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SOTA activations in Spain (3)

The next day after arriving in Pamplona and the activation with Guru EA2IF arrangements were made for another activation which would be NV-119 San Cristobal. This activation was made with Ignacio EA2BD. He had already activated this summit during this year.

The antenna, one I had borrowed from Andrew VK1AD, was a LNR EFHW and was setup as an end fed half wave for 20m.

With the antenna fed directly from the KX3 it was showing a SWR or 2.5 so I put the Elecraft T1 into the circuit, producing a 1.0 swr for the kx3.

This setup enabled me to make a number of contacts on both cw and SSB, on 20m. As it was the middle of the day we did not expect any dx and there was no signal from the USA or further afield.

Ignacio and I pose for the selfie

Yes I’m having fun…

I record here my sincere appreciation of the effort made by Ignacio to help me with this activation, also he drove twice to Roncesvalles, the second time was to retrieve the logging tablet which I accidentally left at the Bar there.

After the activation I was invited to join Ignacio and his wife and daughter for lunch at their apartment. This was a very pleasant occasion for me and I felt very honoured to be a guest in their home.

Thanks again, Ignacio EA2BD.

SOTA activations in Spain (2)

After reaching Pamplona and finding a hotel for some welcome relative luxury compared with the 8-16 double bunks in the bedrooms of hostels (typical of the low cost accommodation on the Camino) I had arranged to meet Guru EA2IF so we could activate a nearby summit,  Mt. Erreniega EA2/NV-092.

In fact he parked near my hotel and I easily found him when I left the front door. He was nearby and waving to me. So we set off towards the summit, chatting about SOTA, radios, antennas etc as radio hams do.

Arriving at the summit it was easy to set up the antenna and the FT817 with atu for 20m. Conditions were not as good as they had been three days earlier, but I made more than enough contacts to qualify the summit. As I had worked Ignacio EA2BD at this summit in 2018 this activation made this summit a “complete” (ie. worked and activated).

Guru was trying to make contacts using an economy HT on 439 MHz. There were no replies.

In an attempt to let him make at least one valid contact on 439 fm we walked down the hill far enough to be out of the activation zone. Guru returned to the top and called me using the ft817. I could hear the signal from the FT817 but the HT was transmitting so little power that the reverse path did not work. I walked back up the hill and was within 10m of the other radio before the HT was heard. Clearly a fault in the transmitter.

On the way down we passed the Alto Perdon with its monument to pilgrims and Guru told me I would pass that on my way out of Pamplona on Monday. You can find my pictures of the monument etc on my walking blog. Walkdontrun.travel.blog. Look for the post about departing from Pamplona.

We then visited the site of a contest station owned by local hams and I admired the rotary antennas etc. then we went to his home for a short time, then to a local club for a meal and of course a longer chat about the same subjects.

I first contacted Guru about the possibility of activations in this area. Thanks to Guru not only for the advice but the hospitality and for taking me up for those activations.

The feedpoint for the EFHW used on hf
Guru setting up the uhf antenna

Evidence of my presence on the hilltop

More evidence

SOTA activations in Spain (1)

While planning a visit to Spain to walk the Camino Frances or the French Way, a popular walking route following the legendary path of pilgrims walking to Santiago for religious reasons, I made contact with two radio amateurs in Pamplona to ask about suitable SOTA activations in that area. I received enthusiastic responses and offers to take me up to several suitable summits.

I set up a WhatsApp chat group to make liaison simpler once I was in the area. I pre-purchased a European SIM card for my phone to be sure of having local coverage.

The first summit I was hoping to activate was ea2/nv012 with the amazing name Ortzanzurieta which is a basque name with very difficult pronounciation for an Aussie. I had several goes at it. The Z is not said as it is in English.

This summit was a few km to the east of the walking path (Camino) and I asked my EA contacts whether I could consider activating it during the day’s walk. I received advice that it would be a big ask at the end of a difficult day. The Camino goes through some lovely country especially in those mountains but it is not “a walk in the park”. There are some long slow climbs for weary legs.

However Ignacio EA2BD offered to drive from Roncesvalles and take me up to this summit. I took up his offer immediately.

After walking about 17km from Orisson, over the Pyrenees and the F/EA border, I could only agree with the advice. I was tired and needed a shower and fresh clothes before I could consider getting into a clean car.

So by about 5pm that day I was happily riding with Ignacio and Jorge EA2LU on the way up to this unpronounceable summit. The weather was suitable and although I had my radio gear with me, Jorge offered me the use of his kx2 and multiband end fed antenna.

The 20m band was cooperating and I made 28 contacts around Europe and into the US.

VK1DA and EA2LU Jorge setting up next to the trig

Ignacio Ea2bd Jorge EA2LU and me

After a long day of walking I made lots of mistakes sending cw but I was having fun

Jorge using another rig on 40m

All photos by Ignacio Ea2bd.

Many thanks to Ignacio for his generosity in driving over from Pamplona and waiting patiently for me to be ready for this activation. It was a huge day for me and adding a new SOTA association and summit to my activations was a bonus.

South Black Range SOTA and park activation on 13cm band – 15th June 2019

Having received an offer from Ted VK1BL to help me find and fix the problem in my 13cm transverter, I spent an evening with him on 13th June. Moving through the various functional blocks in the transverter we found

  • The receiver was working quite ok, it was very close to the right frequency and was fairly sensitive, hearing -120 dbm from the HP sig gen pretty well
  • The output from the PLO was good and at a level of +7 dbm as recommended for the mixer
  • The output from the sequencer board, which includes attenuators and a level setting control for the IF signal, 144 MHz in this case, was working well and we calibrated that at -10 dbm for input to the mixer, with 0.5w drive on 144 mhz from the ft817
  • The output from the mixer and filter was at the expected level, about -13 dbm
  • The output from the tx IF amplifier/driver was +10 dbm, which was adequate for the power amplifier
  • The power amplifier had the correct negative bias and positive voltage on the correct terminals
  • But the power output to the antenna socket was zero.
  • The power output from the amplifier (before the relay) was about +35 dbm (approx 2.5 watts)
  • The relay board was examined and was found that the DC to the relay coil was intermittent. Resoldering the pins of the relay, a surface mount type, fixed that intermittent and made it a reliable connection. The output to the antenna socket was then +35dbm or 2.5w.
  • Transverter considered fixed.

With that result I discussed the possibility of an activation on Saturday morning to prove it in the field. Andrew VK1AD offered to activate Mt Stromlo and I decided to visit South Black Range. Coincidentally it was the day when bonus points commenced for VK2 summits above 1200m, so I half expected to find some snow on the higher parts of this summit, as it had recently snowed down to about 900m.

No snow, quite cold at about 3 or 4C when I got there, but it warmed up to about 8C by midday.

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FT817 in foreground, transverters and tripod holding 1296 yagi at rear

After initial contacts on 144 then 1296 we switched over to 2403 MHz and found we were able to make easy contact, my signal received a 5×8 report from VK1AD and I received his signal at an indicated strength 5.

Note: the distance of this contact was about 47.5 km, not bad for 2.5 watt transmitters. The locators of the two summits are QF44MQ (Stromlo) and QF44SN. The visual horizon is 35km so this is beyond “line of sight”. But how far over line of sight is it?

According to my iphone app DistBear the distance between centres of the two grid subsquares is 47.5km. So 2.4 GHz worked fine, well over the visual horizon. To get a more accurate distance I used the website https://sotamaps.org, using the “range mapping” option, we get a more accurate measure of the distance, at 48.7 km. I am sure there will be longer contacts made on this band using the same equipment.

The antenna in use for 2.4 GHz at my end is shown in the photo below attached directly to the 2.4 ghz transverter, was the SG-LAB PCB antenna, a 2 element HB9CV type on loan from Andrew VK1AD. The 2403 MHZ equipment was placed on a rock and turned so that the antenna pointed roughly towards Mt Stromlo, albeit through many trees nearby.

