Mt Kent, Mt Dawson and Mt Valentia

Hi all,

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

Mt Kent VK3/VT-008

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

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

The view from near Little Kent

The view from near Little Kent

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

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

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

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

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

Operating at Mt Kent

Operating at Mt Kent

Mt Dawson VK3/VT-015

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

Mt Dawson

Mt Dawson

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

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

Mt Valentia VK3/VT-017

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, Wayne VK3WAM

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2014 ANZAC weekend activations Part 1

Hi all,

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

VK3/VT-018

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

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

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

Near Mt Freezeout VK3/VE-024

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

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

Looking towards the Dargo High Plains from Mt Freezeout

Looking towards the Dargo High Plains from Mt Freezeout

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

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

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

Here’s the antenna and pole at the summit:

Antenna at VK3/VE-024

Antenna at VK3/VE-024

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

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

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

Mt Blue Rag VK3/VE-021

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

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

Blue Rag Range VK3/VE-015

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

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

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

Mt Kent from VK3/VE-015

Mt Kent from VK3/VE-015

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Three summits near Ballarat

Hi all,

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

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

Mt Buninyong VK3/VC-018

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

Station at Mt Buninyong

Station at Mt Buninyong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt Warrenheip VK3/VC-019

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

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

VK3/VC-032

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

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

John Moyle Field Day 2014 At Mt Torbreck

Hi all,

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

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

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

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

Gear included:

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

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

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

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

Here’s the 2m colinear:

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m colinear squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

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

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

Zplots view of 70cm colinear

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

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

Next up, the 2m yagi:

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

2m yagi squid pole mounted at Mt Torbreck

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

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

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

2m yagi VNAPro measurements shown in Zplots

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

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

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

6m turnstyle at Mt Torbreck

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

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

The radios were setup in the vestibule of the tent:

Radios in tent vestibule

Radios in tent vestibule

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

Mind the computer

Mind the computer

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

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

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

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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

4 Summits in the Yarra Ranges

Hi all,

With all the fast and furious SOTA action going on in recent weeks, it was time to get out and clock up a few more points, lest I eventually lose my VK SOTA activator lead, but hang on, SOTA’s not supposed to be competitive, right?

Mt Richie and Mt Donna Buang form a summit pair that are quite easy to do in a day, and that’s what I did last year. This year the plan was to add two extra summits onto the day, Mt Bride and Britannia Ridge. I had not activated those last two before, but plenty of others have.

Mt Richie VK3/VC-003

This summit is accessible by a series of management vehicular tracks. There is a gate for Road 15 at Acheron Way. The large bolted concrete barrier is to stop the public driving up, but foot access is ok. The track log below shows the route.

GPS tracklog plot of Mt Richie access

Mt RIchie tracklog

The junction between road 10 and 15 is at the most southerly point on the tracklog. Turn left, and it’s about 5km walking from this point. The route involves over 500m of climbing, but it never feels too bad on the way.

I first put up the vertical, but I need to do a bit of soldering on the feedpoint as the connection was poor. The base of the loading coil seemed disconnected, I am going to have to look into this. No action on 12m with a poorly functioning antenna.

Lucky the end fed was in the bag. I took down the vertical and put up the end fed and worked a series of VK1,2 and 5 stations. Good reports. It would seem at this stage in winter in the hour or so after sunrise, sometimes there can be a large skip zone on 40m. Bernard VK3AMB reported hearing me very weakly, must have been ground wave over a 45km distance. I did not bring the 2m colinear for this summit.

My phone struggles to take photos in cold conditions, so no activation photos from here.

Mt Donna Buang VK3/VC-002

It’s next off to Mt Donna Buang with the walk back to the car and then the drive up to the summit. The last car park before the gate is 40m vertical down from the summit, so I parked here. Looks a little strange with other members of the public parking at the summit itself, but it ensures my final access is non motorised. I set up near the lookout tower with the 2m colinear and the end fed both on the squid pole at the same time.

2m colinear and half wave end fed on the 7m squid pole at Mt Donna Buang near the lookout tower

Operating at Mt Donna Buang

The only implication of this set up with a 2m coax run from the feedpoint to the radio is the need to move about 5m when I want to move from 2m to 40m. Aside from that, it worked well. I used the Wouxun HT on 2m FM, and the FT-817 on 2m SSB and 40m.

Mt Bride VK3/VC-009

Mt Bride was my third summit of the day. With things running nicely to schedule, I decided to activate both on 2m and 40m at this summit. I used Mt Bride Rd off Old Warburton Rd. A road branches off to the left just under 2km from the summit. It’s a bit rough, but I got the Prius up without any real difficulty. I parked the car at the crest of this road and found the walking track branching off a little further along.

GPX tracklog screenshot of Mt Bride access

Tracklog to access Mt Bride

Someone had recently rode a dirt bike up here. Might have been “fun” with some of the low hanging branches!

I activated on the track as it was well in the activation zone, perhaps less than 5 vertical metres from the highest point.

Activating using a squid pole on the track near Mt Bride summit

Activating at Mt Bride

I again mounted both the colinear and the end fed on the squid pole. It’s working well. I was unable to get the full four contacts on 2m, but there was the usual pile on 40.

Britannia Ridge VK3/VC-011

Conditions up to this point had been quite sunny, but the clouds started rolling in. It was time to get this last activation in place. I accessed it by continuing to drive along Mt Bride Track until reaching the base of a track that goes up a spur towards the summit. Mt Bride Track is fine in a 2wd. The track going up the summit would need a much more capable vehicle. It’s about 200m down and 1300m away from the summit, so it is not a long walk.

GPX tracklog screenshot of Britannia Ridge access

Tracklog to Britannia Ridge

I headed up to where the track levelled off before going off track up to the summit. I did not look too closely at the map, but the track perhaps does not quite get in the activation zone. My way back down to the track was quite more open. Look to leave the track about 50m before it levels out at the top.

My operating site was quite cramped, and for this reason I did not put up the colinear and the end fed at the same time. I commenced operating on 2m. I did some coordination on VK3REC as I had no mobile signal. I worked 2 stations on 2m FM, and Bernard VK3AMB put out a call to see if anyone else was around and perhaps SSB might be a go. I tried getting Marshall VK3MRG, but I could just hear him and there would be little chance he could hear me on 5 watts. Just after pulling down the colinear, another station announced on the repeater that they had my signal booming into them, but they could hear nothing on the 2m 1/4 wave. Bernard himself could hear nothing on the 1/4 wave, but 57 on the colinear. It certainly makes a difference.

I put up the end fed and worked the usual pile on 40. Interesting that 40 was still open locally late in the day after being closed even an hour after sunrise on Mt Richie.

With that, packed up and got back to the car just a little after sunrise. A nice productive 30 point day, and the uniques count was expanded by 2.

73, Regards, Wayne VK3WAM
South west of the summit

2013 Grampians Queen’s Birthday trip Part 3

Hi all,

This is a continuation of 2013 Grampians Queen’s Birthday trip Part 2.

The final day of this three day trip took place on Queen’s Birthday holiday, a Monday. The plan was to activate three summits down the southern end of the Sierras. They were all new summits for me, although others (e.g. Allen VK3HRA) had been here before.

Signal Peak VK3/VS-014

This summit is at the northern end of a rise that also takes in Mt Abrupt VK3/VS-011. The plan was to take the walking track up to where it climbs onto the top, then make my way north off track to Signal Peak. The track has been recently recut due to heavy rains causing landslips. Access is via this track, climbing up to beneath the cliffs. The last landslip is the place to leave the track and head straight up. It’s only about 20m vertical to get to the saddle at the top.

Here’s a tracklog:

Signal Peak tracklog

Signal Peak tracklog

On the way up I took a path a little bit to the east of the return path. The return path is better. From the saddle, it even makes sense to stay in the easier forest, which will drop a bit of height on the western side, but may make for faster progress. It is not worth going too far down though.

It could be possible to aim from where the track reaches its most northern part and head north west towards the more northern saddle. It appears that it could be passable, but even if it is, I don’t think it would be overall any easier than the route I took.

The scrub is so, so. I would rate it medium. It’s high hundred meters per hour terrain, and most of the boulders can be missed. There’s even some open sections where you can actually get a stride happening.

It was very windy up on top, and there was one bird taking advantage. It looks smaller in the photo, but it must have been less than 20m away up in the air:

Eagle drafting at Signal Peak

Eagle drafting at Signal Peak

I was able to make reasonable time and get up to the summit and get on the air well before the UTC midnight cutoff, which was the plan. I operated using the end-fed using the FT-817 on 40m. Batteries were my 18650 cells x3 contained in a 20mm PVC pipe, which is my usual QRP setup. I worked the piles both sides of the UTC midnight change over, plus some nice summit to summit contacts.

I have had these 18650 cells before I got my LiPOs and still use then instead of the LiPOs. They are reasonabily conveneint, but if someone is getting started in SOTA, then a 3S LiPO pack is a better choice. I use these, because a) I already have them (the main reason) and b) they are almost as conveinent as the LiPOs. The main drawback is that they only have about 1200mAh real capacity vs the labelled 2400mAh capacity. These are UltraFIRE’s but they are ebay rip-offs. I actually have two geniune UltraFIREs, and they appear to have something very close to the label. It seems almost impossible to get the real thing off ebay I’m afraid. It’s much easier to order LiPOs from HobbyKing and not have to worry about this stuff!

Here’s the end fed in operation:

End fed at Signal Peak

End fed at Signal Peak

Mount Abrupt was waiting to the south:

Mt Abrupt from Signal Peak

Mt Abrupt from Signal Peak

Mt Abrupt VK3/VS-011

I headed back to the track from where I left it and then proceeded south up to the Mt Abrupt summit. It was quite popular today, and I wonder what people thought of the large backpack and the large pole (squid pole) that I was carrying. I operated about 20m away from the trig point to keep my presence a little lower key as people came and went. There are certainly great views from up here:

Signal Peak and the Sierras from Mt Abrupt

Signal Peak and the Sierras from Mt Abrupt

Next, looking south to the final summit I was to climb today. It looks so small from here:

Mt Sturgeon from Mt Abrupt

Mt Sturgeon from Mt Abrupt

While up here, it was sunny, so I pulled out the small solar panel and started charging the phone with it. Today, I was using the 3500mAh batteries, and they had only come down to 80%. They certainly go much further than any of the other batteries I have for the phone. In about one hour of charging, the panel had put them up to 89%. Of course because of the larger capacity, it takes longer to charge. It seems like I am getting most of the 2 watts of the panel into the cell.

With the activation finished, it took just over an hour to get down to the car from the summit and onwards to Mt Sturgeon, the last summit of the day and the trip.

Mt Sturgeon VK3/VS-035

The car park for this is at the junction of the Grampians Rd and Victoria Valley Rd. One can head along Victoria Valley Rd and either park at the start of a 4wd track, or even head up it for 300m (quite good even for 2wd) to get closer. This shaves about 1/4 of the walk, but not any of the climb up to the summit.

It’s a surprising 300m that needs to be gained on the climb. It’s not really steep, but quite consistent on the way up. I was running a little behind schedule, so I made my way up quite quick. Always good fitness work, this SOTA stuff. From up top, I saw a control book associated with the Sierra Terror, the event that had been running over the weekend. Made me wonder what happened to the two people lost on the first day. No BSAR callout yet, so that means that things were likely to be ok.

Here’s the tracklog of my path up:

Mt Sturgeon tracklog

Mt Sturgeon tracklog

I operated a few metres from the main lookout. It was still quite windy. It took the usual 15m or so to get through the pileup and then I packed up and headed back home. Not before having a look at the views:

Victoria Valley from Mt Sturgeon

Victoria Valley from Mt Sturgeon

On the way down, I met one of the marshals from the Sierra Terror. The two lost people had been found, but on the afternoon of the next day. They walked out. Seems like they got lost at the point where the track crosses a creek about 2km or so from the road. They had made themselves a bush shelter overnight. Also the Sierra Terror is an event that has only been running over the last few years and has more than 150 people involved now. It it to raise money for Dunkeld community facilities. Good on them.

It was back to the car, and driving home after a very rewarding weekend.

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM