As a reader of RadCom, I’d been aware of SOTA for some time, however the photos in the magazines were almost always of Old Boys wearing old Paramo or old Buffalo shirts, sitting on foggy summits with an FT-817. It didn’t really appeal to me, despite being a walker, climber and mountaineer.
Fast forward to 2019 and I started to unbox my amateur radio kit that hadn’t been used for eight years due to various house moves. The latest house wasn’t the best for setting up a base station, so my thoughts turned to portable operation. I started taking my handheld on hikes and started hearing a few stations. Spoke with Robin @GM7PKT and that sealed it. I’d do SOTA.
Fast forward again and the motivation is:
keeping me sane (although can drive me insane too)
exploring areas I’d never been to and would likely
never go to
Much like some of the others, in that I’ve spent many years mountaineering/ x-country skiing, summer & winter climbing in the UK, Eire, Spain Norway & Switzerland along with canoeing, including some wonderful trips to extremely remote rivers in northern Canada.
I’d also been a Radio Operator in the Royal Navy and missed using CW, so when i discovered there was a Foundation licence in ham radio I took the exam. A year or two later one of the club members mentioned SOTA. I slowly got drawn into it and am now working my way to MG.
Its allowed me to visit hills and mountains I normally would have driven past on my way to some winter or summer climbing. Its been a bit of an eye-opener given all the areas I’d never really thought about visiting. So operating cw from the tops of hills combines two things I’ve always enjoyed.
As seems common in the thread, my motivations have evolved as time has gone on.
I was first licensed in 1997, I took my RAE (Radio Amateur’s Examination) before I knew much about ham radio. I was exposed to ham radio during my last few months at school, so I signed on to the full course as I began at college, in addition to my other studies.
I didn’t have a ham shack (and actually never have), so my only operating activities were out and about, and also at the radio club. I took my Morse test in 1999 after being helped to learn Morse by radio club members, so by February 1999, I was at the top tier with no idea!
In 2001, I had been driving a car for a year or so, so I decided to go on a solo adventure to the isle of Mull for fun. The FT-817 had just launched in the UK, so I bought one for my trip. I had an awesome trip to Mull, it stands out as one of my best holidays, however I only managed one QSO on the radio!
In early 2004 I was operating my FT817 from a local high spot in the car when I worked Rod M3HLD on Pen Y Ghent G/NP-010 on 2m FM. Rod explained about SOTA and I immediately recognised that it would be a perfect activity for me - I even had the right radio!
I was hooked on SOTA straight away and started activating eagerly. Life then got busy; moving into my own home, girlfriend (later to become wife), a child, etc, all within a couple of years.
SOTA was a means to get on air and speak to people for me. I’d done a few mountains during school trips, but it has been SOTA that got me into hillwalking. Winter is a less busy time for me regarding family stuff, so I have concentrated on collecting winter bonus points to try to get my SOTA activator score up a bit. I finally got my Mountain Goat in 2017 after 13 years!
After my Goat, my next motivation was to gain what I termed ‘True Mountain Goat’, which is 1000 activator points without bonus points.
Along the way I got really interested in building my own gear, SOTA is a means to test my creations
In recent times, my motivation for SOTA is just to get on air and connect with ‘friends’. Some friends I have met in real life, others I haven’t. The SOTA points are not too important to me these days although I would like to reach 2xMG.
For me it’s the whole package. Each outing is a mini-adventure, some more so than others. I enjoy the planning, logistics, navigation, the hike (if there is one). setting up an antenna under varying, and sometimes difficult, circumstances and finally, playing radio to prove it all works. It’s an addiction.
In past years, when I still had my airplane, I could fly to some out of the way airport (e.g. Lonesome Pine airport (KLNP) in SW Virginia), rent a car and do a mountain.
You’re like a child asking “is it worth living on planet earth?”…
My attitude towards sota changed vy much within the last years. Score vs. meaningfulness, CO2 emission to get to the summit, how much time am I willing to spend,… what’s the real goal for me personally?
But apart from my personal sensitivities: sota is a fixed star in my life. After months of laziness, I come to the summit and everything is fine, just meeting the old friends - no stupid questions nor accusations.
I had an effort to reach the summit and I get respect and appreciation, as it should be … always … for all of the actions I take in my daily life … … … well - should be … but with sota it’s real!
I reach the summit - put up my stn - call cq - and the world is still in order…
It’s a (pretty thin) pretext to get out and go up hills. Much like hunting. When I’m out tramping it’s a pretext to make the extra effort to go up a summit instead of passing it by. Something to do of an evening in camp too.
I would have been doing this back in the day when I was still a stripling, and tramping and climbing remote areas. Sometimes we carried mountain radios anyway on the more remote trips.
But, they had the morse requirement, so we had VHF only licenses, and the very thing I could have used ham radio for best was closed off, and along with the annual license fee, and the increasing pull of the pussy, we let our licenses lapse.
If licensing was like it is today in ZL, we would have taken HF radios, and I expect that several of the YL’s along the way would have picked up a license, and I would have kept it up, as it has proven to be quite a satisfactory activity to do with the XYL, and would have been fun when the kids were little too.
With hindsight, Ham radio here missed the boat 40 years ago, when they should have changed licensing to how it is now: No morse, realistic exam difficulty, perpetual licenses, and run by NZART
As an avid ourdoorsman, I’ve never lacked the motivation to get out there into the hills. However, day or overnight trips have never appealed - tramping (hiking) has always been about missions into new territory, multi-day or multi-week trips into the unknown. Walking up a valley and back, or up a peak and back always seemed like a pointless effort in comparison.
So SOTA came as a godsend. Fitting neatly into a day or weekend, and motivating me to visit so many places that would never have come to my attention were they not marked by a small purple ‘SOTA summit’ triangle on my map! Hours of pouring over maps stringing together efficient multi-summit ridgeline trips, or squinting at contours looking for ‘breaks’ in the terrain hinting at access. Less expected, but equally welcome has been the sense of community that comes with SOTA. The pleasure on picking out that familiar voice from the noise (or in some cases being deafened by it as you reach to back off the volume).
But the distance to new peaks grows and the ethics of travelling such distances for day-trip recreation becomes more and more questionable. So the question becomes: ‘what next?’.
The new job working with a crew/team makes tacking SOTA onto work trips less realistic.
I can still use vacation time to spend a week or two in a new area and explore new peaks, but vacations are limited and shared with so many other objectives and challenges
And I am lucky enough to still have a whole host of private-land peaks nearby, so am learning the art of landowner-diplomacy.
However, once they’re gone, I will need a new source of inspiration to get me out of the door and into the hills. Or a new mode of transport to get there. Hopefully SOTA will be part of that.
When SOTA was first mooted in VK I was keen to join in and my competitive desire drove me to start in the first month that VK3 was live.
Some 10 years later I have just wandered up to MG status and I have met many fantastic operators along the way - both face to face and on air.
My initial motivation was the chase for points, later it was something to do while taking children to various parts of the state, then verification of the multiple updates to VK port-a-log and the past couple of years to just get out and get some exercise.
Unfortunately my family history of poor quality knees has now made the longer walks more difficult and much slower then 10 years ago.
With 1000 points in the log now I’ll probably restrict myself to shorter walks from here on.
Wow, I never expected such a great response! Thanks everyone, it has been great reading everyone’s thoughts on SOTA. I will say that this coming week I might have a chance to bag 3 easy summits in TN on a family vacation. If I get to they will definitely be get up/get down with 4 qso’s as soon as possible!
For me, the length of time on the summit is usually short as I try to fit SOTA into my work and family schedules. The multi point summits are all 2-3 hours away further complicating things. So many of my activations are short but very sweet!
I think most of my thoughts and motivations have been mentioned already above.
As for the question of whether 4 contacts are enough, I have rarely needed to limit an activation to 4. I usually want to qualify summits on both ssb and cw, then I want to qualify on at least 40 and 20m. If 17 is working well I like to make at least 4 there too. And finally if there are lots of chasers on the band, I like to work anyone who is there. When near a population centre I will monitor 2m fm simplex, call CQ occasionally and answer any calls there too. That normally adds up to 30 or more contacts, we don’t have as many chasers here as there are in EU or NA. If the chasers are still calling I usually stay until there are none left to work, unless weather or battery or daylight run out. It is different on a multi-summit activation day, in that case I make a minimum of 4 on each mode if possible then close down and move to the next summit.
I guess my motivation has been quite different. The 4 qsos have rarely been of concern of difficulty. I started because I hurt and felt old lol. I wanted a reason to get out more and when you feel you have seen every tree, bird and flower it becomes hard to push yourself out the door. I was already an avid outdoor/nature person, birding, wildflower and plant identification, forager, hunting, camping, etc but never did summiting or really much hiking at all, just a wanderer of the woods. But now radio was in my life too. I had already been doing portable operations and loved it. I started the day before a monumental birthday and hauled about 30# of gear up to my first summit and was in awe of the number of qsos, but more so the support that followed. Advice, welcoming emails, better and lighter gear info, but most of all-friendship and camaraderie. An underground community I did not know existed. It was fabulous. I fell in love with being on top of the mountains and in the heavens.
Long story as short as I can make it, I soon ran into medical issues that limited my abilities and experienced some very painful loss of family to suicide soon after. Not to mention covid and our close towns burnt to wildfire. Devastation was everywhere it seemed. SOTA helped me keep going forward. Bringing something to the days that never seemed to have a negative, always very positive full of dozens of “GM AMY” during a very difficult chapter of life. Just one more mountain, can I do it? Will there be another mountain, is this the last? It became my PT and my mental health journey. SOTA is a great activity for personal goal setting, starting on a short hike and working my way to larger summits, new mountains, longer treks. At the same time separating myself from difficulties, even if just for a day. It IS healing.
This may be a bit of a different motivator than some, and much more on the personal side, but I have learned that I am not the only one in the SOTA family walking this journey. You all are some unique, amazing people and few realize how much you help some of us, each and every day.