Two UHF transverters
The SG Lab transverter for 1296 is shown here sitting on the box containing the home made transverter for 2.4 ghz. These two transverters are, ironically, equivalent in power output and receiver function though they operate on different bands.

After completing the contact on 2.4 GHz I moved to HF and ran a few contacts on 7023 khz using the Pixie half watt morse transceiver (on a 50 x 50 mm PCB), then moved to the KX3 and ran contacts on 40m and 80m SSB and CW. I left the summit just after 12 noon, after spending 2 hours there. The temperature had risen to 8C by then.

Pixie PCB transceiver, battery, key, ATU, balun

Three summits between Wee Jasper and Tumorrama on 2nd June 2019

With benign early winter weather, cool mornings but calm clear days, it was clearly the right weather for activating summits.

The first was Mt Wee Jasper. It is on a famous walking track known as the Hume and Hovell walking trail. It can be accessed from the camping area south of the Wee Jasper village, but the walk is long and recent forestry work has apparently disrupted the trail. At 7+ km it would have taken too much time out of the day too. So my access route was to first head west on the Wee Jasper-Tumut road, then southwards on the Wee Jasper forest road by a few km. Turning off onto Pheasant Creek Rd, the mountain looms into view soon and the route to the parking area is fairly obvious though the road has been cleared of any gravel and may well be soft after heavy rain.

It is a pleasant and easy walk of about 15 minutes up the forest path to the summit, where there are two concrete-and-wood benches ideal as sitting and operating radios.

I deployed the zs6bkw doublet for hf with the kx3. For 1296 the ft 817 and the transverter were connected to the 4 el yagi mounted on the camera tripod. The icom v85 was used to make some contacts into Canberra on 2m fm. No available contacts for 1296 but the Canberra beacon from Mt Ginini was very strong. On hf it was easy enough to make contacts on 40 and 80m bands using ssb and cw. I aim to “qualify” each summit on both ssb and cw. It is also satisfying to make the required 4 contacts to “qualify” on each band, though this is a personal goal rather than any external requirement.

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Track marker for Hume & Hovell walking track on the edge of the forest at Mt Wee Jasper
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UHF gear on the park bench
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The 1296 beam on the camera tripod at Mt Wee Jasper
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HF gear on the other side of the bench

You may have read that wombats leave a rather uniquely shaped message on the ground.  Here are a few I stepped over on my way up Mt Wee Jasper.  Each “cube” is about a cubic inch.  How they shape them like that is a matter others can deal with.

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Despite the pleasant forest environment it was time to depart after an hour on summit, then pack away and head for the car. I had looked at the navigation options for reaching the next summit and concluded that the known roads were a more reliable option than trying to find shortcuts. So southwards on Wee Jasper forest road to Brindabella rd, east for a few km, then turning northeast along Nottingham Rd. About 15 km along this road is the parking point for Snowgum Mt. There is no public car access up to the summit so requires a steepish walk up a sealed road littered with leaves and twigs from the eucalyptus trees.

Setting up the gear again I heard signs that Andrew vk1ad was ready at Mt Stromlo for the planned s2s contacts including 1296 ssb. Hearing his voice weakly at first, I experimented with the position and direction of my antenna, peaking the signal in the expected direction. When his contact with a Canberra station ended, I called him and received a question as to who was calling. I moved to cw mode and sent a 20-30 second string of dots using that mode, to allow him to find the best antenna direction by setting it for the maximum signal. Dots are very good for this purpose as they have a constant average signal strength but are transmitted at maximum power, much stronger than voice signals with an average power of less than 30% of maximum. His reply came much stronger than the level I had previously heard. In fact over the next 5 minutes, signal strengths gradually increased to about 8 on the ft817 “blobometer”. (It isn’t a real meter, just blobs being lit up on the lcd display. )

Several additional contacts were then made on 2m fm, starting with Wade vk1mic, Matt VK1MA, then Dean VK1DW and I could hear Dermy VK1FDHA calling me but he was not hearing me on any of the antennas he tried. I also heard Peter vk1fphr calling but he also didn’t hear my replies.

At this point it was approaching 2pm and I knew that if I didn’t leave soon for my next summit, my departure from that summit would be in darkness. So I didn’t set up the hf antenna on this summit, failing to meet my goal of “qualifying” on several hf bands and also on cw. A return visit this year may be necessary.

I reached the next summit just on one hour after my planned activation time, sunset was at about 5 pm so I needed to get the contacts in the log. A few contacts were made with Wade and Matt over in Canberra on 2m fm but the rest of the activity was on 80m ssb and cw. I went to 40m but made only a couple of contacts on that band. Propagation conditions near sunset make distances below about 800 km quite difficult on that band. I was using my phone to log the contacts, as i could not find my logging tablet when I unpacked my gear on this summit. Had I left it in the car? Or had I packed up so quickly at Snowgum Mt that I had left the tablet there? It turned out that I hadn’t left it in the car at all, more of that to come.

I would have to go to my backup logging technology, paper and pen. That posed a small problem because although I had a notebook there was no pen in my pack or in the accessories box. Then I remembered that I had been intending to test the logging functions in the ParksnPeaks ios app on my iPhone. So, logging on this site was done using the ParksnPeaks app on the iPhone and it did it very well. The test version I had was working well.

It was then coincidental and somewhat ironic that when I went to 40m I was called by Sue vk5ayl, the developer of the ParksnPeaks app. We had a good chat and I mentioned that i was using the app for logging.

But the light was fading and I had to get out of the forest before darkness made it difficult. So I called it quits at about 5pm, packed up and found my way back to the car.

Approaching the car, I was surprised but relieved to find my logging tablet on the ground behind it. Thinking back to when I had prepared for the activation, removing the ft817, 1296 transverter and tripod from the pack, I must have dislodged the tablet and failed to put it back into the pack. Another reminder of how important it is to look around before departing.

It was now almost dark and I did not want to drive back through the Wee Jasper forest, it is the time of day when kangaroos and wallabies move around in search of food. So I drove west to Tumut, stopped at the Oriental Hotel for dinner, then drove to Gundagai and back to Yass along the Hume highway. The highway is also named after the early explorer whose name was given to the walking track mentioned earlier.

On the way I crossed this bridge with a unique name, I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo of the bridge sign.  The bogs must shake a lot in that area.

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Three summits, 18 activator points and some s2s points for the summit-to-summit contacts made. And a good meal at the Oriental.

SOTA on 23cm, 23 March 2019

In keeping with the trend for activity days that match the band with the day of the month, a 23 cm activity day in and near vk1 on the 23rd of March was organised for SOTA operators by Andrew VK1AD.

I operated from Mt Mundoonen, which is near Yass.

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FT817 transceiver, logging tablet, 23cm transverter with miniature straight key from cwmorse.us

The antenna for 23cm was a 4 element yagi mounted on a camera tripod as seen in the featured photo above.

The weather conditions were misty at 8am, but it cleared up later.

The operating position for this activation was from inside a sun shelter, a small 3 sided tent structure that I find helps a lot to reduce sun and wind exposure and is also useful in rain.

The sun shelter protected the operator from sun and wind. This shows the 23cm yagi near a half wave vertical for 2m fm.

I was impressed by the signals received on the 2m dipole. The beacon from Sydney VK2RSY was good copy and I heard the VK3RGL beacon from near Geelong at a low level. Surprising to hear it on such a low gain antenna. Zero db above a dipole…

[edited following comment about reception on the 2m dipole] A note on the dipole: Testing the 2m dipole antenna for SWR while mounted at about 4m elevation, offset about 2m from my metal clad shed at home, I noted a significant change in impedance depending on whether the dipole was end on to the shed, or aligned broadside to the shed. Clearly a 2m offset from the shed is insufficient for there to be no interaction, so you wonder what is the effect on each antenna when you see antennas mounted on cars, with spacing of several inches only between antennas for various bands.

The Hotham S2S-fest February 2019

For several years a dozen or more SOTA fanatics have met at the Victorian snowfields destination of Mt Hotham for a weekend of multiple activations, many S2S contacts between summits and some social activities. I had intended to join in this event several times in the past but various problems prevented it.
This year I made it and had a great time too. The organiser of the event is Brian VK3BCM who manages the lodge during the winter and knows the area well.
Wade VK1MIC was also keen to attend so on Friday 1st Feb we travelled together down the Hume Highway from Yass to Albury then south to Mt Big Ben to score our first points for the weekend. But about 3/4 of the way up the forest road we found a substantial tree blocking the road up to the summit.

Road blockage. Decision made to go to another summit rather than spending time clearing this road.

We decided it could take a long time to clear the road and there could even be more trees blocking the road further on, so decided to turn around and go to Mt Porepunkah.  Taking the route suggested by the GPS was not successful and after consulting several blogs we found which route was recommended.  It was quite easy to reach the summit that way and we activated the summit successfully, before heading for Mt Hotham via Bright.
On Saturday we joined a convoy of three cars heading south west to Mt Murray and Mt Selwyn and others, but after Mt Selwyn we decided to detour back to Bright to refuel for the following day.  That might not have been necessary as fuel would be available in Omeo but it seemed prudent at the time.

L-R Compton VK2HRX, Wade VK1MIC, Andrew VK1DA, Ken VK3KIM at Mt Selwyn

On the Saturday evening activation at Mt Hotham, Wade wanted to activate on FT8 and did so successfully on HF, though the subsequent sked with Compton VK2HRX on 1296 mhz using FT8 was unsuccessful for reasons that are unclear. The 1296 transverter and 4 element yagi was put to good use, with a dozen or so of the activators making contacts with Andrew VK3JBL at Mt Torbreck, a distance of just over 100km and all the more satisfying as Andrew’s transverter was operating at reduced power of a few hundred milliwatts.  The photos below were provided to Gerard 2IO for his composite article on the weekend, thanks to the photographer. They show Wade and me, with the setup used on 1296 (FT817 and SG-LAB transverter, a 4 element yagi on a camera tripod weighed down (against the breeze) by a bag of groceries I found in the car… have to be creative sometimes.

On Sunday we joined a group heading east to Omeo then north for a round trip via five summits north of Omeo.
On most summits it was possible to share a single HF station to make the CW contacts I needed to qualify on CW and count towards a CW MG award. Towards the end of the Sunday trip storms were approaching and we adopted a hit and run strategy by making four quick contacts on 2m FM and not setting up on HF at all.  I’d like to return to all of those summits and have a more leisurely activation on HF bands, ssb and cw.
The visit to the historical Washington Winch site was interesting too.

Gerard, Compton and Wade at one of the summits we visited

Cheerful road sign

Due to the large number of activators trying to qualify their summits on 146.5fm, it was often difficult to satisfy all activators with immediate contacts.  Some methodology for making more use of the VFO dial, using another 2 or 3 frequencies would be useful. There are channels available but we need to realise that 25 khz channel spacing is not enough protection from a very local signal.
Apart from the radio contacts I also learned a thing or two about my 4WD and gained some confidence about climbing steep rocky roads.
On the Monday after helping Brian to move a woodpile inside the lodge we drove over to Wangaratta and enjoyed a coffee with Warren VK3BYD.  Then we drove up to Holbrook and visited Bernard VK2IB and his partner Deb.
It’s always good to meet people you have talked with on air.
I had met about half of the gang at Hotham before and it was great to catch up with them. And it was great to meet others who I had spoken to on the radio but was not meeting in person for the first time, in particular Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT. Sid was working with an injured foot but managed to activate every summit visited. (I noticed that Adele was subsequently successful in gaining her Mountain Goat award, which was great to see.)