Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 SOTA Year in Review

Wow!  2020 has been one hell of a year for me and Summit On the Air (SOTA).  As you can see in the table below, 2019 was busy, but 2020 achievements were insane, given that I racked up 104 summits for 543 points (and I’m not retired).  That's a 68% increase in summits and 48% more points.  Also, there was 66% more climbing year over year, for a total of 83,390 feet climbed while doing SOTA.  Also, as you can see in the table below, I focused more on summit-to-summit (S2S) contacts points.  This year I had a 258% more S2S than 2019.  For 2020, I ranked #3 in California for both S2S points and total points for the year.  I was within 4 points of placing second but just didn’t feel like hitting the road for hours to reach enough points.  Yup, caught a case of the lazys.  
<<Click on pictures for larger>>

What drove me to such an increase in numbers you ask???  Well, it was due to my fever.  Not COVID, but “Goat fever”.  I’m pretty goal oriented and this year’s goal was to break 1,000 activator points.  According to my stats, it was mission accomplished with my current total exceeding 1,230 points.  

Latest Stats

I started keeping track of some key hiking stats in addition to the SOTA stats within the SOTA database.  It’s kinda fun to measure and set goals year over year for things like miles hiked, elevation gained, etc.  2020 was a personal best for me as you can see. 







Gain (ft)










































































At the beginning of Feb 2020, I was at 700+ points and I was thinking it might be possible to Goat in 2020.  In May, I went to my summer house in the Arizona mountains and activated 20 summits in 10 days, 9 spent hiking for a total of 198 points.  I hit 19 Arizona ten pointers, and one in New Mexico for 8 points  (you can read about the adventure here).

As I approached Goat, I spent a lot of time, too much actually, trying to decide what summit I wanted to be on when I crossed the 1,000 point line.  First, should I cross over 1,000 points in CA or AZ.  Then I had to decide which summit should be that “goat summit”.  I wanted that summit to be a hike, not a drive up because hiking is one of the things that I love about this hobby.  I decided it should be in Arizona, in an area that I have an emotional attachment with.  I completed my Goat summit on Turner mountain which is just a few feet over the Arizona / New Mexico state line not too far from my summer villa.  I wrote about my road to Mountain Go
at here

Turner Mountain is the peak where I injured myself in 2019.  The injury inspired me to think about safety and assess where I was at in regards to risk mitigation.  I wrote an article about risk, safety and preparation for others.  You can’t make the hobby safe by the way because nothing in life is safe, but you can mitigate some of the risks. 

Getting “Mountain Goat” is a multi-year task with lots of learning, challenging summits, and sometimes a little spilled blood.  Not all activation attempts are successful.  In 2019, I attempted a summit in San Marcos, CA and couldn’t make it across a horrid thicket of chaparral. On another expedition to Gobbler Peak, near my summer villa, I was more than halfway to the summit and realized that I’d have to scale cliffs to get to the summit or hike to the other side and hope for a way up.  My alternate plan to hike was shelved due to approaching thunderstorms.  I figured that lightning, a wire in the air, and being the highest thing on the mountain wasn’t a good idea.  Speaking of lightning, I started setting up on a summit in New Mexico when the antenna started shocking me, it was an enlightening experience.  (You can read more about that expedition here).

The interesting thing about 2020 is that I didn’t slow down after Mountain Goat.  I kept up the pace to keep my sanity and for the pure joy of getting outside.  I even joined two friends in Seattle washington for a double summit in Washington, which was a blast.

Another first for me this year were rattle snakes.  I hadn't seen a rattler in a really long time and never on SOTA, then I came across them twice in a couple of weeks.  The first one scared the crap out of me but both of them gave me plenty of warning.  Definitely never heard them that loud.  I hike a little differently now.

In addition, I created quite a few videos and did my first Mountain Bike SOTA.  I did a video series called SOTA 360 which focuses on how to do SOTA, why, planning, executing, and uploading logs.  I also put a couple of other videos in there on how to chase, deep dive into charting and more.  You can check out all my vides at  The BLOG was a pretty active place as well, I did some product reviews, and trip reports and other stuff in there, along with photos of me (who wouldn't want to look at those????).

How did I do on my 2020 goals set at the beginning of the year?

     Exceed 2019 number of summits, points, miles, and elevation gain:
Mission accomplished!

     Improve my CW copy speed:

I think I nailed this.  I came up with a way to improve my callsign copy speed and am now pretty comfortable at 20+ words per minute for US call signs.  My CW  copy and send improved after my Arizona 20 summit holiday and with daily practice.  Daily practice is key for learning CW.  I probably can’t hold a conversation over 10 WPM but I’m improving.  When I started learning morse code, I also started a small article that I would add on to as I learned more about learning as well as some tips that I thought others in my situation could benefit from (  CW has changed the game when it comes to activating.

     Make it to 1,000 points in 2020:
Well, I kicked ass here and then just kept going.  With COVID, rioting, and an idiot in the White House, I needed a stress outlet and SOTA is a good one.  I achieved a lot more than I thought I would but it’s not just points, it’s also summits, miles, and elevation gained while hiking.  I’ve repeated summits in Arizona with friends just for the shear joy of getting out in some beautiful country with friends.  I’ve also repeated some close to my house in San Diego, just to get out and make some contacts from a mountaintop. 

     Setup and run JS8Call:
This one was a big fat fail.  JS8Call is an extension to a digital mode called FT8 that allows digital communication to anywhere in the world with just 30 watts.  I’ve played with FT8 and wanted to try something that was a little more practical but I just never got around to it, so I’ll role it over as a goal for 2021.

     Build a tape measure Yagi:
I didn’t do this one but I did build a rigid dipole (or was that in 2019).  2020 was also the year that I broke down and put in a semi permanent HF antenna, a Cushcraft R8 vertical.  Since a lot of my radio is on summits, the tape measure Yagi is too flimsy anyway since any wind at all will make it unusable.

     No emergency room visits:
Nailed this one by not stumbling and crashing into sharp things that poke holes in your leg.  This doesn’t mean I didn’t leave a little blood on the trails though.

2021 Goals

Setting goals for 2021 is a bit harder now, since I’m not super interested in trying to exceed summit counts, miles, etc.  Trying to exceed 2020 stats can come at a cost.  Exceeding the number of summit from 2020 means that I’ll need to do even more multi-summit days.  The cost is that I don’t enjoy hikes quite as much when I’m rushing from one summit to another on a multi-summit day.  In addition, multi-summit days means that I can’t relax on the summit, try different bands, modes and chase operators on other summits.  For example, I spent multiple relaxing hours on Mt. Tule in November, working a lot of summit-to-summits and enjoying the view.  So I’ll do some multi-summits days when it makes sense and relax on others.  There’s a nice tripple summit expedition in Arizona that I may due because the summits are arranged in a close cluster.   So given all this blather, what are the goals for 2021???

     Build a new radio
I’ve ordered a QCX Mini from QRP guys.  I’ve been fascinated with the very small radios that K6ARK builds and the Mountain Toppers from LNR.  This radio will be small but nothing like the K6ARK “choking hazard”.  I purchased the 20m version so I’ll have to build a custom 20m antenna to go with it.

     Add another State / Association to my SOTA summits
I’ve activated summits in Washington, California, Arizona, and New Mexico.  I’d like to see if I can hit a summit in Colorado or Nevada.

     Build an antenna or two.
I have a couple of ideas here so stay tuned.

     Experiment with JS8 Call
Like I said above, I’ve played with FT8, not it’s time to try JS8


     Improve my CW callsign copy speed to 25 wpm, and head copy at 15 wpm
Learning CW is a life-long journey which means that I’ll always suck.  I can copy US callsigns at 20 wpm now but 25 will be fine, especially if I can “head copy”.  I can barely remember a callsign when I hear it via voice mode so this will be a reach goal.  I also will be practicing more head sending, that is, not sending from something that is written but performing the mind bending skills of sending something that I’m thinking, like sending a journal entry without writing it down.  I’ll also be working on world-wide callsign copy because as the bands improve, I’ll be making more contacts with stations in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and beyond.

So there you have it, my 2020 accomplishments and 2021 goals.

THANK YOU to all the hams out there that helped me improve my skills and knowledge along with all the chasers and other activators I contact during SOTA.  Also, I’d like to thank my hiking buddies, K6ARK, W6RWS, AA7OY, WW7D, WU7H, N7DA and NJ7V, Mari Lu Candelaria Claborne, Mary Sue Claborne.  I had a blast in 2020 and I have a feeling 2021 is going to be even better.


Chris Claborne
aka christian claborne





1 comment:

  1. Good stuff Chris. Thanks for sharing your experiences!