San Gabriel Mountains activations

Hi all,

Recently, I was in the United States for the HOPE worldwide Global Summit, which for me was four days of about 14 hours a day of constant meetings and sessions. I did not come here for a holiday, but at least I have a few days to get out and have a look around, including doing some SOTA.

Table Mountain W6/CT-067

After the end of the global summit, I had one full free day before catching a plane to the east coast of the US. I planned to use this day and the evening before to grab some summits in the San Gabriel Mountains. I hired a car to get around. Of course as an Australian, it means driving on the other side of the road, but it certainly helps that the drivers seat and steering wheel is on the other side of the car.

First up was Table Mountain. I could have taken the I15 to get there, but instead took LA 2 the Angeles Crest Highway for a more scenic route. Glad I did.

It’s time to leave the smog of LA behind:

LA basin from the San Gabriel range foothills

LA basin from the San Gabriel range foothills

Great views from the highway as we go along:

San Gabriel range mountains

San Gabriel range mountains

Access to Table Mountain itself is very straightforward. At Big Pines, intersection, Table Mountain Rd head off to the north. This road is paved (sealed) and makes its way up to a large carpark and hotel/pub that is clearly used a lot during the ski season.

The carpark near Table Mountain summit

The carpark near Table Mountain summit

The paved road heading to the summit leaves from near the right-hand side of the building. It would be only 100 vertical feet to the summit from here, the car park is not far from the activation zone itself.

I found out that I had no cell phone coverage here. No self spots. I got only one QSO, but that is enough to at least get the summit as a unique. I activated for over 2 hours, so plenty of calling. I was getting cold and the day was late, so time to get out of here. I made my way down to Victorville to stay the night, and hope to do better the next day.

Throop Peak W6/CT-005

The menu for the next day was three summits, with Throop Peak and Mt Baden Powell (of scouts fame) to be done together. I drove back, up into the range and made my way to Dawson Saddle where I parked the car. Note that a Forest Pass is needed to park the car and head into the mountains here. They nominally cost $5, but if you buy it from from other than the Forest Service, they can add a surcharge of a dollar or so.

A trail leaves from the saddle itself to the south, but the official trail leaves from two hundred yards or so to the east of the saddle. I made my way along the unofficial trail to get started. It meets up with the official trail soon enough. Here’s a look at the typical trail formation and terrain:

Trail conditions on the way to Throop Peak

Trail conditions on the way to Throop Peak

The trail makes its way up to the main ridge, but I noticed that the Forest Service built the trail to try to avoid steep gradients, it would contour up rather than strictly stay on top of the spur line going up. It makes for faster walking, that’s for sure. If only Parks Victoria and fire trail constructors would take notice, but I’ve seen this style of track (trail) construction elsewhere in Australia.

The trail avoids the summit itself, skipping to the north, then the main range trail is met. Turning right, this trail climbs from the junction, but an unoffical trail soon leaves itself to the right, following the ridge up to the summit itself. Great views from up here:

Summit of Throop Peak

Summit of Throop Peak

For all of my US activations, I was to use the following equipment:

  • A Elecraft KX1
  • 6 NiZn AA cells inside the KX1 – I brought a charger to keep them topped up at the end of each day throughout the trip
  • The “random” 41ft wire with 1/4 wave counterpoises for 20/30/40
  • The lightweight 4.7m squid pole

At Mt Throop, I put the squid pole in a nearby pine tree, with the base of the pole about 3 foot off the ground. Here’s a look at the station setup at the KX1 end of the wire:

Station at Throop Peak

Station at Throop Peak

I had been encouraged to try 2m on FM by people on the nasota Yahoo Groups reflector, so I brought that along. All I had for that was a 1/4 wave antenna. It still got in around the LA basin, but it helps that I could see if from here – not that I could see buildings as such – I saw the grey layer of smog in that direction.

I could not self-spot, and indeed I was unable to self-spot throughout my time in the states, but there was far more action here than the previous evening. It’s pleasing to know that I can get out on this thing, but I’ve worked US stations on this wire from VK.

Mt Baden-Powell W6/CT-004

I headed back the way I came down along the ridge line and joined up with the official trail, which heads east-nor-east along the ridge towards Mt Baden Powell. Walking conditions were ideal with mild temperatures around mid 60s and the gentle gradients on the trail helped as well. Here’s a look to the south east:

The Iron Fork valley from near Throop Peak

The Iron Fork valley from near Throop Peak

I was able to stick to my times, even though I underestimated the effects of altitude. It had been a while since I had walked at altitudes around 9000ft, and these altitudes are not encountered in Australia. I made the summit at about the anticipated time. but first a glance at the Wally Waldron tree, a 1500 year old tree:

The Wally Waldron Tree

The Wally Waldron Tree

And then a look towards Mt San Antonio:

Mt San Antonio from Mt Baden Powell

Mt San Antonio from Mt Baden Powell

I operated a little to the south of the main summit, as there were many people around. I again used the trick of mounting my pole with the base wedged in pine trees several feet of the ground. Makes this little squid pole nearly 6m!

Operating station at Mt Baden Powell

Operating station at Mt Baden Powell

I had less success on 2m, but the three HF bands yielded a good number of contacts. After finishing up here, I headed back towards Mt Throop. It’s mostly downhill from here, and then on the side trail back to Dawson Saddle.

Kratka Ridge W6/CT-014

My final W6 summit (was getting used to keying W6/VK3WAM by now) was Kratka Ridge. There is a sign off the Angeles Crest highway closest to the summit saying “keep out” of the area around the ski lift. Less than 1/2 a mile to the east of this is a public picnic area. The saddle here is quite close to the road. I parked the car on the side of the road here and headed up.

I had gotten used to the nice gentle gradients of the trails on the previous summits today, but no such joy here. It did go off to a side line to the right, but then turned around and went straight up. Slower work, but as I approached the ridge line, it backed off and it was more a walk than a climb. The ski lift has clearly not been used for a while, the trail goes to the top of the lift, and it could do with some love:

Ski lift at Kratka Ridge

Ski lift at Kratka Ridge

Only a few hundred feet from this is the summit. I set up here, operated first on 2m, and then on the KX1 with the random wire. It had clouded over and the temperature had dropped to less than 60 with a decent breeze. It was never going to be a case of hanging around too long here. It was good that the three summits today had been easily qualified, after the lonesomeness of Table Mountain the previous day. Hopefully my summits over on the east coast would be more like today.

It was a great day with good walking and good SOTA. I could do with more days here, but the next day a plane to Philadelphia awaited. So back for a shortened sleep and to the airport.

A good introduction to SOTA activating in North America.

73 de Wayne VK3WAM

4 Summits in the Yarra Ranges

Hi all,

With all the fast and furious SOTA action going on in recent weeks, it was time to get out and clock up a few more points, lest I eventually lose my VK SOTA activator lead, but hang on, SOTA’s not supposed to be competitive, right?

Mt Richie and Mt Donna Buang form a summit pair that are quite easy to do in a day, and that’s what I did last year. This year the plan was to add two extra summits onto the day, Mt Bride and Britannia Ridge. I had not activated those last two before, but plenty of others have.

Mt Richie VK3/VC-003

This summit is accessible by a series of management vehicular tracks. There is a gate for Road 15 at Acheron Way. The large bolted concrete barrier is to stop the public driving up, but foot access is ok. The track log below shows the route.

GPS tracklog plot of Mt Richie access

Mt RIchie tracklog

The junction between road 10 and 15 is at the most southerly point on the tracklog. Turn left, and it’s about 5km walking from this point. The route involves over 500m of climbing, but it never feels too bad on the way.

I first put up the vertical, but I need to do a bit of soldering on the feedpoint as the connection was poor. The base of the loading coil seemed disconnected, I am going to have to look into this. No action on 12m with a poorly functioning antenna.

Lucky the end fed was in the bag. I took down the vertical and put up the end fed and worked a series of VK1,2 and 5 stations. Good reports. It would seem at this stage in winter in the hour or so after sunrise, sometimes there can be a large skip zone on 40m. Bernard VK3AMB reported hearing me very weakly, must have been ground wave over a 45km distance. I did not bring the 2m colinear for this summit.

My phone struggles to take photos in cold conditions, so no activation photos from here.

Mt Donna Buang VK3/VC-002

It’s next off to Mt Donna Buang with the walk back to the car and then the drive up to the summit. The last car park before the gate is 40m vertical down from the summit, so I parked here. Looks a little strange with other members of the public parking at the summit itself, but it ensures my final access is non motorised. I set up near the lookout tower with the 2m colinear and the end fed both on the squid pole at the same time.

2m colinear and half wave end fed on the 7m squid pole at Mt Donna Buang near the lookout tower

Operating at Mt Donna Buang

The only implication of this set up with a 2m coax run from the feedpoint to the radio is the need to move about 5m when I want to move from 2m to 40m. Aside from that, it worked well. I used the Wouxun HT on 2m FM, and the FT-817 on 2m SSB and 40m.

Mt Bride VK3/VC-009

Mt Bride was my third summit of the day. With things running nicely to schedule, I decided to activate both on 2m and 40m at this summit. I used Mt Bride Rd off Old Warburton Rd. A road branches off to the left just under 2km from the summit. It’s a bit rough, but I got the Prius up without any real difficulty. I parked the car at the crest of this road and found the walking track branching off a little further along.

GPX tracklog screenshot of Mt Bride access

Tracklog to access Mt Bride

Someone had recently rode a dirt bike up here. Might have been “fun” with some of the low hanging branches!

I activated on the track as it was well in the activation zone, perhaps less than 5 vertical metres from the highest point.

Activating using a squid pole on the track near Mt Bride summit

Activating at Mt Bride

I again mounted both the colinear and the end fed on the squid pole. It’s working well. I was unable to get the full four contacts on 2m, but there was the usual pile on 40.

Britannia Ridge VK3/VC-011

Conditions up to this point had been quite sunny, but the clouds started rolling in. It was time to get this last activation in place. I accessed it by continuing to drive along Mt Bride Track until reaching the base of a track that goes up a spur towards the summit. Mt Bride Track is fine in a 2wd. The track going up the summit would need a much more capable vehicle. It’s about 200m down and 1300m away from the summit, so it is not a long walk.

GPX tracklog screenshot of Britannia Ridge access

Tracklog to Britannia Ridge

I headed up to where the track levelled off before going off track up to the summit. I did not look too closely at the map, but the track perhaps does not quite get in the activation zone. My way back down to the track was quite more open. Look to leave the track about 50m before it levels out at the top.

My operating site was quite cramped, and for this reason I did not put up the colinear and the end fed at the same time. I commenced operating on 2m. I did some coordination on VK3REC as I had no mobile signal. I worked 2 stations on 2m FM, and Bernard VK3AMB put out a call to see if anyone else was around and perhaps SSB might be a go. I tried getting Marshall VK3MRG, but I could just hear him and there would be little chance he could hear me on 5 watts. Just after pulling down the colinear, another station announced on the repeater that they had my signal booming into them, but they could hear nothing on the 2m 1/4 wave. Bernard himself could hear nothing on the 1/4 wave, but 57 on the colinear. It certainly makes a difference.

I put up the end fed and worked the usual pile on 40. Interesting that 40 was still open locally late in the day after being closed even an hour after sunrise on Mt Richie.

With that, packed up and got back to the car just a little after sunrise. A nice productive 30 point day, and the uniques count was expanded by 2.

73, Regards, Wayne VK3WAM
South west of the summit

SOTA activations in and around Bunyip State Park

Hi all,

This last Saturday it was time to head for the hills again. After last week’s trip, I was keen to get summits in on this trip that I had not activated before. There did not appear to be fire reduction burns in this area as well.

The plan was to activate the first, Spion Kojpe, on 2m and then the rest on 40m + other HF. I packed the end-fed for the 2nd and 3rd activations, and I planned to use my vertical on a squid pole for the 4th and 5th activations.

Spion Kojpe VK3/VT-040

It looks like the easiest approach to this summit is via Limberlost Rd, leaving the Noojee Rd at 016066 (remember this is the 10km, 1km 100m of the easting and then the same for the northing UTM or Map Grid of Australia). The road is quite good for 2wd, although some of the lower sections were a little soft due to recent logging activity. Higher up, the road was quite firm. I headed up to the junction of Limberlost Rd and Outlook Track at 986030. The track leaves here to the south west, easily seen from the road junction.

Time to get the gear ready. Squid pole, and 2m colinear, check. Put aside the HF antennas, grab the HT, FT-817 mike, CW key, batteries, power cable, all check. Good to go, but what about the FT-817 itself? Ahhh, not here. What am I going to do. I did want to do this summit on 2m, but all the others were for HF – well, it’s too far to drive back home. 2m FM it’s going to have to be and here’s hoping the 1700mAh battery in the Wouxun KG-UVD1P can last.

From just a few metres to the west of the road junction, the track heads off south west. It’s quite good for the first 200m, but then degrades. It can still be followed however, and it is best to stay on it. Look for the blue flagging tape, and if you lose it, simply retrace. It makes it’s way to a large flat rocky top where I put the squid pole up on a nearby tree.

Things worked quite well here, and I quickly got my required contacts on FM. I put the radio down to 1 watt to conserve the battery as things rolled along.

I went to take some pics in the quite misty conditions. The summit was in the clouds. The screen went black and the phone switched off. I turned it back on and it complained about low battery. Hmmm.

Androzic

This was my first go at using this Android GPS app. It uses Oziexplorer maps, which for south east Australia can be obtained here. It also can load in a few internet based maps, of which the one I find most useful is the OpenCycleMap, which is a derivative of OpenStreetMap. Of course the internet maps need an internet connection to update. Phone coverage was patchy up here.

The app is fairly easy to use, and the navigation feature is nice. One thing though is that this app is heavy on the battery. Before my little hickup with the phone camera, my phone had gone from 100% at the car down to about 70% in one hour. That’s pretty heavy. It also crashed a few times and needed restarting. So there is a few bugs, but the heavy power consumption is something that is going to have to be looked at.

Gentle Annie VK3/VT-078

Next summit was Gentle Annie. I am driving a Prius up here, so I’ll avoid the 4wd tracks. I drove west along the main rd, which goes through a few names until I arrived at Bunyip Rd at 899037. Turning left, it was straight forward through Bunyip Gap and through to 958991. Gentle Annie track heads off from here. I would not like to get a low clearance vehicle up here, and it would be too steep for the Prius. I had planned to walk, and no FT-817, it was the 2m colinear heading up.

I got to the top and set up at the trig point. The trig structure looks like someone has crashed into it at some stage and it’s leaning over a little. Still ok for clamp the squid pole on. Setup the colinear and started calling. No responses. After about 10 minutes and the UTC change-over I was wondering what was going on. Of course the Wouxun has no SWR meter to tell me if all is not well. I tried with the 1/4 wave and got some responses. After a little detective work, using reports from chasers, I identified that the match for the colinear was playing up. I jury-rig fixed it, and the reports were much better. It was interesting that the reports were little different from matched (about SWR 1.15) vs unmatched (about SWR 2.3). The Wouxun is clearly not reducing power into a 2.3 SWR. Not ideal, but not too bad. It was also likely not reducing power into that shorted match setup that I had going at the start of the activation. Lucky the HT still works!

I tried to take a photo of the setup at Gentle Annie. The phone camera app came up after an unusual delay (and a black screen for about 3 seconds). I took the photo and the phone switched off. I turned it back on, again to a low battery warning and no actual photo had been taken. Well that’s it for photo shoots for today.

With this activation, I had now activated 100 unique summits. It was something that I had targeted quite early in getting into SOTA, and it was my main objective for this trip.

Back down to the car, and I was going to have to try and get what charging I could into the phone while driving around.

North Hell’s Gate VK3/VT-050

With the phone battery low and the heavy battery use from Androzic and the dodgy camera, I would need to fall back to the old favourite, Trekbuddy with loaded Forest Explorer maps taken from screenshot grabs. Trekbuddy is reasonably light on the battery, and I have all the VK3 SOTA summits loaded in for that app as well. One side benefit of this is that with Trekbuddy having the GPS on and fixed, I could run Androzic for a quick look at an Oziexplorer map with a GPS fix already there. Look at it in that app, and then exit.

I had heard a few stories about this summit being somewhat hellish to access. I used Proposch Rd to access it. The road heads up to a point about 1.1km north west of the summit. It forks in two. One road quickly ends to the north east of there. The other goes over the top and heads south towards recent logging activity. I went up this and packed at the ridge top. There was an old track that I then used heading east from here. Distance to summit about 1km. This heads near point 584 at grid ref 992980. It continues east-nor-east down a shallow saddle and up again. I followed my nose a bit, and some tracks headed off and ended. I would head back and try to stay on the ridge. I was at about 220m bearing 140 from the top where I left the faint track I was on. I was to find out, I should have stayed on it a bit longer, I reckon it gets about 100m from the summit bearing 150 degrees (or from the summit head 330 degrees).

So as it stood I had about 220m of bush bash. There was some long grass and vine plants around that made it tough going. None the less, I got to the top and found a track goes to the top. Talking to others who had been here, this track goes nowhere, so I did not try to find out where it went.

I again activated on the 2m colinear. After finishing up, I headed north east. This was a bad move as the country drops away quickly and the vines and grass are far worse here. It was real tough going. Given Glenn VK3YY had lost his squid pole around this place, I was very concerned about losing mine. I had got about 200m with a bearing of 190 degrees to the summit, where I realised that I had gone too far east and needed to head west-nor-west and gain some height again to get back on the track. The forest did ease up, but I spend about 1 hour of needless bush bashing (all for an extra 200m!). At least it helps make you fit. I found my old track about 30m closer to the summit from where I left it on the way in, and noticed that it made its way from around here up almost straight for the summit. Being at the summit before, I know it does not go the whole way, but I suggest that future access should go along this track, go to the end, take a waypoint, and there could be less than 100m bush bash to the summit. Use the waypoint on the return trip.

South Hells Gate VK3/VT-059

So back to the car (much faster when on the tracks), and I attempted to find my way to South Hells Gate. First try was the logging road at the end of Proposch Rd. It heads underneath North Hells Gate, about 1km from that summit (west and then south west). Most of this side has been recently logged, and access across it would be quite fast, but I headed back to Forest Rd and made my way down that. There’s a track near Ryson Creek which I tried, but the start was too steep for the Prius. I then headed down to Bullock Link Track. It also looked steep, so it was time to park the car and walk it. About 4.5km and about 440 vertical metres to climb. It took about 55 minutes to walk this. This 4wd track would only be considered double diamond. It was hard to walk in some places, and somehow people are able to get 4wd cars up here!? I know they can ’cause I met a few using the track on my walk.

The summit itself has an activation zone about 500m long. I activated a little to the south-west of the marked summit, about 5m down from the top. Again, of course on 2m FM, but it looked like the HT battery was going to last the day, so I was now at 5 watts.

Dingo Ridge VK3/VC-028

The final summit of the day was a little 1 pointer kinda on the way home. 1 point, but also 1 unique for me, as I had not activated this before. When it comes to uniques, 1 pointers are worth as much as 10 pointers. After conferring with Peter VK3ZPF, I decided not to approach this summit from the south, but instead to approach from the west-nor-west using Lupton Track. This would be about a 5km walk. It took me about 55 minutes to do the walk in. I headed off with about 15 minutes before sunset, so it was pretty dark when I arrived. I needed to stop about 200m before I hit the junction with Dingo Ridge Track to get the headlamp on to read a sign. I activated at the track junction.

The first three contacts were quite quick, but then it was into a long period of calling with no responses. Bernard VK3FABA found someone else for me to work VK3UFO. I could here him fine, but he could barely hear me on FM. No SSB here. We had to be innovative to get the call-signs and reports exchanged, but it was done directly, with Bernard relaying any other information aside from these to make it easier. Calling Victor Victor Victor Victor, Kilo Kilo Kilo Kilo, 3 3 3 3, Whisky Whisky Whisky Whisky, Alpha Alpha Alpha Alpha, Mike Mike Mike Mike did seem to work. My received report was 2 and 1.

With that, and conditions totally dark now and windy, it was time to head for home. 5 summits all new uniques for me, and 11 points for a full SOTA day out.

Sorry no pics, but I did test the phone camera back at home and it worked fine. Hope it does not play up again on the next misty day out.

Regards, 73, Wayne VK3WAM

4 summit activation around Mt Dom Dom

Hi all,

Again, it’s time to head for the hills and get into some of that SOTA good oil. For this series of activations, I wanted to have a good look at 2m again, and the colinear was planned to see a lot of action. I did take the end fed for 40m, but the plan was to only use it if I could not get 4 contacts on each summit. We’ll see how things go.

Mt Vinegar VK3/VC-005

This summit is between Dom Dom saddle and Mt Donna Buang. From either place, it would take some time to get in, and this was my original plan. On looking at maps, I thought I might be able to get closer access from Acheron Way, and this proved to be the case.

Access can be via Caters Gap Rd and this is a forest road with large aggregate. Forest Explorer shows it becoming a 4wd track, but the road quality remains good. I thought I would use the Cleft Rock Walking Track, but could not find it. That area had been subject to recent logging, so the track would have been destroyed anyway. I proceeded to point 825356 and turned left, to head up the hill. This went through a logging area, but the track remained passable for a 2wd without too much difficulty. I climbed up the mountain and parked about 843345. I could have gone about another 500m before a locked gate about 1km from the summit. In any case, it was a much shorter walk than I had anticipated.

I put up the colinear and called on 146.5 FM. This was going to be the most difficult summit out of the three that I had planned for the day as Mt Vinegar is hidden from Melbourne by a few closer hills that are part of the Donna Buang system. Even on VK3REC, a EMDRC repeater, action was slow – but this was not because I could not reach it. Perhaps people were slow out of bed today. I was able to reach the repeater with just a HT with a 1/4 wave antenna, so I was able to keep the FT-817 on the colinear. I eventually had to try 144.1 SSB to get the 4th contact. The stub I have for the antenna gives a good SWR at 144.1, so it is good to see that this project has obtained a good result.

Here’s the operating location at Mt Vinegar:

Operating location at Mt Vinegar showing a squid pole. 2m colinear, a backpack, a FT-817 and other radio gear

Operating location at Mt Vinegar

When operating, it’s always nice to have a good rock to sit on:

The shack at Mt Vinegar showing a rock to sit on, plus the pack, a Wouxun HT, a Yeasu FT-817 and other gear

The shack at Mt Vinegar

With the car closer than planned, I thought I might be able to get to Mt Gordon a little before 11am for the UTC midnight change over.

Mt Gordon VK3/VN-027

This summit is part of the 2013 batch to join the SOTA program in Victoria. It is a summit located between Marysville and Narbethong. Access is via a 2wd track that heads off to the north from Marysville Rd which is shown in Forest Explorer as a 4wd track.

There is some commercial gear at the summit as shown below:

Commercial towers at Mt Gordon

Commercial towers at Mt Gordon

With these commercial towers, I imagined that I would suffer from QRM problems with overloaded frontends and it proved to be the case. The colinear is fantastic at bringing in weak signals, but the downside is an overloaded FT-817 front end. With the FT-817 overloaded, there was no point trying the Wouxun HT.

I was able to get two contacts before 11am, and a good number afterwards. I had enough FM contacts to get the SOTA activation points, but sometimes it took some patience. I was getting into Melbourne well enough, but the QRM would take out the readability of other stations. It came and went, and when it was absent, I had a sub s1 noise floor.

A nice touch at the end was getting VK3PF on SSB at 146.475 This frequency is turning out to be a SOTA vertical SSB frequency of choice, just a little down from the national FM calling frequency. I still go down to 144.1 for the SSB chasers down there still, although most of those have horizontal antennas at that frequency, so there’s a bit of a mismatch with my vertical colinear.

Here’s a look through some of the regrowth (and cooked dead trees) towards Marysville from the summit:

Marysville from Mt Gordon, with some dead trees in the foreground. The slopes of Lake Mountain can be seen in the background

Marysville from Mt Gordon

Here was a good view of the Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon:

Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon

Cathedral Ranges from Mt Gordon

Mt Dom Dom VK3/VN-017

Call me irrational, but a high profile search from a few years ago had me edgy about this place. Still, Mt Dom Dom likely to be the easiest of the three summits to activate on 2m, so the HF antenna would remain unused. I headed in from Dom Dom saddle to about point 813382 on what is marked a 4wd track but is a narrow but good 2wd track. The point where I left the car is about where Forest Explorer shows a walking track. This walking track does not exist. The southern side of Mt Dom Dom has been logged in recent years, so the growth is not too bad. I headed up the side of the mountain “following my nose”. Most of the time it was ok. I think the best approach is to head up the middle on any old logging vehicle tracks that still exist. In a few years, the whole place will be overgrown and access will have to be via the more mature forest on either side of the recently logged areas.

Here’s a look at my operating location there:

Operating location at Mt Dom Dom showing the squid pole and radio gear

Operating location at Mt Dom Dom

Action was still a little slow from Mt Dom Dom. I was getting strong reports from those who did come up from Melbourne, but there were not too many of them.

Got a nice view looking back towards Melbourne from near the summit. See if you can find my car:

Watt River valley and Melbourne from Mt Dom Dom

Watt River valley and Melbourne from Mt Dom Dom

A highlight of this activation was a QSO with Glenn VK3YY on Britannia Range VK3/VC-011. Mt Donna Buang is in the way, but we were able to get the QSO home on SSB. I’ll need to find out from Glenn what antenna he was using.

Mt Toolebewong VK3/VC-033

My final activation was actually an unplanned one, but because I was running ahead of schedule, I was able to put in for a bonus summit. Signals from here were stronger into Melbourne, as more paths were unobstructed. I had a lucky one at the end with Peter VK3ZPF, who called on 146.5 halfway through packing up, but I left the HT on. We were able to exchange reports, but I still had the colinear up in the air. This allowed us to compare the 1/4 wave “rubber ducky” with the colinear. Both ways were significantly up with the colinear.

And with that, it was time to head for home. A nice day with 4 new summits to add to the uniques collection and 18 SOTA points.

Regards, Wayne VK3WAM

Three summits around Central Vic Radiofest

Hi all,

Ron, VK3AFW organised a table for Summits on the Air to use at the Amateur Radio Victoria Central Victorian Radiofest, Sunday 10th of February. This was a chance to spread the word about SOTA. I also gave a shortish presentation of 20 minutes about SOTA. Given the trip up to Kyneton, there was a chance to have a look at a few activations on the way.

Mt Macedon VK3/VC-007

I decided that all my activations today would be 2m only. I took the colinear, and had done some work to improve the match, as discussed in Constructing a 2m colinear Part 2. Unfortunately, RG58 is a bit of a pain to work with, because if a little too much dialetric is stripped back, the centre conductor can push back and cause a short in the connector. This happened to me where I put a connector in for my stub. I had to move the stub a little further back, so now I was only going to try to match for 144.1, and leave 146.5 at about 2.5 SWR – make another stub for that later. The stub was tested at a SWR at about 1.6 SWR. This is close enough for me, given I was not actually trying for a 1:1 match, and the point of the stub was not exactly controlled!

I operated from the very impressive cairn that marks the summit. It was a bit foggy as can be seen in the picture.

Large cairn incorporating a trig point at Mt Macedon summit

Mt Macedon summit

The tower seen in the background overloaded the front end of the Wouxun, so I had to use the FT-817 for everything, including FM. The 817 was struggling a little on 144.1 SSB with interference. Still it was a good session with a varied number of contacts from different places, but none quite like Glenn VK3YY picking up a near 600km contact from Renmark from here on the previous day.

Here’s a look at the operating location. Glad I brought the foam for a nice dry place to sit.

Radio and other operating equipment used at Mt Macedon

Operating location at Mt Macedon

With that, it was time to go to the radiofest for a few hours and then the next activation of the day.

Mt Cobaw VK3/VC-015

Accessing this summit was a little interesting. I first headed up Prendergasts Rd, which was shown on a Vicroads directory as a through road. It is not. Perc Boyers Lane goes off it, but is a rough 4wd track only. I headed back and tried then using Reillys Rd from Burke And Wills Track. Reillys Rd is a good quality 2wd gravel road. Burke and Wills is sealed. Camp Track is marked on Forest Explorer, but actually appears to follow a 4wd track at 918777. This has some huge ruts, so it was only 50m in on the 2wd before parking and continuing on foot. It was easy to find Soil Pit Track and I headed along this to about 907776 and then headed due west off track for about 200m to access the summit. There appears to be a track coming in from the north from Camp Track to the summit as well.

Here’s a pic of the final approach to the summit. Easy off track walking.

Forest on the final approach to Mt Cobaw from the east

Approaching the summit from the east

Again, I operated only on 2m. Action here was all FM, with quite a few s2s to be had. There were a few trying out SOTA after the Radiofest. Without any commercial sites here, no problems using the Wouxun on FM.

Pretty Sally VK3/VC-034

The final summit for the day was Pretty Sally, which is only a short distance north of Wallan. The summit area itself appears closed to the general public, but Old Sydney Road enters the activation zone. I operated from a spot near the Beauview Dr junction, northwest of the summit. This had the effect of putting me on the wrong side of the hill for a lot of Melbourne, but it turned out I still was able to work people from the eastern suburbs through the hill.

Again, a 2m activation, most on FM, but one on 144.1 SSB. Here’s a few picks of the operating location and the colinear in action. The colinear works well, but it means there is more unwanted signal also coming in to overload weak radio frontends. Here, the Wouxun could not be used, but the FT-817 was ok.

Radio and other gear operating at Pretty Sally

Operating at Pretty Sally

Colinear on a squid pole at Pretty Sally

Colinear on a squid pole

With that it was time to head home. Three new summits to add to the collection. On the way home, I noticed that a small fire had started on the William range area, near where Rik VK3KAN had been earlier in the day. It looked like it was just a few hectares at that stage. We need some decent rain soon!

Regards, Wayne Merry VK3WAM

The Bluff/Mt McDonald trip, New Years 2012/13

Hi all,

After getting back from a camping trip, which included a SOTA activation of Rocky Peak, I was off the next day on a planned VMTC trip to a range of high mountains to the south east of Mt Buller. The plan was to take in part of the Australian Alpine Walking Track which I had not done before. I only had two takers for the trip, so there were three of us in total. The VMTC requires four for an official club trip and we were one short, so this turned into a private trip. My plan was to activate for Summits on the Air a series of mountains that were taken in by the walk.

Getting started

The day started with a 7am pickup of a walker from the train station, and then we headed up to join another walker up in the Howqua Hills at 8 Mile Gap (506792). From here, we headed down Brocks Rd to the Jameson River. This is marked as a 4wd track, but it is maintained to a high standard, so no problems with a 2wd. We then drove up Low Saddle Rd. The standard of this road is not as high, but I was able to get the Prius to point 513754, which would take a bit off the walk on the last day. We then piled into a 4wd for a car shuffle and took the Refrigerator Gap Track up to Refrigerator Gap and the carpark for the walk up to the Bluff.

The Bluff VK3/VE-013

The Bluff is a shortish, but quite steep climb up from the Refrigerator Gap car park. Over 400m is gained from the car park over about 1km horizontal distance. Towards the top it becomes a little scrambly. I had to negotiate the squid pole a few times, but it was not too bad. The plan was to have lunch here, so my fellow bushwalkers would have their break while I operated radio. One little problem was that I did not bring anything to secure the squid pole, and there was no trees at the operating location. I used the base of a rock and my backpack to secure the squid pole, as shown:

Squid pole at The Bluff secured by a rock and a backpack

Squid pole at The Bluff

I used a Wouxun KG-UVD1P handheld radio for FM and a FT-817 for other modes. Using the Wouxun allows me to save the FT-817 batteries. Because the FT-817 is an all mode radio, its amplifier is linear, and not as efficient as the Class C amplifier in the Wouxun. I use a BNC adapter on the Wouxun, so I was able to change the antenna from one to the other radio with ease.

The activation was performed with my colinear. I decided not to do the match yet (as discussed in the linked article) as I wanted to make the stub with BNC connectors which I am waiting for an order of these to arrive. The unmatched colinear has a poor, but not unusable match. The FT-817 would reduce power a little, but this level of mismatch (between 2 to 3) would not damage the finals. I estimate it would be 4dB or so down on a fully matched performance. Still worthwhile to give it a go and also to compare its performance to when I do have it fully matched.

It certainly does perform. I know some think that I would be better off with a Yagi, but for this kind of walking, this colinear does hit the spot. I tried it against a few repeaters and would give it at least 15dB ahead of a quarter wave whip antenna. One repeater was very scratchy on the quarter wave, I could barely break the squelch, but with the colinear, it was nearly (not quite) full quieting. Being omni-directional on the horizontal plane is also a bonus.

In the end, I was able to work into Melbourne, and looking back at the results, I was about 5dB down on what I would have expected from an optimised colinear. I think I’ll gain most of that with the match. I was also working a few stations well away from Melbourne.

Here are some pics from The Bluff:

Looking west from The Bluff

Looking west from The Bluff

Looking east from The Bluff

Looking east from The Bluff

Mt Lovick VK3/VE-020

After lunch, it was time to head off The Bluff and head for Mt Eadley, Bluff Hut and then Mt Lovick. There are two tracks marked passing Mt Eadley Stony, but we only found the higher track. The Bluff Hut has been rebuilt after the 2006 fires, but is not used as part of the cattle muster as cattle are now banned from the Alpine National Park. It was fairly late in the day when we made Mt Lovick and we camped almost right on the summit, far enough away for some dirt to put tent pegs in.

Camping at Mt Lovick

Camping at Mt Lovick

I tried 2m again from here. I was able to complete 2 QSOs using FM, and then 1 contact with VK3AFW using CW. I then went to 40m to get the last contact required for activation – plus a pile more.

Here are a few late evening pics from the summit:

Looking east towards the King Billies from Mt Lovick

The King Billies from Mt LOvick

Looking south west towards The Nobs and Mt McDonald from Mt Lovick

The Nobs and Mt McDonald from Mt Lovick

Mt Clear VK3/VE-018

Up the next morning, Sunday the 30th. We left about 9 and headed for the King Billies. Our first water stop was from the headwaters of the Jamison River, just underneath Picture Point at 634832. I treated the water with the SteriPen Adventurer (a UV treatment), another walker, Adrian used tablets, while the third, Clive, drank it untreated. I still reckon that the chances of getting sick are low, but because I have been sick from drinking high country water, I don’t take that chance.

We arrived at King Billy No 1 and had lunch there. I wanted to save my operating capacity (i.e. batteries) for summits that I could get SOTA points for, so this went begging. I activated this earlier in the year, late at night and in the fog. I was able to see my old operating location, just underneath the summit. Here’s a look at Mt Magdela (Marjorie VK3/VE-012) and the Cross Cut Saw to the left from King Billy No 1 VK3/VE-016.

Looking east at Mt Magdela from King Billy No 1

Mt Magdela from King Billy No 1

With lunch done, we followed the quite indistinct path to King Billy No 2, and then lost the path and made our way to the road junction at 650812. From here, there is a management vehicle track (with trees fallen over it) heading down towards Mt Clear. We drew water at 642787 and made our way to the base of Mt Clear. The management track leaves to the west, and the start of the walking only track is a little unclear. This is at 627766. From here, the track climbs quite steeply, but not quite as steep as the track up The Bluff. Still a good effort for late in the day. We arrived at the summit and camped within a few metres of the summit.

I attempted activating VK3/VE-018 on 2m, but had no success either on FM or SSB. It was then over to 40m using the end-fed, where there was no difficulty. With the end-fed, 40m is the old reliable.

Here’s a pic of Mt Buller, Mt Sterling, Mt Lovick (closer) and Mt Cobbler from Mt Clear. All of these mountains are SOTA summits.

Looking north west from Mt Clear

Looking north west from Mt Clear

The Nobs VK3/VE-040

The next day, it was up for an 8:30 walking start. First task of the day was to get a water top up. I only had a small amount left, and some of the party was dry. We obtained this at 617729, where the creek was about to descend rapidly down the side of the mountain. From there, it was following the indistinct path down from Square Top and towards High Cone. High Cone appears to have exactly 150m prominence, so it will become a SOTA summit someday, but it is not one at the moment. There is a bypass track around High Cone, so we took this. It’s more of a route as the track is quite indistinct. It follows just above a set of small cliffs. One gotcha with this mountain is where the spur comes down, the track continues to contour around. We headed down the spur at that point for about 15 minutes before we realised our mistake. We then worked our way around to the right spur, but this took more energy and time. It was a late lunch when we arrived at the Nobs.

Given the lateness, I decided that I would only do 40m on the summit. I activated the summit quickly, but disturbed a large number of insects nesting in a tree where I was setting up the squid pole.

Mt McDonald VK3/VE-026

From The Nobs, it was a quick drop down along the still at hard to follow at times track towards a 4wd track. We headed along this to where the walking track leaves it to head up Mt McDonald. We needed water for the night camp, and so we headed down the 4wd track to get water. We got it from the second creek at 543729, but we had to go in about 10m from the road and burrow into what was almost a little cave to get it. This took quite a lot of time, and meant we would get to the top of Mt McDonald very late in the day. It was a lot of effort getting up, and the effects of the long day were definitely having an impact. We lost the track at one point and tried to sidle around the side, but this was very hard work, and felt dangerous. I then climbed up a very steep section to regain the track that was on the tops. If climbing Mt McDonald from the east, try to stay on top of the ridge if you don’t know where the track is.

We arrived with about one hour of light left at the summit. I was pretty exhausted, but I still wanted the SOTA points for all this effort. I setup the tent and then the amateur radio station:

Camp site and operating location at Mt McDonald

Camp site and operating location at Mt McDonald

The views from all the summits that I had visited so far on this trip had been spectacular, but a great deal of the southern high country can be seen from Mt McDonald, including Mt Donna Buang, Mt Torbreck, Mt Baw Baw, Mt Abrupt, Mt Alexander (near Bendigo), Mt Hickey, Mt Buller, Mt Howitt, Mt Cobber, plus most stuff around Licola. Here’s a view looking back towards The Nobs and Mt Clear:

Mt Clear, Square Top, High Cone and The Nobs from Mt McDonald

Mt Clear, Square Top, High Cone and The Nobs from Mt McDonald

It was a great way to see out 2012 with the views we had from up there.

Mt Sunday VK3/VE-050

The final summit for the trip was Mt Sunday. The SOTA program works on UTC time, and a summit can be activated for points basically once a year. There was an opportunity to activate this summit twice, before UTC midnight (11am local) and then after. It was break camp at 6:50am to give myself a chance to do this. The other guys were completely disinterested in the radio part, but appreciated walking in the cooler time of the day. It was about an hour in that I realised that I might not make it to Mt Sunday in time, so I had to burn rubber. I walked very quickly down the track – which was easier to follow on this side of the mountain. I made Low Saddle at 506678 and left my pack there. The top of my pack converts into a little day pack, so there was enough room for the FT-817, the end-fed cable, a coax cable, the microphone, a notepad and a bottle of water, a LiIon battery and that’s it. It was time to head up Mt Sunday. The track is a little indistinct to get started, but then was easy to follow. It has also had the fire regrowth slashed back. This might have been quite difficult to follow two years ago, but is changed now.

I arrived, after a hard climb, at 10:45am. I operated north-east from the summit, about 15 to 20 vertical metres down. The summit has lots of trees, recovered from the fire at the very top, but burnt to a crisp elsewhere. I hung up the end-fed in the regrowth saplings and began to operate 5 minutes before UTC midnight. I was able to get 7 contacts in that 5 minutes, three of them in 1 minute. I felt like a contest station there for a bit. I continued to operate after 11am local, but it was far more relaxed. It was also nice to work VK3AFW and VK3PF who where both activating summits on both sides of UTC midnight. 4 lots of s2s! At 11:30 it was time to pack up and start the long trip to the car. I arrived back at my pack at 12:20pm which had a note from the others that they left to head for the car at 11am. I was an hour and 20 minutes behind.

It took another 4 hours and 20 minutes to walk the 11.5km to the car. I had a lunch break, but I was very low on water. I found water in several creeks. The first was a little desperate and I am very glad I could UV treat it. The others tasted better. The effects of the previous day had again caught up with me, plus the big effort to get to Mt Sunday in time. I was pretty tired when I got to the car at 4:40pm. I started 1:20 behind, but lost another hour to them. They could not keep up with me earlier, but now I could not even nearly keep pace with them!

After that, it was a shuffle back to the other car at Refrigerator Gap underneath The Bluff. I realised I had left my CW keyer at Mt Lovick, a day’s walk behind, but Adrian agreed to drive up there as it is close to the 4wd track. That track certainly is for 4wd only. He was eyeing off the place for future family camping visits, but I am thankful that I was able to retrieve the keyer.

It was time then to head for Mansfield and a much needed feed. Never has a bottle of soft-drink tasted so good.

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

3 summit activation: Mt Mitchell, Sugerloaf Peak & Federation Range

Hi all,

After my building of a colinear antenna for 2m, it was time to try it out, and what better than a SOTA activation. I picked three summits that were close to each other, and where it was possible to get into Melbourne on 2m, but only one of these summits, Federation Range VK3/VN-003 had anything that was close to line of sight.

Mt Mitchell VK3/VN-012

After getting my gear together early on Friday morning, I headed out (about an hour late) up to Mt Mitchell. There is a well made gravel road that leads up to close to the summit. The main 2WD road skirts the edge of the activation zone, getting about 5m into it. So, it is best to park the car a little down from a junction NE of the summit with a 4WD track. This track is mostly in the activation zone and passes over the summit to the north and then the west. Being 2m, I wanted to be at the summit itself to get good takeoffs in most directions, especially south and west. Approaching from the north west meant summitting.

The vegetation is recovering from the 2009 bushfires. The fire here was intense and killed nearly all the trees. Regrowth is currently about 2m high and is not too bad to get through. There are also rock areas about 10m across to make things a little easier. I found one of these close to the highest point and set up here to operate.

I was wondering how the colinear would go with electrical shorts, and it was no surprise to find that a short had developed when I set it up. Thus began a process of taking down the squid pole and checking the various connections. One thing that I have noticed is that because I used RG58/U – to obtain a shorter antenna – with a stranded centre conductor, the setup is far more susceptible to shorts. When I did the soldering, I did not have the best light. I am going to have to resolder the connections and ensure all strands of the centre conductor are captured by the solder. As it is, there are free strands that make their way where they are not supposed to.

After about 20 minutes of stuffing around, I managed to get a short free colinear. I was running way behind time, so I did not bother getting a VNA readout of the colinear. It has acceptable SWR over the whole 2m band, but it could be optimised as it looks like the centre point is at the top end of the band. This means the positioning of the choke on the input cable could be pushed out a little.

The colinear worked well. I was able to make a contact with Peter VK3PF down in Gippsland, even though there are quite a lot of hills causing obstruction over the path of well over 100km. Clearly this thing has some gain. The only comparison that I made was into VK3REC, an EMDRC repeater. The 1/4 wave on the HT could break the repeater. The RX was scratchy, so you had to move around a little. The Colinear had it well over 5 and 9 plus (I guess 20dB). So I need to fix up the shorting problem to get this baby on the air more often.

I was present at the activation area for about an hour, but with the stuffing around to locate the short in the colinear, I only operated for a little less than half an hour. I headed back to the car, grabbed some quick lunch at Buxton and headed for Sugerloaf saddle underneath Sugerloaf peak in the Cathedral Ranges State Park.

Sugerloaf Peak VK3/VN-011

I have been to this summit twice before. The first was many years ago, when I was not very experienced in overnight walking. We (my wife and I plus some friends but I cannot remember now who they were) camped at Farmyard, about 3 km to the north. We planned to head down to Sugerloaf Peak and return to Farmyard. It was overcast and foggy. We never made it to Sugerloaf due to a few spots on the “track” that were very exposed on the rock.

My second attempt was as part of a warm up for a 16 day walk in SW Tasmania. I was walking with a guy to train him up physically for the Tasmanian walk. He is an experienced rock climber. There is a path that goes up the side of Sugerloaf Peak that he said would be graded 3. He said it is much harder when carrying a full pack. Nonetheless we went up. I would have never have gone up without him, but he clearly knew what to do. Foot here, press against that, move other foot there, etc. I just did what I was told and he made it look easy. I, of course, had no idea of what to do. The tables were turned a few weeks later in SW Tasmania, where luckly I knew what to do out of the group that went down.

So for this my third visit, I headed up the “less hard” track, which still has lots of open, exposed rock. It would be tricky when wet, but in dry conditions, just take good footwear, and don’t look down too much.

Also, since the fires, there has been an upgrade of facilities at Sugerloaf saddle. There is a nice shelter there now which could fit more people than would ever likely be there at one time, ever.

I made the summit in good time. Check the colinear cable – no electrical shorts. Looking good. Raise colinear – shorts! Try as I might for the next 45 minutes, I could not find the short. Do I raise the end fed on 40m, or get out the 1/4 wave. This is supposed to be the hardest summit of the day, will the 1/4 wave on 2m even make it into Melbourne? Turns out it did without too much trouble. I did not get any contacts on FM, but SSB saved the day.

I should make mention of the BHI NEDSP1061-KBD noise reduction module here. I have one of these installed in my FT-817, and in my FT-897 as well. It does make SSB easier to listen to, but it can also improve readability where the signal is on the limit. It helped two of my QSOs today, pulling what would have been R3 to R4, and R4 to arm chair copy. If something is R1, it won’t help it, but if it is R2, it can pull it to R3 and you’ll get the QSO that you would otherwise would have not.

Sugerloaf peak is the most scenic of the summits of the day, so here are some pics.

Looking north west from Sugerloaf Peak

Looking north west from Sugerloaf Peak

Sugerloaf Peak, looking north, with sheer drop off to the right

Sugerloaf Peak, looking north.

Notice the drop off to the right on the pic above (click it for a better view).

Squid pole with colinear on Sugerloaf Peak

Squid pole with colinear on Sugerloaf Peak

Federation Range VK3/VN-003

Time for the final summit of the day, Federation Range to the north of Lake Mountain. I headed up to the ski resort and parked in the main car park. This place is D E A D during summer. I headed up the XC ski trails heading north and after about 30 minutes made it to the top. The activation zone is fairly large, but again, 2m makes you want to operate from the highest ground. This time I did not bother to attempt to operate the colinear. I simply plugged the 1/4 wave into a Wouxun KG-UVD1P and started up. I made two contacts on FM, but then things were slowing down. Time to plug in the FT-817 and I got 5 more contacts on SSB. Even Peter VK3PF got a look in. The path to his QTH is not clear, but there is much less in the way than at Sugerloaf Peak. I still think that if the colinear was able to be operated there, he would have got that summit in his log.

The activation here was short as I wanted to try and be out of the resort area by 6:30pm. In the end it was closer to 6:40 when I was back on the Marysville Woods Point rd, but it seemed not to matter. It was an interesting day for 3 summits and 20 SOTA points, all on 2m. It would have not been possible without SSB, but I need to get this colinear working! Even though its first adventure did not quite work out, I think this antenna has already shown its promise and with a little corrective surgery, need not be a pain in the rear end!

One little side note: I took up some 18650 cells, but in the end the internal battery on the FT-817 was able to last through all three activations. It was getting a little tired in the end, and if I had wanted to keep going, I would have needed to plug in the external power. It lasted about 1 hour 30 minutes of operating, but that included quite a bit of FM at 5 watts, which is going to hit it harder than CW or SSB at full FT-817 power.

Regards,
Wayne VK3WAM

EDIT: There were a few shorting possibilities in the colinear. I used some unused RG6 insulation to provide a shunt on the joins to provide greater structural integrity. The BNC connector itself had developed a short! I have a good crimping tool, but these are the hazards with working with stranded centre conductor coax.