All posts by Andrew VK1DA

IT professional, licenced radio amateur VK1DA (Canberra) and VK2UH (Yass)

Three activations in Tasmania, November 2018

Having negotiated some SOTA time on our trip to Tasmania I thought I would be very happy to add one VK7 summit to my activation list, adding a new association in SOTA parlance to my list of associations activated.

The ideal summit in Hobart is the ever-present Mt Wellington which towers over the city and spends much of its time bathed in cloud or rain. At 1270m and only a few km from the city which is at sea level, it is a commanding presence to anyone noticing mountains as they scan the horizon, ie. any SOTA activator. In Hobart there are a number of SOTA qualified summits nearby.

On Wednesday 14th the weather forecast was for afternoon rain, but mid afternoon it seemed to be fine and I thought that could be my opportunity. So I ventured out with some cautious enthusiasm.

Arriving at the top of the mountain I could not see any details of the broadcasting towers and indeed had to look carefully to identify the trig point. There were very few people wandering around due to the threatening weather, which suited me very well.

I set up the gear and antenna using some large rocks as a protection from westerly wind and rain. The tarp I normally use to provide a clean surface to sit on was used instead to cover the radio to protect it from rain. I used an umbrella to keep most of the rain off my clothing, though I had donned the raincoat and pants. Radio conditions were not good, but I managed to make contacts on 40m and 20m using cw and ssb.

Rain on the legs and shoes
Here I am cowering under the umbrella while operating at Mt Wellington

The next day I had an opportunity to activate another summit in the Hobart area. I didn’t know how ambitious to be with only a few hours available. So I opted for a local summit Mt Rumney which is between Hobart city and the airport. There is comms gear on the summit, which was producing some spurious signals on 40 and 20m.

I found a track just off the roadside at the top, which ended with a gate, for service access to the comms compound. The roadside barrier provided a mounting point for my antenna pole.

Operating setup at Mt Rumney

On Friday 16th Nov I drove from Hobart to Devonport, but via the Ben Lomond National Park where there was a very attractive option, Legge’s Tor VK7/NE-001. This is a truly spectacular trip mainly for the passenger in the car, but the driver gets a few glimpses of the trip up the Jacob’s Ladder in the few moments he can afford to look elsewhere but the road. The pics below show some of the scenery en route to the summit in the car, and the walk on foot. On the way back down I stopped several times to grab photos of the scenery, I don’t think these shots do it justice.

On the radio, I made about 20 contacts on 40 and 20m, CW and SSB. After running out of available contacts I noticed a few spots of rain on the logging tablet, so decided to quit while I could walk down and be dry for most of the distance to the car, about 1.5km. As it happened, I had just opened the car and started making a cup of tea when the rain started to get heavy. Just lucky timing.

The small pole in the far distance made me think I had 500m to go, but in fact it was only about 200m and the pole was quite small. Heading up this way was the right way to reach the Activation Zone

At the summit area

The equipment setup at Legge’s Tor. Convenient rocks making a seat and table.
Operating position
View towards the summit cairn

Moss on the rocks on the summit path
Summit path clearly visible
One of many huts on the summit, apparently used as ski lodges
View down into the valley from the summit path

Looking back towards the summit village, on the way down
Some of the rocks on the way down
Looking down on part of the “ladder” and the valley below
Rocks!
Part of the Jacob’s Ladder on the way down

 

Looking out from the road into the valley

 

Part of the road down the Jacob’s Ladder
The road ahead shown on the GPS

 

Finally back on the ordinary road, still with snow markers

 

This activation capped the SOTA part of the trip to Tasmania in a spectacular way.

SOTA activation at South Black Range VK2/ST-006 to complete the MG award

Leaving Canberra at 7am and heading out via Hoskinstown to the South Black Range summit, I was ready by 8:30 am to make contact with a group of SOTA enthusiasts back in Canberra.  The plan was to first use 146.5 fm to make local contacts with whoever was there.  Then go to 1296 MHz ssb to make a few contacts there, and then go to the HF bands.

Right on time, Andrew Vk1AD spotted himself on sotawatch.org showing he was set up and ready for the morning’s contacts with a group of SOTA trainees at Mt Stromlo.

Also Matt VK1MA, Al VK1RX and Ian VK1DI were on other summits.  These four operators were on air on the first day of SOTA in VK1, 1st Feb 2013 and we were all on air when each of us have qualified for the 1000 point Mountain Goat award.

We made our contacts and after the 4th contact, several goat bleats were heard on my radio.

Rock, cairn and Trig at South Black Range
The unique shape of the VK2/ST-006 hilltop. The cairn and trig are on top of a huge rock.

I then moved to 1296 and made contacts with Andrew VK1AD and Bill VK1MCW.  The contact with Bill was made on CW as a first for 1296 SOTA in vk1.

After that it was 80m and 40m.  Conditions were favouring longer distances on 40m and it was necessary to use 80m to make contacts into Sydney or into the Melbourne area or any points closer in.

After spending several hours on the summit and getting colder all the time, it being only just above freezing point, I was suddenly surprised by hearing a voice.  There was Matt VK1MA walking towards me grinning and offering me a Mountain Goat ale.  We are lucky in Australia to have a boutique brewery that has produced this very aptly named ale.

After completing the activation and packing away, Matt helped me carry all the equipment back to the car down the hill a bit, then I headed off to Mt Cowangerong to make it a double activation for the day.

Looking happy having completed the Mountain Goat summit
the operating position at South Black Range. tripod for 1296 antenna at rear.

 

Guyed mast at Cowangerong
Setup at Mt Cowangerong. 2m halfwave on the left attached to a tree, the guyed pole on the right supporting the HF wire antenna.
The doublet wire used for HF contacts at Cowangerong can just be seen here, at the top of the telescopic mast

Second last activation before reaching MG

My activator score after the Gippstech trip was 984 so I was then able to plan two activations of 8 point summits to reach and exceed 1000 points, the requirement for the Mountain Goat award under the SOTA programme.

Thursday 19th July brought reasonable weather and Friday was forecast with rain and snow down to 900m.  The summit I had in mind was Yankee Ned, Vk2/SW-026 at just over 1200m, but I did not plan to sit in falling snow, sleet or rain while doing it.  So Thursday it was and I set out from Yass in the morning, arriving at Wee Jasper about 50 mins later, then reaching the summit parking spot at 90 or 100 minutes.  Remarkably there was logging traffic on the Wee Jasper forest road and the dry weather allowed the truck to stir up a huge dust cloud, making it necessary to drop back and allow the dust to settle.

At Yankee Ned it was a 20 min walk up to the summit itself, where I set up my ZS6BKW doublet, the LDG tuner and the FT817.  I also had brought an amplifier and planned to try it if conditions made contacts withe the 5w power level too difficult.  As it happened, after making only one contact on 80m CW and making no SSB contacts after calling for 10 minutes, I decided to connect the amplifier into the antenna circuit between the radio and the ATU.  It made quite a difference, and I was able to make a string of contacts in short time.  One contact was with Tony VK3CAT who was mobile in Melbourne and offered to stop shortly and give me a CW contact.  That was the first of several CW contacts and I was very pleased to qualify the summit on CW as well as SSB.

By then it was 15:30 and the sun was getting noticeably lower in the sky, the pine trees around the summit were sufficiently tall and thick to cast quite a cold shadow over me and my equipment.  So after making all the contacts that seemed possible I packed everything up and descended to the car with 995 points on the virtual scoreboard.  All was ready for the coming Sunday and the activation that would seal the deal for the MG award.

SOTA activations on Gippstech trip

Gippstech is a technical conference convened by the Eastern Zone radio club in Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.  While the trip from the Canberra area is about 650-700 km it is worth it because the content of the presentations is uniquely valuable.  Some presenters are very skilled both in the technical work they do and in presenting it.  Some are even entertaining!

As the trip from Canberra takes me past a number of SOTA summits and WWFF parks and nature reserves, it seems only sensible to call into those locations and run up the activator score a bit.

So I activated

  • The Peak VK2/SM-068 (8+3)
  • Mt Delegate VK3/VG-034 (8+3)
  • Goonmirk Rocks (8+3)

the first two on the trip to the conference and the third on the way back.  I originally intended to activate the three summits on the southbound journey but I was running behind on time and had to skip the third one on the first day.

While at the conference I stayed with a long term friend Peter VK3PF and we naturally started to discuss what summits were available to be activated on the day after the conference.  One thing led to another and that led to us heading up into the hills north of Morwell on the Monday.  The summits activated that day were:

  • Conners Plain (8+3)
  • Mt Selma (8+3)
  • Mt Useful (8+3)
  • VK3/VT-034 (6)
Several trees had fallen across the road, most didn’t require surgery to get past them
I left the AZ to make a chaser contact back to Peter at the summit
the tree on the right has just received a makeover to allow us to pass
Mt Selma
Peter 3PF making a S2S contact with another activator, perhaps Ron VK3AFW

Here I am in the snow at Mt Selma testing whether you can kneel on a tarp and have a dry knee. Yes!

On the following day I activated Goonmirk Rocks on my way north.  I only have a few photos of the forest, more interesting than radios and antennas actually…

 

 

Small enough to drive over, but I moved a few of its upper branches off the road before continuing.
On the Bonang Road
Views on the Bonang Road
Views on the Bonang Road
Views on the Bonang Road
Views on the Bonang Road
Views on the Bonang Road
Parking spot where I walked to Goonmirk Rocks

Once you are in this forest you are in Erinnundra National Park.  My silly GPS referred to it as Errindundra.  But then, every animal warning sign is displayed on the GPS as “animal crossing” which is rather silly.

This weekend’s haul provided 72 points at a time when I was nearing the 1k mark and was very welcome. Only 16 points to reach the Mountain Goat level after this weekend.

Thanks to Peter for doing all the driving and advising on routes etc.

Two SOTA summits activated for VHF/UHF winter field day

I thought it would be interesting to be within reach of the Sydney and Blue Mountains areas  for this contest.  The Illawarra and Central Tablelands regions are the obvious choices.  I decided to go to Mt Wanganderry, Mt Alexandra and Mt Gibraltar and I optimistically planned to spend about an hour on each, which with travel time would probably consume 6 hours, assuming I was on site for the first summit at the start of the contest at 11 am local time, 0100 UTC.

The bands I could use in my FT817 were 50, 144 and 432 MHz.  Adding a SGLAB transverter I could extend that to 1296 MHz.  Antennas were

  • for 50 MHz, a half wave centre fed vertical in the configuration of a coaxial dipole, with a choke at the half wave point and another a quarter wave lower than the first choke.
  • for 144 and 432 MHz I used a horizontal wire dipole attached to two fibreglass spreaders, mounted onto the fibreglass mast using a hub
  • for 1296 MHz the antenna was a 4 element yagi, with the transverter mounted as close as possible to minimise losses in the RG58 coaxial cable.
    the 6m vertical above the 2m/70cm dipole mounted on the pole

    More detail of the 2m dipole with a CATV BNC/wire terminal adaptor at the feedpoint

I logged my contacts using the VK Port-a-log software on a Lenovo 7 inch tablet computer.  I had the option of trying the latest contest version of this package but the designer Peter VK3ZPF was concerned that the 2 hour repeat contact rule for this contest would not be accepted by the nearest contest option in the contest version.  So I decided to use the standard parks and peaks version of the package.  This worked but required a bit of scrolling up and down to find the gridsquare field when logging the details of each contact made.

The 6m/2m/70cm equipment, an FT817

After reaching the site later than ideal, around 12:30 local time, I set up the antennas and equipment.  To comply with SOTA rules my gear was powered by batteries and the entire station was portable and independent of the car.

The second FT817 was used for 1296 mhz contacts via the transverter
1296 transverter and antenna mounted on the camera tripod

I made some initial contacts on the lower bands followed by some attempted contacts with Tim VK2XAX on 1296 MHz SSB.  I could hear Tim but my 2.5w apparently wasn’t enough for him to hear me.  Then there was a good contact with Mike Vk2FLR close to the Sydney CBD, 96km away.

I was about to close the site and move to the next one when I noticed one of my tyres was flat and I needed to change it before I could move.  After changing the tyre I was able to make repeat contacts with several of the stations I had worked earlier, so I had been there at least 2 hours by that time.  (Not keeping to plan too well.)

But finally by 3:15pm I set off for the next summit, Mt Alexandra, about 20km away.  It is located directly to the north of the residental streets of Mittagong with a parking area at the end of a bush track leading up past the houses.  After packing the bag and hefting the antenna poles, tripod and 2nd FT817, I walked over to the start of the climb up the hill only to find a sign advising that the track was under repair and would not reopen until late July.  So I returned to the car, unpacked it all and set off for Mt Gibraltar, which was now my second and final summit for the day, arriving at about 4pm local time.

Setting up to the east of the first cyclone fenced compound, I was able to replicate my earlier setup fairly quickly and get onto the lower three bands. Connecting up the 1296 transverter and antenna, I found a very strong signal again from the VK2RSY beacon on 1296.420, then made a good contact with Mike VK2FLR albeit at lower signal levels than from the first location.  I don’t know whether I had changed something significant, or there was a connector problem, but signals were not as good as they had been.  There were trees obstructing the view towards Sydney so perhaps they were attenuating signals on 1296.  The distance was slightly shorter than the earlier contact, about 91km.

After uploading my log to the home computer, I found I had made 27 contacts but it is possible one of my contacts was made too early for a valid repeat.

On balance I think this operation confirmed that even a low power radio (5W) can be used effectively from a good location in these events.  I hope others who own similar radios and can make similar (very) simple antennas will be encouraged by these results and participate in future.  I think hearing strong signals on the VHF and higher bands is still fascinating to me and far more interesting than a totally predictable and reliable contact via a repeater.

Combining “QRP Hours” contest with WWFF activation at Mundoonen Nature Reserve

After a failed activation of this reserve a few weeks earlier I wanted to get some contacts for this reserve into the log.  The QRP Club’s QRP Hours contest on 22nd October 2017 seemed like a nice opportunity.

I set out from Yass about 45 minutes before the contest start as I had a good idea of where I would operate.  On site I found I had to be satisfied with a sloping site and I put up the usual linked dipole with all links connected, giving 40m operation.  I decided to use the MTR3B CW transceiver for the CW section of the event and use the FT817 for the SSB section.

The MTR3B transceiver’s principal characteristic is its compact size and low power usage in particular on receive mode where it is about 40 milliamps, about 1/10th of the FT817.

Radio, battery, logging tablet and paddle
The MTR3B (blue), its battery (yellow), the log (red cased Lenovo tablet) and the paddle (American Morse DCP, on leg) as used in the CW section of the event

 

However the inability to conveniently and rapidly browse across the band looking for other stations calling CQ is a limitation for contesting I had not really considered before.  Nevertheless I persisted with it to try and find a way to use it best.  I had not yet used the Direct Frequency Entry function and I really needed that, so I could jump back to a starting frequency.  Also I had not recorded anything in any of the text memories.  So during the contest I opened the LNR website and read the instructions for storing text into one of the memories.  The obvious thing to have recorded for quick playback is the CQ call.  So at least I achieved that during this event!

During the CW section I made 5 contacts but of those only one was within VK2 and that was with Mike VK2IG, who with partner Helen VK2FENG was portable in another WWFF nature reserve, not far away from me, but far enough to sound distant.  No AGC or even AF gain control on the MTR3 – I have a volume control in the ear buds lead. Other contacts were with VK3, 4 and 5.   There was no “normal” NVIS propagation.  Very pleased to have worked Warren VK3BYD/5 somewhere in the middle of South Australia, and Grant VK4JAZ who was operating from home in Brisbane.  QRP is a combination of frustration and achievements.

After a half hour or so, I got a reminder that I was operating in a nature reserve, in the form of a sudden downpour of rain that became hail for about 10 minutes.  Fortunately I had suspected rain was imminent and had erected the “sun shelter” shortly after the start of the event.  But the slope of the operating location meant icy rainwater was running downhill and under my seat, a small foam sleeve sold for protecting computer tablets and small laptops.  Before long the whole site was wet and cold and my clothing was drenched from the waist down.

The SSB section commenced at 0600 UTC (5pm local) and after working Helen VK2FENG nearby, Laurie VK5LJ and a few more, I ran out of potential contacts.

At that point, a lull in the rain seemed to have arrived so I decided packing up and leaving would be prudent.

Half an hour later I was enjoying a very welcome warm shower at home.

Fortunately my log is not important for the QRP Hours contest other than a check log, as I am the contest manager.  I’m glad I was able to add a contact to a few other logs and in the process I did activate the WWFF park, though with insufficient contacts to qualify for any activation points.  That’s ok, this park is near to my home and I will return, hopefully in dry weather.

Mt Tumorrama and Yankee Ned Hill, 25th Aug 2017

Having an opportunity to activate a few summits I decided to head west of Canberra, travelling out towards Tumut on the Brindabella Road past Picadilly Circus on the saddle between Bulls Head and Mt Coree.  I realised as I drove down this road that I had never driven on this section before.  It is narrow in places and not unlike the Mt Franklin Rd as it passes Mt Franklin, narrow and with a few hundred metres drop on one side of the road.  However it is wider and reasonably well surfaced the lower you go down to the Goodradigbee river.

After climbing back up to about the 1100m level heading west I drove past a few traces of snow from the past week.

One part of the road had a bit more snow and I stopped again to take a snap.

At Mt Tumorrama there was no snow but still plenty of blackberry thorns.  I did find a short piece of RG58 Coax with a BNC plug on one end.  The other end looked like it had been broken off – possibly by a mountain goat?  I didn’t take a pic of that.

At Yankee Ned Hill, the walk up the southern slope revealed more traces of recent snow.

The temperature on the hill was cool, the temperature in the car indicated 8C but I think it was colder on the hill.  My hands were very cold by the time I packed up and walked back downhill.

Conditions were not good, but I managed to qualify both summits, one one both CW and SSB.  80m didn’t work as well as I hoped it would.  Too early in the day perhaps for longer distances.  I heard a brief burst of a voice after one of my CQ calls – I thought it may have been a VK3 but it was only a second of so – don’t know why that occurred.  Meteor scatter?  Sporadic E? (not all possible answers are likely to be valid)

I used the IC703 and a ZS6BKW style antenna fed with 300 ohm ribbon on this activation.  Its big advantage is band agility.  No need to lower the antenna to change links when changing bands.  It is lighter than the linked dipole, mainly due to the many links I have in mine (two for each band).

My LiFePO4 battery appears to be behaving like it is on the way out. It is 4 years old but for the first year of its life I was apparently not using the right type of charger.   One cell seems to die much quicker than the others and goes down to 3.0v or below, after which I stop using it.  I may have to replace it and this time I will use the balanced charging option religiously.  I previously misunderstood the battery charge options and thought it was applying a balanced charge to all cells in standard charging mode.  Not so.

Other equipment: my cardio fitness seems to be returning.  This is not a difficult hill to walk up, and I was pleased to be able to do that without stopping or feeling uncomfortable.  I guess I stopped very briefly to take the photos but in general I can report that 3 months after my operation, the engine is running well.

Afterwards I drove to Tumut then Gundagai and returned to Yass via the Hume Highway.  I didn’t fancy driving down the bush track to Wee Jasper at dusk, when it is kangaroo feeding time and they are at their most unpredictable and dangerous.

Another few points for the activator tally.