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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SOTA activations in and around Bunyip State Park

Hi all,

This last Saturday it was time to head for the hills again. After last week’s trip, I was keen to get summits in on this trip that I had not activated before. There did not appear to be fire reduction burns in this area as well.

The plan was to activate the first, Spion Kojpe, on 2m and then the rest on 40m + other HF. I packed the end-fed for the 2nd and 3rd activations, and I planned to use my vertical on a squid pole for the 4th and 5th activations.

Spion Kojpe VK3/VT-040

It looks like the easiest approach to this summit is via Limberlost Rd, leaving the Noojee Rd at 016066 (remember this is the 10km, 1km 100m of the easting and then the same for the northing UTM or Map Grid of Australia). The road is quite good for 2wd, although some of the lower sections were a little soft due to recent logging activity. Higher up, the road was quite firm. I headed up to the junction of Limberlost Rd and Outlook Track at 986030. The track leaves here to the south west, easily seen from the road junction.

Time to get the gear ready. Squid pole, and 2m colinear, check. Put aside the HF antennas, grab the HT, FT-817 mike, CW key, batteries, power cable, all check. Good to go, but what about the FT-817 itself? Ahhh, not here. What am I going to do. I did want to do this summit on 2m, but all the others were for HF – well, it’s too far to drive back home. 2m FM it’s going to have to be and here’s hoping the 1700mAh battery in the Wouxun KG-UVD1P can last.

From just a few metres to the west of the road junction, the track heads off south west. It’s quite good for the first 200m, but then degrades. It can still be followed however, and it is best to stay on it. Look for the blue flagging tape, and if you lose it, simply retrace. It makes it’s way to a large flat rocky top where I put the squid pole up on a nearby tree.

Things worked quite well here, and I quickly got my required contacts on FM. I put the radio down to 1 watt to conserve the battery as things rolled along.

I went to take some pics in the quite misty conditions. The summit was in the clouds. The screen went black and the phone switched off. I turned it back on and it complained about low battery. Hmmm.

Androzic

This was my first go at using this Android GPS app. It uses Oziexplorer maps, which for south east Australia can be obtained here. It also can load in a few internet based maps, of which the one I find most useful is the OpenCycleMap, which is a derivative of OpenStreetMap. Of course the internet maps need an internet connection to update. Phone coverage was patchy up here.

The app is fairly easy to use, and the navigation feature is nice. One thing though is that this app is heavy on the battery. Before my little hickup with the phone camera, my phone had gone from 100% at the car down to about 70% in one hour. That’s pretty heavy. It also crashed a few times and needed restarting. So there is a few bugs, but the heavy power consumption is something that is going to have to be looked at.

Gentle Annie VK3/VT-078

Next summit was Gentle Annie. I am driving a Prius up here, so I’ll avoid the 4wd tracks. I drove west along the main rd, which goes through a few names until I arrived at Bunyip Rd at 899037. Turning left, it was straight forward through Bunyip Gap and through to 958991. Gentle Annie track heads off from here. I would not like to get a low clearance vehicle up here, and it would be too steep for the Prius. I had planned to walk, and no FT-817, it was the 2m colinear heading up.

I got to the top and set up at the trig point. The trig structure looks like someone has crashed into it at some stage and it’s leaning over a little. Still ok for clamp the squid pole on. Setup the colinear and started calling. No responses. After about 10 minutes and the UTC change-over I was wondering what was going on. Of course the Wouxun has no SWR meter to tell me if all is not well. I tried with the 1/4 wave and got some responses. After a little detective work, using reports from chasers, I identified that the match for the colinear was playing up. I jury-rig fixed it, and the reports were much better. It was interesting that the reports were little different from matched (about SWR 1.15) vs unmatched (about SWR 2.3). The Wouxun is clearly not reducing power into a 2.3 SWR. Not ideal, but not too bad. It was also likely not reducing power into that shorted match setup that I had going at the start of the activation. Lucky the HT still works!

I tried to take a photo of the setup at Gentle Annie. The phone camera app came up after an unusual delay (and a black screen for about 3 seconds). I took the photo and the phone switched off. I turned it back on, again to a low battery warning and no actual photo had been taken. Well that’s it for photo shoots for today.

With this activation, I had now activated 100 unique summits. It was something that I had targeted quite early in getting into SOTA, and it was my main objective for this trip.

Back down to the car, and I was going to have to try and get what charging I could into the phone while driving around.

North Hell’s Gate VK3/VT-050

With the phone battery low and the heavy battery use from Androzic and the dodgy camera, I would need to fall back to the old favourite, Trekbuddy with loaded Forest Explorer maps taken from screenshot grabs. Trekbuddy is reasonably light on the battery, and I have all the VK3 SOTA summits loaded in for that app as well. One side benefit of this is that with Trekbuddy having the GPS on and fixed, I could run Androzic for a quick look at an Oziexplorer map with a GPS fix already there. Look at it in that app, and then exit.

I had heard a few stories about this summit being somewhat hellish to access. I used Proposch Rd to access it. The road heads up to a point about 1.1km north west of the summit. It forks in two. One road quickly ends to the north east of there. The other goes over the top and heads south towards recent logging activity. I went up this and packed at the ridge top. There was an old track that I then used heading east from here. Distance to summit about 1km. This heads near point 584 at grid ref 992980. It continues east-nor-east down a shallow saddle and up again. I followed my nose a bit, and some tracks headed off and ended. I would head back and try to stay on the ridge. I was at about 220m bearing 140 from the top where I left the faint track I was on. I was to find out, I should have stayed on it a bit longer, I reckon it gets about 100m from the summit bearing 150 degrees (or from the summit head 330 degrees).

So as it stood I had about 220m of bush bash. There was some long grass and vine plants around that made it tough going. None the less, I got to the top and found a track goes to the top. Talking to others who had been here, this track goes nowhere, so I did not try to find out where it went.

I again activated on the 2m colinear. After finishing up, I headed north east. This was a bad move as the country drops away quickly and the vines and grass are far worse here. It was real tough going. Given Glenn VK3YY had lost his squid pole around this place, I was very concerned about losing mine. I had got about 200m with a bearing of 190 degrees to the summit, where I realised that I had gone too far east and needed to head west-nor-west and gain some height again to get back on the track. The forest did ease up, but I spend about 1 hour of needless bush bashing (all for an extra 200m!). At least it helps make you fit. I found my old track about 30m closer to the summit from where I left it on the way in, and noticed that it made its way from around here up almost straight for the summit. Being at the summit before, I know it does not go the whole way, but I suggest that future access should go along this track, go to the end, take a waypoint, and there could be less than 100m bush bash to the summit. Use the waypoint on the return trip.

South Hells Gate VK3/VT-059

So back to the car (much faster when on the tracks), and I attempted to find my way to South Hells Gate. First try was the logging road at the end of Proposch Rd. It heads underneath North Hells Gate, about 1km from that summit (west and then south west). Most of this side has been recently logged, and access across it would be quite fast, but I headed back to Forest Rd and made my way down that. There’s a track near Ryson Creek which I tried, but the start was too steep for the Prius. I then headed down to Bullock Link Track. It also looked steep, so it was time to park the car and walk it. About 4.5km and about 440 vertical metres to climb. It took about 55 minutes to walk this. This 4wd track would only be considered double diamond. It was hard to walk in some places, and somehow people are able to get 4wd cars up here!? I know they can ’cause I met a few using the track on my walk.

The summit itself has an activation zone about 500m long. I activated a little to the south-west of the marked summit, about 5m down from the top. Again, of course on 2m FM, but it looked like the HT battery was going to last the day, so I was now at 5 watts.

Dingo Ridge VK3/VC-028

The final summit of the day was a little 1 pointer kinda on the way home. 1 point, but also 1 unique for me, as I had not activated this before. When it comes to uniques, 1 pointers are worth as much as 10 pointers. After conferring with Peter VK3ZPF, I decided not to approach this summit from the south, but instead to approach from the west-nor-west using Lupton Track. This would be about a 5km walk. It took me about 55 minutes to do the walk in. I headed off with about 15 minutes before sunset, so it was pretty dark when I arrived. I needed to stop about 200m before I hit the junction with Dingo Ridge Track to get the headlamp on to read a sign. I activated at the track junction.

The first three contacts were quite quick, but then it was into a long period of calling with no responses. Bernard VK3FABA found someone else for me to work VK3UFO. I could here him fine, but he could barely hear me on FM. No SSB here. We had to be innovative to get the call-signs and reports exchanged, but it was done directly, with Bernard relaying any other information aside from these to make it easier. Calling Victor Victor Victor Victor, Kilo Kilo Kilo Kilo, 3 3 3 3, Whisky Whisky Whisky Whisky, Alpha Alpha Alpha Alpha, Mike Mike Mike Mike did seem to work. My received report was 2 and 1.

With that, and conditions totally dark now and windy, it was time to head for home. 5 summits all new uniques for me, and 11 points for a full SOTA day out.

Sorry no pics, but I did test the phone camera back at home and it worked fine. Hope it does not play up again on the next misty day out.

Regards, 73, Wayne VK3WAM

4 summit activation around Mt Dom Dom

Hi all,

Again, it’s time to head for the hills and get into some of that SOTA good oil. For this series of activations, I wanted to have a good look at 2m again, and the colinear was planned to see a lot of action. I did take the end fed for 40m, but the plan was to only use it if I could not get 4 contacts on each summit. We’ll see how things go.

Mt Vinegar VK3/VC-005

This summit is between Dom Dom saddle and Mt Donna Buang. From either place, it would take some time to get in, and this was my original plan. On looking at maps, I thought I might be able to get closer access from Acheron Way, and this proved to be the case.

Access can be via Caters Gap Rd and this is a forest road with large aggregate. Forest Explorer shows it becoming a 4wd track, but the road quality remains good. I thought I would use the Cleft Rock Walking Track, but could not find it. That area had been subject to recent logging, so the track would have been destroyed anyway. I proceeded to point 825356 and turned left, to head up the hill. This went through a logging area, but the track remained passable for a 2wd without too much difficulty. I climbed up the mountain and parked about 843345. I could have gone about another 500m before a locked gate about 1km from the summit. In any case, it was a much shorter walk than I had anticipated.

I put up the colinear and called on 146.5 FM. This was going to be the most difficult summit out of the three that I had planned for the day as Mt Vinegar is hidden from Melbourne by a few closer hills that are part of the Donna Buang system. Even on VK3REC, a EMDRC repeater, action was slow – but this was not because I could not reach it. Perhaps people were slow out of bed today. I was able to reach the repeater with just a HT with a 1/4 wave antenna, so I was able to keep the FT-817 on the colinear. I eventually had to try 144.1 SSB to get the 4th contact. The stub I have for the antenna gives a good SWR at 144.1, so it is good to see that this project has obtained a good result.

Here’s the operating location at Mt Vinegar:

Operating location at Mt Vinegar showing a squid pole. 2m colinear, a backpack, a FT-817 and other radio gear

Operating location at Mt Vinegar

When operating, it’s always nice to have a good rock to sit on:

The shack at Mt Vinegar showing a rock to sit on, plus the pack, a Wouxun HT, a Yeasu FT-817 and other gear

The shack at Mt Vinegar

With the car closer than planned, I thought I might be able to get to Mt Gordon a little before 11am for the UTC midnight change over.

Mt Gordon VK3/VN-027

This summit is part of the 2013 batch to join the SOTA program in Victoria. It is a summit located between Marysville and Narbethong. Access is via a 2wd track that heads off to the north from Marysville Rd which is shown in Forest Explorer as a 4wd track.

There is some commercial gear at the summit as shown below:

Commercial towers at Mt Gordon

Commercial towers at Mt Gordon

With these commercial towers, I imagined that I would suffer from QRM problems with overloaded frontends and it proved to be the case. The colinear is fantastic at bringing in weak signals, but the downside is an overloaded FT-817 front end. With the FT-817 overloaded, there was no point trying the Wouxun HT.

I was able to get two contacts before 11am, and a good number afterwards. I had enough FM contacts to get the SOTA activation points, but sometimes it took some patience. I was getting into Melbourne well enough, but the QRM would take out the readability of other stations. It came and went, and when it was absent, I had a sub s1 noise floor.

A nice touch at the end was getting VK3PF on SSB at 146.475 This frequency is turning out to be a SOTA vertical SSB frequency of choice, just a little down from the national FM calling frequency. I still go down to 144.1 for the SSB chasers down there still, although most of those have horizontal antennas at that frequency, so there’s a bit of a mismatch with my vertical colinear.

Here’s a look through some of the regrowth (and cooked dead trees) towards Marysville from the summit:

Marysville from Mt Gordon, with some dead trees in the foreground. The slopes of Lake Mountain can be seen in the background

Marysville from Mt Gordon

Here was a good view of the Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon:

Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon

Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon

Mt Dom Dom VK3/VN-017

Call me irrational, but a high profile search from a few years ago had me edgy about this place. Still, Mt Dom Dom likely to be the easiest of the three summits to activate on 2m, so the HF antenna would remain unused. I headed in from Dom Dom saddle to about point 813382 on what is marked a 4wd track but is a narrow but good 2wd track. The point where I left the car is about where Forest Explorer shows a walking track. This walking track does not exist. The southern side of Mt Dom Dom has been logged in recent years, so the growth is not too bad. I headed up the side of the mountain “following my nose”. Most of the time it was ok. I think the best approach is to head up the middle on any old logging vehicle tracks that still exist. In a few years, the whole place will be overgrown and access will have to be via the more mature forest on either side of the recently logged areas.

Here’s a look at my operating location there:

Operating location at Mt Dom Dom showing the squid pole and radio gear

Operating location at Mt Dom Dom

Action was still a little slow from Mt Dom Dom. I was getting strong reports from those who did come up from Melbourne, but there were not too many of them.

Got a nice view looking back towards Melbourne from near the summit. See if you can find my car:

Watt River valley and Melbourne from Mt Dom Dom

Watt River valley and Melbourne from Mt Dom Dom

A highlight of this activation was a QSO with Glenn VK3YY on Britannia Range VK3/VC-011. Mt Donna Buang is in the way, but we were able to get the QSO home on SSB. I’ll need to find out from Glenn what antenna he was using.

Mt Toolebewong VK3/VC-033

My final activation was actually an unplanned one, but because I was running ahead of schedule, I was able to put in for a bonus summit. Signals from here were stronger into Melbourne, as more paths were unobstructed. I had a lucky one at the end with Peter VK3ZPF, who called on 146.5 halfway through packing up, but I left the HT on. We were able to exchange reports, but I still had the colinear up in the air. This allowed us to compare the 1/4 wave “rubber ducky” with the colinear. Both ways were significantly up with the colinear.

And with that, it was time to head for home. A nice day with 4 new summits to add to the uniques collection and 18 SOTA points.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

2013 John Moyle Field Day

Hi all,

The John Moyle Field Day is a Amateur Radio contest conducted once a year. It, along with the VHF/UHF field days represent the four major line of sight frequencies based contests in Australia. The John Moyle field days (JMFD) also have a substantial HF component that is not present at all on the VHF/UHF field days, and while it also allows activity right into the mm bands, typically operators are exiting stage left at 23cm or 13cm.

It’s a good contest for backpack portable because of the 6 hour section. It also rewards repeat contacts on CW and Digital modes, unlike the VHF/UHF field days. I am finding that I am able to operate chasing contacts nearly the whole 6 hours rather than lots of CQ’ing.

Mt Torbreck VK3/VN-001

Last year I participated in the JMFD from here, and I decided to do the same again this year. Mt Torbreck is the closest 10 point SOTA summit to Melbourne. It has no commercial radio equipment on the summit and is not accessible by road. There is only slight obstruction into Melbourne, so with a reasonable antenna, one can work HT stations on 2 and 70cm. The JMFD has a distance component, and Mt Torbreck is a good distance away to get many Melbourne contacts into the higher point distance bands. A number of JMFD stations also head southwest and west from Melbourne for the field day and this means that those contacts are high value. The EMDRC normally activate Mt Cowley as VK3ER for this contest and Mt Torbreck has LOS to Mt Cowley, about 222km away. Incidentially Mt Cowley is VK3/VC-022, but VK3ER drive to the top and use generators for their high powered station, so they are not a SOTA contact.

Mt Torbreck is accessible by a 2km walking track which climbs about 300m from the car park to the west of the summit. The walking track is steep and good shoes or boots are a plus. It takes about 50 minutes to climb up and 40 back + extra if carrying a lot of weight. I was carrying a lot of weight on this trip.

Equipment

I normally plan to make two trips up because I have too much stuff for one trip. The stuff to be carried up includes:

  • Yeasu FT-897 all mode rig
  • Yeasu FT-817 all mode QRP rig
  • 2 squid poles for a 2m and 70cm colinear antennas
  • 6 1.5m al segments to make 3 times 3 metre poles for various antennas
  • A turnstile antenna for 6m. This uses four 72cm M10 al segments with M8 taps to screw in 4 more 75cm segments to form two dipoles that are perpendicular horizontal polorization. There is an effective ugly balun for 6m near the feedpoint with a female UHF connector
  • A quadruple quad antenna for 2m, which comprises of 10 al segments. There are two fiberglass poles about 50cm long to mount at the bottom and the top. This goes through a 2 PVC pipes that join together so that they are just over 2m long. This is mounted on the pole by a small al segment to offset it, and a bit of sticky tape to provide a shunt to ensure that the PVC remains vertical
  • A similar setup on 70cm but here I have two quadruple quads
  • 12 Turngy 3S 5000mAh LiPos. I put 3 in parallel x 2 in series when using them, so I effectively have two rounds of this
  • A 12V down DC-DC converter sitting on the output of the LiPo array
  • 3 Turngy 3S 2.2mAh LiPo packs to power the computer for a while
  • A laptop with a supply that takes a 12V input
  • 12 18650 lithum ion cells in 4 lots of 3 in series. Each one can be used to power the FT-817 for a while – my typical SOTA power setup
  • A pile of Anderson Pole terminated power cables, including four 1 to 3 Y cables
  • A collection of LMR195 and LMR400 cables. The 195 cables have either BNC or UHF connectors. The LMR400 are all N connectors. I also brought up a pile of converters. I typically use UHF on 6m and BNC/N on 2 and 70. The FT-897 has a UHF connector for HF/6 and an N connector for 2/70. The FT-817 has a UHF and a BNC connector which can be configured through the menus
  • A one man tent to keep me out of the sun and the forecast showers
  • A MiniVNAPRO and the extender to do some tests on the antennas to ensure all is ok
  • Some plyers, shifters and other misc equipment to do any small repairs to equipment if that proves necessary
  • A collection of HT radios for 2 and 70. The idea being to use these for FM on 2 and 70 for at least some of the contacts to save power
  • Some headphones
  • A CW touchkeyer
  • A Signalink USB for digital modes, plus my Phone/Digital interface for a backup if required

For those who follow my SOTA activations, you would realise that this is far more than I normally take. You may realise why two trips are needed. Practically this means walking UP then DOWN then UP the mountain before the start of the contest, then DOWN then UP then DOWN at the end.

The setup

Upon arrival after the first accent, I put up the tent and piled the stuff in. Carrying all that LMR400 cable, the FT-897 and the 12 LiPOs certainly was a lot of weight and it took 1:10 to get up. I headed back down and got the remainder of the stuff, and it took 40 min down and 50 min up. First was getting the squid poles up. My 2m colinear has seen a lot of SOTA action, and a little stub I made up for 144.1 works well. Very low SWR – nice one. I use it without the stub on 146.5, with SWR around 2. With the stub for 144.1, 146.5 has a SWR around 3.

The 70cm colinear is short, with the good oil around 455MHz. I planned a stub for this to get 439 at least in the game, but I was not successful. There will be more about this in another blog post in the future, but for now I could not effectively use this colinear – what a shame because this was going to be the main game on 70cm vertical. I put up one of my whip antennas on the squid pole about half way up and fed it LMR400 cable back to the radio.

Next up was the 6m turnstile. This is pretty quick to put up. This is not a gain antenna, but it is enough to put me in the game on 6m and it can break up quickly to go in a pack. It gives an SWR below 1.5 at both 50.15 and 52.15

Here’s a pic of the 6m antenna in the foreground with the two squidpoles in the background, plus the operating tent. You can see the trig point to the right in the trees:

Operating location at Mt Torbreck with a 6m turnstile, plus 2 & 70cm colinears on squid poles

6m turnstile, plus 2 & 70cm colinears

The 2m quadruple quad was next. Last year I had two of these in an array, but they were too phyisically heavy to put up, so I jury-rigged up one. This year I did not bother with an array, just going for one with some work to mount it more effectively. There’s a pic below. It was well below 1.5 SWR at 144.1 and around 1.7 at 146.5.

2m quadruple quad at Mt Torbreck

2m quadruple quad at Mt Torbreck

I had thought of trying a longer pole but I would need to use stronger materials. Another idea is to mount it on a squid pole. I’ll think about this for next year, but this will be asking a lot more of the squid pole than a wire inverted V, end fed or a vertical on HF. Why a quadruple quad? Because it is roughly equivalent to a 15 element yagi, especially if I can get it off the ground a bit more.

Finally it was the 70cm quad-quad array. Here’s the pic:

Array of 70cm quadruple quads on Mt Torbreck

Array of 70cm quadruple quads

One of the quads didn’t work so well, and time was running short, so I simply used the other one. Their feedpoint impedance is reported low at about 25 ohms. I’ll need to look into this some more, but I wanted to get operating at around 1:30 to 1:45pm so off I went.

The contest

It started lightly raining about 12pm, so I was a little reluctant to keep the MiniVNAPRO out in the elements. A few mad dashes and doing some analysis on the computer. My plan with the computer was to run it on the three 2.2Ah LiPOs directly until they were flat and then run it on the main supply for an hour. I could then run the computer on its own batteries for the rest of the time without them running out by the end. This worked well, but the 2.2Ah LiPOs gave me more time than expected. Nice to get more than you expect! When the LiPO monitors were reporting individual cells on the 2.2Ah batteries down to 3.55V, I pulled the computer out.

The whole 6 hours of operating was quite fast and furious. Most of the action was on phone, but VK3ER had a digital setup, at least on 6 and 2. They also had CW on 6/20/70 so there was some good triple dipping. I used Fldigi for PSK, and was more comfortable using it in the end in my one man tent lying on my side trying to type on a computer with the pouring rain outside than what I was in the middle.

I was also glad I brought the headphones, because the rain was very loud in that small tent. During the worst periods, I would mainly use the vertical antennas, which the main gun was the 2m colinear. The little whip at the end of the LMR400 cable on 70 was just no match for the 2m colinear. I need to get that 70cm colinear going for next year, these babies are just too good to ignore. The colinear being omnidirectional on the horizontal plane was good during the pouring rain because I did not need to get out of the tent to adjust anything. Same goes for the 6m turnstile (although it’s not a gain antenna). Gain on 6m might be a little hard to do given it needs to fit in a backpack along with everything else.

There was a 2 hour sunny period during the middle of the contest. This allowed me to get a bit more relaxed and I made more use of the quadruple quads. Towards the end it was raining again, but I really wanted some nice juicy contacts north into VK2, and my 2m q-quad was able to get them.

As for power, I already mentioned that the 2.2Ah LiPOs powered the computer well. I ended up not even using half of the 5Ah LiPOs, the first set of 6 were only 80% used at the end, with cell voltages around 3.75V. The “knee” on these is at 3.65V where the voltages start to fall away more quickly. I was hammering away with FM at 50 watts on 2m, but the LiPOs and the 12V regulator powering everything were stone cold. Not even lukewarm. This was a contrast to last year because my old 100 array of 18650 cells could not handle it. The LiPOs are just so much better for this usage.

Come 7:30pm it was finish time. I ended up not even turning on the HT’s. I barely used the FT-817, which is a major change from last year, where because of power constraints, I made most FM contacts on the HTs, and used the FT-817 for a fair amount of the rest. This year, the FT-897 was used for every scoring QSO. Did I mention that half of my big LiPO’s were not even touched? 🙂 I just had to make sure that at least 4 QSOs were at 5 watts so I could keep my QRP SOTA activator’s endorsement intact.

Packing up

So contest finished, and it was time to go home. Too much stuff there to just leave it – although the thought did cross my mind as to what would happen if I just walked down the mountain with all that stuff still up there! It was raining again and it took about an hour to pull down all the antennas. With all the wet conditions, I needed to be careful getting the fragile computer back down the mountain, so I thought I’ll go easy on the weight on the first trip, but still enough to hopefully not have a tonne of weight on the second. One thing I’ll need to make sure of next time is to split up some of the LMR400 cable on the trips because this stuff is heavy.

I left on the first trip down at 8:30, left the car to go back up at 9:20, packed up the tent and did my final checks to make sure nothing was being left and departed Mt Torbreck at 10:20pm for the last time. I arrived at the car at 11:15. It was slow the last time with the heavy pack and the slippy wet conditions on the way down. At least it had stopped raining. I was very tired for the drive home and needed a 15 min powernap in Healesville to keep things safe. My wife thinks arriving home at 2:30am is crazy but it was a very good day with 92 contacts and over 1440 JMFD points.

Regards, 73, Wayne VK3WAM

Three summits around Central Vic Radiofest

Hi all,

Ron, VK3AFW organised a table for Summits on the Air to use at the Amateur Radio Victoria Central Victorian Radiofest, Sunday 10th of February. This was a chance to spread the word about SOTA. I also gave a shortish presentation of 20 minutes about SOTA. Given the trip up to Kyneton, there was a chance to have a look at a few activations on the way.

Mt Macedon VK3/VC-007

I decided that all my activations today would be 2m only. I took the colinear, and had done some work to improve the match, as discussed in Constructing a 2m colinear Part 2. Unfortunately, RG58 is a bit of a pain to work with, because if a little too much dialetric is stripped back, the centre conductor can push back and cause a short in the connector. This happened to me where I put a connector in for my stub. I had to move the stub a little further back, so now I was only going to try to match for 144.1, and leave 146.5 at about 2.5 SWR – make another stub for that later. The stub was tested at a SWR at about 1.6 SWR. This is close enough for me, given I was not actually trying for a 1:1 match, and the point of the stub was not exactly controlled!

I operated from the very impressive cairn that marks the summit. It was a bit foggy as can be seen in the picture.

Large cairn incorporating a trig point at Mt Macedon summit

Mt Macedon summit

The tower seen in the background overloaded the front end of the Wouxun, so I had to use the FT-817 for everything, including FM. The 817 was struggling a little on 144.1 SSB with interference. Still it was a good session with a varied number of contacts from different places, but none quite like Glenn VK3YY picking up a near 600km contact from Renmark from here on the previous day.

Here’s a look at the operating location. Glad I brought the foam for a nice dry place to sit.

Radio and other operating equipment used at Mt Macedon

Operating location at Mt Macedon

With that, it was time to go to the radiofest for a few hours and then the next activation of the day.

Mt Cobaw VK3/VC-015

Accessing this summit was a little interesting. I first headed up Prendergasts Rd, which was shown on a Vicroads directory as a through road. It is not. Perc Boyers Lane goes off it, but is a rough 4wd track only. I headed back and tried then using Reillys Rd from Burke And Wills Track. Reillys Rd is a good quality 2wd gravel road. Burke and Wills is sealed. Camp Track is marked on Forest Explorer, but actually appears to follow a 4wd track at 918777. This has some huge ruts, so it was only 50m in on the 2wd before parking and continuing on foot. It was easy to find Soil Pit Track and I headed along this to about 907776 and then headed due west off track for about 200m to access the summit. There appears to be a track coming in from the north from Camp Track to the summit as well.

Here’s a pic of the final approach to the summit. Easy off track walking.

Forest on the final approach to Mt Cobaw from the east

Approaching the summit from the east

Again, I operated only on 2m. Action here was all FM, with quite a few s2s to be had. There were a few trying out SOTA after the Radiofest. Without any commercial sites here, no problems using the Wouxun on FM.

Pretty Sally VK3/VC-034

The final summit for the day was Pretty Sally, which is only a short distance north of Wallan. The summit area itself appears closed to the general public, but Old Sydney Road enters the activation zone. I operated from a spot near the Beauview Dr junction, northwest of the summit. This had the effect of putting me on the wrong side of the hill for a lot of Melbourne, but it turned out I still was able to work people from the eastern suburbs through the hill.

Again, a 2m activation, most on FM, but one on 144.1 SSB. Here’s a few picks of the operating location and the colinear in action. The colinear works well, but it means there is more unwanted signal also coming in to overload weak radio frontends. Here, the Wouxun could not be used, but the FT-817 was ok.

Radio and other gear operating at Pretty Sally

Operating at Pretty Sally

Colinear on a squid pole at Pretty Sally

Colinear on a squid pole

With that it was time to head home. Three new summits to add to the collection. On the way home, I noticed that a small fire had started on the William range area, near where Rik VK3KAN had been earlier in the day. It looked like it was just a few hectares at that stage. We need some decent rain soon!

Regards, Wayne Merry VK3WAM

3 summit activation: Mt Mitchell, Sugerloaf Peak & Federation Range

Hi all,

After my building of a colinear antenna for 2m, it was time to try it out, and what better than a SOTA activation. I picked three summits that were close to each other, and where it was possible to get into Melbourne on 2m, but only one of these summits, Federation Range VK3/VN-003 had anything that was close to line of sight.

Mt Mitchell VK3/VN-012

After getting my gear together early on Friday morning, I headed out (about an hour late) up to Mt Mitchell. There is a well made gravel road that leads up to close to the summit. The main 2WD road skirts the edge of the activation zone, getting about 5m into it. So, it is best to park the car a little down from a junction NE of the summit with a 4WD track. This track is mostly in the activation zone and passes over the summit to the north and then the west. Being 2m, I wanted to be at the summit itself to get good takeoffs in most directions, especially south and west. Approaching from the north west meant summitting.

The vegetation is recovering from the 2009 bushfires. The fire here was intense and killed nearly all the trees. Regrowth is currently about 2m high and is not too bad to get through. There are also rock areas about 10m across to make things a little easier. I found one of these close to the highest point and set up here to operate.

I was wondering how the colinear would go with electrical shorts, and it was no surprise to find that a short had developed when I set it up. Thus began a process of taking down the squid pole and checking the various connections. One thing that I have noticed is that because I used RG58/U – to obtain a shorter antenna – with a stranded centre conductor, the setup is far more susceptible to shorts. When I did the soldering, I did not have the best light. I am going to have to resolder the connections and ensure all strands of the centre conductor are captured by the solder. As it is, there are free strands that make their way where they are not supposed to.

After about 20 minutes of stuffing around, I managed to get a short free colinear. I was running way behind time, so I did not bother getting a VNA readout of the colinear. It has acceptable SWR over the whole 2m band, but it could be optimised as it looks like the centre point is at the top end of the band. This means the positioning of the choke on the input cable could be pushed out a little.

The colinear worked well. I was able to make a contact with Peter VK3PF down in Gippsland, even though there are quite a lot of hills causing obstruction over the path of well over 100km. Clearly this thing has some gain. The only comparison that I made was into VK3REC, an EMDRC repeater. The 1/4 wave on the HT could break the repeater. The RX was scratchy, so you had to move around a little. The Colinear had it well over 5 and 9 plus (I guess 20dB). So I need to fix up the shorting problem to get this baby on the air more often.

I was present at the activation area for about an hour, but with the stuffing around to locate the short in the colinear, I only operated for a little less than half an hour. I headed back to the car, grabbed some quick lunch at Buxton and headed for Sugerloaf saddle underneath Sugerloaf peak in the Cathedral Ranges State Park.

Sugerloaf Peak VK3/VN-011

I have been to this summit twice before. The first was many years ago, when I was not very experienced in overnight walking. We (my wife and I plus some friends but I cannot remember now who they were) camped at Farmyard, about 3 km to the north. We planned to head down to Sugerloaf Peak and return to Farmyard. It was overcast and foggy. We never made it to Sugerloaf due to a few spots on the “track” that were very exposed on the rock.

My second attempt was as part of a warm up for a 16 day walk in SW Tasmania. I was walking with a guy to train him up physically for the Tasmanian walk. He is an experienced rock climber. There is a path that goes up the side of Sugerloaf Peak that he said would be graded 3. He said it is much harder when carrying a full pack. Nonetheless we went up. I would have never have gone up without him, but he clearly knew what to do. Foot here, press against that, move other foot there, etc. I just did what I was told and he made it look easy. I, of course, had no idea of what to do. The tables were turned a few weeks later in SW Tasmania, where luckly I knew what to do out of the group that went down.

So for this my third visit, I headed up the “less hard” track, which still has lots of open, exposed rock. It would be tricky when wet, but in dry conditions, just take good footwear, and don’t look down too much.

Also, since the fires, there has been an upgrade of facilities at Sugerloaf saddle. There is a nice shelter there now which could fit more people than would ever likely be there at one time, ever.

I made the summit in good time. Check the colinear cable – no electrical shorts. Looking good. Raise colinear – shorts! Try as I might for the next 45 minutes, I could not find the short. Do I raise the end fed on 40m, or get out the 1/4 wave. This is supposed to be the hardest summit of the day, will the 1/4 wave on 2m even make it into Melbourne? Turns out it did without too much trouble. I did not get any contacts on FM, but SSB saved the day.

I should make mention of the BHI NEDSP1061-KBD noise reduction module here. I have one of these installed in my FT-817, and in my FT-897 as well. It does make SSB easier to listen to, but it can also improve readability where the signal is on the limit. It helped two of my QSOs today, pulling what would have been R3 to R4, and R4 to arm chair copy. If something is R1, it won’t help it, but if it is R2, it can pull it to R3 and you’ll get the QSO that you would otherwise would have not.

Sugerloaf peak is the most scenic of the summits of the day, so here are some pics.

Looking north west from Sugerloaf Peak

Looking north west from Sugerloaf Peak

Sugerloaf Peak, looking north, with sheer drop off to the right

Sugerloaf Peak, looking north.

Notice the drop off to the right on the pic above (click it for a better view).

Squid pole with colinear on Sugerloaf Peak

Squid pole with colinear on Sugerloaf Peak

Federation Range VK3/VN-003

Time for the final summit of the day, Federation Range to the north of Lake Mountain. I headed up to the ski resort and parked in the main car park. This place is D E A D during summer. I headed up the XC ski trails heading north and after about 30 minutes made it to the top. The activation zone is fairly large, but again, 2m makes you want to operate from the highest ground. This time I did not bother to attempt to operate the colinear. I simply plugged the 1/4 wave into a Wouxun KG-UVD1P and started up. I made two contacts on FM, but then things were slowing down. Time to plug in the FT-817 and I got 5 more contacts on SSB. Even Peter VK3PF got a look in. The path to his QTH is not clear, but there is much less in the way than at Sugerloaf Peak. I still think that if the colinear was able to be operated there, he would have got that summit in his log.

The activation here was short as I wanted to try and be out of the resort area by 6:30pm. In the end it was closer to 6:40 when I was back on the Marysville Woods Point rd, but it seemed not to matter. It was an interesting day for 3 summits and 20 SOTA points, all on 2m. It would have not been possible without SSB, but I need to get this colinear working! Even though its first adventure did not quite work out, I think this antenna has already shown its promise and with a little corrective surgery, need not be a pain in the rear end!

One little side note: I took up some 18650 cells, but in the end the internal battery on the FT-817 was able to last through all three activations. It was getting a little tired in the end, and if I had wanted to keep going, I would have needed to plug in the external power. It lasted about 1 hour 30 minutes of operating, but that included quite a bit of FM at 5 watts, which is going to hit it harder than CW or SSB at full FT-817 power.

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

EDIT: There were a few shorting possibilities in the colinear. I used some unused RG6 insulation to provide a shunt on the joins to provide greater structural integrity. The BNC connector itself had developed a short! I have a good crimping tool, but these are the hazards with working with stranded centre conductor coax.