Wow, no updates here since July! The all-consuming activity that has kept me from doing so is the topic of this hiatus-breaking post.
Since about mid-August, I have been playing a game called SOTA, which stands for Summits On The Air. It is something that started in Europe and has recently spread to North America. The idea is that folks called “activators” head up to designated mountain summits with portable radio gear and make at least four contacts. The “chasers” are folks that hunt the activators from home, mobile, or other summits. This is mainly an HF activity, which means the contacts are across state and country lines. Summits are assigned point values based on their prominence, and the participants receive the points once they make at least four contacts.
The first summit I activated was Aubrey Butte in Bend, OR, at the behest of N7HQR. We didn’t really know what we were doing, and thus brought way more gear than we needed to get the job done. We stumbled through it and made the required contacts. Two points for this one.
A few weeks later, we did a weekend trip where we activated Mt. Hebo (two points) on Friday evening, camped, and then did Meares Benchmark (one point) Saturday morning. We still carried too much stuff, but the distance required was short enough that we were able to do it.
We had a couple of friends visit the northwest in late September, with plans to hike a bunch of trails in the Mt. Rainier national forest. Luckily, one of the spots they were planning was High Rock, a six point peak. This was a multi-mile technical and challenging trail, which required me to truly carry the gear I needed, as making multiple trips was not feasible. This was the first one I did where I started throwing out duplicate pieces of equipment and trying to keep things as small as possible. Using my father’s 1970 Kelty D4 external frame pack, I was able to carry the radio gear, batteries, antenna components, tripod and mast to the top. It was a lot of work, but I made it and more than doubled my points in a single trip. As you can see, I clearly had some work to do in order to get the pack even smaller.
The next weekend was a planned trip to Sunriver, Oregon with a couple of friends. Lava Butte is an impressive cinder cone in the middle of the desert with a road nearly to the top and a four-point value. This one was nearly trivial as it just required walking up the paved trail from the parking lot to the overlook. We strapped the tripod and mast to the handrail and made our contacts.
Clearly bitten by the bug and addicted to the game, Taylor and I headed to Saddle Mountain the following weekend. Again, I carried the radio gear plus a full tripod and mast to the top. Some parts of the trail are hard to navigate with such a wide mast strapped across the pack. This hike got me thinking that while the frame pack was great for weight and large objects, it sat too far away from my body to be stable in the wind and varied terrain. Two points for this one.
The next weekend, we went to Roger’s Peak, which is a unassuming forested two-point peak, which really just required walking along a forest road to get to the top. This was to be my last trip with a full tripod and mast, as well as the last (so far) with the frame pack.
A week later, we rejoined N7HQR for a trip up to Mary’s Peak, another two pointer with an easy road walk from the parking lot. This was my first trip using the recently-acquired Buddipole shock-corded mast. This eliminated the need to carry the tripod and telescoping mast, about six pounds of weight. Replacing those is a small cordura bag about twelve inches long, which folds out into an eight foot mast. The only gotcha is that you have to guy it completely, but I’ve found that to not be a problem at all, even without help.
The following week, Taylor and I hiked to the top of Lookout Mountain, east of Mt. Hood. This fantastic hike was not overly challenging, and ended at a fantastic 360-degree view of the desert of eastern Oregon, as well as Mt. Hood and the similar peaks to the north and south. The top previously hosted a fire lookout structure, of which only the foundation remains. The temperatures were dropping (this was now the end of October) and the wind on top made it pretty cold. We took a thermos of hot cocoa, which was great after making my contacts and packing things up. Six points for this one, making it one of my two most valuable to date.
Unfortunately, the next weekend was cramped by a previous engagement so I was on my own for this one. I decided to head into the Tillamook State Forest and find one of the (supposedly easy) one-point hills that are mostly covered by fire roads. After hours of driving around and correcting maps with bad info, I finally found Giveout Mountain and made my contacts.
Somehow, my SOTA activities showed up on a friend’s radar this week — a new ham with a lot of experience in the backcountry. We planned and executed a trip up to Barlow Ridge, south of Mt. Hood. This was a four-point peak with a few miles of trudging through 6+ inches of snow and crossing some sketchy ridgelines. It was extremely cold, but we cooked a freeze-dried meal at the top and made our required contacts before heading back safely.
The next week, I rejoined K7JDF for a trip back to Giveout Mountain (where he activated and got the point) as well as the unnamed one-point peak “2416”. The latter required a bit of bushwhacking through some steep and dense logging fallout. It was a lot of work for a single point, but was fun nontheless.
Until now, each weekend since High Rock in late September had some sort of SOTA activity associated with it. The weekend of November 20th was, unfortunately, a break in the chain. We planned to head to Trask Mountain in the Oregon coast range on Sunday, which we expected would be an easy two-point peak. The roads there are only open in November (reportedly due to Deer season). As we drove the Jeep up the snow-covered fire roads, we encountered a group of hunters who had managed to slide their large dually pickup truck off the side and into the ditch. We attempted for over an hour to help them out of the ditch, but they were very heavy and very stuck. I managed to throw a tire chain and get it wrapped around my rear brake assembly, bending the brake line and shearing off the bleeder valve. Not sure whether I was in trouble or not, we decided to abort and cautiously head home with zero points.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, we vowed to use the extra time to not only get some additional points, but claim those robbed from us the weekend before. On Friday, we went to Frog Lake Buttes, which is south of Mt. Hood. We climbed 2.8 miles up the road to the butte in snowshoes (a first for us) and activated the four-point summit late in the day. Saturday, we headed back to Trask mountain, where we found almost all of the snow melted and made an easy two points. Although she had hiked to almost all of the summits with me, this day was the first where Taylor decided she might like to jump on the radio and get the points due her.
So, there you go. A roundup of all my SOTA activity to date. With 39 points so far, we have no plans to stop for the winter. As soon as January 1st rolls around, all of the summits we have already done become available for re-activation so that I can get the points for them again. Check out the SOTA website and get involved if you are interested. It’s quite addicting!