Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Road to Mountain Goat: A Retrospective

I've been working on making Mountain Goat since 2013, having only accomplished that achievement last month.  Many things occurred in that time, including a combat deployment to Afghanistan (N0PCL QRT during that time), re-learning CW, many antennas used and broken, many miles hiked, summits gained, and hours on the radio.
So, this happened.

So, having harvested the data on the SOTAData web site, my own logbook, and my own recollections, here's a bit of a look back.

Total QSOs:  1396
Total Points:  1005
Total Unique Summits where a QSO was made:  99
Total Summits (Includes summits visited more than once): 154
Total Failed Activations without a single QSO:  2 (White Mountain Peak, W6/CD-001.  Great hike, though, and Half Dome, W6/SN-040.  Half Dome was also an amazing hike.)
Total Summits with 1-4 QSOs (enough to activate, but not enough for points):  4

Screen-capture of my SOTA Goat App on my iPhone, showing most of the peaks I've activated.  A couple of the peaks have been de-listed for various reasons, so it's not a complete list.
A view of most of the summits in the Southern California area, from SOTA Goat.
View of the string of activated peaks along the Eastern Seaboard.  From SOTA Goat.
QSOs By Mode:

CW QSOs:  903 (65%)
FM QSOs:  183 (13%)
SSB QSOs:  310 (22%)

Learning point:  I started SOTA with SSB and CW, but my radio skill exponentially improved once I gave CW a go.  After MG was achieved, it made up basically 2/3rd of my total QSOs.  It also tends to be much more efficient at QRP power levels, and is generally much more unobtrusive on busy summits (you can sit there with a notepad, a key, and earbuds quietly hamming away without making noise or drawing attention to yourself).  It's also lots of fun.

Incidentally my longest-distance contact while activating a summit was from Middle Peak (W6/SC-024) in Southern California.  I had a CW contact with OH9XX on 12 meters using CW.  OH9XX was in Finland, 5583 miles away.  My power output:  2.5 watts.  Miles per milliwatt of power: 2.2.

So, from Southern California, I made contact with a man in Finland, by burning long-wave photons off of a piece of metal, bouncing those photons off the a section of the atmosphere that was ionized by the sun's ultraviolet light.  Those photons excited electrons on another piece of metal in Finland, where those electrons were amplified and converted to sound waves sufficient for two-way communications--using as much power as required to power a flashlight.


My shortest QSO was probably with WA6NVL, on Dictionary Hill (W6/SC-366).  He heard me on his HT, climbed up the hill I was on, and met me.  It was probably a contact that was less than a quarter mile.  It was on 2 Meter FM.

QSOs By Band:

80 Meters:  2 (<1%)
40 Meters:  177 (13%)
30 Meters:  136 (10%)
20 Meters:  621 (44%)
17 Meters:  100 (7%)
15 Meters:  44 (3%)
12 Meters:  101 (7%)
10 Meters:  30 (2%)
6 Meters:  3 (<1%)
2 Meters:  165 (12%)
1.25 Meters (222 MHz):  5 (<1%)
70 centimeters:  12 (<1%)

I've had the fortune of making activation contacts on every band from 80 Meters through 70 centimeters, except 60 meters.  My SOTA transcievers, an FT-817ND and a VX-8DR, both from Yaesu, allow exceptional frequency agility, which I have found useful.  The only reasons I haven't made contacts on other bands is because I don't have a radio that will support that (on frequencies above 450 MHz), or I don't have an antenna that allows it (on 60 and 160 meters).  I'll see about rectifying that in the future.

I was surprised at the amount of time I gave to WARC bands (30, 17, and 12 meters).  I actually made more contacts on each of those bands than 80, 15, and 10 meters combined!  This was, in part, likely due to the 12 Meter Challenge, which was popular some time ago in the SOTA world.  I also really, really like 30 an 17 meters, too, since those bands have many similar characteristics to the neighboring 20 and 40 meter bands, but they're never plagued with contest activity.  The WARCs seem a bit more gentlemanly.

All of my SOTA activations on VHF and up were FM or SSB.  All QSOs on 2 meters and up were via FM.

I'm becoming more and more interested in VHF and UHF operation, particularly weak signal and satellite work.  In the future, don't be surprised to see me try to activate some summits on those higher frequencies.

QSOs by Countries/DXCC Entities:

96.7% of all QSOs were with other stations in the continental United States.  1.93% were with Canadian stations.  The remainder were countries spread out in 11 other DXCC entities.

From Southern California, I managed to reach Canadian, German, and Finnish stations.  The rest of the DXCC entities were contacted from mountains along East Coast of the US.


Phil, NS7P, Gary, W0MNA, and his XYL, Martha, W0ERI, were my top chasers.


Here's a list of the associations and regions I've activated in:

890 QSOs (64%) were from the W6 association.  421 QSOs (30%) were from W4V.  6% were spread among K0M, W0C, W1, W3, W7A, W7W, and W9.

543 (54%) of my points were from W6.  394 (39%) were from W4V.  The rest, 68 points (7%) were from the other associations.

Personal Notes:

  • Favorite QSO:  Mentioned above, with OH9XX.
  • Favorite Hikes:  There are many.  My favorites are, in no particular order:  Mt. Badon-Powell (W6/CT-004), Alabama Hills (W6/SS-442), Robertson Mountain (W4V/SH-011), Rocky Mount (W4V/HB-035), San Gorgonio (W6/CT-001 & W6/CT-243), San Antonio (W6/CT-003), Thomas Mountain (W6/CT-016), Cahuilla Mountain (W6/CT-103), Knob Mountain (W4V/SH-017), and Pilot Knob (W6/SD-435).
  • Least Favorite Hike:  Pt. 6020 (W6/SD-017).  This peak was a bushwhack through thorns and scrub.  It was barely doable.
  • Easiest Hike:  Probably La Cumbre Peak (W6/SC-086), but there are others that are incredibly easy.
  • Most Challenging Hike:  Pallett Benchmark (W6/CT-058), or maybe San Gorgonio (mentioned above).
  • Most points earned in a weekend:  48.  From 18-20 April 2014, I activated Onyx Peak (W6/CT-044), Keller Peak (W6/CT-013), Delamar Mountain (W6/CT-050), Bertha Peak (W6/CT-054), Mount Williamson (W6/CT-011), and Pallett Benchmark (W6/CT-058).
My wisdom learned from the whole thing:

  • Persevere.  Don't Give Up.  Mountain Goat is one of the most challenging amateur radio activities in existence.  It's very physical, demands, high levels of operator skill, is technically challenging, and can be frustrating.  Just keep improving.
  • Analyze your failures, and be objective about them.  Need to improve your hiking shape, or learn CW, or find alternative methods of spotting?  Do it.
  • Have fun.  It's immensely satisfying.
N0PCL and the XYL, on the summit of Alabama Hills, with Mount Whitney, in the background.


  1. Wonderful summary with lots of expert guidance for the rest of us. Thank you!

  2. Awesome write up!

    Yes! Never give up on your dreams but know when to turn back refuel, rest and return! The mountain will wait for us!

    I got goosebumps reading your description of your epic QSO with OH9XX ...I've had several QSOs like yours while on Summits ...some DX some regional but they all shared that huge thrill of accomplishing a lot with the least. One time after tuning up I forgot to switch back to OP position, called CQ and was met with a wall of chaser signals even worked a SA station with some struggle! Later packing up I noticed my tuner was in the 'tune' position meaning I was running <1-watt! OMG!

    What's cool about the MG award is it can't be bought with power, brute force or money must be earned with endurance, persistence and skill while keeping a 'student' attitude ...because more often than not the teacher appears when the students ready (this is especially true on SOTAs!)

    ...Bravo, Nate!! CU on Summit for a S2S! de wGOAT