Talbot Peak and Mt Saint Phillack 2014

Hi all,

Talbot Peak VK3/VT-010

After a BSAR search on Mt Bogong that involved a great deal of snow shoeing, I decided to head off myself to pick up this pair. I have previously activated them in the late season in 2013, as well as in 2012. There was a late season dump in 2012, but there was little snow in 2013. Not so this time. I proceeded first to Talbot Peak and parked the car at the Mt Erica car park. There was patchy snow at the car park and conditions were quite icy. So, with snow shoes in the pack, off I went. The patchy snow continued up to Mushroom rocks and about 100m above them. After that, the coverage was getting up to about 20cm, which is where I put the snow shoes on. The path was still fairly easy to make out, with the trench in the snow, although coverage was complete enough to see little or nothing of the ground.

I proceeded to the trig point at Talbot Peak and activated from there, using some closed cell foam to sit on the snow and a bothy shelter to keep me warm – indeed it does a good job of that.

Operating at Talbot Peak

Operating at Talbot Peak

Here’s the antenna at Talbot Peak:

Antenna at Talbot Peak

Antenna at Talbot Peak

Operation was on 20/30/40 using the random wire. The random wire was tuned using the inbuilt tuner of the KX1. I used the shorter 4.7 squid pole, and indeed it is the squid pole I use on most of my activations these days. The whole setup seemed to work fine on the snow.

It was certainly easier getting here compared to 2012 where I was only in boots. Snow shoeing certainly makes more of the high country in winter accessible, although the usual cautions apply – sufficient and appropriate wear to stay warm in cold/snow and high winds, sufficient navigation skills to operate in white out conditions where visibility is 10m or less, etc.

Mt Saint Phillack VK3/VT-006

So with Talbot Peak in the bag, I headed back to the Mt Erica carpark, down to the sealed road and and onto the St Gwinear car park. This car park is higher than the Mt Erica one, but as it is on the northern side of the Baw Baws, it had less snow, with no real snow on the road. There was about 5cm of snow on the toboggan runs, and the ski trails were ski-able to the carpark. I headed off up the main run, noting that access is not permitted without either skis or snowshoes. So in these kind of conditions, walking in boots means no summit access.

The coverage was mostly complete, but remained thin even onto the plateau. I always like the look of the area up here:

Near Mt St Gwinear

Near Mt St Gwinear

Coverage started to build as I hit the AAWT and was about 50cm at the summit rock cairn:

Operating at Mt St Phillack

Operating at Mt St Phillack

I used the same setup as Talbot Peak. All in all, a very enjoyable pair of summits, and different to do it on snow.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Pleasant and surrounds

Hi all,

My final day of activations on my May 2014 US trip was in Virginia. There are a series of Summits on the Air 10 point summits around Mt Pleasant, so that is where I was to go.

Mount Pleasant W4V/BR-005

The first summit of the day was Mt Pleasant itself. I proceeded along Wiggins Spring Rd from the west. The road is a little rough, but can be driven in a 2wd in the dry with some care. I drove through to to the Mt Pleasant car park. From here, I proceeded by foot along the the old Jeep Trail. The alignment of the tracks these days has been changed from when the USGS maps I was using was surveyed. It’s pretty easy to follow, and after a little while a stream is crossed and the track begins to climb up to a point to the north, not far from the summit. Some people camped here overnight, and there was a sign pointing to a water source. I proceeded up to the summit area. I found that a number of people had been camping near the west summit. I had a look from the west, where there are nice views:

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Views from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

Looking north from Mt Pleasant West

I setup a little bit back from the path, with the wire over the track (but about 10 feet up so it would have not affected anybody.

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

KX1 at Mt Pleasant

Things were a little slower than yesterday afternoon, but I still easily and quickly got the points here. After packing up and having a look at Mt Pleasant East summit, I headed back the way that I came to the car. I thought about giving Pompey Mountain a look on the way back, but thought it more important to get the four planned summits in today.

Cole Mountain W4V/BR-006

I had passed the car park for this summit on the way into Mt Pleasant. It’s only a few hundred yards back the road. The walking trail (the Appalachian Trail) from here zig-zags up on a mostly gentile gradient, but sometimes it’s a bit too gentle. There is a vehicular track also heading up, which they used to mow the lawn up at the summit. It proceeds up to the east of the walking trail where it crosses it on the climb. The vehicular track is faster getting up.

Once on top, there are great views because much of the ridgeline going across towards the highest point is cleared:

Views from Cole Mountain

Views from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

Looking at Mt Pleasant from Cole Mountain

I operated just below the summit, behind a tree. There were lots of people out on the hill, so I went there for a little bit more peace for the activation.

Bald Knob W4V/BR-004

The Appalachian Trail continues down to CowCamp Gap and then up to Bald Knob. The gradient is quite pleasant with zig zaging reducing the workload. Bald Knob is not cleared, so no views from the summit here. I set up at the highest point, about 10 feet off the track. The number of hikers here was far lower than at Cole Mountain, but I did get someone asking what I was up to – the typical “what are you doing going fishing here?” I tell them that I am fishing for radio contacts.

At the end of the activation, I retraced my steps back down to CowCamp Gap, up to Cole Mountain and back to the car.

Rocky Mountain W4V/BR-001

The final summit of the trip was Rocky Mountain. I drove west back down Wiggins Spring Rd, turning right onto Coffeytown Rd. This rejoins Wiggins Spring Rd much closer to the summit. Wiggins Spring Rd is rougher here, and the humps to help the road drain must be taken with care to avoid bottoming out the car. A bit of practice with these back in Australia proved useful here in getting the 2wd car up to the top of the mountain, along with avoiding the rocks. You simply need to be able to drive using the whole road, left and right hand side.

This summit has a bit of comms gear on site:

Rocky Mountain summit

Rocky Mountain summit

It was a quieter activation here. I was running a little ahead of schedule, but I was keen to wrap things up quickly. The NiZn batteries performed like a charm, maybe just maybe I might even start leaving the LiPOs at home on Victorian activations?!

After wrapping up, I headed back home – literally! I carefully drove the car back down Wiggins Spring Rd, onto Coffeytown Rd, out to US60, onto the I81, up to Charles Town WV, onto the I70, I695, I95 up to Media PA, sleep for 5 hours, drive to Philadelphia airport, catch a plane to Dallas Fort Worth, another to LA, another to Melbourne, Australia (with broken sleep in economy class) and finally home in a daze.

All worth it, and going and activating places like Mt Pleasant and other SOTA adventures seems far more interesting than the usual tourist traps! For one, there were not any typical tourists that I saw on these travels.

So at the end of it all, the KX1 worked really well. I missed out on any VK stations, but it may have really been only my first activation back in W6 that had any real chance. Got a bit of EU action, and started to become familiar with various US SOTA chasers. Some have been in my log on VK summits. Hopefully I hear a few more from VK summits in future. Until the next activation….

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

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

Labour day long weekend Part 1

Hi all,

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

Mt Lookout VK3/VT-030

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

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

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

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

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

Mt Selma VK3/VT-013

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

Conner Plain VK3/VT-22

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

Foggy conditions on approach to Conner Plain

Foggy conditions on approach to Conner Plain

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

Here’s the operating location at Conner Plain:

Rig at Conner Plain

Rig at Conner Plain

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

Antenna and squid pole at Conner Plain

Antenna and squid pole at Conner Plain

Mt Shillinglaw VK3/VE-068

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

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

Here’s a look at the setup there:

Setup at Mt Shillinglaw

Setup at Mt Shillinglaw

Mt Skene VK3/VE-031

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

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

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

Looking NE from lookout on Mt Skene

Looking NE from lookout on Mt Skene

Looking SE from lookout near Mt Skene

Looking SE from lookout near Mt Skene

VK3/VE-091

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

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

VK3/VE-158

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

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

Here’s a look at the terrain at dusk:

Recently burnt forest near VE-158 summit

Recently burnt forest near VE-158 summit

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

73 and regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

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

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

Hi all,

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

Cromwell Knob VK3/VT-012

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

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

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

Mt Dawson and Mt Kent from Cromwell Knob

Mt Dawson and Mt Kent from Cromwell Knob

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

Lamb Hill VK3/VT-025

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

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

Castle Hill VK3/VT-014

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

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

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

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

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

Operating at Castle Hill using the lightweight squid pole

Operating at Castle Hill using the lightweight squid pole

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

Bryce’s Plain VK3/VT-004

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

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

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM