Fast & Short Activation Strategy?

Hi all,
I am pretty new to SOTA (2 activations so far). My main challenge is that I could do quite some activations in interesting terrain if I can combine it with other skitouring and summer mountaineering trips. Now, the problem is that I mostly have fellows with me who are non-hams, and while friendly and interested, I cannot ask them to spend an hour or so on the summit for me to complete my activation. Also, it can be pretty cold on winter summits. I think 15 - 20 minutes extra break would be okay, 30 minutes borderline, 1 hr unacceptable for my party.

Can you give me tips on how to prepare and organize short activations?

I am in particular uncertain whether I should rely on my rather slow (12 wpm) CW practices - with the benefit of being spotted quickly and using my MTR station only, or using SSB as the first means with my FT817, which is heavier.

If there are enough chasers, I think I am faster in handling the contacts in SSB, but on the other hand, CW allows to cover a much wider area for contacts, allows automatic spotting, and my complete station is a lot lighter.

Any tips?

PS: It’s clear to me that it would be better for chasers to stay on the summit to handle any potential contact, but this is no option on a summit that requires fellow mountaineers to get there safely (e.g. for glacier crossings, avalanche rescue, etc.). So my choice is limited to leaving the ham equipment at home or finding a way to operate fast and efficiently on the summit.

The ideal is to combine your lightweight cw equpment with faster cw contacts. That will eventually be possible as you gain confidence and speed. until then you have a problem - carry the 817 to be able to make quicker SSB contacts, or risk not qualifying your summits due to making 4 slow contacts. But at 12 wpm you still can make quite efficient contacts.

Cq de call sota K
Call de call K
Call de call 559 K
R UR 579 579 K
TU. qrz?

That only takes a minute or two, even at 12 wpm. 4 contacts like that can be completed in under 10 minutes. To make sure chasers are lined up waiting for you, post alerts to sotawatch a day in advance. include your approx frequency and then an RBN monitor is likely to hear you and a spot will be generated. Contacts should follow soon, especially in Europe.

Until you can make 4 cw contacts in your allotted time, close down and move on. you are right, you need to keep your friends on side.

Hope this helps.

73 Andrew VK1DA VK2UH

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CW with your MTR is the way to go as Andrew says.

But, if you also have a 2 metre handie talkie then it might be worth trying 2m FM contacts too, but use a better antenna than the rubber-duck that is standard, even a telescopic quarter wave is better. Better still would be a dipole (used vertically) attached to either one of your ski poles or to a short (3m) telescopic fibreglass pole.

A side benefit of using 2m FM is that your fellow mountaineers will understand what is going on, and might even be interested enough to become Hams.

73, Colin G8TMV


Please note that I may be biased by using a very compact and lightweight MTR3B and trapped EFHW, but I would recommend such a station for your planned activations.
Of course, the use of a VHF / UHF device would be even easier.

73 gl, Heinz HB9BCB

Dear Heinz,
I am using exactly your trapped 3-band EFHW design for my station, hi :wink:

I am inclined to take the risk and carry just that set-up with me. The pain is that it’s unlikely I will have a second chance on most of the summits we are planning to reach - you will typically not repeat them given the limited time one has in live and the plenty of great summits in the alps and elsewhere. We are thinking of Pizzo Centrale HB/UR-029, Piz Ravetsch HB/GR-204, Piz Cavradi HB/GR-278 and Badus HB/UR-042. The final choice will be made when in Andermatt, though.

Martin, DK3IT

Here is my MTR setup. The antenna is Heinz’ 3-Band EFHW design on a 6m mast.


i wouldnt call you slow. I’d love to be able to do 12wpm send/receive.
I used to do the same as you back in 2005/2006. I was walking with my venture scout group as a venture and could only be on the summit a short period of time. Back then I only ever had 2M handheld for portable use and so activating was merely getting at least 4 qso’s then moving on. I did buy a decent vertical antenna for the handheld which seems to work very well, the Diamond RH770 antenna as putting a 2m beam up would take too long.


I have the feel that you won’t be able to set-up, activate on HF making the minimum 4 QSOs, pack up and be ready to leave the summit with your colleagues within 15-20 minutes.
I have developped a fast deployment equipment with a preconnected SOTA kit inside the rucksack and a mobile whip monoband antenna for 20m plus a wire radial, which I use in my Saturday morning activations of Mt. San Cristóbal EA2/NV-119, and even with that, setting up, activating for 15-20 minutes and packing up takes me half an hour, which is, as you said, a bit borderline for your party. It’s very understandable that non-hams will not fancy waiting 30 minutes on each of the summits you are going to visit just for your activations.
In my opinion, in case you have some villages or cities with hams at reach, you would be faster activating with a 2m FM handheld connected to a colinear o 2 el beam, something light and easy/fast to deploy. As you well said, the fact that your colleagues can hear and understand the exchanges during the 2m FM QSO will make it easier for them to understand what you are doing and be more patient to give you the few minutes you will need to collect the 4 QSOs.
If you work on CW, even if you don’t use headphones and let your colleagues hear the morse through the speaker, they would understand nothing and that will make it more difficult for them to develop any empathy towards you and wait patiently while you carry on with your activation.
I wish you good luck.


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In general. I believe that doing a SOTA activation with a group of non-hams can and will be difficult. A times, I find it difficult with my XYL as understanding as she is. The nice thing about SOTA is that you can do it whenever you want. So, perhaps try a couple of activations without friends to start with. Then see how it goes with them. Quite often I have attempted activations (with my XYL or myself) and come up empty.

You missed the bit where he said “but this is no option on a summit that requires fellow mountaineers to get there safely”

73, Colin G8TMV

For a quick activation, light weight and a short set-up time, if you are in an area where line of sight back to large populations is possible, a 2m FM HT may be your best solution. If you can line up some chasers to be listening for you, you should be able to work 4 in a fairly short time. By the way, with just one contact you have “activated” the summit, but you will only get the activator points if you have at least 4 contacts.

73 Ed.

In difficult terrain and with a group of non-hams it’s 2m equipment we bring along. I must admit that I had problems in HB9 :sweat: to get the necessary 4 contacts on 2m but usually we manage. Setting up an hf antenna takes time and the summits are not always friendly in terms of cold and wind. I would imagine that CW with cold fingers is not the easiest thing to do ;-).

Good luck! Will listen out for you!
Vy 73, Sylvia

Hi Martin,

For short activations on 14 MHz - when on our own - we use a telescopic antenna with a base loading coil and 2 radials. Set-up time about 2 minutes. Activation completed in 10 minutes.

Peter, OE5AUL
Sylvia, OE5YYN


A “dream solution” that could (also) meet your special requirements would be a KX2 in hand-held orientation with a telescoping whip antenna (e.g. MFJ 18xxT) and a short counterpoise wire.
Expensive? Well, such a station could possibly be borrowed from a good club colleague?

73, Heinz HB9BCB

Hi Martin,

always a problem activating with a group of non SOTA people. Ten tips on what I do, but none of them are ideal, each helps a little, some may be less safe!

  1. I try to get ahead of the other group members on the ascent so I have some time on the summit before they arrive. After a few activations they are then happy for me to go first and now encourage me to do so. Can get lonely out in front and it is much harder work!

  2. When I dig a snow hole shack for winter activations, essential to stay out of the wind chill long enough to get the summit activated. Just make it big enough for the others to sit in. Best accommodation is reserved for the XYL of course.

  3. I have tried to get them involved with writing down callsigns etc. but not always successful. Give them something, anything to do to help. Take the climbing skins off my skis etc.

  4. I only use FM/SSB but it is entertainment for my companions. Having endured a few CW activations with MM0DHY, it is boring and I don’t know what is happening, it is worse for non-SOTA companions. With voice they can follow events, I tell them which country and they have started to recognise regular call signs; GM0AXY, G0RQL and EA2DT now raise a cheer! Sometimes they do say I have my four contacts, so lets get out of here, but better to give them something to listen too.

  5. The FT 817 is my mainstay radio. I can rig a 20m or 40m inverted-V dipole in minutes. I also take a handie (VX 7) with a rucksack antenna and a YAGI once on the top. The telescopic ski poles support the YAGI.

  6. If skiing I use the avalanche probe, which I am carrying anyway, to support the dipole. I use a 3 metre Link-life (USA brand) avalanche probe which has a metal ring on top for holding the wire. A small cable tie looped through it. There is a less acute angle of the 2 legs of the dipole once the probe is stuck into the snow but the SWR is manageable.

  7. I never aim for a short activation, fast is good but I try to work everyone who is calling in. There have been a few times I have had to abandon a summit, typically the wind has risen to blizzard levels, and approaching lightening storms of course. Nowadays I am more circumspect and just don’t start what I know will be a miserable activation. The peak will always be there, just make sure you are!

  8. Once the others start to get restless I ask them to plan the descent on the map or distract them with some suggestions for different routes. They can also pack the other antenna I have usually stopped using by now.

  9. The Inverted V dipoles I take are resonant so no need to carry an ATU. Not so good when there is a 20M and 40m contest on.

  10. If the group decide to carry on while I am still activating, that is fine. Walking or skiing alone, I can typically travel faster than the group and catch them up, especially with tracks to follow. But not so safe being alone, although it has worked so far!

Hope this helps.



Dear all,
thanks for your many valuable suggestions, and the experiences shared!

Tomorrow, I will give it a try with HB/UR-042 Badus/Six Madun (2928m, 10 points + 3 P winter bonus):

HB/UR-042 Badus

Here is my plan based on your input:

  1. I will take the Mountain Topper MTR3B with me and leave the FT817 at home and try for my first CW-only activation. FM is likely no option; since the summit is pretty remote and the level of activity in FM in general low in here. I also think it is better to select one strategy and focus on that instead of trying three different ones (FM, SSB, CW), which will take time to change equipment etc.
    As for SSB: This would be more entertaining for the bystanders, but I will rather try to be focussed and quick with CW. Also, I have doubts that I will have good mobile internet coverage there - with SSB, I will waste valuable time trying to self-spot me, and maybe multiple times if some 1 kW station forces me to change my frequency. With CW, I can hope for being spotted automatically.

  2. As for the other equipment, I will take my 6m mast and a 3-band EFHW with traps with me (based on the design described by Heinz, HB9BCB). This is resonant and efficient even at 6m; and the 30m option gives me one more shot if 40m and 20m will be too busy.

  3. As for the operating procedure, I have stored the following three messages or parts of messages into my MTR memory keyer:

M1: Short SOTA CQ, can also be used in beacon mode:

M2: Full SOTA CQ with summit reference and repetitions

I think 2 x CQ, call, and summit reference is enough and omitting the dash (HB/UR 042 instead of HB/UR-042) will be okay (and even easier for CW novices).

M3: Just the call with the HB9/ CEPT prefix and /P suffix on a third memory position, i.e. HB9/DK3IT/P.
I think this will make my live a bit easier, since it is easy to make mistakes giving H with cold fingers etc., an the suffix and prefix make it a pretty long callsign anyway.

I can then use this to reduce errors when sending the call. The only downside is that the MTR uses a slightly different speed for memory vs. live keying, so the resulting code is not as melodic as giving the entire sequence with the paddle. But it is at least one additional fall-back measure.

As for the general set-up: The antenna will take the most time, but I typically manage in under 5 minutes. I have a long tent pole (40 cm) with me that will work well in snow, and can then attach the mast with velcro straps quickly.

The MTR is readily configured on a plastic pad (see image above. I just need to open the yellow box, plug-in the headsets, slide-out the palm pico paddle, connect the antenna, and am ready to go.

Still, this approach has many risks for failure, like

  • ongoing contests and QRM will make it difficult to quickly find an operating frequency (but 30m should be ok)
  • I will likely not be able to handle a chaotic pile-up due to lack of experience.
  • The weather in here is difficult for skitouring; we might not even make it to the summit or be forced to make a very short touchdown on the summit and leave right away.

On the other hand: I will be on trying the summit anyway; I have my gear with me in the backpack, the extra weight is just a bit over 1.2 kg, and SOTA is great fun. I will just try to set my expectations low - and hope for support by a sufficient number of chasers.

Again, thanks for your help!

I will post my experiences upon my return.

vy 73 de Martin, DK3IT

I have just posted the alert for tomorrow 12:00 UTC. Too bad it will be a Monday - should you have spare time during lunch, please try to answer my CQ.

mni tnx es vy 73 de Martin, DK3IT

Hi Martin,
You’ve selected a very ambitious summit, even with skis, so be careful. There will be plenty of snow, and it will likely be very wet and soft (Beinbruchschnee). I was out on snowshoes last Friday at between 2000 and 2500 meters and we sank down sometimes as far as our knees even with the snowshoes. The approach to your summit can be steep. I hope this link works, it shows slopes > 30 degrees in color:,508&layers_opacity=0.75,0.8,1,1,1&layers=ch.swisstopo.hangneigung-ueber_30,ch.swisstopo-karto.schneeschuhrouten,ch.bafu.wrz-jagdbanngebiete_select,ch.bafu.wrz-wildruhezonen_portal,ch.bav.haltestellen-oev&layers_visibility=true,true,false,false,true. Send me your email and I’ll send you photos from my activation from the summertime.

Very similar experience to me!

Again my quick summary.

Get ahead, work fast, get them involved, especially when tearing everything down, be prepared for a bit of walking on your own. But don’t do it when it would compromise safety.

Dear all:
I am back safe and sound, and successfully activated HB/UR-042 today.
Will post an activation report shortly.
It took me about 40 minutes from arrival on the summit to leaving the summit to bag 8 QSOs.

I could have been faster, had not another party arriving on the summit taken down half of my inverted vee without warning and telling me. But I made it :wink:

Sorry for all chasers whom I could not work; we absolutely had to leave after 40 minutes due to safety - it was warm and wet avalanches were a real danger.

73 de Martin, DK3IT