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

4 summits, Mt Despair to Mt Disappointment

Hi all,

Mt Despair to Mt Disappointment would suggest to me that summit namers in Victoria needed to cheer up, but it was a good day for me – without despair and disappointment.

Mt Despair VK3/VN-013

First up was Mt Despair. I headed off early in the morning, hoping to get to this summit about an hour after dawn. I made my way through the Murrindindi forest using Sylvia Creek Rd to Murrindindi Rd and tried to go up Dindi River Rd. This looked quite boggy and had deep water puddles, so I thought it safer to go try the next road. I got to 733525 and turned left on to the road there. It had the large bluestone logging track stones, but I could travel up this road with care. I made my way to 722529. I did not try to go south and then west along the road as it continued, but went up the Horseyard Creek Rd on foot. A full 4wd could get up here, but with lots of scratches.

At 714542, there is a foot track that heads over the hill to the north. I took this, but I suggest there is little point as it is quite overgrown. Progress would be faster using the tracks to the west. Mt Despair Rd is very good grade, but the gate at the south end was closed. It looks like other roads to get there are higher standard, so aiming for point 710543 in a 2wd should be possible with a shortish road bash to the summit from there.

Weather was a bit drizzly, and I got completely wet through the wet overgrowth on the foot track. I set up about 200m south of the summit to try and save a little bit of time. The summit area itself is quite flat and there was nothing to see. Here’s the operating location off the side of the road.

Operating location at Mt Despair

Operating location at Mt Despair

Radio gear at Mt Despair

Radio gear at Mt Despair

I operated using the end-fed to try and save some time. It’s fast to put up and take down with the two spindles that I use to store it with. Due to my longer walk in/out than planned I headed off quickly to get back to the car, and head towards Mt Hickey.

Mt Hickey VK3/VN-015

This is a popular area for campers, trail bike riders and other state forest users. I came in from the east on Fairview Rd. This becomes Main Rd. I made my way along this to the junction with Mt Hickey Rd at 382853. This is easy 2wd driving. I parked just inside the activation zone, walked down a bit and then up to a flat area on the peak to the east of the main summit at 366839 to keep away from the reported noise there. Worked quite well. There was a little trail bike noise to contend with from time to time.

The weather had improved by the time I got here. The low cloud and drizzle was replaced by partially cloudy conditions and no rain. The forest around here is certainly much drier than around Mt Despair.

One nice pickup was VK3EHG on a 2m HT from Flinders Peak VK3/VC-030. I don’t think he was expecting any summit to summit action. He was apparently using just a HT himself with a basic antenna. I was only using a 1/4 wave on 2m, so no nice colinear to suck in the signal here. Still, nice to pick him up from here! It’s radio line of sight, but not without some obstruction getting in the Fresnel zone. Radio Mobile says that the worst fresnel is 0.2 – still positive but there is some attenuation. Distance was 107km.

Here’s the operating location:

Operating at Mt Hickey

Operating at Mt Hickey

Mt Piper VK3/VN-028

It was then off to Mt Piper. This is accessed from Jeffeys Lane at 224792, itself off Broadford-Kilmore Road. The track is a little rough, but quite passable in a 2wd. A car park is located at the base of the summit, and it’s walking the whole way up. The track is well marked. Near the base, a old 4wd track crosses the walking track. It is quite possible to turn right and use the vehicular track to go up. It makes its way up most of the way to the summit and stops about 25 vertical metres from the top. The “car park” there could fit only 2 or three cars, I can see why they closed it. The walking track is well marked to the top and generally follows a zig zag pattern. It is therefore not as steep as the vehicle track route.

I got a nice pic from near the top of the 4wd track (Mt Hickey is in the background):

Broadford from the 4wd track on Mt Piper

Broadford from the 4wd track on Mt Piper

Here’s a similar view from near the top:

Broadford from the summit of Mt Piper

Broadford from the summit of Mt Piper

The summit area was quite nice to operate from. I again used the end-fed and used the trig point to mount the squid pole:

Squid pole antenna mounted on the trig point

Antenna mounted on the trig point

Mt Disappointment VK3/VC-014

My final summit of the day was Mt Disappointment. I came in on Main Mountain Rd which becomes Disappointment Rd. I parked the car up from the hut at 352563. The last part of the road is marked as a 4wd track in Forest Explorer, but it is a high quality 2wd track.

The activation area is quite large, so I felt no need to bush bash to the summit itself. Apparently there is a track that goes there from the hut further down, but I was inside the last 20m contour line. I estimate about 10m vertical down from the summit.

I was hopeful for some DX, so I set up the vertical antenna. The Kp index was 5, so there was a Geometric storm, but you never know. In the end, I only got local contacts, but it was nice at least to get someone on 30m CW.

Here is a look at the operating location:

Operating at Mt Disappointment

Operating at Mt Disappointment

With that, and it getting dark, it was time to head back home. Another 13 SOTA points in the bag. With these activations I have now moved to 102 unique VK3 summits, 111 overall.

On this trip, I tried out the solar panel that I had put together recently. It worked ok, but I am going to use some tape to attach some short rope to connect it to my pack a little better. At Mt Piper, it was able to charge the phone about 6% in 30m. This is a little lower than a powered USB connection, but not bad for winter sun and a few clouds.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Mt Terrible and The Paps

Hi all,

Again, another chance to head for the hills. It is now getting a little more challenging to find summits within a reasonable distance of Melbourne that I have not activated before. There are only a few nearby ones that I have not yet activated at least once. Aside from the ones on private land, it is starting to get a bit scrappy. I have to travel further for fresh summits.

Today the plan was to go up the Mt Terrible Track as far as I could safely drive the 2wd car and activate Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134, Mt Terrible itself VK3/VE-067, Bald Hill, VK3/VE-137 and The Paps VK3/VE-204.

Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134

I decided to sleep at home and make an early start at about 4am and head up to make this summit just after sunrise. I arrived at Bald Gap at about 7:15 and started up the track. The track climbs steeply, and I was not able to get the car up the hill. It *might* be possible in a 2wd, but an AWD would have made it. It was only about 50m further where the road levelled off. So, out with the gear and I walked up to the summit. Of course, I always was going to have to walk the last bit anyway, but this would mean a long walk to Mt Terrible (and back).

Because of the impending 25km return walk, I activated this summit quickly, working the pile up and then moving on. Here’s a pic of the operating location:

Operating location at Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134

Operating location at Mt Terrible Spur VK3/VE-134

Mt Terrible VK3/VE-067

Now on foot, I tried to walk the 12.5km one way trip as quickly as possible. There were two other stations planned to be on, Marshall VK3MRG and Allen VK3HRA. Only one of these eventuated, and I was not at the summit on time. I ended up being a little late for my scheduled start time, but in order to not be very late for the following summit, I dispensed with putting up the vertical and used the end fed instead. When starting, my SWR was quite high, and I suspected this was because the Inverted V was not quite a V with the two sides pushed by trees to be close together for the first metre or so. I lowered the antenna by two segments on the squid pole and this worked quite well.

After working the pile up, it was QRT and back from where I came in order to activate Bald Hill.

Mt Terrible had a hut, but this has burnt down now (seems like it was a fire in the fireplace that got out of control – plenty of campers seem to like their fires a little too big.

Burnt down hut at Mt Terrible

Burnt down hut at Mt Terrible

There is also a lookout tower at Mt Terrible with some comms gear on board:

Lookout tower at Mt Terrible

Lookout tower at Mt Terrible

Bald Hill VK3/VE-137

After a walk of the 12.5km back to VK3/VE-134 and then about 1km to the car, I had a quick bite to eat and then headed towards Bald Hill. I thought I might have to walk the whole way up, but I drove up to see how far I could get. I got most of the way and elected to stop before a ditch. The car could have got through for clearance, but it would have been too steep. Anyway, I was only about 200m from the summit, so this was a good place to get out anyway.

On walking up, the HT came alive on 2m with Marshall VK3MRG from Spion Kjope VK3/VT-040. I tried to work him, but the battery went dead. When I got to the summit, I pulled out FT-817 and called, but nothing heard. It was then time to setup the vertical and try to work the guys on Norfolk Island.

I started out working the pile on 40m, but signal reports were down. I then switched over to 20m to work the Norfolk Island guys, and noticed that I had the full tapped loading coil on when I was on 40m. No wonder signals were down on 40 with that big coil overloading the antenna. I was able to work both VK3CBV/9 and VK3QB/9 but they had to stop the pile trying to call them to get the QSOs. They are both keen to collect the chasing and summit to summit points. I had a nice SSB QSO with WA7JTM, which was easy going. It is difficult to get into Europe QRP, but the western parts of W seem much easier with a DX antenna. VK9NT have shown that if one can get their dipole 20m off the ground, then it works well DX. I might not want to carry a squid pole that big into the scrub!

In the end, I did work Marshall on VK3/VT-040, but he had to hang around there longer than perhaps he had planned.

The Paps VK3/VE-204

My final summit of the day was The Paps near Mansfield. I had looked at doing this summit before, but did not know the legalities of access. The road goes across private land, but I got a message last week from Warren VK3BYD, and the Parks Victoria ranger that the public is free to use this road, but the gates need to be left as found (generally closed). There is a gate both on the main highway and at the reserve end of the private land. The road across the private land is badly eroded, but a 2wd can be driven across it with care. The road has a few moments in the reserve, but I was able to drive the 2wd up to the beginning of the final climb up to the summit. I left the car here. The final climb is about 90 vertical metres up to the summit.

The road leaves the highway as marked for The Paps Rd in Forest Explorer. There is a sign on the highway with an arrow at this point.

The summit is quite barren up top. There is some communications gear and a trig point. I set up the squid pole in a vertical configuration on the trig point. It was dark when I began to operate. The VK3 stations were in the skip zone because of the time. Perhaps the end-fed would have worked better for them, but it was nice to pick up VK5 stations, plus a VK5 in Queensland. I also have a VE2 station in the log.

Things were quiet, and I was not getting any joy in getting to Europe, so I finished up and headed home. It was a long day and I was now a little tired, but still great to pick up 24 activator points, 12 chaser points and 16 summit to summit.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Activation of Mt Dandenong, First Summit 2 Summit with Norfolk Island

Hi all,

Surprise activation

I was not planning to do an activation this day (Thursday the 9th of May), but some of the Dx-pedition team of VK9NT announced that they would activate Mt Bates VK9/NO-001, so it was a quick change of plans.

Getting out the vertical

It has been awhile since I have used the vertical on a SOTA activation. Most of the time these days I use the end-fed which works much better for local contacts, but once getting outside of 1000km, the vertical certainly starts to outperform the end-fed. Norfolk island is about 2300 km away, which for a single hop needs a reasonably low angle of radiation, hence the vertical is dusted off.

My vertical arrangement used to consist of 8 75cm aluminium segments above the feed point with guy ropes securing it at the 2nd and 4th segments. I added a loading coil, which improved performance on 40m. It’s tapped, so I also have points for 30m and 80m. I bypass it on anything shorter.

With the squid pole, I dispensed with 6 of the segments and the guy ropes. I attach a wire to the top of the squid pole and attach the other end to the top of the loading coil. The bottom two aluminium segments, plus my feed point (about 30cm off the ground) remain as per the old days. This arrangement takes about 15 minutes to set up 4 radials, which is enough to put me in business. It beats the 45 minutes the old arrangement used to take to set up. If there is any lull in proceedings, I then gradually lay out the remaining 4 radials.

Activating VK3/VC-025

After a short delay, I was on the air about 20 minutes after I was scheduled. I operated from a spot about 70m away from the summit restaurant, which was around 12 vertical metres down. I started off on 40m and worked the usuals. Signal reports were not too bad on the vertical, with many signal reports from 55 to 58 (for those that were sky wave). It’s not as good as the local reports on the end-fed, but certainly the vertical is working well today. I found VK9NT operators, but non SOTA, on 17m working their pile up. They were quite faint, so they were not likely to hear me, certainly amoung all the high power stations from the US calling them.

I saw on sotawatch that the VK9NT SOTA operators were up on 20m. I went over there, but it was a little tough with some QRM. Eventually they changed up 20 and I was able to work them. My QRP signal was weaker than many of the home stations came up on 20m, and it was a little difficult to get in there, with many familiar SOTA chasers working them, plus plenty more from NA and Europe. Quite a number of these were not specific SOTA chasers. They must have wanted the extra calls after working the non-SOTA VK9NT station.

After working VK3CBV/9 for the first ever VK9 summit to summit and VK3QB/9 right with him, I had a little more time. I called on 14.062 CW, just like the old days. Some nice strong 589 station coming in, and I was even getting 559 reports back. Not bad for QRP into W, and sometimes even my received report for QRP is better than what I hear them – which considering my <s1 noise floor is somewhat of an achievement.

Ahhhh for the days of SOTA DX and CW pile ups on 20m. Need to get those Euro and G s2s happening again. There's still an s2s outstanding to Andy MM0FMF.

The vertical at VK3/VC-025

Here’s a look at the setup:

Vertical antenna at Mt Dandenong

Vertical antenna at Mt Dandenong

And a closer look at the feed point, with the LDG tuner handing directly on the feedpoint. There’s an ugly balun on the radio side of the tuner. The 8 radials can clearly be seen in this pic, especially if you click on it.

Vertical antenna feedpoint

Vertical antenna feedpoint

Finally, looking up the squid pole. It’s a much easier configuration using the squid pole to provide most of the physical structure. The only reason I’m still using the aluminium sections is to a) have the feedpoint off the ground, and b) have the loading coil 1.5m above the feedpoint.

Looking up the vertical antenna above the loading coil

Looking up the vertical antenna above the loading coil

All in all, a nice satisfying afternoon.

73, Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Matching the 2m Colinear for FM

Hi all,

I have described my efforts in building a colinear for 2m over several posts. The base unmatched colinear was sort-of ok at 146.5, but not very good at 144.1, soI set about performing a match for 144.1 using data obtained using BlueVNA and the mrs MiniVNAPRO vector network analyser. This has resulted in a fairly good match, with an SWR around 1.7 and the FT-817 showing only one SWR bar. I can live with that.

Considering a match for FM

Back at 146.5, the FT-817 shows 3 bars. This is not so good – its not a disaster match, but it is not too special either. My earlier analysis suggested that I could put a stub out a few cm further from the feedpoint, but this did not work. I think the reason was that the data I was getting from the MiniVNAPRO was not that good. Recently, I sought to rectify that, as discussed in this post, which the discussion relates not only to the extender but the base MiniVNAPRO as well.

With that in mind, I set up the 2m colinear and did some tests. Here is a screenshot of Zplots showing the data I obtained:

Zplots showing resistance and reactance of the 2m colinear at the BNC connector

Impedance at the BNC connector

Just for piece of mind, I ran the analysis with the extender, and this is what it shows:

Impedance at BNC connector obtained using extender, which shows very similar results

Impedance at BNC connector obtained using extender

The results are quite close, and any analysis done with one data set will pretty much be matched from the other.

The T piece for the 144.1 match

As well as the BNC connector for the radio (or a cable going there), I also have another convenient point to consider matching – the same place I have the stub for 144.1 I have put a BNC t piece here to connect the stub (and disconnect it when I don’t want it). I know I can’t use another stub for 146.5 right at this point on the transmission line, but I could use some surface mount components for a shunt, or add an extra piece of coax and put a shunt off that. We’ll first look at the data from this point:

Impedance at the T piece

Impedance at the T piece

The interesting thing about this is that this is an effective transmission line transformation. If I use zplots to consider the effect of 36cm of RG58 on the impedance, I get the very similar results, and there is about 34cm of RG58, plus the BNC connectors in the middle. The results are not exactly the same – the empirical results are a little flatter because of loss in the cable.

The impedance looks quite different, but if you consider the plot on the smith chart over on the right, it is simply rotated nearly halfway around the centre of the chart. This is the effect of a 50 ohm coax transmission line.

Now I can’t use a stub right here, but lets see what linsmith suggests I can do:

Match design in linsmitch showing the untransformed impedance then two steps of transformation

Match design in linsmitch

First up is to use 15cm of RG58 to get to a point where a series stub could match. The untransformed impedance is the pink dots – this is taken from the Zplots data. If you look carefully at the smith chart from “Impedance at the T piece”, you’ll notice a subset of that curve is shown here. The 15cm of coax transforms this to the green dots. Putting the series stub with a short 18cm away then transforms it to the red dots.

Series stubs are more difficult to create than parallel stubs. The inner conductor of the coax must be broken, but the outer conductor allowed to continue. The stub inner conductor must be connected (eg via solder) to one side of the line inner conductor and the shield to the other. This is logistically quite difficult.

I also provided about 5cm of extra coax with another BNC connector on the other end. This will allow me to easily put this segment into the colinear when I want to match to 146.5, or to take it out. When I am operating on 144.1, I do not want this segment with this stub.

Here is the data with the match in place:

2m Colinear matched in the FM band segment

2m Colinear matched in the FM band segment

I didn’t quite get the match quite right, the best match is around 147.3, however I can live with this. A FT-817 shows no SWR from 146.2 all through to 148.

Now why did it not quite match? I think it’s because I might have stubbed about 10mm too short. Such is life. Here’s a linsmith look at this assumption:

linsmith analysis of the match result

linsmith analysis of the match result

Note: I’ve added an extra bit of transmission line to account for the measuring point of the VNA – it’s not right at the stub point. This means the red dots are replaced with a second lot of green dots, with the new red dots after the extra coax transformation – note that these calculated red dots fairly match the empirical data shown in the zplots smitch chart in “2m Colinear matched in the FM band segment” above.

This analysis shows that I might actually be able to take off about 5mm from the stub and I’ll further improve the match. I’ll not do that straight way – I’ve got a big trip to the Australian Capital Territory coming up and the match is already fairly good – good enough that further improvement might have only marginal effect.

Anyway it’s pleasing to have a good match now at 146.5, and I’ll be using this a lot in the next week.

73, best regards, Wayne VK3WAM

SOTA One year anniversary

Hi all,

It’s been a little over one year since SOTA started in Australia, first with VK3 in February 2012. To celebrate, the Morrabin and District Radio Club agreed to host a gathering for us. We will do this close to the actual anniversary at the start of February in future, but this year it turned out to integrate with their usual Saturday morning meeting towards the end of the month.

Ron VK3AFW gave a demonstration of various antennas and activation options to a large gathering that was close to filling the club’s meeting room. It was a great turnout with most of our VK3 activators present, along with Andrew VK1NAM who was in Melbourne for family reasons. He was able to join us for most of the meeting.

After Ron’s presenation, it was out to the nearby parklands to set up a variety of SOTA stations. I brought along a MiniVNA Pro and used this, along with Blue VNA to have a look at what activators are using out there.

Endfedz EF-40/20

The Endfedz is a commercial end fed antenna for 40 and 20 rated to 100 watts. The antenna is well made and the cable is quite robust. The match box at the end is suspected to be a 9:1 balun.

The FT-817 reported no SWR at 7.09. Here’s what the VNAPro found at the feedpoint:

BlueVNA screenshot of ENDFEDZ EF-40/20

ENDFEDZ EF-40/20

Both ends of the antenna are about 1.5m off the ground. The insulator at the far end has been moved up about 70cm. The centre of the endfed is about 6.8m off the ground at the top of a squid pole.

The interesting thing about this is that the antenna works quite well, but there is still some signal being lost. The match is only just ok right down the bottom of the band, with a SWR a little below 2. When we tested the antenna with about 10m of LMR195 between the feedpoint and the radio, we found the return loss at around 13dB. The extra loss is imposed by the cable. Not all of this loss is going to be the first 3dB, but still we are going to be burning about 30% of the TX power in the cable.

The SWR at the end of the cable was about 1.6 at 7.12MHz. The radio is at least going to want to put out most of it’s power.

BuddiPole

Apparently the makers of this antenna stress that this setup is not a vertical with a single counterpoise. It’s supposed to be a dipole half on it’s side. Hmmmm, the conductor going up has a loading coil about a foot and half above the feedpoint, plus then further conductor above that. Seems like verticals I’ve made. The horizontal part of the dipole off the ground seems a lot like a radial to me. It’s broadly the same electrically as the vertical I’ve made, but only one radial. Verticals seem to like at least 4 radials a little in the air to work well.

Anyway, this was the initial result:

Buddistick VNAPro results before tuning

Buddistick

This pic shows that the antenna is resonant around 6.84MHz and has the best return loss at 6.85MHz (it is typical for best performance to be a little above resonance if the resistance is less than 50 ohms).

After moving the loading coil up a notch, we moved the resonant point to 7.05, and then played with the counterpoise to further tune the antenna.

The picture makes it look a bit worse as the range is plotted from 6 to 7.5, but the bandwidth is narrower than the end fed. Return loss tops out at about 8dB. It’s not a great match, so this thing could benefit from a tuner near the feedpoint.

This is what things looked like after a little bit of work:

VNAPro data on Buddipole after some adjustment

Adjusted Buddipole

Notice that the main reason for the SWR still remaining at about 1.8 is the feedpoint resistance at resonance of around 27 ohms.

This is after a bit more work:

VNAPro data for a Buddipole at 7.1MHz resonance

Buddipole configured at 7.1MHz

Notice that because the feedpoint resistance at resonance is well below 50 ohms, about 24 here, the best performance is frequencies a little above resonance.

This is what the above looks like at the other end of the coax, the radio end:

VNAPro data of a Buddipole plus 10m of coax

Buddipole plus 10m of coax

The 24ohms is being transformed to a little above 100ohms (but at a slightly lower frequency because the length of coax is not exactly a quarter wave length). The effects of a near 1/4 length coax can clearly be seen by comparing the two pictures.

2m SlimJim

Next up was a 2m SlimJim mounted on a 7m squid pole. As can be seen in the pic, the results of this antenna are excellent.

VNAPro results of a 2m Jimslim on a squid pole

2m Jimslim on a squid pole

It can be seen that the SWR is low across the whole band. This atnenna has a deep return loss. The low SWR means that most power is transported to the antenna. Loss there is good – it means it got radiated. At 145MHz, it is about 26dB, meaning that only a fraction of 1/100th of the signal is coming back to the radio. It’s still around 20dB at 144.1, and a still very nice 18dB at 146.5.

Homemade Endfed with a counterpoise

Now to finish off, it’s time to look at a homemade endfed. It’s interesting to compare this with the endfed that I am using:

VNAPro results of an endfed with a counterpoise

Endfed with counterpoise

While this is tuned a little high for the usual action at 7.1 and CW at 7.027, clearly the counterpoise adds value. The best return loss is around 15dB, which is a big improvement on the 9 to 10dB of the Endfed without a counterpoise. Might have to think about doing something 🙂

The wrap up

It was interesting to have a look around and see what people are up to. I missed out seeing Rik VK3KAN’s freestanding squid pole, but that’s for another day. The guys spent so much time looking at the various options out there, we even took our time getting up to the BBQ. Now: radio even over food. There is something wrong.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

South Gippsland 6 summit activation

Hi all,

I’ve gone off again on one of these three day trips and activated 6 summits. Some say SOTA is a drug of addiction. Where do I get my next hit? Worse, am I a drug pusher because I took Glenn VK3YY and Kevin VK3KAB along, and helped them get 60 SOTA activator points each? Well, Glenn has already done quite a bit of SOTA work before, but Kevin was a first timer.

After a few hiccups, we left the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne before 6pm and headed towards the hills. After a stop, which involved a stop at a cardboard food production facility for dinner, we headed up the Licola Rd as dusk set in. Kevin drove his “Great Wall” 4WD and we made it to a campsite along the Wellington River inside the boundary of the Alpine National Park for an overnight stop. The tables were a nice touch at the campground (photo courtesy Glenn)

Kevin and Wayne at Wellington River campground

Kevin and Wayne at Wellington River campground

Mt Tamboritha VK3/VT-011

It was only a short drive from there up the hill to the start of the walk to the summit. We then headed up to the Tamboritha saddle. We were able to go along the 4WD track to the east of the summit, but parked before the rough stuff. We walked along the WX station track, but left it at the marker which is to the north of the summit. It was a steady climb from there up to the top, but Mt Tamboritha has a flat top, with the highest point at the southern end. Anywhere on the flat top would be in the activation zone.

On this trip, Glenn brought his end fed half wave for 40m with squid pole, Kevin brought an antenna made up of various Buddypole components to form essentially a Buddistick with a single counterpoise, and I brought a squid pole with two antenna combinations. One was my end fed for 40 and 20, and the other was some components from my old aluminium segment vertical with loading coil, plus a new piece of wire that could hang on the squid pole to complete the vertical. This second configuration was to be used for the first four activations on this trip. It is perhaps 30cm longer than my old vertical configuration. I used it with tuner right on the feed point, with a tapped loading coil 1.6m above the feed point. The Ugly Balun which I have described here was also in attendance. This antenna is a little behind the end fed when the other station is in the end fed lobe, but it is still a solid performer; being able to achieve 5 by 8 to the occasional 5 by 9 report. It does give a lower angle of radiation to open potential DX opportunities, however, and this is something the end-fed struggles with.

The main downside of the vertical is that it simply takes longer to put up and take down than the end fed which is 1) couple to the end of the squid pole, 2) raise squid pole, 3) tie wire ends to something, 4) connect radio. The vertical needs still to be connected together, mount the loading coil and run out the radials. I think the squid pole allows me to take off a good 10 to 15 minutes, but it still takes about 30 minutes to setup and 20 minutes to take down. Better than 45 minutes setup and 30 minutes takedown, but not as good as 15 minutes and 10.

Glenn got the good oil on contacts first. Kevin spent some time tuning his Buddi(stick) setup, but Glenns transmissions nearby upset his antenna analyser. In the end, we all got our contacts, my 4th was with Glenn after he left the summit, but then I got a 5th with a FM simplex station on 2m over 150km away setting up for a field day contest happening the following day. I left the summit with a spring in my step.

Here’s a picture of me operating from the summit (courtesy Glenn). The radials of the vertical are somewhat visible, and some of the ratchet band can be seen on the tree, with the base of the squid pole at the ground.

Operating at Mt Tamboritha

Operating at Mt Tamboritha

Here’s a look from the east of the summit.

Looking east from Mt Tamboritha

Looking east from Mt Tamboritha

We headed down much the way we came, but ended up on a track a little to the west of the marked trail, about 100m it worked out. It took us past the WX station and onto the 4WD access track, with the car parked about 700m further away.

Mt Reynard VK3/VT002

Rejoining the Tamboritha Rd, we headed up to the junction with the Mt Howitt Rd and then towards its closest point to Mt Reynard. There was a 4WD track that initially headed a little closer, and then headed south west. Still this enabled us to miss a cliff face. We parked the car at a point where the road began to move further away from the track. Based on the trip, it can be speculated that a walking track to the summit may exist from this road much further along, but I am not sure about this.

After leaving the car, we headed up and over high ground. There was a great deal of fallen timber, which slowed progress somewhat. We crossed a water course, at a point with a bearing of 100 degrees true from the summit, and then began the climb up, which was mostly a comfortable gradient – but with a few kicks. The total trip was about 3km each way, but mostly off track. We did find a track coming up to the summit from the south when we were still about 50m vertical metres down. This track runs off to the south, and it would seem (but completely unconfirmed) that this might end up on the 4WD track that we parked on, but a few km further along.

Mt Reynard has a very large flat top, more than 1.5km long, with a variance of less than 10m. We decided to activate near the eastern end of this, about 4 metres down from the top, but more than 1km horizontal distance! Again, I used a vertical configuration and Glenn his end fed. We also had a few interesting contacts on 2m FM simplex to spice things up. Something else that spiced things up was the large amount of ants at the summit. It seemed like there were nests everywhere. It does make it a bit hard to key CW when you are always trying also to brush ants off!

Here is a pic of Kevin and myself just below the activation area, with the camera looking south (courtesy Glenn).

Kevin and myself on Mt Reynard

Kevin and myself on Mt Reynard

Again, all three of us successfully activated, but this time (and for the rest of the trip), no one ran down the hill to provide a chase. We headed back down the track, but considering its southward direction, we left it and ended up using much the same access route, (bearing about 110 degrees true from the summit back to the 4WD track).

Bryces Plain VK3/VT-004

It was a little late in the day, and also Kevin was worried about the amount of fuel in the car in order to get back to Licola, but the opportunity of a third summit in the day lured us up the Howitt Rd. VK3/VT-004 is a little rise which is not far from the Howitt Rd. There is a reasonable road that actually goes all the way to the top, where there is a commercial tower with a large solar panel. Care was taken to park the car outside the activation zone, but it was only a short walk to the summit, especially when compared to all the other summits on this trip. This summit is an easy pickup, even with a 2WD. It was in the last hour before sunset when we activated. This time, there was a greater variance in our three logs, with me finally picking up some CW DX on 20 and 30 metres.

Here is a look at my vertical antenna:

Vertical antenna at Mt Reynard

Vertical antenna at Bryces Plain

And the sunset from the summit:

Sunset from Bryces Plain

Sunset from Bryces Plain

From there, we headed to McFarlane Saddle where we camped for the night. There were a few other campers here, plus a group that arrived at 9:30pm who immediately left to head down towards Lake Tali Karng. I would think that it makes for cool walking, but the views are not as good by torchlight.

Trapyard Hill VK3/VT-005

Next morning, we pushed back our planned departure time by 30 minutes, accounting for the late finish the previous evening (because we stretched for the third summit). The Forest Explorer map shows two tracks leaving McFarlane saddle, but there appears to be only one on the ground, the east one – even though there is a Parks Victoria sign on this track that shows one track – the west one (wrong one)! The track from a junction about 500m south where a track heads eastwards before Trapyard Hill is true, but the track is quite overgrown and is indistinct when heading across the saddle at point 1442, grid reference 876521 (55H 0487600E 5852100N for those who are unfamiliar with 6 digit grid references – but if you compare the two, you should be able to identify which 6 digits go into the short form). From here there is a first rise, and the track heads up towards the right of this to the flatter ground above. It climbs the summit to its left, missing the summit itself, with the track passing to the north. We left the track underneath the summit, heading up approaching from the north west. It was a steep climb, but not technically difficult. Attempting this summit is easier with a walking stick.

Once at the summit, I ended up getting all my contacts using Glenn’s radio with his end fed setup. I did get my antenna up, but my first attempt did not work with the tree that I strapped the squid pole onto. I got no joy on 20m CW, but the signal was spotted through the reverse beacon network.

Glenn got a pic of me raising my squid pole (strapped to a better tree stump):

Wayne on Trapyard Hill

Wayne on Trapyard Hill

From there, it was back to camp, but this time from the saddle at reference 876521, we headed north down to the Moroka Rd. It was only about 100m away from the saddle. We then walked along the road, with a little bit of passing car dust, back to our awaiting tents. We packed these up, with the pack carry part of the trip about to start.

Picture Point range VK3/VT-003

Now with full packs, it was time to head down the Wellington Plains towards the Picture Point range. Conditions had now become quite hot and the group started to wonder about carrying all of our gear up the mountain. Something else was playing on our minds – the VHF/UHF field day contest. This might mean that a 2/6m activation might make some sense, especially carrying up a FT-817 to give us some 144.15 SSB capability. Still, I decided to carry up my end fed wire, but without a squid pole. It is closer to the ground, and the reports from this setup are not as good, but it does get the contact. Besides, although we appreciate every contact, having a contact with the dedicated SOTAite chasers is worth more to us than some big gun field day station. Sorry, VK3ER/P. 🙂

In the end, we had a clear 2m simplex contact with VK3PF. Considering we could see the Latrobe Valley from the operating location, this made sense. Peter was going to ring around the repeaters to drum up some further action, but it was not to be. I managed a 2m FM contact with Jack VK3WWW operating VK3ER/P on 2m. Jack seemed pretty happy with the contact. HamGPS, an Android app, was used on my phone to determine the 6 digit maidenhead location of the operating QTH for contest purposes. We handed out the numbers, but we did not consider ourselves contest participants. The focus was ensuring that we all left with 10 SOTA activation points, which we did.

Here’s a pic of Kevin operating at VK3/VT-003. You may be able to make out the end fed half wave on 40m strung in the trees behind him, but you may need to click the picture for a higher res view – note you can do this on all pics on this blog:

Kevin operating on Picture Point range

Kevin operating on Picture Point range

On the way back down, we saw this view of the Wellington Plains:

Wellington Plains from Picture Point range

Wellington Plains from Picture Point range

We made our way back to the packs on the Wellington Plains track, and then headed down to our campsite, at grid reference 839462. There is a toilet and a water tank here. Unfortunately the tap on the water tank was broken, so the tank was empty. This meant we had to do a water run down to the nearby Nigothoruk Creek. There was good flowing water down here.

Using a SteriPen

I should mention that after my recent 6 summit trip around Mt Speculation, I believe that I contracted Giardisis from the water I drunk there. It took 8 days for symptoms to show. I thought first that I had Gastro, but it was much worse than that, with the acute phase lasting about 4 days. It has not been diagnosed, but apparently, it is not easy to medically diagnose as the link discusses. Whatever happened, I did not want to experience it again, so I purchased a SteriPEN adventurer Opti. These take 90 seconds to treat 1 litre of water, and I think I can live with that. The SteriPen got its first use with the water from the Nigothoruk Creek. The UV treatment does not change the taste of the water – which this water tastes fantastic.

Wellington Plateau VK3/VT-007 and the Sentinels

The next morning, we headed off early to get our last activation. The Wellington Plateau is a flat top, but there is a small rise to the highest point. We activated just to the east of this, near the 4WD track. This meant that it would be harder to get VHF/UHF field day contacts, unlike from VK3/VT-003, but Kevin did work VK3ER/p on 6m.

Speaking of the 4WD track, yes it is possible to get a car in to this point, but it would take a great deal of effort. The track is very poor, so a very high clearance vehicle would be needed. Also, the access point is through Miller Gap. It would be an adventurous drive!

After wrapping up the activation, we headed down to the nearby Sentinels, which overlook Lake Tali Karng. It’s a great view from up there, but a little hard to get in the pics:

Lake Tali Karng from the Sentinels

Lake Tali Karng from the Sentinels

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We met a Victorian Mountain Tramping Club (VMTC) group that had walked up directly off-track from the lake. It took them about 3 hours to make the 600 vertical metres climb. Tough work with full packs – although these packs did not have any radio gear in them. We kept the full packs only for the trip into and out of our overnight camping spot, only carrying limited food, water, and of course radio gear for the trips to mountain tops for SOTA activating.

After the Sentinels, it was back to camp for lunch, quickly take down the tents, and a walk with the full packs for about 9km back to the car at McFarlane Saddle. It was hot work and we certainly appreciated getting back to the car, and getting to Licola for a fuel topup – that’s both petrol for the car and icecream for other refuelling purposes. It was a great trip and lots of fun for 60 SOTA points.

Regards,
Wayne Merry