Mt Pleasant and surrounds

Hi all,

My final day of activations on my May 2014 US trip was in Virginia. There are a series of Summits on the Air 10 point summits around Mt Pleasant, so that is where I was to go.

Mount Pleasant W4V/BR-005

The first summit of the day was Mt Pleasant itself. I proceeded along Wiggins Spring Rd from the west. The road is a little rough, but can be driven in a 2wd in the dry with some care. I drove through to to the Mt Pleasant car park. From here, I proceeded by foot along the the old Jeep Trail. The alignment of the tracks these days has been changed from when the USGS maps I was using was surveyed. It’s pretty easy to follow, and after a little while a stream is crossed and the track begins to climb up to a point to the north, not far from the summit. Some people camped here overnight, and there was a sign pointing to a water source. I proceeded up to the summit area. I found that a number of people had been camping near the west summit. I had a look from the west, where there are nice views:

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

I setup a little bit back from the path, with the wire over the track (but about 10 feet up so it would have not affected anybody.

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

Things were a little slower than yesterday afternoon, but I still easily and quickly got the points here. After packing up and having a look at Mt Pleasant East summit, I headed back the way that I came to the car. I thought about giving Pompey Mountain a look on the way back, but thought it more important to get the four planned summits in today.

Cole Mountain W4V/BR-006

I had passed the car park for this summit on the way into Mt Pleasant. It’s only a few hundred yards back the road. The walking trail (the Appalachian Trail) from here zig-zags up on a mostly gentile gradient, but sometimes it’s a bit too gentle. There is a vehicular track also heading up, which they used to mow the lawn up at the summit. It proceeds up to the east of the walking trail where it crosses it on the climb. The vehicular track is faster getting up.

Once on top, there are great views because much of the ridgeline going across towards the highest point is cleared:

Views from Cole Mountain

Views from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

I operated just below the summit, behind a tree. There were lots of people out on the hill, so I went there for a little bit more peace for the activation.

Bald Knob W4V/BR-004

The Appalachian Trail continues down to CowCamp Gap and then up to Bald Knob. The gradient is quite pleasant with zig zaging reducing the workload. Bald Knob is not cleared, so no views from the summit here. I set up at the highest point, about 10 feet off the track. The number of hikers here was far lower than at Cole Mountain, but I did get someone asking what I was up to – the typical “what are you doing going fishing here?” I tell them that I am fishing for radio contacts.

At the end of the activation, I retraced my steps back down to CowCamp Gap, up to Cole Mountain and back to the car.

Rocky Mountain W4V/BR-001

The final summit of the trip was Rocky Mountain. I drove west back down Wiggins Spring Rd, turning right onto Coffeytown Rd. This rejoins Wiggins Spring Rd much closer to the summit. Wiggins Spring Rd is rougher here, and the humps to help the road drain must be taken with care to avoid bottoming out the car. A bit of practice with these back in Australia proved useful here in getting the 2wd car up to the top of the mountain, along with avoiding the rocks. You simply need to be able to drive using the whole road, left and right hand side.

This summit has a bit of comms gear on site:

Rocky Mountain summit

Rocky Mountain summit

It was a quieter activation here. I was running a little ahead of schedule, but I was keen to wrap things up quickly. The NiZn batteries performed like a charm, maybe just maybe I might even start leaving the LiPOs at home on Victorian activations?!

After wrapping up, I headed back home – literally! I carefully drove the car back down Wiggins Spring Rd, onto Coffeytown Rd, out to US60, onto the I81, up to Charles Town WV, onto the I70, I695, I95 up to Media PA, sleep for 5 hours, drive to Philadelphia airport, catch a plane to Dallas Fort Worth, another to LA, another to Melbourne, Australia (with broken sleep in economy class) and finally home in a daze.

All worth it, and going and activating places like Mt Pleasant and other SOTA adventures seems far more interesting than the usual tourist traps! For one, there were not any typical tourists that I saw on these travels.

So at the end of it all, the KX1 worked really well. I missed out on any VK stations, but it may have really been only my first activation back in W6 that had any real chance. Got a bit of EU action, and started to become familiar with various US SOTA chasers. Some have been in my log on VK summits. Hopefully I hear a few more from VK summits in future. Until the next activation….

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Monongahela Ranges, West Virginia

Hi all,

My second last day of SOTA’ing in the US was in West Virginia. My plan was to go to four summits near the Highlands Scenic Highway.

Red Spruce Knob W8V/PH-007

The first summit of the day can be accessed from the Highlands Scenic Highway via a walking trail that comes in from the north. There is a car parking lot for this purpose at the north end of the ridge leading to the summit. The walk is about 3/4 of a mile. It initially climbs and then levels off for a while before a mild climb to the summit.

Walking trail to Red Spruce Knob

Walking trail to Red Spruce Knob

I operated from the high point, which is in the middle of a loop made by the walking trail:

Operating location at Red Spruce Knob

Operating location at Red Spruce Knob

Activity was a bit quieter than previous activations. I spent a fair amount of time CQing.

Gay Knob W8V/PH-017

The next summit was a previously unactivated summit, Gay Knob. There is a unpaved road heading off from near the junction of WV150 and US219. This road is closed to public vehicles, but is fine for foot traffic. I headed along this to just after entering the forest underneath the summit, and then left the road, walking off-trail approaching the summit from the south west. I whistled a lot to let any bears in the area know I was around. I didn’t see any.

On the climb to Gay Knob

On the climb to Gay Knob

Activity on this summit was more animated than on the previous one, and it was nice to pick up a summit 2 summit with Dennis wa2usa on w8m/lp-009.

Looking out from the road near Gay Knob

Looking out from the road near Gay Knob

I then proceeded back along the Highlands Scenic Highway. Lots of good views from this road:

Views from the Highlands Scenic Highway

Views from the Highlands Scenic Highway

Kennison Mountains HP W8V/PH-021

The third summit of the day was the previously unactivated Kennison Mountains. I used Pub Rd 232 to approach it. It gets within 3/4 of a mile. From there, I proceeded along Frosty Gap Rd, but this did not follow the alignment on the USGS map that I was using. I left it and proceeded up through the pines until I was well within the activation zone and then operated on a small clearing. The pines meant that the forest was much more closed in here.

Operating location at Kennison Mountains

Operating location at Kennison Mountains

Activity was picking up more towards levels that I experienced previously on this trip, no significantly long time spent CQing.

Black Mountain W8V/PH-013

The final summit of the day was Black Mountian. I retraced my steps along the Highlands Scenic Highway to approach this summit. The road gets within about 800 feet. It’s a pretty straight-foward walk off trail northeast to the summit from where I parked, which is one of the small parking areas – made almost like provision for a future road to lead off from. There are many of these along the track. The actually is a trail leading off from where I parked, but away west from the summit.

This was again a straight-foward activation. My jury-rigging from the previous day was holding up well. Another thing performing well were the NiZn batteries. I was charging these up every day, but I must have been using only a fraction of their operating cycle. They still developed 1.75V per cell at the end of each day. The wattage developed by the KX1 is still about 75% of what it is with a 12.5V external source, so these are a great internal rechargeable option. I note also that KX3 can take 8 AA cells. Using eight of these NiZn batteries would develop about 14.5V fully charged.

With that, it was time to finish the day and prepare for the final day of my US trip, which would be four summits in Virginia.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Pennsylvania Dutch

Hi all,

After activating on the west coast of the States, now I have a look at the east coast. I had been in Philadelphia for a few days and had three spare days before the flight home. On the first of these, I was to focus on W3 summits.

Snowy Mountain W3/PD-007

The first of these summits was Snowy Mountain. I had headed off early from Media, near Philadelphia and made my way along US30 to approach this summit. Access is straight forward, using PA233 Rocky Mountain Rd and then Snowy Mountain Rd to the west of the summit. This reached a junction with Forest Rd, about 1100 yards from the summit. Snowy Mountain Rd is a good quality unpaved forest road. Forest Rd was closed. There had been some recent logging activity. I proceeded on foot to about 600 feet from the summit and activated there.

The forest floor is very open here. I operated using the KX1 powered by 6 NiZn AA cells, the 41ft random wire and the 4.7m squid pole. Here is the operating location:

Operating station at Snowy Mountain

Operating station at Snowy Mountain

And looking from there towards the squid pole:

Antenna setup at Snowy Mountain

Antenna setup at Snowy Mountain

I had no cell phone coverage, so I could not self spot. Looking at the spots after the fact, it appears that I was being picked up reliably by the Reverse Beacon Network and being spotted through the RBNgateway. I worked a series of stations on 40 and 20. My activation times would need to be short given I had five summits on
menu today.

I headed back the way I came and made my way north back to US30.

Methodist Hill North W3/PD-006

Crossing US30, I continued on PA233 north and then turned left onto Milesburn Rd. This made its way up to Long Pine Run Reservoir:

Long Pine Run Reservoir

Long Pine Run Reservoir

The summit is accessible on good quality forest roads continuing to the north from here. I parked out of the activation zone and walked up, activating at the highest point in the forest near the junction of Milesburn Rd and Ridge Rd. Again, RBNgate acted as my spotter here.

After finishing up, I headed northeast down Milesburn Rd. This gave me easy 2wd access into the next valley into Shipennsburg.

Sherman Mtn South W3/PD-004

From Shipennsburg, I made my way along PA696, turning right onto PA997, which gives access to 3 Square Hollow Rd. Part of this road may have been realigned, the western alignment up the small valley approaching the ridge is not passable in a 2wd, but the alignment further east is easy in a 2wd. There’s a nice view along this road as the ridge is approached:

View from near Sherman Mtn South

View from near Sherman Mtn South

From here, I headed South West until the junction with Blue Mountain Rd. I proceeded about 500 yards up this however left the car on the side of the road when it got a bit too rough – and given I was in a hire car, I wanted to take no risks. I continued on foot until well inside the activation zone. It appears the eastern side of the road is private land – and the private land comes quite close to the roadway, so I setup the antenna on the righthand side of the road.

Again, RBNgate was my friend here, with a mix of contacts on 20 and 40. No takers on 30 however.

I headed out the way I came, back to PA997.

Clark Knob W3/PD-002

The next summit of the day was Clark Knob. I continued along PA997 turning left onto PA533. I could have taken Mountain Rd as a shortcut, but this is not my home territory, perhaps not everything is optimal! Upper Strasburg Rd is a bit bumpy for a paved road, take some care along this. The forest road leaves to the south of this, heading up the hill. I parked near the summit, but about 300 feet away from the comms towers and did the walk to ensure final non-motorised access to the summit. The communications gear seemed to have no discernible impact on my noise floor or operating. Again, the forest is very open here:

Operating location at Clark Knob

Operating location at Clark Knob

My operating experience here was similar to the other summits. After wrapping up, I headed back down the hill the way I came, back onto PA533.

Big Mountain W3/PD-001

I may have gone the long way to my final summit, proceeding onto US11, then US30 through Chambersburg. Instead, I could have continued west along PA4004 and then onto PA75. Big Mountain is easily accessed from US30, up Tower Rd, an unpaved forest road. There’s a car park here, and good views up the valley:

Views north east from Big Mountain

Views north east from Big Mountain

I was keen to get a little away from the people coming and going from the views, so I operated in the middle of the loop made by the road at the carpark. It was a bit more secluded in here:

Operating location at Big Mountain

Operating location at Big Mountain

I had to do a bit of jury-rigging on the antenna here. I had done about 30 activations since I used the higher grade wire at the BNC adapter, then soldered the light grade speaker wire onto the short 2 inch long high grade wire. The solder joint was fine, but the thin wire tore near the joint. I used the electrical tape to stick it back on, but the joint was not as good. The activation was still ok, but the KX1 tuner was not as happy on 40, with SWRs lifting to high 1s, low 2s. This is the way it would have to be for the rest of the trip, I can’t resolder a new joint until I return to Australia. I’ll just have to be careful that I don’t put excessive physical strain on the wire from now on.

With the completion of this activation, it was a several hour drive down to the town of Stauton, where I was to stay the night, and that would be the base for some activations in WV (W8V) and VA (W4V) on my final two days.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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

Bush Search and Rescue Victoria training 2014

Hi all,

The first weekend of May saw Bush Search and Rescue Victoria run an annual training exercise. I was involved as a participant on the first day, and as an organiser on the second.

BSAR themselves have an overview of the event on their website.

Saturday Search exercise

This exercise was a combined feature search/line search/stretcher carry exercise. We split into groups of two. As well as day walking gear we carried:

  • A police issued SPOT, which is used to track the location of the search group.
  • A BSAR issued GPS. BSAR use Garman etrex units. These are loaded with vector based maps. One drawback to these maps is the contour lines are SRTM based, so they are not as accurate or reliable as DEPI based maps.
  • A police SMR VHF radio.
  • Each member has a CB radio. I carried a radio for UHF CB with a 5/8th wave antenna for CB. I also had a amateur radio 2m/70cm handheld, but decided to leave it in the car due to the low probability of its use during the exercise. On real searches, I carry a handheld with at least 2m capability.

The 5/8th wave length antenna and 5 watt radio generally gives me very good performance in the field. It tends to outperform the police VHF radios, unless a repeater is setup. Often on real searches this happens, but on a training exercise, not so. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it is situation normal to have bad comms on search, why make it easier during practice? 🙂

Feature searching is often making our way down gullies and calling out. The assumption is that the lost person(s) is/are still conscious and can respond to a call. Practically, we would still need to get within 100m, sometimes 50m of a lost person for this search method to be effective. It does cover a lot of ground and many people have been located through a feature search.

After getting close to completing our allocated search patterns, we made our way to a designated spot where a line search was to be conducted with about 5 groups merging together. Here’s a photo of the group on a road approaching the line search area (courtesy BSAR):

Line searching group

Line searching group

The idea behind line searching is to thoroughly cover ground, searching for any evidence of the lost person, or whether they had been in the area (footprints, recently damaged foliage or something that they had dropped).

After the line search, the final segment of the activity was a stretcher carry. BSAR had been donated an old stretcher that was used in helicopter winching. Equipment supporting that use had been stripped from the stretcher, but it’s potential ongoing use was to relocate a person requiring rescuing on the ground. This can happen to evacuate a person over ground to a waiting ambulance, or to move them to a better location for helicopter extraction.

One of the BSAR members was placed onto the stretcher, made secure, and carried through the scrub about 400m to a road (photo courtesy BSAR):

Ground based stretcher evacuation

Ground based stretcher evacuation

Sound and light exercise

“Sound and light” is a night time technique that has been adapted from New Zealand. The approach that BSAR uses here tends to be a little more informal. The idea is to walk along a track, shining powerful torches in the trees for about 30 seconds or so. Then stop, turn the torch off, make a loud sound with whistles and listen for about 5 or so seconds in the dark. Then rinse and repeat. The light in the trees can be seen for some distance. The evening of the practice was drizzily and quite windy. The wind meant that the sound part of the exerise was not that effective, but I’ve seen this technique used elsewhere where the sound is an important component.

Tracking & Hypothermia

The following morning was a rotation exercise. First up was tracking. I remember seeing the movie “Rabbit Proof Fence” and how good the Aboriginals are at tracking. I’m not so good, however having some skills in this area helps with searching. There have been some searches where tracking people has been decisive on the search. It’s important to look for any clues, a break in the vegetation, any marks on trees. A great deal of bush in Victoria is not that open, and so there certainly can be evidence left when someone has been moving through it. One difficulty is to distinguish between a person moving through the bush and animals. It also helps to know where other search parties have been – we don’t need to find each other!

Another exercise was considering dealing with Hypothermia in the bush. Many people lost for a while have inadequate gear to keep themselves warm. Hypothermia happens whenever the rate of heat loss exceeds that which the body creates heat. The body creates less heat when its been a while since the last decent meal. If conditions are poor – cold and windy – it can be challenging to keep heat even if well prepared.

Two things can certainly help with heat retention. One is placing a person lying on the ground on foam. This provides a nice insulation layer between the person and the ground. Direct contact with the ground can suck away a lot of heat – even without snow. A second, additional approach is using a “Bothy Shelter” such as the one below: (photo courtesy BSAR)

Bothy shelter in use

Bothy shelter in use

It warms up a lot in these things. Having two or three people in there becomes quite toasty. If the weather is poor, one of these things could go a long way towards saving someone’s life.

GPS Rogaine

The final main exercise of the weekend was a GPS Rogaine. Rogaining is an orienteering style exercise where participants make their way to a series of controls in the field. In a rogaine, there are too many controls to get to within the allowable time, and the controls have varying point levels. Participants generally are trying to score as much as they can, so there is time pressure. The GPS rogaine does not have any physical punch or anything at the control, it is just a place. Participants are able to use a GPS to get there, but they need to be competent in its use – and to read a point off of a map and convert that into a grid reference. What is being trained here is to be able to identify where to go off a map, translate that into grid references and be able to physically go there. This is like a real search where a search pattern is given as a series of points, or a line, on a map. One needs to be able to go to the first point, or start of the line, and then traverse along the pattern until the desired end point.

I was organising this part, so I did not participate, except for testing the software. A GPS Rogaine could not be scored manually, there would be simply too many calculations!

Most teams were able to do well in getting their controls, but it was interesting the few slipups here and there.

That was it for another year of BSAR training. There has been only one significant callout in the last year, and hopefully it stays that way.

Regards, Wayne

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