First SOTA activation
About a month ago, I got my ham radio license, and soon after I got pretty curious about Summits on the Air (SOTA), an award scheme focused on safe and low impact portable operation from mountaintops. While I like to hike, I’m arguably a pretty casual hiker, and living in California provides a surprising number of options within 45 minutes driving time for SOTA newbies.
I went out hiking yesterday at El Corte de Madera Open Space, one of my go-to hiking spots. Without realizing it until later, when I looked at my APRS traces, I had walked directly through the activation zone for Sierra Morena, W6/NC-209, on the way back from the tafoni sandstone formation, which is a perennial favorite. Feeling sheepish, I realized I didn’t even have a clear idea of how to activate it. I returned today after registering and reading up on rules and protocols as a way to try out SOTA before driving out to the coast.
Most of the other write ups about this activation share most of the important details, but here’s a quick recap. If you want the closest and most convenient parking, the Skeggs Point parking area is the best bet. Slightly further south there are two entrances to the Sierra Morena trail, each with their own parking lot. The largest parking lot (CM00) is the one for the sign for the preserve, with restrooms. If you’re coming from the north trailhead (e.g. you parked at Skeggs Point), you’ll pass through a gate, head up hill via paved path and ultimately head past a microwave radio facility with another gate in front of you. This area serves as the start of the activation zone. If you continue on the trail, you will enter into clearing with a path heading towards the summit. The summit itself is still closed for restoration, but the base of this path makes a good location to set up for QSOs to allow you to get out of the way of hikers and mountain bikers. I set up hear around 1:00 pm local time, and did a self-spot online. I am not sure I got APRS2SOTA to actually work, but I tried that too. With two VHF/UHF HTs at my disposal I ended up calling CQs on 2 m and 70 cm. While I didn’t end up getting all four QSOs needed for points, I ended up getting three. I came close, though, because there were doubles in a couple of pileups - but either because of poor line of sight or loss of interest I couldn’t confirm all the doubles.
In any event, it was a fun way to get started as a SOTA activator. And thanks to the three folks who made it a successful activation. On the way back, I had a quick convo with someone else on the N6NFI repeater, and then headed out to Pescadero. (Incidentally, I had great reception of hams working the International Space Station’s new repeater as I headed up Highway 1!)