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Rik Head VK3EQ mentioned that he would attempt to activate Mt Eaglehawk before the summit is no longer valid for SOTA activations.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

Cromwell Knob, Lamb Hill, Castle Hill and Bryce’s Plain

Hi all,

Continuing my five day adventure, today (30th of December 2013) saw me tackle three summits in the upper Moroka valley area.

Cromwell Knob VK3/VT-012

Cromwell Knob is accessible via the Cromwell Knob Track. This leaves the Moroka Road at point 905515. It is quite easy walking over about an hour to a point about 300m south of the summit, and then easy to moderate off-track walking up to the activation zone.

I operated from the summit using the KX1, end-fed and the 7 metre pole. A number of operators on the 40m band suggested conditions were down because of a M9.9 class flare the previous day. It was slow going for me, but I was getting good reports from those who I did get. Only two of my four contacts were typical SOTA chasers, and patience is required to get the other two. I really need to learn to use the memory keyer of the KX1, so I can use it for the many CQ calls that are typically made on a SOTA CW activation these days. It was on this activation I thought it would have been nice to have the FT-817 and break out a bit of SSB, although it has been a long, long time that I have had any struggle to get a summit activated with points on SSB.

There are trees on top, meaning that open views are a little obscured, but here is Mt Dawson and Mt Lamb from Cromwell Knob:

Mt Dawson and Mt Kent from Cromwell Knob

Mt Dawson and Mt Kent from Cromwell Knob

I had been thinking of activating these two summits on New Year’s Eve, but due to a bridge closure at Little River on the Moroka Road, it would be a long road walk from there!

Lamb Hill VK3/VT-025

Next up, Lamb Hill. I used the Moroka Range Track to access this. The track starts at 960495, on the south side of the bridge over the Moroka River. I was able to drive the Prius about 700m along the track and then parked the car. I then proceeded south west along the track, then mostly southwards after the track junction at 944478. I left the track at 945474 and proceeded up the spur, climbing to the right once the shallow gully to the right had petered out. Going was easy to moderate off track. This took me up to about 100m from the summit, and well within the activation zone on the ridge. I decided to activate here.

This activation was easier than Cromwell Knob, with more SOTA CW chasers around. It did not take too long to get the required four contacts. The activation again was using the KX1, end fed and the 7m pole. I headed back to the car the way that I had come.

Castle Hill VK3/VT-014

I accessed this using the Castle Hill Rd, through to the Marathon Road turnoff at 006478. I went down the 4wd track for another 400m and parked there. A medium clearance vehicle could continue all along the track to 026482, but I walked this. At this point, there is a picnic ground for the start of the Castle Hill walking track. This starts off well tape flagged, but the track is not really possible to follow on the ground. The flagging tape seems to stop and you are on your own.

I proceeded up the hill (on the south western side of the mountain). There is a 50m or so wide section, where the top of Castle Hill can be accessed without needing to traverse cliffs. Elsewhere, the cliffs form a ring around the summit. Once on top, I made sure I was in the activation zone, but for the sake of time, did not go to the actual summit, which is on the north eastern side of the plateau.

Operation was on a 4.7m lightweight squid pole using the end fed on the KX1. I settled on using the lightweight pole because it fits in my pack without sticking out. I was thinking of doing VK3/VT-009 Mt Darling Range on New Year’s Eve due to the Little River bridge closure on Moroka Rd. That would be a good amount of off track walking, so the lighter and smaller pole would be useful.

The 4.7m pole means that the end fed does not get as far from the ground compared to the 7m pole. Nonetheless, the pole does the job. It does bend over a little, but it has sufficient strength, using the mounting technique that I talked about in this post to bear the end fed in an inverted V configuration. The activation went smoothly.

Here’s a look at the setup at Castle Hill:

Operating at Castle Hill using the lightweight squid pole

Operating at Castle Hill using the lightweight squid pole

With that, it was back to the car and a bit of a drive to my last activation of the day.

Bryce’s Plain VK3/VT-004

There’s no doubt that this is an easy 10 point summit. It makes up for the fact that my next summit tomorrow (New Year’s Eve) is going to be hard. This summit is an easy walk from the Howitt Rd along a track. A moderate clearance Awd would be able to drive to the summit.

I operated going into dusk on the 7m pole using the KX1, and then off to Dimmick Lookout which would be where I would set off tomorrow for Mt Darling Range. A long day, but not too hard after the previous hard two days, and tomorrow was not going to be easy either.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Margaret Range

Hi all,

vk3/vt-064

After my previous day efforts at Mt Hedrick and Ben Cruachan, I headed up and overnighted just off the Licola Rd where the 4wd track comes in from vk3/vt-064. This is at a saddle where the road climbs up to avoid the Macalister George. The 4wd track is certianly 4wd only, with good clearance and low range required. The Prius was left at the road and I proceeded on foot. It took just over an hour to walk the 3 and 1/2 kms to the summit. There is a bit of up and down on this track, so it is no pushover.

The summit was burnt in 2012, so there is good views along the Macalister valley.

Looking north up the Macalister valley from near Macalister George

Looking north up the Macalister valley from near Macalister George

I operated using a KX1 on 40, 30 and 20 metres using the halfwave end fed for 40 on a 7m squid pole. The KX1 tunes for 30 quite fine and I operate without the tuner on 20 and 40.

Mt Margaret vk3/vt-031

Next up Mt Margaret. I decided on using a walking track that rises up from the Tamboritha Rd. Its a climb of 850m, so it was going to be a big climb. The start of the track is marked on the side of the road, and cars can be driven about 200m to a nice parking spot under shade, although I didn’t know this and left mine in shade 100m down the main road. The track ends up in the creekbed for a while, and then climbs a spur. About 300m from and 150m down from the first knoll, it cuts across to the next spur coming into that knoll, which gives a bit of a break from the climbing. The track is reasonably distinct at this point, but above the first knoll, it comes and goes a little.

Things get tricky at the last knoll. From here, the track is much harder to follow: I could not really follow it. I stayed around the track alignment until the low point after the knoll and then went for the closest point on the Mt Margaret track. The forest had its moments, but it is reasonably passable.

There is no track that goes up to the summit itself. I went off track from near the east Mt Margaret 4wd track and walking track junctions, then straight up. I operated about 20 vertical metres down from the summit on the northern side to save a bit of time. Operation again was on the end fed, using the 7m squid pole and using the KX1.

vk3/vt-032

This summit would be quite easy in a low range, high clearance 4wd, as a track takes you right past. For me, it was a walk from Mt Margaret up the 4wd track to this summit. Operation was using the KX1 on the endfed mounted on the 7m squid pole.

I was using the KX1 on some 3S LiPOs for both yesterday’s and today’s activations. Even though I had spent quite some time calling, the LiPos were still well over 95% of capacity at the end of the day.

The end-fed performs quite well for local contacts. I had heard from around the band that some were finding 40m challenging. Still most reports were in the 529 to 549 range for me.

There were some nice views from up on the range. Here’s looking towards Wellington Plateau:

Wellington Plateau from vk3/vt-032

Wellington Plateau from vk3/vt-032

I then headed back along the 4wd track to the south, and then went off track to meet up with the walking track that I used earlier in the day, hoping to pick up the track at the high knoll. This was succcessful, even though my legs were getting a little sore from the scratchy undergrowth. There was a nice view looking back from near here towards vk3/vt-032.

Looking at vk3/vt-032 from the south in late afternoon light

Looking at vk3/vt-032 from the south in late afternoon light

I had taken 3 litres of water, after the previous’ day experience with 1.5l I still had to ration this a little back to the car, but at least I was nowhere as dehydrated as the day before. Day 2 of the trip down, next up doing summits around Cromwell knob.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Hedrick and Ben Cruachan

Hi all,

With all of my travel in 2013, I have not had the opportunity for some time to do an extended SOTA trip. An opportunity to rectify this arose over the new year period, so I headed off on the 28th of December for a 5 day trip.

Mt Hedrick VK3/VT-069

This is a summit that has not yet been activated. Looking at the festy.org maps, there is a walking track marked that goes from Huggetts Rd up the western end of the mountain. Opencyclemap also has it marked, but starting a few hundred metres to the north. Both tracks exist, although the opencyclemap starting location is more official. There are some nice views on the way up:

Looking north from Mt Hedrick's western slopes

Looking north from Mt Hedrick’s western slopes

Looking southwest from Mt Hedrick's western slopes

Looking southwest from Mt Hedrick’s western slopes

Operation from the top was using the KX1 with the end fed on the 7m heavy duty pole. The top has trees, and no nice views were obtainable. The day was clearly going to be warm, so I did not stay long.

Ben Cruachan VK3/VT-042

To access this, I attempted to head up Ben Cruachan Rd. In Forest Explorer, it is marked light red, meaning it is a more significant road. Nonetheless, the road ended and entered private property at 806131. The other maps also gave little indication that this would be the case. Because of the colour marking, I did not look at the land.vic.gov.au maps to see if there was a road reservation. Nonetheless, I had to turn back.

Next up was to try Gegghegans Rd and Beaver Medows Track and see how far I could get. I got to about point 783132, which was still a long way from the summit. It was going to be a long walk today. I filled up the water bottle, grabbed some food and started walking.

After a few climbs and rest stops, I realised that the full water bottle that I had taken was not going to be enough water. I had taken 1.5l, but I really needed about double that. I was quite tired when I reached the summit. The summit itself has good views, but through the trees.

Looking north from Ben Cruachan

Looking north from Ben Cruachan

I operated again using the KX1 and the end fed on the 7 metre pole. Some of the usual CW chaser suspects were not around, however the 4 QSOs were obtained without too much difficulty.

I did not want to stay too long, because it would be a 3 hour trip back, with only a small amount of water. I had to ration this to last most of the trip. I was very thirsty when getting back to the car. Because I was quite dehydrated by this stage, I started only drinking small frequent amounts, rather than shove a whole lot of water back in. Still, in the 3 hours after getting back to the car and before going to bed, I downed another 3 litres of water.

Day 1 of the 5 day trip down, 4 days to go. Next on the agenda was VK3/VT-064 on the way up to Licola and a difficult day trip up to two summits including Mt Margaret.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Concord and Proctor

Hi all,

While the rest of the family lazed around during a camping trip, I decided to have a day on the hills. I selected two nearby summits that had not been previously activated.

Mt Concord VK3/VN-018

This summit is at the southern end of a long ridge that can be seen from the Maroondah Highway on the way to Mansfield. Many SOTA activators will have gazed on this range on their way to higher hills in Victoria’s north east. It was now time to get this summit activated.

The summit is on a road reservation. This is not fenced. I used Nicholsons Rd from the highway for access. This is a high quality gravel road until point 738904. It is a bit rough from there, but still worth going up about 500m or so. From here it begins to climb quickly. I proceeded on foot. The formed road goes off to the left onto private land. The road reservation, plus the public land of Molesworth Bushland Reserve to the right gives access up to the top of the hill. It means leaving the formed road at the gate into the private land and continuing to climb to the right of the fence. Its a climb of about 350m over about 1200m, so it is quite steep. I didn’t mind the steep climb, as I had a series of tough activations planned in the following week.

I had also loaded a detailed map from land.vic.gov.au to show the location of the road reservations. From the top of the climb, it was clear that the road reservation was not fenced, instead one of the two land owners was using it. From the map, it was the farmer to the west, rather than the pine plantation to the east. So, I stayed to the west of the fence and proceeded southwards towards the summit. There was a track on the wrong side of the fence, but I stayed away from this due to this being likely on private land.

The summit itself has a trig point and I operated from there. I used the 7m heavy duty pole to mount the “random wire”, but had more success with the end fed. I suspect that my wire direct to BNC connector is perhaps not the best approach as it is subject to load. Instead, I want to look at a BNC connector where I can screw the wires in.

Operating from Mt Concord

Operating from Mt Concord

There were some nice views from up on top.

Looking north from Mt Concord

Looking north from Mt Concord

Looking south west from Mt Concord

Looking south west from Mt Concord

There were no real views to the east because of the pine plantation.

Mt Concord has a limited life in the Summits on the Air program. The summit is actually 647m high, not 697m. There is another spot to the north that is higher on this plateau system, and it will be the replacement of Mt Concord in due course. This won’t be for a while as it is not in the current round of summit changes.

Proctor VK3/VN-019

Proctor is located south of Bonnie Doon to the west of Lake Eildon. I accessed it from Alexandra and the road into the Frazer section of Lake Eildon National Park. Skyline Rd skirts the western edge of the park. Proctor is located to the north of the park, and there is good 2wd road access into activation zone. I setup in part of the road reservation and again used the end fed antenna on 20 and 40, using the internal ATU of the KX1 to tune for 30. It did this quite easily.

Conditions were mostly fine, apart from a sharp shower that came through. I continued operating through the shower by putting the rig underneath my backpack. One does not need to see too much when keying CW. I lent over the (paper) notebook to keep it from getting wet. The shower was short and then it was back to fine sunny conditions.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

KX1 internal battery using NiZn cells

Hi all,

Nickel Zinc rechargeable batteries are not common, however HobbyKing sell them. I decided to get a batch and have a look at them in the KX1.

NiZn batteries are not for everyone. Firstly, the capacity is lower at 1500mAh than the typical NiMH battery at 2400mAh. The plus side is that the NiZN carry a higher voltage. It is at 1.85V at the top of the cycle and then slowly decreases throughout the cycle, but remaining well above NiMH, and even Alkaline batteries that start at just under 1.6V and decline to 1.1V over the cycle. NiMH spend most of their cycle flat at 1.2V.

For a radio like a FT-817 that linearly regulates the voltage, there is no point using AA cells with higher voltage, as the regulator literally burns the excess voltage as heat. The 1.2V of NiMH are fine in that application. The KX1 is a different matter.

The KX1 has a capacity for 6 internal AA cells. Using NiMH cells, these would deliver only about 7.2V for most of the cycle, which is below the recommended minimum voltage required by Elecraft. The rig still works – although I have not extensively tested it. The power levels generated are very low – perhaps only good for QRPp levels of 500mW or less. I am quite happy with QRP operating, but I don’t see a pressing need to go to QRPp at this stage.

The NiZn cells represent an opportunity to mix things up with a higher voltage that the KX1 can then use to generate more RF power. It won’t give me more operating time, but it will give me more punch. Here’s a look at 6 NiZn cells installed inside the KX1 AA battery holder:

Turnigy AA NiZn cells in the KX1 internal battery holder

Turnigy AA NiZn cells in the KX1 internal battery holder

The cells come charged, and showed 1.85V per cell and a total of 11.1V installed. I used the cells for several hours in the field, and I came back with the six cells developing 10.4V across them. The KX1 would develop low 1W to 2.5W depending on the band and (reasonable) antenna configuration. This was only a little down from what power it was developing with a 12.2V external supply.

The 1500mAh capacity would mean that these NiZn cells will deliver many hours, perhaps more than 20 hours, of operating time in the field. The low RX current draw of the KX1 is certainly a great factor here, especially compared to a all mode rig like the FT-817. This kind of setup would be really useful for multiday remote area activations, where the radio part of the gear needs to be kept to an absolute minimum for weight reasons – for example when South West Tasmania or Fiordland in New Zealand are part of the Summits on the Air program.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Misery, Mt Kooyoora and Mt Bealiba

Hi all,

Up in Ballarat for a few days with the (out)inlaws. Without implying anything, its nice to slip away for a bit of SOTA action, especially to gain some new uniques.

Mt Misery VK3/VS-024

This is a summit that I have had my eye on for some time. It can be seen easily from the Western Highway between Ballarat and Ararat. Allen VK3HRA had activated it last year, so I was keen to follow and get it in the log. I gave one of the owners a call, and gained permission.

Access is via the Beauford-Waubra Rd. Stop at the Mt Misery Quarry sign NNE of the summit. You need to have arranged permission to proceed beyond this point. If the gate is open, don’t just enter anyway as you might find yourself locked in – which might be a problem if your car is on the wrong side of the gate, aside from the SOTA rules.

I met Chris, one of the owners, on the day. He is an old time farmer who doesn’t farm any more. He runs a fencing business but is looking to enjoy life a bit more.

I left the Prius near the hut about 300m NW of the summit. Chris was spending time working on bikes nearby. From there it was a straight forward climb up to a knoll to the west of the summit, and then a short steep section to the summit itself. There’s a trig on top and I operated from there.

At trig of Mt Misery VK3/VS-024

At trig of Mt Misery

The antenna tuned at the bottom part of the 40m band, so I operated from there. 40m on CW in VK is getting reliable enough for 4 SOTA contacts fairly quickly. I also operated on 30 and 20, which give better access for VK5 and northern VK2. I was hoping for some DX, but not today.

On a clear day, a lot can be seen up from here, so Chris tells me, and I have no reason not to believe him. For today, there was a nice view of inversion clouds at Mt Cole.

Looking towards Mt Cole from Mt Misery

Looking towards Mt Cole from Mt Misery

For those wanting access – here’s the sign:

Mt Misery quarry sign

Mt Misery quarry sign

Ring the first number on the sign for Steven and he can give you the relevant details from there.

Mt Kooyoora VK3/VU-007

I had first planned on doing this summit on a trip in July, but it was not to be then. The forecast for today was for showers and for conditions to be cooler. This was a good thing, because while Ballarat was 20 degrees today, here was 30. The showers did not really happen either.

I accessed from Mount View Rd from the south. Turning left off this at 409472 allows a short drive up (turn left at the next junction) to 1100m from the summit at the Crystal Mine carpark and its mostly off track from there heading northwards. The land falls for a few hundred metres, but not much. It then climbs up about 120 vertical metres to the summit. It is fairly easy off track walking. A big squid pole can be a mild annoyance, but I’ve took my 7m pole through far worse than this.

The antenna preferred to tune at the top end of 40, so I operated from there. It was nice to get a s2s with Peter VK3PF, but it was Xmode to get it. Seems funny to send a 59 signal report using CW, but I thought it better not to try to rate Peter’s voice tone – what would we rate it on? 1 for really angry to 9 for really happy?

Ian VK5CZ sent me a photo of his outdoor operation, so I sent him a photo of the shack:

Operating at Mt Kooyoora

Operating at Mt Kooyoora

The 7m pole is nice, but it does not really add a whole lot of antenna improvement vs operating on the lightweight 4.7m pole. I think what I will do is plan to use the 7m pole where I am expecting either a walking track or easier off track access to the summit, and take the smaller pole where more challenging walking is expected.

I also might prepare a 1/4 wave counterpoise for 40, but I might only take it and use it where using 7200 to 7300 is expected to be an issue – eg where a band plan either discourages using CW there, or the band plan has the force of law and prohibits it, or it’s a country that does not have 7200 to 7300 at all (eg the UK).

It’s a lot browner up here than last week in the Victorian High country:

Looking south from Mt Kooyoora

Looking south from Mt Kooyoora

Mt Beiliba VK3/VN-026

Last summit of the day was Mt Beiliba. Last time I was here, it was also the last summit but it was pouring with rain. Thought I better leave it. Now, conditions were far more pleasant.

In accessing this summit, it pays to have a good map. There are many roads in the State Forest area that go all over the place! Good access can be had by taking the Beiliba range track turning left off Log Bridge Trk at 354234 and then turn right at 353231. I tried taking Log Bridge Trk further, but ended up parking at 346233, which left me a 350m easy off track walk on very open forest to pick up Beiliba Range track, just as it started to get steep. No matter, it really just cost me 350m as there is no way I would the Prius up the steep section. I would think a low range 4WD would be required.

There are two high points, Mt Beiliba and a point north of there, about 400m away. All of it is in the activation zone. I actually went to the designated summit and operated from there.

As par for the course, the antenna liked the top end of 40m more. There is enough interest to get a CW activation done on weekends quite quickly on 40 these days. It feels much better than even the early days of SSB SOTA.

With that, and late for dinner, time to go home.

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Buller and 4 other summits CW only

Hi all,

After building a “random” wire antenna, it was time to take the new configuration on activations and see how it works in the real world. I decided to leave the FT-817 at home and go cold turkey on real CW only activations, with no capacity to fall back on SSB to ensure I got four contacts.

I don’t have a great deal of spare time these days, so I thought about going up on a Sunday afternoon and pull a flexi time off day on the Monday. If I’m going to jump in the deep end CW only, this is a way to do it when there are fewer SOTA chasers available during the week.

VK3-VE123

This is an unnamed summit accessible from Timbertop saddle on the Howqua Track. Three Chain Track heads off to the west. I was able to get the Prius up part of this and called stumps (a cricket term meaning the end of play) about 1.5km from the summit. From there, I headed on foot.

The track would be easy going in a proper 4wd.

For this activation, I still took a bit of a safety net, with the end-fed antenna on board and I took up the 7m squid pole. I decided to employ the “random” wire on the 7m squid pole.

The KX1 was able to tune on 20/30/40 with a very dodgy tune on 80 for interests sake. The rig reports the power after the tune. Compared to home, I was using a set of 18650 LiIon cells which develop 12.6V fully charged, but quickly drop down to mid 11’s. At this voltage, 2.5W would be the best I could hope for. Practical KX1 activations are lower powered than FT-817 activations where 5W is easily obtainable.

Power is lost across the tuner, depending on how difficult the match is. I was developing 2.2W on 20, about 1.7W on 30 and about 1.3W on 40. The tuner was effectively losing about 3dB on 40, but less on the other bands. SWR was 1.5 or less.

There’s no real risk of a CW pile up on a SOTA activation in VK at this stage. I had a range of contacts from local to DX and across all three bands.

One thing cropped up. The KX1 paddles are a little loose in their socket. I would tighten the hand screw to help, but even so, there would be some movement on the paddle base and this affected my keying. Ian VK5CZ got the worst of it, so much so I noticed after I got home that he suggested going down to 12wpm. Slower keying would not have helped in this case, it would have actually made it worse.

I found the solution to this problem would be to hold the base of the paddles with my thumb of my non keying hand. This seemed to make keying much more reliable, with only the occasional missed formed character.

Its not the same as my touch keyer, which does not lose a beat. However, the touch keyer needs its own battery and is liable to be turned on in a backpack. This can flatten it over time (takes several days). I think I will learn to live with the KX1’s paddles.

The activation was at dusk, so it was too dark to take photos of the setup. It was a nice sunset to look at though.

Mt Timbertop VK3/VE-073

It was back to Timbertop saddle where I slept. Next morning, I took the walking track from here which goes up the mountain. This track has been upgraded from going straight up to a track that does some zig zagging. Makes the track more pleasant to walk on. In a few places, walkers are trying to use the closed track, but I don’t think it would save them much time – apart from being harder.

There are some great views looking west.

Northwest from Mt Timbertop's slops showing Mansfield

Northwest from Mt Timbertop’s slops

The summit is reached quite comfortably. This climb is easy if one is fit. If you are not, you need only take your time. A walking pole is of great assistance.

The summit itself has some snow gums (Timbertop suggests there should be some timber on top). I decided to put the KX1 in a tree so that the base of the wire is not near the ground. This seems to help 40, but does not necessarily help, perhaps hinders on 30.

Summit area of Mt Timbertop

Summit area of Mt Timbertop

For this activation, the 7m squid pole was left in the car and my 4.7m squid pole was brought along instead. This pole, discussed in this post, is very lightweight. 20m and 30m worked fine, but I found I had better tuning results on 40m if I tuned for near the top of the band, around 7.28 to 7.3 In VK, operating CW here is fine, although somewhat unusual. To get some contacts, I operated down the bottom of the band, but with SWR around two. The power was around 0.8W verses 1.2W at the top of the band.

I was wondering if the squid pole would be strong enough at my chosen mounting point about midway on the second highest segment. The squidpole looks like it does fine at this point for the sloping wire of the antenna. I’m not sure about mounting my HW end fed on it because that wire is much heavier.

Mt Buller VK3/VE-008

Most local readers would be aware that Mt Buller is the location of a significant winter ski resort and has also developed into a summer mountain bike park. The development of this mountain means that there is a sealed road most of the way to the top, then a short gravel road. There is only a 50m vertical climb to the top. I operated a little down from the actual summit, about 30m horizontal or so from the top.

I operated with the lightweight setup again on this summit. The KX1 was reporting about 11.4V from the battery. It seems it takes about 0.5V off the input voltage. I tried this at home with really fat cables on a 13.V supply and the KX1 reported 13.0V. I tried it at home with same thinner supply cable and it still reported 13.0V (alternating a little to 12.9V)

The setup is shown below. The lightweight squid pole can be wedged in some rock with tension on the cable holding it in place. It was windy up there – the picture shows some wind load on the cable.

VK3WAM station at Mt Bullder Vk3/VE-008

VK3WAM station at Mt Bullder Vk3/VE-008

The KX1 developed about 2W on 20, 1.6W on 30 and 1.1W on 40. 40 needed to be at the top of the band for an acceptable SWR. Down the bottom was a SWR of well over 2 and a power of only 0.7W.

All contacts at this summit were on 40. Peter VK3PF tried his hand at some CW, which was certainly good enough to read his reports, with some initial confusion on his call sign. Given that he, along with Gerard VK2IO had not done CW for extended periods, SOTA is having an impact on use of this mode. Perhaps motivated by wanting to work the summit and knowing that CW was needed to active this, helped them dust off those long unused keys!

The operating spot gave a good look down the steep NW face of Mt Buller. Apparently some people have tried skiing down here. There was a sign nearby with two sets of double black diamonds reminding skiers that the area was unpatrolled.

NW face of Mt Buller

NW face of Mt Buller

Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

From Mt Buller, there is a road that goes to Howqua gap, but I was not prepared to drive down that in a Prius. Instead I drove down the mountain and then up the Stirling Rd. Mt Stirling is surrounded by a circuit road, but this does not approach the summit closely. I decided to use the River Spur track. Its a walk of a little over 3km, with a climb of about 400m up to the summit. It can be accessed by using the southern side of the Circuit Rd – the first track heading up is Bluff Spur track (over 4km) with River Spur track being the second track heading up.

The summit is above the tree line. I used the trig point to mount the squid pole.

Operating at Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

Operating at Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

The trend of 20 and 30 tuning quickly and 40 being better at the top of the band continued here. The battery voltage was reported about 11V, and power levels were 2W, 1.5W and 1.1W on 20, 30 and 40 respectively.

Even though the KX1 is only developing 6dB less power, with the tuner, on this configuration on 40, it is enough to get contacts. The setup is very lightweight and very fast to put up and take down. If I was to take the larger squid pole, with the end fed on a FT-817, that might give me another 12dB with everything, but it is significantly more gear to take. The nicest thing about the KX1 is it is a complete station, with the antenna. I’m using it with an external battery, but it does have the capacity to put some internal AA batteries inside.

I was able to activate with a mix of 20 and 30 contacts. I saw later on SOTA spots that N7SP was trying to get me on 20, but looking at messages others try to send using SOTA spots is not always easy on summit.

Most of these mountains have great views on top and Mt Stirling is no exception. Here’s a view back to Mt Buller:

Mt Buller from Mt Stirling

Mt Buller from Mt Stirling

And a look north towards Mt Buffalo and Mt Cobbler (right of centre)

Mt Cobbler from Mt Stirling

Mt Cobbler from Mt Stirling

Mt Winstanley VK3/VE-036

The last summit on the menu was Mt Winstanley. This summit is to the north west of Stirling, so I used Circuit Rd and then No 3 rd to access it. Here’s a screenshot of the tracklog:

Tracklog of access to Winstanley

Tracklog of access to Winstanley

There is a track going along the ridge – and this is shown in opencyclemap. It is not in the Forest Explorer or the OziExplorer maps that I have. I used the track for the last 500m. Opencyclemap does not show RazorBack Trail correctly, but this track departs near the junction of No 3 Rd and Circuit Rd. Going up RazorBack and taking the walking track, I presume, from there is likely the easiest route to access this summit.

Spot the station – including the squid pole – in this photo:

Operating at Mt Winstanley

Operating at Mt Winstanley

The KX1 reported a battery voltage of 10.7V. This would be around 11.2V out of the battery. This would be a little less than half a cycle on these batteries. They are fake Ultrafires, branded for 2400mAh capacity, but actually give about 1200mAh. It would appear that the KX1 drew about 500mAh to 550mAh, for around 7 hours of operating, including lots of CQ calls.

At this lower voltage level, I was getting about 1.8W on 20, 1.4W on 30, and 1.1W on 40. Interestingly, 30 did not like the KX1 a metre and half off the ground, I got a much lower SWR on the ground – power levels were similar. 40m liked the rig off the ground, but again, tuning was better at the top of the band, where tunes were getting an SWR of 1.1 and power of 1.1W, compared to SWRs of 3 or higher and power of less than 0.7W on the ground.

Can I improve the performance of this antenna – undoubtedly yes, but why bother. If I want something better on 40, I’ll carry the half wave end fed, with its matchbox. If I improve this “random” wire antenna for 40, it will come at cost of lower convenience, because the improvement would need to be a 1/4 wavelength counterpoise for 40m. As it stands, the two counterpoises do a good enough job for the very lightweight and portable objectives of this wire antenna. 40m is an important band for local contacts, but I think 30m will rise in importance as nearby states become more accustomed to SOTA. I think, in time, that 30m will be an important band for SOTA in VK.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM