San Gabriel Mountains activations

Hi all,

Recently, I was in the United States for the HOPE worldwide Global Summit, which for me was four days of about 14 hours a day of constant meetings and sessions. I did not come here for a holiday, but at least I have a few days to get out and have a look around, including doing some SOTA.

Table Mountain W6/CT-067

After the end of the global summit, I had one full free day before catching a plane to the east coast of the US. I planned to use this day and the evening before to grab some summits in the San Gabriel Mountains. I hired a car to get around. Of course as an Australian, it means driving on the other side of the road, but it certainly helps that the drivers seat and steering wheel is on the other side of the car.

First up was Table Mountain. I could have taken the I15 to get there, but instead took LA 2 the Angeles Crest Highway for a more scenic route. Glad I did.

It’s time to leave the smog of LA behind:

LA basin from the San Gabriel range foothills

LA basin from the San Gabriel range foothills

Great views from the highway as we go along:

San Gabriel range mountains

San Gabriel range mountains

Access to Table Mountain itself is very straightforward. At Big Pines, intersection, Table Mountain Rd head off to the north. This road is paved (sealed) and makes its way up to a large carpark and hotel/pub that is clearly used a lot during the ski season.

The carpark near Table Mountain summit

The carpark near Table Mountain summit

The paved road heading to the summit leaves from near the right-hand side of the building. It would be only 100 vertical feet to the summit from here, the car park is not far from the activation zone itself.

I found out that I had no cell phone coverage here. No self spots. I got only one QSO, but that is enough to at least get the summit as a unique. I activated for over 2 hours, so plenty of calling. I was getting cold and the day was late, so time to get out of here. I made my way down to Victorville to stay the night, and hope to do better the next day.

Throop Peak W6/CT-005

The menu for the next day was three summits, with Throop Peak and Mt Baden Powell (of scouts fame) to be done together. I drove back, up into the range and made my way to Dawson Saddle where I parked the car. Note that a Forest Pass is needed to park the car and head into the mountains here. They nominally cost $5, but if you buy it from from other than the Forest Service, they can add a surcharge of a dollar or so.

A trail leaves from the saddle itself to the south, but the official trail leaves from two hundred yards or so to the east of the saddle. I made my way along the unofficial trail to get started. It meets up with the official trail soon enough. Here’s a look at the typical trail formation and terrain:

Trail conditions on the way to Throop Peak

Trail conditions on the way to Throop Peak

The trail makes its way up to the main ridge, but I noticed that the Forest Service built the trail to try to avoid steep gradients, it would contour up rather than strictly stay on top of the spur line going up. It makes for faster walking, that’s for sure. If only Parks Victoria and fire trail constructors would take notice, but I’ve seen this style of track (trail) construction elsewhere in Australia.

The trail avoids the summit itself, skipping to the north, then the main range trail is met. Turning right, this trail climbs from the junction, but an unoffical trail soon leaves itself to the right, following the ridge up to the summit itself. Great views from up here:

Summit of Throop Peak

Summit of Throop Peak

For all of my US activations, I was to use the following equipment:

  • A Elecraft KX1
  • 6 NiZn AA cells inside the KX1 – I brought a charger to keep them topped up at the end of each day throughout the trip
  • The “random” 41ft wire with 1/4 wave counterpoises for 20/30/40
  • The lightweight 4.7m squid pole

At Mt Throop, I put the squid pole in a nearby pine tree, with the base of the pole about 3 foot off the ground. Here’s a look at the station setup at the KX1 end of the wire:

Station at Throop Peak

Station at Throop Peak

I had been encouraged to try 2m on FM by people on the nasota Yahoo Groups reflector, so I brought that along. All I had for that was a 1/4 wave antenna. It still got in around the LA basin, but it helps that I could see if from here – not that I could see buildings as such – I saw the grey layer of smog in that direction.

I could not self-spot, and indeed I was unable to self-spot throughout my time in the states, but there was far more action here than the previous evening. It’s pleasing to know that I can get out on this thing, but I’ve worked US stations on this wire from VK.

Mt Baden-Powell W6/CT-004

I headed back the way I came down along the ridge line and joined up with the official trail, which heads east-nor-east along the ridge towards Mt Baden Powell. Walking conditions were ideal with mild temperatures around mid 60s and the gentle gradients on the trail helped as well. Here’s a look to the south east:

The Iron Fork valley from near Throop Peak

The Iron Fork valley from near Throop Peak

I was able to stick to my times, even though I underestimated the effects of altitude. It had been a while since I had walked at altitudes around 9000ft, and these altitudes are not encountered in Australia. I made the summit at about the anticipated time. but first a glance at the Wally Waldron tree, a 1500 year old tree:

The Wally Waldron Tree

The Wally Waldron Tree

And then a look towards Mt San Antonio:

Mt San Antonio from Mt Baden Powell

Mt San Antonio from Mt Baden Powell

I operated a little to the south of the main summit, as there were many people around. I again used the trick of mounting my pole with the base wedged in pine trees several feet of the ground. Makes this little squid pole nearly 6m!

Operating station at Mt Baden Powell

Operating station at Mt Baden Powell

I had less success on 2m, but the three HF bands yielded a good number of contacts. After finishing up here, I headed back towards Mt Throop. It’s mostly downhill from here, and then on the side trail back to Dawson Saddle.

Kratka Ridge W6/CT-014

My final W6 summit (was getting used to keying W6/VK3WAM by now) was Kratka Ridge. There is a sign off the Angeles Crest highway closest to the summit saying “keep out” of the area around the ski lift. Less than 1/2 a mile to the east of this is a public picnic area. The saddle here is quite close to the road. I parked the car on the side of the road here and headed up.

I had gotten used to the nice gentle gradients of the trails on the previous summits today, but no such joy here. It did go off to a side line to the right, but then turned around and went straight up. Slower work, but as I approached the ridge line, it backed off and it was more a walk than a climb. The ski lift has clearly not been used for a while, the trail goes to the top of the lift, and it could do with some love:

Ski lift at Kratka Ridge

Ski lift at Kratka Ridge

Only a few hundred feet from this is the summit. I set up here, operated first on 2m, and then on the KX1 with the random wire. It had clouded over and the temperature had dropped to less than 60 with a decent breeze. It was never going to be a case of hanging around too long here. It was good that the three summits today had been easily qualified, after the lonesomeness of Table Mountain the previous day. Hopefully my summits over on the east coast would be more like today.

It was a great day with good walking and good SOTA. I could do with more days here, but the next day a plane to Philadelphia awaited. So back for a shortened sleep and to the airport.

A good introduction to SOTA activating in North America.

73 de Wayne VK3WAM

2014 ANZAC weekend activations Part 2

Hi all,

After activating four summits the previous day in clear, but windy conditions, the task today was to activate four more in the general Mt Hotham area.

The Twins VK3/VE-017

This summit is accessible from The Twins Rd. With care, I got the Prius down this road, from the Great Apline Rd. I parked the car at the saddle immediately to the east of the summit and then headed up. The walking track is not distinct on the way up, so it is a case of find your own way. It’s navigationally easy, just head up, it’s physically not so easy, but it’s not technically difficult.

I reached the first “twin” and took a photo towards the SOTA summit.

The Twins summit from the other twin

The Twins summit from the other twin

Conditions were overcast, and there was some shower activity around. The wind had intensified overnight – at times it was strong enough to make walking difficult. I tried to stay on the lee side of the ridge to decrease the intensity.

Antenna setup at The Twins

Antenna setup at The Twins

Choice of operating location was not straightforward. There were some short snow gums just underneath the summit, but they were on the windward side. I put the squidpole up on the Trig point and operated on the lee side – but it was still very windy. Today, I would again operate the KX1 on 20/30/40 CW using the “random” wire, on the 7m squid pole. It’s proving a pretty reliable and convenient setup.

At the conclusion of operating, the piece of foam that I was sitting on blew away down the hill. I thought about leaving it, and then went to see if I could retrieve it. It was 30m vertical down the southwestern side. Whenever I got near, the wind would take it about 10m further way. It got close to a near cliff, but I got it just in time. Certainly made me work a lot harder than expected to then climb up to get the rest of the gear to go.

I headed down the hill on the western side. It would be easier to access this summit from that side than the eastern side. The road would be passable by 2wd to this side.

VK3/VE-023

My next target was a summit not far to the west of The Twins. The land drops to a saddle between The Twins and the VE-023 summit and then climbs straight up. I decided to use the Twins Rd up to the spur and then use it to access the summit. Might be a bit longer in distance, but much easier and would likely be faster anyway. There is a water tank on the spur, not far from where the road approaches the spurline.

The summit of VE-023 cloudbound

The summit of VE-023 cloudbound

As can be seen, not much could be seen from the summit today.

Due to the wind and shower activity, I operated a little to the south of the high point of the summit. The effect of this was very marginal phone coverage, not even enough to reliably send SMS. Speaking of SMS, I find that using RadioRuckSack to send them is not a great idea – if it can’t send them, it does not tell you, and then it sends them hours later when you do have coverage – and of course then they are worse than useless. I prefer to use the phone’s own SMS facility to send them – at least if it doesn’t work I can decide to retry or not.

Due to the impaired self-spotting, I worked fewer from here. The shower activity was becoming a little more persistent. I made up my mind on this trip that the time had come to get a bothy shelter. It would be ideal for conditions experienced on this summit today.

With that, I returned to the car via the Twins Rd. I decided not to follow the spur down, but make for the road more directly. It was not a mistake, but it would remain easier to simply take the spur until the road is only 30m away, rather than head down the steeper part of the hill.

VK3/VE-030

Next on the menu is this unnamed summit to the west of the Alpine Rd. It had not previously been activated. I proceeded to Buckland Gap and got the car up about 10m vertical from the main road. That was it for the Prius. At least a Awd is needed to proceed further. A high clearance 4wd could make it all the way to the summit, but for me it was typical fire trail up and down walking. Keeps you fit. As mentioned, tracks go all the way to the summit, it is an emergency helipad.

I setup just to the north of the cleared area, just in case the helipad was in need of use.

Operating at VK3/VE-030

Operating at VK3/VE-030

I operated starting on 20, then 30 (no takers) to 40 and back to 20. There was no EU pileup today, but I did get OH9XX in at the end, and NS7P for some W action at the start. The random wire is not as good as the vertical for DX, but it appears well ahead of an end fed in inverted V formation.

Here’s a picture from the helipad looking back into the Buckland River East Branch valley:

The Twins and the Buckland River East Branch valley

The Twins and the Buckland River East Branch valley

Mt Hotham VK3/VE-006

The final summit, in the twilight, was Mt Hotham. I parked the car on the side of the Alpine Rd and walked up from there. All my other activations were on the 7m pole, but knowing that my US trip is coming up I took the 4.7m pole and activated on it for this summit. I got some contacts on all three bands I tried, including four EU contacts on 20. It’s a great feeling to work people around the world on 2 watts! The interesting thing about some of these contacts is how readable I was to them. It is interesting that I am giving 319 and 419 and some of them are giving 559!

With that – and the fact it was very glum with the fading light, it was time to pack up and start the long trip back to Melbourne. My next planned activations are in the states, something to look forward to.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

2014 ANZAC weekend activations Part 1

Hi all,

After being around Ballarat for Easter, I managed to slip away for a 2 day trip on ANZAC day and Saturday following. A chance for some solid walking for a few summits.

VK3/VT-018

I drove up Thursday night from Melbourne through Dargo and stopped the car about 400m from the summit and there slept the night. The following morning, it was walk down the road to get out of the activation zone and make my way up to near the highest point. The road itself (Dargo High Plains Rd) actually enters the activation zone, so this is one of the easier summits around.

My battle equipment for these sets of activations was the “random” wire, the KX1, the 7m squid pole and LiPOs to give me 12V: starting at 12.6V and never really gets much below 12.3V even over many activations! The LiPOs are 3 packs of 3S 2200mAh. I could get away with just one and that would be plenty, but I would like to use these three together over their life. They must be over 100 cycles by now, they have seen a lot of action. The boss approved use for these LiPOs was for powering an electric lantern, but I also had an eye on “dual use technology”.

Most contacts were on 40, but I managed to also get AX2UH on 30 and AX5CZ on 20. I was looking forward to using the AX call, if nothing else to have a bit of variety on the CQ morse key calling. Could I control myself in sending “AX” rather than “VK”? Would the strange callsigns throw me on RX? Turned out not to be much of a problem, but it is always good to keep the practice up.

Near Mt Freezeout VK3/VE-024

There had been some debate about whether this summit, or Mt Freezeout itself deserved the SOTA reference. The maps suggest that this peak is higher, and now having been there, I continue to agree. Access is reasonably straightforward from the Dargo High Plains Rd. Just to the south of Mt Freezeout is a bit of a campsite. It’s hard to miss to the east of the road. From here, head up Mt Freezeout, and it is best to go to the summit, rather than contour around. From the summit, head east towards the saddle with VK3/VE-024 and head up.

It is a bit stark with all the dead snowgums from the 2003 fires. There had been some recent fire activity which further set back the regrowth. The views are nice however:

Looking towards the Dargo High Plains from Mt Freezeout

Looking towards the Dargo High Plains from Mt Freezeout

The Twins and Mt Buffalo (in the background) from VK3/VE-024

The Twins and Mt Buffalo (in the background) from VK3/VE-024

I took the 7m squid pole, figuring that the bush bash would be very mild, which it was. Sometimes it gets caught in the burnt branches of the snow gums. I think that the 7m pole gives some marginal DX benefit over the 4.7m pole on the random wire (a little less cloud warming), but I’ve pretty much come to the view that if there is any serious off track walking now, that the 7m pole can either stay at home or in the car.

Here’s the antenna and pole at the summit:

Antenna at VK3/VE-024

Antenna at VK3/VE-024

I worked backwards for this activation, 20 first, then 30 and 40. Picked up Peter VK3PF on a s2s on 20. It would have been direct wave, because he was less than 50km way.

The KX1 has a s meter, but I don’t use it. What it does do is present received signals with a slightly dampened AGC, so differences in strength can be heard. AGC is still present in the radio – There is a 48dB difference in strength from S1 to S9. A radio like the FT-817 has AGC action that completely removes any audio volume difference between an S5 signal (reported by the FT-817 as below S1 – a SOTA activator could be deceived to report this as a *cough* strong 509 signal) and a S9 signal. On the KX1, S6 signals are about the same volume as my sidetone setting. S9 is starting to blast my ears – although I’ve changed earbuds recently which have improved things. Below S3, I have to turn the volume up to better hear the other station, but turn it down on TX so the side tone is not too loud.

After finishing up, it was on to the two last summits of the day, with significant walking planned.

Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021

The 4wd track was beyond the Prius – I didn’t try – but I reckon I could have given it a shake in the Camry. I walked up to the top of the main track and then found side tracks heading along towards the summit itself. A small amount of height is lost, then it climbs towards the summit. It was nice to get away from the noise of the 4wds to activate.

I went back to 40 metres to start this activation, driven by the prospect of a summit to summit with Nick VK3ANL. Using a CW only rig (although can receive SSB), I have to be a little selective about which other SOTA activators I try for a s2s, some get thrown by someone using CW on 7.09 I’ve long come to the conclusion that using the KX1 is not going to help me do well on the SOTA summit to summit score tables, but it’s down on my list of SOTA priorities. I have genuinely enjoyed activating mostly CW only since I became a Mountain Goat last November.

Blue Rag Range VK3/VE-015

When the time comes to turn over the Camry, I am going to get at least a soft roader. It will open more SOTA summits to me, but at the moment, I can still get these summits in reasonable time by walking. Good for the fitness and keeps the weight under control. Also keeps me in shape for the SOTA summit that no car can get anywhere near. It is hard work, however walking up and down the knobs and knolls sometimes on fire trails. Also get a few strange looks from 4wd drivers as they go past in their 10 car convoys.

By the way, I would have never attempted to take the Camry down this road, I would have at least wanted a soft roader. Maybe more than a soft roader – although with the right technique, soft roaders can go lots of places. I’ve got my Camry, and even the Prius into places they shouldn’t be able to go.

Before getting started at the summit, it was time to take a few pics. It was nice looking south towards Mt Kent and the upper reaches of the Moroka river:

Mt Kent from VK3/VE-015

Mt Kent from VK3/VE-015

I started on 20, and it’s nice when the bands are open to get a decent pile up from EU and W. Those EU operators are keen. Generally VK operators are quite polite and try to go one at a time. Here it’s trying to separate two stations zero-beating each other with the same strength. I wait for one of them to stop and note the few characters of the call of the station still sending, send these and hope only they then respond – which happens most of the time. What I do try to do is never reward naughty behaviour. If someone is calling out of turn or calling before I send QRZ or whatever, I try to work them either last or only after they work with what I am doing. It is easier to use the RIT and the adjustable filter on the KX1 to effectively ignore QRM (a bit harder on the FT-817, where there is either the wide 2.3kHz filter, or a 500Hz filter – not a variable potentiometer driven filter). On the subject of sending QRZ at the end of a QSO, I find it works wonders for imposing some discipline on pileups. In all truth, I could get away not doing it on VK stations, but given it’s an essential pileup management tool for EU pileups, I am now doing it all the time.

With that, it was time to head back to the car – about a 2 1/2 hour walk. It was dark about half way along, but that’s the plan to try and get as much activating in on these days as I can.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Three summits near Ballarat

Hi all,

To ensure that the brownie point balance was kept in check, I did not plan a multi-day SOTA adventure this Easter. I did, however, get leave to activate three summits near Ballarat, all which I had activated before.

After my troubles with antennas on the March long weekend, I decided that I would repair the random wire with high grade wire near the BNC adapter. The antenna had failed by the wire simply tearing at the adapter. My solution was to solder about 1cm of the wire on, and use tape to try and give greater physical support to the wire, so that the load is not borne at one particular spot. I also reinforced the counterpoise wires in a similar fashion. The photo below (if you click on it), shows the changes to the random wire (you may need to zoom in on the KX1).

Mt Buninyong VK3/VC-018

I had not activated this summit since 2012. My previous activation used my original setup of the 8 segment aluminium pole vertical. I had not used verticals for a while now, but when I do, I rely on a squid pole to give physical support to a wire going up – a squid pole is more convenient. For this activation, it was the random wire. Here is a look at the setup I used here:

Station at Mt Buninyong

Station at Mt Buninyong

I headed up the road and parked in the activation zone. There is a walking track heading down the hill from the carpark near the lookout tower. I used this to leave the activation zone and reenter it for my final nonmotorised access to the summit.

For these activations, I used the shorter 4.7m squid pole. For local contacts, it makes little difference between using the shorter squid pole or the longer 7m one. I was keen to give the shorter pole a bit of a workout, as I have a trip upcoming to the states. The shorter pole fits in the luggage I plan to take. The larger pole does not, so the shorter pole looks like it will go. I also had an eye on what I might do at the end of the year on the Lord Howe Island trip.

Another eye on the US trip/Lord Howe Island was not to use an external power supply on these three activations. I used only the NiZn internal AA cells, with no LiPOs in the car or anywhere else to go grab if something went cold. My station is simply the KX1 box, the wire and the squid pole. The whole lot is under 1kg. This is my planned US station.

The KX1 has little difficulty tuning the antenna on 20/30/40. The pattern remains that the most amount of power is developed on 20, then 30 then 40, with 40 being generally around 1 watts on a 10.5V supply. The typical report I receive is 559. 40 remains a reliable band for close in contacts. If I can self spot, then getting 4 CW contacts quickly on 40 is just about guaranteed these days.

Getting the good reports on the NiZn batteries shows that this minimal setup works.

As for my broken end-fed, it would appear that the problem there is that the toroid inside has physically broken due to the rumble tumble of many activations (eg hitting the ground when being quickly uncoiled). The matchbox is closed, but looking at people on the internet who sawed it open, the only thing that could make the rattling noise that I experienced is broken pieces of the toroid. I am still working out how to repair it. Considerations are:

  • For CW activations on the KX1, I think the random wire does as well or better than a EFHW in an inverted V formation with a 7m squid pole in the middle. The EFHW might perform better on a bigger squid pole, but here I am using a 4.7m squid pole with the random wire. The key advantage of the random wire is that there is no feedline – the antenna itself connects directly onto the BNC connector of the KX1. There will be no feedline losses.
  • For the FT-817, I lose the inbuilt KX1 tuner and that is losing a whole lot of convenience. My options are either the EFHW (at least on a 7m pole), or use a vertical if I am after DX. I think dipole based antennas (doublets, etc) are going to be cloud warmers, just like the EFHW, unless I can genuinely get them up higher – eg putting a doublet on two 10m squid poles, one at each end. Ian, VK5CZ introduced me to the SOTAbeams EFHW tuner for 5 watts. I think I would base a new end fed on this matchbox. It gives the option of a counterpoise, which my old end fed did not have. Matchboxes like this are really a convenience thing, as the matchbox itself can be homebrewed without much difficulty.

So, I think I’ll leave the old end-fed for now, and hopefully get around to building a new one based on the SOTAbeams end fed matchbox.

Mt Warrenheip VK3/VC-019

Mt Warrenheip was more of the same. A sealed road goes to the summit area. I parked in the activation zone, but at the eastern end of the road (final turn before the summit) and then walked down the ridge to exit the activation zone, turned around and reentered it.

This activation was again on the short 4.7m squid pole and the random wire. One thing about this setup is that it is quick to put up and tear down.

VK3/VC-032

My final activation for the weekend was at this unnamed summit. Bush Search and Rescue Victoria are having a training day the following month just down the hill from here. My part is to operate a GPS based rogaine training exercise, so I met up with the organisers to do a reccy of the proposed course. After finishing up with them, I headed up the summit, and basically did the same thing as at Mt Warrenheip.

All three of these summits are nice easy summits to get started for those nervous about taking the SOTA activation plunge. Even CW activations on 40m are straightforward these days if you can self spot. If you can’t, its getting a lot easier as well.

I tested the voltage of the NiZn AA cells after the three activations. They started at 1.8V per cell, and were about 1.77V at the end of the day. They can clearly handle these activations and have plenty of left over capacity. Given that NiZn batteries prefer shallow cycles rather than deeper cycles, I would be using them as recommended. Running on these NiZn AA cells gives me most of the developed power I get when I operate using external LiPOs. It would be far ahead of using 1.5V non rechargables – the 1.5V is only when they are full – when they are about 50%, it’s 1.3V (that would be 7.8V total). Stories on the internet about the KX1 suggest that at around 7.5V, the KX1 is typically only generating 300 to 500mW. If I used NiMH, they quickly settle to 1.2V for 7.2V total for 6 cells. This is close to the KX1 low voltage cutoff – Elecraft don’t recommend running the KX1 on 6 NiMH cells, but if I did – it would be true QRPp activating. QRP does interest me, but I perhaps are not so much into the QRPp thing. As it currently stands, the NiZn cells are an excellent internal power solution for the KX1.

So, not too bad getting 3 summits in, although none of them are new uniques for me. Still, it had been a month since my last activation, so you have to take them when they come.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

John Moyle Field Day 2014 At Mt Torbreck

Hi all,

Most of my activations are lightweight, and even more so these days, using a KX1 with a random wire antenna. Once a year, I go in an entirely different direction, and that is for the John Moyle Field day contest. This is a contest with both HF and VHF and up sections. It also rewards making seperate contacts on phone, CW and digital. It has a 6 hour section that can be timed for three rounds of contacts for each station, and they can be contacted per band.

It’s the VHF and up section that interests me. Currently that interest is on three bands 6m, 2m and 70cm.

A few years ago, I identified Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001 as a suitable site to operate for the contest, and I went there in 2012, and again in 2013. This year, I sought to improve on previous year scored. I had dispensed with the Quadruple Quads that I had used on previous expeditions and built a 6 element yagi for 2m.

Access to the summit was the usual Barnewell Plains Rd up from Eildon Jamieson Rd. It’s a little rough, but there is no real trouble getting the Prius up here. As per last year, I would need two trips up to carry the gear.

Gear included:

  • FT-897
  • FT-817
  • Laptop and power adaptor that could take 12V in
  • Signalink USB for digital modes
  • A HT for 2/70 FM
  • 8 3S 5000mAh LIPOs
  • 3 3S 2200mAh LIPOs
  • A 12 V regulator
  • Various coax pieces both LMR195 and LMR400
  • Two 7m squid poles plus the lightweight 4.7m squid pole
  • Two 1.5m al pole sections
  • Turnstyle antenna for 6m
  • Coax based colinears for 2 and 70
  • A PVC based and squid pole mounted 6 element yagi for 2m

With the removal of the Quadruple Quads, it was less gear than last year. I had also taken up less battery capacity because I used little more than 50% of it last year.

As everything was carried in by hand and was battery powered, all my contacts here were SOTA contacts.

Conditions were nice during the setup. I finished the second trip up at about 11am and proceeded to setup all the gear.

Here’s the 2m colinear:

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

The 70cm colinear was built the previous day before the contest, and was then tested with the MiniVNAPro and Extender. It is a little hard to get the element spacing just right – I built it a little longer than a version from last year, but it still ended up a little out of band. SWRs of mid 3s to 4 are really too high, so I’ll need to make a match for it.

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

The gain is still very nice, and I get away with these high SWRs because the FT-897 does not develop as much power on 70. It also cuts back the power in presence of higher SWRs. Still, I need to get the SWR below 2 to give my radio an easier time and so a match will be needed – otherwise I would have to build the thing again, even longer per segment – I’m a little over building these things now!

Physically, the lightweight 4.7m squid pole was able to take the weight of the colinear, however, given that I was also attaching some LMR400 coax, I needed to support the weight of that against a tree, otherwise the pole would start to bend so that the bottom of the colinear was not far from the ground.

Next up, the 2m yagi:

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

In light winds, the setup for this was fine. I am going to need to guy it for stronger winds. I can guy it just below where the yagi is mounted. The mounting is a PVC pipe t piece on the pole, with the stem of the T allowing me to put on another T piece for the beam. I am going to modify the physical construction a little more along the lines of what Peter VK3PF has done, putting the elements through the beam, rather than using a wingnut to tie them onto the top of it. This will make setup and tear down simpler.

I was pretty happy with the measured results of this antenna:

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

This gives an SWR below 1.1 at 144.18MHz. The front to back was predicted by NEC2 to be over 30dB, and it was clearly high as I moved the yagi around. Predicted free space gain was about 16dBi. I was able to use it to work VK1DA/P during the contest, although by then, winds were very high and I had trouble keeping the thing up. So improvements for next year is a guying mount and physical improvements to the element mounting. I will also put in a BNC socket just after the common mode choke. The common mode choke on this antenna is simply 6 turns of the coax around the PVC beam right next to the feed point.

Last antenna up, the 6m turnstyle from last year. It’s not the most high gain antenna out there, but it does enough to put me in the game on 6m. I’m still thinking about whether I might put in a 2 element yagi to replace it next year, however the advantage of this thing is that I don’t need to do anything to adjust it during the contest. This is handy when in the tent because it’s raining outside.

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

You may notice the dark cloud in the above photo. Unfortunately, it was a sign of things to come.

So what’s missing. I have nothing horizontal polorisation for 70cm, and my plan for that is to build a 70cm yagi for next year. I’ll take the lessons learnt from building the 2m yagi this year. I am not going to bother with any vertical polorisation antenna for 6m.

The radios were setup in the vestibule of the tent:

Radios in tent vestibule

Radios in tent vestibule

A look at the batteries – these were 3 parallel by 2 in series (effectively the cells are 6S3P) which then feeds a 12V regulator.

Mind the computer

Mind the computer

It does take a little bit of work to get the workspace clean enough in the small tent. The computer was here to provide VKCL logging during the contest and to run the PSK software (Fldigi). An alternative is to run something like DroidPSK on my phone or tablet through one of my radio interfaces.
20140315_130538s

I operated for about 4 hours in the contest. There were fewer portable stations out compared to last year, and a notable absence of picking up people participating in and around Melbourne using 2/70 FM HTs. I picked up a lot of contacts last year that way.

A number of strong showers passed through, but I heard from other contest stations further southwest that conditions were getting wild. There was sounds of distant thunder, and the radar looked bad out 100km to the west, so I pulled the plug. It felt a shame to end 2 hours early – I missed a whole available contest window. Conditions were looking not so good and there was lightning around, so I did not want to risk it.

I quickly pulled down the antennas and took the high priority gear (radios, computer, etc) down to the car first. On the way back up, a decent electrical storm came through with lightning every 3 or 4 seconds. Some strikes were within 500m. That storm passed when I got back up to the top, but now it was time to take down some of the metal gear. I actually thought about abandoning it, but banked on getting off the ridge before the next storm arrived. As it turned out, I was not quite off the ridge when the next squall came through. It was lightning every 2 or 3 seconds, the rain was driving hard and the track was a river under 30cm of flowing water. There was water absolutely everywhere. I was glad that I had taken down the electronic gear on the first trip and it was in the dry car! I still was not too happy about carrying 1.5m metal poles in the middle of an electrical storm. I felt much safer once off the ridge and about 20 minutes later the storm had passed. The rain then backed off to a more usual level. I was pretty wet for the drive home!

This was quite an experience, and hopefully the summit will be more forgiving next time and allow me to get a 6 hour activation in. I got 846 points, which I felt was not bad given the 4 hours operation, plus the lower number of portable stations. I look forward to next year with 2 yagis and a matched 70cm colinear to help extend the scores above my 2013 high.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Labour day long weekend part 2

After my activations the previous day, my plan was to activate four mountains along a ridge, starting with VK3/VE-152, then VE-116, then VE-108, finishing up at VE-106.

VK3/VE-152

I started off fairly early in the morning from the Granny’s Flat campsite. The track I was planning to use on the map went through private land and was not available. It was not clear on the forest explorer map, but I guessed that there would be access to the spur track from here, and this proved to be the case. First was a river crossing:

Jamieson River crossing at Granny's Flat

Jamieson River crossing at Granny’s Flat

After crossing the Jamieson River, it was steep climbing on foot on a 4wd track up on to the ridge. It was hard going, up and down. I was glad I was off in the early part of the day while it was still cool.

The 4wd track approaches, but does not enter the activation zone, so I headed up to about 10m underneath the summit and set up the 40m end fed on the 7m squid pole. It was a bit temperamental, giving some very high SWR readings, on what is normally a very reliable antenna. I did get it to settle down and activated on 40 and 20 untuned. I used the KX1 tuner on 30, and it had little difficulty – however I got no contacts here. It was nice to at least get 2 DX contacts on the end-fed on 20, N1EU and EA2DT.

VK3/VE-116

This summit is quite a bit higher than VE-152, but first I have to head down to the saddle between them. It was about a 400 vertical metre climb up from there to the summit. About 300m of this was on track, with the last 100m off track, heading up the spur to the summit. This climb was quite difficult, and perhaps my fitness was a little lower than what it used to be. A few bike riders and 4wds went past, amazed that anyone would walk the track – “it’s hard enough to ride/drive” they said.

There were some moderate views between the trees on the summit. It is not heavily forested but no clear views. I again set up the end fed, but it only presented high SWR. Lucky I brought the random wire, but then I found that the wire had broken off the BNC adapter. The wire is quite thin and thus fragile. I held it in place with a finger to ensure that I could actually activate the summit. I went off the air a few times during the activation while doing this, and the squid pole also came down a few times. Not my most pleasurable activation! I at least got it done with 5 contacts on 40. Not too much time to do other bands so I could try to stay on schedule.

VK3/VE-108

Again, this summit was higher, but first I have to descend from VE-116 to the saddle. I headed north east down the spur and met the road about halfway down to the saddle. The climb took some time – the previous climb up VE-116 had taken a lot out of me. The 4wd track goes right through the activation zone on this summit, so that was a bonus. Once up the top, I decided that the fourth summit for the day: VE-106 was beyond me for today. I would not have had enough food or water to get there comfortably, plus I was tired.

I ended up operating mainly on 40, with only token efforts on the other bands. I could not spot, so I relied on chasers being able to pick me up. I held the random wire in here by using a rubber band! It worked much better than trying to manually hold the wire onto the BNC adapter terminal, like what I did at the previous summit. One shame here was heavy QRM on my VK1SV contact. Another station would transmit over him (he was fairly weak to me). The QRM station was about 579. They would time their transmissions only at the time when he was sending his report (and trying to zero beat him as well – so there was no doubt it was deliberate QRM specifically targeting our QSO) and then stop. When I asked for a resend a couple of times, they kept doing the same. I don’t get what the point of it is. Anyway, I had enough confidence in what report VK1SV had sent to log his report, so Mr QRM missed out on scrubbing the contact.

With that, it was time for about a 4 hour walk back to the campsite and a good overnight snooze.

VK3/VE-191

My next summit was a hill to the south of Jamieson. A track heads up from the town, approaching from the Northwest. It was a moderate grade, with only a few short steep sections. A softroader could have got up here with care. I enjoyed walking this track after the previous day’s work. I made my way up to the summit, just a little off the road. The road itself goes through the activation zone.

I took a photo of my jury-rigged random wire antenna at the KX1:

Jury-rigged antenna on the KX1 at VK3/VE-191

Jury-rigged antenna on the KX1 at VK3/VE-191

I had no takers on 20/30, so with enough contacts, I headed back down the hill.

Mt Terrible Sput VK3/VE-134

My two final summits of the trip were summits that I had activated before. The first was Mt Terrible Spur. First, on the way up was a nice view of the Goulburn arm of Lake Eildon.

Lake Eildon near Jamieson

Lake Eildon near Jamieson

Last time I was here, I drove the Prius, and could not get it up the hill. This time I was driving the Camry, and I got this 2wd up the Mt Terrible Road to the VE-134 summit area and parked a little out of the activation zone. It was another straightforward activation, using the random wire antenna on the 7m squid pole. The 1/4 wave counterpoises I have for 20/30/40 all seem to work well, and the KX1 can generally tune the antenna comfortably down the bottom of the 40m band. I am still getting about 1-1.2 watts output on an input voltage of about 12.3V from LiPOs and 0.8-1w on 10.4V from the NiZn batteries. There is some power being lost across the tuner on 40. The effect is less on 20 and 30.

Bald Hill VK3/VE-137

The final summit was Bald Hill. I was not able to get the Prius up last time, but the Camry made it with relative ease. I had to stroll out of the activation zone and back in again and setup at the highest point I could find. My rubber band jury rig antenna connection was still working, and I worked a number of stations on 40, and VK6NU on 20.

My plan to fix the random wire antenna was to use a higher grade wire for the connection to the BNC adapter, and solder on the thin wire to the higher grade wire (perhaps about 5cm of thick wire). This should help, because the highest level of stress on the wire is at the connector. It is twisted and turned as the radio is moved about.

All in all, it was a great long weekend, with 13 summits activated, 11 new uniques for me and 5 summits first time SOTA activated.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Labour day long weekend Part 1

Hi all,

On the recent Labour Day long weekend, I aimed to get away and have a look at a few new summits that I had not activated before, with some of them not activated yet at all. The plan was to activate 12 over the long weekend – we’ll see how we go.

Mt Lookout VK3/VT-030

Proceedings started with Mt Lookout, near Aberfeldy. I drove up on the Friday night and activated in the dark. The plan was to use the random wire on 20 and 40. Access to this summit is quite easy. Aberfeldy can be accessed via the Thompson Dam. The good quality road crosses the dam, and then climbs steeply. At the top of the ridge, it meets the Walhalla Rd and then goes gravel. The road is then a little narrow at times, but is easy going to Aberfeldy. There is a road that goes to the Aberfeldy cemetery and this is well within the activation zone.

I brought both a 7m and 4.7m squid pole, but decided on using the longer pole. Operation was on the KX1 and the random wire. I had Nickel Zinc batteries inside the KX1, but brought a 3S LiPO for operation – this helps boost up the wattages a little.

I had been using this random wire for some time, but only prepared a counterpoise for 20 and 30. This time, I upgraded the antenna for two counterpoises for 40. It takes a little longer to role out the extra counterpoises, but not too long. I decided to stay at 7.283 on 40 as that was what I had alerted. It tuned it with an SWR of 1 and I obtained higher wattage on 40, around 2, compared to what I have previously been able to obtain.

The activation went quite quickly, which was good because it had started to rain.

The next planned summit was Mt Selma, and I thought it best to see if I could get the car through on Walhalla Rd to access it. I was in a Camry 2WD. The road was of poorer quality north of Aberfeldy, but it was still passable with some care. It was not steep, but there were some large potholes in the road. I proceeded to the junction with the Selma Track. From here, the road was much better through to near the summit, which is where I slept that night.

Mt Selma VK3/VT-013

Next up, next morning (Saturday), Mt Selma. Access can be via Aberfeldy as described above. Easy 2WD access can be had from the Jamieson Licola Rd, taking South Rd and then Mt Selma Rd. I was parked outside the activation zone and then followed 4wd tracks for about 400m to get well within the zone. I setup using the random wire on the 7m pole again and worked on 20 and 40. The action this time was on 40. The KX1 is enjoying the extra conterpoises with the antenna.

Conner Plain VK3/VT-22

My second summit for the day (third for the trip) was Conner Plain. It had rained a moderate amount overnight, but this had started to clear up, however it was still quite foggy:

Foggy conditions on approach to Conner Plain

Foggy conditions on approach to Conner Plain

The Jamieson Licola Rd proceeds to the east and north of the summit. There is a bit of a track heading off which gains a few metres, but the fairly short climb is mostly off track. It is pretty easy going. There is an old dozer track coming in from the north north east towards the summit. I headed up to the east of this, and got into a bog which was caused by cattle grazing nearby. The cattle really tear up the bogs and it stank. I managed to avoid the worst of it and got up to the top, which is quite flat.

Here’s the operating location at Conner Plain:

Rig at Conner Plain

Rig at Conner Plain

I was operating on the 7m squid pole. The radiating element (random wire) rises directly from the rig to the top of the squid pole:

Antenna and squid pole at Conner Plain

Antenna and squid pole at Conner Plain

Mt Shillinglaw VK3/VE-068

My third summit for the day was Mt Shillinglaw. Access is via the Jamieson Licola Rd. The Australian Alpine Walking Track leaves the road almost due north from the summit and is quite well marked. It is a climb of about 100 vertical metres up to the flattish area of the top.

I still operated up at 7.283 due to having my alerts on sotawatch set at that frequency. I was developing about 2w on very low tuned SWR on about 12.4v from the LiPo pack.

Here’s a look at the setup there:

Setup at Mt Shillinglaw

Setup at Mt Shillinglaw

Mt Skene VK3/VE-031

Mt Skene was the fourth summit of the day, and 5th of the trip. Access is again via the Jamieson Licola Rd. The road goes within a few hundred metres to the top and a sign points towards the summit. The track is quite indistinct, but it is not too hard to find the trig point at the top.

I operated with the same setup as the previous summits. Here, I found ants to be quite a problem. There was no where really to sit down without causing a swarm. I ended up hanging up the backpack on a tree and standing to operate! Before that, there were a number of pauses as I sent CW, as I needed to brush the ants away!

There are two lookouts near the summit, and both are on the road. The one south of the summit gives better views:

Looking NE from lookout on Mt Skene

Looking NE from lookout on Mt Skene

Looking SE from lookout near Mt Skene

Looking SE from lookout near Mt Skene

VK3/VE-091

The last planned summit of the day was this one, to the SW of Mt Skene. I backtracked a few kms to where Lazarini Spur Track meets the Jamieson Licola Rd, and started heading down. I expected a long walk, however the road quality remained acceptable for a 2wd. I continued to make my way to the saddle at point 431511. The road quality lessened somewhat, but I remained able to continue in the 2wd. There is a junction at 422502, I turned right, taking the track that passes to the north of VE-091, making my way to about 417502. This is about 200m to the north of the summit, about 80m down. I climed, but headed to the west of the summit and then SE in. The scrub had its moments – its not fast going, but I’ve seen far worse. At least its not too far.

I operated with a similar setup to previously, however the ants were even worse here that at Mt Skene. They were crawling up the conterpoise wires that were on the ground to the radio, the rig was covered with them. I tried to use the times when I was not sending to keep clearing the ants off the antenna wires and off the rig. Again, I operated standing up, there was nowhere safe to sit!

VK3/VE-158

For the last summit of the day, VE-158 was on the menu. As I had made good time in not needing to walk 8km each way to VE-091, I could squeeze in this summit. I parked the car at Ferguson Saddle (332675). I tried getting the Camry up the 4wd track climbing steeply out, and I nearly made it, but I had to concede defeat as it was simply too steep, and I did not feel it worth it to continue to try or reverse the car up – perhaps I could have got the car up reversing with great effort, but it gets a bit silly after awhile. Clearly the Camry is much more capable than the Prius on these roads. A AWD could be gotten up with car, and a high clearance low range 4wd with ease.

I walked to point 326682 and headed west to the high point and then south. I would have been better off staying on the track to about 321683 and heading up from there. On top, the going is easier, as there has been a recent control burn. It’s about 1.1km to the summit from the high point, which is about he same height. This summit appears to be in the wrong place, however, so VE-198 is going to be delisted at some point with a new summit at 313684.

Here’s a look at the terrain at dusk:

Recently burnt forest near VE-158 summit

Recently burnt forest near VE-158 summit

With that, the day was done. I went to Granny’s Flat to sleep the night. There was quite a crowd there, so I thought I might sleep in the car, with the windows closed to keep down the noise. It was too hot, however and I also can’t stretch out properly in the back seat, so up went the tent. The noise had died down and I was able to get a reasonable sleep for the next big day ahead, which is continued in Part 2.

73 and regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Eaglehawk, Mt Barranhet, Mt Strathbogie and VE-203

Hi all,

Mt Eaglehawk VK3/VN-022

Rik Head VK3EQ mentioned that he would attempt to activate Mt Eaglehawk before the summit is no longer valid for SOTA activations. I was also keen for the same, so Rik kindly gave me a heads up when he was heading up.

Rik was heading up with a friend, Russ, up to Bogong and Mt Eaglehawk was an on the way stop. I headed up myself to join them, and then planned other activations afterwards.

Mt Eaglehawk is on private land, so if anyone else plans an activation, they would need to get information from Rik first. It turns out that Rik grew up in the area and therefore knows a lot of people.

We were able to get up the whole way to the summit in Rik’s Subaru. We needed to pile out of the car for one steep bit, where the wheels were slipping on the loose gravel, otherwise it was armchair ride. Both Rik and I don’t care for easy summit access interpretations for able bodied people, so we duly headed down 30 vertical metres with all our gear and headed back up and operated away from the car.

Rik quickly got his contacts, while I operated the FT-817 on CW. It’s interesting using the touch keyer again after using the KX1 key over the last month. The touch keyer just needs to be touched – so to speak, so it is ultra responsive. I’m not sure how it would go if trying to key CW with gloves on, but I know the KX1 keyer can do that.

For people unfamiliar with CW and what I’m talking about, these keyers are used with an electronic keyer to generate the dits and dahs of morse code. By touching one paddle of the keyer, dits are generated, the other generates dahs. Touching nothing generates nothing. As most morse characters have various combinations of dits and dahs, the two paddles are touched as required. The touch keyer needs only to have touch by a finger. No force is necessary. The KX1 keyer needs only light force.

These paddles allow for morse to be generated much more cleanly than a “straight keyer”, which is the old style morse keys from the first half of the 20th century. Some feel, that true CW is only on a straight key, but I do beg to differ.

As I had a FT-817, I also brought a microphone, and operated voice so a number of people absent from the log over the last month with me using the KX1 found their way in this time.

I feel that the KX1 receiver is significantly better than the FT-817, and for operating CW, it is a much better radio. I do have a narrow filter in the FT-817 for morse, but the variable filter of the KX1 is a nice feature. The KX1 could resolve signals that the FT-817 could not. Of course my own signal is up using the 817, as I can send a full 5 watts, rather than the variable 1 to 3 or so watts on the KX1 based on input voltage, band and antenna.

There are some nice views on the approach to the summit:

Looking towards Mt Hickey from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking towards Mt Hickey from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking south east from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking south east from near Mt Eaglehawk

Mt Barranhet VK3/VU-001

With Eaglehawk done, I said farewell to Rik and Russ, and headed towards Barranhet. Peter VK3PF had activated this summit, so I intended to follow what he had done. I used Bonnie Doon Rd and Mt Piper Track to get within about 1.5km of the summit. The road enterers a pine plantation and there is a no entry sign at 972212. The edge of the plantation is on the edge of state forest, however and state forest is fair game. I don’t think it would be right to use the parameter road as this tends to go onto pine plantation land, but using the edge of the road clearing seemed ok to me. On the way up, I proceed to point 971215 and then bushbashed up the side of the mountain, drifting a little to the north and came to the summit from there. On the way back, I used a road cut into the mountain, which skirts the summit to the north. It heads southwards to the plantation at point 962211. This would be the easiest way to access the summit, to proceed on the parameter of the plantation from 971215 to 962211 and then use this road northwards in the state forest up to close to the summit.

I used the KX1 on CW 20/30/40, while the FT-817 on SSB. There is a growing audience of CW chasers (although nearly all of them also will chase on SSB, given no CW). A few are willing to chase CW even though they knew for this activation they would likely pick it up a little later on SSB. That was pleasing.

One decision I have made is that I will adjust the “random wire” with a proper 1/4 wave counterpoise on 40m. I already have one for 20/30 and the KX1 can tune the wire no problems on those bands, but 40 is always a bit of a problem. SWR tends to be 1.7+, but often low 2s, even high 2s. Not really good enough. On the other bands, it generates higher power and SWR is generally below 1.5. It is time to get similar performance on 40, and also be able to use 7.027 and 7.032 as I wish, rather than having to retreat up to 7.287 sometimes.

Got a shot towards my net destination from point 962211:

Mt Strathbogie from near Mt Barranhet

Mt Strathbogie from near Mt Barranhet

Mt Strathbogie VK3/VE-132

This summit can be accessed from Ferraris Rd, which passes about 500m to the west of the summit. A 4wd track heads up from there, with a branch going to the summit itself.

I operated here using the KX1 on CW and the FT-817 on SSB. I used only the endfed from this summit on 20 and 40 only. VK6NU was trying to get me, and we heard each other, but not enough to get the contact.

The summit has some large rocks but it is still all under tree cover. There is an installation on the summit, with a CCD camera for those who want to get up to trouble.

Mt Strathbogie summit

Mt Strathbogie summit

VK3/VE-203

My final summit of the day was just down from Mt Strathbogie. I accessed it using Ferraris Rd down to Glen Creek Rd. Good going in a 2wd. Older maps show a track going to the summit from the saddle, and this road exists, although is gated. It’s steep in places but not too hard going up to the summit. I finished the day operating only on the FT-817, for both CW and SSB. VK6NU appreciated the higher power, and we completed the contact here on 20m.

A nice day out for some SOTA, but now it’s back to work!

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Two summits in New Year 2014

Hi all,

After four gruelling days of action, which you can read about here:

Day 1: Mt Hedrick and Ben Cruachan

Day 2: Mt Margaret Range

Day 3: Cromwell Knob, Lamb Hill, Castle Hill and Bryce’s Plain

Day 4: Mt Darling Range

I was starting to get a little sore. Day 5 was clearly not going to be a big day to see in the new year. The previous evening, I finished up getting back mid to late afternoon from Mt Darling Range. I headed down to Horseyard flat to freshen up and then went onto Castle Hill Rd and Marathon Rd to head down towards the first summit for the day. Marathon Rd is a little rough in a 2wd, but not too bad. I don’t think the Prius would make it back up, its a one way trip for that kind of car. Anyway, the road soon improves and it did not take long to get to where I would stay for the night, near the first summit of the day.

VK3/VT-037

This is an unnamed summit that is close to Marathon Rd. Access is easy in a 2wd to about 450m from the summit and 130m vertical. From there, its a moderate scrub bash. It does not take too long to get up to the summit. The summit is forest, but reasonably open to put up antennas. Due to the scrub bash, I decided to leave the 7m squid pole in the car use the lightweight 4.7m pole instead. Scrub bashing with this is much easier, as because it fits in the pack, it does not get caught on anything either. Also, due to its smaller size, I often don’t need to secure the pole using a scrap. Just the tension on the antenna and some object, such as a rock is generally enough.

I operated, again using the KX1 using the end fed on the 4.7m pole. I was not able to convince Marshall VK3MRG to do a cross mode. I could tell that the summit 2 summit action was fast and furious, but most were SSB only. Ron VK3AFW decided to whistle back some CW to me, but this was after I reported on his SSB signal – this meant it was still a xmode QSO. Doing CW activations is not likely to result in being a leader on the summit 2 summit leaderboard, but SOTA should not be about being first on the leaderboards. I think that eventually I’ll lose the 1st positions that I currently hold anyway. My longer term objectives are to a) have fun, b) achieve Mountain Goat on uniques, and c) activate more than 600 VK3 summits.

I stayed on summit for the UTC midnight cross over, so I got the 6 activation points twice. After finishing up, I headed back down the mountain, at times using the compass (a real analogue one – the only ones I trust for real navigation) to ensure that I was heading east and not south east. Heading south east would result in me missing the road. In the end, I came out about 5m from where the car was parked.

VK3/VT-070

This is another unnamed summit, but time is ticking on this summit’s lifetime in the SOTA program. Perhaps 1 Feb, we’ll find out in due course. Nearby Mount Moornapa is the higher point with SOTA prominence and VT-070 does not have 150m prominence to it, so it will be leaving SOTA sometime soon. Nonetheless, I wanted to have it in the log before it is gone. I tried using the Link Rd from Marathon Rd to head east over Firestone Creek Rd, but that was not to be. Instead, I headed down Marathon Rd until reaching Valencia Creek Briagolong Rd and used that to hop on Firestone Creek Rd. This road is sealed for a while, and then good 2wd up to Ten Mile Track. Signs suggest that Firestone Creek Rd should be good through to Dargo (but not for towing a caravan).

Ten Mile Track is a little rough, but not too bad for the Prius. I was also able to get the car up the steep sections without any real trouble and this took me through to the Mt Moornapa summit. It was still fine going on Tower Link Rd through to a point to the south east of the VT-070 summit. I left the car here and proceeded on foot up to the summit.

One interesting aspect of CW activations on a KX1 is the ability to both hold the radio and key it in one hand. This meant I decided to operate in part standing up. Normally I am sitting on the ground when activating. Standing can make a nice change, especially if there is a bullant or two around. I was not bitten, but it was nice to be on my feet. Due to the short distance from the car, I decided to bring up the 7m pole. I think for 40m on the end fed, the 7m pole does not give too much above the 4.7m lightweight pole. Both do not give much DX joy with the inverted V too close to the ground. Some have had some DX success using dipoles such as doublets, but perhaps a 10m pole is really needed for that. I might have to get the vertical out a few times for real DX action, although the “random wire” has shown some limited promise.

I operated most summits over the 5 days on a set of 3S Lipo 2200mAh, x3 in parallel. They were still well over 90% at the end of the trip. I operated 3 summits just on the NiZn internal cells inside the KX1. They were still barely getting started. This nice little radio is well suited to these longer trips – it simply does not use much battery! With the NiZn cells inside, all I need is a random wire and something to have it off the ground, and that’s a complete station!

Back, at VK3/VT-070, the rain held off, but looked a bit threatening. I wanted to get out of any difficult roads while they were still dry, so I did not stay too long, and so my 5 day SOTA adventure came to a conclusion. A total of 12 summits (13 activations) with 9 of them activated for SOTA for the first time by anybody. 11 new uniques for me.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Darling Range

Hi all

Mt Darling Range VK3/VT-009

Day 4 of my 2013/14 New Years trip continues on from the 4 summits done yesterday. Today sees me take on a more significant challenge, Mt Darling Range.

This summit is in a wilderness area and is now quite remote from any motorised access. The closest point of easy access is Dimmick Lookout at 809716, which is where I overnighted before attempting this summit. Before heading off, I had a look at the early morning view:

Early morning view north from Dimmick lookout

Early morning view north from Dimmick lookout

This summit is hard. Allow a full day to get in and out and this assumes that you have a good level of fitness. If you don’t possess this, I suggest you select a different summit to activate.

The fiesty maps that I had loaded into Androzic suggested that Carey Road leaves from Dimmick Lookout. It does not. It starts about 150m back along the track and has an alignment that zigzags on the southern side of the spur. I headed off going down the spur to the south east of the lookout. There are some gaps in the tracklog, but the idea can be made out. Here’s the tracklog:

Tracklog of activation of VK3/VT-009

Tracklog of activation of VK3/VT-009

The tracklog shows the path of Carey Road with its zigzags. I actually didn’t know it, but I would have gone on it briefly on way down on the initial descent to Mt Darling Saddle. I picked up the track at point 825711 and decided to use it to climb the eastern side, even though it heads south-south-east. What got me was that the track turns, but not as shown on the old forest explorer maps (does not show there now) or on the fiesty maps. It turns a little sooner and stays further west of Mount Creek for longer. There is another track continuing on the south-south-east alignment, and this is quite tricky to avoid on the way out to the summit. The turning point is a 90 degree turn – its hard to see as the track is quite overgrown, but look for the 1/2m cutting for the side of the track into the hill. It should remain on your left as you “go round the bend”. If it goes onto the right hand side, you’ve gone too far.

Anyway, I lost the track and proceeded across the Mount Creek. I found a hunters hut hidden away at around 832705. There was no one around. I then decided to head up the hill. This route is not shown on the tracklog as I had lost GPS fix for awhile. The log shows the upper point of the climb, and my decision to head towards the junction of Carey Road and the track heading up to the summit itself.

I did not find this track on the way up. I just made my way along the ridge. After a further kilometre, I ended up picking up the old walking track and used it for the remainder of the trip to the summit. It makes it easier – even though the track is quite indistinct, it’s still 50% faster than going off track.

I activated within 150m horizontal of the summit location. It would have been within 10 vertical metres of the summit. Good enough. The activation was on the KX1 with the 4.7m lightweight pole. It was nice not having to bring the big pole on the scrub bash, this little pole is enough to do the job.

On the way back, I decided to stay on the walking/old 4wd track as long as I could. I headed back and was basically able to stay on the track the whole way all the way back to the car. It does take some concentration, because parts are overgrown. There are bits easier higher up:

Carey Rd on the Mt Darling Range

Carey Rd on the Mt Darling Range

I certainly noticed that the old road alignment crossed Mount Creek about 500m upstream from where marked on the map. The track here is quite overgrown. The last 500m before the turn on the the track going north-north-west down to the saddle is quite indistinct, but still can be followed. It is not hard to follow the track from the turn, all the way back down to the saddle and then up to the lookout. It is easier, and although it is longer than going off track straight up the spur back to the lookout, it is faster.

It was a solid 5 hours of walking out, and a solid 4 hours back – without breaks. If you are not as fit as me, it is likely to take you longer.

All in all, it was a good day to get out there and tackle this summit. For those wanting to have a go, hopefully these notes are of assistance.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM