Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When is a hill not a mountain?

Living so near the Lake District, it is perhaps surprising that I have not previously taken an interest in Summits On The Air (SOTA). But a few days ago I spent some time browsing the website and joined the reflector to get more information, as part of a personal resolution to get involved in activities that would help improve my fitness.

One of the things that struck me when browsing the SOTA database was the apparently arbitrary choice of Lake District fells as official SOTA summits. Many popular fells listed in the Lake District "bible" by A. Wainwright such as Cat Bells near Keswick are not included.

In fact, I learned that the choice is not arbitrary at all, but based on a list called the "Marilyns" in which the qualifying criterion is a drop of 150m. This has the advantage of defining "summits" in parts of the country that are not considered mountainous. But it has the disadvantage of not satisfying those who feel that what they have believed to be a mountain all their lives ought to be included.

A more significant disadvantage, at least from my point of view, is that most of the official SOTA summits in the Lake District are full day hikes to reach, by people with more than my level of fitness. Whereas many that I would enjoy climbing and activating are not included. So it seems to me that the current criteria defining a summit is discouraging participation by many, especially when you consider that the majority of radio amateurs are well past the first flush of youth and fitness.

Having brought this up on the SOTA Reflector, it seems that there is a considerable difference of opinion on the matter. Some are clearly in favour of more relaxed criteria that would increase the number of more easily accessible summits. Others are complaining about "dumbing down" of the programme, and even questioning whether all activators are entitled to have a say in the matter, if someone who merely drives to a local SOTA hill, walks a few yards and makes the requisite number of contacts counts as an activator.

These arguments seem to me all too reminiscent of the arguments used by many old timers against no-code licenses and novice / foundation licenses. What is it about this hobby that makes so many people want to make it an exclusive club rather than encouraging wider participation?
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