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

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