Mt Kent, Mt Dawson and Mt Valentia

Hi all,

I have been progressively been working on visiting each of the summits in the upper Moroka area, and on this trip I wanted to check out possible approaches to Snowy Bluff VK3/VT-019, which would have to be close to Victoria’s most inaccessible but legally possible to get to summit.

Mt Kent VK3/VT-008

I proceeded up from Melbourne on the Friday night and made my way to Horseshoe Flat, which is a nice camping ground on the Moroka River a little more than one km after the Castle Hill turnoff on the Moroka Rd. It is quite well known, but the first question I had from people when I got there was ‘Are you lost?’. Maybe because I was not setting up an elaborate tent, I was just sleeping in the car so I could make a quick getaway at first light the next morning for what I expected to be a big day.

The next morning I continued along Moroka Rd and took the Shanty Hollow Rd turnoff. Small fallen trees meant I had to leave the car about 1km along, but a moderate clearance vehicle could keep going. The road would be good to reference 003576. A proper 4wd could drive up to the ridge below Little Kent. There is a track all the way to Mt Kent summit. The weather this morning resulted in a temperature inversion, leaving the valleys covered in cloud:

The view from near Little Kent

The view from near Little Kent

I took the FT-817 on this trip, and thought about doing some SSB, but it’s been so long since I had done SSB, I forgot the microphone. So back to CW. Better make sure I don’t forget the microphone when I go to Lord Howe Island.

For this trip, I introduced a new end-fed antenna. I had previously used a commercial end-fed, but the toroid in the match box had broken. I have to, at some stage open it up with a hacksaw and see if I can fix it. For this trip I used a SOTA-beams 20/40 matchbox. This matchbox has a variable capacitor that is controlled with a knob on the front. It is rated to QRP levels, which is fine by me using it with a KX1 or a FT-817.

I used some cheep Bunnings speaker hookup wire to build the end fed. To create some more robustness to the connection, I used three parallel 10cm runs at the connector, then soldered to the single run from there. One issue with these light wires is the physical connection strength as they take a lot of mechanical wear and tear at the connector. This is a similar approach to what I did with my “random wire”, with a short 5-10cm run of a stronger wire at the connector and then joining to the light wire.

The end-fed was fine on the short squid pole. I would turn the dial to where the background noise (what there is of it) sounded loudest and then continue fine tuning the capacitor using the SWR meter of the FT-817 until it shows no SWR. The dial was close to one end of range at 40 and close to the other end at 20. I could make a dedicated 30m end-fed, but that sounds like too much work. End-feds with their matchboxes are a nice solution for the FT-817, they don’t need a separate ATU. I like this SOTA-beams end-fed solution because it also allows connection of a counterpoise. I cut two 1/20 wavelength wires from the speaker hookup wire, one for 20m and one for 40m. Seems to work, and the match is generally better than the previous commercial product that was not adjustable and had no counterpoise.

Here’s a picture of the rig and the antenna connection:

Operating at Mt Kent

Operating at Mt Kent

Mt Dawson VK3/VT-015

From Mt Kent, I headed off track to the south west. Older DSE based maps show a road making its way towards the saddle between Mt Kent and Mt Dawson. If I had my time again, I would have gone directly towards the saddle. A good view of Mt Dawson, and the ridge making its way north towards Snowy Bluff:

Mt Dawson

Mt Dawson

The road is in reasonable condition for walking to the saddle. Someone with a chainsaw would still be able to get a 4wd down it from Shanty Hollow Rd and the road has not been officially closed. The road from the saddle towards Mt Dawson has, and must have been closed much earlier. This old road is in a much poor state, but can still be followed up the hill. It would still be easier using it rather than going straight up off track. The track bypasses the summit to the south by about 400m. It’s semi alpine. The activation itself was fairly straightforward, but I was mindful of the long road bash back to the car. At least it was on track most of the way.

I certainly plan to come back here. I think going through Mt Dawson will still be the easiest way to get to Snowy Bluff.

Mt Valentia VK3/VT-017

After the long road bash back along Shanty Hollow Rd, I drove to the Castle Hill Track turnoff and got the Prius about 500m down the track before parking and continuing on foot. The alignment of the track approaching Mt Valentia does not really follow the map closely, in particular the road was not approaching the activation zone closely on the northern side. I left the road and went off track to climb about 40m to get well within the activation zone. It was getting dark and I could not spot.

I again used the end-fed to activate, and got one contact on 40. It was slow going but ultimately successful for at least getting the unique, but not the 8 SOTA points on offer. I think the moral of the story is that unless you can spot, or have the RBN spot you, evening activations on CW are much harder work. It felt like the early days of SOTA in Australia.

Nonetheless, three new uniques in the bag today (two of them first ever SOTA activations) and a much better idea of tackling Snowy Bluff. So a good day in all. I thought about activating some other summits on the next day, but the rain had come in. I had a bothy shelter for the rain, but I thought instead that I would head home early.

Thanks for reading, Wayne VK3WAM

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Mt Ritchie, Strickland and Donna Buang 2014

Hi all,

After what was then my recent trip to the snow, it was time to pick up a few more bonus points on two summits that I had done before, and pick up a new extra summit.

Mt Ritchie VK3/VC-003

This summit is one that I’ve activated a few times before. There is about a 6.5km walk from the nearest road access on the Acheron Way. Using Road 15 up to the saddle, then Road 10 to the north, the terrain climbs up to the summit.

Conditions were quite fine today. Previous activations have been far more cold and windy. Pick the right day here, and it could be under 20cm of snow.

Activating at Mt Ritchie

Activating at Mt Ritchie

As seen in the picture (if you click on it and zoom in), activation again was using the random wire (notice the counterpoise wires on the ground) with the KX1. Notice the branch, which I stuck into the ground to support the wire near the rig.

It is generally pretty easy to get day time activations on 40m CW away these days, even if you can’t spot. Some chasers must leave their rigs on 7.032 and listen to that first CQ call.

Mt Strickland VK3/VN-030

Mt Strickland is to the north of Mt Rtichie, but track access from Ritchie involves entering the restricted catchment area. Instead I headed back to the car, proceeded north along the Acheron Way and used Feiglins Rd. This is a good quality gravel 2wd road. It is used by logging trucks. Taking the left fork shortly after leaving the Acheron Way, it winds its way up to the ridge. Turn left and it proceeds into the activation zone.

Activating at Mt Strickland

Activating at Mt Strickland

Activation was the usual “random wire” with the KX1. Complete station almost in your pocket – apart from the squid pole, but that only weighs 300g.

It is interesting these days that I am taking the 4.7m squid pole even on activations where I am not expecting an off-track scrub bash. Guess the 7m pole is in semi retirement these days, although if I want to get out the 2m colinear, it needs the bigger squid pole to host it.

Mt Donna Buang VK3/VC-002

The final summit of the day was Mt Donna Buang. Access is on sealed rds, coming up from Warbuton. I was coming from Mt Strickland, so I was on the unsealed Acheron Way. The road is sealed on the Acheron Way to the Mt Donna Buang turnoff. The road from the turnoff to the summit is also sealed. While conditions were good today, if there is snow on Mt Donna Buang, it is a good idea to either use a 4wd or a 2wd with chains – even though you do not legally need them. The grader they use to keep the road clear cannot keep up if it is even moderately snowing.

With the 4.7m squid pole, I rarely need to use anything to secure the pole in vegetation, even 20/30cm of ground coverage is generally enough. with the bigger squid pole, it generally needs something to be secured on. At Donna Buang, I activated in the grassy area between the lookout tower and the shelter. There were a few people wondering around, some wondering what I was up to. My CW is not strong enough yet to be able to send while talking to someone with me at the same time, so there were a few gaps between overs.

Activation again was the “random wire” and the KX1. The random wire is not fantastic for DX, but it can bring in occasional contacts on 20, so it was nice to get back into the EU, even with just a 4.7m squid pole. I had far more success with a vertical. Maybe one day I’ll do a few more vertical antenna based activations.

Conditions were still fine on the summit, but I was keen to get home after six contacts and no more answers to CQ calls, and so that was it for the day.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Western Grampians

Hi all,

This is the third day of a three day trip in June 2014.
Day 1 can be found here
Day 2 can be found here

Chimney Pots VK3/VS-005

This summit is actually to the north of the actual area known as Chimney Pots. I decided to use the track that goes to the Chimney Pots and work my way up from there. I headed off in the very early morning, to get about 3/4 of an hour in before sunrise. Once leaving the track, it is rough scrub and slow going. From the Chimney Pots, I made my way up the southern side of a valley and then crossed the creek to get to the high land. Very slow through there. Once up on high, got some great views looking south east:

Victoria Valley from near the Chimney Pots

Victoria Valley

Only one problem, this is not the summit, it was another 750m to the north. The scrub was a little more forgiving, but it was a good hour or so to travel that 750m. The scrub approaching the summit from the south was very unforgiving, and I did not find anything clear until basically right at the summit itself. Nice, once I got there!

Operating at VK3/VS-005

Operating at VK3/VS-005

Both activations today were on the KX1, powered using a 3S LiPO. The battery yeilds 12.6V full and it had not decreased much over the three day trip. The KX1 only sips the juice. I was carrying a 4.7m squid pole today. It is much easier to get through the scrub than the 7m squid pole. It also weighs much less. The antenna was my random wire, 40 foot long with counterpoise wires for 20, 30 and 40. The picture above shows use of a walking pole to elevate the wire near the rig, and this helps tune on 40.

There were some nice views looking to the north west:

Looking north west from VK3/VS-005

Looking north west from VK3/VS-005

I headed west-nor-west from the summit. The terrain was more patchy, with one scrubby creek crossing. I was aiming for the Victoria Range Fireline, a management vehicle track. Sometimes the terrain was very slow, other times a bit faster. About half way to the road, it cleared up significantly, and I was actually walking, rather than constantly ducking and negotiating my way. The fireline itself is the best way to access this summit. I headed south west down the track to Glenelg River Rd and then used that to walk back to the track head for the Chimney Pots.

Mt Thackeray VK3/VS-006

The previous summit took most of the day, so only one more to finish up. Mt Thackeray is a large outcrop that is reached from the Victoria Range track. This track is passable with some care in a 2wd, even though it is rated for 4wd. Just take some care on the humps. The actual summit is to the north west of campground on the 4wd track, but the campground itself is actually in the activation zone (it is even a bit higher than the summit itself!). For the sake of time, I parked the car outside of the activation zone and walked in to the campground and activated there.

Note that this summit is going to be moved to a higher point, but the new location is in the activation of VK3/VS-006, so there will not be a new SOTA code.

With that, the three day set of activations was over and it was time to head for home.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Zero, Mt William and Mt William range

Hi all,

Mt Zero VK3/VW-020

Day two of my 2014 Queens Birthday long weekend activations, and I headed north to activate Mt Zero first. Mt Zero is the northern end of the Grampians. There are high quality gravel 2wd roads that lead to the car park. It has picnic facilities, and it has been known for campervans to stay there overnight – but tent camping is not allowed.

The track that heads up to the summit is straightforward, but is also quite popular. On a long weekend, you are unlikely to be alone up here.

Mt Stapylton from Mt Zero

Mt Stapylton from Mt Zero

It’s interesting looking at this photo in May 2015, as the area was subsequently burnt after this activation. The ground is far more open now.

Looking north from Mt Zero summit

Looking north from Mt Zero summit

The trig point is not at the summit, but a little to the north – it’s only a few metres down. There is a marker at the summit itself, which is where I operated from. I had to be careful in the space I took up. I started off alone, but shortly thereafter, 10 people were on the summit, many taking interest in this strange radio activity. As I was operating CW with earbuds, they could not hear anything, they could just see me touching the key. Perhaps I could have dressed up 1910’s style with a big brass straight key :\

Mt William VK3/VS-001

I’ve been to Mt William a few times before. It is the “go to” summit in the Grampians for a quick few points. Obviously no new unique for me here. It’s a bit different being here in the middle of the day, and CW activating at that. My preferred place to activate is to get away from the crowds near the navigation site and the summit boulders to its immediate north. A further 20/30 metres north from there, about 5m down from the summit is plenty of space, and it’s a lot more quiet.

Here’s a look at my operating location – the towers in the back made little to no impact operating 20/30/40 on the KX1 – no 20m contacts however 😦

Operating location at Mt William

Operating location at Mt William

Mt William range VK3/VS-032

The final summit of the day is a lower summit to the south of Mt William, in the shadow of the Major Mitchell plateau. Recent maps show this summit off track, but it is actually quite easy to get to. I took a little bit of a harder way on the way in, but easier on the way out. Access is via Jimmy Creek Rd. I headed up Yarram Park Rd from Jimmy Creek Rd to the saddle. I found an old track from there that headed about half of the distance along the ridge to the summit. At this point I came to a 4wd track that heads up from Jimmy Creek Rd. It leaves Jimmy Creek Rd about 500m to the east of its junction with Yarram Park Rd. This would be the easiest access. From here a track continues along the ridge towards the summit. It does not quite make it, the summit itself is actually outside of the national park on private land, however the national park boundary is well within the activation zone, and so I activated close to the NP boundary (inside the boundary of course).

That was the end of day two of this trip. I planned to head over to the western Grampians on the third day.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

South west summits – Volcano land tour

Hi all,

I’m quite a bit late in posting this, but hope to gradually catch up on my SOTA activations.

Mt Elephant VK3/VS-047

Mt Elephant is an extinct volcano near Derrinallum. It was the first stop of the day. At time of activation, the summit is generally open on Sundays, but activations on other days are possible through prior arrangement. This can be done at Urquhart Motors service station, phone (03) 5597 6570. It has a web site: here.

Mt Elephant welcome sign

Mt Elephant welcome sign

I headed up first thing. It was a bit chancy because I was told that they might be spraying weeds that day, and access would be closed. I was given the all clear, and headed up quite early. The car park is at the base of the hill, and it is mostly climbing on vehicle tracks up to the summit.

Looking east from Mt Elephant summit

Looking east from Mt Elephant summit

I used the KX1 using a “random wire” with a 7 meter squid pole at the summit trig point. Progress was a little slow, but I got 4 contacts in before someone approached with the news that spraying was going to proceed that day and I needed to get off the mountain!

Mt Leura VK3/VS-050

Next stop, Mt Leura. This is located to the south east of Camperdown. You can drive to the summit on a sealed road. I headed down about 30m and then up (noting that it has been since clarified that this is not required for a SOTA activation), and set up at the summit. Again, I was on the “random wire” with the KX1. The random wire is generally very happy on 20 and 30. 40 tunes generally well enough these days, sometimes a little temperamental. I find it sometimes helps using a walking pole to get the wire off the ground near the rig. The height of the squid pole – 7m vs 4.7m does not seem to make much difference.

Operating at Mt Leura

Operating at Mt Leura

Most of my contacts are on 40m, at 7.032 CW, but it is nice to pick up an occasional 20 or 30 contact, which I did at this summit.

Mt Rouse VK3/VS-048

Third summit of the day, Mt Rouse. Keeping with the extinct volcanoes, this nice little summit is just to the south of Penshurst. There is a car park a short distance down some stairs from the summit. Again, access is via a sealed road. The summit itself has a viewing area looking north to the Grampians, with this view:

Penshurts and the southern Grampians from Mt Rouse

Penshurts and the southern Grampians from Mt Rouse

Operation again was on 40/30/20 using the KX1 with the “random” wire. I spent about 40 min on summit operating, about 20 min on 40m, then 10 min on each of 30 and 20.

Mt Napier VK3/VS-046

Final volcano of the day was Mt Napier. Access to this summit is from the north west Murroa Ln, then Coles Track heading south. There is a car park for the Mt Napier track a little over 1km to the north west of the summit. The track is passable in a 2wd with a little care. The track up to the summit is well formed and an enjoyable climb. Good views from the top, and enjoyed the volcano craters up there.

Mt Napier craters near summit

Mt Napier craters

Later in the day meant that I had a bit more action on 30 and 20 than on the previous three summits. It was getting windy and there were a few rain clouds around, so I did not stay too long. Called it quits, headed to Dunkeld for some fish and chips and to position myself for action in the Grampians on the next day.

Operating at Mt Napier

Operating at Mt Napier

The station setup shown above has the active element taken off the ground using a hiking pole. Find it helps sometimes with tuning 40m on the KX1.

Thanks for reading, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Pleasant and surrounds

Hi all,

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

Mount Pleasant W4V/BR-005

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

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

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

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

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

Cole Mountain W4V/BR-006

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

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

Views from Cole Mountain

Views from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

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

Bald Knob W4V/BR-004

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

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

Rocky Mountain W4V/BR-001

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

This summit has a bit of comms gear on site:

Rocky Mountain summit

Rocky Mountain summit

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

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Monongahela Ranges, West Virginia

Hi all,

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

Red Spruce Knob W8V/PH-007

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

Walking trail to Red Spruce Knob

Walking trail to Red Spruce Knob

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

Operating location at Red Spruce Knob

Operating location at Red Spruce Knob

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

Gay Knob W8V/PH-017

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

On the climb to Gay Knob

On the climb to Gay Knob

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

Looking out from the road near Gay Knob

Looking out from the road near Gay Knob

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

Views from the Highlands Scenic Highway

Views from the Highlands Scenic Highway

Kennison Mountains HP W8V/PH-021

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

Operating location at Kennison Mountains

Operating location at Kennison Mountains

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

Black Mountain W8V/PH-013

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM