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.
The operating position at South Black Range. The tripod for 1296 antenna at the rear.
South Black Range is accessed by first driving to Hoskinstown (via either Bungendore or the Captains Flat Rd) and turning east along the Forbes Creek road, which after you cross Forbes Creek (I think) becomes the Mulloon Fire trail. About 10 km east of Hoskinstown, you find the North Black Range fire trail heading left (north) and you proceed somewhat more slowly along that trail for about 2km, until you see an even lower standard track heading left up to the summit. At that point you might easily park and walk. It would be less than 1 km to the summit.
I found the Mulloon fire trail in good condition and ok for a 2WD. The North Black Range trail was muddy in parts, slippery and the steep bits would be a challenge for a 2WD and the Forester with constant 4WD (but no low range) only made it up some of the steeper slippery bits after backing down and having a bit of a run up. Last time I came along there I was in the FJ Cruiser and I may have used low range but didn’t remember it being this slippery – but that was in September so there’s the answer most likely.
Along the trail you see some interesting sights including this remmant of someone’s history.
The radio activation, oh yes, that’s what I came for… I took two squid poles with me and used one for the 6m coaxial dipole. This has a coax-based choke at the lower end of the dipole, and another choke a quarter wave below that. The second choke was found to be a very useful addition keeping RF off the outside of the coax.
Several 6m and 10m contacts were made back into Canberra and then a session on 40m filled the log. This location is within the Tallaganda NP. The antenna used on hf was the usual linked dipole.
The weather on this summit was occasional rain drops and cold wind. When I got back to the car the outside air temp was 4C.
After activating South Black Range I headed east along the Mulloon fire trail and passed the turnoff to Mt Palerang. The creek was about 200mm deep, as a guess. the Forester went through it quite ok, slow speed and stay in 1st gear. Keep the bow wave ahead of you, don’t try to overtake it…
I removed a few minor trees from the road along the way.
After passing the Palerang trail I continued east to Braidwood. Within a few km of the Palerang trail there was a more substantial tree lying across the road. I had no saw. I looked at ways of snapping off upper branches, found it was too green and I didn’t have any way other than a long period of sawing with my swiss army knife. So then I looked at driving over it where others had. It looked like the Forester had enough clearance so I drove over slowly. Hopefully someone better prepared, with a chainsaw or at least a bush saw like the one at home in my shed, will have cut it up before anyone else goes that way. Note to self: put the saw in the car before setting off next time.
When I got to Braidwood I took a right turn to get closer to Mt Gillamatong on the western side. There is a gate on the road into the paddock so presumably that is the track marked faintly on the GPS leading up to the summit. It looked like a longer walk from there – but without the rocks. Might be worth considering another time. The road is called something like saleyard lane. It joins up with Gillamatong lane around the eastern side of the mountain.
After leaving the car at the top end of Gillamatong lane, going through the gate with the very makeshift catch, you walk along to the south staying at about the same altitude. Then there is a locked gate into the cow pasture but just before the gate, the track leads around uphill and to the right on the north side of the fence. At the top of that fence there is a small gate. This seemed new and different from last year. A fence along the contour line is then slightly uphill but if you walk back northwards you come to where a tree has fallen on the fence making it easy to step over it. From there it is a zig zag path to the top, with lots of slip risks and I think using two squid poles as walking poles did help on a few occasions. I went a bit closer to the towers this time, I saw one tower and thought I was close enough, then I realised I could also see several dishes and another tower. At that point I sent a text to Andrew VK1NAM telling him I was onsite and setting up.
During setup I had several issues with the dipole including pulling the adaptor apart by lifting the pole while standing on the coax. Amazing how a sloping floor puts all your normal instincts at risk. But finally I was on 10m with the IC703 calling VK1ATP who was portable on Black Mt in Canberra. Then Matt VK1MA and Andrew VK1NAM followed.
On 40m the propagation had turned to nighttime long skip and conditions were marginal for close-in contacts. No contact for VK1NAM, a marginal contact on CW with VK2IO (who I worked last time I was on this hill, but he was on a summit in France that time!) and it was a surprise and a pleasure to work Warren ZL2AJ mobile in the north island. Warren will be the Association Manager for SOTA in New Zealand. He commented that the survey process is well under way.
Finally I tried to work Andrew VK1NAM on 80m. I could hear him well enough but my signal back to him was too low. I need some extensions to my linked dipole to resonate it on 3.5 mhz.
I walked down in the dark, about an hour after sundown, using a headlamp. Again the poles were great and provided necessary stabilisation on the rather steep, slippery and rocky slope. I was retracing my steps with the aid of the GPS and I ended up right on the fence crossing, which was a great relief.
The highlight last year was an S2S with Gerard in France. This year I didn’t use 20m at all, as I was too late for the grey line propagation on LP into Europe. And it hasn’t been all that good this winter. Closer to the equinox it will improve a lot.
To support the anniversary activity for SOTA in VK2 I activated three VK2 summits on 6th September.
South Black Range, summit code VK2/ST-006 was first as it was the quickest to get to from my home in Yass. I left home just after 7am and drove to Murrumbateman, then via the Gundaroo road to Bungendore, then to Hoskinstown south of Bungendore. From Hoskinstown I took Forbes Creek road for about 10km until reaching the South Black Range forest trail. The track up to the summit is at about 1200m ASL and heads approx westerly. It is quite narrow at first but opens out gradually. I parked my car about half way up to the summit and proceeded on foot.
There is a huge granite boulder at the summit and I guess surveyors considered that to be the real top of the mountain so they placed the trig point and a summit cairn on top of the boulder.
I set up slightly north of the boulder and soon had my antenna up and the radio buzzing with signals.
It was shortly before 0000 UTC so I ran through the chaser list very quickly, making sure everyone calling had a chance to put this summit into their log for the 5th Sept UTC. Then the same process after 0000. I tried 20m after running out of chasers on 40m. The only contacts made were with VK1 home stations – noticed a spot stating that I could not be heard in northern NSW. At that time I had not yet transmitted on 20m but after I had made a few local contacts, there were no other calls, so clearly conditions on 20m were not supporting longer distances at that time.
After completing the radio operation I packed up and then took a few more pictures of the rock and the forest as I walked back to the car.
A very old ladder, possibly a relic of the original survey placement, was rotting on the ground next to the rock.
I placed my squid pole, about 1.2m length against the rock as a contextual measuring stick. maybe I should have extended the squid pole to its 7m length as a better measure. Something for next time.
Contacts made from this summit: 57
After returning to the “main road”, a gravel forest road, I wanted to use forest roads and trails to Mt Cowangerong, summit code VK2/ST-001. This took me longer than I had expected, the condition of the forest tracks was wet and slightly muddy in places. I was taking my time and not trying anything heroic. Possibly a better map would have made this a quicker trip, however I was enjoying driving a car with better clearance and with 4WD capability.
At Mt Cowangerong I decided to set up on the north side of the weather radar clearing. I had experienced some interference on 40m when operating near the compound last year, so wanted to see whether keeping further away from the building reduced the interference. The spot I chose was just after the power pole you pass on the track up to the summit, several hundred metres short of the compound and about 20m off to the north east of the track, in a clearing of sorts there. I could see the tower through the trees, though my photos only just capture the tower base. This position was very quiet and I had no noticeable interference.
Contacts made from this summit: 35.
After this activation I returned to the car where it was parked down the track, headed to Braidwood and had a welcome cup of coffee with a hot pastie and a danish pastry. There I decided I could still activate Mt Gillamatong, VK2/ST-034 before dark, so I posted an alert on SOTAWATCH for a 20m operation.
My radio friends Andrew VK1NAM and Ian VK1DI had both activated this summit. From the town it looked quite prominent with steep sides. The descriptions of their activations mentioned that it was a steeper climb than they had expected. They are not wrong.
It took me about 30 minutes to get to a point near the top, I estimated about 10m lower than the comms building, so it was within the activation zone.
I set up the 20m vertical and checked SOTAWATCH for activity. I eventually worked a number of European stations including some activators on SOTA summits, which I was very happy about. Also worked Gerard VK2IO on a summit in France. This was done using my IC703 running 10w output.
I heard several other VK activators, working Andrew VK1NAM at the noise level, but was unable to hear VK1MBE who was in the Northern Rivers area of VK2. Others worked included Mike 2E0YYY, always an enthusiastic contact.
Contacts made: 18, including several s2s contacts in Europe and one s2s with VK1NAM. 10 ssb contacts and 8 CW contacts into Europe.
Finally I packed up at about 5:30 local time, 0730 UTC, as it was getting noticeably cooler and I could see that the sunlight was fading as we moved towards sunset. I was on the eastern side of the hill so sunlight was fading even faster.
I got back to the car just before 6pm and was able to SMS my wife and to Andrew VK1NAM, telling them I was back in the car and about to set off home.
The trip home from Braidwood to Yass was about 1H40.
Some pics from Mt Gillamatong.
Total contacts for the day, 112.
SOTA operation is a unique combination of portable operation based on backpacked equipment and antennas, with all power from battery or solar sources. It is nearly always a pleasant experience to operate a backpack radio station from a hilltop.
I highly recommend it as an antidote for the suburban interference blues, a condition endured by many amateur radio operators making it problematic or impossible to operate from the typical suburban block.
See the links section of this blog for information about SOTA world wide and SOTA in Australia.