Labour day long weekend part 2

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

VK3/VE-152

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

Jamieson River crossing at Granny's Flat

Jamieson River crossing at Granny’s Flat

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

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

VK3/VE-116

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

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

VK3/VE-108

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

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

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

VK3/VE-191

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

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

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

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

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

Mt Terrible Sput VK3/VE-134

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

Lake Eildon near Jamieson

Lake Eildon near Jamieson

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

Bald Hill VK3/VE-137

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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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

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.

4 summits, Mt Despair to Mt Disappointment

Hi all,

Mt Despair to Mt Disappointment would suggest to me that summit namers in Victoria needed to cheer up, but it was a good day for me – without despair and disappointment.

Mt Despair VK3/VN-013

First up was Mt Despair. I headed off early in the morning, hoping to get to this summit about an hour after dawn. I made my way through the Murrindindi forest using Sylvia Creek Rd to Murrindindi Rd and tried to go up Dindi River Rd. This looked quite boggy and had deep water puddles, so I thought it safer to go try the next road. I got to 733525 and turned left on to the road there. It had the large bluestone logging track stones, but I could travel up this road with care. I made my way to 722529. I did not try to go south and then west along the road as it continued, but went up the Horseyard Creek Rd on foot. A full 4wd could get up here, but with lots of scratches.

At 714542, there is a foot track that heads over the hill to the north. I took this, but I suggest there is little point as it is quite overgrown. Progress would be faster using the tracks to the west. Mt Despair Rd is very good grade, but the gate at the south end was closed. It looks like other roads to get there are higher standard, so aiming for point 710543 in a 2wd should be possible with a shortish road bash to the summit from there.

Weather was a bit drizzly, and I got completely wet through the wet overgrowth on the foot track. I set up about 200m south of the summit to try and save a little bit of time. The summit area itself is quite flat and there was nothing to see. Here’s the operating location off the side of the road.

Operating location at Mt Despair

Operating location at Mt Despair

Radio gear at Mt Despair

Radio gear at Mt Despair

I operated using the end-fed to try and save some time. It’s fast to put up and take down with the two spindles that I use to store it with. Due to my longer walk in/out than planned I headed off quickly to get back to the car, and head towards Mt Hickey.

Mt Hickey VK3/VN-015

This is a popular area for campers, trail bike riders and other state forest users. I came in from the east on Fairview Rd. This becomes Main Rd. I made my way along this to the junction with Mt Hickey Rd at 382853. This is easy 2wd driving. I parked just inside the activation zone, walked down a bit and then up to a flat area on the peak to the east of the main summit at 366839 to keep away from the reported noise there. Worked quite well. There was a little trail bike noise to contend with from time to time.

The weather had improved by the time I got here. The low cloud and drizzle was replaced by partially cloudy conditions and no rain. The forest around here is certainly much drier than around Mt Despair.

One nice pickup was VK3EHG on a 2m HT from Flinders Peak VK3/VC-030. I don’t think he was expecting any summit to summit action. He was apparently using just a HT himself with a basic antenna. I was only using a 1/4 wave on 2m, so no nice colinear to suck in the signal here. Still, nice to pick him up from here! It’s radio line of sight, but not without some obstruction getting in the Fresnel zone. Radio Mobile says that the worst fresnel is 0.2 – still positive but there is some attenuation. Distance was 107km.

Here’s the operating location:

Operating at Mt Hickey

Operating at Mt Hickey

Mt Piper VK3/VN-028

It was then off to Mt Piper. This is accessed from Jeffeys Lane at 224792, itself off Broadford-Kilmore Road. The track is a little rough, but quite passable in a 2wd. A car park is located at the base of the summit, and it’s walking the whole way up. The track is well marked. Near the base, a old 4wd track crosses the walking track. It is quite possible to turn right and use the vehicular track to go up. It makes its way up most of the way to the summit and stops about 25 vertical metres from the top. The “car park” there could fit only 2 or three cars, I can see why they closed it. The walking track is well marked to the top and generally follows a zig zag pattern. It is therefore not as steep as the vehicle track route.

I got a nice pic from near the top of the 4wd track (Mt Hickey is in the background):

Broadford from the 4wd track on Mt Piper

Broadford from the 4wd track on Mt Piper

Here’s a similar view from near the top:

Broadford from the summit of Mt Piper

Broadford from the summit of Mt Piper

The summit area was quite nice to operate from. I again used the end-fed and used the trig point to mount the squid pole:

Squid pole antenna mounted on the trig point

Antenna mounted on the trig point

Mt Disappointment VK3/VC-014

My final summit of the day was Mt Disappointment. I came in on Main Mountain Rd which becomes Disappointment Rd. I parked the car up from the hut at 352563. The last part of the road is marked as a 4wd track in Forest Explorer, but it is a high quality 2wd track.

The activation area is quite large, so I felt no need to bush bash to the summit itself. Apparently there is a track that goes there from the hut further down, but I was inside the last 20m contour line. I estimate about 10m vertical down from the summit.

I was hopeful for some DX, so I set up the vertical antenna. The Kp index was 5, so there was a Geometric storm, but you never know. In the end, I only got local contacts, but it was nice at least to get someone on 30m CW.

Here is a look at the operating location:

Operating at Mt Disappointment

Operating at Mt Disappointment

With that, and it getting dark, it was time to head back home. Another 13 SOTA points in the bag. With these activations I have now moved to 102 unique VK3 summits, 111 overall.

On this trip, I tried out the solar panel that I had put together recently. It worked ok, but I am going to use some tape to attach some short rope to connect it to my pack a little better. At Mt Piper, it was able to charge the phone about 6% in 30m. This is a little lower than a powered USB connection, but not bad for winter sun and a few clouds.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM