Mt Kent, Mt Dawson and Mt Valentia

Hi all,

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

Mt Kent VK3/VT-008

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

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

The view from near Little Kent

The view from near Little Kent

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

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

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

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

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

Operating at Mt Kent

Operating at Mt Kent

Mt Dawson VK3/VT-015

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

Mt Dawson

Mt Dawson

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

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

Mt Valentia VK3/VT-017

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, Wayne VK3WAM

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

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

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

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 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

3 summits and Mountain Goat

Hi all,

After last weekend’s effort I was on 985 Summits on the Air activation points. 1000 points is the level of the pinnacle activator’s “Mountain Goat” award. I had been quite busy recently, but I was keen to finally get enough points to become eligible for this award.

Some time ago, I had identified three summits, including Mt Duffy, as suitable for an activation, but due to fire burning, there was no available access method. Now, the 18 points they offered would be enough to get Mountain Goat.

Point 951 VK3/VN-010

First up was the northernmost summit. I headed up the previous evening and the plan was to sleep in the car. I would access via Gum Top Rd which passes over Mt Duffy. Gum Top Rd branches off Eildon-Warburton Rd at 093102. It is quite passable in a 2wd. The road generally follows the alignment as shown in Forest Explorer, except that the road does link up through to Mt Duffy at the Harry’s Track junction. OziExplorer maps show the link. I was able to get the Prius through quite easily in after dark driving. I continued onto Dray Track. Again, this section is passable with care in a 2wd. There is one steep descent (ascent coming the other way). It did not look too steep going down, but we would be finding out coming the other way later!

I proceeded to point 163558, where a 4wd track comes down from VK3/VN-008, and setup the mattress and sleeping bag in the back of the car. The 2004 model Prius has just enough room back there with the back seats down to fully stretch out.

Next morning, out with the pack and up to VK3/VN-008. There is no track marked on Forest Explorer, but OziExplorer shows the alignment. There is a rougher track heading down the north east side of that summit, and then it climbs up the VK3/VN-010 hill to point 182568. From here, head along the ridge. There is a very old overgrown track here. Keep to the centre of the spur, and it will be picked up fairly soon. This old track makes for easier access for the last 500m to the summit.

I arrived and started activating at around 8am. People are still getting up that time of morning so there was no big pile up. It was still a comfortable activation. These days with an efficient setup, there is no endless calling on 40m and not getting anything, if the band is at all open.

Here’s the end fed antenna at VK3/VN-010:

Antenna at VK3/VN-010

Antenna at VK3/VN-010

VK3/VN-008

Access to this summit was simply retracing my steps back from VK3/VN-010. Back to the track at point 182568. Oziexplorer shows this track continuing down the hill to the nor-northeast but it looks very overgrown. I headed back down the steep hill and climbed up to VK3/VN-008. I operated from the track, mounting the squid pole against some saplings from the 2009 fire.

Signals here were up on VK3/VN-010, but it happens as band conditions change. With a good cloud warming end fed on 40m on a 7m squid pole, conditions have to be pretty terrible on 40 for there not to be any action.

There was also a moderate pileup. SOTA activations during the week still have plenty of chasers.

There were good views of Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001:

Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001 from VK3/VN-008

Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001 from VK3/VN-008

I also could look over at Mt Duffy, the site of the third activation. Mountain Goat status awaits!

Mt Duffy VK3/VN-007 from VK3/VN-008

Mt Duffy VK3/VN-007 from VK3/VN-008

Mt Duffy VK3/VN-007

The final activation was at Mt Duffy. I got back in the car and headed generally southwards towards Mt Duffy on the Dray track. It was good going in the Prius, but the steep section awaited. I anticipated I would need a good runup. The Prius generates a lot of torque at low speeds with the electric motor, but this is not always a good thing as it causes the tires to spin, then the anti-skid control cuts the power. Makes getting up hills challenging. I needed to get the car up this hill, considering I came down it the previous evening. I was able to get up without too much trouble on the first attempt. After that, easy going to Mt Duffy. I parked the car in the activation zone about 200m from the trig point. I then headed down another road and came up an old fire break to the trig point. There is a little bit of controversy about “final access to the summit” being non-motorised, and what does this mean, but I like to leave the activation zone and re-enter it with all my gear non-motorised. Of course I note the SOTA MT’s concession to people with mobility disability not needing to do that, and I’m ok with that.

Anyway, I setup at the trig point. Before starting the activation, I took a video:

We also have some MP3 audio taken by Matt VK2DAG of the activation:
Audio recorded by Matt VK2DAG

With the activation done, it was back to the car and out on Gum Top Rd. It is easier going back to Melbourne via Marysville rather than by Warburton.

The SOTA 1,000 points does take a lot of effort in VK3. Many summits I’ve activated have been in the wilderness. While this means they might take a lot of effort, it only magnifies the fun. SOTA might seem an odd activity to some, but the comradely with other activators and SOTA chasers has been great. I look forward to many more SOTA activations in the future.

In recent months, I have been too busy to be able to do the multi-day pack-carry SOTA adventures that I have done in the past, but I look forward to sneeking in a few of these over the summer months.

I think with the Mountain Goat achieved, it might be time to shift gears a little and perhaps go back to a bit of 2m colinear usage, or perhaps brave taking out the Elecraft KX1 for CW only activations!?

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Buangor, Ben Major, Ben More

Hi all,

This weekend I had the chance to get out and have a look at a few summits. One, Mt Buangor was one I visited last year, but the other two were firsts for me, with one being the first ever SOTA activation.

Mt Buangor VK3/VS-003

This summit is quite easy to get to, even with a 2wd. The main Mt Cole Road passes within a few km, and the first turnoff road at 982712 is still an improved gravel surface. It climbs up to 979707. From here, the road is of lesser quality as one turns right and then left 150m or so further along. It is passable in a 2wd, but only if dry. On this occasion, there were two large puddles, the second of which I was not prepared to drive the Prius through. A Awd should handle it pretty easily. Even so, it was less than a 10 minute walk from here to the summit.

This year, it was out with the end-fed, the tried and true method of getting a quick activation. FT-817 in hand, I operated for about 20 minutes. Signal reports were a little down, but no real problems. It was good to be back on air after more than a month!

Ben Major VK3/VS-028

Onwards to new territory for me. I headed down the Mt Cole Rd to Raglan and then along the Chute Raglan Rd to 113695. Turning off to the right, there was a track, quite passable in a 2wd heading towards Ben Major in the state forest. I made my way along this to 142713, where I turned left. The road quality here was worse, but still passable with care in the 2wd. I made my way to about 500m shy of the summit and walked up about 50 vertical metres from there.

There was a trig point at the summit which I set up from:

Operating at Ben Major VK3/VS-028

Operating at Ben Major VK3/VS-028

Conditions on 40m seemed to have picked up here from Mt Buangor. Reports seemed to be 3 or so S points higher, both on Rx and Tx. Same general setup with the end fed.

From here, there was a good view towards Ben More, which was my last summit of the day.

Looking at Ben More from Ben Major

Looking at Ben More from Ben Major

Ben More VK3/VS-027

Ben More is slightly higher than Ben Major. There is a public park that approaches the summit itself, but does not quite make it. The summit appears to be on private land. The top part of the public land is well within the activation zone, about 5 vertical metres down.

The next trick is that there is no easy public access to this summit. There is, however a public road reservation that makes its way to the public park boundary. I communicated with Rob Brouwers, a ranger at Parks Victoria Maryborough office. He can be reached on 5461 0819. He highlighted that Impeys Rd then Joseph Lane continues to make its way further than marked on most maps and the reservation goes all the way to the Ben More Bushland Reserve. Along the way, the road goes through a gate with “Private – No Entry”, however the road reserve that continues past this sign is public land. If planning to activate, it may be useful to get in tough with Rob and get the access map emailed from him as to how to access the reserve.

A quick side note: Google maps shows the approximate line of the road reserve. There is no road for the last 1000m of this alignment.

The road ends up about point 172770. From here its on foot with the land climbing steeply. It’s just over 1km, however about 250 vertical metres, so get ready for a climb. Using the land boundaries map obtainable from Rob, you can aim to keep within the public reservation and try to prevent going onto private land. The road reservation is largely not fenced from this point. The boundary of the bushland reserve higher up is, and once in there, it is still a steep climb, but a little easier as you can more freely choose your climbing line on public land.

I operated about 20m from the trig point. The trig point itself is on private land. The closest public land is quite close, and I used the emergency marker there to mount the squid pole:

Operating at Ben More VK3/VS-027

Operating at Ben More VK3/VS-027

Looking east from Ben More

Looking east from Ben More

Looking north towards Blue Mountain range from Ben More

Looking towards Blue Mountain range from Ben More

With that, it was time to pack up, head back down the hill and carefully try to stay within the road reserve back to the car. It was a nice activation, but I felt it was important to have the Parks Victoria documents with me in case someone decided to challenge me being there.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

South Gippsland and Mt Matlock

Hi all,

Continuing to catch up on this blog.

VK3/VT-029

I was heading off on a three week trip to PNG, and wanted to sneak in a few SOTA activations beforehand. On the evening of the 5th of September I headed up the Woods Point Rd to the Thompson Jordan Divide Rd. This is a good 2wd road. I headed down to point 307297 and slept there the night.

Early the next morning, I passed through the seasonal closure gate on foot. It’s about 6km from the road junction to the activation zone. The track from here would be quite passable, perhaps even by a 2wd during summer or in dry conditions. The summit is quite unremarkable, perhaps Mt Easton, a few kilometres away, might give some views of the upper end of Thompson Dam.

Station at VK3/VT-029

Station at VK3/VT-029

There are not as many SOTA chasers during the week, especially early in the morning. It was never a problem getting the number of QSOs, but not the fast pileup today.

End fed at VK3/VT-029

End fed at VK3/VT-029

With that, it was back to the car and onto the next summit.

Mt Matlock VK3/VC-001

This mountain is in the central region. It perhaps does not belong, but because the associated local government area stretches out this far, central region it is. Last year, this summit was covered in snow, but it was a more civil affair this time.

Summit of Mt Matlock

Summit of Mt Matlock

It is quite possible to drive a 2wd all the way to the top. I left the car at the road junction about 300m south of the summit, then dropped a bit of height and walked up to the summit from there.

The activation was still a little slow with eight contacts. Not too many chasing today.

As I was able to drive further than expected, I was now getting ahead of my expected time schedule. Nice to keep a bit of time up my sleeve.

Mt Toorongo Range VK3/VT-026

Next up, Mt Toorongo Range. Many have been here since I was last, this summit seems be a quite popular place during bonus season.

I was able to get the 2wd all the way up to the seasonal closure gate. From here, it’s a fairly short walk. This time, I headed up to where the road levels off, and then head off track up to the summit. Easier going than last year.

Activity from here was a little busier than my previous two summits. This year, I was only doing 40m unlike last year where the colinear had a go. Finally, I had a look from here at the final summit of the day.

Mt Horsfall from Mt Toorongo Range

Mt Horsfall from Mt Toorongo Range

Mt Horsfall VK3/VT-028

The main road going to this summit is subject to a seasonal closure quite some distance from the summit. My plan was to approach it from the south and use a 4wd track that goes up the side of the mountain. I had heard that others could not find this track, so perhaps it does not exist – it would not be the first time a marked track does not exist.

I used the Toorongo Rd from the link rd, travelling west to about 2km south of the summit. There was a track heading up from here, so I drove the car up. It was a little rough for a 2wd, but I travelled up about 800m to another junction at point 168183. From here, I tried heading north-east, but that track died out. I then tried the other track, and the tracklog is shown below:

Access to Mt Horsfall

Access to Mt Horsfall

The track starts off quite good, and makes it’s way across a creek. From there it winds up towards a lookout for a waterfall. The track is quite overgrown going through the zig zags, but still worth following. From near this lookout, I made a direct line towards the summit, going straight up. The forest is mostly passable, there’s a few tricky bits to try to avoid. I also picked up a leech or two, so wearing gaiters is a good idea. The off track section can be as short as 700m, so it is not too bad.

There are some good views up top, overlooking the forbidden forest of the Upper Yarra.

Looking into the Yarra valley from Mt Horsfall

Looking into the Yarra valley from Mt Horsfall

Even though there were a few clouds around, the rain held off until I was back in the car and driving home. Nice one 🙂

Due to the large grassy area, I chose to use the trig point to mount the antenna.

End fed antenna on the trig point at Mt Horsfall

End fed antenna on the trig point at Mt Horsfall

The end-fed is the ol’reliable. It, again, was not as busy as a weekend SOTA activation, but lots of good strong signals.

With that, it was time to head for home. Back in the car, well before dark.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM