Pyrenees Trip

Hi all,

After my recent trip around VK1, I thought it time for something a little more conventional and a bit easier. I was heading up to Ballarat to spend time with family, but there is always some time for a little SOTA on the side. I thought I was good for two half days, but I was able to upgrade this to a day and half.

VK3/VC-032

First summit up was an unnamed summit between Ballan and Daylesford. There are a number of named summits in this area, but the highest ground is a little nondescript. Nonetheless, I had not activated this summit before, so it was one to add to the collection.

Access is quite easy, as many tracks are quite a good 2wd gravel standard. The high area consists of two hill tips with a shallow saddle between them. This saddle is less than 25m vertical down from the summit, so both hill tops (and the saddle as well) are in the activation zone, making it quite large. I picked an area near the top, set up the squid pole for 40m and got down to business.

Squid pole and end fed for 40m pictured when operating at VK3/VC-032

Operating at VK3/VC-032

VK3/VC-021

With this summit in the bag, it was time to check out Smeaton Hill. This is a private land summit. The owner lives in a house on the northern side of the hill. I dropped in and knocked on the door, but no one was home. End of this activation.

Mt Warrenheip VK3/VC-019

I still had enough time to swap in an alternative location. I had activated this summit the previous year, but it was still good for fresh activation points. A quick trip up, parking the car about 2/3rds of the way up. A simpler activation here than last year, just sticking up the end-fed, but no 20m CW action into Europe. Sometimes I miss the vertical, so I’ll need to get it out at some stage. It does not lend itself to doing many summits in one day, due to the setup and takedown time.

Mt Warrenheip has recently been burnt by fire, but the fire looks fairly mild. It got into the canopy of the trees, but the big trees should quickly recover.

With the activation done, my half day was up.

Blue Mountain VK3/VS-015

I then had a whole day to look at doing SOTA activations, so I thought I would try for 5 in one day. First up, Blue Mountain. This summit can be accessed from Glenlofty Warrenmang Rd, which heads through north-east to south-west through these hills. This is a good 2wd track, and about 997966, there is a 4wd track heading off to the west-north-west. This is passable in a 2wd with care. I was able to head through to 973977, where I left the car. This shaved off about 3km and was a nice little bonus. It was less than 1km from there to the summit. Here’s the operating shack:

Rig, cables and the feedpoint of the end-fed at VK3/VS-015

Operating at VK3/VS-015

And the squid pole:

End-fed mounted on a squid pole in forest at VK3/VS-015

Antenna at VK3/VS-015

One thing to note about these forests is how open they are. A stark contrast to the heavy bush bashing up in VK1 the previous weekend.

VK3/VS-018 Point 756/Pyrenees

Next up was a summit on the other side of Glenlofty Warrenmang Rd. This time it was a nice 2wd track heading up the hill, until I found a large tree across the road. Should I drive right out and come in the other side? After about 5 minutes, I thought I have to walk it – about 5km to the summit. I walked/jogged sections along this, trying to get to the summit before the UTC midnight changeover, for the eager chasers wanting to work the summit twice. I ended up on the air less than 2 minutes to go, where I worked 9 stations in the remaining time. I stayed for about 20 minutes after the UTC midnight changeover and worked most of them again.

One of the challenges of this trip was stretching the battery life over. I was using the leftovers that were unused from the VK1 trip – one 2.2Ah LiPo, plus the stock internal battery of the FT-817. This had to do all the four summits up to now, plus the 3 remaining summits. As of now, the 2.2Ah LiPO had done 4 summits, and was getting a little low, but still had a little left. The internal battery was still mostly fresh.

It’s nice to also clock up a few summits to summits (s2s) on this activation. These contacts always add a little buzz, and I’m even working my way up the s2s list here, although I really only target the activators points and especially uniques lists.

Time for another 5km march back to the car with the fallen tree. When I got there, there was another guy stuck there contemplating ringing up the local authority to get the road cleared.

VK3/VS-009 Ben Nevis

It was time to grab a quick bite and head up to Ben Nevis. This summit has a 2wd track that goes all the way to the top. I try to park out of the activation zone and walk in, rather than drive to the top and walk down and then up, where possible. There are two towers, plus a weather station up top. I headed over to a rocky area beyond that, which was a little higher.

Here’s some of the views:

Langi Ghiran and distant Grampains from Ben Nevis

Langi Ghiran and distant Grampains from Ben Nevis

Open plains NW from Ben Nevis

Looking NW from Ben Nevis

On commencing operations here, I got a first up distress call from VK3UP, who had come across a fallen motorcyclist near Mt Disappointment. It was also clear that many of the waiting SOTA chasers could not hear him. Andrew VK2UH could and he kindly took over handling the situation. Given that I was already stretching out the batteries, it was better for a home station to handle this. Andrew arranged the calling of the ambulance to help, and then had to relay comms for emergency services as they were unable to communicate themselves from the location of the accident.

I headed up 5kHz and activated the summit from there. It was a smaller chasing crowd – I presume some of the usuals were listening in to the emergency situation 5kHz down on the calling frequency. There was no problems experienced from the commercial gear up on the summit.

Here’s a look at the main tower at Ben Nevis:

Main commercial tower and fire lookout at Ben Nevis

Main commercial tower and fire lookout at Ben Nevis

Mt Cole VK3/VS-008

Mt Cole is a tricky little summit. It does not have 2wd road access, so I tried going down a rough track starting at 012668, so I could approach the summit without having to do too much climbing. This track is really too rough for a 2wd. It would have been better to park at 018667 and walk from there. Frees Point Rd could be used, but I headed up off track, basically going up the spur.

Upon reaching the top, I put up the end fed as usual, but then noticed that the UHF connector had come apart – basically a break in the centre conductor near the crimp joint through repeated stresses over time. I put the other end of the coax into the end-fed match box for a secure connection and got out the pocket knife to do something at the radio end, and this is what I came up with:

Coax stripped back going directly into the UHF connector on a FT-817

Jury rig job to get on the air 40m without a connector

It was a bit fragile, especially if I moved, I might have moved sticks, grasses or whatever that would affect the connection. I had to break here and there, but I got the activation done.

Time was pressing on, but the power side was still holding up. I had the chance for one last activation, after returning to the car and finding out I had not trashed it on that rough 4wd track.

Mt Lonarch VK3/VS-013

The final activation of the day was a nice easy one. The road goes all the way, but it actually goes past and loops back. I parked about 40m vertical down from the top and “bush-bashed” over to the summit. It was not real bush-bashing because the forest is quite open with a grassy forest floor. Again, I had to rely on the jury-rigged cable to bring the activation home, but it worked.

I also walked out with around about 45 minutes of operating time still up my sleeve. The 2.2Ah LiPO could have still been used for another 1/4 of an hour and the internal battery was only about 2/3rds used. So 7 summits out of one 2.2Ah battery plus a bit of internal battery top up is not bad going! Total operating time would have been over 3 hours with still 3/4 of an hour in the bag.

It is interesting these days to work 40m. Certainly there are some nice decent pile-ups happening, but operators are waiting in turn. Hopefully we keep things going well in conducting the dog-piles and the chasers are patient with new activators who perhaps might not be used to having 5 stations answer their CQ all at once. It is still a far cry from the days early last year where one could activate a summit for SOTA, and call CQ for an hour and have no one come back. Things are better these days.

Nice to get 7 summits, with 6 new ones in. I’m now only three new summits away from 100 unique summits.

73, regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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