Three summits near Ballarat

Hi all,

To ensure that the brownie point balance was kept in check, I did not plan a multi-day SOTA adventure this Easter. I did, however, get leave to activate three summits near Ballarat, all which I had activated before.

After my troubles with antennas on the March long weekend, I decided that I would repair the random wire with high grade wire near the BNC adapter. The antenna had failed by the wire simply tearing at the adapter. My solution was to solder about 1cm of the wire on, and use tape to try and give greater physical support to the wire, so that the load is not borne at one particular spot. I also reinforced the counterpoise wires in a similar fashion. The photo below (if you click on it), shows the changes to the random wire (you may need to zoom in on the KX1).

Mt Buninyong VK3/VC-018

I had not activated this summit since 2012. My previous activation used my original setup of the 8 segment aluminium pole vertical. I had not used verticals for a while now, but when I do, I rely on a squid pole to give physical support to a wire going up – a squid pole is more convenient. For this activation, it was the random wire. Here is a look at the setup I used here:

Station at Mt Buninyong

Station at Mt Buninyong

I headed up the road and parked in the activation zone. There is a walking track heading down the hill from the carpark near the lookout tower. I used this to leave the activation zone and reenter it for my final nonmotorised access to the summit.

For these activations, I used the shorter 4.7m squid pole. For local contacts, it makes little difference between using the shorter squid pole or the longer 7m one. I was keen to give the shorter pole a bit of a workout, as I have a trip upcoming to the states. The shorter pole fits in the luggage I plan to take. The larger pole does not, so the shorter pole looks like it will go. I also had an eye on what I might do at the end of the year on the Lord Howe Island trip.

Another eye on the US trip/Lord Howe Island was not to use an external power supply on these three activations. I used only the NiZn internal AA cells, with no LiPOs in the car or anywhere else to go grab if something went cold. My station is simply the KX1 box, the wire and the squid pole. The whole lot is under 1kg. This is my planned US station.

The KX1 has little difficulty tuning the antenna on 20/30/40. The pattern remains that the most amount of power is developed on 20, then 30 then 40, with 40 being generally around 1 watts on a 10.5V supply. The typical report I receive is 559. 40 remains a reliable band for close in contacts. If I can self spot, then getting 4 CW contacts quickly on 40 is just about guaranteed these days.

Getting the good reports on the NiZn batteries shows that this minimal setup works.

As for my broken end-fed, it would appear that the problem there is that the toroid inside has physically broken due to the rumble tumble of many activations (eg hitting the ground when being quickly uncoiled). The matchbox is closed, but looking at people on the internet who sawed it open, the only thing that could make the rattling noise that I experienced is broken pieces of the toroid. I am still working out how to repair it. Considerations are:

  • For CW activations on the KX1, I think the random wire does as well or better than a EFHW in an inverted V formation with a 7m squid pole in the middle. The EFHW might perform better on a bigger squid pole, but here I am using a 4.7m squid pole with the random wire. The key advantage of the random wire is that there is no feedline – the antenna itself connects directly onto the BNC connector of the KX1. There will be no feedline losses.
  • For the FT-817, I lose the inbuilt KX1 tuner and that is losing a whole lot of convenience. My options are either the EFHW (at least on a 7m pole), or use a vertical if I am after DX. I think dipole based antennas (doublets, etc) are going to be cloud warmers, just like the EFHW, unless I can genuinely get them up higher – eg putting a doublet on two 10m squid poles, one at each end. Ian, VK5CZ introduced me to the SOTAbeams EFHW tuner for 5 watts. I think I would base a new end fed on this matchbox. It gives the option of a counterpoise, which my old end fed did not have. Matchboxes like this are really a convenience thing, as the matchbox itself can be homebrewed without much difficulty.

So, I think I’ll leave the old end-fed for now, and hopefully get around to building a new one based on the SOTAbeams end fed matchbox.

Mt Warrenheip VK3/VC-019

Mt Warrenheip was more of the same. A sealed road goes to the summit area. I parked in the activation zone, but at the eastern end of the road (final turn before the summit) and then walked down the ridge to exit the activation zone, turned around and reentered it.

This activation was again on the short 4.7m squid pole and the random wire. One thing about this setup is that it is quick to put up and tear down.

VK3/VC-032

My final activation for the weekend was at this unnamed summit. Bush Search and Rescue Victoria are having a training day the following month just down the hill from here. My part is to operate a GPS based rogaine training exercise, so I met up with the organisers to do a reccy of the proposed course. After finishing up with them, I headed up the summit, and basically did the same thing as at Mt Warrenheip.

All three of these summits are nice easy summits to get started for those nervous about taking the SOTA activation plunge. Even CW activations on 40m are straightforward these days if you can self spot. If you can’t, its getting a lot easier as well.

I tested the voltage of the NiZn AA cells after the three activations. They started at 1.8V per cell, and were about 1.77V at the end of the day. They can clearly handle these activations and have plenty of left over capacity. Given that NiZn batteries prefer shallow cycles rather than deeper cycles, I would be using them as recommended. Running on these NiZn AA cells gives me most of the developed power I get when I operate using external LiPOs. It would be far ahead of using 1.5V non rechargables – the 1.5V is only when they are full – when they are about 50%, it’s 1.3V (that would be 7.8V total). Stories on the internet about the KX1 suggest that at around 7.5V, the KX1 is typically only generating 300 to 500mW. If I used NiMH, they quickly settle to 1.2V for 7.2V total for 6 cells. This is close to the KX1 low voltage cutoff – Elecraft don’t recommend running the KX1 on 6 NiMH cells, but if I did – it would be true QRPp activating. QRP does interest me, but I perhaps are not so much into the QRPp thing. As it currently stands, the NiZn cells are an excellent internal power solution for the KX1.

So, not too bad getting 3 summits in, although none of them are new uniques for me. Still, it had been a month since my last activation, so you have to take them when they come.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Pyrenees Trip

Hi all,

After my recent trip around VK1, I thought it time for something a little more conventional and a bit easier. I was heading up to Ballarat to spend time with family, but there is always some time for a little SOTA on the side. I thought I was good for two half days, but I was able to upgrade this to a day and half.

VK3/VC-032

First summit up was an unnamed summit between Ballan and Daylesford. There are a number of named summits in this area, but the highest ground is a little nondescript. Nonetheless, I had not activated this summit before, so it was one to add to the collection.

Access is quite easy, as many tracks are quite a good 2wd gravel standard. The high area consists of two hill tips with a shallow saddle between them. This saddle is less than 25m vertical down from the summit, so both hill tops (and the saddle as well) are in the activation zone, making it quite large. I picked an area near the top, set up the squid pole for 40m and got down to business.

Squid pole and end fed for 40m pictured when operating at VK3/VC-032

Operating at VK3/VC-032

VK3/VC-021

With this summit in the bag, it was time to check out Smeaton Hill. This is a private land summit. The owner lives in a house on the northern side of the hill. I dropped in and knocked on the door, but no one was home. End of this activation.

Mt Warrenheip VK3/VC-019

I still had enough time to swap in an alternative location. I had activated this summit the previous year, but it was still good for fresh activation points. A quick trip up, parking the car about 2/3rds of the way up. A simpler activation here than last year, just sticking up the end-fed, but no 20m CW action into Europe. Sometimes I miss the vertical, so I’ll need to get it out at some stage. It does not lend itself to doing many summits in one day, due to the setup and takedown time.

Mt Warrenheip has recently been burnt by fire, but the fire looks fairly mild. It got into the canopy of the trees, but the big trees should quickly recover.

With the activation done, my half day was up.

Blue Mountain VK3/VS-015

I then had a whole day to look at doing SOTA activations, so I thought I would try for 5 in one day. First up, Blue Mountain. This summit can be accessed from Glenlofty Warrenmang Rd, which heads through north-east to south-west through these hills. This is a good 2wd track, and about 997966, there is a 4wd track heading off to the west-north-west. This is passable in a 2wd with care. I was able to head through to 973977, where I left the car. This shaved off about 3km and was a nice little bonus. It was less than 1km from there to the summit. Here’s the operating shack:

Rig, cables and the feedpoint of the end-fed at VK3/VS-015

Operating at VK3/VS-015

And the squid pole:

End-fed mounted on a squid pole in forest at VK3/VS-015

Antenna at VK3/VS-015

One thing to note about these forests is how open they are. A stark contrast to the heavy bush bashing up in VK1 the previous weekend.

VK3/VS-018 Point 756/Pyrenees

Next up was a summit on the other side of Glenlofty Warrenmang Rd. This time it was a nice 2wd track heading up the hill, until I found a large tree across the road. Should I drive right out and come in the other side? After about 5 minutes, I thought I have to walk it – about 5km to the summit. I walked/jogged sections along this, trying to get to the summit before the UTC midnight changeover, for the eager chasers wanting to work the summit twice. I ended up on the air less than 2 minutes to go, where I worked 9 stations in the remaining time. I stayed for about 20 minutes after the UTC midnight changeover and worked most of them again.

One of the challenges of this trip was stretching the battery life over. I was using the leftovers that were unused from the VK1 trip – one 2.2Ah LiPo, plus the stock internal battery of the FT-817. This had to do all the four summits up to now, plus the 3 remaining summits. As of now, the 2.2Ah LiPO had done 4 summits, and was getting a little low, but still had a little left. The internal battery was still mostly fresh.

It’s nice to also clock up a few summits to summits (s2s) on this activation. These contacts always add a little buzz, and I’m even working my way up the s2s list here, although I really only target the activators points and especially uniques lists.

Time for another 5km march back to the car with the fallen tree. When I got there, there was another guy stuck there contemplating ringing up the local authority to get the road cleared.

VK3/VS-009 Ben Nevis

It was time to grab a quick bite and head up to Ben Nevis. This summit has a 2wd track that goes all the way to the top. I try to park out of the activation zone and walk in, rather than drive to the top and walk down and then up, where possible. There are two towers, plus a weather station up top. I headed over to a rocky area beyond that, which was a little higher.

Here’s some of the views:

Langi Ghiran and distant Grampains from Ben Nevis

Langi Ghiran and distant Grampains from Ben Nevis

Open plains NW from Ben Nevis

Looking NW from Ben Nevis

On commencing operations here, I got a first up distress call from VK3UP, who had come across a fallen motorcyclist near Mt Disappointment. It was also clear that many of the waiting SOTA chasers could not hear him. Andrew VK2UH could and he kindly took over handling the situation. Given that I was already stretching out the batteries, it was better for a home station to handle this. Andrew arranged the calling of the ambulance to help, and then had to relay comms for emergency services as they were unable to communicate themselves from the location of the accident.

I headed up 5kHz and activated the summit from there. It was a smaller chasing crowd – I presume some of the usuals were listening in to the emergency situation 5kHz down on the calling frequency. There was no problems experienced from the commercial gear up on the summit.

Here’s a look at the main tower at Ben Nevis:

Main commercial tower and fire lookout at Ben Nevis

Main commercial tower and fire lookout at Ben Nevis

Mt Cole VK3/VS-008

Mt Cole is a tricky little summit. It does not have 2wd road access, so I tried going down a rough track starting at 012668, so I could approach the summit without having to do too much climbing. This track is really too rough for a 2wd. It would have been better to park at 018667 and walk from there. Frees Point Rd could be used, but I headed up off track, basically going up the spur.

Upon reaching the top, I put up the end fed as usual, but then noticed that the UHF connector had come apart – basically a break in the centre conductor near the crimp joint through repeated stresses over time. I put the other end of the coax into the end-fed match box for a secure connection and got out the pocket knife to do something at the radio end, and this is what I came up with:

Coax stripped back going directly into the UHF connector on a FT-817

Jury rig job to get on the air 40m without a connector

It was a bit fragile, especially if I moved, I might have moved sticks, grasses or whatever that would affect the connection. I had to break here and there, but I got the activation done.

Time was pressing on, but the power side was still holding up. I had the chance for one last activation, after returning to the car and finding out I had not trashed it on that rough 4wd track.

Mt Lonarch VK3/VS-013

The final activation of the day was a nice easy one. The road goes all the way, but it actually goes past and loops back. I parked about 40m vertical down from the top and “bush-bashed” over to the summit. It was not real bush-bashing because the forest is quite open with a grassy forest floor. Again, I had to rely on the jury-rigged cable to bring the activation home, but it worked.

I also walked out with around about 45 minutes of operating time still up my sleeve. The 2.2Ah LiPO could have still been used for another 1/4 of an hour and the internal battery was only about 2/3rds used. So 7 summits out of one 2.2Ah battery plus a bit of internal battery top up is not bad going! Total operating time would have been over 3 hours with still 3/4 of an hour in the bag.

It is interesting these days to work 40m. Certainly there are some nice decent pile-ups happening, but operators are waiting in turn. Hopefully we keep things going well in conducting the dog-piles and the chasers are patient with new activators who perhaps might not be used to having 5 stations answer their CQ all at once. It is still a far cry from the days early last year where one could activate a summit for SOTA, and call CQ for an hour and have no one come back. Things are better these days.

Nice to get 7 summits, with 6 new ones in. I’m now only three new summits away from 100 unique summits.

73, regards, Wayne VK3WAM