Labour day long weekend part 2

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


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

Jamieson River crossing at Granny's Flat

Jamieson River crossing at Granny’s Flat

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mt Terrible Sput VK3/VE-134

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

Lake Eildon near Jamieson

Lake Eildon near Jamieson

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

Bald Hill VK3/VE-137

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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.

Wayne VK3WAM

Preparing the KX1 for SOTA battle

Hi all,

Elecraft KX1

A few months ago I picked up a KX1 from a EDMRC club member who was selling. The unit came built and fully equipped, with the inbuilt ATU, the 30 and 80 band board and the keyer. The KX1 is a CW only rig but designed especially for portable use. With my mountain goat status out of the way, I wanted a CW specific and more light weight setup.

Rik VK3EQ (VK3KAN) had shown me a very lightweight squid pole at the 2013 Gippstech. I was quite interested in this because it packs up to 60cm in length. It has a 4.7m length when extended. Perhaps the top segment is too light duty to hold anything but a vertical wire, but the next segment down should handle at least a lightweight inverted V configured wire.

Random length wire antenna

Elecraft recommend that the KX1 ATU unit be used with “random length” wire, so long as the wire is not 1/2 wave length on the desired band. Note the reason for this is that the internal tuner is not always able to match the high half wave impedance.

I decided I wanted something serviceable on 20/30/40. After looking around at various web sites, such as this one, I settled on a 41 foot or 12.5m wire length. This is more than 1/4 wave length on all these bands, and around 5/8th wave length on 20. Should be a good “Aussie allrounder” but performing best on 20.

I bought some cheap speaker wire from a hardware store for construction and separated the two wires, but keeping the insulation. I stripped back some insulation at one end and doubled back to crimp a BNC pin. I then made two lengths of wire from the spare speaker wire for a counterpoise. One is 1/4 wave length for 20, the other quarter wave length for 30. 40 misses out, but at least both the counterpoises are 1/8th wave length or longer for that band. I crimped one exposed end of each of these to the shield on the BNC connector.

To give some mechanical security to the BNC connector, I taped about 7 or so cm of the three wires together, starting at the crimp. At least at this early stage, it seems to work well. We’ll see how it goes in the field.

The idea with this antenna is that there is no feedline. The antenna begins at the BNC connector – it is literally being fed right out the radio. The other end of the wire could be put up a tree and/or having the other end or middle of the wire on the squid pole. The counterpoise wires go on the ground.

"Random wire" BNC connector with 12.5m wire and 20/30 counterpoise

“Random wire” BNC connector

Mounting the wire on the squid pole

For the squid pole, I cut a small wood mount piece with a 1.5mm hole for a wire to use to wind the antenna wire around. I drilled a 3.5mm hole to mount the piece on the squid pole. This ends up about half way on the second highest segment. The top segment would be too weak for this kind of work, I think even only the bottom half of the top segment would be strong enough even for a vertical only wire.

It sits on quite nicely.

Wire mounting on lightweight squid pole

Wire mounting on lightweight squid pole

The wood mount is quite small:

Size of wood mount compared to my hand: it is about a finger width

Size of wood mount compared to my hand

The piece is small enough to be packed up in the squid pole case cap. The squid pole itself is small enough to go inside most larger packs, and even 40l hybrid type packs.

A basic test suggests that the squid pole will be able to keep the wire up in the field. We’ll see. If need be, I just need to make the hole a little bigger and it will mount a little lower on the pole.

Testing with the KX1

My initial test was at home. My house is two story, but the upper story can look down on the lower story. I draped the wire from upstairs to down, with the two counter poises on the floor upstairs. Not the best setup, and looking forward to trying it in the field.

The KX1 was able to tune the antenna on all bands, although the result was emergency use only marginal on 80. SWRs were 1 to 1.1 on 40 and 20 and around 1.5 on 30. The KX1 also shows realised power from the tune – which is quite interesting. The 20 match was showing full power (about 4 watts), with the 30 match around 2.8 watts and the 40 match about 2 watts.

I would expect better results in the field when this antenna is setup properly, with the random wire fully extended and the counterpoises at a greater distance from the wire and fully extended on the ground themselves. We’ll see, but none-the-less, early results look promising.

The whole system weighs less than 1kg, including the squid pole. It is my most light weight setup yet. If not for the squid pole, it could even get close to the station you can carry around in a pocket (or two).

I’m keen to give this a go on a SOTA summit or two over the next few weeks. Perhaps the FT-817 and the bigger squid pole and end-fed will come along as a safety net to make sure if this falls over, I’ll still be able to activate.

73 de Wayne VK3WAM

POSTSCRIPT: First activation with this setup can be read here.

Mt Terrible and The Paps

Hi all,

Again, another chance to head for the hills. It is now getting a little more challenging to find summits within a reasonable distance of Melbourne that I have not activated before. There are only a few nearby ones that I have not yet activated at least once. Aside from the ones on private land, it is starting to get a bit scrappy. I have to travel further for fresh summits.

Today the plan was to go up the Mt Terrible Track as far as I could safely drive the 2wd car and activate Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134, Mt Terrible itself VK3/VE-067, Bald Hill, VK3/VE-137 and The Paps VK3/VE-204.

Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134

I decided to sleep at home and make an early start at about 4am and head up to make this summit just after sunrise. I arrived at Bald Gap at about 7:15 and started up the track. The track climbs steeply, and I was not able to get the car up the hill. It *might* be possible in a 2wd, but an AWD would have made it. It was only about 50m further where the road levelled off. So, out with the gear and I walked up to the summit. Of course, I always was going to have to walk the last bit anyway, but this would mean a long walk to Mt Terrible (and back).

Because of the impending 25km return walk, I activated this summit quickly, working the pile up and then moving on. Here’s a pic of the operating location:

Operating location at Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134

Operating location at Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134

Mt Terrible VK3/VE-067

Now on foot, I tried to walk the 12.5km one way trip as quickly as possible. There were two other stations planned to be on, Marshall VK3MRG and Allen VK3HRA. Only one of these eventuated, and I was not at the summit on time. I ended up being a little late for my scheduled start time, but in order to not be very late for the following summit, I dispensed with putting up the vertical and used the end fed instead. When starting, my SWR was quite high, and I suspected this was because the Inverted V was not quite a V with the two sides pushed by trees to be close together for the first metre or so. I lowered the antenna by two segments on the squid pole and this worked quite well.

After working the pile up, it was QRT and back from where I came in order to activate Bald Hill.

Mt Terrible had a hut, but this has burnt down now (seems like it was a fire in the fireplace that got out of control – plenty of campers seem to like their fires a little too big.

Burnt down hut at Mt Terrible

Burnt down hut at Mt Terrible

There is also a lookout tower at Mt Terrible with some comms gear on board:

Lookout tower at Mt Terrible

Lookout tower at Mt Terrible

Bald Hill VK3/VE-137

After a walk of the 12.5km back to VK3/VE-134 and then about 1km to the car, I had a quick bite to eat and then headed towards Bald Hill. I thought I might have to walk the whole way up, but I drove up to see how far I could get. I got most of the way and elected to stop before a ditch. The car could have got through for clearance, but it would have been too steep. Anyway, I was only about 200m from the summit, so this was a good place to get out anyway.

On walking up, the HT came alive on 2m with Marshall VK3MRG from Spion Kjope VK3/VT-040. I tried to work him, but the battery went dead. When I got to the summit, I pulled out FT-817 and called, but nothing heard. It was then time to setup the vertical and try to work the guys on Norfolk Island.

I started out working the pile on 40m, but signal reports were down. I then switched over to 20m to work the Norfolk Island guys, and noticed that I had the full tapped loading coil on when I was on 40m. No wonder signals were down on 40 with that big coil overloading the antenna. I was able to work both VK3CBV/9 and VK3QB/9 but they had to stop the pile trying to call them to get the QSOs. They are both keen to collect the chasing and summit to summit points. I had a nice SSB QSO with WA7JTM, which was easy going. It is difficult to get into Europe QRP, but the western parts of W seem much easier with a DX antenna. VK9NT have shown that if one can get their dipole 20m off the ground, then it works well DX. I might not want to carry a squid pole that big into the scrub!

In the end, I did work Marshall on VK3/VT-040, but he had to hang around there longer than perhaps he had planned.

The Paps VK3/VE-204

My final summit of the day was The Paps near Mansfield. I had looked at doing this summit before, but did not know the legalities of access. The road goes across private land, but I got a message last week from Warren VK3BYD, and the Parks Victoria ranger that the public is free to use this road, but the gates need to be left as found (generally closed). There is a gate both on the main highway and at the reserve end of the private land. The road across the private land is badly eroded, but a 2wd can be driven across it with care. The road has a few moments in the reserve, but I was able to drive the 2wd up to the beginning of the final climb up to the summit. I left the car here. The final climb is about 90 vertical metres up to the summit.

The road leaves the highway as marked for The Paps Rd in Forest Explorer. There is a sign on the highway with an arrow at this point.

The summit is quite barren up top. There is some communications gear and a trig point. I set up the squid pole in a vertical configuration on the trig point. It was dark when I began to operate. The VK3 stations were in the skip zone because of the time. Perhaps the end-fed would have worked better for them, but it was nice to pick up VK5 stations, plus a VK5 in Queensland. I also have a VE2 station in the log.

Things were quiet, and I was not getting any joy in getting to Europe, so I finished up and headed home. It was a long day and I was now a little tired, but still great to pick up 24 activator points, 12 chaser points and 16 summit to summit.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Activation of Mt Dandenong, First Summit 2 Summit with Norfolk Island

Hi all,

Surprise activation

I was not planning to do an activation this day (Thursday the 9th of May), but some of the Dx-pedition team of VK9NT announced that they would activate Mt Bates VK9/NO-001, so it was a quick change of plans.

Getting out the vertical

It has been awhile since I have used the vertical on a SOTA activation. Most of the time these days I use the end-fed which works much better for local contacts, but once getting outside of 1000km, the vertical certainly starts to outperform the end-fed. Norfolk island is about 2300 km away, which for a single hop needs a reasonably low angle of radiation, hence the vertical is dusted off.

My vertical arrangement used to consist of 8 75cm aluminium segments above the feed point with guy ropes securing it at the 2nd and 4th segments. I added a loading coil, which improved performance on 40m. It’s tapped, so I also have points for 30m and 80m. I bypass it on anything shorter.

With the squid pole, I dispensed with 6 of the segments and the guy ropes. I attach a wire to the top of the squid pole and attach the other end to the top of the loading coil. The bottom two aluminium segments, plus my feed point (about 30cm off the ground) remain as per the old days. This arrangement takes about 15 minutes to set up 4 radials, which is enough to put me in business. It beats the 45 minutes the old arrangement used to take to set up. If there is any lull in proceedings, I then gradually lay out the remaining 4 radials.

Activating VK3/VC-025

After a short delay, I was on the air about 20 minutes after I was scheduled. I operated from a spot about 70m away from the summit restaurant, which was around 12 vertical metres down. I started off on 40m and worked the usuals. Signal reports were not too bad on the vertical, with many signal reports from 55 to 58 (for those that were sky wave). It’s not as good as the local reports on the end-fed, but certainly the vertical is working well today. I found VK9NT operators, but non SOTA, on 17m working their pile up. They were quite faint, so they were not likely to hear me, certainly amoung all the high power stations from the US calling them.

I saw on sotawatch that the VK9NT SOTA operators were up on 20m. I went over there, but it was a little tough with some QRM. Eventually they changed up 20 and I was able to work them. My QRP signal was weaker than many of the home stations came up on 20m, and it was a little difficult to get in there, with many familiar SOTA chasers working them, plus plenty more from NA and Europe. Quite a number of these were not specific SOTA chasers. They must have wanted the extra calls after working the non-SOTA VK9NT station.

After working VK3CBV/9 for the first ever VK9 summit to summit and VK3QB/9 right with him, I had a little more time. I called on 14.062 CW, just like the old days. Some nice strong 589 station coming in, and I was even getting 559 reports back. Not bad for QRP into W, and sometimes even my received report for QRP is better than what I hear them – which considering my <s1 noise floor is somewhat of an achievement.

Ahhhh for the days of SOTA DX and CW pile ups on 20m. Need to get those Euro and G s2s happening again. There's still an s2s outstanding to Andy MM0FMF.

The vertical at VK3/VC-025

Here’s a look at the setup:

Vertical antenna at Mt Dandenong

Vertical antenna at Mt Dandenong

And a closer look at the feed point, with the LDG tuner handing directly on the feedpoint. There’s an ugly balun on the radio side of the tuner. The 8 radials can clearly be seen in this pic, especially if you click on it.

Vertical antenna feedpoint

Vertical antenna feedpoint

Finally, looking up the squid pole. It’s a much easier configuration using the squid pole to provide most of the physical structure. The only reason I’m still using the aluminium sections is to a) have the feedpoint off the ground, and b) have the loading coil 1.5m above the feedpoint.

Looking up the vertical antenna above the loading coil

Looking up the vertical antenna above the loading coil

All in all, a nice satisfying afternoon.

73, Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

South Gippsland 6 summit activation

Hi all,

I’ve gone off again on one of these three day trips and activated 6 summits. Some say SOTA is a drug of addiction. Where do I get my next hit? Worse, am I a drug pusher because I took Glenn VK3YY and Kevin VK3KAB along, and helped them get 60 SOTA activator points each? Well, Glenn has already done quite a bit of SOTA work before, but Kevin was a first timer.

After a few hiccups, we left the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne before 6pm and headed towards the hills. After a stop, which involved a stop at a cardboard food production facility for dinner, we headed up the Licola Rd as dusk set in. Kevin drove his “Great Wall” 4WD and we made it to a campsite along the Wellington River inside the boundary of the Alpine National Park for an overnight stop. The tables were a nice touch at the campground (photo courtesy Glenn)

Kevin and Wayne at Wellington River campground

Kevin and Wayne at Wellington River campground

Mt Tamboritha VK3/VT-011

It was only a short drive from there up the hill to the start of the walk to the summit. We then headed up to the Tamboritha saddle. We were able to go along the 4WD track to the east of the summit, but parked before the rough stuff. We walked along the WX station track, but left it at the marker which is to the north of the summit. It was a steady climb from there up to the top, but Mt Tamboritha has a flat top, with the highest point at the southern end. Anywhere on the flat top would be in the activation zone.

On this trip, Glenn brought his end fed half wave for 40m with squid pole, Kevin brought an antenna made up of various Buddypole components to form essentially a Buddistick with a single counterpoise, and I brought a squid pole with two antenna combinations. One was my end fed for 40 and 20, and the other was some components from my old aluminium segment vertical with loading coil, plus a new piece of wire that could hang on the squid pole to complete the vertical. This second configuration was to be used for the first four activations on this trip. It is perhaps 30cm longer than my old vertical configuration. I used it with tuner right on the feed point, with a tapped loading coil 1.6m above the feed point. The Ugly Balun which I have described here was also in attendance. This antenna is a little behind the end fed when the other station is in the end fed lobe, but it is still a solid performer; being able to achieve 5 by 8 to the occasional 5 by 9 report. It does give a lower angle of radiation to open potential DX opportunities, however, and this is something the end-fed struggles with.

The main downside of the vertical is that it simply takes longer to put up and take down than the end fed which is 1) couple to the end of the squid pole, 2) raise squid pole, 3) tie wire ends to something, 4) connect radio. The vertical needs still to be connected together, mount the loading coil and run out the radials. I think the squid pole allows me to take off a good 10 to 15 minutes, but it still takes about 30 minutes to setup and 20 minutes to take down. Better than 45 minutes setup and 30 minutes takedown, but not as good as 15 minutes and 10.

Glenn got the good oil on contacts first. Kevin spent some time tuning his Buddi(stick) setup, but Glenns transmissions nearby upset his antenna analyser. In the end, we all got our contacts, my 4th was with Glenn after he left the summit, but then I got a 5th with a FM simplex station on 2m over 150km away setting up for a field day contest happening the following day. I left the summit with a spring in my step.

Here’s a picture of me operating from the summit (courtesy Glenn). The radials of the vertical are somewhat visible, and some of the ratchet band can be seen on the tree, with the base of the squid pole at the ground.

Operating at Mt Tamboritha

Operating at Mt Tamboritha

Here’s a look from the east of the summit.

Looking east from Mt Tamboritha

Looking east from Mt Tamboritha

We headed down much the way we came, but ended up on a track a little to the west of the marked trail, about 100m it worked out. It took us past the WX station and onto the 4WD access track, with the car parked about 700m further away.

Mt Reynard VK3/VT002

Rejoining the Tamboritha Rd, we headed up to the junction with the Mt Howitt Rd and then towards its closest point to Mt Reynard. There was a 4WD track that initially headed a little closer, and then headed south west. Still this enabled us to miss a cliff face. We parked the car at a point where the road began to move further away from the track. Based on the trip, it can be speculated that a walking track to the summit may exist from this road much further along, but I am not sure about this.

After leaving the car, we headed up and over high ground. There was a great deal of fallen timber, which slowed progress somewhat. We crossed a water course, at a point with a bearing of 100 degrees true from the summit, and then began the climb up, which was mostly a comfortable gradient – but with a few kicks. The total trip was about 3km each way, but mostly off track. We did find a track coming up to the summit from the south when we were still about 50m vertical metres down. This track runs off to the south, and it would seem (but completely unconfirmed) that this might end up on the 4WD track that we parked on, but a few km further along.

Mt Reynard has a very large flat top, more than 1.5km long, with a variance of less than 10m. We decided to activate near the eastern end of this, about 4 metres down from the top, but more than 1km horizontal distance! Again, I used a vertical configuration and Glenn his end fed. We also had a few interesting contacts on 2m FM simplex to spice things up. Something else that spiced things up was the large amount of ants at the summit. It seemed like there were nests everywhere. It does make it a bit hard to key CW when you are always trying also to brush ants off!

Here is a pic of Kevin and myself just below the activation area, with the camera looking south (courtesy Glenn).

Kevin and myself on Mt Reynard

Kevin and myself on Mt Reynard

Again, all three of us successfully activated, but this time (and for the rest of the trip), no one ran down the hill to provide a chase. We headed back down the track, but considering its southward direction, we left it and ended up using much the same access route, (bearing about 110 degrees true from the summit back to the 4WD track).

Bryces Plain VK3/VT-004

It was a little late in the day, and also Kevin was worried about the amount of fuel in the car in order to get back to Licola, but the opportunity of a third summit in the day lured us up the Howitt Rd. VK3/VT-004 is a little rise which is not far from the Howitt Rd. There is a reasonable road that actually goes all the way to the top, where there is a commercial tower with a large solar panel. Care was taken to park the car outside the activation zone, but it was only a short walk to the summit, especially when compared to all the other summits on this trip. This summit is an easy pickup, even with a 2WD. It was in the last hour before sunset when we activated. This time, there was a greater variance in our three logs, with me finally picking up some CW DX on 20 and 30 metres.

Here is a look at my vertical antenna:

Vertical antenna at Mt Reynard

Vertical antenna at Bryces Plain

And the sunset from the summit:

Sunset from Bryces Plain

Sunset from Bryces Plain

From there, we headed to McFarlane Saddle where we camped for the night. There were a few other campers here, plus a group that arrived at 9:30pm who immediately left to head down towards Lake Tali Karng. I would think that it makes for cool walking, but the views are not as good by torchlight.

Trapyard Hill VK3/VT-005

Next morning, we pushed back our planned departure time by 30 minutes, accounting for the late finish the previous evening (because we stretched for the third summit). The Forest Explorer map shows two tracks leaving McFarlane saddle, but there appears to be only one on the ground, the east one – even though there is a Parks Victoria sign on this track that shows one track – the west one (wrong one)! The track from a junction about 500m south where a track heads eastwards before Trapyard Hill is true, but the track is quite overgrown and is indistinct when heading across the saddle at point 1442, grid reference 876521 (55H 0487600E 5852100N for those who are unfamiliar with 6 digit grid references – but if you compare the two, you should be able to identify which 6 digits go into the short form). From here there is a first rise, and the track heads up towards the right of this to the flatter ground above. It climbs the summit to its left, missing the summit itself, with the track passing to the north. We left the track underneath the summit, heading up approaching from the north west. It was a steep climb, but not technically difficult. Attempting this summit is easier with a walking stick.

Once at the summit, I ended up getting all my contacts using Glenn’s radio with his end fed setup. I did get my antenna up, but my first attempt did not work with the tree that I strapped the squid pole onto. I got no joy on 20m CW, but the signal was spotted through the reverse beacon network.

Glenn got a pic of me raising my squid pole (strapped to a better tree stump):

Wayne on Trapyard Hill

Wayne on Trapyard Hill

From there, it was back to camp, but this time from the saddle at reference 876521, we headed north down to the Moroka Rd. It was only about 100m away from the saddle. We then walked along the road, with a little bit of passing car dust, back to our awaiting tents. We packed these up, with the pack carry part of the trip about to start.

Picture Point range VK3/VT-003

Now with full packs, it was time to head down the Wellington Plains towards the Picture Point range. Conditions had now become quite hot and the group started to wonder about carrying all of our gear up the mountain. Something else was playing on our minds – the VHF/UHF field day contest. This might mean that a 2/6m activation might make some sense, especially carrying up a FT-817 to give us some 144.15 SSB capability. Still, I decided to carry up my end fed wire, but without a squid pole. It is closer to the ground, and the reports from this setup are not as good, but it does get the contact. Besides, although we appreciate every contact, having a contact with the dedicated SOTAite chasers is worth more to us than some big gun field day station. Sorry, VK3ER/P. 🙂

In the end, we had a clear 2m simplex contact with VK3PF. Considering we could see the Latrobe Valley from the operating location, this made sense. Peter was going to ring around the repeaters to drum up some further action, but it was not to be. I managed a 2m FM contact with Jack VK3WWW operating VK3ER/P on 2m. Jack seemed pretty happy with the contact. HamGPS, an Android app, was used on my phone to determine the 6 digit maidenhead location of the operating QTH for contest purposes. We handed out the numbers, but we did not consider ourselves contest participants. The focus was ensuring that we all left with 10 SOTA activation points, which we did.

Here’s a pic of Kevin operating at VK3/VT-003. You may be able to make out the end fed half wave on 40m strung in the trees behind him, but you may need to click the picture for a higher res view – note you can do this on all pics on this blog:

Kevin operating on Picture Point range

Kevin operating on Picture Point range

On the way back down, we saw this view of the Wellington Plains:

Wellington Plains from Picture Point range

Wellington Plains from Picture Point range

We made our way back to the packs on the Wellington Plains track, and then headed down to our campsite, at grid reference 839462. There is a toilet and a water tank here. Unfortunately the tap on the water tank was broken, so the tank was empty. This meant we had to do a water run down to the nearby Nigothoruk Creek. There was good flowing water down here.

Using a SteriPen

I should mention that after my recent 6 summit trip around Mt Speculation, I believe that I contracted Giardisis from the water I drunk there. It took 8 days for symptoms to show. I thought first that I had Gastro, but it was much worse than that, with the acute phase lasting about 4 days. It has not been diagnosed, but apparently, it is not easy to medically diagnose as the link discusses. Whatever happened, I did not want to experience it again, so I purchased a SteriPEN adventurer Opti. These take 90 seconds to treat 1 litre of water, and I think I can live with that. The SteriPen got its first use with the water from the Nigothoruk Creek. The UV treatment does not change the taste of the water – which this water tastes fantastic.

Wellington Plateau VK3/VT-007 and the Sentinels

The next morning, we headed off early to get our last activation. The Wellington Plateau is a flat top, but there is a small rise to the highest point. We activated just to the east of this, near the 4WD track. This meant that it would be harder to get VHF/UHF field day contacts, unlike from VK3/VT-003, but Kevin did work VK3ER/p on 6m.

Speaking of the 4WD track, yes it is possible to get a car in to this point, but it would take a great deal of effort. The track is very poor, so a very high clearance vehicle would be needed. Also, the access point is through Miller Gap. It would be an adventurous drive!

After wrapping up the activation, we headed down to the nearby Sentinels, which overlook Lake Tali Karng. It’s a great view from up there, but a little hard to get in the pics:

Lake Tali Karng from the Sentinels

Lake Tali Karng from the Sentinels


We met a Victorian Mountain Tramping Club (VMTC) group that had walked up directly off-track from the lake. It took them about 3 hours to make the 600 vertical metres climb. Tough work with full packs – although these packs did not have any radio gear in them. We kept the full packs only for the trip into and out of our overnight camping spot, only carrying limited food, water, and of course radio gear for the trips to mountain tops for SOTA activating.

After the Sentinels, it was back to camp for lunch, quickly take down the tents, and a walk with the full packs for about 9km back to the car at McFarlane Saddle. It was hot work and we certainly appreciated getting back to the car, and getting to Licola for a fuel topup – that’s both petrol for the car and icecream for other refuelling purposes. It was a great trip and lots of fun for 60 SOTA points.

Wayne Merry

Activation of Point Nepean NP

Hi all,

This is a quick post about my Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award activation down at Point Nepean National Park. I set up near Observation Point, about 500m from the Gunners Range car park. I worked: vk3pf/p, vk3hra/p, vk3up, vk3azz, vk3fd, vk3asd, vk3hy, Vk7or/2, vk3byd/p, vk3afw, vk2agr. The last three were on CW, the rest on SSB. vk3afw was a suprising CW contact on 20m, but all the rest were on 40m.

One little nice bonus was vk3byd/p on vk3/ve-004, which is in the Alpine National Park. While it was not a SOTA activation for me, it was nice to at least chase SOTA, especially on CW. I have not yet been bold enough to do a SOTA activation relying only on CW, the SSB mic has always been there!

I also had another try at PSK31, but there were no takers. I am aware that I have a bit of splatter myself, it looks like the audio input levels on the FT-817 need to be lower than the FT-897.

I’ve updated my Keith Roget map. While VK3PF, VK3ZPF, VK3VTH and likely even VK3HRA are well ahead of me, I still intend to eventually activate all 45 parks over time.

Regards, Wayne Merry VK3WAM

Three summits before the rain

Hi all,

It’s taken a few days to put this posting up, but it is always nice to revisit activations.

VK3/VW-013 West of England Range

I was up in Ballarat staying with the inlaws for most of the Melbourne Cup long weekend. I have generally taken advantage of getting away during one of the days of these trips to get a few activations, and there are many SOTA summits within a reasonable driving distance of Ballarat to choose from. At this stage I have not yet activated them all, so I can add to my SOTA uniques count. It will be interesting to see what happens after Jan 1 when points for previously activated summits become available for activators again.

The West of England Range is a north south range which is mostly protected by the St Arnaud Range National Park. It is at the northern end of the Victorian Pyrenees. This range is named after the Pyrenees in France/Spain/Andorra for some supposed likeness that I have yet failed to see…..

Anyway, there is a 4WD track that heads north south along the range. Parts are 2WD. I accessed the summit from Redbank using the Barkly-Redbank Rd which is quite passable in a 2WD. I turned onto Centre Rd, but could only go about 100m before needing to park the car and continue on foot. There was about 200m of overall climbing, counting a few ups and downs to continue north along Centre Rd to get to the summit. Here is a look near the operating location:
Near operating location at VK3/VW-013

During operation, I had a 4WD go past, plus some dirt bikes. Conditions were actually quite poor, but I did not have too much difficulty getting the required contacts. It was getting gloomy and a sharp rain shower started, so it was time to pack up. On the way back to the car, a convey of 10 4WD vehicles went by. Obviously a popular spot.

VK3/VW-016 West of England Fire Tower

After heading back to Redbank, I headed up to Stewart Mill and used Teddington Rd to access Centre Rd again, south of the summit. Centre Rd is still quite rough for a 2WD, but I was able to get about half way to the summit, and walked the rest. I was a little closer than what I was at VK3/VW-013 earlier in the day. I operated about 50m NW from the fire tower:
West of England fire tower

Here is the operating gear:
Operating location at West of England fire tower

I had line of sight to the Grampians from here and Allen VK3HRA was activating VK3/VW-002. He was armchair copy with a HT on 146.5FM. Conditions on 40m had improved significantly from what they were at VK3/VW-013, aside from S7 QRN from a noise floor around S1, S2.

I also gave my phone radio interface a go on both 40m and 20m while I was here. It seems to work well on 40m, but it is having a little difficulty holding the PTT open on 20m. Interesting that it is band dependent. My tests on 2m at home showed no problems. I think I will change a few component values to increase the current at the base on Q2, the PTT grounding transistor. This should fix this problem.

After this, it was back to the car for a trip to Mt Moliagul for the third activation of the day. This would involve more unsealed roads, so the car was going to get dirty again.

VK3/VN-024 Mt Moliagul

After travelling for about 45 min, I arrived at the road heading up the mountain. The Google map is a little inaccurate, with the road heading up the mountain a little east of where marked on the map. After sorting this out, I headed up. The road is a little rough, but quite passable in a 2WD in dry conditions. The public road goes all the way to the top, but I parked at a flat section about 40 or so vertical metres below the top, safely out of the activation zone. From there it was just a short walk up to the top where I found a nice spot to activate:
Activating Mt Moliagul

Conditions were similar here to VK3/VW-016. Good signals, but a high level of QRN. It was also getting windy, and a change was arriving when it was time to pack up. I struggled to hold the squid pole up in the wind while I was trying to retract it. Overall, I was quite pleased with the activation, plus the two earlier with 6 SOTA points in the bag when it was time to pack up and head back down. I had one last summit to try for, Mt Bealiba VK3/VN-026, but it had started to rain. We would need to see how this one goes.

VK3/VN-026 Mt Bealiba

This summit is in a Box Ironbark forest with a very open forest floor. I used a road branching off Goldsborough Rd, which got within about 1km of the summit. There are likely 4WD tracks that go all the way up. It would only be a 15 min dash across the very open forest to get up to the top, but given the rain and my lack of wet WX gear, I thought I might give this one a pass for today. Unfinished business for another time.

With that, it was time to head back to Ballarat. 3 out of 4 is better than 2 out of 3 and Meatloaf reckons that ain’t bad.

Regards/73, Wayne

BSAR Practice, 6 SOTA summits and Kieth Roget

Hi all,

Recently back from a 5 1/2 day trip up to near Mt Pilot for a Bush Search and Rescue Victoria training weekend and a six summit activation trip.

Chilton/Mt Pilot National Park

The Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award is focussed on working stations in or working from National Parks. The basic award requires 15 parks to be activated or worked for VK3’ers, 10 for other operators in VK, and 5 for DX operators. Over time, I intend to activate all 45 national parks.

My current status is shown on this Google map.

The BSAR practice was scheduled alongside a Victorian Rogaining Association rogaine near the Chilton/Mt Pilot National Park, so I took advantage of this by heading up the previous evening and activating the park. I used the end fed 20/40 wire, but this time, I gave my new squid pole a go. I prepared the squid pole by drilling a 1.5mm hole in the rubber stop at the end of the pole. This was enough to run a 1mm thick enamelled wire through the hole. I would then be able to wrap this around the antenna wire to secure it. It works out quite easy to put on and take off the antenna wire, but the connection is quite secure.

This was the first time I used a squid pole, so there were a few adventures in getting it up. My first attempt using a ratchet rope did not fare too well, so I just merely lent the squid pole up against a tree. The tree was much shorter than the pole – this approach worked well. I secured one end of the wire in another tree, about 1.5m off the ground, and the other end was dangling about 2m off the ground, with the feeding coax supporting it. I ran the coax (about a 10m run) through the back of the car up to the passenger seat, which I used as the operating location. This being a non SOTA activation, I can actually use the luxury of a wool covered car seat!

Here is a picture of the FT-817 in the car:
FT-817 in the car near Mt Pilot

I had only one contact, but that is all that is needed for a Keith Roget activation. Allen VK3HRA gave me 40 over 9! Not bad for a FT-817 on 5 watts!

Navigator’s dream Rogaine

After finishing up the activation, I drove on about 8km or so to where the Victorian Rogaining Association had arranged for their “Hash House” (the start finish location and where they provide food) for the rogaine. On the Friday night, this was just a few portable toilets and a few campers. It would be a very different matter on the next day – Saturday the 27th of October – when 250 people would descend on the place. Bush Search and Rescue had their own area to set up, and I was the only BSAR person there Friday night.

The following day, about 55 BSAR people were there, along with around 200 non BSAR rogaine participants + organisers, etc. The Police bus bringing BSAR people could not make it to the hash house, so a number of us had to do a mad dash to pick up the stranded passengers with our cars. In the end, we were able to complete our planning for the rogaine just in time for the pre-event breifing. I was competing with Sandra Bucovaz. We also had Peter Leech tag along as his own team had pulled out.

It all started ok, it is very important to get the first control under the belt, get the confidence happening. We had no problem with any of the controls during the day. About 4 hours in, we saw this massive Goanna. Here is a pic of Sandra looking at it:
Sandra and the Goanna

Here is a pic of Peter (on the right) and I at a control:
Peter and Wayne at Rogaine control

Our first control after dark was a maximum point value control. It was in a subtle gully (the course setter just loved those subtle features). We attacked it from above, after taking a bearing over 400m to steep ground. We would have been better taking a bearing about 20 less degrees to a flat part of ground and then coming in about 50m. There was over an hour of stuffing about until we finally got it. We really did think, do we cut our losses and get out of here, but we wanted those 100 points!

We visited a few more controls in the dark after that without any difficulty. I don’t think we were that much slower for them in the dark than what we would have been during daylight. BSAR wanted all of their teams to do some night rogaining because it helps develop search skills.

In the end, we came out with 1360 points which was 4th in the mixed (gender) category. If not for the stuffing around on the 100 point control, we might have even won the category. We would have never come first overall, as that would take beating he men like Merv Terese.

It was a quick, but substantial feed, from the food on offer at the hash house and into the tent at 1am Sunday morning. Still going to be a big day on Sunday.

BSAR practice

The VRA puts on breakfasts after rogaines that finish well into the night. This is to encourage tired rogainers not to leave and drive while tired. The result of this policy is I had a generous helping of sausages, bacon and eggs for breakfast. After this, the rogainers left, while BSAR got into search specific practice. Today was a briefing on radios, GPS units, line searching practice and a sked evacuation. I was asked to do part of the radio briefings.

BSAR use both UHF FM CB radios and VHF FM police radios. The CB radios is a class license available to the public. On most searches this is not a problem, but the public can interfere with search traffic. This has happened when a search was on a mountian top within line of sight of a major population area. Still, Police radio is a limited resource, and BSAR continue to use CB radios. They are typically used for group to group communication and intra-group. Often they ended up being used as a substitute for Police Radio. The Police radios are a Motorola 2 way radio with 5 watt capability. They are a standard issue across country police, still being analog based. There is talk of it going over to P25 at some stage, but this might be still a few years away. Most searches have support from Police Comms, who set up portable repeaters. Some searches have had two of these. Some searches have none, which means we end up on some divisional channel and get to hear about what divisional van is attending what break and enter event. Sounds exciting, but is very boring after a while and completely irrelevant to a search.

The simulated search was a line search. A line search is where a group of searches search in a line (hence the name) with the intention that the ground between each searcher is covered thoroughly. Unlike feature searching, there is no need for a subject to be able to talk or respond to calling. Line searching is much more thorough, but covers much less ground. BSAR searchers would spend less than 20% of total real search time doing line searches. Our group was searching a different area to where a (simulated) unconscious person was found. We were called over to assist with a sked evacuation. A sked is a stretcher that is also a sled. There are handles for 6 people to carry at a time, and it is hard work. In real life, if a sked evacuation was to occur over a longer distance, poles would need to be made up – and the sked kit has some saws in order for poles to be made from nearby trees.

After this, things wrapped up for the BSAR practice weekend, and it was time to head home for most.

Onwards to Mt Speculation VK3/VE-022

Given I was now in north east Victoria, I had planned to spend the next three days activating summits in the area. I had planned on a 8 summit trip, but after a hard 12 hour rogaine on the Saturday (with feet a bit sore), I thought I needed to take it down a notch. I headed off from the rogaine area and arrived at Lake Cobbler by about 4pm local. The road is a little rough on the final climb up to the lake, but still quite passable in a 2WD. I decided to park at the Lake Cobbler link track rather than by the hut at the lake itself. I then headed off for what I thought would be a 2 1/2 to 3 hour walk to Camp Creek near Mt Speculation.

It ended up being being about 3 1/2 hours as there must have been well over 100 trees fallen over the 4WD track. The track was due to open today (1st November), and no doubt 4WD’ers will be in there with chain saws to clear the road. Some of these fallen trees have trunks over 1 metre thick. It would take days to clear the road. I saw elsewhere that Parks Victoria had simply gone in with bulldozers and simply pushed the timber to one side. They might need a bulldozer to reopen Speculation Road.

Camp Creek was my water source for camping at Mt Speculation. After filling right up with 6 litres, enough for that night and most of the next day, it was up to the summit for activating. It was great local contacts, nothing DX. I again used the squid pole and the end fed wire, which was to be my setup for the rest of the trip. Here are some pics taken the next morning before I pulled down the antenna:

View 1 from Mt Speculation

View 2 from Mt Speculation

View 3 from Mt Speculation including Mt Cobbler

Mt Despair VK3/VE-043

After packing up the tent and heading off shortly after sunrise on the Monday, I used the Australian Alpine Walking Track heading north along the ridge, rather than using the old road heading north out of Camp Creek. The walking track is a little hard to follow, and I got off it a few times. It is a very steep descent heading down from the ridge to the old Jeep track heading towards Catherine Saddle. I think if I was going the other way, I would be heading through Camp Creek instead, much easier.

From Catherine Saddle, it’s back to walking track up to Mt Despair. The track is a little steep to start, but this section is quite short and it is mostly a gentle climb to the summit. A group had gone through and slashed back much of the regrowth, so the track is easy to follow. There is a number of fallen trees, but they were about every 150m or so, rather than a fallen tree every 30m disaster zone closer to Lake Cobbler.

I arrived at the summit and again set up the squid pole resting in a tree. Again lots of easy local contacts, no DX. I could hear some DX CW stations calling, but could not make out even whole characters. Seems to be a theme with this antenna. Mt Despair does not have many views, so I took no photos from here.

The Razor Vk3/VE-044

The track heads down, gently at first and then steeply to the saddle between Mt Despair and The Razor. The track at the saddle and onwards becomes much more rocky, up and down and scrambly. The fires have taken away much of the shade of this section. I don’t know if it is because I have done this track a few times before, or are more experienced, but I had little problems in following the track. There were a few sections that were badly overgrown, and it is not possible to rely only on track markers. The track makes its way up to a foothill of The Razor – a lower summit on the same ridge, before turing off towards Viking Saddle. I continued on towards The Razor. This section has had no love since the last fires and had no designated track. There is one small section of really tough regrowth, but towards the summit, it thins out. Mostly, it pays to stay about 20 metres below the ridge line as it is quite rough. I ended up operating about 15 vertical metres below the actual summit, but access up to the top was easy from there.

Again, good local contacts, but I at least got NS7P into the log with a workable signal. It was still weak, but I could at least hear real morse, rather than what I had been hearing before: a hint of a dit or a dah here and there, but nothing more. I think I will need the vertical back for real DX action!

Here are some pics from The Razor:
Operating from The Razor

Looking back towards Mt Despair and Mt Speculation:
Mt Despair and Mt Speculation from The Razor

Looking north east. Mt Bogong, Mt Feathertop and Mt Hotham are visible (if you know what to look for):
View north east from The Razor

With that, it was time to pack up and head back about 30 or so minutes to the track. Seemed easier going the other way. The Australian Alpine Walking Track heads south east from a minor hill on The Razor ridge towards Viking Saddle. This section of track had been slashed, so it was fairly easy going. It was much, much easier than last time I was here. I got into Viking Saddle and made camp. There is a track heading north east from here down to a spring. Water was flowing so it was reasonably easy water trip and I drew enough to get me through camp and the next day when I intended to return to Camp Creek.

The Viking VK3/VE-037

Up early the next morning for The Viking activation. This time, I left the tent and most of my gear, only needing to carry a first aid kit, the FT-817, batteries, misc radio gear, the antenna and the squid pole (and of course the backpack and some water) up the mountain for the activation. There is a 3m rock climb on the way up, but this is fairly easy. I did not even need to take my pack off either on the ascent, or when I descended back the same way. I arrived around 8am and then setup the squid pole almost right at the summit. Again, easy local contacts, no luck on DX. Here are some pics:

Antenna at The Viking

Part of the Cross Cut Saw, Mt Buggery, Mt Speculation and Mt Despair (lower right) from The Viking:
Mt Buggery and Mt Speculation from The Viking

Mt Cobbler (left centre) and The Razor (lower right) from The Viking:
Mt Cobbler and The Razor from The Viking

After this, I packed up, headed back down to Viking Saddle and there packed up the tent. My plan was to go to Camp Creek, back along The Razor ridge (but only on the AAWT avoiding the summit), over Mt Despair, and then using the old vehicle track from Catherine Saddle up to Camp Creek. I arrived at 4pm. I had then decided to go for a longer day and try to camp just underneath Mt Cobbler, at the junction of the track that comes up from Lake Cobbler. I estimated this might take another 3 walking hours. It would be a big day, but it would give me the convenience of leaving the tent where I camped, rather than hauling it up the mountain. I ended up doing this, after going over all of those fallen trees on the Speculation Road. There were plenty of trees on the walking track from near the Lake Cobbler track/Speculation Road junction as well. As I approached the ridge line, it was more pleasant walking, even though I was now very tired. I made camp just on dusk at the track junction.

Mt Cobbler VK3/VE-027

Next morning (the last of the trip), up early again and headed up the mountain. The summit is separated from the rest of the high part of the mountain by a small little drop. This must be crossed to get into the activation zone, but it is quite easy to do. I operated just below the summit. It was plenty of contacts, but local only. Some more pics:

The first pic has all of the summits I had activated up to now in the picture. Here I did not rest the pole up against a tree, but secured it with a ratchet:Operating from Mt Cobbler

We have Mt Buller, Mt Stirling and even Mt Torbreck poking up in the distance. I’ve shown you most of the Victorian high country on this trip!
Mt Buller, Mt Stirling and Mt Torbreck from Mt Cobbler

It was time to head back down to the tent about 40 minutes away, pack up and head down to the awaiting car. This took much longer because of the large number of fallen trees. It was nice to finally make it, but there was a fallen sign about the dangers of all of the fallen trees at the track head. No such sign at other start of the track system that I used. It is not so dangerous as just being inconvenient, but I also would observe that inexperienced people could lose the track and get lost in these conditions.


The final summit of the trip is not far from Lake Cobbler. After about a 2km drive to a saddle, it was time to whip out the backpack again for one last climb. This was a sharp (but with some breaks) 150m climb up to the summit. This summit is directly accessible with a 4WD, but not a Prius. By this stage, I was looking for a quick activation, but in the end, I operated for about one hour on top. Peter VK3PF worked me on every summit on this trip. Also Glenn VK3YY, disappearing from work out to the car when he saw spotted on sotawatch.

A most enjoyable trip, even if a bit of hard work. I am 52 SOTA activation points heavier, and hopefully a few pounds lighter.

Regards, 73 Wayne VK3WAM

Designing a 20/40 band CW rig – Part 4

Hi all,

This is a continuation of an earlier post, which can be found here.

Work has been continuing on my CW rig design, and now I will share another subsystem of the rig. I will get to the audio, but in this post I will be looking at the mixing function.

The SA612

Many rig designs use a SA612 mixer oscillator IC. This device is a double balanced mixer and oscillator. It can actually be used with either balanced or unbalanced RF inputs, and a balanced or unbalanced output can be taken. Regarding the oscillator, essentially only the tank circuit is external. The SA612 can also be driven by an external LO input.

Why not use it? Good question. My early concepts made use of it, but the limitation of the SA612 is its dynamic range. The third order Intercept (IP3) is at about -13dBm with a -45dBm signal. The 1dB compression point is -20dB, but given the IP3 at -13dB, a signal at this level of power would be full of inter-modulation distortion. I wanted something that would give much better inter-modulation distortion performance. In looking around, I found nothing that was quite like the SA612, which is why so many designs make use of it.

You’ll be able to see what I have done in the circuit below. This is a screen shot, with the RX signal coming in from the top from the TX blocking circuit discussed in previous posts. Note you can click on the picture for a zoomed in view:

CW rig mixing circuit

The minicircuits ADE-1L

Minicircuits have a large variety of mixers available. Most service microwave requirements, but some work down to HF. I had a good look at a number, but the ADE-1L took my interest. This device has as 1db compression at 0dBm, which is 20dB better than the SA612, along with a IP3 at 17dBm, 30dB better than the SA612. Dynamic range is therefore effectively 20dB better, and inter-modulation distortion performance should be 30dB better. Using these devices should make for a much better rig. Unfortunatley, there will need to be more work to use one (or two) of these than SA612 ICs. Lets get into dealing with the issues.

50 ohm input and output

The ADE-1L is designed for 50 ohms. The SA612 has a high input impedance, 2k is ok to feed it, while it has an output impedance of 1700 ohms. 50 ohms sounds better, but it is harder to use. What is coming in might be expected to be 50 ohms at the antenna, but by the time it gets through the TX blocking circuit, it is around 10 ohms. Essentially both devices need matching circuits – which is band specific. I discussed these networks more on a previous post.

The first mixer

The the first ADE-1L mixer, M1, takes the RF input and a LO. The RF is 7 to to 7.3MHz or 14 to 14.3MHz depending on the band. If 7 is mixed with 11, 4 is output. If 14 is mixed with 10, then 4 is output. This LO needs to change with tuning, needs to be around 3dBm, and these things can be done by the AD9834. I will look at this device more when I look at the microprocessor control, but it can be used to generate the carrier at 7 or 14 (and up the band) during TX, and generate the around 10 or 11 MHz during RX for mixing.

With these two signals mixed, I have output at 4MHz. I also have an image frequency at 18MHz for 40 metres, and 24MHz for 20 metres. There might be other products coming out of the mixer as well, but these will be well down on the 4MHz and the image frequency. I should not have much RF and LO coming out, given the isolation performance of the mixer.

Some amplification

All I have done with the RX coming in so far is to impedance match it to the output finals (which are like leaky closed switches during RX) pass through the TX block and then match it to 50 ohms for the mixer. The mixer loses 5.5dB mixing, and there would be expected to be 1 or 2 dB across all of the matching networks. There is a little over 1dB across the TX block. All of this is not such a big deal because we are dealing with 20 and 40 metres, and we don’t need to worry about noise performance so far. The SA612 actually amplifies the output as well as mixing it. There is around 5dB of loss in mixing, and then 22dB of gain, leaving a net 15dB gain with over 5dB noise figure (because of the mixer).

I have put a 4401 device to do this amplification, because the ADE-1L is only a mixer. The 50ohm output of the mixer is impedance matched to 700 ohms. This allows a lower current biasing network on the transistor. A BJT is used to keep things linear as they do this job better than MOS devices, especially at these low current levels. The 4401 is designed to give 23dB gain. I use it to do a small impedance transformation, back down to 400 ohms, a suitable level for the crystal filter about to come.

The crystal filter

I have an intermediate frequency of 4MHz with this design. Now using a series of 4MHz crystals, I can have a narrow pass band filter. The great thing about crystals is that they can be used with some series and shunt capacitors to give various types of high performance filters, such as Butterworth or Tchebycheff filters. Butterworth are a little lower performance, but have no ripple. I have designed this for a small amount of ripple (1dB) with steeper skirts, making it a Tchebycheff. The 330pF and 390pF capacitor radio decides the ripple. The amount of capacitance overall decides the pass bandwidth. I have designed for 500Hz. It is a reasonable compromise between selectivity and usability. A SSB filter width is too much for a CW rig. I think 300Hz is too tight, except in contests, but I am not really designing it for contests, more for SOTA activations.

The number of crystals forms the number of “poles”. 4 poles seems to be a good compromise for these filters, and many CW rigs have settled on this number. I will too. After the 4 crystals, I have a matching network to bring the impedance back down to 50 ohms for the second mixer.

The second local oscillator

The second mixer needs another local oscillator, this time pulled just off 4MHz, so that I get audio out. If I was using a SA612, I just need a tank circuit, but here I need something more. I need an oscillator, plus I need to get the LO up to 3dBm for the ADE-1L.

I spent quite a bit of time on this circuit. One of the problems is that the crystal can make the input to the first transistor quite free of harmonics, but the output is not much so. I found that it worked better with quite a high impedance biasing network. I also have gone with a Clapp oscillator fed from the emitter of the active device. The output has a collector resistor, but no inductor. This allows a moderate impedance path for the harmonics to go. The desired output goes through a series resonant circuit, to pass the fundamental, and then a parallel resonant circuit to shunt any remaining harmonics to ground. Most of the harmonics leave through the collector. The approach works quite well. I then use a second active device to bring the oscillation up to 3dB and impedance match to 50 ohms. Again, I have no inductor on the collector, so any harmonics (there is still a small amount) are shunted to AC ground.

At the end of all that, I have a near 4MHz local oscillator, controllable through a varicap on the crystal, mixing with a 4MHz intermediate frequency. This will yeild audio frequency output.

There will be, of course another 5.5db loss across this second mixer, so I have a net -5.5 + 22 – 5.5 for 11dB gain across all the mixers. S9 has gone from about -70dBm to 59dBm.

Next up is the audio circuit, which includes a automatic gain control. I’ll look into that for the next post.

Regards, 73, Wayne VK3WAM