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My First SOTA: Black Mountain, BC, Canada

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My first SOTA activity was activating VE7/GV-013 on a sunny day in October. I find this mountain a great place for local hams to experience SOTA for the first time.

VE7/GV-013, Black Mountain is located in Cypress Provincial Park, just half an hour drive from Vancouver. Parking at Lot 1 of Cypress Mountain Ski Resort is free and it is mostly empty in the morning, as long as it's not ski season.

Washrooms are available at Black Mountain Lodge building in parking Lot 1. In the hallway between the men and women's rooms, usually there's a pile of free brochures with hiking map of the area on one side and description of each trail on the other side. This brochure is very useful because some of the information provided may not be obvious on online maps or trail review sites. 

The brochure says the Black Mountain Loop is a "moderate" 5.1km (3.2mile) round-trip with 360m (1200ft) elevation gain, averaging 3 hours. For SOTA activators, we follow the guide described by the brochure along the Baden-Powell Trail until we reach Cabin Lake. At this point we have to turn north to the north summit activation zone, and not the south summit with better view. The small trail to north summit of Black Mountain is a bit narrow and easy to miss. It's also not perfectly aligned with the trail to south, so look carefully for the trail to north.

My day of the SOTA activation started with watching the sunrise at the High View Lookout on Cypress Bowl Rd and a brief antenna test in the picnic area along the same road. The climb from Lot 1 started at about 8:30 and I arrived in the activation zone at 11:00. Mid-way up, there are numerous switchbacks in a short distance. I took it very, very, very slowly and needed a rest nearly at every turn that I could find flat ground. Getting down was much much easier and took me only about an hour, but be very careful on the few sections that are covered with small rocks. I had 2 or 3 scary moments when the rocks started rolling under my feet but I didn't fall.

Overall I find the "moderate" rating given by the park's brochure quite adequate. It's challenging enough such that hiking to the summit gives a sense of satisfaction, but it's also easy enough such that I didn't have a moment thinking that my lungs were burning or my head were going to explode.

I'd like to give some background on my physical fitness level so the difficulty rating I give to this hike may be a little more meaningful*: I have a BMI of 30.4. I'm a computer worker who sits all day and don't do any cardio training. My longest continuous walk in any day in the 3 months prior to this hike was from office to McDonald's 400 meters away, level ground. On days that I bring my own lunch to work, my longest walk would be from car to elevator. Yes I take that elevator from ground to 3rd floor.

*I stopped trusting time-estimates of hiking trails without figuring out what kind of people gave that estimate, after I climbed the Grouse Grind a few years ago in 4.5 hours when trail reviews say average people take 1.5 to 2 hours and some seniors finish it in 25 minutes.


Within the activation zone (easily defined by the 1200m contour line for this 1224m peak), there are 2 small peaks separated by a small valley. The trail leads to the northern one, which has a great view to the north. I went to the southern one by getting down to the valley and climb to the other side, which has less hiking traffic. There was a little rock climbing involved, for two 1m (3ft) rocks each side. I had no climbing training so I took the dirty and safe way: I sat on them and reached down on my feet.

The SOTA activation itself was pretty successful for a first-timer. I used an Icom IC-V80 connected to an ebay Slim-Jim roll-up antenna I bought from a Ukrainian seller. Calling on 146.520Mhz, in one hour I got 14 contacts. Out of which, 6 were American callsigns and one S2S to a peak 260km away. I did forget to adjust the squelch to 0 during the difficult S2S so the contact was breaking up badly. Lesson learned.


Black Mountain VE7/GV-013 is currently the most activated SOTA summit in the VE7 region, at 15 activation count. After doing my first SOTA activation there, I now see why it's so popular for SOTA activations.

It basically requires no special equipment or special training. A 2m handheld with or without a Slim-Jim, plus either a fit body or a determination to shamelessly rest at each corner, give the operator an unobstructed line-of-sight coverage to several hundred kilometers away south.

It's easy to find a place to operate in the activation zone. There are low trees to hook something up and many places to sit, but please stay away from the cliffs where tall trees grow up from below.

The view is great. Several sections of the trail have great views of the snowy mountains nearby. It's not a boring walk up a nothing-to-see park.


Ever since I got my ham license in April this year I've been trying to figure out what ham activities interest me. For a few months I completely gave up. Later I found kit building somewhat interesting but each kit is $$$. Operating from home doesn't get me much good result due to antenna restrictions and all the QRM from inside a high-rise.

Then I found SOTA, and I feel very lucky that I chose Black Mountain VE7/GV-013 as my starting point. The difficulty, the view, and the activation result were just right to motivate me to do more like this.

I hope more hams try SOTA activation at least once, and if they are local in VE7/GV and are as fit (or unfit) as me, try it at VE7/GV-013 first.