Mt. Bailey, My First SOTA Activation

Towards the end of 2019 I decided to study to get my Amateur Radio license, or Ham license as it is frequently called.  I took the test in January of 2020, passing my Technician and General exams and becoming a newly licensed Ham radio operator.  Like many others before me, I started with an inexpensive handheld radio and made some initial contacts through simplex channels and the local repeater.

As I researched ham radio and binge watched YouTube videos about the subject I found an interesting portion of the hobby called Summits on the Air, or SOTA for short.  SOTA is a mobile version of the radio hobby and involves "activators" carrying their radio equipment to the top of mountains and sending out calls, which are answered by "chasers."  This gives people the opportunity to participate, whether they are physically able to hike to a mountain top or not.  Points are assigned to both the activator and chaser based on the height and difficulty of the peak.

Having grown up hiking, backpacking and spending time in the woods, SOTA seemed like a great fit and opportunity to mix exercise and exploration with radio.  I live in the area of Bailey, CO and quickly found that there are at least a dozen SOTA peaks within view of my house.  The closest, Mt. Bailey, is basically in my neighborhood and a relatively easy hike.

I set out creating an account on the SOTA site,  From there I made the decision that my cheap handheld radio was probably not ideal, but I might as well give it a try.  On my first attempt I posted my plans to the SOTA watch site and hiked up the mountain with my family.  I attempted to get contacts for about an hour and a half, finally leaving the summit with 3 contacts.  Unfortunately, the minimum number of contacts or QSOs to receive points for an activation is 4.

About a week later I decided to make another attempt.  This time I sent out an e-mail to the local Park County Radio Club and announced on the local repeater that I would be up at the summit.  When I made it to the top I quickly contacted three club members via the simplex channel 146.52.  Over the next hour I made another 4 contacts as far away as Broomfield and Parker, CO.  This time I had 7 contacts, making it my first official SOTA activation!

Short hike up Mt. Bailey. There is an easy trail to the top.
Here are a couple notes on the activation:  There is a small parking lot off of Burland Drive for Weakland Fawks Park.  I didn't notice any signs indicating that it is a trailhead for Mt. Bailey, but there is really only one trail and it leads directly away from the parking lot and towards the obvious mountain above you.  This hike is about .5 miles and 380 feet of vertical gain to the summit.  The trail is well defined and as you can see from my track to the right, has multiple switchbacks to ease the short but steep climb.  As you approach the antenna towers at the top, you will want to leave the trail right before the small bridge that spans the cables leading to the antennas.  There isn't a well defined trail at this point, but if you leave the trail to the right and head west you will reach the summit after just 40 yards or so.  The summit is directly next to the antenna tower, but you can drop down a little to the north and west to get away from any radio interference and find some protection from the frequent winds.

I have gone up and activated the peak again since then, even though I can only get the points once in a calendar year.  The relative difficulty of getting simplex contacts over the mountains into the front range has caused me to spend many hours researching other radio and antenna options.  While I have the ability to use HF radio, thanks to passing my General exam, I haven't decided on an HF radio that would be light enough to carry into the mountains.  I have ordered a lightweight Yagi antenna that should at least provide a little more reach to my signal and make a few more QSOs possible.

For now, I continue to wait for the snow to melt and spend a fair amount of my free time researching radios, new summits and planning what to attempt next.

If anyone is interested, I can post a follow up that goes into more detail about the SOTA program and what it means.  I am no expert on it at this point, but it might help answer some questions that people may have.

Have you heard of or participated in SOTA before?  If you've read this blog for the general outdoor content in the past, are you aware of or involved in Ham radio?  Let me know in the comments below.


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