Operating Guide

Colorado 14er Event Operating Guidelines
last updated 29 May 2017

PURPOSE: The purpose of the Colorado 14er Event is to promote the use and understanding of amateur radio by combining it with backcountry hiking/climbing and mountaintop operating.

During the event, radio amateurs at the summits of 14,000 foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks contact other mountaintop stations (Activators) along with stations not on summits (Chasers). The goal is to see how far your signal will go and who you can contact. This is not a contest, so there are no points, scoring, multipliers or other competition.

The Colorado 14ers are defined as the 54 summits above 14,000 feet on this list: Colorado 14er List

The Colorado Summits On The Air (SOTA) summits are the >1700 peaks listed on this web site: W0C SOTA

For some fine points about the differences between Colorado 14ers and SOTA summits, see the SOTA page.


Guide For Chasers (Non-Mountaintop Operators)

If you are not on a designated summit, then you are a "Chaser" in SOTA jargon. There are several ways to chase SOTA summits. 

Operate from home You can use your VHF or HF station at your home location to work as many of the mountaintop stations as possible. On VHF, you will probably need to be line-of-sight to the summits (or at least close to line of site) to work them. Many SOTA peaks and several of the 14ers can be worked from the major Colorado front range cities (Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs, etc.) On HF, you can be almost anywhere on the planet, depending on propagation.

Operate portable from a high spot To get a better shot at the mountaintop stations on VHF, you can operate portable or mobile from a suitable high spot. Pick your location strategically, with an eye towards having line of sight to the various mountains. Some radio operators hike up to their favorite non-14er peak and spend the morning working the other high country stations. Other people choose to just drive to a good spot and operate mobile from there. If you are experienced with 4WD, you might want to pick out your favorite backcountry road and operate from a high pass or peak. 

Wherever you are operating from, give your callsign and location frequently. This allows other operators to quickly determine if they have already worked you or your location. The hike-in SOTA operators are often very pressed for time on the summit, so they try to work other stations as quickly as possible. Your location should be indicated as nearby city or town, a well-known landmark (e.g., Monarch Pass) or summit name (whether it is a 14er or not). 

Frequencies to Use Check out the band plan on the Frequencies page to see what frequencies are used. On 2m fm, start on 147.42 MHz and work your way up in 30 kHz steps. Please don't just hang out on 147.42 MHz, as that frequency will get overloaded very quickly. There will be activity on the other bands, so check out the complete list of frequencies. Remember that most 14er stations will be running less than 5W, so always run the minimum power necessary to complete the contact, otherwise you will interfere with stations that you cannot even hear. 

Please review the Frequencies page before the event!

*Feel free to expand your operation into other bands and modes.

The central theme of the event is the 14,000 foot mountains of Colorado but SOTA peaks are also part of this event. Our expanded band plan on 2m and up provides plenty of room to spread out and ragchew with other stations. Please be sure to move off of 147.42 MHz for any extended contacts. This page puts a lot of emphasis on explaining 2m fm operating but other bands will be active as well, including 70 cm and the HF bands.

SOTA Infrastructure The Summits On The Air program has an impressive set of tools available including the SOTA database and SOTAwatch spotting page. Use these pages to track and spot stations as they come on the air. After the event, upload your log to the SOTA database to track and get award credit for SOTA contacts.

Now What? The next step is up to you. Get out your map of Colorado and check out the mountaintop locations and pick a good spot to set up your station. Spend some time with your equipment and figure out how to operate mobile or portable successfully. The basic idea is get on the air and have some fun. 


Guide For Activators (Mountaintop Operators)

Warning: Mountain climbing is inherently a hazardous activity. Do not attempt this without proper training, preparation and equipment.

PURPOSE: The purpose of this event is to promote the use and understanding of VHF amateur radio by combining it with backcountry hiking/climbing and mountaintop operating.

During the event, radio amateurs at the summits of 14000 foot mountains and SOTA peaks contact other mountaintop activators along with chasers. The goal is to see how far your signal will go and who you can contact. This is not a contest, so there are no points, scoring, multipliers or other competition.

It is suggested that you try and work both activator and chaser stations. This event is a great opportunity for SOTA "summit-to-summit" contacts because so many summits will be activated simultaneously. However, each mountain top station decides how much time and effort is placed on contacting the other summits versus working the stations down in the flatlands.

SAFETY: Every year people get themselves into trouble in the Colorado high country. Sudden changes in weather, lightning or a wrong turn on a trail can get you into trouble and can result in your death. This event is NOT intended to lure the unsuspecting into danger. You are responsible for your own safety and you MUST consider the dangers and your personal limitations.

In particular, watch out for lightning since you may be above treeline and very exposed. It will take some time for you to retreat to safety (perhaps hours), so be conservative when you see thunderstorms approaching. SAFETY MUST TAKE PRECEDENCE OVER ALL OTHER CONSIDERATIONS. If you do not have previous mountaineering experience, don't start with this event. The added complication of this radio event is NOT the way to try your first summit attempt. NO ONE INVOLVED IN THIS EVENT GUARANTEES YOUR SAFETY IN ANY WAY. You are responsible for choosing your own route, judging the severity of approaching weather and maintaining your overall safety.

EQUIPMENT: The minimum equipment required is a 2 meter FM transceiver (probably an HT). Although a rubber duck antenna will probably be sufficient for some contacts, it is highly recommended that you bring along a better antenna such as a 1/2-wave telescoping antenna (MFJ Long Ranger or similar). Even better is bring along a small beam antenna. HT battery packs don't last all that long so bring extra batteries. Most experienced operators recommend simple, lightweight but efficient gear. (Leave the amplifiers at home.)

Some operators have used small mobile rigs with external battery packs so they can run a little more power output. Keep the transmit power on "low" when possible to conserve batteries. Also, taking a second radio allows you to monitor more than one frequency at a time. In recent years, bands/modes other than 2M FM have been more active, including 6 meters, 222 MHz, 440 MHz, 1.2 GHz. Also, some stations have been on the HF bands (mostly 40m, 20m and 15m) using common QRP equipment. You can use this event to operate wherever you have interests.

During previous events, some stations have used signaling mirrors (available at outdoor shops such as REI) to signal between nearby mountain tops. You might want to give this a try.

OPERATING PHILOSOPHY: Based on past experience, we have come to expect and accept a certain amount of chaos and uncertainty during the event. Although it might be desirable to arrange for all possible radio contacts to be made, the variation in when operators arrive and depart their particular summit and the large number of operators involved usually means that not all possible radio contacts will occur that day. The operating guidelines are intended to give you a reasonable chance of success in contacting other mountain top radios stations. Don't be surprised if things are a bit crazy on the bands during the event.

FREQUENCIES:   The frequency plan on 2m fm band plan uses a "primary frequency and move up" approach. You might recognize this as a "calling frequency" approach, very similar to the accepted practice on VHF/UHF SSB operating. 

The primary 2M FM frequency is 147.42 MHz.  At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, operators should move up in frequency in 30 kHz steps, consistent with the band plan for Colorado. Note that we recommend skipping the 15 KHz channels, as they tend to interfere with each other. The next standard simplex up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 MHz, etc.  As activity increases, operators should spread out on the band. As activity decreases, operators should move back closer to the primary simplex frequency.  Some of the stronger stations (such as the stations on Mount Evans and Pikes Peak) should stay put on one frequency (NOT 147.42 MHz) and occasionally make a quick announcement on 147.42 MHz that indicates where you are listening.

We try to stay off the 2m fm calling frequency, 146.52 MHz, because it is so easy to overload it. However, if you need to make a call there to generate activity, go ahead but then move the activity back to the 147 MHz frequencies listed above.

It is a good idea to preprogram your radio memories with these frequencies so you won't be fumbling around with them at 14,000 feet. It will be helpful to be able to monitor more than one 2m fm frequency, so you can always leave a receiver on 147.42 MHz.

Please review the Frequencies page before the event!

*Feel free to expand your operation into other bands and modes.

DRIVE-UP MOUNTAINS: While the event is intended to be primarily a hiker/climber event, some of the mountains can be driven up in an automobile.  Pikes Peak and Mount Evans can be driven up using a 2WD car. If you drive up, you may not meet the requirements of a Summits On The Air activation. See the SOTA page for more info.

OPERATING HOURS: The event operating hours are all day Saturday and Sunday, so really operate anytime you see fit. Keep in mind that safety comes first and climbers are strongly encouraged to get below treeline by noon to avoid the common afternoon thunderstorms.

IDENTIFICATION: Please identify your station using your FCC callsign followed by the name of the mountain that you are on. This will instantly identify you as a mountaintop station along with giving your location. On SOTA peaks, also use the official SOTA designator (e.g., W0C/FR-004 for Pikes Peak).

LOG INFORMATION: Logging your contacts is recommended. Please send a summary sheet to the ham14er Yahoo Group, listing:

1. Total number of QSOs.
2. Longest distance contact.
3. Longest distance contact with a SOTA summit

After the event, upload your log to the SOTA database to track and get award credit for SOTA contacts.

SOTA Alerts and Spots: The Summits On The Air program has an impressive set of tools available including the SOTA database and SOTAwatch spotting page. Post an Alert on SOTAwatch to let people know where and when you intend to activate a peak. Post a Spot on SOTAwatch to announce stations actually on the air (including you). Also, please send a message about your operating plans to the ham14er Yahoo Group in advance, so we can activate as many summits as possible.

BUT WHY? Remember that the whole reason behind this event is to have fun. So be safe, but don't forget to have fun.

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