Mission Creep: The evolution of SOTA in New Mexico

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.

SOTA Evangelism.
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.


Great story! I liked your analysis of how QRP and CW have become not just interesting but necessary.

Your points about the greying of Amateur Radio are well made too.

As I say to my radio friends, we need to enthuse the younger people, otherwise there will be no chasers when we are on the summits!


The highest score is not held by a Brit!

You are right, though - this is indeed the Golden Age of QRP. The world is still full of dinosaurs chanting their “life is too short for QRP” mantra but frequent SOTA pile-ups prove them wrong!

Great piece, I shall go and get a bedtime drink and read it again!


Very nice. If that had come a day earlier, I would have quoted a segment in the September Canada/US newletter.

Be careful what you wish for. Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley, could be in the system sooner than you think… then you’d have to go up all 20,000 feet of ice just to save face.

Elliott, K6EL

A good read, should be made a sticky. :smile:

Freely admit I doubt whether I shall rise to the lofty heights of goathood and admire those with the determination whom do.

True the greying of amateur radio…have to agree SOTA and the rebirth of interest in CW agures well for the hobby.

The younger set like outdoor activities and those with something of a technical bent will find SOTA an activity which suits them down to the ground.

(will be interesting to see how things pan out for SOTA in Japan).

Adventure and far flung places await them along with the glory of goathood.

The scouts and similar organisations may save us yet.

73’s, Nick

Ahhhhh, the ring of truth ! Well done!


That is a great post. It is the VK experience. I suspect it is true in Japan now too. The Brits may have decided that operating radios from Marilyns was a good idea and be managing the activity with aplomb but such is the power of the concept that the rest of the world now has most of the ownership of it in terms of participation.

A bad day on a peak beats a good day pretty well anywhere else.


Which was the purpose from the outset!


Mission Creep: The evolution of SOTA in New Mexico

 What an interesting read and food for thought.

 Lack of chasers hell am usually about chasing but working towards doing few more activations. Can't see myself doing Mountain goat well not in this decade LOL.

And yes SOTA does make Ham radio a lot more interesting, and love the reports but most of all the stunning pictures taken while up there we would not normally see.

   Trouble with this day and and age and am reaching that certain age now on where I look at the world and i want to get off. To much of a rat race everything done yesterday if not done day before. Qualities out the window in face of profit. But with Sota its an escape either chasing and more so activating and enjoying the unspoilt natural beauty even up me local Summit the view are breath taking on a clear day across the moors of Devon and Cornwall and yonder into the tamar valley towards the channel sea/ Atlantic ocean.

 Also building of antennas comes into it making antennas that will work for you yes its a strange creature but a well enjoyable one.

 AS for QRP is all I have under my licence but tell ya what I have done well even limited to Phone but got couple friends giving me ideas of C/W and ways to approach it. Once the Solar min kicks in find more time to converse with it. Even then with Solar min there still be sota some where along the line as we chop at the bit for the flux to rise again.

Long Live Sota