This was a “popup” activation after I had completed a family transport task. I had not posted an alert on sotawatch.org because I was not sure whether or when I would activate. I knew there were a number of activations already alerted but I would not be able to make contacts with others unless I was lucky.
The AX prefix is available for use by all VK radio amateurs on 26 January as it is Australia Day, the day chosen to celebrate federation of Australia even though the date of that event was 1st January 1901.
Using the ft817 at 5W output and a multiband dipole, I operated on 40m ssb initially, then moved to 20m CW, then 20m SSB. Conditions were good on 20m in that propagation was supporting long path contacts into Europe, however on SSB the Europeans have difficult reception conditions for a weak signal amidst the other European activity. Several SSB contacts were commenced with G operators but some were not completed satisfactorily, to the disappointment of the chasers. By contrast the CW contacts were relatively easy with good signals from the EA, DL, OH and G stations worked and most of them returned 559 signal reports. I should have taken the IC703 as even though the 10 watts it produces is only a 3db increase in transmitter power it would have been worth having at this time of the weekend.
Towards dusk the activity on the mountain increased greatly and every available car park was taken by the crowd wanting a good vantage spot for viewing the fireworks after dark. I escaped the melee and drove home at about 8:30pm local time, 0930 UTC.
I set up my usual station on Mt Ginini QF44JL for this event.
On 50 MHz, a TS670 and a HL66V amplifier producing 60w to a 3 el cushcraft yagi on a 4m mast.
On 144 MHz, the IC910H 100w to an 8 el yagi at 6m agl. On 432 MHz the IC910H 75w to a 16 el yagi at 4.5m agl with an icom mast head preamp 1.5m from the feedpoint.
On 1296 Mhz I had unfortunately not packed the pair of 18el yagis normally used. As a token antenna to make some local contacts, I connected a 2m quarter wave vertical with about 3m of RG58 coax and laid that horizontally on the roof of the tent, bisecting the side and centre aluminium stressors that are part of the roof structure of my old Coleman tent. This “antenna” gave me some local contacts on 1296 and with effort, a contact with vk2smc near Nimmitabel.
On Saturday I found conditions ordinary with no unusual contacts made. On Sunday morning at 5AM local time I checked the usual beacons from Sydney, Mt Anakie in VK3, Mildura in VK3 and the Gippsland beacon, on both 144 and 432 where possible. With the very calm conditions overnight I wondered if I would hear any beacons from further afield and checked the Mt Gambier beacon VK5RSE on 144.550 and the Adelaide beacon VK5VF on 144.450. Both beacons were received at good strength, and during the following 5 hours both beacons remained audible, the Adelaide beacon being the strongest signal most of the time until it faded around 9AM, the Mt Gambier signal remaining audible but weak for a little longer. My log notes that VK5RSE was still audible at 2305 UTC, or 10AM local time. At that stage the Adelaide signal had vanished. With these beacon signals received so well, how about making some contacts into those areas?
I then worked Bill VK5ACY at 1922 UTC (6:22 local) vk5LA at 1939, vk5AKK at 2006, VK5PO at 2008, VK5DK at 2109, all on 144MHz. I also worked Vk5AKK on 432.
Much later at 2150 I was called by VK5PJ on 2m while beaming to Sydney direction (NE) and made a good contact with Peter on that band, followed by working him again on 432 MHz, still with the beams NE. Turning the beams around to the west produced signal levels of S9+20 (indicated) which is a rare event on 70cm dx. Peter asked whether I had 23cm and I told him that regrettably my real antennas were at home and all I had was a temporary lashup to make local contacts. He was keen to try it given the unusually good propagation we had on 70cm. We tried 23cm first with Peter running a series of dots, so I tuned for that signal on the Sub receiver on the IC910 and could tell him “yes I do hear that, I will send the same to you”… and the outcome was a good 5 x 1 contact on SSB.
Back on our “liaison frequency” 432.160 where signals were still s9+ I told Peter what the antenna was. “It’s a 2m quarter wave lying on the roof of my tent”. He asked for a photo…I took the following photo immediately while still sitting at the desk talking with him.
Note the precise calibration of the angles.
Here is what it looked like from the outside.
I then asked him to run the beeper again so I could try to optimise the orientation or location of the antenna. I tried vertical and horizontal polarisation in various orientations. Eventually I returned the antenna to its original position where by good luck, the signal was best. You would not read about it.
Later at 2223 I was encouraged to give this antenna a try working VK3ER where Peter VK3QI was keen to make the contact. And yes it did work, even on ssb. In the past we have made contacts with my real antennas but sometimes it has been quite difficult, cw-only. Clearly propagation was unusually good between us.
A later attempt to hear or work Gordon VK3EJ at Cobram was unsuccessful. Whatever atmospheric effect was allowing these longer distant signals to reach Mt Ginini was not active for the shorter distance to Cobram.
This is where the 1296 yagis would normally go… just below the 70cm yagi on the mast.
Summary: 145 or so contacts, some ordinary and a small number of extraordinary contacts, coinciding with very hot daytime weather and a calm morning.
Once again the beacons were a great indicator of the possibilities ahead.
As my brother Chris VK2DO pointed out, it looks like the many tickets purchased in the “field day lottery” over the past 20 years have finally paid off and I have certainly been rewarded with some great fortune this time. If only I had my real antennas for 1296, and how about the higher bands? Will never know, can only continue to take tickets in the lottery and hope it doesn’t take another 20 years to produce results.
The first day of January has a special appeal to SOTA activators as it offers a chance to gain points for two years for the one activation. To optimise the points available, a 10 point summit was preferred. For the summits within VK1, the most accessible 10 point option is Mt Gingera, south of Mt Ginini by a few km and an access track along the side of the range.
Previous activations of Mt Gingera by Ian VK1DI and Andrew VK1NAM had indicated there was a 6km walk along the forestry road, followed by a 1km climb to the summit. I decided to try using my pushbike for the road section, leaving the bike at the start of the climb.
As the summit is a very good VHF location I wanted to try 2m SSB contacts to the NSW south coast, Sydney area, operators in the Victorian alps, as well as the Canberra area. To do that I decided to take a 3 element beam for 2m. This was a beam I had built for direction finding competitions in the 1980s and had since used occasionally for portable operations. All aluminium construction and unfortunately, not readily able to be dismanted. I planned to attach the beam to my backpack while riding along the road, then to carry it by hand while climbing the hill.
That approach worked ok after some adjustments needed while walking the bike up some of the steeper sections of the road. Hills that you don’t notice in a car can quickly add up to a lot of work on a bike. Despite walking several sections, I still averaged 9km/h over the 6km which is double my walking speed so using the bike saved at least 30 mins, possibly more.
Having left the bike near the road at the foot of the path leading up to Gingera, I carried the beam in one hand up to the top, diverting around trees and bushes as required. At the top I found a suitable location for the antennas and equipment on some huge rocks and got onto 2m ssb quickly, as I needed to qualify the summit with at least 4 contacts before 0000 UTC. Having done that with contacts to VK1NAM at Tuggeranong Hill, VK2DO at Batemans Bay, VK1FJAW and VK1KW in north Canberra, VK3EJ in Cobram, I was able to take a pause and set up the HF antenna. About 30 contacts in the log for the activation.