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Questions about activation, vertical distance, car

This response is emailed to Ron VK3AFW and posted on the SOTA_Australia Yahoo
Group and SOTA reflector

I have received a letter from Ron Cook, VK3AFW asking about what is permitted
and what is not about activating when a car is used for partial access, and what
is the acceptable activation zone. I will try to (hopefully reasonably clearly)
deal with this issue once and for all.


The rules at play here are the General Rules and the VK3 Association Reference
Manual (ARM). One issue is the official ARM has not been released yet, and
people have only been able to access a draft through the SOTA Australia Yahoo
group. The SOTA MT have approved an official ARM which is to be released
tomorrow (28th of April 2012). This has no real practical changes from the last
draft, and certainly none that impact on this discussion. I will refer to the
official ARM, which I will also post on the SOTA Australia yahoo group, but only
after I have seen it on the official SOTA site. This will hopefully happen on
the 28th, but you just never know…

The General Rules are not entirely clear, but we will consider the interaction
between the rules.


  • First sentence: This establishes that final access must be non-motorised. This
    implies, and is widely accepted that motorised access is allowed, however the
    final stage of access must be non-motorised. Clearly a car can be used at least
    in part, but you cannot just drive up all the way, get out of the car and
    activate for SOTA. If you drive up all the way, then something else must happen
    in between getting out of the car and activating, and this something else must
    be a final access to the Summit that is non-motorised.
  • Second & third sentences: These clearly rules out the car forming part of the
    station, either by sitting on or in the car, touching the car, using the car
    battery, or having some cable or whatever in the car, having the computer used
    for logging sitting in the car, or whatever else you can imagine that has a
    relationship with the car that is used during operation.

3.7.1.(4) In order to understand this, we must consider the height of the summit
itself. From this highest point, there is a region that is valid for activation,
and this area is effectively “the Summit” for SOTA purposes. This area is
anywhere that has a height that is within the vertical distance of the highest
point. If the highest point is, lets say 800m, then anywhere that is within the
vertical distance of that is potentially in the activation zone or "the Summit"

  • The VK3 ARM defines vertical distance as 25m. So for our 800m summit, the
    relevant height is 775m. Any place that has this height or higher is potentially
    part of “the Summit”.
    (4) goes on to require that the terrain between the Operating Position and the
    highest point also must remain within the vertical distance. This only needs to
    be satisfied by one possible direction. If there were several ways from going
    from a given spot to the highest point, some of which required going below 775
    in our example. but there was a way of going where the ground was always at or
    above 775m, then that location is in the activation zone.

Another way to think of this, is if the summit is 800m high, then the 775m
contour line going around it (if a map had 25m contours) would represent the
boundary of the activation area.

Now what is not relevant in all of this is the prominence of the summit. If a
summit is in the SOTA database, or in the ARM - which at the moment both include
609 summits in VK3, then it is good to go. Prominence only comes in when it is
time to consider revisions to the ARM, both in adding new summits or deleting or
moving existing ones. In VK3, required prominence is 150m. If you are activating
a summit which you know has less than this, your activation is good - and might
become very valuable in SOTA in the future as a unique as when I find out about
it, I will act to delete the summit on the next revision, but your activation of
that will stand. Others won’t be able to follow you though, once deletion
becomes effective.

Now to answer some of Ron’s specific questions.

  1. What does “in the vicinity” mean? It is not defined in the rules, so we use
    the dictionary. The Australian Pocket Oxford defines it as “surrounding
    district”. Clearly there is going to be a context to interpreting this. One way
    of interpreting it is that the vehicle cannot be in the activation zone. Another
    way is to say it can, but you cannot be near it. Again what is near it - we seem
    to have made no progress! Given that 3.7.1.(3) goes on to talk to prevent the
    vehicle forming part of the station, then clearly the vehicle has the potential
    to be in the activation zone, but there must be a degree of separation from the
    activation site and the vehicle. I think, trying to give a common sense view,
    that if operation is completely independent of the vehicle in every way, then
    operation is not in the vicinity of the vehicle. If you were operating
    completely independent of the vehicle at 20m then you are not in the vicinity.
    However if you were at 2m, the vehicle is going to dominate the activation - how
    are you going to prevent touching it? leaning on it, or whatever. Someone who
    sees you is going to draw a link between you and the vehicle, so I would say
    that you are in the region of the vehicle or the vicinity of the vehicle.

Again, context is important. If there was a car park with your car the only one
in it, and you where 100m from the car, someone might associate you with that
car, but I think that your operation is independent of the car, But what about
say even 50m or even 20m. How close can you get? It is too hard to say.

  1. Now dealing with Mt Dandenong. There is a car park about 5m below the top,
    with a restaurant at the summit. The activation zone is 25m vertical distance,
    which will include a walking track that skirts underneath the car park. You
    actually need to walk some distance away and then walk back on the track to get
    to that location. If you parked a car in that car park and then went to access
    the track, then you are no longer in the vicinity of the car.
  • But then what about “final access”. You need to leave “the Summit”, and in
    order to do this, you need to leave the activation zone. Otherwise you have not
    left “the Summit”, you are only moving around in “the Summit”, and your final
    method of accessing “the Summit” remains a motor car. If you leave “the Summit”,
    by going to 26m below the summit in vertical height or more, and then reenter on
    foot, your final access to “the Summit” is now non-motorised.

I have not looked at the walking tracks at Mt Dandenong closely enough to be
able to say if all of them involve having to descend beyond 25m vertical height
from the summit. I do know that at least parts of these tracks are within 25m,
and so those parts are in the activation zone. If all the tracks were to require
a descent to beyond 25m from the summit top, then the parts that are within 25m
near the car park are good to go. One operator decided to bypass all of this and
park the car near where the exit road from the car park joins Ridge Rd.

Now given all of this, can you drive the car to the summit, get the gear out,
carry it 20m to where you plan to operate, then go for a walk down the road and
turn around and come back up again? Under my interpretation of the rules - yes.
I can’t see on balance of probabilities that this breaches the rules. Is it
against the spirit of SOTA? I think people will have different views on that. In
the end, you must decide what you feel is complying.

SOTA is a program that seeks to challenge activators in an environment where you
do not have access to portable solutions that involve generators or cars. You
must make alternative choices. These choices will be different when you need to
walk 200m along a sealed wheelchair accessible path, verses a 10km bush bash off
track to access some remote summit, where you also need to set up a base camp to
camp overnight before and the night after the activation as part of getting in
and out. Both scenarios are valid for SOTA, but the second is required to access
certain summits in VK3…

People like me find the second scenario genuinely interesting, but SOTA
activating is for a broader audience than that. If you are making these
alternative choices as part of an activation where you can’t use the car - in my
mind, it is then in the spirit of SOTA.

Asking about Mt Buller. Going from the top car park, which is out of the
activation zone to the top will be good for SOTA (of course complying with other
rules), unless you are trying something “unique” involving a motor like using a
motorised bicycle.

I hope this has adequately answered your questions, and the opinions of the
rules that I have given in this piece are the official view of the VK3
Association Manager.

Wayne VK3WAM