2014 ANZAC weekend activations Part 1

Hi all,

After being around Ballarat for Easter, I managed to slip away for a 2 day trip on ANZAC day and Saturday following. A chance for some solid walking for a few summits.

VK3/VT-018

I drove up Thursday night from Melbourne through Dargo and stopped the car about 400m from the summit and there slept the night. The following morning, it was walk down the road to get out of the activation zone and make my way up to near the highest point. The road itself (Dargo High Plains Rd) actually enters the activation zone, so this is one of the easier summits around.

My battle equipment for these sets of activations was the “random” wire, the KX1, the 7m squid pole and LiPOs to give me 12V: starting at 12.6V and never really gets much below 12.3V even over many activations! The LiPOs are 3 packs of 3S 2200mAh. I could get away with just one and that would be plenty, but I would like to use these three together over their life. They must be over 100 cycles by now, they have seen a lot of action. The boss approved use for these LiPOs was for powering an electric lantern, but I also had an eye on “dual use technology”.

Most contacts were on 40, but I managed to also get AX2UH on 30 and AX5CZ on 20. I was looking forward to using the AX call, if nothing else to have a bit of variety on the CQ morse key calling. Could I control myself in sending “AX” rather than “VK”? Would the strange callsigns throw me on RX? Turned out not to be much of a problem, but it is always good to keep the practice up.

Near Mt Freezeout VK3/VE-024

There had been some debate about whether this summit, or Mt Freezeout itself deserved the SOTA reference. The maps suggest that this peak is higher, and now having been there, I continue to agree. Access is reasonably straightforward from the Dargo High Plains Rd. Just to the south of Mt Freezeout is a bit of a campsite. It’s hard to miss to the east of the road. From here, head up Mt Freezeout, and it is best to go to the summit, rather than contour around. From the summit, head east towards the saddle with VK3/VE-024 and head up.

It is a bit stark with all the dead snowgums from the 2003 fires. There had been some recent fire activity which further set back the regrowth. The views are nice however:

Looking towards the Dargo High Plains from Mt Freezeout

Looking towards the Dargo High Plains from Mt Freezeout

The Twins and Mt Buffalo (in the background) from VK3/VE-024

The Twins and Mt Buffalo (in the background) from VK3/VE-024

I took the 7m squid pole, figuring that the bush bash would be very mild, which it was. Sometimes it gets caught in the burnt branches of the snow gums. I think that the 7m pole gives some marginal DX benefit over the 4.7m pole on the random wire (a little less cloud warming), but I’ve pretty much come to the view that if there is any serious off track walking now, that the 7m pole can either stay at home or in the car.

Here’s the antenna and pole at the summit:

Antenna at VK3/VE-024

Antenna at VK3/VE-024

I worked backwards for this activation, 20 first, then 30 and 40. Picked up Peter VK3PF on a s2s on 20. It would have been direct wave, because he was less than 50km way.

The KX1 has a s meter, but I don’t use it. What it does do is present received signals with a slightly dampened AGC, so differences in strength can be heard. AGC is still present in the radio – There is a 48dB difference in strength from S1 to S9. A radio like the FT-817 has AGC action that completely removes any audio volume difference between an S5 signal (reported by the FT-817 as below S1 – a SOTA activator could be deceived to report this as a *cough* strong 509 signal) and a S9 signal. On the KX1, S6 signals are about the same volume as my sidetone setting. S9 is starting to blast my ears – although I’ve changed earbuds recently which have improved things. Below S3, I have to turn the volume up to better hear the other station, but turn it down on TX so the side tone is not too loud.

After finishing up, it was on to the two last summits of the day, with significant walking planned.

Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021

The 4wd track was beyond the Prius – I didn’t try – but I reckon I could have given it a shake in the Camry. I walked up to the top of the main track and then found side tracks heading along towards the summit itself. A small amount of height is lost, then it climbs towards the summit. It was nice to get away from the noise of the 4wds to activate.

I went back to 40 metres to start this activation, driven by the prospect of a summit to summit with Nick VK3ANL. Using a CW only rig (although can receive SSB), I have to be a little selective about which other SOTA activators I try for a s2s, some get thrown by someone using CW on 7.09 I’ve long come to the conclusion that using the KX1 is not going to help me do well on the SOTA summit to summit score tables, but it’s down on my list of SOTA priorities. I have genuinely enjoyed activating mostly CW only since I became a Mountain Goat last November.

Blue Rag Range VK3/VE-015

When the time comes to turn over the Camry, I am going to get at least a soft roader. It will open more SOTA summits to me, but at the moment, I can still get these summits in reasonable time by walking. Good for the fitness and keeps the weight under control. Also keeps me in shape for the SOTA summit that no car can get anywhere near. It is hard work, however walking up and down the knobs and knolls sometimes on fire trails. Also get a few strange looks from 4wd drivers as they go past in their 10 car convoys.

By the way, I would have never attempted to take the Camry down this road, I would have at least wanted a soft roader. Maybe more than a soft roader – although with the right technique, soft roaders can go lots of places. I’ve got my Camry, and even the Prius into places they shouldn’t be able to go.

Before getting started at the summit, it was time to take a few pics. It was nice looking south towards Mt Kent and the upper reaches of the Moroka river:

Mt Kent from VK3/VE-015

Mt Kent from VK3/VE-015

I started on 20, and it’s nice when the bands are open to get a decent pile up from EU and W. Those EU operators are keen. Generally VK operators are quite polite and try to go one at a time. Here it’s trying to separate two stations zero-beating each other with the same strength. I wait for one of them to stop and note the few characters of the call of the station still sending, send these and hope only they then respond – which happens most of the time. What I do try to do is never reward naughty behaviour. If someone is calling out of turn or calling before I send QRZ or whatever, I try to work them either last or only after they work with what I am doing. It is easier to use the RIT and the adjustable filter on the KX1 to effectively ignore QRM (a bit harder on the FT-817, where there is either the wide 2.3kHz filter, or a 500Hz filter – not a variable potentiometer driven filter). On the subject of sending QRZ at the end of a QSO, I find it works wonders for imposing some discipline on pileups. In all truth, I could get away not doing it on VK stations, but given it’s an essential pileup management tool for EU pileups, I am now doing it all the time.

With that, it was time to head back to the car – about a 2 1/2 hour walk. It was dark about half way along, but that’s the plan to try and get as much activating in on these days as I can.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Three summits near Ballarat

Hi all,

To ensure that the brownie point balance was kept in check, I did not plan a multi-day SOTA adventure this Easter. I did, however, get leave to activate three summits near Ballarat, all which I had activated before.

After my troubles with antennas on the March long weekend, I decided that I would repair the random wire with high grade wire near the BNC adapter. The antenna had failed by the wire simply tearing at the adapter. My solution was to solder about 1cm of the wire on, and use tape to try and give greater physical support to the wire, so that the load is not borne at one particular spot. I also reinforced the counterpoise wires in a similar fashion. The photo below (if you click on it), shows the changes to the random wire (you may need to zoom in on the KX1).

Mt Buninyong VK3/VC-018

I had not activated this summit since 2012. My previous activation used my original setup of the 8 segment aluminium pole vertical. I had not used verticals for a while now, but when I do, I rely on a squid pole to give physical support to a wire going up – a squid pole is more convenient. For this activation, it was the random wire. Here is a look at the setup I used here:

Station at Mt Buninyong

Station at Mt Buninyong

I headed up the road and parked in the activation zone. There is a walking track heading down the hill from the carpark near the lookout tower. I used this to leave the activation zone and reenter it for my final nonmotorised access to the summit.

For these activations, I used the shorter 4.7m squid pole. For local contacts, it makes little difference between using the shorter squid pole or the longer 7m one. I was keen to give the shorter pole a bit of a workout, as I have a trip upcoming to the states. The shorter pole fits in the luggage I plan to take. The larger pole does not, so the shorter pole looks like it will go. I also had an eye on what I might do at the end of the year on the Lord Howe Island trip.

Another eye on the US trip/Lord Howe Island was not to use an external power supply on these three activations. I used only the NiZn internal AA cells, with no LiPOs in the car or anywhere else to go grab if something went cold. My station is simply the KX1 box, the wire and the squid pole. The whole lot is under 1kg. This is my planned US station.

The KX1 has little difficulty tuning the antenna on 20/30/40. The pattern remains that the most amount of power is developed on 20, then 30 then 40, with 40 being generally around 1 watts on a 10.5V supply. The typical report I receive is 559. 40 remains a reliable band for close in contacts. If I can self spot, then getting 4 CW contacts quickly on 40 is just about guaranteed these days.

Getting the good reports on the NiZn batteries shows that this minimal setup works.

As for my broken end-fed, it would appear that the problem there is that the toroid inside has physically broken due to the rumble tumble of many activations (eg hitting the ground when being quickly uncoiled). The matchbox is closed, but looking at people on the internet who sawed it open, the only thing that could make the rattling noise that I experienced is broken pieces of the toroid. I am still working out how to repair it. Considerations are:

  • For CW activations on the KX1, I think the random wire does as well or better than a EFHW in an inverted V formation with a 7m squid pole in the middle. The EFHW might perform better on a bigger squid pole, but here I am using a 4.7m squid pole with the random wire. The key advantage of the random wire is that there is no feedline – the antenna itself connects directly onto the BNC connector of the KX1. There will be no feedline losses.
  • For the FT-817, I lose the inbuilt KX1 tuner and that is losing a whole lot of convenience. My options are either the EFHW (at least on a 7m pole), or use a vertical if I am after DX. I think dipole based antennas (doublets, etc) are going to be cloud warmers, just like the EFHW, unless I can genuinely get them up higher – eg putting a doublet on two 10m squid poles, one at each end. Ian, VK5CZ introduced me to the SOTAbeams EFHW tuner for 5 watts. I think I would base a new end fed on this matchbox. It gives the option of a counterpoise, which my old end fed did not have. Matchboxes like this are really a convenience thing, as the matchbox itself can be homebrewed without much difficulty.

So, I think I’ll leave the old end-fed for now, and hopefully get around to building a new one based on the SOTAbeams end fed matchbox.

Mt Warrenheip VK3/VC-019

Mt Warrenheip was more of the same. A sealed road goes to the summit area. I parked in the activation zone, but at the eastern end of the road (final turn before the summit) and then walked down the ridge to exit the activation zone, turned around and reentered it.

This activation was again on the short 4.7m squid pole and the random wire. One thing about this setup is that it is quick to put up and tear down.

VK3/VC-032

My final activation for the weekend was at this unnamed summit. Bush Search and Rescue Victoria are having a training day the following month just down the hill from here. My part is to operate a GPS based rogaine training exercise, so I met up with the organisers to do a reccy of the proposed course. After finishing up with them, I headed up the summit, and basically did the same thing as at Mt Warrenheip.

All three of these summits are nice easy summits to get started for those nervous about taking the SOTA activation plunge. Even CW activations on 40m are straightforward these days if you can self spot. If you can’t, its getting a lot easier as well.

I tested the voltage of the NiZn AA cells after the three activations. They started at 1.8V per cell, and were about 1.77V at the end of the day. They can clearly handle these activations and have plenty of left over capacity. Given that NiZn batteries prefer shallow cycles rather than deeper cycles, I would be using them as recommended. Running on these NiZn AA cells gives me most of the developed power I get when I operate using external LiPOs. It would be far ahead of using 1.5V non rechargables – the 1.5V is only when they are full – when they are about 50%, it’s 1.3V (that would be 7.8V total). Stories on the internet about the KX1 suggest that at around 7.5V, the KX1 is typically only generating 300 to 500mW. If I used NiMH, they quickly settle to 1.2V for 7.2V total for 6 cells. This is close to the KX1 low voltage cutoff – Elecraft don’t recommend running the KX1 on 6 NiMH cells, but if I did – it would be true QRPp activating. QRP does interest me, but I perhaps are not so much into the QRPp thing. As it currently stands, the NiZn cells are an excellent internal power solution for the KX1.

So, not too bad getting 3 summits in, although none of them are new uniques for me. Still, it had been a month since my last activation, so you have to take them when they come.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

John Moyle Field Day 2014 At Mt Torbreck

Hi all,

Most of my activations are lightweight, and even more so these days, using a KX1 with a random wire antenna. Once a year, I go in an entirely different direction, and that is for the John Moyle Field day contest. This is a contest with both HF and VHF and up sections. It also rewards making seperate contacts on phone, CW and digital. It has a 6 hour section that can be timed for three rounds of contacts for each station, and they can be contacted per band.

It’s the VHF and up section that interests me. Currently that interest is on three bands 6m, 2m and 70cm.

A few years ago, I identified Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001 as a suitable site to operate for the contest, and I went there in 2012, and again in 2013. This year, I sought to improve on previous year scored. I had dispensed with the Quadruple Quads that I had used on previous expeditions and built a 6 element yagi for 2m.

Access to the summit was the usual Barnewell Plains Rd up from Eildon Jamieson Rd. It’s a little rough, but there is no real trouble getting the Prius up here. As per last year, I would need two trips up to carry the gear.

Gear included:

  • FT-897
  • FT-817
  • Laptop and power adaptor that could take 12V in
  • Signalink USB for digital modes
  • A HT for 2/70 FM
  • 8 3S 5000mAh LIPOs
  • 3 3S 2200mAh LIPOs
  • A 12 V regulator
  • Various coax pieces both LMR195 and LMR400
  • Two 7m squid poles plus the lightweight 4.7m squid pole
  • Two 1.5m al pole sections
  • Turnstyle antenna for 6m
  • Coax based colinears for 2 and 70
  • A PVC based and squid pole mounted 6 element yagi for 2m

With the removal of the Quadruple Quads, it was less gear than last year. I had also taken up less battery capacity because I used little more than 50% of it last year.

As everything was carried in by hand and was battery powered, all my contacts here were SOTA contacts.

Conditions were nice during the setup. I finished the second trip up at about 11am and proceeded to setup all the gear.

Here’s the 2m colinear:

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

The 70cm colinear was built the previous day before the contest, and was then tested with the MiniVNAPro and Extender. It is a little hard to get the element spacing just right – I built it a little longer than a version from last year, but it still ended up a little out of band. SWRs of mid 3s to 4 are really too high, so I’ll need to make a match for it.

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

The gain is still very nice, and I get away with these high SWRs because the FT-897 does not develop as much power on 70. It also cuts back the power in presence of higher SWRs. Still, I need to get the SWR below 2 to give my radio an easier time and so a match will be needed – otherwise I would have to build the thing again, even longer per segment – I’m a little over building these things now!

Physically, the lightweight 4.7m squid pole was able to take the weight of the colinear, however, given that I was also attaching some LMR400 coax, I needed to support the weight of that against a tree, otherwise the pole would start to bend so that the bottom of the colinear was not far from the ground.

Next up, the 2m yagi:

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

In light winds, the setup for this was fine. I am going to need to guy it for stronger winds. I can guy it just below where the yagi is mounted. The mounting is a PVC pipe t piece on the pole, with the stem of the T allowing me to put on another T piece for the beam. I am going to modify the physical construction a little more along the lines of what Peter VK3PF has done, putting the elements through the beam, rather than using a wingnut to tie them onto the top of it. This will make setup and tear down simpler.

I was pretty happy with the measured results of this antenna:

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

This gives an SWR below 1.1 at 144.18MHz. The front to back was predicted by NEC2 to be over 30dB, and it was clearly high as I moved the yagi around. Predicted free space gain was about 16dBi. I was able to use it to work VK1DA/P during the contest, although by then, winds were very high and I had trouble keeping the thing up. So improvements for next year is a guying mount and physical improvements to the element mounting. I will also put in a BNC socket just after the common mode choke. The common mode choke on this antenna is simply 6 turns of the coax around the PVC beam right next to the feed point.

Last antenna up, the 6m turnstyle from last year. It’s not the most high gain antenna out there, but it does enough to put me in the game on 6m. I’m still thinking about whether I might put in a 2 element yagi to replace it next year, however the advantage of this thing is that I don’t need to do anything to adjust it during the contest. This is handy when in the tent because it’s raining outside.

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

You may notice the dark cloud in the above photo. Unfortunately, it was a sign of things to come.

So what’s missing. I have nothing horizontal polorisation for 70cm, and my plan for that is to build a 70cm yagi for next year. I’ll take the lessons learnt from building the 2m yagi this year. I am not going to bother with any vertical polorisation antenna for 6m.

The radios were setup in the vestibule of the tent:

Radios in tent vestibule

Radios in tent vestibule

A look at the batteries – these were 3 parallel by 2 in series (effectively the cells are 6S3P) which then feeds a 12V regulator.

Mind the computer

Mind the computer

It does take a little bit of work to get the workspace clean enough in the small tent. The computer was here to provide VKCL logging during the contest and to run the PSK software (Fldigi). An alternative is to run something like DroidPSK on my phone or tablet through one of my radio interfaces.
20140315_130538s

I operated for about 4 hours in the contest. There were fewer portable stations out compared to last year, and a notable absence of picking up people participating in and around Melbourne using 2/70 FM HTs. I picked up a lot of contacts last year that way.

A number of strong showers passed through, but I heard from other contest stations further southwest that conditions were getting wild. There was sounds of distant thunder, and the radar looked bad out 100km to the west, so I pulled the plug. It felt a shame to end 2 hours early – I missed a whole available contest window. Conditions were looking not so good and there was lightning around, so I did not want to risk it.

I quickly pulled down the antennas and took the high priority gear (radios, computer, etc) down to the car first. On the way back up, a decent electrical storm came through with lightning every 3 or 4 seconds. Some strikes were within 500m. That storm passed when I got back up to the top, but now it was time to take down some of the metal gear. I actually thought about abandoning it, but banked on getting off the ridge before the next storm arrived. As it turned out, I was not quite off the ridge when the next squall came through. It was lightning every 2 or 3 seconds, the rain was driving hard and the track was a river under 30cm of flowing water. There was water absolutely everywhere. I was glad that I had taken down the electronic gear on the first trip and it was in the dry car! I still was not too happy about carrying 1.5m metal poles in the middle of an electrical storm. I felt much safer once off the ridge and about 20 minutes later the storm had passed. The rain then backed off to a more usual level. I was pretty wet for the drive home!

This was quite an experience, and hopefully the summit will be more forgiving next time and allow me to get a 6 hour activation in. I got 846 points, which I felt was not bad given the 4 hours operation, plus the lower number of portable stations. I look forward to next year with 2 yagis and a matched 70cm colinear to help extend the scores above my 2013 high.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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

Labour day long weekend Part 1

Hi all,

On the recent Labour Day long weekend, I aimed to get away and have a look at a few new summits that I had not activated before, with some of them not activated yet at all. The plan was to activate 12 over the long weekend – we’ll see how we go.

Mt Lookout VK3/VT-030

Proceedings started with Mt Lookout, near Aberfeldy. I drove up on the Friday night and activated in the dark. The plan was to use the random wire on 20 and 40. Access to this summit is quite easy. Aberfeldy can be accessed via the Thompson Dam. The good quality road crosses the dam, and then climbs steeply. At the top of the ridge, it meets the Walhalla Rd and then goes gravel. The road is then a little narrow at times, but is easy going to Aberfeldy. There is a road that goes to the Aberfeldy cemetery and this is well within the activation zone.

I brought both a 7m and 4.7m squid pole, but decided on using the longer pole. Operation was on the KX1 and the random wire. I had Nickel Zinc batteries inside the KX1, but brought a 3S LiPO for operation – this helps boost up the wattages a little.

I had been using this random wire for some time, but only prepared a counterpoise for 20 and 30. This time, I upgraded the antenna for two counterpoises for 40. It takes a little longer to role out the extra counterpoises, but not too long. I decided to stay at 7.283 on 40 as that was what I had alerted. It tuned it with an SWR of 1 and I obtained higher wattage on 40, around 2, compared to what I have previously been able to obtain.

The activation went quite quickly, which was good because it had started to rain.

The next planned summit was Mt Selma, and I thought it best to see if I could get the car through on Walhalla Rd to access it. I was in a Camry 2WD. The road was of poorer quality north of Aberfeldy, but it was still passable with some care. It was not steep, but there were some large potholes in the road. I proceeded to the junction with the Selma Track. From here, the road was much better through to near the summit, which is where I slept that night.

Mt Selma VK3/VT-013

Next up, next morning (Saturday), Mt Selma. Access can be via Aberfeldy as described above. Easy 2WD access can be had from the Jamieson Licola Rd, taking South Rd and then Mt Selma Rd. I was parked outside the activation zone and then followed 4wd tracks for about 400m to get well within the zone. I setup using the random wire on the 7m pole again and worked on 20 and 40. The action this time was on 40. The KX1 is enjoying the extra conterpoises with the antenna.

Conner Plain VK3/VT-22

My second summit for the day (third for the trip) was Conner Plain. It had rained a moderate amount overnight, but this had started to clear up, however it was still quite foggy:

Foggy conditions on approach to Conner Plain

Foggy conditions on approach to Conner Plain

The Jamieson Licola Rd proceeds to the east and north of the summit. There is a bit of a track heading off which gains a few metres, but the fairly short climb is mostly off track. It is pretty easy going. There is an old dozer track coming in from the north north east towards the summit. I headed up to the east of this, and got into a bog which was caused by cattle grazing nearby. The cattle really tear up the bogs and it stank. I managed to avoid the worst of it and got up to the top, which is quite flat.

Here’s the operating location at Conner Plain:

Rig at Conner Plain

Rig at Conner Plain

I was operating on the 7m squid pole. The radiating element (random wire) rises directly from the rig to the top of the squid pole:

Antenna and squid pole at Conner Plain

Antenna and squid pole at Conner Plain

Mt Shillinglaw VK3/VE-068

My third summit for the day was Mt Shillinglaw. Access is via the Jamieson Licola Rd. The Australian Alpine Walking Track leaves the road almost due north from the summit and is quite well marked. It is a climb of about 100 vertical metres up to the flattish area of the top.

I still operated up at 7.283 due to having my alerts on sotawatch set at that frequency. I was developing about 2w on very low tuned SWR on about 12.4v from the LiPo pack.

Here’s a look at the setup there:

Setup at Mt Shillinglaw

Setup at Mt Shillinglaw

Mt Skene VK3/VE-031

Mt Skene was the fourth summit of the day, and 5th of the trip. Access is again via the Jamieson Licola Rd. The road goes within a few hundred metres to the top and a sign points towards the summit. The track is quite indistinct, but it is not too hard to find the trig point at the top.

I operated with the same setup as the previous summits. Here, I found ants to be quite a problem. There was no where really to sit down without causing a swarm. I ended up hanging up the backpack on a tree and standing to operate! Before that, there were a number of pauses as I sent CW, as I needed to brush the ants away!

There are two lookouts near the summit, and both are on the road. The one south of the summit gives better views:

Looking NE from lookout on Mt Skene

Looking NE from lookout on Mt Skene

Looking SE from lookout near Mt Skene

Looking SE from lookout near Mt Skene

VK3/VE-091

The last planned summit of the day was this one, to the SW of Mt Skene. I backtracked a few kms to where Lazarini Spur Track meets the Jamieson Licola Rd, and started heading down. I expected a long walk, however the road quality remained acceptable for a 2wd. I continued to make my way to the saddle at point 431511. The road quality lessened somewhat, but I remained able to continue in the 2wd. There is a junction at 422502, I turned right, taking the track that passes to the north of VE-091, making my way to about 417502. This is about 200m to the north of the summit, about 80m down. I climed, but headed to the west of the summit and then SE in. The scrub had its moments – its not fast going, but I’ve seen far worse. At least its not too far.

I operated with a similar setup to previously, however the ants were even worse here that at Mt Skene. They were crawling up the conterpoise wires that were on the ground to the radio, the rig was covered with them. I tried to use the times when I was not sending to keep clearing the ants off the antenna wires and off the rig. Again, I operated standing up, there was nowhere safe to sit!

VK3/VE-158

For the last summit of the day, VE-158 was on the menu. As I had made good time in not needing to walk 8km each way to VE-091, I could squeeze in this summit. I parked the car at Ferguson Saddle (332675). I tried getting the Camry up the 4wd track climbing steeply out, and I nearly made it, but I had to concede defeat as it was simply too steep, and I did not feel it worth it to continue to try or reverse the car up – perhaps I could have got the car up reversing with great effort, but it gets a bit silly after awhile. Clearly the Camry is much more capable than the Prius on these roads. A AWD could be gotten up with car, and a high clearance low range 4wd with ease.

I walked to point 326682 and headed west to the high point and then south. I would have been better off staying on the track to about 321683 and heading up from there. On top, the going is easier, as there has been a recent control burn. It’s about 1.1km to the summit from the high point, which is about he same height. This summit appears to be in the wrong place, however, so VE-198 is going to be delisted at some point with a new summit at 313684.

Here’s a look at the terrain at dusk:

Recently burnt forest near VE-158 summit

Recently burnt forest near VE-158 summit

With that, the day was done. I went to Granny’s Flat to sleep the night. There was quite a crowd there, so I thought I might sleep in the car, with the windows closed to keep down the noise. It was too hot, however and I also can’t stretch out properly in the back seat, so up went the tent. The noise had died down and I was able to get a reasonable sleep for the next big day ahead, which is continued in Part 2.

73 and regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

Two summits in New Year 2014

Hi all,

After four gruelling days of action, which you can read about here:

Day 1: Mt Hedrick and Ben Cruachan

Day 2: Mt Margaret Range

Day 3: Cromwell Knob, Lamb Hill, Castle Hill and Bryce’s Plain

Day 4: Mt Darling Range

I was starting to get a little sore. Day 5 was clearly not going to be a big day to see in the new year. The previous evening, I finished up getting back mid to late afternoon from Mt Darling Range. I headed down to Horseyard flat to freshen up and then went onto Castle Hill Rd and Marathon Rd to head down towards the first summit for the day. Marathon Rd is a little rough in a 2wd, but not too bad. I don’t think the Prius would make it back up, its a one way trip for that kind of car. Anyway, the road soon improves and it did not take long to get to where I would stay for the night, near the first summit of the day.

VK3/VT-037

This is an unnamed summit that is close to Marathon Rd. Access is easy in a 2wd to about 450m from the summit and 130m vertical. From there, its a moderate scrub bash. It does not take too long to get up to the summit. The summit is forest, but reasonably open to put up antennas. Due to the scrub bash, I decided to leave the 7m squid pole in the car use the lightweight 4.7m pole instead. Scrub bashing with this is much easier, as because it fits in the pack, it does not get caught on anything either. Also, due to its smaller size, I often don’t need to secure the pole using a scrap. Just the tension on the antenna and some object, such as a rock is generally enough.

I operated, again using the KX1 using the end fed on the 4.7m pole. I was not able to convince Marshall VK3MRG to do a cross mode. I could tell that the summit 2 summit action was fast and furious, but most were SSB only. Ron VK3AFW decided to whistle back some CW to me, but this was after I reported on his SSB signal – this meant it was still a xmode QSO. Doing CW activations is not likely to result in being a leader on the summit 2 summit leaderboard, but SOTA should not be about being first on the leaderboards. I think that eventually I’ll lose the 1st positions that I currently hold anyway. My longer term objectives are to a) have fun, b) achieve Mountain Goat on uniques, and c) activate more than 600 VK3 summits.

I stayed on summit for the UTC midnight cross over, so I got the 6 activation points twice. After finishing up, I headed back down the mountain, at times using the compass (a real analogue one – the only ones I trust for real navigation) to ensure that I was heading east and not south east. Heading south east would result in me missing the road. In the end, I came out about 5m from where the car was parked.

VK3/VT-070

This is another unnamed summit, but time is ticking on this summit’s lifetime in the SOTA program. Perhaps 1 Feb, we’ll find out in due course. Nearby Mount Moornapa is the higher point with SOTA prominence and VT-070 does not have 150m prominence to it, so it will be leaving SOTA sometime soon. Nonetheless, I wanted to have it in the log before it is gone. I tried using the Link Rd from Marathon Rd to head east over Firestone Creek Rd, but that was not to be. Instead, I headed down Marathon Rd until reaching Valencia Creek Briagolong Rd and used that to hop on Firestone Creek Rd. This road is sealed for a while, and then good 2wd up to Ten Mile Track. Signs suggest that Firestone Creek Rd should be good through to Dargo (but not for towing a caravan).

Ten Mile Track is a little rough, but not too bad for the Prius. I was also able to get the car up the steep sections without any real trouble and this took me through to the Mt Moornapa summit. It was still fine going on Tower Link Rd through to a point to the south east of the VT-070 summit. I left the car here and proceeded on foot up to the summit.

One interesting aspect of CW activations on a KX1 is the ability to both hold the radio and key it in one hand. This meant I decided to operate in part standing up. Normally I am sitting on the ground when activating. Standing can make a nice change, especially if there is a bullant or two around. I was not bitten, but it was nice to be on my feet. Due to the short distance from the car, I decided to bring up the 7m pole. I think for 40m on the end fed, the 7m pole does not give too much above the 4.7m lightweight pole. Both do not give much DX joy with the inverted V too close to the ground. Some have had some DX success using dipoles such as doublets, but perhaps a 10m pole is really needed for that. I might have to get the vertical out a few times for real DX action, although the “random wire” has shown some limited promise.

I operated most summits over the 5 days on a set of 3S Lipo 2200mAh, x3 in parallel. They were still well over 90% at the end of the trip. I operated 3 summits just on the NiZn internal cells inside the KX1. They were still barely getting started. This nice little radio is well suited to these longer trips – it simply does not use much battery! With the NiZn cells inside, all I need is a random wire and something to have it off the ground, and that’s a complete station!

Back, at VK3/VT-070, the rain held off, but looked a bit threatening. I wanted to get out of any difficult roads while they were still dry, so I did not stay too long, and so my 5 day SOTA adventure came to a conclusion. A total of 12 summits (13 activations) with 9 of them activated for SOTA for the first time by anybody. 11 new uniques for me.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Darling Range

Hi all

Mt Darling Range VK3/VT-009

Day 4 of my 2013/14 New Years trip continues on from the 4 summits done yesterday. Today sees me take on a more significant challenge, Mt Darling Range.

This summit is in a wilderness area and is now quite remote from any motorised access. The closest point of easy access is Dimmick Lookout at 809716, which is where I overnighted before attempting this summit. Before heading off, I had a look at the early morning view:

Early morning view north from Dimmick lookout

Early morning view north from Dimmick lookout

This summit is hard. Allow a full day to get in and out and this assumes that you have a good level of fitness. If you don’t possess this, I suggest you select a different summit to activate.

The fiesty maps that I had loaded into Androzic suggested that Carey Road leaves from Dimmick Lookout. It does not. It starts about 150m back along the track and has an alignment that zigzags on the southern side of the spur. I headed off going down the spur to the south east of the lookout. There are some gaps in the tracklog, but the idea can be made out. Here’s the tracklog:

Tracklog of activation of VK3/VT-009

Tracklog of activation of VK3/VT-009

The tracklog shows the path of Carey Road with its zigzags. I actually didn’t know it, but I would have gone on it briefly on way down on the initial descent to Mt Darling Saddle. I picked up the track at point 825711 and decided to use it to climb the eastern side, even though it heads south-south-east. What got me was that the track turns, but not as shown on the old forest explorer maps (does not show there now) or on the fiesty maps. It turns a little sooner and stays further west of Mount Creek for longer. There is another track continuing on the south-south-east alignment, and this is quite tricky to avoid on the way out to the summit. The turning point is a 90 degree turn – its hard to see as the track is quite overgrown, but look for the 1/2m cutting for the side of the track into the hill. It should remain on your left as you “go round the bend”. If it goes onto the right hand side, you’ve gone too far.

Anyway, I lost the track and proceeded across the Mount Creek. I found a hunters hut hidden away at around 832705. There was no one around. I then decided to head up the hill. This route is not shown on the tracklog as I had lost GPS fix for awhile. The log shows the upper point of the climb, and my decision to head towards the junction of Carey Road and the track heading up to the summit itself.

I did not find this track on the way up. I just made my way along the ridge. After a further kilometre, I ended up picking up the old walking track and used it for the remainder of the trip to the summit. It makes it easier – even though the track is quite indistinct, it’s still 50% faster than going off track.

I activated within 150m horizontal of the summit location. It would have been within 10 vertical metres of the summit. Good enough. The activation was on the KX1 with the 4.7m lightweight pole. It was nice not having to bring the big pole on the scrub bash, this little pole is enough to do the job.

On the way back, I decided to stay on the walking/old 4wd track as long as I could. I headed back and was basically able to stay on the track the whole way all the way back to the car. It does take some concentration, because parts are overgrown. There are bits easier higher up:

Carey Rd on the Mt Darling Range

Carey Rd on the Mt Darling Range

I certainly noticed that the old road alignment crossed Mount Creek about 500m upstream from where marked on the map. The track here is quite overgrown. The last 500m before the turn on the the track going north-north-west down to the saddle is quite indistinct, but still can be followed. It is not hard to follow the track from the turn, all the way back down to the saddle and then up to the lookout. It is easier, and although it is longer than going off track straight up the spur back to the lookout, it is faster.

It was a solid 5 hours of walking out, and a solid 4 hours back – without breaks. If you are not as fit as me, it is likely to take you longer.

All in all, it was a good day to get out there and tackle this summit. For those wanting to have a go, hopefully these notes are of assistance.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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

Hi all,

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

Cromwell Knob VK3/VT-012

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

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

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

Mt Dawson and Mt Kent from Cromwell Knob

Mt Dawson and Mt Kent from Cromwell Knob

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

Lamb Hill VK3/VT-025

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

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

Castle Hill VK3/VT-014

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

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

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

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

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

Operating at Castle Hill using the lightweight squid pole

Operating at Castle Hill using the lightweight squid pole

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

Bryce’s Plain VK3/VT-004

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Margaret Range

Hi all,

vk3/vt-064

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

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

Looking north up the Macalister valley from near Macalister George

Looking north up the Macalister valley from near Macalister George

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

Mt Margaret vk3/vt-031

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

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

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

vk3/vt-032

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

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

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

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

Wellington Plateau from vk3/vt-032

Wellington Plateau from vk3/vt-032

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

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Hedrick and Ben Cruachan

Hi all,

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

Mt Hedrick VK3/VT-069

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

Looking north from Mt Hedrick's western slopes

Looking north from Mt Hedrick’s western slopes

Looking southwest from Mt Hedrick's western slopes

Looking southwest from Mt Hedrick’s western slopes

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

Ben Cruachan VK3/VT-042

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

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

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

Looking north from Ben Cruachan

Looking north from Ben Cruachan

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM