Mission Creep: The evolution of SOTA in New Mexico
Last night, I was watching a re-run of Bear Grylls Survivor Man. As usual he was hanging precipitously from a mountain by one hand. My YL sitting next to me was rather perturbed and inquired why I would watch such stuff. After all I’m a mild manner city dweller and would never ever get into such a situation. Little did she know, that is exactly what I did on a SOTA expedition the previous week and could well do it again next week? Just 3 years ago Summits on the Air was a mild entertainment involving a picnic lunch and qrp radio on the local hilltop.
It is evolution… We now have expeditions ranging from the high speed low profile adventure runners with an qrp radio Alatoid tin, to full blown Dakar Rally on Everest expeditions with real watts out. The conversations on the local 146.58 water hole are now about how to outfit an Off Road vehicle which topographic map scale is best when approaching a peak. Some of us are starting to spend a little too much time in the mountaineering section of REI. Or worse planning to take the glacier course on Mt. Rainier, perhaps to attack Denali when it becomes codified into the SOTA system.
Watts times Amps Equals Pounds
Radio is evolving , it is not usual to see a 2000 dollar high end radio, sitting on a rock on some wind blown summit usually replet with software defined architecture and digital signal processing. People who would never consider CW are now lining up for the CW University. Not out of nostalgia, but because the reverse beacon network spots their activations. We are in the golden age of QRP. The proliferation qrp rigs have made high speed low profile operations possible down to the several ounce range. Light weight is necessary. Anyone who has struggle to catch their breath at 13000 feet or have ran out of groceries: because that 7 amp hour Gel battery and solar panel were stuffed in the rucksack, know what I mean.
We were not supposed to be competitive, rather SOTA may have been intended to be a solitary hobby. Like stamp collecting or Grid Squares. This is not the reality in New Mexico where the epic push to SOTA goat has become a down right race. Activators are keeping a jaded eye on the Leader Board (SOTA Data Base) All racing to get the Goat before so in so in East Timbuktu to gets there first. Of course our cousins in the UK were there a long time ago. They are smug in the knowledge that years of activations would keep the number one spot safe. They may believe that tens of thousands of point are like the English Channel. Little do they know, Yanks (and some Rebs) are plotting and conniving? How many peaks can we get to in a day? Are 10 pointers more efficient or is it a function of geography? How long will it take it take to catch the Brits? We all know shoe leather is the dominating factor. Sport Medicine now has a new diagnosis…. SOTA foot. No one ever considered that it would be necessary to train to the level of a marathon runner just to operate qrp cw.
Amateur Radio is grey. Just look at the silent key sales or the flood of boat anchor gear on eBay. The OM are OM and they are not passing it on. Amateur Radio is not cool in the age of texting and Facebook. Then came SOTA. Not just a geek hobby, but an outdoor sport. The synergistic combination has drawn young people back to the hobby. Usually outdoors people, who naturally would be on a mountain anyway. It is a perfect fit. The proliferation of cheap HT’s and the technician License, brings others into the fold. Scout Masters are getting the kids involved as well. One can hope. When we operate on a mountain top, we always talk up SOTA and amateur radio to passing trekkers and alpinist… We are looking for converts. We are the fishers of geeks.
Aesthetics in the face of Murphy
We are putting it all together now. Vastly divergent skills, interest and more than a little compulsive itch. Nature shapes our hobby-sport. She is a harsh tutor at times, it is no longer just about sunspots and clean cw. We have to know meteorology and become inmate with the environment we travers. In the process of summiting we learn to appreciate the stunning views of our mountains. For some of us the aesthetics is all that is needed keep us climbing. We are, in the very process of chasing or activating SOTA , learning to be experts in Orienteering, Geography, Bush craft, meteorology or brew a cup of tea in a howling blizzard. On the chase side of the house, a full blown DX station comes in to its own. Chasing is the epitome of DXing. The chasers are more than necessary, they are often our safety over watch. In the end it is the satisfaction of accurately navigating to a remote mountain and giving your fellow Hams a few points. Just sitting there watching the world below, knowing that I have a full logbook. Is all we ask. SOTA is still about taking a picnic lunch to a hilltop and working QRP CW.