First SOTA Activation W7U/SJ-042

I have been too sedentary this past winter and playing radio doesn't help me get motivated either so I decided to try something new, SOTA!  For those of you who are unaware, SOTA stands for Summits On The Air.  It is a part of the amateur radio hobby where you take your radio, hike up to a "peak" identified by the organization, and make a minimum of four contacts.  If you make those four contacts, you then get points for the summit.  Depending on the elevation of the summit and the time of year, your points can vary.  It's just a game, the points don't buy you anything, but it is fun.

So with this new part of the amateur radio hobby to explore, I built a smaller antenna, grouped some of my light equipment together, and picked a spot to hike to.  I didn't want somewhere anyone could get to and I didn't want to hike through 3000 vertical feet of snow so I settled on Cotton Benchmark.  This is a sandstone dome down in Indian Creek set atop a long mesa.  I ate lunch, my wife packed me some snacks, and I headed out.


The drive lasted about 1 hour and ended on a nice dirt road.  I hadn't really realized how big of a mesa the peak was on top of or how hard it may be to get there but I wanted to give it a try.  As I drove around the mesa, I found a notch that went quite a ways back and figured that would be my best chance to find a climbable slope to get on top.  As I got closer I got more confident.  It turned out not to be easy but if you are sure footed, it is possible to shimmy up the stepped sandstone at the head of the canyon.




Once on the mesa, the dome appeared even larger.  I truged on, aiming for the north side of the dome that appeared to have a more gradual slope.  Turns out the head of the canyon I just climbed was a good prep for the dome itself.  Most of the climbing to the summit was smearing on slickrock where you just press you foot into a steep frictiony surface and hope it sticks.  It was 600' from the top of the mesa to the summit and I was enjoying the breezy views in no time.



I set up a 23' Spiderbeam mast and my homemade end-fed half wave antenna before setting up my backpacking chair.  The temperatures were nice and down among the brush, the wind wasn't too bad.  


I called CQ for several minutes on my QCX-Mini before I got a bite.  Everyone was sending at a speed I could appreciate (not too fast, not too slow).  I was sending about 14wpm.  For the next half-hour, I made four contacts; not much but enough.  Then someone posted on the SOTA website that I was calling CQ and the flood came.  I got the joy of handling a pileup for the next 15 minutes until I decided that was enough and my ears were burning from not bringing a hat on this nice sunny day.  I'm not fast on CW but people are patient and it was fun.  


Then for a short time I switched to my QDX digital transceiver, made a couple contacts on JS8, and then packed up.  It was a good time.  The hike down was nothing to write home about.  It was quicker than up and I wasn't breathing nearly as hard once I got back to the truck.  

In the end I made 15 contact that qualify.  I think I'll keep at this SOTA thing this summer and see how it goes.  There are over 100 peaks in San Juan County where I live and a bunch more in Grand County right next to me.  So here's to getting out, hiking, and playing radio a little!



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