San Gabriel Mountains activations

Hi all,

Recently, I was in the United States for the HOPE worldwide Global Summit, which for me was four days of about 14 hours a day of constant meetings and sessions. I did not come here for a holiday, but at least I have a few days to get out and have a look around, including doing some SOTA.

Table Mountain W6/CT-067

After the end of the global summit, I had one full free day before catching a plane to the east coast of the US. I planned to use this day and the evening before to grab some summits in the San Gabriel Mountains. I hired a car to get around. Of course as an Australian, it means driving on the other side of the road, but it certainly helps that the drivers seat and steering wheel is on the other side of the car.

First up was Table Mountain. I could have taken the I15 to get there, but instead took LA 2 the Angeles Crest Highway for a more scenic route. Glad I did.

It’s time to leave the smog of LA behind:

LA basin from the San Gabriel range foothills

LA basin from the San Gabriel range foothills

Great views from the highway as we go along:

San Gabriel range mountains

San Gabriel range mountains

Access to Table Mountain itself is very straightforward. At Big Pines, intersection, Table Mountain Rd head off to the north. This road is paved (sealed) and makes its way up to a large carpark and hotel/pub that is clearly used a lot during the ski season.

The carpark near Table Mountain summit

The carpark near Table Mountain summit

The paved road heading to the summit leaves from near the right-hand side of the building. It would be only 100 vertical feet to the summit from here, the car park is not far from the activation zone itself.

I found out that I had no cell phone coverage here. No self spots. I got only one QSO, but that is enough to at least get the summit as a unique. I activated for over 2 hours, so plenty of calling. I was getting cold and the day was late, so time to get out of here. I made my way down to Victorville to stay the night, and hope to do better the next day.

Throop Peak W6/CT-005

The menu for the next day was three summits, with Throop Peak and Mt Baden Powell (of scouts fame) to be done together. I drove back, up into the range and made my way to Dawson Saddle where I parked the car. Note that a Forest Pass is needed to park the car and head into the mountains here. They nominally cost $5, but if you buy it from from other than the Forest Service, they can add a surcharge of a dollar or so.

A trail leaves from the saddle itself to the south, but the official trail leaves from two hundred yards or so to the east of the saddle. I made my way along the unofficial trail to get started. It meets up with the official trail soon enough. Here’s a look at the typical trail formation and terrain:

Trail conditions on the way to Throop Peak

Trail conditions on the way to Throop Peak

The trail makes its way up to the main ridge, but I noticed that the Forest Service built the trail to try to avoid steep gradients, it would contour up rather than strictly stay on top of the spur line going up. It makes for faster walking, that’s for sure. If only Parks Victoria and fire trail constructors would take notice, but I’ve seen this style of track (trail) construction elsewhere in Australia.

The trail avoids the summit itself, skipping to the north, then the main range trail is met. Turning right, this trail climbs from the junction, but an unoffical trail soon leaves itself to the right, following the ridge up to the summit itself. Great views from up here:

Summit of Throop Peak

Summit of Throop Peak

For all of my US activations, I was to use the following equipment:

  • A Elecraft KX1
  • 6 NiZn AA cells inside the KX1 – I brought a charger to keep them topped up at the end of each day throughout the trip
  • The “random” 41ft wire with 1/4 wave counterpoises for 20/30/40
  • The lightweight 4.7m squid pole

At Mt Throop, I put the squid pole in a nearby pine tree, with the base of the pole about 3 foot off the ground. Here’s a look at the station setup at the KX1 end of the wire:

Station at Throop Peak

Station at Throop Peak

I had been encouraged to try 2m on FM by people on the nasota Yahoo Groups reflector, so I brought that along. All I had for that was a 1/4 wave antenna. It still got in around the LA basin, but it helps that I could see if from here – not that I could see buildings as such – I saw the grey layer of smog in that direction.

I could not self-spot, and indeed I was unable to self-spot throughout my time in the states, but there was far more action here than the previous evening. It’s pleasing to know that I can get out on this thing, but I’ve worked US stations on this wire from VK.

Mt Baden-Powell W6/CT-004

I headed back the way I came down along the ridge line and joined up with the official trail, which heads east-nor-east along the ridge towards Mt Baden Powell. Walking conditions were ideal with mild temperatures around mid 60s and the gentle gradients on the trail helped as well. Here’s a look to the south east:

The Iron Fork valley from near Throop Peak

The Iron Fork valley from near Throop Peak

I was able to stick to my times, even though I underestimated the effects of altitude. It had been a while since I had walked at altitudes around 9000ft, and these altitudes are not encountered in Australia. I made the summit at about the anticipated time. but first a glance at the Wally Waldron tree, a 1500 year old tree:

The Wally Waldron Tree

The Wally Waldron Tree

And then a look towards Mt San Antonio:

Mt San Antonio from Mt Baden Powell

Mt San Antonio from Mt Baden Powell

I operated a little to the south of the main summit, as there were many people around. I again used the trick of mounting my pole with the base wedged in pine trees several feet of the ground. Makes this little squid pole nearly 6m!

Operating station at Mt Baden Powell

Operating station at Mt Baden Powell

I had less success on 2m, but the three HF bands yielded a good number of contacts. After finishing up here, I headed back towards Mt Throop. It’s mostly downhill from here, and then on the side trail back to Dawson Saddle.

Kratka Ridge W6/CT-014

My final W6 summit (was getting used to keying W6/VK3WAM by now) was Kratka Ridge. There is a sign off the Angeles Crest highway closest to the summit saying “keep out” of the area around the ski lift. Less than 1/2 a mile to the east of this is a public picnic area. The saddle here is quite close to the road. I parked the car on the side of the road here and headed up.

I had gotten used to the nice gentle gradients of the trails on the previous summits today, but no such joy here. It did go off to a side line to the right, but then turned around and went straight up. Slower work, but as I approached the ridge line, it backed off and it was more a walk than a climb. The ski lift has clearly not been used for a while, the trail goes to the top of the lift, and it could do with some love:

Ski lift at Kratka Ridge

Ski lift at Kratka Ridge

Only a few hundred feet from this is the summit. I set up here, operated first on 2m, and then on the KX1 with the random wire. It had clouded over and the temperature had dropped to less than 60 with a decent breeze. It was never going to be a case of hanging around too long here. It was good that the three summits today had been easily qualified, after the lonesomeness of Table Mountain the previous day. Hopefully my summits over on the east coast would be more like today.

It was a great day with good walking and good SOTA. I could do with more days here, but the next day a plane to Philadelphia awaited. So back for a shortened sleep and to the airport.

A good introduction to SOTA activating in North America.

73 de Wayne VK3WAM

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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

Mt Eaglehawk, Mt Barranhet, Mt Strathbogie and VE-203

Hi all,

Mt Eaglehawk VK3/VN-022

Rik Head VK3EQ mentioned that he would attempt to activate Mt Eaglehawk before the summit is no longer valid for SOTA activations. I was also keen for the same, so Rik kindly gave me a heads up when he was heading up.

Rik was heading up with a friend, Russ, up to Bogong and Mt Eaglehawk was an on the way stop. I headed up myself to join them, and then planned other activations afterwards.

Mt Eaglehawk is on private land, so if anyone else plans an activation, they would need to get information from Rik first. It turns out that Rik grew up in the area and therefore knows a lot of people.

We were able to get up the whole way to the summit in Rik’s Subaru. We needed to pile out of the car for one steep bit, where the wheels were slipping on the loose gravel, otherwise it was armchair ride. Both Rik and I don’t care for easy summit access interpretations for able bodied people, so we duly headed down 30 vertical metres with all our gear and headed back up and operated away from the car.

Rik quickly got his contacts, while I operated the FT-817 on CW. It’s interesting using the touch keyer again after using the KX1 key over the last month. The touch keyer just needs to be touched – so to speak, so it is ultra responsive. I’m not sure how it would go if trying to key CW with gloves on, but I know the KX1 keyer can do that.

For people unfamiliar with CW and what I’m talking about, these keyers are used with an electronic keyer to generate the dits and dahs of morse code. By touching one paddle of the keyer, dits are generated, the other generates dahs. Touching nothing generates nothing. As most morse characters have various combinations of dits and dahs, the two paddles are touched as required. The touch keyer needs only to have touch by a finger. No force is necessary. The KX1 keyer needs only light force.

These paddles allow for morse to be generated much more cleanly than a “straight keyer”, which is the old style morse keys from the first half of the 20th century. Some feel, that true CW is only on a straight key, but I do beg to differ.

As I had a FT-817, I also brought a microphone, and operated voice so a number of people absent from the log over the last month with me using the KX1 found their way in this time.

I feel that the KX1 receiver is significantly better than the FT-817, and for operating CW, it is a much better radio. I do have a narrow filter in the FT-817 for morse, but the variable filter of the KX1 is a nice feature. The KX1 could resolve signals that the FT-817 could not. Of course my own signal is up using the 817, as I can send a full 5 watts, rather than the variable 1 to 3 or so watts on the KX1 based on input voltage, band and antenna.

There are some nice views on the approach to the summit:

Looking towards Mt Hickey from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking towards Mt Hickey from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking south east from near Mt Eaglehawk

Looking south east from near Mt Eaglehawk

Mt Barranhet VK3/VU-001

With Eaglehawk done, I said farewell to Rik and Russ, and headed towards Barranhet. Peter VK3PF had activated this summit, so I intended to follow what he had done. I used Bonnie Doon Rd and Mt Piper Track to get within about 1.5km of the summit. The road enterers a pine plantation and there is a no entry sign at 972212. The edge of the plantation is on the edge of state forest, however and state forest is fair game. I don’t think it would be right to use the parameter road as this tends to go onto pine plantation land, but using the edge of the road clearing seemed ok to me. On the way up, I proceed to point 971215 and then bushbashed up the side of the mountain, drifting a little to the north and came to the summit from there. On the way back, I used a road cut into the mountain, which skirts the summit to the north. It heads southwards to the plantation at point 962211. This would be the easiest way to access the summit, to proceed on the parameter of the plantation from 971215 to 962211 and then use this road northwards in the state forest up to close to the summit.

I used the KX1 on CW 20/30/40, while the FT-817 on SSB. There is a growing audience of CW chasers (although nearly all of them also will chase on SSB, given no CW). A few are willing to chase CW even though they knew for this activation they would likely pick it up a little later on SSB. That was pleasing.

One decision I have made is that I will adjust the “random wire” with a proper 1/4 wave counterpoise on 40m. I already have one for 20/30 and the KX1 can tune the wire no problems on those bands, but 40 is always a bit of a problem. SWR tends to be 1.7+, but often low 2s, even high 2s. Not really good enough. On the other bands, it generates higher power and SWR is generally below 1.5. It is time to get similar performance on 40, and also be able to use 7.027 and 7.032 as I wish, rather than having to retreat up to 7.287 sometimes.

Got a shot towards my net destination from point 962211:

Mt Strathbogie from near Mt Barranhet

Mt Strathbogie from near Mt Barranhet

Mt Strathbogie VK3/VE-132

This summit can be accessed from Ferraris Rd, which passes about 500m to the west of the summit. A 4wd track heads up from there, with a branch going to the summit itself.

I operated here using the KX1 on CW and the FT-817 on SSB. I used only the endfed from this summit on 20 and 40 only. VK6NU was trying to get me, and we heard each other, but not enough to get the contact.

The summit has some large rocks but it is still all under tree cover. There is an installation on the summit, with a CCD camera for those who want to get up to trouble.

Mt Strathbogie summit

Mt Strathbogie summit

VK3/VE-203

My final summit of the day was just down from Mt Strathbogie. I accessed it using Ferraris Rd down to Glen Creek Rd. Good going in a 2wd. Older maps show a track going to the summit from the saddle, and this road exists, although is gated. It’s steep in places but not too hard going up to the summit. I finished the day operating only on the FT-817, for both CW and SSB. VK6NU appreciated the higher power, and we completed the contact here on 20m.

A nice day out for some SOTA, but now it’s back to work!

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Misery, Mt Kooyoora and Mt Bealiba

Hi all,

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

Mt Misery VK3/VS-024

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

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

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

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

At trig of Mt Misery VK3/VS-024

At trig of Mt Misery

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

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

Looking towards Mt Cole from Mt Misery

Looking towards Mt Cole from Mt Misery

For those wanting access – here’s the sign:

Mt Misery quarry sign

Mt Misery quarry sign

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

Mt Kooyoora VK3/VU-007

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

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

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

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

Operating at Mt Kooyoora

Operating at Mt Kooyoora

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

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

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

Looking south from Mt Kooyoora

Looking south from Mt Kooyoora

Mt Beiliba VK3/VN-026

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Buller and 4 other summits CW only

Hi all,

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

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

VK3-VE123

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt Timbertop VK3/VE-073

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

There are some great views looking west.

Northwest from Mt Timbertop's slops showing Mansfield

Northwest from Mt Timbertop’s slops

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

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

Summit area of Mt Timbertop

Summit area of Mt Timbertop

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

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

Mt Buller VK3/VE-008

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

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

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

VK3WAM station at Mt Bullder Vk3/VE-008

VK3WAM station at Mt Bullder Vk3/VE-008

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

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

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

NW face of Mt Buller

NW face of Mt Buller

Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

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

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

Operating at Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

Operating at Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

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

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

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

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

Mt Buller from Mt Stirling

Mt Buller from Mt Stirling

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

Mt Cobbler from Mt Stirling

Mt Cobbler from Mt Stirling

Mt Winstanley VK3/VE-036

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

Tracklog of access to Winstanley

Tracklog of access to Winstanley

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

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

Operating at Mt Winstanley

Operating at Mt Winstanley

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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.