOTA programme becomes very unattractive when the P100 rule becomes effective. Some of them are going to establish a German programme similar to SOTA but without prominence rules. This programme will be called German Mountain Award and will start at December 2008. There already exsists a website for this program: [external link]
Others fear that a German programme will not be attractive for foreign radio amateurs (chasers). The future will show us if it was successful.
I also disagree with the strict P100prominence = 100 m rule because of the above mentioned disadvantages (longer travel distances). After the new summit reference list is published I will see which of the summits in the near to my home will be left.

Web links

Official Sites:

[external link] SOTA - official web site

[external link] SOTA Germany - main site [in German language]
2 SOTA associations: [external link] "German Alps" [in German language] and [external link] "Germany Low Mountains" [in German language]

[external link] SOTA Watch
shows current and upcoming activations and spots

Other helpful sites:

[external link] SOTA for Google Earth by DK1ROB
download Google Earth files for some SOTA associations 

[external link] SOTA @ flickr
See SOTA related pictures at flickr

[external link] SOTA @ YouTube
See SOTA related videos at YouTube

[external link] SOTA YahooGroup
SOTA discussion group at Yahoo!

[external link] SOTA YahooGroup [in German language]
SOTA discussion group at Yahoo! in German language