Thinking of doing my first SOTA summit this weekend

I’m debating getting out to my first SOTA summit this weekend. I feel like I finally have my gear functional (a linked inverted vee for 20/40, a line for hoisting it into a tree, an FT817ND, and a BX-8x7 speech processor, and associated batteries)

The summit I am thinking of is near Portsmouth NH, and doesn’t seem to strenuous, which is good because I’m recovering from back issues.

I know I should spot myself on SOTA watch, but how do I provide an ETA? Is there any estimate of how long the walk is up various summits? Any tips for a first timer, like common mistakes to avoid?


Try this Jacob:

I hope it goes well.


I think you mean “Alert” not “Spot” the two are different. The ETA is expected to be just that, an Estimate, if you think it’s going to be particularly inaccurate for any reason then put a note in the comment to say so.

73 and good luck, Colin G8TMV

If you have not already done so I would try your system out in a local park or your backyard before setting out up the hill. It’s surprisingly easy to overlook things that prove to be essential.

You mentioned planning to hoist a line into a tree. Have you considered there are trees on the summits you will be activating?

I’ve tested it by “activating” woods and parks around my area, so I know the station works (inasmuch as a QRP station can when competing with guys running kilowatts of power).

I don’t have a mast, and it seems like that would be really heavy to get to an acceptable height… How do I find out of there are trees at the summit?

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A typical fibreglass fishing pole 5m long weighs about 300-500gm.

Well you could climb it and see! :grin: But it would spoil your day if you got there and there were no trees. Google Maps satellite view is a good place to check as is Bing Maps. But remember, the images could be 10+ years old and so the trees may have been cut down.

Hi Jacob,

Welcome aboard!

You could Google the summit - if it is popular with walkers, there are likely to be references to it in blogs / forums / walking guides. Also, Google Earth is very useful for spotting things like that, as well as paths etc. Assuming the area has been photographed :o)

Telescopic fishing poles can be very light weight. I have one that extends to 5 metres and collapses to 600mm. This tucks into the side of a rucksack easily. It may sound short in the context of supporting HF dipoles, but I have used it successfully to support inverted V dipoles from 5 MHz up. Try to keep the ends clear of the ground to minimize loss.

Others have successfully activated from dry / rocky / frozen summits with the dipole lying on the ground, if there is no support available.

Now that you have tested your gear, I would just go for it without overthinking. You will have fun and learn from the experience.


You will find that having people actively seeking you out makes a huge difference!

Some useful tools will help you in planning your trip/walk, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some …

SotaMaps Tracking page
see if someone uploaded a track for the summits you were thinking of

Check the summits database at Summits on the Air
To start off, select a summit that has the most activations, they are usually the easier ones (with exceptions of course).
See if there are any resources added for the summit (ususally labeled “Access info”).
If not, see who last activated the summit, find their email on and ask them for more info, on where to park, where to operate, …and if there are any trees !
I have never been without reply from any of the activators I wrote to.
Most will actually give you more info than you asked for …
(Note : I wouldn’t select a summit that has not been activated before as your first target. There is always a reason … no access road, private property, too difficult or too dangerous …)

Now for your question how to determine ETA, use one of the many mapping sites, just as an example this one :

On the right there is a “Layers” symbol (4th from the top), select the “Bicycle map”.
Find your summit (clicking on the link on the Summits page will take you there too).
Supposing you can see the track you want to follow, click right on the start and select “Directions from”, then the same for the target, but select “Directions to”.
On the left then, use the drop-down box to select “Walking (Mapzen)”
Distance and time will be calculated, but in my experience, multiply that time by 3 !
(maybe I’m a slow walker, or I stop too often to take pictures :wink: )

Many other tools exist, like Topo Maps, Trail Maps, and Satellite Imagery
and others, but this should get you started.

Good luck es 73
Luc ON7DQ (and KF0CR when I’m in Springfield, MO)

How much weight can those fishing poles support? I have baluns on both of my antennas, and each is a linked dipole out to 40m with additional 6 or 7 feet of paracord on the end to stake it out… I used lightweight wire on them (24awg, though on one I have 18awg zip cord for the inner 20m section for extra strength), but I’m only familiar with the short fishing poles that have a lot of flex to them. I suppose a good sporting goods store would have the pole I need?

I use this pole (from Walmart). I don’t have a balun on my doublet, and the center insulator holds the antenna a few feet down from the top. My guess is that it would have no problem holding a balun up at that height. If you put less tension on the dipole legs, the top doesn’t fold over as much.

According to a quick Google, 199feet of 18AWG copper wire weighs 1lb. (Gawd it’s years since I’ve used imperial measurements!)

A 40m dipole is 20m long. 20m = 20x100 = 2000cms. 1in = 2.54cms So 2000cms = 787in = 65.6ft.

199ft weighs 1lb so 1ft weighs 1/199lb so 65.6ft weighs 65.6 / 199 lbs = 1/3 lb. Or 150gms.

Sotabeams sells a compact light weight telescopic 10 m/30 ft fiber mast which easily fits in a suitcase or backpack (Buy Compact Lightweight Telescoping Mast | Telescopic Mast | Antenna Supports and Hardware | Amateur Radio Accessories and Equipment)

I use that rule and then add 45 minutes to make up for Murphy.
My first 2 activations I used a collapsible painters pole as a hiking pole, high point for my antenna. It worked ok but alittle heavy. Lately I’ve been using my 2.3 meter avi probe as the high point.
My point is use what you have to get the antenna in the air and have fun.

Hi Jacob

I notice you ask for tips and I offer you one: don’t forget the PEGS! I’ve done this twice (yes, I am a slow learner) and it is amazingly difficult to persuade even a simple 2m half-wave dipole to stay upright in a stiff wind and on a hard surface so you can’t dig it in. On another occasion I managed with one guy and one peg so thiese are carried as a spare at all times and weigh very little. What else comes in useful? A pencil and something to write on - preferably a waterproof notebook (which I hadn’t got with me today when it started to rain… ). A clock/watch showing UTC , if possible, is also quite important but can be difficult in pouring rain as mine isn’t waterproof. Also the radio and mike come in useful but the list is almost endless. If it is essential for the activation then one of us (at least) will have forgotten it some time!

Regarding Naismith’s rule, I find the suggestion of 5km per hour rather ambitious as a) the legs and knees don’t pack as much power as they used to and b) the time taken is very dependent on the terrain. Consider your speed over short grass compared with high heather or tussocks. A difficult thing to judge from aerial photos but reading other people’s accounts can be useful. Above all, give it a go and don’t worry if things don’t go smoothly - it all adds to the challenge! Best of luck.
Viki M6BWA

I’ve got one of those fishing poles on order, but it will take while to arrive - Nowhere had it in stock locally. Luckily, it seems the 2 closest places to me both have trees. Do you think I’ll need more than one guy plus my two dipole legs?

I’m thinking I’m going to try and activate Mt. Agamenticus (W1/AM-381) tomorrow after work! Maybe if that goes well I’ll get out to Pawtuckaway (W1/NL-019) this weekend.

It looks like there is road access to Agamenticus pretty much all the way to the top. The rules are that you can’t operate from a vehicle or “close” to one, so should I not drive up to the learning lodge and park somewhere else, or is it just necessary that you haul your gear in one trip any significant distance? It all fits in a MTM 50cal ammo can, so it’s not like carrying it around will be an issue! :stuck_out_tongue:

You could drive up, then just walk somewhere to operate. I’ve done that on some summits. Its been a few years, but I remember the walk up Agamenticus was nice and not difficult. There was a wedding or something going on at the top when we were there. I hiked it before I got into SOTA, so I don’t remember the antenna support situation.
There’s an observation platform on top, probably a good place if you have an HT and want to do some VHF.

The rules don’t specify a minimum distance, and the distance you should move falls under the category of “the spirit of SOTA” - if you feel you’ve gone far enough from the car that it is no longer having an impact on the activation, and you can justify that to yourself, then it’s probably OK. It’s expected that, eg, a double-leg amputee may have a different concept of “far enough” than a person who runs marathons for breakfast. Personal circumstances will dictate what is in the spirit of SOTA.

A good rule of thumb could be that the car should be able to drive away and the activation could continue without any change in circumstances (other than a longer walk home :wink: )

Thats exactly what I think when doing drive up summits.