Mt Hedrick and Ben Cruachan

Hi all,

With all of my travel in 2013, I have not had the opportunity for some time to do an extended SOTA trip. An opportunity to rectify this arose over the new year period, so I headed off on the 28th of December for a 5 day trip.

Mt Hedrick VK3/VT-069

This is a summit that has not yet been activated. Looking at the festy.org maps, there is a walking track marked that goes from Huggetts Rd up the western end of the mountain. Opencyclemap also has it marked, but starting a few hundred metres to the north. Both tracks exist, although the opencyclemap starting location is more official. There are some nice views on the way up:

Looking north from Mt Hedrick's western slopes

Looking north from Mt Hedrick’s western slopes

Looking southwest from Mt Hedrick's western slopes

Looking southwest from Mt Hedrick’s western slopes

Operation from the top was using the KX1 with the end fed on the 7m heavy duty pole. The top has trees, and no nice views were obtainable. The day was clearly going to be warm, so I did not stay long.

Ben Cruachan VK3/VT-042

To access this, I attempted to head up Ben Cruachan Rd. In Forest Explorer, it is marked light red, meaning it is a more significant road. Nonetheless, the road ended and entered private property at 806131. The other maps also gave little indication that this would be the case. Because of the colour marking, I did not look at the land.vic.gov.au maps to see if there was a road reservation. Nonetheless, I had to turn back.

Next up was to try Gegghegans Rd and Beaver Medows Track and see how far I could get. I got to about point 783132, which was still a long way from the summit. It was going to be a long walk today. I filled up the water bottle, grabbed some food and started walking.

After a few climbs and rest stops, I realised that the full water bottle that I had taken was not going to be enough water. I had taken 1.5l, but I really needed about double that. I was quite tired when I reached the summit. The summit itself has good views, but through the trees.

Looking north from Ben Cruachan

Looking north from Ben Cruachan

I operated again using the KX1 and the end fed on the 7 metre pole. Some of the usual CW chaser suspects were not around, however the 4 QSOs were obtained without too much difficulty.

I did not want to stay too long, because it would be a 3 hour trip back, with only a small amount of water. I had to ration this to last most of the trip. I was very thirsty when getting back to the car. Because I was quite dehydrated by this stage, I started only drinking small frequent amounts, rather than shove a whole lot of water back in. Still, in the 3 hours after getting back to the car and before going to bed, I downed another 3 litres of water.

Day 1 of the 5 day trip down, 4 days to go. Next on the agenda was VK3/VT-064 on the way up to Licola and a difficult day trip up to two summits including Mt Margaret.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Concord and Proctor

Hi all,

While the rest of the family lazed around during a camping trip, I decided to have a day on the hills. I selected two nearby summits that had not been previously activated.

Mt Concord VK3/VN-018

This summit is at the southern end of a long ridge that can be seen from the Maroondah Highway on the way to Mansfield. Many SOTA activators will have gazed on this range on their way to higher hills in Victoria’s north east. It was now time to get this summit activated.

The summit is on a road reservation. This is not fenced. I used Nicholsons Rd from the highway for access. This is a high quality gravel road until point 738904. It is a bit rough from there, but still worth going up about 500m or so. From here it begins to climb quickly. I proceeded on foot. The formed road goes off to the left onto private land. The road reservation, plus the public land of Molesworth Bushland Reserve to the right gives access up to the top of the hill. It means leaving the formed road at the gate into the private land and continuing to climb to the right of the fence. Its a climb of about 350m over about 1200m, so it is quite steep. I didn’t mind the steep climb, as I had a series of tough activations planned in the following week.

I had also loaded a detailed map from land.vic.gov.au to show the location of the road reservations. From the top of the climb, it was clear that the road reservation was not fenced, instead one of the two land owners was using it. From the map, it was the farmer to the west, rather than the pine plantation to the east. So, I stayed to the west of the fence and proceeded southwards towards the summit. There was a track on the wrong side of the fence, but I stayed away from this due to this being likely on private land.

The summit itself has a trig point and I operated from there. I used the 7m heavy duty pole to mount the “random wire”, but had more success with the end fed. I suspect that my wire direct to BNC connector is perhaps not the best approach as it is subject to load. Instead, I want to look at a BNC connector where I can screw the wires in.

Operating from Mt Concord

Operating from Mt Concord

There were some nice views from up on top.

Looking north from Mt Concord

Looking north from Mt Concord

Looking south west from Mt Concord

Looking south west from Mt Concord

There were no real views to the east because of the pine plantation.

Mt Concord has a limited life in the Summits on the Air program. The summit is actually 647m high, not 697m. There is another spot to the north that is higher on this plateau system, and it will be the replacement of Mt Concord in due course. This won’t be for a while as it is not in the current round of summit changes.

Proctor VK3/VN-019

Proctor is located south of Bonnie Doon to the west of Lake Eildon. I accessed it from Alexandra and the road into the Frazer section of Lake Eildon National Park. Skyline Rd skirts the western edge of the park. Proctor is located to the north of the park, and there is good 2wd road access into activation zone. I setup in part of the road reservation and again used the end fed antenna on 20 and 40, using the internal ATU of the KX1 to tune for 30. It did this quite easily.

Conditions were mostly fine, apart from a sharp shower that came through. I continued operating through the shower by putting the rig underneath my backpack. One does not need to see too much when keying CW. I lent over the (paper) notebook to keep it from getting wet. The shower was short and then it was back to fine sunny conditions.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Misery, Mt Kooyoora and Mt Bealiba

Hi all,

Up in Ballarat for a few days with the (out)inlaws. Without implying anything, its nice to slip away for a bit of SOTA action, especially to gain some new uniques.

Mt Misery VK3/VS-024

This is a summit that I have had my eye on for some time. It can be seen easily from the Western Highway between Ballarat and Ararat. Allen VK3HRA had activated it last year, so I was keen to follow and get it in the log. I gave one of the owners a call, and gained permission.

Access is via the Beauford-Waubra Rd. Stop at the Mt Misery Quarry sign NNE of the summit. You need to have arranged permission to proceed beyond this point. If the gate is open, don’t just enter anyway as you might find yourself locked in – which might be a problem if your car is on the wrong side of the gate, aside from the SOTA rules.

I met Chris, one of the owners, on the day. He is an old time farmer who doesn’t farm any more. He runs a fencing business but is looking to enjoy life a bit more.

I left the Prius near the hut about 300m NW of the summit. Chris was spending time working on bikes nearby. From there it was a straight forward climb up to a knoll to the west of the summit, and then a short steep section to the summit itself. There’s a trig on top and I operated from there.

At trig of Mt Misery VK3/VS-024

At trig of Mt Misery

The antenna tuned at the bottom part of the 40m band, so I operated from there. 40m on CW in VK is getting reliable enough for 4 SOTA contacts fairly quickly. I also operated on 30 and 20, which give better access for VK5 and northern VK2. I was hoping for some DX, but not today.

On a clear day, a lot can be seen up from here, so Chris tells me, and I have no reason not to believe him. For today, there was a nice view of inversion clouds at Mt Cole.

Looking towards Mt Cole from Mt Misery

Looking towards Mt Cole from Mt Misery

For those wanting access – here’s the sign:

Mt Misery quarry sign

Mt Misery quarry sign

Ring the first number on the sign for Steven and he can give you the relevant details from there.

Mt Kooyoora VK3/VU-007

I had first planned on doing this summit on a trip in July, but it was not to be then. The forecast for today was for showers and for conditions to be cooler. This was a good thing, because while Ballarat was 20 degrees today, here was 30. The showers did not really happen either.

I accessed from Mount View Rd from the south. Turning left off this at 409472 allows a short drive up (turn left at the next junction) to 1100m from the summit at the Crystal Mine carpark and its mostly off track from there heading northwards. The land falls for a few hundred metres, but not much. It then climbs up about 120 vertical metres to the summit. It is fairly easy off track walking. A big squid pole can be a mild annoyance, but I’ve took my 7m pole through far worse than this.

The antenna preferred to tune at the top end of 40, so I operated from there. It was nice to get a s2s with Peter VK3PF, but it was Xmode to get it. Seems funny to send a 59 signal report using CW, but I thought it better not to try to rate Peter’s voice tone – what would we rate it on? 1 for really angry to 9 for really happy?

Ian VK5CZ sent me a photo of his outdoor operation, so I sent him a photo of the shack:

Operating at Mt Kooyoora

Operating at Mt Kooyoora

The 7m pole is nice, but it does not really add a whole lot of antenna improvement vs operating on the lightweight 4.7m pole. I think what I will do is plan to use the 7m pole where I am expecting either a walking track or easier off track access to the summit, and take the smaller pole where more challenging walking is expected.

I also might prepare a 1/4 wave counterpoise for 40, but I might only take it and use it where using 7200 to 7300 is expected to be an issue – eg where a band plan either discourages using CW there, or the band plan has the force of law and prohibits it, or it’s a country that does not have 7200 to 7300 at all (eg the UK).

It’s a lot browner up here than last week in the Victorian High country:

Looking south from Mt Kooyoora

Looking south from Mt Kooyoora

Mt Beiliba VK3/VN-026

Last summit of the day was Mt Beiliba. Last time I was here, it was also the last summit but it was pouring with rain. Thought I better leave it. Now, conditions were far more pleasant.

In accessing this summit, it pays to have a good map. There are many roads in the State Forest area that go all over the place! Good access can be had by taking the Beiliba range track turning left off Log Bridge Trk at 354234 and then turn right at 353231. I tried taking Log Bridge Trk further, but ended up parking at 346233, which left me a 350m easy off track walk on very open forest to pick up Beiliba Range track, just as it started to get steep. No matter, it really just cost me 350m as there is no way I would the Prius up the steep section. I would think a low range 4WD would be required.

There are two high points, Mt Beiliba and a point north of there, about 400m away. All of it is in the activation zone. I actually went to the designated summit and operated from there.

As par for the course, the antenna liked the top end of 40m more. There is enough interest to get a CW activation done on weekends quite quickly on 40 these days. It feels much better than even the early days of SSB SOTA.

With that, and late for dinner, time to go home.

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Buller and 4 other summits CW only

Hi all,

After building a “random” wire antenna, it was time to take the new configuration on activations and see how it works in the real world. I decided to leave the FT-817 at home and go cold turkey on real CW only activations, with no capacity to fall back on SSB to ensure I got four contacts.

I don’t have a great deal of spare time these days, so I thought about going up on a Sunday afternoon and pull a flexi time off day on the Monday. If I’m going to jump in the deep end CW only, this is a way to do it when there are fewer SOTA chasers available during the week.

VK3-VE123

This is an unnamed summit accessible from Timbertop saddle on the Howqua Track. Three Chain Track heads off to the west. I was able to get the Prius up part of this and called stumps (a cricket term meaning the end of play) about 1.5km from the summit. From there, I headed on foot.

The track would be easy going in a proper 4wd.

For this activation, I still took a bit of a safety net, with the end-fed antenna on board and I took up the 7m squid pole. I decided to employ the “random” wire on the 7m squid pole.

The KX1 was able to tune on 20/30/40 with a very dodgy tune on 80 for interests sake. The rig reports the power after the tune. Compared to home, I was using a set of 18650 LiIon cells which develop 12.6V fully charged, but quickly drop down to mid 11’s. At this voltage, 2.5W would be the best I could hope for. Practical KX1 activations are lower powered than FT-817 activations where 5W is easily obtainable.

Power is lost across the tuner, depending on how difficult the match is. I was developing 2.2W on 20, about 1.7W on 30 and about 1.3W on 40. The tuner was effectively losing about 3dB on 40, but less on the other bands. SWR was 1.5 or less.

There’s no real risk of a CW pile up on a SOTA activation in VK at this stage. I had a range of contacts from local to DX and across all three bands.

One thing cropped up. The KX1 paddles are a little loose in their socket. I would tighten the hand screw to help, but even so, there would be some movement on the paddle base and this affected my keying. Ian VK5CZ got the worst of it, so much so I noticed after I got home that he suggested going down to 12wpm. Slower keying would not have helped in this case, it would have actually made it worse.

I found the solution to this problem would be to hold the base of the paddles with my thumb of my non keying hand. This seemed to make keying much more reliable, with only the occasional missed formed character.

Its not the same as my touch keyer, which does not lose a beat. However, the touch keyer needs its own battery and is liable to be turned on in a backpack. This can flatten it over time (takes several days). I think I will learn to live with the KX1’s paddles.

The activation was at dusk, so it was too dark to take photos of the setup. It was a nice sunset to look at though.

Mt Timbertop VK3/VE-073

It was back to Timbertop saddle where I slept. Next morning, I took the walking track from here which goes up the mountain. This track has been upgraded from going straight up to a track that does some zig zagging. Makes the track more pleasant to walk on. In a few places, walkers are trying to use the closed track, but I don’t think it would save them much time – apart from being harder.

There are some great views looking west.

Northwest from Mt Timbertop's slops showing Mansfield

Northwest from Mt Timbertop’s slops

The summit is reached quite comfortably. This climb is easy if one is fit. If you are not, you need only take your time. A walking pole is of great assistance.

The summit itself has some snow gums (Timbertop suggests there should be some timber on top). I decided to put the KX1 in a tree so that the base of the wire is not near the ground. This seems to help 40, but does not necessarily help, perhaps hinders on 30.

Summit area of Mt Timbertop

Summit area of Mt Timbertop

For this activation, the 7m squid pole was left in the car and my 4.7m squid pole was brought along instead. This pole, discussed in this post, is very lightweight. 20m and 30m worked fine, but I found I had better tuning results on 40m if I tuned for near the top of the band, around 7.28 to 7.3 In VK, operating CW here is fine, although somewhat unusual. To get some contacts, I operated down the bottom of the band, but with SWR around two. The power was around 0.8W verses 1.2W at the top of the band.

I was wondering if the squid pole would be strong enough at my chosen mounting point about midway on the second highest segment. The squidpole looks like it does fine at this point for the sloping wire of the antenna. I’m not sure about mounting my HW end fed on it because that wire is much heavier.

Mt Buller VK3/VE-008

Most local readers would be aware that Mt Buller is the location of a significant winter ski resort and has also developed into a summer mountain bike park. The development of this mountain means that there is a sealed road most of the way to the top, then a short gravel road. There is only a 50m vertical climb to the top. I operated a little down from the actual summit, about 30m horizontal or so from the top.

I operated with the lightweight setup again on this summit. The KX1 was reporting about 11.4V from the battery. It seems it takes about 0.5V off the input voltage. I tried this at home with really fat cables on a 13.V supply and the KX1 reported 13.0V. I tried it at home with same thinner supply cable and it still reported 13.0V (alternating a little to 12.9V)

The setup is shown below. The lightweight squid pole can be wedged in some rock with tension on the cable holding it in place. It was windy up there – the picture shows some wind load on the cable.

VK3WAM station at Mt Bullder Vk3/VE-008

VK3WAM station at Mt Bullder Vk3/VE-008

The KX1 developed about 2W on 20, 1.6W on 30 and 1.1W on 40. 40 needed to be at the top of the band for an acceptable SWR. Down the bottom was a SWR of well over 2 and a power of only 0.7W.

All contacts at this summit were on 40. Peter VK3PF tried his hand at some CW, which was certainly good enough to read his reports, with some initial confusion on his call sign. Given that he, along with Gerard VK2IO had not done CW for extended periods, SOTA is having an impact on use of this mode. Perhaps motivated by wanting to work the summit and knowing that CW was needed to active this, helped them dust off those long unused keys!

The operating spot gave a good look down the steep NW face of Mt Buller. Apparently some people have tried skiing down here. There was a sign nearby with two sets of double black diamonds reminding skiers that the area was unpatrolled.

NW face of Mt Buller

NW face of Mt Buller

Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

From Mt Buller, there is a road that goes to Howqua gap, but I was not prepared to drive down that in a Prius. Instead I drove down the mountain and then up the Stirling Rd. Mt Stirling is surrounded by a circuit road, but this does not approach the summit closely. I decided to use the River Spur track. Its a walk of a little over 3km, with a climb of about 400m up to the summit. It can be accessed by using the southern side of the Circuit Rd – the first track heading up is Bluff Spur track (over 4km) with River Spur track being the second track heading up.

The summit is above the tree line. I used the trig point to mount the squid pole.

Operating at Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

Operating at Mt Stirling VK3/VE-011

The trend of 20 and 30 tuning quickly and 40 being better at the top of the band continued here. The battery voltage was reported about 11V, and power levels were 2W, 1.5W and 1.1W on 20, 30 and 40 respectively.

Even though the KX1 is only developing 6dB less power, with the tuner, on this configuration on 40, it is enough to get contacts. The setup is very lightweight and very fast to put up and take down. If I was to take the larger squid pole, with the end fed on a FT-817, that might give me another 12dB with everything, but it is significantly more gear to take. The nicest thing about the KX1 is it is a complete station, with the antenna. I’m using it with an external battery, but it does have the capacity to put some internal AA batteries inside.

I was able to activate with a mix of 20 and 30 contacts. I saw later on SOTA spots that N7SP was trying to get me on 20, but looking at messages others try to send using SOTA spots is not always easy on summit.

Most of these mountains have great views on top and Mt Stirling is no exception. Here’s a view back to Mt Buller:

Mt Buller from Mt Stirling

Mt Buller from Mt Stirling

And a look north towards Mt Buffalo and Mt Cobbler (right of centre)

Mt Cobbler from Mt Stirling

Mt Cobbler from Mt Stirling

Mt Winstanley VK3/VE-036

The last summit on the menu was Mt Winstanley. This summit is to the north west of Stirling, so I used Circuit Rd and then No 3 rd to access it. Here’s a screenshot of the tracklog:

Tracklog of access to Winstanley

Tracklog of access to Winstanley

There is a track going along the ridge – and this is shown in opencyclemap. It is not in the Forest Explorer or the OziExplorer maps that I have. I used the track for the last 500m. Opencyclemap does not show RazorBack Trail correctly, but this track departs near the junction of No 3 Rd and Circuit Rd. Going up RazorBack and taking the walking track, I presume, from there is likely the easiest route to access this summit.

Spot the station – including the squid pole – in this photo:

Operating at Mt Winstanley

Operating at Mt Winstanley

The KX1 reported a battery voltage of 10.7V. This would be around 11.2V out of the battery. This would be a little less than half a cycle on these batteries. They are fake Ultrafires, branded for 2400mAh capacity, but actually give about 1200mAh. It would appear that the KX1 drew about 500mAh to 550mAh, for around 7 hours of operating, including lots of CQ calls.

At this lower voltage level, I was getting about 1.8W on 20, 1.4W on 30, and 1.1W on 40. Interestingly, 30 did not like the KX1 a metre and half off the ground, I got a much lower SWR on the ground – power levels were similar. 40m liked the rig off the ground, but again, tuning was better at the top of the band, where tunes were getting an SWR of 1.1 and power of 1.1W, compared to SWRs of 3 or higher and power of less than 0.7W on the ground.

Can I improve the performance of this antenna – undoubtedly yes, but why bother. If I want something better on 40, I’ll carry the half wave end fed, with its matchbox. If I improve this “random” wire antenna for 40, it will come at cost of lower convenience, because the improvement would need to be a 1/4 wavelength counterpoise for 40m. As it stands, the two counterpoises do a good enough job for the very lightweight and portable objectives of this wire antenna. 40m is an important band for local contacts, but I think 30m will rise in importance as nearby states become more accustomed to SOTA. I think, in time, that 30m will be an important band for SOTA in VK.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Preparing the KX1 for SOTA battle

Hi all,

Elecraft KX1

A few months ago I picked up a KX1 from a EDMRC club member who was selling. The unit came built and fully equipped, with the inbuilt ATU, the 30 and 80 band board and the keyer. The KX1 is a CW only rig but designed especially for portable use. With my mountain goat status out of the way, I wanted a CW specific and more light weight setup.

Rik VK3EQ (VK3KAN) had shown me a very lightweight squid pole at the 2013 Gippstech. I was quite interested in this because it packs up to 60cm in length. It has a 4.7m length when extended. Perhaps the top segment is too light duty to hold anything but a vertical wire, but the next segment down should handle at least a lightweight inverted V configured wire.

Random length wire antenna

Elecraft recommend that the KX1 ATU unit be used with “random length” wire, so long as the wire is not 1/2 wave length on the desired band. Note the reason for this is that the internal tuner is not always able to match the high half wave impedance.

I decided I wanted something serviceable on 20/30/40. After looking around at various web sites, such as this one, I settled on a 41 foot or 12.5m wire length. This is more than 1/4 wave length on all these bands, and around 5/8th wave length on 20. Should be a good “Aussie allrounder” but performing best on 20.

I bought some cheap speaker wire from a hardware store for construction and separated the two wires, but keeping the insulation. I stripped back some insulation at one end and doubled back to crimp a BNC pin. I then made two lengths of wire from the spare speaker wire for a counterpoise. One is 1/4 wave length for 20, the other quarter wave length for 30. 40 misses out, but at least both the counterpoises are 1/8th wave length or longer for that band. I crimped one exposed end of each of these to the shield on the BNC connector.

To give some mechanical security to the BNC connector, I taped about 7 or so cm of the three wires together, starting at the crimp. At least at this early stage, it seems to work well. We’ll see how it goes in the field.

The idea with this antenna is that there is no feedline. The antenna begins at the BNC connector – it is literally being fed right out the radio. The other end of the wire could be put up a tree and/or having the other end or middle of the wire on the squid pole. The counterpoise wires go on the ground.

"Random wire" BNC connector with 12.5m wire and 20/30 counterpoise

“Random wire” BNC connector

Mounting the wire on the squid pole

For the squid pole, I cut a small wood mount piece with a 1.5mm hole for a wire to use to wind the antenna wire around. I drilled a 3.5mm hole to mount the piece on the squid pole. This ends up about half way on the second highest segment. The top segment would be too weak for this kind of work, I think even only the bottom half of the top segment would be strong enough even for a vertical only wire.

It sits on quite nicely.

Wire mounting on lightweight squid pole

Wire mounting on lightweight squid pole

The wood mount is quite small:

Size of wood mount compared to my hand: it is about a finger width

Size of wood mount compared to my hand

The piece is small enough to be packed up in the squid pole case cap. The squid pole itself is small enough to go inside most larger packs, and even 40l hybrid type packs.

A basic test suggests that the squid pole will be able to keep the wire up in the field. We’ll see. If need be, I just need to make the hole a little bigger and it will mount a little lower on the pole.

Testing with the KX1

My initial test was at home. My house is two story, but the upper story can look down on the lower story. I draped the wire from upstairs to down, with the two counter poises on the floor upstairs. Not the best setup, and looking forward to trying it in the field.

The KX1 was able to tune the antenna on all bands, although the result was emergency use only marginal on 80. SWRs were 1 to 1.1 on 40 and 20 and around 1.5 on 30. The KX1 also shows realised power from the tune – which is quite interesting. The 20 match was showing full power (about 4 watts), with the 30 match around 2.8 watts and the 40 match about 2 watts.

I would expect better results in the field when this antenna is setup properly, with the random wire fully extended and the counterpoises at a greater distance from the wire and fully extended on the ground themselves. We’ll see, but none-the-less, early results look promising.

The whole system weighs less than 1kg, including the squid pole. It is my most light weight setup yet. If not for the squid pole, it could even get close to the station you can carry around in a pocket (or two).

I’m keen to give this a go on a SOTA summit or two over the next few weeks. Perhaps the FT-817 and the bigger squid pole and end-fed will come along as a safety net to make sure if this falls over, I’ll still be able to activate.

73 de Wayne VK3WAM

POSTSCRIPT: First activation with this setup can be read here.

Mt Buangor, Ben Major, Ben More

Hi all,

This weekend I had the chance to get out and have a look at a few summits. One, Mt Buangor was one I visited last year, but the other two were firsts for me, with one being the first ever SOTA activation.

Mt Buangor VK3/VS-003

This summit is quite easy to get to, even with a 2wd. The main Mt Cole Road passes within a few km, and the first turnoff road at 982712 is still an improved gravel surface. It climbs up to 979707. From here, the road is of lesser quality as one turns right and then left 150m or so further along. It is passable in a 2wd, but only if dry. On this occasion, there were two large puddles, the second of which I was not prepared to drive the Prius through. A Awd should handle it pretty easily. Even so, it was less than a 10 minute walk from here to the summit.

This year, it was out with the end-fed, the tried and true method of getting a quick activation. FT-817 in hand, I operated for about 20 minutes. Signal reports were a little down, but no real problems. It was good to be back on air after more than a month!

Ben Major VK3/VS-028

Onwards to new territory for me. I headed down the Mt Cole Rd to Raglan and then along the Chute Raglan Rd to 113695. Turning off to the right, there was a track, quite passable in a 2wd heading towards Ben Major in the state forest. I made my way along this to 142713, where I turned left. The road quality here was worse, but still passable with care in the 2wd. I made my way to about 500m shy of the summit and walked up about 50 vertical metres from there.

There was a trig point at the summit which I set up from:

Operating at Ben Major VK3/VS-028

Operating at Ben Major VK3/VS-028

Conditions on 40m seemed to have picked up here from Mt Buangor. Reports seemed to be 3 or so S points higher, both on Rx and Tx. Same general setup with the end fed.

From here, there was a good view towards Ben More, which was my last summit of the day.

Looking at Ben More from Ben Major

Looking at Ben More from Ben Major

Ben More VK3/VS-027

Ben More is slightly higher than Ben Major. There is a public park that approaches the summit itself, but does not quite make it. The summit appears to be on private land. The top part of the public land is well within the activation zone, about 5 vertical metres down.

The next trick is that there is no easy public access to this summit. There is, however a public road reservation that makes its way to the public park boundary. I communicated with Rob Brouwers, a ranger at Parks Victoria Maryborough office. He can be reached on 5461 0819. He highlighted that Impeys Rd then Joseph Lane continues to make its way further than marked on most maps and the reservation goes all the way to the Ben More Bushland Reserve. Along the way, the road goes through a gate with “Private – No Entry”, however the road reserve that continues past this sign is public land. If planning to activate, it may be useful to get in tough with Rob and get the access map emailed from him as to how to access the reserve.

A quick side note: Google maps shows the approximate line of the road reserve. There is no road for the last 1000m of this alignment.

The road ends up about point 172770. From here its on foot with the land climbing steeply. It’s just over 1km, however about 250 vertical metres, so get ready for a climb. Using the land boundaries map obtainable from Rob, you can aim to keep within the public reservation and try to prevent going onto private land. The road reservation is largely not fenced from this point. The boundary of the bushland reserve higher up is, and once in there, it is still a steep climb, but a little easier as you can more freely choose your climbing line on public land.

I operated about 20m from the trig point. The trig point itself is on private land. The closest public land is quite close, and I used the emergency marker there to mount the squid pole:

Operating at Ben More VK3/VS-027

Operating at Ben More VK3/VS-027

Looking east from Ben More

Looking east from Ben More

Looking north towards Blue Mountain range from Ben More

Looking towards Blue Mountain range from Ben More

With that, it was time to pack up, head back down the hill and carefully try to stay within the road reserve back to the car. It was a nice activation, but I felt it was important to have the Parks Victoria documents with me in case someone decided to challenge me being there.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Saint Phillack and Talbot Peak 2013

Hi all,

It was off to the hills again on October 5 with an attempt to pick up some late bonus SOTA points before the end of the bonus point season. I chose Mt Saint Phillack VK3/VT-006 and Talbot Peak VK3/VT-010 as two 10 pointers that could be done together.

Mt Saint Phillack VK3/VT-006

It had been quite windy in the lead up to this trip and I was concerned that access to Saint Gwinear might be prevented by fallen trees. Clearly a number had come down but had already been pushed out of the way. I think I need to bring at least a handsaw in future just to give me a few more options, especially if a tree falls down during the day to prevent you from getting out again.

Conditions were warmer this year than last, even after recent snowfalls. There was no snow at all at the car park, with patchy snow seen up top. It was still only patchy at the summit. I headed up the main trail from the car park, using the Gwinear bypass. There was basically no snow on the track until up on the plateau.

SOTA station at Mt St Philliack VK3/VT-006

SOTA station at Mt St Philliack VK3/VT-006

Antenna at VK3/VT-006

Antenna at VK3/VT-006

It was also far more pleasant operating this year than last. There was the possibility of a few showers, but conditions stayed sunny for most of the time.

Talbot Peak VK3/VT-010

With conditions quite open, I decided to head to Talbot Peak directly from Phillack using the Alpine walking track (AAWT). The track falls down below 1300m between the two peaks, and there was no snow at all at the lower altitudes. The track was still quite wet from recent snow melt. I was wearing only light runner style boots, so these got quite wet. These days, I avoid boots unless I am going to be carrying a decent pack, or I expect conditions to be sporting enough to consider using gaiters.

It was good progress to Talbot Peak. It had patchy snow, like Saint Philliack. Again I went for a quick 40m activation on SSB. I met a few groups coming through from the Mt Erica car park, so clearly the road through to there was still open.

With that, it was time to head back to the Gwinear car park and an easy run out. A nice day for 26 SOTA points. I got a nice open view of the Thompson Valley on the way out, which was a nice contrast to the clouded in experience last year.

Thompson Valley from near Mt Saint Gwinear

Thompson Valley from near Mt Saint Gwinear

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

South Gippsland and Mt Matlock

Hi all,

Continuing to catch up on this blog.

VK3/VT-029

I was heading off on a three week trip to PNG, and wanted to sneak in a few SOTA activations beforehand. On the evening of the 5th of September I headed up the Woods Point Rd to the Thompson Jordan Divide Rd. This is a good 2wd road. I headed down to point 307297 and slept there the night.

Early the next morning, I passed through the seasonal closure gate on foot. It’s about 6km from the road junction to the activation zone. The track from here would be quite passable, perhaps even by a 2wd during summer or in dry conditions. The summit is quite unremarkable, perhaps Mt Easton, a few kilometres away, might give some views of the upper end of Thompson Dam.

Station at VK3/VT-029

Station at VK3/VT-029

There are not as many SOTA chasers during the week, especially early in the morning. It was never a problem getting the number of QSOs, but not the fast pileup today.

End fed at VK3/VT-029

End fed at VK3/VT-029

With that, it was back to the car and onto the next summit.

Mt Matlock VK3/VC-001

This mountain is in the central region. It perhaps does not belong, but because the associated local government area stretches out this far, central region it is. Last year, this summit was covered in snow, but it was a more civil affair this time.

Summit of Mt Matlock

Summit of Mt Matlock

It is quite possible to drive a 2wd all the way to the top. I left the car at the road junction about 300m south of the summit, then dropped a bit of height and walked up to the summit from there.

The activation was still a little slow with eight contacts. Not too many chasing today.

As I was able to drive further than expected, I was now getting ahead of my expected time schedule. Nice to keep a bit of time up my sleeve.

Mt Toorongo Range VK3/VT-026

Next up, Mt Toorongo Range. Many have been here since I was last, this summit seems be a quite popular place during bonus season.

I was able to get the 2wd all the way up to the seasonal closure gate. From here, it’s a fairly short walk. This time, I headed up to where the road levels off, and then head off track up to the summit. Easier going than last year.

Activity from here was a little busier than my previous two summits. This year, I was only doing 40m unlike last year where the colinear had a go. Finally, I had a look from here at the final summit of the day.

Mt Horsfall from Mt Toorongo Range

Mt Horsfall from Mt Toorongo Range

Mt Horsfall VK3/VT-028

The main road going to this summit is subject to a seasonal closure quite some distance from the summit. My plan was to approach it from the south and use a 4wd track that goes up the side of the mountain. I had heard that others could not find this track, so perhaps it does not exist – it would not be the first time a marked track does not exist.

I used the Toorongo Rd from the link rd, travelling west to about 2km south of the summit. There was a track heading up from here, so I drove the car up. It was a little rough for a 2wd, but I travelled up about 800m to another junction at point 168183. From here, I tried heading north-east, but that track died out. I then tried the other track, and the tracklog is shown below:

Access to Mt Horsfall

Access to Mt Horsfall

The track starts off quite good, and makes it’s way across a creek. From there it winds up towards a lookout for a waterfall. The track is quite overgrown going through the zig zags, but still worth following. From near this lookout, I made a direct line towards the summit, going straight up. The forest is mostly passable, there’s a few tricky bits to try to avoid. I also picked up a leech or two, so wearing gaiters is a good idea. The off track section can be as short as 700m, so it is not too bad.

There are some good views up top, overlooking the forbidden forest of the Upper Yarra.

Looking into the Yarra valley from Mt Horsfall

Looking into the Yarra valley from Mt Horsfall

Even though there were a few clouds around, the rain held off until I was back in the car and driving home. Nice one 🙂

Due to the large grassy area, I chose to use the trig point to mount the antenna.

End fed antenna on the trig point at Mt Horsfall

End fed antenna on the trig point at Mt Horsfall

The end-fed is the ol’reliable. It, again, was not as busy as a weekend SOTA activation, but lots of good strong signals.

With that, it was time to head for home. Back in the car, well before dark.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Bullfight, Pyramid Hill and Bill Head revisit

Hi all,

On the 10th of August, I headed out on a SOTA trip to attempt to clock up some decent points with the winter bonus. This trip was a repeat of a trip last year, but a year’s experience and improved gear makes a difference. I’ll discuss some of the differences towards the end of the post.

Mt Bullfight VK3/VN-002

First up was Mt Bullfight. I left the car in the same position as I did on the last trip, at the junction of Snobs Creek Rd, Coy Rd and Conn Gap Rd. Heading up the Bullfight track to the west was easy going, and the plan was to take the same route to the summit, or at least into the activation zone as last year. There was a lot more snow this year, with about 40cm on the ground at the operating location. The first snow was seen at about 1100m on the way up. There is little point trying to take the track up with this amount of snow. I was quite glad I brought the foam mat to sit on during the activation.

I ended up activating about 100m or so from the summit, about 15m vertical down from the summit height.

Operating at Mt Bullfight

Operating at Mt Bullfight

The sun was starting to come out, so even though there was more snow, conditions were nicer than last year.

The early morning sun breaking through the trees at Mt Bullfight

The early morning sun breaking through the trees at Mt Bullfight

Pyramid Hill VK3/VN-005

Unlike last year, I decided to head back to the car and drive up to the No 5 track and Royston Range Track junction. The road is in good condition for 2wds. This allowed me to skip some off track walking. This certainly saved some time, and it was only a shorter 140m vertical climb up to the top. There was still some snow around, patchy in places, but 10cm continuous ground coverage in others.

Operating location at Pyramid Hill

Operating location at Pyramid Hill

Conditions were ok, there was one or two showers in the area. Sounds a lot better than stories of people being blown off the hill here!

Bill Head VK3/VN-004

Given that there was some snow on Pyramid Hill, there would certainly be snow on Bill Head. I decided to try Conn Gap Rd from the northern end, rather than the southern end as I did last year. The road is a little rough, but quite passable in a 2wd up to Conn Gap. With snow melt, it was very wet, so if I can get a Prius up here at this time of year, I should be able to get it up here at just about any time. I was not prepared to drive down the hill on the other side of Conn Gap, because it’s ok to see how far you can go when going up a hill on the way in, because it is always easier to go down than up.

From Conn Gap, I walked along Conn Gap Rd to point 067606 and then proceeded SW to the ridge. Going up to the ridge was a little slow with some of the dead timber from the regrowth from the Black Saturday fires in 2009. Along the ridge top itself it was easy going up to the summit in about 15cm snow.

It was nicer operating in the light, rather than in the dark last year. In July last year, SOTA was not well known in Australia, so it was a tough hall getting the four contacts – with two ZL’s and one VK6 making up the four. This time, it was the usual pile on 40m, so no problems in activating.

As it turned out, I have finally used the walking pole as part of the antenna. I wedged it behind a rock and tied a rope with feedpoint of the end fed on it.

Walking pole forming part of the antenna at Bill Head

Walking pole forming part of the antenna at Bill Head

Bill Head looks nice under the snow.

Bill Head summit

Bill Head summit

Wombat Spur VK3/VN-014

With Bill Head done, there was still plenty of time to go and get the bonus summit for the day. Wombat Spur is in the Eildon National Park. Access is via Jerusalem Creek. The road is a good quality 2wd track until the crossing of Jerusalem Creek. From there, there is a sign saying 4wd only, but the road is still quite good. I was able to drive the car all the way up Taylors Creek Track to a locked gate at point 115720. From here, when accessible out of the winter closure period, the track is definitely 4wd only. For me, it was still only a short walk up to the summit. Conditions were pleasant up here, and as it was lower down, dry due to no snow.

Some of the activations today had quite high QSO totals, but this activation came in at 36, which is a record for a non-contest, short period activation. Still, the pile was reasonably easy to manage. This does rely on chasers not calling out of turn. For activators out there, it remains a good thing to call for summit to summits every so often.

Wombat Spur

Wombat Spur

I was able to pack up and get down on to the sealed road before nightfall. All in all, a good day.

Review vs last year

  • One of the biggest differences this year is the greater awareness of SOTA. Many more people are specifically chasing SOTA, while in July 2012, it was still quite patchy. A year makes a big difference.
  • End fed vs an inefficient vertical: I still use my vertical on some activations, but having the ugly balun and the ATU on the feedpoint makes a big difference. The efficient vertical is still down on a (sort of) horizontal antenna for close in contacts, but perhaps an s point or 2. Last year I was well down. Getting the antenna efficient is quite important when operating QRP.
  • Having an antenna that can be quickly erected is important, both for put up and take down time. A year ago, I was not yet using squid poles. I was guying up an aluminium pole that needed guying to stay up. Even when using the vertical, I am using a squid pole based antenna these days. The end fed is very fast to put up and take down, less than 10min for each, vs 30 to 45 minutes for my setup twelve months ago. Even now, the vertical does take longer because the radials still have to be put out. My vertical arrangement now is about 20 minutes setup and 15 minutes takedown.

So with all of that, I was able to activate four summits easily in daylight, vs last year where I could spend 2 hours on summit, calling CQ, CQ, CQ and hearing just noise most of the time.

It is great to look back at these activations and see not only 36 contacts in little more than half an hour, but there is lots of fun getting up and back – both on foot and in the car.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Northern Victoria 4 summits trip

Hi all,

I’ve fallen a little behind in maintaining my blog, so I will try to catch up over the next little while.

On the 19th of July, I headed up to Bendigo and gave a SOTA talk at the Bendigo Amateur Radio and Electronics Club. There was quite a lot of interest. I had previously telegraphed my intention to go out and activate a few summits the next day. A few guys from the club looked past the not so good WX forecast, although chances were it would be cold with a few showers, rather than heavy rain.

Joining me on this trip was:

  • Phil VK3BHR
  • Ray VK3YAR – who also kindly put me up on the Friday night, and
  • Col VK3LED

As it is a little while since the actual activation, I can’t remember everyone who accompanied us.

Mt Kerang VK3/VU-010

Proceedings opened with this nice little summit. The summit requires access over private land, and look at the following photo of the gate as to how to make the necessary arrangements:

Access gate to Mt Kerang

Access gate to Mt Kerang

Ray had already arranged to obtain a key, so we were able to drive to the summit. It is a walk for an hour or so if vehicle access cannot be arranged.

The summit itself is quite open. We proceeded down the north side to lose about 30m vertical and then turned around to head up, making sure we had carried all of our gear with us.

Here’s a few pics of proceedings from the summit:

Inverted V mounted on the trig point at the summit of Mt Kerang

Summit of Mt Kerang

Phil VK3BHR operating at Mt Kerang

Phil VK3BHR operating at Mt Kerang

The interesting thing about Phil’s rig is that it is a self-built, self-designed rig. Might be a bit heavy for some SOTA work, but impressive nonetheless.

Mt Korong VK3/VU-012

Next up was Mt Korong, after a quick stop at a fish and chip shop. This is on a public reserve, however there is not a maintained track to the summit. The forest is reasonably open. There are some nice views from this summit.

Looking south west from Mt Korong

Looking south west from Mt Korong

My end-fed half wave on 40m, plus the 2m colinear were in action at the summit.

Antennas at Mt Korong

Antennas at Mt Korong

The terrain is quite open lower down, so the best bet might be to park at the main car park. There is a track marked on some maps, but this is very faint and we did not follow it. Nonetheless, it is likely to be easier to head straight up from the car park, rather than trying to traverse in along the ridge from the west. This is a good mountain for those not so experienced in off track walking to get started.

Mt Tarrengower VK3/VN-023

After Mt Korong, the guys were looking for an easy one. There is a sealed road to the top. We parked down a little, and did a little trip down a valley to ensure we were low enough to be out of the activation zone on the way to the top.

Proceedings were similar to Mt Korong, with my end-fed, the 2m colinear and Phil using an inverted V on 40m.

Operating at Mt Tarrengower

Operating at Mt Tarrengower

Mt Ida VK3/VU-009

With that, I bid my Bendigo friends farewell, and headed for Melbourne, but via Mt Ida. I expected to get there well after dark and would try activating on 2m only. Access to this summit is quite easy in taking the road nearly all the way to the top. It looks to be within 25m vertical of the top, so dropping about 10m from the car park would be advised. The road in from the Northern Hwy can be a little easy to miss in the dark when coming from the south.

It was fully dark during this activation. I operated from on the corner of the fenced area using the 2m colinear. A highlight of this activation was a 2m FM contact with some enhancement with VK2KRR near Wagga Wagga.

With that, I packed up and headed back to Melbourne.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM