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

2013 Grampians Queen’s Birthday trip Part 1

Hi all,

Due to the number of activations on this trip, I will break these posts up into three parts, one for each day.

Overall

Over time, I am working on activating as many summits in Victoria as possible. There are some easier summits and not so easy. I have already visited many of the easy ones already, so some of the harder ones await.

On this trip, my plan was to activate 9 new summits. Seven of these were off track and in the Sierra Range of the Grampians. This range has a reputation for tough scrub. I’ve already experienced this on previous trips.

Twin Peak VK3/VW-023

Twin Peak joined the SOTA family at the start of this year. Last year, an impostor – Triple Peak VK3/VW-005 was on the menu, and I had activated this last year, in what I would would rate up there with one of my hardest activations. VK3/VW-005 is now no longer available for SOTA activations from the start of 2013.

Twin Peak is located about 1km north of Triple Peak, and I would rate it easier to get to. In my planning, I decided to access these summits from the east, rather than the west, aiming for a saddle where the maps suggest no cliffs, and then go up the side. In the case of Twin Peak, I would access the saddle to the north. There is also Mt Lubra to the north, so I would access that as well.

Here’s a screen shot of a GPS tracklog:

Track log to Twin Peaks and Mt Lubra

Track log to Twin Peaks and Mt Lubra

I headed off from the car park at the base of the Mt William walking track. A vehicle track is accessible a short distance south along the road. I headed along this until a T intersection, turned left and left the track about 20m south of there, heading generally west-south-west. You may notice that the return trip is a little more indirect, as I spent a little more time in the creeks. These have had much of their vegetation washed away a few years ago by heavy rains.

I would rate the forest as medium. It had it’s moments, but it never was really bad. My line approaching the saddle on the way up was not as good as the line on the way back.

From the saddle, I made my way up looking for access across two cliff lines to access the summit. Going about 200m further west than my approach and return from the saddle to the summit of VK3/VW-023 might avoid the cliffs all together. I made my way up in good time and set up the vertical antenna on top. I was hoping for 12m action on this trip, and got one contact. This was up in North Queensland. Good reports, which told me that the antenna is ok, but the large skip zone is not much chop. 12m for is going to rely on mostly direct wave contacts, not sky wave. Given most VK3 chasers with any 12m capability are around the Melbourne area, it will be nearby summits there that needed to clock up the 12m contacts. I still think that 12m is still a reasonable chance for DX into North America in the mornings.

After 12m, I went to 40m and worked the usual pile, both before and after UTC midnight. There has been some discussion about SOTA pileups in VK. I can generally work two to three a minute, and that is fast enough for handwriting on a pad while trying to be comfortable sitting on a rock. Of course, I never reward a station tailending before I call “QRZ”. The pile is well mannered though, and hopefully people feel they are getting worked fast enough. It’s also handy for “summit to summit” to be called, because as soon as I hear that, I call for those stations.

Here’s a view looking south from Twin Peaks:

South from Twin Peaks

South from Twin Peaks

Here’s looking east-south-east towards Major Mitchell Plateau:

Major Mitchell Plateau from Twin Peaks

Major Mitchell Plateau from Twin Peaks

Mt Warrinaburb/Lubra VK3/VW-004

With that, it was back down to the saddle to the north, and then head up to Mt Lubra. I noticed from Twin Peaks that a line of cliffs would block access going directly up from the saddle, so I would need to head to the left to be able to cross the cliff line. I was able to find this without too much trouble. It is a steep climb, but there were no real obstacle to typical Sierra Range progress of about 750m/hr. I went past the summit a little to a generally flat area about 50m beyond it and 5m down for a good spot to active.

I again set up the vertical, but had nothing on 12m. I worked the 40m pile and resolved to focus on 40m for the rest of the trip.

The tracklog shown at the top of this post shows my path back down. It is easier going downhill in medium scrub than going up. I made good time back to the car, and met a whole pile of people there who were participating in an event called the “Sierra Terror”.

Here’s looking south from Mt Lubra towards Twin Peaks and Mt Lang:

Twin Peaks and Mt Lang from Mt Lubra

Twin Peaks and Mt Lang from Mt Lubra

Red Man Bluff VK3/VW-002

From the car park at the base of the Mt William walking track, I headed north, and turned on to the Mt William Rd. I headed up to a saddle, and then a little more for a safer car park spot. I would then head over to the summit from here. Here is a projection of the tracklog:

GPS tracklog from Mt William Rd to Red Man Bluff

GPS tracklog from Mt William Rd to Red Man Bluff and return

The way up was in daylight, the way back about 1/3rd in daylight, 1/3rd in fading light and 1/3rd in the dark. The way back avoided most of the tough scrub, so Red Man Bluff need not be a difficult off track activation. This is the more western path shown on the tracklog, especially around the middle of the traverse to/from the summit. There is some moderate scrub to get started, but with a good line, it is not too bad. The way up was more difficult, it was slow going at times.

On Red Man Bluff, I switched over to using the end fed, as I was really now only trying for local contacts. Most were SOTA chasers, but a few from the VK Shires contest snuck in as well.

Of course there are always great views to be had:

Towards Halls Gap from Red Man Bluff

Towards Halls Gap from Red Man Bluff

Mt William VK3/VS-001

After getting back to the car, I drove to the end of the public road at the top Mt William car park. It’s 1.8km to the summit from here, and unlike some privilaged amateurs, I have no keys for the gate, so on foot we go. Here’s a tracklog screenshot:

Tracklog from Mt William upper car park to summit

Tracklog from Mt William upper car park to summit

It was now completely dark for the trip up and back. The lights of Stawell can be seen clearly from the summit, plus the glow of Ararat, as it is hidden behind some hills. There are some lights from the Melbourne suburbs that can be seen.

40m was no good for local contacts, even with the end-fed. The skip zone was taking out all of VK3, south east VK5 and VK2. It took quite some time to get my four QSOs. All were in either VK4 or VK6.

Next time I come up here in the dark, I might try the colinear on 2m and see if we can get some contacts into Melbourne.

I headed down to the car park and met a marshal involved with the “Sierra Terror” event. He reported that two walkers had gone missing on the walk down from the top Mt William carpark to the lower Mt William carpark. He had already walked the track in the dark to try and find them without success.

I wondered what I would do if there was to be a callout associated with that, given that my hiking overnight gear was back in Melbourne – I had no intention of using it on this trip. Regardless, it was time to get some sleep for the next two big days ahead.

This is continued in 2013 Grampians Queen’s Birthday trip Part 2

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM