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.
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.
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)
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…
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.
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.
The VHF/UHF field day in January is one of my favourite events. I have had some great surprises on these weekends. I had no idea what to expect this time, though the weather was forecast as damp on Saturday and dry on Sunday.
I arrived on site around 6pm Friday night. Along the route from Yass via the Mountain Creek Road I had noticed a lot of debris on the road, including some tree branches that had been broken off by high winds. I didn’t realise a storm had gone through Canberra while I was driving to Mt Ginini, breaking trees and strewing debris all over suburban streets and bringing trees down over some of the arterial roads, leaving damage that would be visible for weeks afterwards.
The weather at the time was windy and when I tried to set up the tent it was clear that it would not survive that wind. In the hope that it would clear away in a few hours, I decided to sit it out and stayed in the car. By 9pm it was dark and I had to decide whether to re-pack my tent and go back to Canberra for the night or hang on. I decided to hang on. It rained quite heavily for a while and the wind kept howling so once it was really dark, I felt there was no other option.
In the early morning it seemed to be better. The wind was still there but didn’t seem so bad. The rain had cleared. But I hadn’t slept much.
I set about the job of assembling the antennas, the tent, the interconnections and generator. By 12 noon, the contest start time, I was just about ready to roll.
The erected antennas looked very much like they have for the last 10 years so I didn’t take any new photos of them. The 2m, ;70cm and 23cm yagis on one mast and the 6m 3el yagi on another, both rotated from the base using KR400 rotators. Feedlines: RG9B for 2m, CNT400 for 70cm and 23cm, RG213 or similar for 6m.
Here’s a pic of the antennas from a previous operation at Ginini. A few configuration differences for the 70cm antenna but otherwise very similar this time.
Once I got on the air, I found beacons from VK3 were very low, the Sydney beacons were almost undetectable and few portables outside the VK1 area. Only VK2IO was heard initially, but one or two others did emerge later in the weekend. VK1DSH, VK1RX, VK1RW, VK1MT and VK1AI were all out in the field, most of them on 50/144/432 and Dale was on 1296 as well. We had a small number of home stations operating the bands too.
After working Gerard VK2IO (Mt Bindo near Oberon) I then worked Phil VK5AKK on both 144 and 432. We tried 1296 too, but although I could hear a signal from his 100w, my 10w was too far down to make it a two way contact. A digital mode would have worked. hmm. More power on my end would have helped too. Double hmm.
The day progressed without any more surprising dx, and I found it hard to convince myself to stay awake after 9pm, having got very little sleep in the driver’s seat of the car on Friday night.
At 5:30 in the morning, there were good signals from the vk3 beacons, Sydney was a bit better too. And I had a very good signal from the Mt Gambier beacon on 144.550 plus a weak signal from Mt Lofty on 144.450. I hoped this indicated something of the contacts to be made in the following hours.
It did, partly. VK5DK at Mt Gambier was worked, as was VK5PJ. But conditions were not good enough to give us contacts on higher frequencies.
My surprise contact on Sunday morning was being called by Mike VK3BDL/7 at Flinders Island. After working me on 144 and 432, Mike went on to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 144, a contact which they were both very happy with.
Eventually the contest ended and I followed it up with a short period of activating Mt Ginini as a SOTA station, using the IC703 running from a LiFePO4 battery. I had at 6am set up the 20m vertical in the hope of making an S2S with a US station who was looking for VK contacts. I may have been a bit unlucky with conditions, or jut not spending enough time listening for the US signals. No luck with S2S but did have a good contact with home station NS7P on CW.
The packing process took about 4 hours and I left the summit at 5pm. A 2 hour trip back to Yass and a welcome shower and a cold drink when I got there.
The 6m beam seen in the foreground (in the shade, sorry) travels in a partially assembled state. The gamma match stays in place, but the extensions just come out of each element and it then is not much wider than the 2m beam and is narrow enough to be carried quite safely on the roof rack of the car.
Contacts made: 183 total.
50 Mhz: 39
Total points claimed under distance calculation rules: 55916
Points lost due to a wrong grid locator: about 10.
Points lost due to not enough other portables: 500,000.
I was invited to join in an activation of Mt Tantangera by Andrew Moseley VK1AD, and was very pleased to be able to join him in this expedition.
Andrew collected me from my weekday accommodation in south Canberra at 7:30am on a brilliant summer’s day that Saturday morning. We decided to take both our packs to give us the option of working on several bands simultaneously.
The route taken was through Tharwa, south of Canberra, along Boboyan road until it meets the Snowy Mountains Highway between Cooma and Adaminaby, but only a few km short of Adminaby. The trip through the mountains took us past familiar scenery, Mount Tennant just after Tharwa, the Clear Range to our east, the turnoffs for the old Orroral Valley and Honeysuckle Creek tracking stations, including various SOTA summits like Booroomba Rocks, then past Boboyan Range and Pheasant Hill.
After 2 hours we arrived at the Rocky Plains camping ground. We prepared for the walk to Mt Tantangera, adding sunscreen, hats, packs with water and food, antenna poles and navigation details.
Many of the horse riders camp at Rocky plains and some even set up temporary areas for their horses to roam in, with temporary electric fencing. The initial climb up to the saddle is steady and follows a bridle trail. Some hoof marks are apparent in the soil as you climb upwards. The condition of the soil was damp but firm.
On arrival at the summit, a very wide flat area, we found the trig point was ideal for attaching a pole to. Initially we set up our equipment and antennas expecting we would be able to operate the two stations on different bands. However I received wideband noise whenever Andrew’s FT857 was transmitting. I decided to move my equipment about 30m away, assuming it was a proximity problem and a bit of spacing would help.
That did work ok, so it was then time to get onto the bands and hand out some reports. The bands did not appear to be in good condition. I made relatively few contacts considering the exotic nature of the summit and its SOTA value of 10 points for anyone making a contact. I decided to use CW mainly so as to give the CW operators a contact, and I knew we would swap bands later so Andrew would be operating on 40m ssb.
I made one contact on 20m CW, then 6 on 40m CW. One S2S contact was also made with Ian VK1DI at Booroomba Rocks on 2m. One of the photos taken was of a March Fly (aka Horse Fly) of which there were many.
Thanks to Andrew for offering to share this activation. While band conditions were less than ideal, we had a great day out in the snowy mountains region and enjoyed our walking and radio operation.
Canberra is known to many as “the bush capital” and this means there are a lot of nature parks interspersed among the suburbs and hills. The only National Park in the Australian Capital Territory is Namadgi, which is southwest of the city area, but there are several dozen other nature reserves. Once they had been given VKFF numbers by the WWFF coordinator for Australia, it became a natural extension of my portable operations around Canberra to add the VKFF number of a park I was in while activating SOTA summits.
After activating Majura, Ainslie, Taylor, Isaacs Ridge and Tuggeranong as well as Namadgi NP many times due to the number of SOTA summits located in registered parks, it seemed like a good idea to continue to activate parks in the spring weather we are now enjoying (November) between rain showers (it has been a very wet year).
In October and November to date I have activated Urambi Hills, McQuoids Hill, Cooleman Ridge, Farrer Ridge and Wanniassa Hills Nature Reserves, all in the Tuggeranong Valley or adjacent to it. The next reserve activated was Mt Painter nature reserve.
All were easy to access, and for the hills you have the option of setting up anywhere within the reserve, not necessarily on the hilltop, though in several cases I was curious to look at the view from the top and did walk up anyway. I was also using these activations as training exercises as I was acutely conscious of losing some of my fitness for SOTA walking due to various injuries during the year.
The operating position at Urambi Hills. Photo taken by camera attached to the antenna pole at about 1.2m.
At Tuggeranong Hill
The nature park sign at McQuids Hill.
Looking back down the hill from half way up. Loose stones, take care here, especially downhill.
Almost at the top, McQuoid’s Hill
Operating at Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve
Lashing the pole to a fairly dead tree. Using the branch to prevent the rope from slipping downwards, just as F1BLL calls me.
Plenty of wildlife like this mother carrying a baby at Farrer Ridge
I particularly enjoyed the walk up to Mt Wanniassa, which qualifies as a nature reserve but is not a SOTA Summit. Nearby Isaacs Ridge is slightly higher. But this is a nice mountain and has a great view.
After these southside nature reserves I looked at the map and decided that a northside reserve was next. Mt Painter is a hill to the south of the suburb of Cook in the Belconnen area. It was many years since I visited this hill and it was an easy walk up from a roadside park, past the water reservoirs and to this bench with a view of Black Mountain and the lake.
On most of these activations I made at least 10 contacts in about an hour, using 40 and 20m bands on SSB and CW. I was hoping for more dx contacts on 20m CW but conditions have been depressed, so it is even more difficult than usual for a 10 watt signal to get all the way around the earth.
Gerard, F1BLL did call me on most of these activations and even when very few others seemed to hear me in Europe, he heard and called me. Thanks Gerard, very nice to have your consistent signal on nearly all of my recent activations.
Another Gerard, VK2IO, attempted contacts with me from Sydney on many of these activations but the radio conditions simply didn’t give us a chance of making a contact via the very high ionosphere.
Equipment used on activations: Icom IC703 at 10w output.
linked dipole capable of operating on any band from 40m to 10m
vertical antenna for 20m, 5m vertical and three 5m radials, tuned to 14.200
antennas supported on a 7m telescopic fibreglass pole.
As all the nature reserves are intended for public use, there is no requirement to get permission to enter and use them.
During our trip to England in June 2016 I planned to activate several SOTA summits.
Having arranged to activate several hills in the Peak District I thought this would be a simple matter of driving to my contact’s house, collecting him there and proceeding to the parking area at the base of the hill, then executing the well rehearsed process of activating a summit. This was not to be and I wasn’t able to carry out that plan. But with only a few days left in my England visit, I thought there may be another opportunity coming up when we were staying at Leeds. I asked Mike 2E0YYY, with whom I had talked from Australia on dozens of occasions in the past few years, for advice on which summits would be achievable for someone with somewhat limited mobility. He immediately offered not only advice on the summit but said he would drive up to Leeds and activate the summit with me. An offer I could not refuse.
Mike duly collected me on the morning of 20/6 and we headed out past Bradford, through a hundred small villages and through lanes narrow enough to be converted into wind tunnels for aircraft experimentation, passing within millimetres of other vehicles and I was reminded of how good it was to have someone else doing the driving.
Arriving at the car park at the approximate activation time, I had poor phone coverage and could not update my alert. Mike cheerfully said, no problem, we’ll be there soon. Walking up the stone pathway in my rainproof pants and jacket, I could only hope the weather stayed fine enough to setup and operate for a while. Mike said the light rain we were walking in was nothing to the tropical rainfall he had driven through that morning. I hoped it had gone in another direction.
Onsite at the trig we set up my 10m Dxwire pole and my home made linked dipole on 20m. I decided to use my FT817 given how much effort it was to bring the radio and other gear. The pole was guyed using the guying ring made for me by my good friend Adan VK1FJAW in Canberra, on his 3D printer.
Starting on CW mode with the 5w from the 817 I made the first four contacts in relatively slow conditions with only a few callers each time I called CQ or QRZ? But after the fourth or fifth contact, more and more callers came back, so I eventually had about 20 contacts on CW without having to move frequency or do anything heroic. Several S2S contacts were included, so nice to work people like HB9BCB and others with big signals in Europe instead of hearing the somewhat weaker signals from the other side of the globe.
After making another bunch of contacts on 20m SSB we decided to try 40m. We made a few contacts there but generally it was not as productive as 20m. My morse paddle cable seemed to be intermittent and would only work correctly with the paddle placed on top of the radio. I was unsure whether it would last the distance if I continued on CW. I had intended to operate on CW on at least 20 and 40m, and had also taken a 6m antenna to try that band. Given the occasional short distance contact on 20m it seemed there was some sporadic E occurring and I may have had some fun on 6m. However at that stage I was happy enough to have activated the summit successfully and I did not want to risk stressing my sore foot. So the 6m band was never attempted.
In summary, I am very grateful to Mike 2E0YYY for going to so much effort to help me activate in England. It was very good to make contacts with some of the SOTA crowd that I had worked many times from home in Australia. Amateur Radio again shows itself to be a magic ingredient for a tourist.