Summits on the Air Expeditions in Korea


The SOTA Program:

Let me first explain a little bit what the program is about:  The main point is to combine amateur radio and hiking into a recognized contest scheme.  It is not a club or something which you can be a member of, it is something anybody can participate in.  You go to the summit of any qualifying mountain to “activate” it, while other hams “chasers” try to make QSOs with you.   Even more exciting is to make summit-to-summit contacts with other amateurs on other mountains.  You must reach the peak by your own human means, and operate “off the grid.”  This means no fossil fuels.  Batteries are mainly used, and solar power encouraged.  Since you must carry everything yourself, you don’t want it to weigh very much, therefore QRP operation usually plays an important role, giving an additional challenge to the program.  The mountains themselves have points assigned to them, higher mountains giving you more points than smaller mountains.  Another thing about mountains:  Korea has more than enough for everybody!  I am still working on compiling the database, but there are approximately 2500 mountains that qualify (have at least 150m) for the program…that’s almost as much as Austria or Switzerland!  Of course, as with any amateur radio contest, there are awards to be had.  The principal management team is based in the U.K. where SOTA was established in 2002 by G3WGV…today there are 32 different active SOTA Associations (either countries or regions) in the world!  With Korea joining in, it will be the first Association of SOTA in Asia!

For some examples of what possibilities there are in just the metropolitan areas, see these maps (2links below).


It’s what makes it fun!  Similar to 3IOTA (Islands on the Air) which places emphasis on certain geographical features while operating radio (Islands), SOTA is a program that places mountains in the limelight.  First and foremost, there is a simple qualification for what is a “summit.”  The qualification for a SOTA summit is NOT based on its absolute height above sea level. Rather, it must have a prominence of at least 150 meters, which means it must be at least 150m above all of its surrounding terrain.  Take this into consideration when looking at the resource maps for the Korean SOTA peaks, as some peaks which may have seemed natural to you to be used in the program don’t qualify, as well as some surprises of features which you may have never thought of activating.  Seeing the landscape through this perspective opens one’s eyes, and one has to realise that we can’t just set foot on every 봉 and activate it.  Also, from the peak, there is what we call the Activation Zone, or AZ, which is from the peak, downwards 25m.  It is within this area that you can perform your activation.  Note that there are some mountains that have multiple Activation Zones, this means that from the peak, elevation may drop more than 25 meters but not more that 150 meters (that would make it another prominence!), then return to some other elevation within the top 25m within the highest peak.  One such example would be in Jeollabuk-do, 4용요산 in Imsil:  its main peak is 490.0m, there is a second peak at 474.6m, and a third at approximately 480m–descents between these peaks are less than 150m, and they are all within the AZ.

Let’s look at a popular destination near me as an example:  5내장산.  Being a mountain with multiple peaks, and additionally those peaks in a crescent, it might appear as if we could perform multiple activations on one hike.  There are two “mountains” (내장산 & 화개산) and eight “봉” (6see map).  However, when we analyse the actual geography of the 내장산 formation, we see that there is only one location where the activation can take place, on 내장산 proper, the 신선봉 with an elevation of 763 meters (see point #1 in aerial photo).  The other 봉 in the crescent have varying elevations including the higher ones:  624m, 622m, 679m, 670m, 717m, 675m, and 696m with their associated descents and re-ascents between them.  Take for example 까치봉 (point #2 in aerial photo), the second highest peak at 내장산 at 717m.  Currently, taking the shortest and easiest path from 신선봉 to 까치봉, you start at 763m, descend to approximately 640m then reascend to 717m.  In order for 까치봉 to be accepted as a valid prominence in the SOTA scheme, the pass between it and 신선봉 would need to be lower than (717m-150m= ) 567m in height.  On the same token, immediately neighboring mountain 백암산 (상옥봉) (point #3 aerial photo) does qualify since the hike from 신선봉 forces you to descend to at least 480m at 순창새재 pass (point #4 in aerial photo) (480m < 상옥봉 741m – 150m = 591m maximum pass height between these two peaks allowed).  Hypothetically, if 순창새재 pass were 600m in elevation, 백암산 would not qualify as a SOTA summit.  In summary, you could easily activate these two summits in an afternoon hike, and remember the AZ rule:  25m within the peak (738m and above for 내장산 and 716m and above for 백암산).


As you can see, it can be pretty complex business determining what is a SOTA peak and what isn’t.  You’ll notice in the aerial photo used7 in the above example that there are yellow and red patches on the mountains.  This is how I’ve been finding qualifying peaks, because simply looking at a map, then following all the contours to see if indeed it does have a prominence of 150m would take an enormous amount of time…I would have had to do ten different verifications on the peaks of 내장산 only to disqualify nine of those ten to have only one in the end!  The yellow shows the extent of the 150m drop in elevation from the peak (in red).

There is no resource that I have found in Korea that equally categorizes prominences in the way that was done, for example, in England with8 the Marilyns, which is solely based on prominence.  Over 100 years ago, 9Sir Hugh Munro classified the mountains in Scotland, but with the arbitrary minimum of 3000 feet (914.4m).  Not only did this exclude many worthwhile mountains, but it is based only on elevation.  Alan Dawson’s work with his Marilyns list is an approach that takes a more black and white scientific view.

So, to get those qualifying peaks in “yellow and red” the easy way, I’ve been working with an open source GIS (Geographical Information System) program called Landserf.  The actual data comes from NASA satellite imagery that has only very recently been released.  Since the files cover smaller squares of area, I merged many of the files together to obtain one larger file for Korea, then afterwards proceeded with the data analysis. Landserf is a very powerful program, and best of all, it’s free so you yourself can 10download it and play with it at home!  There are many aspects of geographical imagery data processing that you can control, so I could use it to find and mark all of the potential summits for SOTA in Korea. Afterwards, with the data result, basically another mapping layer, I could export that into a common __.kmz file, which is readable by many other mapping programs, then import it into Google Earth.  Google Maps can also read __.kmz files, but isn’t as powerful to create the actual map layers that I’m currently making.  Google Maps is, however, very practical for displaying the final result.  The rest is hard work, verifying in parallel in Google Maps and 1:50,000 Korean atlas, subsequently tagging the mountains in Google Earth and entering them into the main database, one by one.  With approximately 2500 summits in Korea, I don’t need to look very far for work!

The mountains themselves are divided into six different scoring bands, with 10% of the lowest worth 1 point, 10% of the highest worth 10 points, and in between:  20% for 2 points, 20% for 4 points, 20% for 6 points, and 20% for 8 points.  Once all the mountains are entered into the database, the scoring band elevation boundaries will be specified.  The identification tags for the mountains have a format following this standard:  HL*/_ _-***, for example Hallasan is HL4/JJ-001 (it is in HL region 4, JJ is the ROK SOTA abbreviation for Jeju-do, and 001 means that Hallasan is the highest summit in that particular region).  The second highest would be HL4/JJ-002, etc.


Get prepared!  Make sure to bring everything you need, not only for the activation, but also for the hike.  This means adequate clothing, water, food, and first-aid and safety equipment.  Safety first!  SOTA is not responsible for anything that happens when you’re out on an activation, but we want you to survive to make many more activations!  Know your limits and know when to turn back–this holds true especially in winter time.  For your radio equipment, this is pretty much dictated by how much you want to carry with you…remember you must carry everything yourself to the summit.  Many amateurs starting out in SOTA begin their activities in VHF and UHF simply because it’s easy to bring an HT with you–plus VHF & UHF go much farther distances from mountain tops.  If you’re into HF, the weight will probably affect your power, many HF operators use QRP out of necessity because of power restrictions.  Batteries can be heavy, so it may not be practical to operate at 100W during an activation–either way, power reduction won’t have too much effect on your performance with the gains you achieve from antenna height!  For SOTA operation, you must rely on your own power, even if other sources are available.  This means batteries and solar power.  No fossil fuels are allowed, and if there is 220V grid power access you may not use it.  Of course, you may charge your batteries at home from 220V mains power.  Think of simpler, lighter antennas that are easy to set up and secure in the elements on the summit, and don’t forget your mic or key!  Last but not least, make sure people know where you’re going and when you’re supposed to be back home.

Let’s get on the air!  Once you get to your operating position on the mountain with your transceiver, the rest is fun.  Before you reach your position or when you reach your position, you can tell other people about your planned or current activity on the 11SOTAwatch2 website, which has information on upcoming activations and spots of what’s happening now.  Similarly to IOTA, for the QSO to be valid, minimal information must be exchanged:  call signs, signal reports and the mountain reference number.  Of course, you can enjoy longer contacts, it all depends on your battery, the weather and remaining sunlight.  Speaking of the weather, because it can pose a challenge getting on the trails in the wintertime with cold weather, wind and snow, there is a point bonus (exact figures yet to be decided).  It will apply to summits approximately 500m and higher, giving three bonus points.  For the activation to qualify, a minimum of four QSOs need to be made.  Don’t forget to bring your logbook–also, there do exist logbooks/notebooks with waterproof paper, some that you can even write on in the rain.  Once you have finished, you must enter your logs on the SOTA 12database website to progress on your way to your award.  An activator can claim points for a summit only once a year, with one exception:  if you activate a summit during the normal season and activate once more during the winter bonus period, the three bonus points only may be claimed.  Note that you may activate your favorite summit as much as you want, however you will get the activator points only once that year.  On the other hand, you can still chase from the summit (called S2S or summit-to-summit) for points.

We’re not talking about the 소맥 kind, but about the operators contacting the activators from home!  Hiking may not be for everybody, and the activators need contacts off the mountains to make this work, so there are 13chasers.  Chasers get the summit points for each summit they complete a QSO with.  They can make the contact from anywhere outside the AZ:  at home, in their car, in the field, at the bottom of the mountain, or even from another mountain (S2S).  Chasers will get the appropriate number of points for the summit depending on which elevation band it fits into.  Note that the winter bonus is not awarded to chasers–it’s only for the activators who left the warmth of their shacks to go activate in the cold!  However, chasers can claim points for the same summit once a day maximum (as opposed to the once a year limit applied to activators).  This means if different people activate the same summit throughout the year, as a chaser you may claim it more than once.

Short Wave Listeners can also participate by listening and noting the activations.  To claim points, they must be able to hear the QSO from both the activator and the chaser and furnish details of their logs.  They are similar to chasers.

Naturally, the carrot at the end of the stick is the mass of 14awards offered to those who perform in this program.  After you enter your logs into the website, you can apply for the awards.  The awards are given on a pay-per-claim basis, that means for the certificates you pay the postage, for the trophies you pay for the trophy and the postage.  Certificates are available at 100, 250, 500, 1000, 2500, 5000, 10000 and higher points.  They are also available with special endorsements (All CW, VHF, etc).  Two different trophies are also available once you reach the 1000 point threshold:  the Mountain Goat (for activators) and the Shack Sloth (for chasers and SWLs).  They are hand made glass “ice-block” trophies made in the Scottish Highlands, a prestigious addition to any shack.  Additionally, just this year, 2010, two more awards have been added:  Mountain Explorer award and Mountain Hunter award.  These awards reflect the worldwide expansion of SOTA which originally only started in the British Isles in 2002 but now has over thirty associations throughout the world, soon to include its first Asian country, too!  As they say, if you could iron Korea flat, it would be larger than China.  This means there’s more than enough SOTA fun for everybody!

My goal would be to see SOTA in Korea online by springtime, so that for the “grand opening” we can participate in the International SOTA Day during the first weekend of May.  The database and mapping is in progress already.  I would like to see who else is interested in this fun activity–we need managers for the Korean team, to look out after the regions, take care of updates and data as well as an association manager.  I would also need some help for the Korean version of the Association Manual to edit my mistakes 😉  If you are interested, feel free to contact me via email in English or Korean at jason at vlasak dot org or subscribe to the 15HL SOTA mailing list where everything SOTA in Korea can be publicly discussed.

See you on the air!

73 de HL4/W2VLA



2 Seoul & Busan SOTA summits:

3 IOTA (Islands on the Air)

4 전북 임실군 용요산 location:  35.623867°N 127.267164°E

5 한국의산천 (

6 한국의산천 (

7 Google Earth

8 (Dawson, Alan) The Relative Hills of Britain

9 Wikipedia,_4th_Barone

10 Download Landserf:

11 SOTAwatch2

12 SOTA Results and Summits

13 Chasers:

14 Awards:

15 HL SOTA Listserv: