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Mt Coolum, VK4/SE-114, 1st December 2019

Visiting my daughter and family on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, I had taken a basic set of SOTA activation gear with me in case an opportunity came up for an activation. While planning activities for Sunday 1st Dec I offered my grandson Jack (12) the option of climbing Mt Coolum with me and joining in a SOTA activation. He jumped at the chance and his mum was very happy to see him accompany me.

We drove up to Coolum having planned to start the activation at 2pm local time, 0400 UTC. Traffic was ok and Jack read out the navigation instructions from my Navmii app on the iphone as it was not delivering audio to the bluetooth connection.

There was a forecast for a storm to pass through the area and the radar showed a narrow band of rain and high wind. But when we parked at the foot of Mt Coolum there was no sign of bad weather north or east, though there was haze and cloud to the south.

So we decided to continue with the climb and checked the weather we could see as we went. The wind was very strong at times. At the top we found a fenced compound containing some comms gear. I wondered whether we would have much interference from the equipment there, but there was no alternative for mounting the light pole I had brought with me, a 6m thin fishing pole.

We set up the antenna, a trap dipole for 20/30/40m, fed with RG178. The insulator at the feed point has a small hole that the top of the pole can fit into.

The FT817 radio was hearing a lot of static from storms in the area, and some signals from other amateurs on the 40m band. I decided to start on SSB this time, to give Jack a chance to hear what was being said on air. The first contact was with Gerard VK2IO who was portable in a nature reserve in NSW. After that contact my CQ calls were not answered and I decided I needed to move to CW and carry out some contacts in morse code.

Jack had done a bit of morse code for a school project so he knew what it was but didn’t understand the morse I sent or received. I explained the CQ, TNX, 73 and RST codes to him. It was too fast for him though.

After 3 contacts on CW/morse I wanted a fourth so as to qualify for 4 activator points on the CW mode. And once again Bill VK1MCW came to my rescue. He wasn’t hearing me too well, but persisted and listened for my replies until he heard them. He then gave me a low signal report, as I expected, as his own signal was not particularly strong and I knew my transmitter was a lot less powerful than his, so he would be hearing a weaker signal from me. Finally we had confirmed our reports and completed our contact.

Then I noticed some spots on the ParksnPeaks site for portable stations operating on voice/SSB further up in the band. So we looked up there to see who we could hear, sure enough Alan VK2MG was received up on 7.144 and his signal was strong so we had a good chance of being heard by him. After a few calls from stronger stations, Alan heard our call and we were able to exchange signal reports with him successfully.

We looked again at the clouds to the south and the west. The wind was still strong but there was no sign of the wet weather getting nearer to us, so the sunshine continued. However we thought we had been on the hill long enough, it was difficult to make more contacts and we decided to pack up and walk down the hill.

On the way down we saw quite a few walkers coming up the hill. One of them was a very small child about 3 years old, holding mum’s hand. That is quite an achievement for a small child, and for mum!

Here are some photos of our trip.

The path up this hill is like a stone staircase

Wonderful views from halfway up

Jack sent a text to Mum from the top
Looking northwards up the coast towards Noosa

Booroomba Rocks VK1/AC-026 on 16/11/2019

I was invited to accompany Andrew Moseley VK1AD on this activation.  It had been some time since we activated together so it was an extra pleasure doing this one.

The previous time I activated this summit was actually also a joint activation with Andrew.

The main thing we both noticed both enroute to the parking area and on the walk up to the summit was how dry the bushland was, areas which were previously green and even slightly damp were bone dry this time.  The long drought had certainly made its mark even in southern VK1.  We both thought that the hot summer that has been forecast will probably discourage activations in the bushland to the west and south of Canberra, due to the risk of bushfires.  Walking an hour into dry bushland does not make much sense and in fact risks not only the walker’s health/safety/life, but also risks the life of rescuers.  Summer may be a quiet period in terms of local activations in the forests near Canberra.

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The walk up to Booroomba Rocks features large rocks like these

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The climb up to the highest of the three peaks comprising the Booroomba Rocks cluster requires descending into the bush between the two southern peaks, then climbing back up through bush and then onto the rocks, after which it is an easy walk up to the tree that my telescopic pole was lashed to, to support my wire antenna.  I operated on 40/20/17m and also called cq on 10m just in case something was happening there.  I made contacts with other mountain activators in New Zealand and in Japan, as well as several contacts with home stations within NSW, Victoria and South Australia. My total contact count was about 12.

Andrew VK1AD operated on 144, 1296 and 2403, using an FT817 driving transverters on the higher bands, each with a PCB antenna seen in these pictures.  He made at least 4 contacts on each of those bands.  A number of Canberra operators called him as well as several on other summits, including Ted VK1BL on Mt Ainslie and Bill VK1MCW on Mt Stromlo.  Wade VK1MIC called in from his home station as did Peter VK1JH and Matt VK1MT.  Dermy VK1DB also called on 144 to give his brand new callsign a workout.  He recently passed the advanced licence course.

I was pleased to find this climb was much easier than last time I came up here.  On that day we first activated Pheasant Hill and then came up to this one.  My feet were very sore after that day, possibly due to my walking boots being too tight.  On this occasion I wore the Merrell mid boots I had worn on my walk in Spain, which are still in good condition and still comfortable.  I did have a few aches the next morning, but that’s ok.

A good day spent playing radio and I got home in time to prepare for a social function in Canberra later that day.

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.

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Looking happy having completed the Mountain Goat summit

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The operating position at South Black Range.  The tripod for 1296 antenna at the 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)

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Obstruction, but high enough to drive past
I left the AZ to make a chaser contact back to Peter at the summit

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the tree on the right has just received a makeover to allow us to pass
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Ready to go after sawing the fallen tree
Mt Selma

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Peter 3PF making an S2S contact, possibly with Ron 3AFW
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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…

 

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Small enough to drive over, but I moved a few of its upper branches off the road before continuing.

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On the Bonang Road
Views on the Bonang Road
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Views on the Bonang Road

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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 also 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 VK3PF for doing all the driving on the Monday 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.

 

VHF/UHF Field day/contest Jan 14/15 2017

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.

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Friday night before the rain

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.

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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.

IMGP1477 VHF/UHF antennas on Mt Ginini

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.

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Packed up and ready to be loaded into the car and trailer.

Contacts made:  183 total.

Band totals:

  • 50 Mhz:  39
  • 144:   70
  • 432:  51
  • 1296: 22

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.