Planning my first SOTA activation; need advice

Hi all,
I’m Anthony KM6QCG. I’m a relatively new ham and I’m looking to do my very first SOTA activation close to home from Mt. St Helena (W6/NC-30) in the Napa Valley on Nov. 4th. Probably 20 meters. Any advice on how I can have success in making QSOs? I’ll be running a Yaesu 857 d with a sotabeams band hopper wire dipole on a 7 meter mast.
I’d appreciate any advice/ comments. Excited to get started!

Welcome Anthony and congratulations on your upcoming first SOTA activation! To gain the maximum exposure to SOTA chasers, be sure to post an alert with your anticipated frequencies and modes in advance of your activation. If you have cell service at the summit, post spots as you are ready to begin calling “CQ SOTA” on whatever frequency you are using. Using common SOTA frequencies helps in case you cannot self-spot. Good luck, be safe and have fun!

Paul K9PM

1 Like

Can we assume you have read this:

And that you have also browsed this reflector/forum to find very similar questions asked recently by others, and the replies… ?

Once you read all that, you will probably have questions about details, but without knowing what you already know, answers would be very general and possibly miss the mark.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH

CW mode will increase your chances. SSB will need more power.
Install your antenna is such way that the maximum gain will be toward East where the most correspondents are located.

The best way to increase your chances of success, other than making sure your equipment works BEFORE you leave, is to spot yourself on and check for others activating at the same time (be sure to say “Summit to Summit” when responding to their CQ).

Good luck!

A piece of advice I was given before my first activation that proved valuable: a few days before the activation, pack up everything you think you’ll need and take it all to a nearby park and set up your station. Make notes of anything you’ve forgotten or didn’t think of needing.

Good luck and 73!

Joe // N0MAP


Maybe more of hassle than you want but you might have success on 2m FM into the Santa Rosa area. The 857 has 2m capability and you could pick up a Slim Jim on Ebay or elsewhere.

Either way good luck with the 857 and definitely try 40m SSB as I think you will pick up chasers in the Bay Area (K6EL) and as far north as Pac NW such as Phil NS7P and possibly W7RV (Tommy), Ken K6HPX in AZ.


1 Like

My rule of thumb for activations in the SF Bay Area is that 40 m mostly reaches chasers inside California and 20 m mostly reaches outside of California (AZ, CO, ID, WA). Oregon could fall either way.

2 m reaches people in your county. Pretty often, I’ve needed a few 2 m contacts to get the points. HF SSB can be a challenge and my 10 W makes it harder, even with alerts and spots.


1 Like

Thanks for the advice! I plan on using 2 meters on my HT with a slim Jim and using my 857 for HF. Do you think I’ll have more success on 40 meters instead of 20 meters? I plan on being at the summit somewhere between 07:30-08:30.
I still have considerable trouble reading/understanding vocap software so I’m not sure what will work the best for me on that date/time.

Thanks! I was planning on self spotting using the mountain goat app. I think it routes to SOTAWATCH. Not sure exactly what time I’ll get up to the summit, or whether I’ll have a cell signal at the top, so I’ll post at the base. I’m also going to give APRS2SOTA a try when I’m up there.

It does change daily but early morning 40m might be more cooperative than 20m. Either way, try them both. I personally think VOCAP is a bit overkill for what you are doing but it’s interesting and educational. Run the 857 at 20-30 watts to conserve battery power (definitely not at 80-100 watts).

In the States, we seem to be quite forgiving of using the 2m FM calling channel to find someone and swap calls and signal reports and try again. That time of the day you most likely will find mobile operators.

Some US 2m hams can be quite shy and don’t readily respond to an unknown ham calling. Keep trying and don’t be averse to “begging” for contacts…“I’m up a mountain, I carried a 3 ton pack up here, the wolves are circling…and I just need one more contact…”. Well you get the picture…



Great advice. Will do!

After I’ve tried HF and the 2 m FM calling frequency (146.52), I get on a very active local repeater (N6NFI), explain what I’m doing and invite folks to the calling frequency. I had to do that on Mt. Umunhum, then had some nice conversations with commuters.


I am confused about your ETA between 07:30-08:30. We will change clock one hour back on November 4th. Sunrise time is 6:40 AM PST at your location. It is about 4.2 miles one way hike with over 2000 feet of elevation gain. Will you start hiking before the sunrise?

Hi Anthony,

When I did my first activation, it was with two experienced local SOTA guys. If I lived down there I’d go hiking with you… hopefully you will get some offers =) . I learned a heck of a lot and got some very good advice, and also made some new friends that I hike with fairly regularly.

Make sure to post a comment in your spot that its your 1st activation - we all love chasing 1st time activators and will do anything we can to help you up there. Be sure to post new spots when you switch freq/band/modes. If you don’t have good cell service on the summit, you can use SMS to spot (but you need to set this up a few days in advance). If you have NO cell service, you can try using APRS to spot (if you have APRS gear). I’ve only done 104 summits so far, but I’ve never failed to get at least 4 contacts (usually a lot more than that!). The only summits that I’ve struggled on are ones where I couldn’t get a spot out. Generally if I get a spot out, I’m golden.

As others have said, make sure your radio gear works before you go up there. Set up in your back yard or a park. Make a check list of all the items you need so you don’t forget something important on the day of the hike!

Don’t forget to give a shout out on 146.52. I generally monitor this while I’m on a summit and have made a lot of S2S contacts because of it. We have a growing number of 2m FM chasers here in W7W, and I like to give everyone a shot at getting me on the summit. I bet you have a lot of 2m chasers down there too.

Good luck on your 1st activation!

-Josh WU7H

1 Like

I plan on starting the hike before sunrise. My plan is to hit the summit within 2 hours. Again, it’s my first time, so there could be some unexpected logistical problems.
I’ll do my best to self spot at the summit with exact details.

I have activated that summit and it is quite a hike. Carry plenty of water and snacks. When you get to the summit you will be able to see that you will need to descend and then climb again to the SOTA summit! You should have cell phone service at the summit to be able to spot yourself. 146.52 is generally monitored by several hams that can copy SOTA activators on St. Helena. My most productive frequency/mode is 30M/CW - allows you to work into AZ where there are a lot of chasers and SoCal as well as local. Welcome to SOTA - I can be contacted thru the reflector and my email is accurate in Joe AA0BV

Solar storm is predicted for the coming weekend. Because of this, it may be a challenge to make HF contacts. Please prepare a backup plan - 2 meter FM operation.

And don’t forget if you cannot get enough 2m simplex contacts do the following. Find a repeater that’s in use, break into the QSO when it’s polite to do so, tell the others you need simplex contacts and ask them to leave the repeater to work you. Make sure you thank them when they all return to the repeater. You never know, someone may hear this and be intrigued enough to look into SOTA activating and chasing.

1 Like

Thank you for the update and the advice. I’ll be sure to do that!