Category Archives: SOTA

Qualifying a summit – making 4 interstate contacts – using the 500 milliwatt Pixie morse transceiver

I built up the Pixie kit, having bought it a year ago or more, just to see how it worked and intended to try it out on a SOTA activation.

Being invited to accompany Andrew VK1AD to Mt Marulan for a return visit, having done the same in December 2018, I decided to take the Pixie along to see if it could make even one contact with 40m conditions as dicey as they are at present.

I set up the station to use the Pixie, with the ZS6BKW doublet fed through an Elecraft T1 tuner and the choke balun recently built. (Did I write about that? Maybe not.)

I listened for a minute or two on the Pixie’s 7023 khz and could hear VK2ARZ calling CQ with a very high offset frequency, my guess was that he was on 7025 so would not hear me operating on 7023. The Pixie’s receiver is a direct conversion receiver without any inherent selectivity so if my ears had 10 khz frequency response I would have heard stations out to that offset in both directions, ie. higher and lower in actual frequency, eg. A signal on 7013 would produce a 10 khz frequency difference so the 10 khz would be coming through the receiver, as would a 7033 khz signal also produce a 10 khz audio frequency. My 69 year old ears don’t have that bandwidth any more, they have an inbuilt low pass filter.  ūüôā

So I spotted myself on Sotawatch using the vk port-a-log software on the android tablet, called CQ using the little blue hand key, listened, then called again. A big signal loomed in the earbuds and it sounded like a bug being used. Was it Steve VK7CW, yes, it certainly was, after the call letters marched across my ears and I logged the contact using the tablet. What strength was he? I didn’t know, sounded pretty good so I gave him 579. Received 559 in reply, not bad for half a watt. Steve said he was running an FT817 at 5 watts out. Monster power.

Three more contacts, regulars John VK4TJ in Toowoomba, Peter VK3PF in Churchill Victoria, and finally Paul VK3HN from Melbourne made it into the Pixie log and I’d qualified the summit in 11 minutes using a Pixie half watt, two transistor + one IC transceiver, that had cost me $9 for the kit.

In between the contacts I could hear some weak signals and I wondered how strong they were, perhaps they were others who I wasn’t hearing well enough to copy. So after completing the 4th contact and calling another CQ just to be sure I had worked all who were there, I transferred the antenna to the KX3 and had a better listen to the weak signals. They were weak on that radio too, and I think they were dx stations, probably US operators in a contest of some kind.

Pixie 500 mw transceiver as built above, and as used, below
imgp0080s.jpg
L-R: Elecraft T1 tuner top left, Pixie PCB, 3S LIPO battery, cwmorse.us hand key. The Pixie board is about 2″ x 2″ or 50mm sq. 

The rest of the activation was fairly straightforward using the KX3 and the same doublet antenna, some contacts on 80m, most on 40m, the Shires contest was running so I had to look up my shire, I quoted GM2 (Goulburn Mulwaree) so I hoped that was correct.

WIA AGM weekend in Sydney 25-27 May

The Wireless Institute of Australia’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) was scheduled for the weekend of 25-27 May and I offered to give a short presentation about SOTA as one of the technical presentations on the Saturday afternoon.¬† ARNSW which operates from its site at Dural in north-west Sydney was also scheduling a morning of exhibitions in association with the WIA AGM events and coinciding with its monthly trash n treasure event.¬† So we were invited to exhibit there and explain SOTA to interested people.

The initial contact for the exhibition was Compton VK2HRX and we collaborated on the nature of the exhibit to be set up.

On my way to Sydney I called in at Mt Gibraltar, sota reference VK/IL-001 to make at least 4 contacts and qualify for the 4 points available from that summit.¬† I found that a short time earlier, Peter VK3PF had been at that site.¬† During my operation I heard Peter at good strength, activating another summit nearby, Mt Alexandra VK2/IL-005.¬† We made our S2S contact of course and while I would have liked to follow Peter to that summit, I wasn’t sure I had enough time (actually I would have).

I reached Parramatta in western Sydney at about 3pm and checked into my hotel, reorganised my back pack, changed my clothes and then took the train into Sydney, stopping at Town Hall station, very convenient as the evening event was located at the Town Hall in the Marconi room.¬† ¬†After some announcements and speeches by various officials of the Waverley Amateur Radio Club, which was celebrating its own 100th anniversary, a fascinating presentation was given about the achievements of Australia’s signals intelligence network during the 1940s.¬† The presenter was David Dufty, the author of The Secret Code-Breakers of Central Bureau: how Australia‚Äôs signals-intelligence network helped win the Pacific War.¬† His enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject and how he came to learn of the details was very interesting as it followed my visit to Bletchley Park in the UK three years ago.¬† So many details had been kept secret until relatively recently, it seems.

On the Saturday morning the formal AGM was run and as has been the norm recently, this went fairly quickly and was over within an hour.  In the open forum session following the formal phases, a lot of questions were asked about the outcome of the recent ACMA review of the examination and callsign allocation contract.  It seems there are still a lot of fine details yet to be clarified.

During the afternoon session of technical presentations I presented on the subject of SOTA, explaining how the award works, how summits are verified and approved and gave some statistics on the number of activators and chasers, contacts made, etc.

I ended my presentation with a short personal history of involvement in SOTA and how it relates to my health, which I am sure is much better than it would otherwise be.  I suggested that activities that involve you getting out of the shack and out into nature are not only fun from a radio perspective but are approved by our partners, so what more could you want?

At the dinner on Saturday evening the group heard a great presentation on the Apollo program and what we have gained from it, from Prof Fred Watson, Astronomer at Large for the Australian Government.¬† I found his presentation highly entertaining and informative, he is a very good speaker and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak I recommend it (he has a weekly spot on ABC local radio’s evening program).

On the Sunday morning we went to Dural and set up our exhibit promoting SOTA.  A number of clubs from the Sydney area also exhibited, also ALARA, the WICEN group and CREST had stands.

Here are a few photos from our stand and others:

We handed out about 30 copies of our SOTA brochure and had some good chats with various people who wanted to know more.

Overall we thought the exercise was well worth while.

After I left Dural I headed up to Mt Tomah VK2/CT-043 in the Blue Mountains.  I operated until just about sunset near 5pm local time, after which I closed down and packed up the gear in the rapidly cooling evening air.

The next morning I drove up to Mt Bindo a little earlier than planned as there was a forecast of low temperatures and a high probability of rain.

I did qualify the summit, with 5 CW contacts and 4 SSB contacts, during which my pole collapsed three times.¬† After the third collapse in a very strong gust of wind, I decided to pack and go, as the clouds to the west were looking dark and I wasn’t really sure of my way down the mountain.

Only a short time later, I was 20km away enjoying a hot coffee at Oberon, it started to snow and I was really glad I didn’t get caught in that on the hilltop with radio gear at risk.

On the way from Oberon southwards to Goulburn, there was quite a lot of snow on the roadside and in the countryside.¬† So glad I wasn’t still on a mountain in that.¬† A big change from the weather I had enjoyed three days earlier on the way up to Sydney.

 

 

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 with 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
Obstruction, but high enough to drive past
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
Ready to go after sawing the fallen tree
Mt Selma
Peter 3PF making a S2S contact with another activator, perhaps Ron VK3AFW
Peter 3PF making an S2S contact, possibly with Ron 3AFW

here I am kneeling on the tarp at Mt Selma – it actually worked and my knee stayed dry

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

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.

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.