Fast & Short Activation Strategy?

Another option to consider: use a voice recorder in-line with your audio cables to do your logging for you. If you can set up something where the recorder runs while you make QSOs (either voice or CW) then you eliminate the setup and tear-down of logging supplies (pen, paper, kneeboard, etc.).

Additionally, if you’re able to rig a backpack-mounted antenna on something like 6M then with a headset and SSB you should have enough reach to begin calling as soon as you enter the activation zone. By the time you get to the top you might already have a QSO or two in the recorder, and someone can spot you. Then you switch over to 20 or 30 on the summit and keep rolling.

Something else that may or may not work out would be to plan your lunch break to happen somewhere in the activation zone. It depends on the mountain and the timetable of course, but on some routes you might be able to talk your climbing partners into a good “lunch spot” that is also just within the activation zone. Then you can bag the peak, everyone will relax, and take your lunch break down off the main ridge a bit. While your partners chow down on granola bars you send out some CW.
Brandon, N6BSC

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Hi Brandon,
Great ideas - sounds like the South African RADAR (rapid deployment) system. Has a lot to be said for it. In my case the SSB audio while struggling up the last few metres to the summit could include some panting, but not a problem for the fit people like Martin HI.

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This is a great topic, as it is my primary problem that I haven’t really found a solution to. My wife and I do a lot of hiking, and she can’t stand waiting for me to play radio. On some hikes I’ve been forbidden to activate.

It’s really important to get spotted quickly. I often hike in areas without cell phone coverage, so the nice sms spotting technique doesn’t work.

I like the performance of wire antennas, but my quickest antenna to set up is a magloop antenna. I primarily use it in winter because it’s hard to fiddle with wire antennas and masts on a cold, windy mountaintop. 5 min set-up and take-down for the complete station. If you get spotted right away it’s the quickest option I have.


My wife carries a Kindle book reader and is happy with that while I do the radio thing. She does know about the 4 contacts part of activating and silently monitors my progress then looks up and smiles.


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Not sure how prevelant Geocaching is around where you activate. But one option is to see if she will get interested in that. Then your wife can search for the Geocache while you activate.

Presumably the smile means “your time is up!”. When I am out with the XYL, friends and relatives, they generally ignore how I am doing. One way of keeping them occupied is to plan to be on the summit at lunchtime. Even so, on occasion they have started to make their descent while I am still operating. To overcome any safety issues, I now have a pair of inexpensive handhelds programmed for PMR frequencies so we can keep in touch. They are also useful if I am being dropped off and then picked up later.

C[quote=“MW0WML, post:25, topic:14821, full:true”]
Not sure how prevelant Geocaching is around where you activate. But one option is to see if she will get interested in that. Then your wife can search for the Geocache while you activate.

That sounds like a good idea - I’ll try it

Hello Martin,
Your mention about the interest to activate summits for more skillled mountaineers at high altitude, makes me think that probably, such summits are rare ones and less activated.

In consequence such activations will probably attract avid chasers looking for “new ones” in their unique summits list.
Therefore perhaps you could expect a huge pile up when starting the activation. Bear in mind dealing with a Pile up at 12 wpm in going to be a bit tough, and assuming you want to keep your activation short in time, there could be plenty of chasers whose would be reluctant to work you QRS…
Anyway, I’d support the idea of doing it on CW for ease of auto-spot and the MTR is the best option.

My tip for you in order to make your friends in the summit more cooperative, is that you can involve them in the deployment of the antenna.
Train them in the task of preparing a hole and setting up the antenna wire and they will feel involved in your success. As a bonus you will save some time while you are preparing the rig and log, right?

In the other hand, choose carefully an antenna that can whitstand severe wind up there… a short loaded monoband vertical, as others suggested, is a good chance.

Look forward to work you QRS, Good luck!
73 de Ignacio

Hi all,
the activation report is now ready at:

73 de Martin, DK3IT

Hi everyone,

Well I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who gets The Look from his wife when activating. So far mine has been pretty good about being patient, and I’ve been keeping the activations to >45 minutes at a time, which helps.

In the interest of continued understanding and marital peace, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a non-SOTA hike every now and then as well. What I do is wait until I find she’s been getting impatient on hikes, and then suggest a peak that I don’t feel like activating or isn’t a SOTA peak (but I don’t tell her that). Then I suggest doing that route without radio and with a relaxed lunch together at the top instead. Seems to help with winning points back for use on further SOTA operations.


The main things I learned during this activation was that in order to master fast activations, I will have to

  1. increase my CW speed; being able to copy reliably at 18 - 20 wpm will mean I could easily handle 1 QSO per minute.
  2. improve my operating procedure skills - be confident and relaxed and get into a predictable pattern quickly.

Also, a 3-band vertical with loading coils and no longer than 6 meters would be worth a try; I am thinking of a base-loading coil with three positions for 40-30-20m and a simple wire + radials. This could be deployed much faster on the summit than an inverted vee, and will interfere much less with others on the summit. The price will be less efficiency, but I think that with 5 W one should mostly be able to work a sufficient number of contacts within Europe - and my uninformed guess is that the 6 m + loading coil will be much more efficient than designs like the ATX-1080 with just 127 cm for the radiator.

A magloop is of course also an interesting option.

If the summit is attractive enough for chasers, I think that 20 minutes could work for an activation:
(5 minutes setup + 10 minutes for CQ and 4 QSOs + 5 minutes packing up).

73 de Martin, DK3IT

I did it about 6 weeks ago on Young’s Peak in VE7 (trip report) on 20m SSB. In -20C to boot, though that did mean I had to stuff my FT-817 into my jacket to keep it running. Things that probably helped:

  • Putting up the alert 4 days early to give chasers a chance to plan accordingly
  • Activating in a rare association (VE7)
  • Using an EFHW antenna (I use a pico tuner from SOTABEAMS) for ease of set up/tear down with gloves on (much easier than my trapped dipole)
  • Being able to self-spot (I also had my satellite beacon to alert my friends so they could spot me)

I actually ran out of time/power before I could get through all the chasers (which I feel bad about.) Usually I like to chat a bit and there were still people out there trying very hard to get through. Next time!

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Hi all,
in the past weeks, I activated a few easy-to-reach summits in order to test my approach and operating practice for a few climbs I plan in summer where I will really have limited time (due to company) and will likely not have a second chance (due to length and difficulty of the ascent). I learned a few things:

  1. It is perfectly possible to activate summits in 20 minutes time if necessary; in fact, I had my four QSOs within 18 - 19 minutes after arrival, including set-up time. I did not self-spot and solely relied on RBNhole and alerts. Of course, one will make chasers unhappy by going QRT so quickly, but I think that is acceptable if there is no other choice.

  2. Preparing the keyer memories at home is really helpful. I now use:

    M1: Short SOTA CQ (1x1):
    CQ SOTA DE /call with prefix and suffix/ K
    M2: Full SOTA CQ (2x2) with summit reference or only summit reference.
    M3: /call with prefix and suffix/

M3 is actually the most important one for me, because I use this to have the hands free for logging the QSO details.

  1. My station is now an MTR3B in an all-in watertight GoBox with a simple SWR meter, 4.8V battery + step-up-converters for 6 V (1W, for tuning) and 12 V (for full 5 W), LM386 amplifier for control speaker during CQ, and battery voltage warning circuit. Attached, please find a picture. The good thing about this set-up is that is is really just 15 seconds to set-up and unwind (+ antenna).

  2. A real problem for me a CW newcomer is a sudden pile-up. Split-mode on the MTR is a bit cumbersome to activate (only via RIT); i still need to practice this from a relaxed QTH, not a stormy summit.

  3. Using and sticking to the minimalistic QSO helps me a lot; if summit an weather permits, a rag chew QSO is of course nice, but on a difficult summit, this is secondary, IMO.


Here are the pictures :wink:
The Palm Single paddle is mounted on the top by its magnets (there are small washers inside the front panel that allow three different angles for the paddle and retracting it for transport).

The earphone can be winded up between the BNC connector and the paddle.

All in all superlight and battery power for maybe 4 - 5 hrs of operation.


My experience about non-hams:
They understand even a short activation as much as if you would have to take at least four belfies instead.

Hike with your XYL/friends with just a handheld but don’t push to to get the four contacts.
Do the same hike some other day alone or with fellow hams and with full HF gear and really enjoy YOUR hobby.

Dear all,

Now, almost a year and a few nice activations later, I would like to revive this topic and ask for your frank feedback, as chasers, on the approach: Have you been annoyed by me going QRT too early? What could I change in order to improve the situation?

I understand that it is frustrating for chasers if a station on a rarely activated summit goes QRT after 8 minutes and a handful of QSOs. My problem is, as outlined in the thread above, that most of my SOTA opportunities are very constrained in terms of time on the summit - mostly 15 - 25 minutes including everything from set-up to packing up, due to the nature of the summit, weather, light of day, or fellow mountaineers.

73 de Martin, DK3IT

I think the MFJ is a poor performing antenna because of the very short radiator, despite the fact that Elecraft seems to give it some kind of endorsement. I agree on deploying a telescopic whip and counterpoise if you need short setup time, but the whip needs to be longer than the MFJ. I did some tests on the 20M version of the MFJ antenna and they were not very encouraging.

Someone (Sotabeams?) should offer a 10-12ft/3-4M whip with tapped loading coil and perhaps a 1-3M insulating base pole. Maybe some company is already offering such an antenna???

73, Barry N1EU

I understand your concerns Martin. But in the end the activator gets to decide how (s)he activates. In the case where you are part of a group and SOTA is not the main purpose, then you either put on activation for a few minutes and work a few people. Or you don’t activate at all. If the option to stay QRV for 30-45mins is not there then those are the only options, short or not at all.

If you make it clear in the alert it’s a time limited activation, then chasers will know what to expect. Some chasers may decide the chance of success in a short period is not worth trying to chase you or make less effort to chase you compared with other activations running at the same time. As long as the alert made it clear that the activation will be time limited, then everyone involved can choose what they will do.

The alternative to short activations in your case will be no activation. It’s difficult but you can’t please everyone all of the time.

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Thanks! I just wanted to make sure I am not annoying anybody too much. If I remember correctly, once Mariusz, @SP9AMH was kind enough to post a spot for me when I was on SOTA Summits in July, could not get through the first strong stations that I worked, and when he tried again with QRP, I was already QRT after a few minutes. I am really sorry for this, but my fellow climbers were nervously waiting to get off the pretty exposed summit.

73 de Martin, DK3IT

Hi Barry,

for this purpose, I designed the following loaded vertical:

It served me very well on several small summits, is very fast to set up, and not a whole lot heavier than a telescopic whip. Plus, the radiator is about 5 m long and thus much more efficient than the 51 - 128 cm of the MFJ / ATX and similar small antennas.

73 de Martin, DK3IT