Getting in the Zone! The Activation Zone

I recently made two videos detailing different methods of plotting/mapping a summit’s Activation Zone ahead of an outing. Since it seems that not many people are aware of the great tool that Ara N6ARA built, I thought I would share these in a couple places.
N6ARA’s Activation Zone Estimator can be easily accessed from a summit’s page.

Another method is to manually plot the Activation Zone on using the DEM shading tool.

73 de Tim N7KOM


It can just as easily be accessed directly from N6ARA’s website URL itself: thus bypassing your 6-minute Youtube video. I note that in your video, you have accessed the Activation Zone Estimator (AZE) via the site, and it’s nice of the people to provide a link to it from their site, but I think you need to know that the AZE site is not actually a part of at all - they merely provide the link as a convenience to their users.

The AZE site is a really nice tool, super easy to use, and gives results fast. But users need to know that the tool uses approximations of data from sources which are themselves approximations to the actual physical topology - no getting away from that fact - and so results should be used with some degree of caution as regards accuracy. The site’s About page makes it clear that “ generates a polygon which roughly represents the SOTA Activation Zone for a given summit.”

Having said that, I and others I know have been using it regularly this last year to give at least a half-decent idea of where activation zones are on a number of different summit types and topologies, and then to use other mapping sources, photographic sources when available (e.g. Google maps Streetview), or hiking reports, to verify or clarify the situation on the ground for a particular summit. We can never be TOO careful, right?


Great video Tim!


Was it really necessary to take all that time just to try to flamespray a guy trying to make it easy for new people who dont know anything about it to join the hobby? :rofl:


Shoulda known better than to try to point out a few salient features of the AZE tool. Note to self: use fewer … words.


Great video? Really?

After mulling this over for several hours, I’ve decided to go ahead and highlight a couple of issues covered in the video which lead me to consider that it’s actually not even a good video.

However, let me say at the outset that I wholeheartedly applaud Tim N7KOM’s decision to make a video on the subject of using the AZE tool to determine the extent of the AZ on a SOTA summit. Both the video quality and Tim’s presentation are very good.

At the risk of offending those who seem to consider any criticism of the video to be tantamount to a personal attack on Tim - it isn’t, and that is not my intent - I’ll list those points in the video which make it a less-than-great video: points which I think ought to be given due consideration.

We’re led to believe that Tim and his friends attempted to activate Ball Butte W7O/CM-007 by following what others had done, and got themselves to a point which others had used to activate, but which Tim rightly concluded at that time was not in the AZ of the summit. So far, so good. What follows was not so good, however: the group found that they could not ascend to the summit by their chosen route, and so they backtracked to a point where they went off path completely, descending and traversing steep and potentially unstable slopes in a rough bowl-shaped cwm, and then they were “able to zigzag up a little chute” which is obviously filled with scree, but which turned out to be “not too bad.” This chute led directly to the AZ, and they activated the summit.

Here are the issues - these actions show

(1) a lack of due diligence in not properly researching access to the summit and its’ AZ BEFORE setting out: it’s vital that people do their homework before the event, in order to minimize the risk of injury, or getting lost, or worse.

(2) Deciding to leave the established track, and then descend, traverse and ascend potentially unsafe or dangerous terrain is never a great idea. This might perhaps be a good, or only, strategy for exploring completely unknown territory, ala Lewis and Clark in the very early 19th century, but reckless behaviour in this day and age of good maps and information. Furthermore, it’s completely irresponsible to include reports of such maneouvres in a video for anybody contemplating activating a SOTA summit, and especially “for new people who dont know anything about it to join the hobby.” Tim should have at least included a notice or rider to inform his viewers that under no circumstances should they attempt to undertake such maneouvres - better yet, he should have struck that part of the video out altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an armchair ascensionist, I have decades of summer and winter mountaineering and rock-climbing experience under my belt, and have been in many a precarious situation in the wilds. My point in raising these issues here in this SOTA Reflector is to do my part - as every one of us should do - to remind activators that they need to do sufficient research, preparation and planning of their route(s) BEFORE setting out. In this way, they do as much as is humanly possible to ensure a safe activation and a safe return home to their loved ones. Last word on this subject: if your way is blocked, turn around, retrace your steps and go home. There’s always tomorrow…

Otherwise, as I said earlier, the video was OK, had some good parts. But “great”? … you decide.


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I obviously deleted my original reply. I felt in the Christmas spirit I wouldn’t stoop to such a level. I’ll maintain that mindset and simply state, FANTASTIC VIDEO TIM!


agreed - like zero next time :slight_smile:


Have you ever been hiking in the American West? This sort of this is extremely common, and certainly can be done safely.


An established track is often just the options taken by the early ascenders. It isn’t holy, its just one option out of possibly many. It just comes down to experience and awareness, the mountain sense to evaluate the possible difficulties and dangers that a chosen route will offer. It all comes down to experience, as a beginner you follow the most popular routes but as your eye develops you begin to see alternatives. An alternative might offer different views or favour techniques that you are proficient in, or just avoid some feature that you don’t like! A mountain with a long history might eventually gain a plethora of routes, take as an example Snowdon GW/NW-001. Its named routes include the Tourist Route, the Llanberis Route, The Snowdon Ranger Route, the Beddgelert Route, the Rhyd Ddu route and so on. If you fancy a scramble you might try the Horseshoe or the Parson’s Nose Arete, the possibilities can (and do) fill a book. Each of those routes were pioneered for some advantage that the pioneers liked the look of. Each route offers alternatives, variations, but there are also apparent possibilities that pose unacceptable risks or only become possible in certain conditions, such as gully climbs. In other words, as a playground for hikers and climbers the mountain is mature, but all these alternatives were originally pioneered on untrodden ground. It all comes down to gaining experience on well-trodden ground before venturing into the unknown, eventually you find you can “boldly go” but not foolishly go into the undocumented possibilities.

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I guess my previous comment, that…

…carries no weight at all. The overwhelming impression I receive from other commenters here is “our guy can do no wrong” and from you that I need a lecture on paths or tracks.

Fair enough - I get the message: I ought not to comment on things which are evidently above my station.

Me, too, Rob, I’ve a lifetimes experience, hiking and climbing, summer and winter, I just felt that you had expressed that thought in a way that was too restrictive. The desire to explore is part of being a mountaineer, we old 'uns should council but not restrict! :wink:

No - not too restrictive. My aim was simply to remind people that advocating going off track - as the video implicitly does - is sending the wrong message to others, no matter how experienced those others might be. I personally have gone off track more times than I care to remember, and I’ve been skilled enough - and lucky enough - to be able to tell the tale.

Even the SOTA guidelines advises people to stay on the track - or is my memory faulty on this? One hears of so many people who do go off track, get lost, stumble and fall in uncharted areas, and are injured, or die - I guess those are the stupid ones who deserve such fates? And that “our” SOTA people would never be so foolish as to end up in such circumstances?

I think it may just be a conflict of viewpoints, Rob. You saw someone abandoning the safety of a recorded track, I saw someone pioneering a variation. A beginner should stay on the track, but eventually the chick has to break the eggshell and see what is outside.

I have no stomach for wilful obtuseness. I’ll say no more … except this: you’ve just given carte-blanche to anybody and everybody to do what wilderness- and park-managers the world over tell people NOT to do. Which is to do the following:

  • to enter into areas which may be unstable or objectively dangerous in some way;
  • to enter restricted areas where wild animals and birds are potentially breeding and caring for their young;
  • to enter restricted areas where rare plants may be growing and in some cases hanging on in just tiny numbers;
  • where hidden crevasses or caves may be just below the surface;
  • to possibly even enter areas where live ordnance or munitions might be littering the ground, or hidden from view;

and so on. In giving a gung-ho “lads on the hills”, “pioneering variations” approval to go wherever people may fancy to go, you’re underwriting potential disaster, or at the very least disturbance and potential destruction or erosion of protected environments.

Way to go, Brian - as a representative of the SOTA MT, you’ve just completely missed the bigger picture: you must feel very proud of the advice you’ve just given. There should be a badge for that, right?

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I think it depends on where you are in the world.

In Scotland if you depended on being “On Track” there are many summits that would never be activated simply because there is no track.

My biggest worry about going off track is in forest sections, how would anyone ever find me if I disappeared in an accident.

73 de

Andrew G4VFL

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Andrew, you raise some good points, and I have to say I’d agree with them - been there, done that. Although I’ve not activated in Scotland, I’ve done my fair share of Munroes…

Cheers, Rob

Balderdash, Rob, I’ve done none of those things, I just encourage people to enjoy the freedom of the hills in a responsible manner. That does not include having tunnel vision when it comes to tracks, though there are parts of the world where tracks are the only permitted access and in such a case that should be adhered to. I do not advocate trampling about irresponsibly during the season when ground birds are nesting, I have joined in voluntarily avoiding climbing crags where raptors are nesting. Where we have the “right to roam”, a freedom fought for over generations, I advocate using it responsibly, but to surround a track with “thou shalt not” is anathema to me. That isn’t freedom, it is tyranny.

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Brian, you miss the point entirely, despite your claim of high responsibility - you use the tried-and-tested, catch-all, “I can do no wrong” defense. Must be written into the MT Handbook. And “tyranny”? What arrant nonsense.

Beats me how you can distill that out of what I said, but life is too short (particularly at this end of it) to delve into it. Enjoy your mountains.

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