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

.

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

Advertisements

Improving the backpackable vertical antenna

My SOTA activations on HF use a vertical antenna which is all home brew. I decided on using a vertical because:

  • I wanted an antenna that could be used anywhere, whether there were lots of trees or not.
  • It needed to be able to be disassembled into segments no longer than 75cm in length so they could be put into a backpack. Some SOTA summits need significant off-track walking to access, and carrying a large 1m or more item outside the backpack – including being strapped on – was not a great solution for those situations.
  • I wanted something with a low angle of radiation to work SOTA DX. Perhaps this would be at the cost of working local stations, but if the antenna was efficient enough I should still be able to work local, but get the DX as well.

Bunnings sell cyclical al in 10mm, 12mm and 16mm segments – and larger. By using the workshop at my radio club, I have cut these to size.

State of play in June

In June, I had a 6 summit activation long weekend in the Grampians. The final activation was at VK3/VW-007 Near Baroka Lookout. Allen, VK3HRA joined me for the second half of my activation. I was working 20m DX on CW while he worked 40m SSB. Some stations he worked had also worked me earlier on 40m, so I was very interested in his signal reports, which were generally about 2 points higher than mine. It’s not a contest about who has the best antenna, but when conditions are poor, a better antenna could be the difference between a successful activation or not, so it was time to do some work.

Allen was using a Buddistick with one radial. Now some get into the counterpoise vs radial wording thing, but at the end of the day it is about providing some kind of ground to minimise ground losses with a vertical. Now both our antennas were short for 40m, but mine was less short. I also had eight radials! So why the poor performance? His antenna was loaded, mine was unloaded. Answer: Rather than relying on an ATU to match the antenna because because of the short capacitive reactance, I needed a loading coil. Time to make one.

The Loading Coil

I like working multiple bands, and putting a loading coil on the antenna could restrict me to one band, and this would not do. The loading coil needed to be tapped, so I could bypass it, also select tapping points suitable for various bands. With 8 segments, the antenna is 6m long – longer than a 1/4 wave on 20, but short on 30 or lower. I used an online inductance calculator at Hamwaves, designing it on 50mm PVC pipe with a flat piece of aluminium to allow it to be screwed onto the antenna at one of the coupling points. I had already made up a piece of wood about 100mm long with two M8 screws at either end, so this was perfect to mount the coil. The coil would be long enough to have enough turns to resonant the antenna on 80m, as well as making tapping points lower down to resonant the antenna on 30 and 40.

My plan was to put the coil between segments 2 and 3 on the vertical, about 1.5m up from the feedpoint. On the net, and in NEC2 modelling I had done, having the loading coil up as much as possible is better, but it needed to be low enough that I could physically access it to change bands without needing to lower the antenna. I would still use an ATU, but this would be more about matching the resistance, rather than having to deal with all the reactance as well. A short antenna has a feedpoint resistance well below 50 ohms – even 1/4 wave is about 36 ohms, and shorter is lower. As the ground plane is improved, this resistance is lower than otherwise, leading to greater mismatch – but this is good because the missing resistance is missing ground losses. The job of the ATU is to match for this mismatch, but the losses across the ATU would be small.

First use in anger VK3/VC-003 Mt Richie

Now with my new loading coil, it was time to get it into action. Mt Richie was the first activation, with Mt Donna Buang VK3/VC-002 later in the day. Reports on 40m were a good two to three s points up on the usual, with many stations reporting that I had a good signal, rather than the usual “I’m digging you out of the noise”. So it looks like I’m better in the game. I could also tell during the setup that when I tapped the coil on 40m at a suitable tapping point – the radio was hearing a lot more signals. Loading a short antenna certainly seems the go.

One impact of the loading coil was that I could not use the antenna with 8 segments. The loading coil added enough weight that the antenna, despite 2 sets of guy ropes, could not stay up. I had to use the antenna with only 7 segments – 5.25m high from the feedpoint.

The Bunnings 10mm segments were just too weak and I needed something stronger. I had used 16mm segments for something else, but I was not that happy with how ridged it was either. I made up two 16mm steel segments with some 10mm aluminium tubing inside for the M8 threads. The 10mm tubing was held in place by a 6mm nut and bolt about 10cm up from the coupling. This has worked well in my experience, and makes the couplings stronger than other parts of the antenna. This approach would allow me to have a drop in replacement for the bottom 2 75cm segments on the vertical, and should get me back to an 8 segment antenna with the loading coil.

Rubicon forest triple activations

A few weeks after Mt Richie and Mt Donna Buang, I was activating three summits, Mt Bullfight VK3/VN-002, Pyramid Hill VK3/VN-005 and Bill Head VK3/VN-004. Conditions were poor on 40m to say the least, with a large skip zone during the day and attenuation on hops on 40 during the day high. If it was not for the loading coil, I would have not got away with the points from the three summits that day – as described in by blog post. I might not even got a single contact on some of those summits.

By now, I had used the stronger steel segments down the bottom of the vertical, and these had made the antenna structurally sound. There was no buckling anywhere lower on the antenna, which was the reason it used to fall over.

While conditions were poor, and a few days later, Peter VK3PF only got two contacts from VK3/VT-003, underlying the challenge, it made me think that things are still not quite right.

Further improvements

I had always not put the ATU actually on the feedpoint, but somewhere on the ground nearby. This was because the antenna would not be able to bear the weight of the ATU – it does not weigh much, but I was always struggling with the structural integrity of the antenna. My two steel segments seemed to have resolved that problem, so now I have begun to think it is time to put the ATU directly at the feedpoint.

When I first started doing portable activations with this antenna last year, I first had a 10m run of coax from the ATU to the feedpoint, with the radio near the ATU. It is convenient, but performance was terrible. I then had a short, 1m bit of coax from the feedpoint to the ATU, and then a longer run to the radio. This worked better. It does not significantly matter how long the run is from the radio to the ATU. It is all about what is between the ATU and the feedpoint and coax here is bad.

So I built up some homemade twin line from enamelled 1mm wire I had available. The run was 4 metres long. It was this length because another vertical I had been using has a feed point 1.5m off the ground. Even with my 8 segment vertical with a feed point 30cm off the ground, the 4 metres of twin line worked much better than 1 metre of coax. There was nothing wrong with the coax – I could use it quite happily between the radio and the ATU!

Still, the antenna is unbalanced and so is the tuner, and twin line is a balanced transmission line, so running an unbalanced signal down it must not be good. I built two Guntella 1:4 baluns, one to go at the tuner, and the other at the feedpoint. This further improved things – there was evidence before of RF at the radio, and these baluns removed it, also my RX was much better – further evidence of common mode currents before. One time I forgot a balun, and using the setup without them was certainly worse than what I was used to.

Reading W2FMI Jerry Sevick’s Transmission Line Transformers made me think that I still have not got this thing quite right. The Loading Coil gets rid of capacitive reactance, but it can not be said that there is 50 ohms on one side of the balun and 200 ohms on the other. This would mean that the losses of 0.05db that I had measured using a network analyser on these baluns would not be the case because of these mismatches. Over the Gippstech weekend, I did some Keith Roget activations at 100 watts in Morwell National Park and Tarra-Bulga National Park. The baluns got warm. Not hot, but the hotter one had it’s temperature raised about 20 degrees. This tells me that the loss is much greater than 0.05db, more like about 2 to 3db. There are two of these baluns, so there is 4 to 6db of signal improvement waiting to be taken.

So my current plan of attack is to do the following:

  • Put the ATU directly on the feedpoint of the antenna, now that the steel segments have removed the instability problems. Get rid of the twin line and the two baluns. The ATU is unbalanced, feeding an unbalanced antenna.
  • There will be some common mode currents reintroduced because the baluns are gone, and we do not want these. We certainly do not want them anywhere near the radio, but across the ATU is not such a big deal. So a 10 turn on 50mm PVC pipe Ugly Balun with coax – which is really a 1:1 unun will do the trick.

This Ugly Balun will get rid of the common mode currents that run on the outside of the shield, but because it is made of coax, the inner conductor and the inner surface of the shield are unaffected. There will be enough reactance on the Ugly Balun to block common mode currents even at 80m, but not too many turns to not work at 10m. Being on the radio side of the ATU – but right next to the ATU, means that the RF inside is going along a matched transmission line with low SWR, so the loss of this Ugly Balun should be very low.

That’s the plan, we’ll see how it goes at the next activation.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM