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

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Solar Panel for USB devices

Hi all,

It is a significant challenge on extended trips to keep devices such as my Samsung Galaxy S2 mobile phone charged. I carry spare batteries and have even begun using high capacity batteries that make the phone less slim-line. However, no matter how big the battery, it is going to run out sooner or later. Tricks like turning the device into flight mode, ensuring bluetooth is off and using apps like Juice Defender do lead to longer run times but all things come to an end.

The biggest demand when using the phone in the field is running GPS applications – especially if having track logging on. Trekbuddy is lighter on the juice than Androzic, but both certainly consume. Also, if I am in mobile range and on a Summits on the Air activation, I try to also use an APRS app on the phone so people can track my progress towards the summit so they then have some idea when I am likely to come on air. I need a solution if I go on a week long SOTA trip and I would still like the phone alive at the end.

Solar Charging Panel

On a trip last year with Glenn VK3YY, I saw him using a small solar panel on the top of his pack. I looked around on ebay, but most USB solar charging devices really are just a (not always so) big external battery with a small solar panel. I would think many of the panels would be around 1 watt or even less.

Glenn alerted me to a 2W 6V solar panel on ebay. The seller provided a Schottky diode and a female USB socket. Upon receiving it, I soldered the diode and the socket on, and found the voltage was 6V up to 6.5V in the sun. The phone refused to recognise it.

Regulation

Separate to this, I purchased a 12V to 5V regulator with a USB socket. This was so I could charge phones in the car, but also in the field off LiPO batteries. I put Anderson Powerpoles on the 12V side. Here’s a pic of the device:

12V to 5V (USB) regulator

12V to 5V (USB) regulator

This device works quite well with a 12V input. My experience with similar buck regulation devices is that they tend to hold the output voltage even when fed something only a small greater input voltage, meaning that I should be able to get 5V out with 6V in. I removed the USB socket from the solar panel and made up a about 5cm of conductors to put a set of Anderson Powerpoles on. I left the Schottky diode in place, so that the solar panel would not be exposed to any voltage coming up the other way.

I put a small amount of duck tape on the outside of the panel to protect the edges, and here is the finished product:

Completed Solar Panel with Anderson Powerpole connector

Completed Solar Panel with Anderson Powerpole connector

Testing even in fairly low sunlight showed that the phone accepts charging from this setup. I’ll have to see how it goes in the field on a trip, but it is looking good. I’ll be interested to see if I get something like the 2W out of this panel in good sunlight – however being near winter, we might only really know in 6 months.

73, Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Generation X Plus SP-1 signal booster

Hi all,

On one of my recent SOTA (Summits on the Air) trips a few weeks ago, I made up my mind to give one of these Generation X signal boosters a go. They are not expensive, but I could not really find much of value on the net about how good or bad they were.

(I should point out that I have no association with the sellers of these products – I just bought some).

Do they work? I think they do. Here is a pic with two installed in a Samsung Galaxy S2

Samsung Galaxy s2 with 2 Generation X Plus SP1 signal boosters installed

Samsung Galaxy s2 with 2 signal boosters installed

I tried installing them both horizontally and vertically. It appears a vertical installation (as pictured) has more effect. As can be seen, I installed 2 of them. Most of the improvement was with one installed, but the second still had a small noticeable improvement. I would guess 2dB. Better than nothing!

How much effect? I would say about 6dB to 8dB. In terms of bars, this is about 1 and half bars. It is not always easy to tell the difference because there are many factors with mobile networks. The effect is most obvious in areas where the signal is very marginal, say at the edge of a service area, or well within a building. It is here where the phone and the network may be limited in choices such as handover to a better tower. The tower may already have the phone on max power level.

There is one spot in the church I go to on Sundays where the signal is right on the edge. A Bible app I use has to pull data from a server over the mobile phone network. I am generally kicked to 2G, and struggle to pull any data. With these things installed, I was able to maintain a solid 3G signal. A friend installed it in a Samsung Galaxy S3 and was able to maintain a phone call for the first time ever in parts of his house where he typically can only get SMS service. He has had to go outside or even up the street to get reliable phone service in the past.

I also have noticed improvements in rural areas. The signal is basically stronger for longer. Of course, once right out of service area, you still won’t get anything. In urban areas, I notice that it is often changing between towers at much higher signal levels than before.

Overall, at least in terms of my Galaxy S2 and my friend’s Galaxy S3, it appears that this device was worth it. As for the non SP1 Generation X, I have not tried it and cannot comment on it.

Regards,
Wayne Merry